Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History

Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History

Sybille Haynes has here produced a comprehensive chronological study of the Etruscans which fills many gaps in the available literature on Italy's first great civilization. Its depth and scope combined with hundreds of images will relegate all other works on this topic to a quiet life at the back of the bookshelf.

The Etruscans have long been a neglected civilization of the ancient Mediterranean and reading this book you will wonder how on earth that situation was ever allowed to come about. Sybille Haynes has compiled the single most comprehensive overview of Etruscan history currently available, and her richly illustrated book easily sets the Etruscans where they belong: as a key foundation block to Western civilization as we know it today. History lovers are quite used to books describing how the Greeks invented everything and the Romans adapted and made even better all that the Greeks had provided them with, but here we have a more complex story of the man in the middle, as it were, the missing link between those two great cultures.

Etruscan Civilization - A Cultural History, to give its full title, runs at over 400 glossy pages of history covering six or seven crucial centuries of Italy's development. The title is perhaps a little misleading as that history is presented in chronological sequence divided into the major epochs of Villanovan, Orientalising, Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods. Each period is further divided into sections which deal with such fundamentals as burials, art, and architecture. Religion, warfare, and trade are also discussed, in fact, everything that could possibly be covered is covered, but it might have been an idea to present by topic rather than by chronology. Certainly, it would have made the reading more interesting for the general reader who will read from start to finish. As a result, the presentation favours the student/scholar approach of dipping into the book for specific information at particular times. This approach is further aided by an extensive bibliography divided by topic and an excellent index.

Apart from the fact that information on specific topics is split into the different parts of the book depending on the time period, the other minor weakness is a lack of focus on the relations between Rome and the Etruscan cities. This criticism may be a little unfair as it can easily be applied to every other book written on the Etruscans, but I imagine most readers will want to see the culture in context with its more famous neighbour. What information is available to us is present but it is one topic that suffers more than most from the chronological approach of the book and so the reader has to stitch together various passages from different chapters to complete the story, already a patchy and confusing one.

Make no mistake, though, this is a very fine book, written with great care, attention to detail, and love of the subject. Areas which stand out as being covered with exceptional skill are the religious practices of the Etruscans and their gods; their tomb architecture, which evolved significantly over the centuries; the famous and less well-known wall paintings - their aesthetics and significance both in iconography and importance to our understanding of Etruscan culture; pottery and minor arts from bronze figurines to engraved mirrors; and the individual Etruscan cities and towns, their development and interaction with each other and the wider Mediterranean.

Prior to the 20th century CE, and probably still today to some degree, the Etruscans were thought of as the poor relations of the great cultures of the West. They copied the Greeks and did so rather badly, then the Romans came along and showed how useless they were at defending a culture that nobody would miss anyway. This book corrects those misguided views with overwhelming and compelling evidence. One really is left with a feeling of regret that the Romans so efficiently erased the history of a culture to which they owed so much. Sybille Haynes has considerably helped restore the Etruscans to the position in history they deserve.

Ancient Etruscan Origins, History, and Culture

(Robert Sehepr) The Etruscan civilization flourished in central Italy starting around 900 BC, with assimilation into the Roman society, beginning in the late 4th century BC. Although the Etruscans developed a system of writing borrowed from Greek script, the Etruscan language remains only partly understood, making modern interpretation of their society and culture heavily dependent on much later and generally disapproving Roman and Greek sources.

by Robert Sehepr, January 9th, 2020

The Etruscans called themselves Rasenna, and some scholars associate them with the Sea Peoples named by the Egyptians.

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Stillness in the Storm Editor: Why did we post this?

History is the tapestry of events of human activity that have led to the present. Without understanding where we have been, we can’t properly understand and shape the future we want to create. The preceding information discusses history in some respect. With a proper understanding of history in hand, one can better comprehend their place in the present, as well as positively, contribute to the guiding of civilization toward a benevolent end.

Not sure how to make sense of this? Want to learn how to discern like a pro? Read this essential guide to discernment, analysis of claims, and understanding the truth in a world of deception: 4 Key Steps of Discernment – Advanced Truth-Seeking Tools.

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Attack on Rome

The story begins in 509 BC with the exile of the last monarch of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus who reigned from 535 BC until the establishment of the Roman Republic. After a series of failed attempts to regain the throne, the deposed king sought assistance in Clusium, an Etruscan city.

As Lucius Tarquinius Superbus was of Etruscan ancestry, the powerful king of Clusium, Lars Porsena promised to conquer Rome in his name. It is not clear what spurred Lars Porsena to lead his army against Rome: his altruism to restore the last Roman monarch to the throne, or his own personal ambition of prevailing as the king of Rome. Whatever the reason, Lars Porsena and the Etruscans marched against the Romans in 508.

Lars Porsena was an Etruscan king known for his war against the city of Rome. ( Public Domain )

Porsena concentrated his forces on the Etruscan side of the Tiber and assaulted the Janiculum, a hill in the western part of the city that lay outside its boundaries. The horrified Roman recruits, with all their resources, were an easy win for him.

