The Etruscan civilization is the modern name given to a powerful, wealthy and refined civilization of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany, western Umbria, and northern Lazio.
As distinguished by its unique language, this civilization endured from before the time of the earliest Etruscan inscriptions (c. 700 BC) until its assimilation into the Roman Republic, beginning in the late 4th century BC with the Roman–Etruscan Wars. Top right: Etruscan Vase, 325 B.C.E.
Culture that is identifiably Etruscan developed in Italy after about 800 BC, approximately over the range of the preceding Iron Age Villanovan culture. The latter gave way in the 7th century to a culture that was influenced by ancient Greece, Magna Graecia, and Phoenicia. At its maximum extent, during the foundational period of Rome and the Roman Kingdom, Etruscan civilization flourished in three confederacies of cities: of Etruria, of the Po Valley with the eastern Alps, and of Latium and Campania.
After 500 BC, the political destiny of Italy passed out of Etruscan hands, but the decline was gradual, with the last Etruscan cities formally absorbed by Rome around 100 BC. Although the Etruscans developed a system of writing, the Etruscan language remains only partly understood, and only a handful of texts of any length survive, making modern understanding of their society and culture heavily dependent on much later and generally disapproving Roman sources. Politics were based on the small city, and probably the family unit. In their heyday, the Etruscan elite grew very rich through trade with the Celtic world to the north and the Greeks to the south, and filled their large family tombs with imported luxuries.
Archaic Greece had a huge influence on their art and architecture, and Greek mythology was evidently very familiar to them.
The ancient Romans referred to the Etruscans as the Tusci or Etrusci. Right Etruscan Terracotta bust about 600 BCE.
Their Roman name is the origin of the terms Tuscany, which refers to their heartland, and Etruria, which can refer to their wider region. In Attic Greek, the Etruscans were known as Tyrrhenians (Tyrrhenoi), earlier Tyrsenoi, from which the Romans derived the names Tyrrheni, Tyrrhenia (Etruria), and Mare Tyrrhenum (Tyrrhenian Sea), prompting some to associate them with the Teresh (Sea Peoples).
The word may also be related to the Hittite Taruisa (gr. Tursha). The Etruscans called themselves Rasenna, which was syncopated to Rasna or Rasna. The origins of the Etruscans are mostly lost in prehistory, although Greek historians as early as the 5th century BC, repeatedly associated the Tyrrhenians (Tyrrhenoi/????????, Tyrsenoi/???s????) with Pelasgians.
Thucydides, Herodotus and Strabo all denote Lemnos as settled by Pelasgians who Thucydides identifies as "belonging to the Tyrsenoi" and although both Strabo and Herodotus agree that the migration was led by Tyrrhenus/Tyrsenos, son of Atys, king of Lydia, Strabo specifies that it was the Pelasgians of Lemnos and Imbros that followed Tyrrhenus or Tyrsenos to the Italian Peninsula.
The Lemnian Pelasgian link was further manifested by the discovery of the Lemnos Stele, whose inscriptions were written in a language which shows strong structural resemblances to the language of the Tyrrhenians (Etruscans).
Dionysius of Halicarnassus records a Pelasgian migration from Thessaly to the Italian Peninsula noting that "the Pelasgi made themselves masters of some of the lands belonging to the Umbri" and Herodotus describes how the Tyrsenoi migrated from Lydia to the lands of the Umbri.
Strabo as well as the Homeric Hymn to Dionysus make mention of the Tyrrhenians as pirates. Pliny the Elder put the Etruscans in the context of the Rhaetian people to the north and wrote in his Natural History (79 AD)
Adjoining these the (Alpine) Noricans are the Raeti and Vindelici. All are divided into a number of states. The Raeti are believed to be people of Tuscan race driven out by the Gauls, their leader was named Raetus.
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Etruscan expansion was focused both to the north beyond the Apennine Mountains and into Campania. Some small towns in the sixth century BC disappeared during this time, ostensibly consumed by greater, more powerful neighbours. However, it is certain that the political structure of the Etruscan culture was similar to, albeit more aristocratic than, Magna Graecia in the south.
The mining and commerce of metal, especially copper and iron, led to an enrichment of the Etruscans and to the expansion of their influence in the Italian peninsula and the western Mediterranean Sea. Here, their interests collided with those of the Greeks, especially in the sixth century BC, when Phocaeans of Italy founded colonies along the coast of Sardinia, Spain and Corsica. This led the Etruscans to ally themselves with Carthage, whose interests also collided with the Greeks.
Alternatively, should other ancient populations prove similar to comparable modern ones; one should conclude that the Etruscans’ mitochondrial sequences underwent extinction at a particularly high rate and look for an explanation for that.
Around 540 BC, the Battle of Alalia led to a new distribution of power in the western Mediterranean.
Though the battle had no clear winner, Carthage managed to expand its sphere of influence at the expense of the Greeks, and Etruria saw itself relegated to the northern Tyrrhenian Sea with full ownership of Corsica.
From the first half of the 5th century BC, the new international political situation meant the beginning of the Etruscan decline after losing their southern provinces.
Top: Etruscan Man, 500 to 400 B.C.E.
In 480 BC, Etruria's ally Carthage was defeated by a coalition of Magna Graecia cities led by Syracuse, Sicily.
A few years later, in 474, Syracuse's tyrant Hiero defeated the Etruscans at the Battle of Cumae.
Etruria's influence over the cities of Latium and Campania weakened, and the area was taken over by Romans and Samnites.
In the fourth century BC, Etruria saw a Gallic invasion end its influence over the Po Valley and the Adriatic coast.
Meanwhile, Rome had started annexing Etruscan cities.
This led to the loss of the northern Etruscan provinces.
Etruria was conquered by Rome in the third century BC.