Flute Player - Tarquinia

The Etruscans


It isn't known where the Etruscans came from, but the character of their art and many distinctive features of their religion make it clear that the original Etruscans were from a region in Asia Minor.  During the Iron Age (1000 to 1 B.C.), urban civilization spread throughout Etruria - Tarquinia was probably the oldest city and is the most famous.   The other centers were Caere (Cerveteri), Vulci, and Veii (Veio).

When they arrived, they brought a high level of a Greek-like culture with them.   Like the Greeks, the Etruscans lived in fortified cities.   The Etruscan Civilization, often overshadowed by the successes of its famous neighbor Rome, controlled at its height large tracts of land in present day Italy.  The core homeland of this grand civilization was an area which stretched from the Arno River in the North to the Tiber River towards the center of the Italian peninsula in the South.   The Etruscans were an agrarian people, but they also used military means to dominate the region. 


The people of this land were the bearers of an extremely powerful civilization which thrived for many years both preceding and during the years of the Roman Republic.    During this time there were many active civilizations in the Mediterranean waters surrounding Italy, and the Etruscans were known to have carried on widespread trade throughout the Mediterranean basin, primarily with Greece and North Africa.


At the height of their power (c. 500 B.C.), the Etruscans dominated Italy from the Po river in the north to central Campania.    These people rose to prosperity and power, and then disappeared, leaving behind many unanswered questions concerning their origin and their culture.    For their Greek contemporaries and Roman successors, the Etruscans were clearly a different ethnic group.


There are many Etruscan cities to be visited in Tuscany.   A very pleasant day outing; driven through the Tuscany / Umbria region where one can admire the surrounding landscape that are mentioned in many books.    


Cities that composed the Etruscan Dodecapoli or league of "twelve cities":

  • Arretium - Arezzo
  • Caisra, Cisra - Cerveteri
  • Clevsin - Clusium or Chiusi
  • Curtun - Cortona
  • Perusna - Perugia
  • Pupluna, Fufluna - Populonia
  • Veia - Veio
  • Tarch(u)na - Tarquinia-Corneto
  • Vetluna, Vetluna - Vetulonia
  • Felathri - Volterra
  • Velzna - Volsinii, presumed Orvieto
  • Velch, Velc(a)l - Vulci or Volci

Other Etruscan cities, not members of the Dodecapoli:

  • Vi(p)sul - Faesulae  Fiesole
  • Adria
  • Spina
  • Felsina - Bononia - Bologna
  • Rusellae, near modern Roselle Terme
  • Alalia in Corsica - Aleria
  • Capeva - Capua
  • Manthva - Mantua
  • Inarime(?) - Pitecusa -  Ischia


Etruscan Art & Sculptures has been said by some 19th and even 20th Century writers to be somehow inferior, although this was usually by erroneous comparison to the Greek mathematical ideals of beauty.   Nowadays we can appreciate Etruscan Art much more readily, since Etruscan Artists seem to capture the feeling and the essence of so many of their subjects so much better than for example art of the highly stylised Classical period.


The styles of Etruscan Art vary considerably between the individual Etruscan cities, and there was also significant variation on style depending on the period - so much so that we can date Etruscan art works in many cases by comparison with other examples.   The interest in Etruscan Art grew during the renaissance, at which time the extant Etruscan art had considerable stylistic influences on the emerging artists of the renaissance, many of whom lived in former Etruscan cities where such art was plentiful. 


By the nineteenth century, Etruscan art had grown to a passion, and the "excavation" of Etruscan tombs to meet growing demands increased.   An example of this is the brother of Napolean, who owned land near Canino, which included the Etruscan necropolis of Vulci.   These "resources" he exploited to great effect, destroying many pieces of Etruscan art in the process, and covering in the tombs with soil afterwards.   


As a result of this and many other examples, we now have thousands of pieces of Etruscan Art whose provenance is unknown, and which are still in private collections , or have been donated to museums in Europe and the Unted States. 



Fishing scene

Tomb of Hunting and Fishing,Tarquinia 

Double Flute Player from the tomb of the Leopards, Tarquinia


Surviving Etruscan painting in underground funerary vaults, consists of murals on the stone or plastered stone walls and ceilings of tombs.     Frescoes frequently depict banquets, festivals, and scenes of daily life, sometimes have subjects from religion, some depict figures dancing or playing musical instruments.  These are very typical of so many Etruscan Frescoes which depicted figures vibrant with life.


They painted birds or animals on many of these intermingled with the human figures, who usually looked strong and healthy and full of the joy of life.   The little birds and other figures from nature somehow do not seem out of place or look like mere decorations, but lended a natural harmony to the finished work.   Figures are stylized, heavy, and often outlined in black.   


The Etruscans created artistic objects mostly for religious purposes.   Important part of their art is associated with their funerary customs.   The cult of the dead, similar to contemporaneous Egyptian practices, produced a highly developed sepulchral art.   The sculptured lids of sarcophagi often represented a single figure or a couple with the haunting archaic smile so evident in early Greek sculpture.

The most famous Etruscan works are in terra-cotta, or baked clay, and these include besides sculptures on sarcophagi, also works from temples.    As a consequence of abundant ore deposits, bronze statuary was common and the Etruscans brought the art of bronze working to a very high level of achievement.   Extant examples of their craftsmanship in bronze include the life-size statue of Orator and Brutus.     They rank as the finest bronze statues of its era.   Most Etruscan sculpture, however, was executed in clay.



The sculpture, left, (actually a hollow cinerary urn) comes from the Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri, and is known as the Sarcophagus degli Sposi


It is currently exhibited in the Villa Giulia museum in Rome. The terra cotta sarcophagus lid with figures of a man and woman, presumably his wife reclining on a triclinium or dining couch presumably eating a meal or having a quiet moment after supper.   Both figures are propped up on their left elbow with the man close behind the woman.   Both faces share a secret, tender smile. 


A very similar sarcophagus to this was also found in Cerveteri. They are believed to be by the same artist and date to 520 - 530 BCE.

Architecture    Etruscans built palaces, public buildings, and early temples in wood and brick, so nothing remained.    Ceramic models of temples, as well as traces of later stone structures, indicate how temples were built in enclosures and had tiled, gabled roofs supported on pillars, like their Greek counterparts. 


An Etruscan temple, to meet religious requirements, was located on a north-south axis and stood on a high podium with a four-columned porch.    Roman temples were patterned on the form developed by the Etruscans.    Most Etruscan cities were fortified and with encompassing walls enforced by double gates and towers.

No remains of Etruscan homes have been found. The Etruscans also built aqueducts, bridges, and sewers. Outside the cities were cemeteries containing family tombs.    They were built underground but had large vaults of overlapping stones covered by mounds of earth.


Little Etruscan literature remains and the language of inscriptions on their monuments has been only partially deciphered.    They had an alphabet based on the Greek alphabet.   Etruscan art appears nowhere as related primary upon the influences, concepts and methods of Greek art.   There are marked similarities to the art of the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon, Egypt, Asia Minor, and even Assyria.    It also promotes Italian elements and reflects distinctively Etruscan religious beliefs.

Etruscan art had great influence on subsequent Roman styles and was largely absorbed by the 1st century B.C.

 Artan Ramaj - Mobile: +39-32895 49342   Home: +39-055 576283    e-mail: info@privatetourdriveritaly.com