More confident than ever of impending victory, Lars Porsena and his numerous armies headed for the Pons Sublicius, one of the bridges over the Tiber leading into the city, while an Etruscan garrison was left behind to hold the hill.

Drawing of the site of the Pons Sublicius (falsely shown as a pier). Illustration of Rome during the time of the Republic. ( Public Domain )

Etruscan Dress

Before the Romans developed their long-lasting rule on the Italian peninsula, several other groups of people organized towns and farms into small-scale societies. Yet even the most notable and longest lasting of these pre-Roman societies, known as the Etruscans, remains somewhat of a mystery to historians. This is what we know: sometime before 1000 B.C.E. people began to move to the central part of present-day Italy from areas north and east around 800 B.C.E. more people arrived in the area from Asia Minor, in present-day Turkey. These people, known now as Etruscans, brought with them traditions and costumes from ancient Greek, Mesopotamian (centered in present-day Turkey), and Asian cultures, and they developed a thriving culture of their own. Modeled on the Greek system of loosely linked city-states, the Etruscan culture thrived for several hundred years. Beginning in about 400 B.C.E. , however, they came under frequent attack from territories to the north and south. They were brought under Roman rule in 250 B.C.E. , and by 80 B.C.E. their culture had been virtually destroyed.

Historians have long thought of the Etruscans as mysterious because they left so few written records. We don't know how they built their society or why it fell apart. We don't know much about the ways that they lived and especially about how the poorer people lived. But we do know quite a bit about the way they dressed, wore their hair, and ornamented themselves. The evidence that survived concerning the Etruscans—paintings, sculpture, and pottery, most of it recovered from burial tombs of the wealthy—indicates that the Etruscans had well-developed costume traditions that combined influences from Greece and Asia. Their costumes had a great influence on the Romans who came to dominate Italy, and the rest of the region, in later years.

Wealthier Etruscans dressed very well indeed. Their clothes were made of fine wool, cotton, and linen, they were often very colorful, and they were based on Greek models. Women, for example, typically wore a gown called a chiton under a shawl called a himation. Both of these garments would have been dyed in bright colors, and evidence indicates that Etruscan women loved to wear elaborately patterned garments. Men wore a loin skirt that covered their genitals and often wore a Greek-style tunic. The lacerna, a short woolen cloak, was also very common. By the middle of the sixth century B.C.E. a distinctive garment called a tebenna became the most common male garment. Similar to the Greek chlamys, the tebenna was a long cloak that was draped over the left shoulder and then wrapped around the torso under the right arm. It was often decorated with clavi, stripes of color that indicated the wearer's status or rank in society. The tebenna is thought to be the model for the Roman toga, and Romans also adopted the use of clavi.

One of the highlights of Etruscan costume was its striking jewelry. The Etruscans developed a gold-working technique known as granulation, which involved soldering tiny grains of gold on a smooth background to create a glittering effect. Etruscans wore bracelets, necklaces, earrings, clasps and pins, and other types of jewelry. They also wore makeup and complicated, braided hairstyles. Early Etruscan men wore beards, though later a clean-shaven face became the norm.

Many of the costume traditions of the Etruscans were lost to history, but many others lived on in the traditions of the Romans.



Jean MacIntosh Turfa is a Research Associate and occasional Lecturer in the Mediterranean Section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum and an adjunct professor in Classics at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. She has taught at the University of Liverpool, University of Illinois, Chicago, and Loyola University of Chicago, Drexel University, Dickinson and Bryn Mawr Colleges, St. Joseph’s University and the University of Pennsylvania. She is a Member of the Istituto di Studi Etruschi e Italici.

Ancient Rome had deep roots in the 'Villanovan' culture that we call today the Etruscans. Their long-lived civilization can be traced to 900-750 BC in north-west Italy. They were a sea-faring people trading with and competing against Greek and Phoenician peoples, including the Carthaginians. They were also a great land-based power, especially in the 'Classical' period, where they expanded their power north into the Po Valley and south to Latium. In the 6th century BC an Etruscan dynasty ruled Rome, and their power extended southwards to the Amalfi coast. In 509 BC the Romans rose up to expel their kings, which began the long 'Etruscan twilight' when their power was squeezed by the Samnites and, most especially, the Romans.

Drawing on archaeological evidence including warrior tombs, paintings, sculptures, and fully illustrated throughout, this study examines one of the early rivals to Ancient Rome.

The First French Winemakers Learned Everything They Knew From Etruscans

French winemakers first learned the trade from the Etruscans, an ancient Italian civilization, kicking off domestic production around 525 B.C., according to new research by a team of scientists lead by Patrick McGovern. Archaeologists have long thought that the Etruscans brought wine and winemaking to southern France. But in their new study, McGovern and his team firmed up that assumption. They tested the residue found at the bottom of ancient Etruscan amphoras collected from a site in southern France. At the time, amphoras were used as shipping containers, carrying wine and olive oil and other products around the Mediterranean.

