Etruscan Architecture: Forms, Materials, Construction & Influences

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  • 0:01 Etruscans
  • 0:45 Etruscan Homes and Tombs
  • 1:51 Etruscan Temples
  • 3:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you'll explore the architecture of the ancient Italian people known as the Etruscans. Afterward, you can test your understanding with a brief quiz.

The Etruscans

They say that when you are in Rome, you should do as the Romans do. So what did people in Italy do before the founding of Rome? The Etruscans were an ancient Italian civilization in the region today known as Tuscany, who thrived from roughly 700-480 BCE. This ancient culture lived before the Romans, sharing the Mediterranean world with mighty powers like the Greeks. Etruscan architecture, like most of their culture, reflected influences from the powerful Greeks, mixed with strong local customs. The Etruscan style dominated Italy, eventually influencing the Romans to do as they do.

Homes and Tombs

Let's start with the most basic architecture of the Etruscans, their homes. Etruscan homes were built of wood and sun-dried mud-brick, so they didn't last long and none have survived for us to study. So why are we talking about them? And how do we know what they looked like? We actually know a lot about Etruscan homes because the Etruscans had a unique habit of modeling their tombs after their houses. The tombs were underground, carved into the stone of the Tuscan hills, a soft stone called tufa, so they were much more durable and long-lasting. Thanks to these tombs, we've got a pretty good idea about what Etruscan homes looked like.

So let's take a look at these tombs. The first thing you see when heading into one of these underground chambers are these - the tumuli, or earthen mound entrances.

Outside of Etruscan tomb
outside mound of Etruscan tomb

Then we head down a set of stairs and enter the tomb. Like I said, these are modeled after Etruscan homes. Beds, couches, chairs, and even banquet halls are carved from the stone. In a sense, Etruscan tombs emphasized life after death, with the sarcophagi even depicting the dead reclining as if at a banquet.

Inside of Etruscan tomb
inside of Etruscan tomb showing a bed

Etruscan Temples

So, homes and tombs were a big part of Etruscan life. The other major aspect of their life was religion, which closely resembled the Greek religion. And like the Greeks, the Etruscans built temples. But Etruscan temples were a bit different from Greek ones. For one, the building material was different. The Greeks almost always built in marble, but the Etruscans constantly displayed a preference for mud bricks and terracotta, baked clay. Temple walls were mud brick, the roof was tiled with terracotta, and wood beams supported the ceiling. Additionally, Etruscan temples used a unique style of column. The Tuscan column was made of wood, was unfluted, and had a base, making it different than the contemporary Greek columns.

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