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Introducing the Etruscans
When thinking of Rome, most of us think of Romans; after all, it was the Romans that dominated much of the Mediterranean world. However, 'Rome' is actually an Etruscan word.
The Etruscans were an ancient people of Etruria, Italy, which comprises the areas today known as Tuscany, Lazio, and Umbria.
The Etruscan economy relied heavily on trade with other peoples, often forming mutually beneficial alliances with others. As the Etruscans grew more powerful and wealthy, they increasingly became a target for other civilizations. One, in particular, became a serious threat to their well-being - the Romans.
In 396 BCE, the Romans began a campaign to conquer the Etruscans and take their land. It took a couple of centuries, but the Romans were nothing but persistent, and in 80 BCE, the last of the Etruscan cities were subdued.
The Romans assimilated the Etruscans into their civilization, but they also adopted some of the Etruscans customs and traditions, and even several rulers were of Etruscan descent. Let's take a closer look at the art, building styles, and religion that was brought to Rome by Etruscan culture.
Etruscan art included ceramics, murals, carvings, and sculptures. They were known for a type of ceramic pottery called bucherro, which was shiny grey or black and formed into domestic pots and ornamental wares.
As the Etruscans increased trade with other cultures, new materials and ideas were incorporated into their artistic expression. This period in the Etruscan Civilization was called the Orientalizing Period. During this period, ivory and glass were introduced into the Etruscan culture and the Etruscan's began to develop narrative (story-telling) pieces of art.
This art included vases and pots that were decorated with scenes from real life as well as from their belief system. The Etruscans also adopted designs from the region of the Middle East and Phonecia, like images cut into impasto clay pottery. After the Romans came, the Etruscans used their skills to create Roman-themed pottery.
The Etruscans usually placed their dead (sometimes cremated, sometimes not) in subterranean tombs that contained sculptures and detailed painted murals. The sculptures were realistic in nature and included sculpted furniture, such as couches, and reclining figures.
The murals and sculptures are also an important source of information for us on what the people looked like, what they ate, how they dressed, and their activities, customs, and religious beliefs. The Romans were influenced by Etruscan tomb art, especially detailed, painted naturalistic portraiture that adorned some of the tomb walls.
Etruscans initially built their homes utilizing the resources that were near them, such as huts made out of mud-brick and wood for the main body of the house and roofs thatched with straw, reeds, and other vegetation. As their civilization grew, so did their technology and interaction with other cultures such as the Greeks.
By about 600 BCE, stone buildings began to appear, including sacred spaces such as temples ornamented with terracotta figures with unfluted columns and arches in their design. Homes were no longer huts but rectangular structures made out of stone with tiled roofs.
Though very little survives of Etruscan buildings, we know they used these architectural elements because they are depicted in the physical and interior design of many Etruscan tombs. Many of these architectural elements are seen in the far better-preserved remnants of ancient Rome, including the use of stone for temples, columns, and arches.
Etruscan tombs were carved out of rock or were built out of tufa, a type of porous rock. Some tombs were in underground necropolises, or cities of the dead, while others were more visible and above ground. Tombs often replicated life, with porches and columns, and multiple rooms that mimicked the architecture of the home.
Sometimes the tombs included carved depictions of domestic goods, such as dinnerware and cooking utensils. Etruscan tombs have been invaluable to archaeologists in reconstructing Etruscan architecture and in providing a snapshot into the Etruscan culture and help show how Etruscans, in turn, influenced Roman architecture.
The Etruscans were polytheistic, meaning they worshiped more than one god. They believed that these gods controlled nature and influenced the lives of humans. Many of the Etruscan gods had Greek counterparts; Greek influence is also evidenced in the physical depiction of their gods, which evolved from amorphous figures to ones with human characteristics.
The Etruscans' chief god was Tin and was comparable to the Greek god Zeus. Later, the Roman god Jupiter and many other Roman gods would be based on the Greco-Etruscan pantheon. The Etruscans also believed in an Underworld, but instead of Hades, it was Aita that ruled the domain of the dead. Monsters and heroes from Greek mythology bear witness to the intertwining of Etruscan and Greek faith traditions on terracotta friezes, and again, versions of these stories would appear in Roman culture.
Another element to the Etruscan religion was the use of augury, which was the predicting of the future by watching nature for omens. The Etruscan also believed in reading internal organs, such as the liver of a sacrificial animal, to tell the future.
The Etruscans were an ancient people that lived in Italy and their economy relied heavily on trade. The Romans, who conquered the Etruscans, assimilated and adopted their culture into their own. This included adopting architectural elements, the naturalistic portrayal of figures in art, and the Romanization of Etruscan gods, such as Jupiter, who is equal to Tin and the Greek god Zeus.
As the Etruscans increased trade with other cultures, new materials and ideas were incorporated into their artistic expression. This period in the Etruscan Civilization was called the Orientalizing Period. After the Romans came, the Etruscans used their skills to create Roman-themed pottery.
The Etruscans were polytheistic, meaning they worshiped more than one god. Their chief god was Tin and was comparable to the Greek god Zeus. Later, the Roman god Jupiter and many other Roman gods would be based on the Greco-Etruscan pantheon. Much of what we known about the Etruscans, and therefore their influence on the Romans, comes from Etruscan tombs, which were richly decorated with murals, friezes, and sculptures.
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