Chemical analyses of ancient organic compounds absorbed into the pottery fabrics of imported Etruscan amphoras (ca. 500� B.C.) and into a limestone pressing platform (ca. 425� B.C.) at the ancient coastal port site of Lattara in southern France provide the earliest biomolecular archaeological evidence for grape wine and viniculture from this country, which is crucial to the later history of wine in Europe and the rest of the world.

But the history of winemaking stretches back much, much further. The civilizations of the ancient Near East had been producing wine since at least as early as the Neolithic era, from around 10,000 to 2,000 B.C. In archaeology, understanding when and how ancient cultures met and collaborated is a difficult challenge. But the flow of wine, say the scientists in their study, can be used to track these connections.

The wine trade was one of the principal incentives for the Canaanites and Phoenicians, followed by the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans, to expand their influence in the Mediterranean Sea. Where wine went, so other cultural elements eventually followed. Technologies of all kinds and new social and religious customs took hold in regions where another fermented beverage made from different natural products had long held sway.

According to the authors, the rise of wine making in southern France suggests not just trade of goods between the ancient Celtic French and the Etruscans, but the flow of ideas and technology.

Similarly to the transfer of winemaking by the Canaanites to the Egyptian Nile Delta millennia earlier, the native Celts at Lattara would have needed the expertise and knowledge of the Etruscans to plant their own vineyards and begin making wine.

Though the French were latecomers to the winemaking industry they’ve quickly made up for lost time. France is now the world’s largest producer of wine, account for 16% of world production.

If you wanted a taste of the old world, say the authors in their study, the closest modern approximation of the ancient wines would be a nice Greek retsina—a wine that bears the taste of pine resin, a material that was used to seal the amphoras during shipping.

Etruscan Civilization : A Cultural History

This comprehensive survey of Etruscan civilization, from its origin in the Villanovan Iron Age in the ninth century B.C. to its absorption by Rome in the first century B.C., combines well-known aspects of the Etruscan world with new discoveries and fresh insights into the role of women in Etruscan society. In addition, the Etruscans are contrasted to the Greeks, whom they often emulated, and to the Romans, who at once admired and disdained them. The result is a compelling and complete picture of a people and a culture.

This in-depth examination of Etruria examines how differing access to mineral wealth, trade routes, and agricultural land led to distinct regional variations. Heavily illustrated with ancient Etruscan art and cultural objects, the text is organized both chronologically and thematically, interweaving archaeological evidence, analysis of social structure, descriptions of trade and burial customs, and an examination of pottery and works of art.


Not much is known about the Etruscan language. Not much of its writing survives. Most what survives is from engravings on tombstones. The Etruscans used an alphabet similar to those in Phoenicia and Greece. [1]

The 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 many languages use. Some Romans, such as Cicero, were fluent readers of Etruscan, but few of their writings survive.

The lack of texts makes knowledge of their society and culture depend on much later Roman sources. Politics was based on the small city and probably the family unit. In their heyday, the Etruscan elite became rich by trade with the Celtic world to the north and the Greeks to the south, and filled their large family tombs with imported luxuries. Ancient Greece had a huge influence on their art and architecture, and Greek mythology was evidently very familiar to them.

Etruscan does not survive in any great literary works, unlike Greek and Latin. An Etruscan religious literature existed, and evidence suggests that there was a body of historical literature and drama as well. For example, the name of a playwright, Volnius, is known. He wrote the "Tuscan tragedies". Although there is no evidence of notation, it is possible that Etruscan music had a written form.

The Etruscans mined metals like copper and iron. They became rich and powerful and travelled around the Mediterranean Sea. The Etruscans 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 had been 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 because bronze was valuable and so was often recycled. [2]

Etruscan religion was a set of stories, beliefs, and religious practices. These came from the preceding Iron Age Villanovan culture. They were heavily influenced by the mythology of ancient Greece and Phoenicia. They had similarities to Roman mythology and religion. As the Etruscan civilization was assimilated into the Roman Republic in the 4th century BC, the Etruscan religion and mythology were partially absorbed. There was a Roman tendency to absorb local gods and customs of conquered lands.

1 Dentures From The Dead

Organ donation had to start somewhere, and when it came to getting dentures, the choice between having teeth and being pain-free or not having teeth and being in absolute agony was kind of a no-brainer. Fashioning teeth out of cow bones, however, was a process carried out by specialists that not everyone could afford.

When looking around for surplus materials to use as false teeth, one solution, disturbing as it may be, stands out as an obvious choice: the teeth of the dead. Medieval people would often just take the teeth of corpses (which, in medieval times, were absolutely plentiful). Sometimes, the teeth would be pulled from several bodies to get a more comfortable match in creating false teeth for the suffering patient. How morbid is that? [10]

I like to write about philosophy, history, the macabre, dark, and horrific aspects of human reality and the world.