The Etruscans (Etrusci or Tusci) were people who inhabited northern Italy (Etruria) in antiquity. Despite the known alphabet (Greek), it has not been possible to read (apart from a few words) most of the Etruscan texts, therefore the history and origin of the Etruscan are only assumptions.
The ethnogenesis and origins of the Etruscans are not clear, although it is known that they were not Indo-European. Their origins have been debated since antiquity.
According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the Etruscans came to Italy by sea from Lydia in Asia Minor (the theory now called allochthonous ). Since we meet the name Tyrrhenes at several points in the Aegean Sea, it is very likely that the Etruscans were related to the pre-Greek population in the Aegean Sea. In Egypt in the 13th and 12th centuries BCE during the reign of Ramesses II, the Tursa people were known, as sea corsairs, who today identify themselves with the Etruscans. Probably around 1000 BCE, the Etruscans settled in Italy. Their original headquarters were in the southern part of Etruria on the seashore. The visitors mixed up in Etruria with the predominantly Italian people there and formed a new nation that had achieved great importance for the entire Italian peninsula. Genetic research indicates the origin of the Etruscans from Asia Minor or other parts of the Middle East. This thesis is confirmed by mtDNA studies of Tuscan cows and comparative studies conducted by a team of Italian geneticists led by Albert Piazza from the University of Turin, which showed the greatest similarity of samples taken from men from the Tuscan towns of Murlo, Volterra and Casentino with samples from today’s Turkey, namely Lydian Smyrna and the Greek Lemnos.
There is, however, another theory about the origin of the Etruscans, namely that they were indigenous peoples of Italy who inhabited the central part of the area before the influx of Indo-Europeans (indigenous theory ). They eagerly built polis, or city-states. The most important of them are Caere, Veii, Tarquinia, Vulci, Volterrae. This belief is represented by Dionysus of Halicarnassus. (I, 26-30).
The formation of the Etruscan civilization was strongly influenced by the Villanova culture.
The Etruscan culture and civilization presumably had a great influence on the Romans, there is even an opinion that Roman civilization is in fact a continuation of Etruscan civilization under a different name and with a different language. The Romans could borrow from the Etruscans many myths (Aeneas), religious rituals (e.g. the art of divination from the entrails of sacrificial animals, haruspicina is certainly of Etruscan origin), clothing, state devices, badges, etc. Some scholars believe that Etruscan origin is, among others liqueurs, curule chair, and toga praetexta. Due to the scarcity of data on the Etruscan civilization, these are only hypotheses – the mentioned things may have been borrowed from other peoples or may be of native Roman origin.
The Etruscans practised medicine and astronomy, with the beginning of the day at noon. They divided their time into the lunar months. They had a duodecimal count system. The Etruscan script is a slightly adapted West Greek alphabet used in Kyme Chalcedon. In turn, the Etruscan alphabet was borrowed by other people living in central Italy. The Etruscan civilization and religion were greatly influenced by Greek civilization, which flourished in the Greek colonies of Italy.
The Etruscan religion was gloomy. Sometimes they sacrificed people, divination was extremely developed: from the liver of animals (haruspice), to celestial phenomena. Belief in the afterlife was of great importance in their religion.
They took Dionysus from the Greeks. The most outstanding of their own Etruscan deities are: Nortia – goddess of fate, Mantus – god of the underworld, Lares – guardian spirits of the family (this name and the term passed to the Romans). Some believe that the nature god Vertumnus is of Etruscan origin, although his name is distinctly Old Latin. The trinity of deities called Tinia (the equivalent of the Indo-European Jupiter), Uni (i.e. Juno) and Menrva (i.e. Minerva) played an important role. They were probably borrowed from Indo-Europeans living around.
Politically, the Etruscans formed a union of cities (most likely there were twelve) called Etruscan lukumonia, in which kings were initially to reign (lars/lukomon). Later, in the place of the kings, dignitaries changed every year, and the regime changed from a monarchy to an aristocratic republic. The population consisted of ruling families and commoners. Every year people gathered around the temple of the goddess Voltumna, near the city of Volsinii, where sacrifices were made, games were held, the chief priest was elected and, in case of war, the commander of the union troops.
