By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on
Existing from the 8th-1st centuries BC, Etruscan civilization inhabited part of western central Italy. They were influenced by contemporary Greeks but sustained their own distinctive character. Etruscan culture influenced neighboring Italian peoples including Romans. Ancient Etruria was rich in mineral ores, agricultural resources and forest timber.
Etruscan civilization arose from Etruria's early Iron Age culture during the Villanovan period of the 9th and 8th centuries. These people are known as Etruscans only after their development of written language in ~700 BC. Twelve city-states were established, loosely allied in a league and bonded by language and religion. Power was held by kings.
Developments included large-scale sculpture and the painting of interior walls of tombs. Etrurian craftsmen of the Villanovan period of the 8th century BC modelled small figures in terracotta and cast others in bronze. Other indigenous products include Canopic urns. North Syrian and Mediterranean influences led to the development of large Etrurian stone and terracotta statues. It is unclear what influence began the tradition of tomb painting; perhaps it was emulation of their buildings, which had painted unfired brick walls.
Etruscan city-states reached the zenith of their wealth mainly by trading their mineral resources of copper and iron. The Greeks evermore influenced Etruscan architecture, sculpture and painting, although Etruria's distinct character persisted.
During the 6th cent BC, Etruscan kings ruled Rome, now the foremost city of Latium. Etruscan colonies thrive in Campania and in the lower Po Valley. Towns were systematically planned, particularly colonies, and a distinctly Etruscan architectural style emerged for houses and temples. Sculpture was influenced in turn by the Greek Peloponnese, the Greek cities of Asia Minor and Athens. Wall-painting in tombs grew popular particularly at Tarquinia.
Etruscan gem-carving began at this time. Bronzesmiths made fine utensils and harnessed the lost-wax method to produce fine votive statuettes. Painted pottery was much imported from Corinth and later from Athens. Greek craftsmen of Asia Minor came to work in Etruria.
Defeat at Corsica
Etruscans narrowly defeated at sea by Greeks of Alalia in Corsica.
Defeat at Campania
Etruscans defeated on land at Campania by the Greeks of Cuma.
Expulsion from Rome
Tradition states that the last Etruscan king was expelled from Rome in 509 BC when the Roman Republic was established. Power was now typically held by magistrates drawn from the aristocracy.
Continued defeat declined Etruscan fortune, causing Etruscan art to grow more regional. Throughout much of the 5th-4th cent BC the Etruscan city-states were at war with Rome. During the 4th cent BC the northern Etruscan cities became involved with Etruria's bitter war with Rome. To the north of Etruria, Gaulish tribes were establishing settlements in the Po Valley, attacking Etruscan colonies and raiding south of the Apennines.
Etruscan art grew austere. The Archaic style continued well into the 5th century BC. Etruria was slow to incorporate the severe style of Classical Greek sculpture or the red-figure technique of vase-painting. In the 4th cent BC Etruria underwent somewhat of an artistic revival, characterized by an increase in liveliness.
Etruscans defeated at sea by the Greeks of Syracuse, cutting sea-routes linking Etruria with the Aegean.
Siege of Veii
A decisive event was the ten year siege of Veii by Rome and its 396 BC success. This breached the southern boundary of Etruria.
Etruscan decline was caused by assaults from Greeks, Gauls and Romans. Fighting with the Romans continued until all the Etruscan city-states had been defeated in ~280 BC.
1st century BC
By the 1st cent BC the Etruscans were assimilated into the Roman world.
No Etruscan literature has survived, although Greek and Roman authors' writings have proved fruitful for information.