If someone living 2,000 years from now wanted to know what took place in the year 2005, it would be necessary to go through impossible amounts of information. Today, scores of individuals with varying agendas write about day-to-day events. Thousands of publications and electronic media maintain records. Before the Common Era the situation was naturally much different. Because so few accounts exist of this time period, anthropologists and historians have to make educated guesses to fill in the blanks. This same problem exists with early Rome and Italy. No account written earlier than the late 3rd century exists and no continuous account recorded before the age of Augustus now survives. Thus, most of the information concerning the Etruscan traditions either comes from individuals such as the Roman historian Livy, the Greeks, and archaeological finds.
Born in Northern Italy in 59 BC, Livy wrote a 142-book history of Rome called Ab Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City). As far as it is known, Livy never held public office but was somewhat acquainted with the emperor Augustus. It is also believed that Livy encouraged the future emperor Claudius in his historical studies. Most of Livy's original works were destroyed. Today, only books 1-10 and 21-45 survive. The second part consisted of ten books, which dealt with the conquest of Italy. Books 6 to 10 still exist from this section. In these remaining sections Rome recovers from her wars and, at the end of book 10, defeats the Etruscans in 295 BC. (Settis 1985, 30)
The Etruscan people are considered to be part of the Villanovan culture of the 9th and 8th centuries BC. There are many suggestions on their origin. Some scholars believe they were an indigenous group that had been in the area for some time. Others argue that they came from another location outside of Italy (Massa 1980, 2).
For example, some say that the Etruscans were part of the famous Pelasgians, or Sea Peoples of Lemnos. This is evidenced by the fact that the Pelasgians were a mixture of various peoples including some of the biblical Canaanites who later became the Phoenicians. This theory is supported by excavations on Lemnos that found a community dating to around 600 BC linking to the Etruscans. The inscription on a Lemnos Stele, dated 600 BCE and written in a language similar to Etruscan, was found in a warrior's tomb with weapons and pottery very similar to early Etrucia. The necropolis of the city contained 130 cremated burials. An early form of Etruscan Bucchero pottery was found in the women's burials. In addition, the people of Asia Minor used Bucchero clay as did the Etruscans. Likewise, daggers and axes of Cretan and Etruscan models were found in the male sites. (Bryce 1999)
Livy's theory is that the Etruscans came from the north and crossed the Alps. He says of this idea: "Even the Alpine populations have the same origin as the Etruscans, particularly the Raetians. The latter have been rendered savage by the very nature of the region, so much so that they have preserved nothing of their ancient fatherland except the accent, and even that in a very corrupt form." (1978 V, 33).
According to Bloch, the correct facts were used by Livy to arrive at the wrong conclusions (54). The presence of Etruscans in Raetia is certain. Yet it does not go back very far, nor to a hypothetical passage of the Etruscans through the Alpine valleys. It was only in the 4th century BC, when the Celtic invasion compelled the Etruscans of the Po plain to flee, that the latter sought refuge in the safe retreats offered by the Alpine foothills. In fact, Livy really did not mean to say much more, and the Etruscoid inscriptions of Raetia, which are all of a late date and not earlier than the 3rd century BC, can be perfectly well explained by this movement of Etruscan refugees towards the north.
Thus, none of the theories about the Etruscan origins is perfect. More information will be needed to make a definite conclusion. Most likely, the Etruscans were a combination of an indigenous group of people who were influenced by outside cultures. Even Livy was aware of the problems of writing a history of early Rome, admitting that: "Events before Rome was born have come down to us in old tales with more of the charm of poetry than of sound historical record, and such traditions I propose neither to affirm nor refute." One of these tales was that of Romulus and Remus. Livy is also careful to add that Roman legends describe men and women not as they are, but as they ought to be (1978 I, 6).
Few civilizations, especially those as advanced as that of the Etruscans, developed and died out so quickly. During the earliest times, the Etruscans lived in very simple reed or wood huts. Their tombs consisted of wells dug in the ground with biconical ossuaries and some personal objects (Settis, 15). The original Etruscan homeland was probably only about the size of West Virginia. Later, the culture expanded west and south to found colonies on the Tyrrhenian island of Corsica and near Naples (Time Life, 11).
Towards the middle of the 8th century BC, the first Greek colonizers arrived and set up base in the Etruscan city of Campania to look for metal ore. This trade heralded in an era of significant expansion for the Etruscans, including development of luxury items and technological innovations such as writing, metal work and pottery. Soon, the population grew and urban centers formed with an aristocratic class. Later, as Etruscan maritime trade with the Greeks and Orient continued to expand, a prosperous democratic middle class arose.
As their society grew, the Etruscans began to travel north across the Apennines into the Po Valley and established additional settlements along the Adriatic coast. In fact, until 510 BC, their dynasty actually ruled Rome. As Livy states: Etrucia at its height of power "filled the whole length of Italy from the Alps to the Sicilian strait with the noise of her name" (1978 I, 2).
For a period during the 6th century, Rome, known as Ruma in Etruscan, became the center of the Etruscan monarchy, with large monuments and buildings, exquisite works of art, major institutions and a strong religious foundation. Before the Etruscans came, Rome was actually a collection of villages, not a real town. However, the Etruscans built it into an urban area that compared to the major capitals of southern Etrucia.
When they arrived in Rome, the Etruscans intermixed with the rest of the citizens who were either of Latin or part Sabine background. (Livy 1978 II, 14). Even when Rome later expelled the Tarquinian Etruscan Dynasty, and the citizenry once again became nearly all Latin, traces of the Etruscan culture still survived in the temples, terracotta decorations and artwork (Bloch 1969, 99). Archaeological discoveries as well as Livy confirm that the Etruscans had a significant impact on Roman life, although being present for such a relatively brief time. In fact, it was the Etruscan civilization in its entirety that established itself on the seven hills (Bloch 1969, 101).
The Etruscans left their mark in a number of ways. For example, it is believed that they brought with them the concepts and divinatory techniques they had cherished in their own region, since Livy writes about the science of divine omens. Livy also stresses the importance of the political and military measures taken by the Etruscan rulers and their conquests of Latin towns and vast building programs for civil and religious purposes. In addition, ancient authors record that a famous Etruscan sculptor named Vulca was called to Rome to model the cult statue of Jupiter Capitolinus for his new temple (Haynes 2000, 204). The Etruscan Tarquin Dynasty also commissioned from Vulca an acroterial terracotta group of quadriga for the roof of the Capitoline temple, and the building itself was constructed with the help of the Etruscans (Livy 1978 I, 56).
Unfortunately, the Etruscans did not remain a long time in the city of Rome. In the first book of his Histories, Livy relates with much description how the Tarquins were evicted from Rome, despite all of their extensive public works Tarquin the Proud, a violent tyrant, was detested by the Roman people. Urged on by a violent passion, he dared to assault Lucretia, an honorable matron who, to escape dishonor, took her own life. This led to a revolution led by Lucius Junius Brutus. In 510 BC, after the Etruscans were removed, the Roman Republic was born.
The Etruscans in the city of Veii, located about 15 miles northwest of Rome, also had close ties with Rome. The two urban areas established close relationships during the 6th century. However, this changed as Rome began to feel threatened by its Etruscan neighbor. The king of Veii, for example, murdered four Roman ambassadors and took possession of Fidenae. Rome's conflicts with Veii…