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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(self-designation, rasna), ancient tribes that in the first millennium B.C. inhabited the northwestern Appenine Peninsula—the region known as Etruria (modern Tuscany)—and created an advanced civilization that preceded the Roman civilization. The principal sources of information on the Etruscans are accounts by such Greek and Roman writers as Herodotus, Diodorus Siculum, Strabo, Livy, and Pliny the Elder and archaeological materials from Etruscan tombs and settlements. About 10,000 Etruscan inscriptions, most of them quite brief, have been preserved; only a few have been interpreted with certainty.

The origin of the Etruscans is still unclear. According to classical tradition, the Etruscans came from the east. Most modern scholars are of the opinion, based mainly on archaeological data, that only some of the ethnic groups that took part in the formation of the Etruscans came from the east. Instead, the Etruscans are believed to have developed in Italy through a complex interaction between local and immigrant tribes. This view is supported by the features of the Etruscan language that are amenable to study. Archaeological data have shown clearly that the Etruscan culture evolved from the Villanovan culture. The Etruscans probably had developed into a distinct ethnic group by the eighth century B.C.

The basis of the Etruscan economy was land cultivation: Etruscan wheat, grapes, and flax were renowned. Since the soil was waterlogged, considerable reclamation work was necessary. Stock raising played an important economic role. Copper and iron were mined in Etruria, and the working of these metals reached a high level of development. The Etruscans traded with the Greek colonies in southern Italy, especially with Sybaris, and with Athens, Corinth, and Carthage; an overland trade was carried on with countries north of the Alps. Coins were minted in the Etruscan cities beginning in the fifth century.

By the seventh century numerous fortified cities had appeared in Etruria. These were economic and political centers that, together with the adjoining territories, formed city-states resembling the Greek polis. Initially they were headed by kings, who, in the late sixth and early fifth centuries, with the rise of a military and priestly elite, were replaced by high officials elected from among the aristocracy. The impoverished members of the communities, along with the remnants of the indigenous population and freed slaves, formed the dependent social strata of society. They apparently constituted the main labor force in agriculture and in handicrafts, although there was a substantial number of slaves, whose ranks were constantly replenished through war, piracy, and the slave trade.

A confederation of 12 city-states, including Veii, Tarquinii, Caere, and Volsinii, emerged by, apparently, the late seventh century. Circa the mid-sixth century the Etruscans conquered the fertile lands of Campania; they subsequently took vast areas in the Po valley. In the subjugated territories they founded colonies, which were brought into the confederation of 12 cities. According to legend, the Etruscan dynasty of the Tarquins ruled in Rome from 616 to 509. The influence of the Etruscans extended over almost all of Italy. The self-interested policy of some of the cities and rivalry among them led, however, to political instability in the confederation. The situation was further complicated by social contradictions and by the resistance of the population of the dependent regions.

External enemies also became more active. The Etruscans’ naval superiority came to an end with their defeat by the Greeks at Cumae in 524 and 474. The Romans drove out the Tarquins circa 509. The Samnites expelled the Etruscans from Campania, having captured Capua in 423. Circa 400, the Gauls invaded the Padanian possessions of the Etruscans. The lack of political and military unity made itself felt in the wars with Rome, during which the Romans subjugated the most important Etruscan cities one by one. Veii fell in 396, Caere in 358, and Tarquinii in 308. The conquest of central and eastern Etruria began in 310, and after 283 all Etruria was a Roman dependency. For two centuries the Etruscans preserved in most of their cities, which were nominally autonomous but part of the Roman federation, their previous political structure, religious institutions, and distinctive culture.

The Etruscans greatly influenced the cultural development of ancient Italy, particularly the culture of the Romans, for whom they served as a model in applied art and construction methods. The Romans adopted from the Etruscans several features of the political system, the structure and weaponry of the army, and insignia (symbols of authority) of government officials. The mythology and religion of the Etruscans considerably influenced Roman mythology and religion. The Italic tribes of northern and central Italy evidently received the Greek writing system from the Etruscans.

Art and architecture. Etruscan architecture is represented by the remains of temples and by burial structures, city walls, and such engineering works as bridges and canals. Fortress walls and gates were made of skillfully cut stone blocks laid one on top of another in horizontal layers. The Etruscans made use of arches with wedge-shaped stones; a notable example is the Arch of Augustus in Perusia (modern Perugia). Stepped corbel vaults are found in crypts of the seventh and sixth centuries, and semicircular vaults in crypts of the third and second centuries.

The development of urban planning is attested by the remains of the rectangular grid plan of Marzabotto, near Bologna, and of the Hippodamian planning of Spina. Residential structures, square in plan, had open atriums and roofs with two or four gables. Temples, with either one or three cellae, stood on a high podium and had a deep portico whose cornice, richly decorated with a frieze, rested on Tuscan columns. Pediments and roof gables were decorated with painted terra-cotta.

Necropolises have been preserved near such cities as Caere (modern Cerveteri), Perusia, Tarquinii (modern Tarquinia), and Clusium (modern Chiusi). Tombs with false domes (seventh century) have been discovered in northern Etruria, and cave tombs and tombs cut into rock faces (third century) have been found near Volterra. The Etruscans have left excavated tumulus tombs in the Banditaccia necropolis in Caere and box-shaped travertine tombs resting on the ground in the western part of the Marzabotto necropolis. Many burial chambers, such as the Regolini-Galassi tomb in Caere (seventh century), imitated the interiors of houses.

Monumental painting, which appeared in the seventh century and flourished in the sixth and fifth centuries, is characterized by an expressive quality of movements and gestures, an emphasis on the outline of the figure, and the use of local color; these attributes are exemplified by the paintings in the Tomb of Hunting and Fishing in Tarquinii. Decorative paintings of the fifth and fourth centuries, such as those in the Tomb of the Leopards in Tarquinii, show the influence of Greek models. The decorative paintings of the third and second centuries, such as those in the Francois Tomb in Vulci, reflect the decline of Etruria.

Etruscan sculpture includes statuettes and reliefs made of painted terra-cotta (antefixes, acroteria, and votive sculptures), canopic urns, sarcophagi, and funerary steles. The Etruscan sarcophagus resembled a stone box on whose lid was a representation of spouses or of a single figure holding a cup; an example is the Lares Pulenes sarcophagus in the Tarquinian National Museum.

The art of portraiture was highly developed among the Etruscans; primitive examples are found on anthropomorphic urns. Also highly developed was the art known as toreutics, which was represented by bronze statuettes of gods, articles of everyday use, funerary articles, and mirrors covered with engraving. Handicrafts included the production of bucchero pottery in imitation of metal articles, as well as black-figure and red-figure vases and gold articles.


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A. I. KHARSEKIN (historical survey) and G. I. SOKOLOV (art and architecture)

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Shipley deserves strong praise for her intimate familiarity with Etruscan archaeological sites and museums housing Etruscan objects, and tourists and museum-goers will appreciate the tidbits of advice scattered through the text, for example, "If you are looking for a spot of peace and quiet among the hubbub of a visit [to the British Museum], the Etruscan gallery is a good bet" (47).
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The Etruscans flourished in central Italy 2,500 years ago but their culture and language were assimilated into the Roman empire.
The samples came from Etruscan amphorae dated to around 525 to 475 B.C.
On the way back home, the small group visits an Etruscan necropolis, a complex of funeral mounds that makes "the area, really nothing but an immense, almost uninterrupted cemetery." One of the party is a young girl, Giannina, who sighs over the Etruscan dead.
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And what was good enough to make a desirable sauce for the Etruscans is good enough to make a desirable meat ball for Snowbird foods.