I and some of you maybe might just remember the Etruscans from your primary or high school history class and that they were then presented as the forebearers of the Romans. But they were not really the fathers of the Romans as I will try to explain here.
The Romans themselves called the Etruscans “Etrusci” or “Tusci” (this last name from Toscany) while the greek historian such as Herodotus name them “Tyrrheneans” or “Tyrenes” from an eponymous character named “Tyrrhenos” that led a part of the Lydian people in Italy. As such some historians attribute an exogenous (from Lydia or Pelasgi) origin while others give them a more autochtone origine such as “Villanovan”. The more modern approach to the origins of the Etruscans cited par Massimo Pallottino states that the Etruscans cannot be just from one migration but rather are the descendants of a group that gathered along the way several aspects of different cultures such as Villanovan, Pelasgian, oriental and others. The DNA of some 80 individuals which were apparently Etruscans was analyzed by Alberto Plazza and showed that they presented similitudes to the anatolian population but differed from the DNA of actual Tuscans. A 2013 study comparing mitochondrial DNA from Etruscans to medieval and modern Tuscany and Anatolia showed links with Anatolia dating some 5,000 years and that the most probable model is a genetic continuity between the Etrsucans and certain Tuscany populations of today just like Voleterra and more so from Cosantino.
The history of the antique Etruscans stretches for 10 centuries within 6 distincts successive eras: 1) the villanovian (or proto-etruscan) period from the Xth to V111 century BC as attested by some funerary elements such as urns and rites of incineration that distinguish them from the rest of Italy, 2) an orientalist period from 720 to 600 BC marqued by cultural and commercial exchanges with Phoenicians, Cathaginians and the Eubeans (Greeks from Italy), 3) the archaic period betwenn 600 to 480 BC where a cultural, economic and territorial development occurs within which the Etruscans affix their footprint on the occidental Mediterranea and antique Italy (even in Rome itself) and giving it three kings (Tarquinus the Ancient, Servicus Tullius, and Tarquinus the Superb), 4) the classical period from 480 to 300 BC where the Etruscan dominance starts to vacillate and they lose large plots of land following military defeats on land and sea, 5) the hellenistic period in 300 to 100 BC where the Etruscans show a severe decline by multiple invasions (mostly from Celts), 6) the romanisation period from 100 to 17 BC marqued by the subjugation of the etruscan population by the Republic of Rome. In 17 BC, the whole of the Etruscan territory becomes “Rejio V11” which is incorporated in the Roman empire.
The Etruscans adopted a system of writing, probably borrowed from the Greeks from Evia in the south. They adapted this variant of the greek alphabet to they own phonetic system (which we still do not know today). Among the most ancient inscriptions in the Etruscan language is the tablet of Marsiliana which had on one of its side an alphabatical model of 26 letters. Even though the Etruscans are not from whom the Latins originated from, the Etruscan alphabet was a precursor of the Old Latin alphabet and as such became the basis of the Latin alphabet.
The Etruscan society, from its beginnings in the V111th century till its progressive romanisation and dissolution was never unified politically. It was constituted by city-states just as the greek model of “polis”. These separate entities eventually evolved towards a monarchy system (from V11th to V1th century BC) to a republican regime just like in Rome. There were a total of 12 cities in the Etrsucan history which formed a ligue called “dodeka poleis” or “duodecim populi” as they were called by the Latins.
The Etruscans were at their apogy a military power where they adopted mostly Greek defensive and offensive armement and tactics. The defensive arsenal consisted of an helmet either ridged or crested, a round shield and a “kardiophylakes” (essentially a chest protection) made out of bronze. The offensive arsenal consisted of spears and a short sword. All these attributes are similar to the Greek hoplites and the military tactic was a phalanx formation where the infantryman were deployed in rows and soldiers fought mostly shield against shields. There was also a cavalry reserved to nobility just like the Greeks.
The Etruscans’ inflence from Greece is seen also in its poterie production and depictions and that goes from its pre to protohistory.
The Etruscans had gods which they adopted from the Greeks again but under different names: Tinia (Zeus), Uni (Hera), Sethlans (Hephaistos) Turan (Aphrodite), Nethuns (Poseidon), Aritimi or Artumes (Artemis), Apulu or Aplu (Apollon), Menrva (Athena) etc.
The top picture of this article presents an etruscan funerary stele named the “Sarcophagus of the Spouses” dating from late sixth century BC.
The Etruscans had social classes just like the Greeks and Romans but under different terms as “masters and slaves (or Penestae)” compared to the Romans which had distinct legal designation such as “free and slaves”.
The family, of course, formed the basis of Etruscan society. But the woman, contrary to Greece (except in Sparta), actively participated to the social life mostly in the higher rich classes which were strongly conditionned to the importance of a “banquet”. The Etruscan woman enjoyed more liberty than the adjoining population and participated to the intense activity of Etruscan society and gave her own name along with her husband’s name to her children. She often went out to be admired by men, participated to public ceremonies, to danses, concerts and games. Adorned with her own jewelry, she took part to banquets lying down on the same “kline” (settee) as her husband and enjoys etruscan games and shows. This scandalized the Romans for whom “etrusca” was synonymous of a “prostitute”. One such of these types of free women was Tanaquil, Velia or Velca Spurinna and others as they are portrayed on frescoes.
There were also several aspects of Etruscan life and history that are known today but some of these are still under invistigation by archeologists and historians alike because most of the known facts on the Etruscan come from Greek or Roman historians which are noted for being not quite truthful. This article just wanted to present the basis of the Etruscans and their life.