Etruscan art has always been strongly influenced by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Greeks with whom the Etruscans maintained a constant relationship. Their architecture has left behind ruins of walls, waterworks and temples in many Tuscan cities. An interesting Etruscan building has been preserved to this day in Tusculum. In front of the Etruscan temples, there were spacious courtyards with sparsely spaced columns. About Etruscan houses are given the concept of an urn in the form of houses. A lot of wall paintings have been preserved in the tombs. The oldest monuments reveal Greek influences, with time Etruscan art became more and more original and reached the peak of its perfection. Paintings on the walls from this era depict scenes from everyday life and the cult of the dead. In the art of the Etruscans, it was not about imitating nature, but rather about visual impressions, which is why, for example, horses are sometimes painted blue. Highly stable applied art. Beautiful bronze mirrors and various bronze and gold vessels, such as weapons, tripods, candlesticks, cauldrons, etc., were found in the tombs. Clay was mostly used in plastic arts. Huge clay statues were placed on sarcophagi and also in temples. There are few sculptures left of the Etruscans of stone and marble. A bronze statue of Aulus Metilius was found in Lake Trasimeno, one of the finest examples of Etruscan art. The only Etruscan artist known by name was the famous sculptor Vulca, the main representative of the Sculpting School in Veii.
Etruscan sculptures are, of course, not only works that can be used to decorate tombs. There were also portraits in the form of standing statues (the so-called Arringatore, the Speaker from the 3rd century BCE), decorative figures (often with genre themes), and votive and religious figures, both made of terracotta and bronze. At the end of the 6th century BCE, larger bronze statues were cast by the so-called blank casting.
Etruscan painting is the best-preserved field of Etruscan art. Numerous figural frescoes decorated the interiors of the tombs. The oldest, is from the 7th and 6th centuries BCE. they are in oriental style. Their themes are genre scenes and scenes from Greek myths. Coloured paintings with figures with a marked contour and different colours depending on gender (white is reserved for women, brown for men).
The main materials used in construction were brick and wood. Stone was used primarily in defensive structures and terracotta for decoration.
The preserved remains of the cities are mainly traces of the street network, and water and sewage systems. They allow us to draw conclusions about the high level of town planning, modelled on the Hellenistic and Eastern culture. Houses erected at the beginning of the 7th century BCE were built on a rectangular plan. The foundations were made of pebbles or stone blocks, and the walls of dried brick were reinforced with wooden piles. The wooden roof was covered with terracotta tiles. The houses were decorated with terracotta tiles. At the turn of the 7th and 6th centuries BCE The Etruscan house was extended across the courtyard in front of it. The three-part interior consisted of a larger room located in the centre and two side rooms with a smaller area. Influenced by Greek culture, a residential house in the 4th century BCE has been transformed. The buildings of this period are a house built on a rectangular plan, with a series of rooms around the atrium partially covered with a roof. The foundations were made of stone and the gable roofs were tiled and decorated with terracotta. Over the next years (until around the 2nd century BCE, the atrium changed, becoming more and more similar to a representative room with a communication function.
The Etruscans used a script similar to Greek. It is easy to read, but not completely understood. He did not belong to the group of Indo-European languages, which included e.g. Greek or Latin. To translate the Etruscan language, a bilingual edited text was needed, such as on the Rosetta stone, thanks to which Egyptian hieroglyphs were read. Attempts were made to translate the Etruscan language from gold plates found in 1964 in Santa Severa (by the Tyrrhenian Sea – 54 km northwest of Rome), where apart from the Etruscan language there was also a text in Phoenician, but it turned out that they are two different texts and Phoenician is as difficult to translate as Etruscan. In addition to the linguistic similarities of the Etruscan to the Greeks, it can also be noticed that the figurines depicting Etruscan warriors are almost identical to the images of the Greek hoplites. Shields, helmets, and armour is pretty much the same thing. All these elements, both linguistic and armed, testify to the fact that the Etruscans were strongly influenced by Greek culture and perhaps the roots of the Etruscan origin date back to even older Greek culture.