The Etruscan civilization lasted from about 800 BC to 100 BC. It was a culture in ancient Italy. The Romans called them Etrusci or Tusci. The Ancient Greeks called them Tyrrhenoi or Tyrrsenoi. The Etruscans called themselves Rasenna.
The Etruscan civilization began in pre-history. When it was most powerful, it had three confederacies (areas like modern states). These three confederacies were Etruria, Latinum and the Po Valley, and Campania. The Etruscans ruled Rome until 396 BC.
We do not know much about the Etruscan language. They did have writing, but not much survives. Most of what we have comes from engraving on tombstones. They used an alphabet rather like those of Phoenicia and Greece.
Their language is related to the Tyrrhenian language family and is not clearly related to other languages. Some Etruscan letters were used by the Romans in the Latin alphabet, which English uses. Some Romans, such as Cicero, were fluent readers of Etruscan, but few of the writings survive.
The lack of texts makes our understanding of their society and culture depend on much later Roman sources. Politics were based on the small city, and probably the family unit. In their heyday the Etruscan elite grew rich through trade with the Celtic world to the north and the Greeks to the south, and filled their large family tombs with imported luxuries. Archaic Greece had a huge influence on their art and architecture, and Greek mythology was evidently very familiar to them.
Unlike Greek and Latin, Etruscan, the third great ancient language of culture in Italy, does not survive in any great literary works. An Etruscan religious literature did exist (1), and evidence suggests that there was a body of historical literature and drama (5) as well. Known, for example, is the name of a playwright, Volnius, of obscure date, who wrote "Tuscan tragedies". (4),(2) Although there is no evidence of notation, it is possible that Etruscan music was in written form. (6)
The Etruscans mined metals like copper and iron. They became rich and powerful and travelled around the Mediterranean Sea. The Etruscan civilisation began to lose power in the 5th century BC. The Romans began conquering parts of Etruscan land. By the beginning of the 1st century BC, the Etruscans were entirely defeated.
Etruscan art included wall paintings, metalwork, and sculpture in terracotta. Sculpture in cast bronze was famous and widely exported, but few large examples have survived. Bronze was valuable, and often recycled later.
- Rix, Helmut 2008. Etruscan, in The ancient languages of Europe, Roger D. Woodard (ed) Cambridge University Press, pp. 141-164.
- Spivey, Nigel 1997. Etruscan Art. London: Thames and Hudson.