Last modified on 22 April 2013, at 14:50

Saylor.org's Ancient Civilizations of the World/Etruscan Culture and Early Rome

Etruscan CultureEdit

The origins of the Etruscans are lost in prehistory. Historians have no literature, no texts of religion or philosophy; therefore much of what is known about this civilization is derived from grave goods and tomb findings. A linguistic hint lays lays in the Greek meaning of their name, The Tusci, the "people who build towers" or "the tower builders." This venerable etymology is at least as old as Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who wrote: "...there is no reason that the Greeks should not have called them by this name, both from their living in towers and from the name of one of their rulers."

They could be settlers from Troy, the famed city of Towers, or even founded from refugees who fled the fall of Troy. The main hypotheses are that they are indigenous, probably stemming from the Villanovan culture or from the Near East. Etruscan expansion was focused both to the north beyond the Apennines and into Campania. Some small towns in the 6th century BCE 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.

SocietyEdit

GovernmentEdit

The historical Etruscans had achieved a state system of society, with remnants of the chiefdom and tribal forms. In this they were different from the surrounding Italics, who had chiefs and tribes. Rome was in a sense the first Italic state, but it began as an Etruscan one. It is believed that the Etruscan government style changed from total monarchy to oligarchic republic (as the Roman Republic) in the 6th century BCE, although it is important to note this did not happen to all the city states.

The Etruscan state government was essentially a theocracy. The government was viewed as being a central authority, over all tribal and clan organizations. It retained the power of life and death; in fact, the gorgon, an ancient symbol of that power, appears as a motif in Etruscan decoration. The adherents to this state power were united by a common religion. Political unity in Etruscan society was the city-state, which was probably the referent of methlum, “district”. Etruscan texts name quite a number of magistrates, without much of a hint as to their function: the camthi, the parnich, the purth, the tamera, the macstrev, and so on. The people were the mech. The chief ruler of a methlum was perhaps a zilach.

MilitaryEdit

Etruscan warrior, found near Viterbo, Italy, dated circa 500 BCE.

The Etruscans, like the contemporary cultures of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, had a significant military tradition. In addition to marking the rank and power of certain individuals in Etruscan culture, warfare was a considerable economic boon to Etruscan civilization. Like many ancient societies, the Etruscans conducted campaigns during summer months, raiding neighboring areas, attempting to gain territory and combating piracy as a means of acquiring valuable resources such as land, prestige, goods, and slaves. It is also likely individuals taken in battle would be ransomed back to their families and clans at high cost. Prisoners could also potentially be sacrificed on tombs as an honor to fallen leaders of Etruscan society, not unlike the sacrifices made by Achilles for Patrocles.

FamilyEdit

Sarcophagus of Etruscan couple, Louvre, Room 18.

The Etruscans were a monogamous society that emphasized pairing. Thus, at the center of the society was the married couple, or tusurthir. Archaeological evidence shows that families were interred there over long periods, marking the growth of the aristocratic family as a fixed institution, parallel to the gens at Rome and perhaps even its model.

Archaeologist have found numerous statuettes that depict nude female figures. Now a day, historians tell us that for the Etruscans depictions of the nude embrace, or symplegma, "had the power to ward off evil"; as did baring the breast, which was adopted by western civilization as an apotropaic device, appearing finally on the figureheads of sailing ships as a nude female upper torso. It is also possible that Greek and Roman attitudes to the Etruscans were based on a misunderstanding of the place of women within their society. In both Greece and Republican Rome, respectable women were confined to the house and mixed-sex socialising did not occur. Thus the freedom of women within Etruscan society could have been misunderstood as implying their sexual availability. It is worth noting that a number of Etruscan tombs carry funerary inscriptions in the form "X son of (father) and (mother)", indicating the importance of the mother's side of the family.

ReligionEdit

The Etruscan system of belief was an immanent polytheism; that is, all visible phenomena were considered to be a manifestation of divine power and that power was subdivided into deities that acted continually on the world of man and could be dissuaded or persuaded in favour of human affairs. How to understand the will of deities and how to behave had been "revealed" to the Etruscans by two "initiators", Tages, a childlike figure born from tilled land and immediately gifted with prescience; and Vegoia, a female figure. Their "teachings" were kept in a series of sacred books.

Three layers of deities are evident in the extensive Etruscan art motifs. One appears to be divinities of an indigenous nature: Catha and Usil, the sun; Tivr, the moon; Selvans, a civil god; Turan, the goddess of love; Laran, the god of war; Leinth, the goddess of death; Maris; Thalna; Turms; and the ever-popular Fufluns, whose name is related in some unknown way to the city of Populonia and the populus Romanus. Perhaps he was the god of the people. In addition the Greek gods were taken into the Etruscan system: Aritimi (Artemis), Menrva (Minerva), Pacha (Dionysus). The Greek heroes taken from Homer also appear extensively in art motifs

CitiesEdit

Etruscan walled town, Civita di Bagnoregio.

The range of Etruscan civilization is marked by its cities. They were entirely assimilated by Italic, Celtic, or Roman ethnic groups, but the names survive from inscriptions and their ruins are of aesthetic and historic interest in most of the cities of central Italy. Etruscan cities flourished over most of Italy during the Roman Iron Age, marking the farthest extent of Etruscan civilization. They were gradually assimilated first by Italics in the south, then by Celts in the north and finally in Etruria itself by the growing Roman Republic. That many Roman cities were formerly Etruscan was well known to all the Roman authors. Some cities were founded by Etruscans in prehistoric times, and bore entirely Etruscan names. Others were colonized by Etruscans who Etruscanized the name, usually Italic.

ArchitectureEdit

Art, music and literatureEdit

The Chimera of Arezzo, a prime example of Etruscan art.

Etruscan art was the form of figurative art produced by the Etruscan civilization in northern Italy between the 9th and 2nd centuries BCE. Particularly strong in this tradition were figurative sculpture in terracotta (particularly life-size on sarcophagi or temples) and cast bronze, wall-painting and metalworking (especially engraved bronze mirrors). There was also a tradition of Etruscan vase painting. Etruscan art was strongly connected to religion; the afterlife was of major importance in Etruscan art.

The Etruscan musical instruments seen in frescoes and bas-reliefs are different types of pipes, such as the plagiaulos (the pipes of Pan or Syrinx), the alabaster pipe and the famous double pipes, accompanied on percussion instruments such as the tintinnabulum, tympanum and crotales, and later by stringed instruments like the lyre and kithara.

With the exception of the Liber Linteus, the only written records of Etruscan origin that remain are inscriptions, mainly funerary. The language is written in a script related to the early Euboean Greek alphabet. Etruscan literature is evidenced only in references by later Roman authors.

Language and etymologyEdit

Knowledge of the Etruscan language is still far from complete. The Etruscans are believed to have spoken a non-Indo-European language. The majority consensus is that Etruscan was related only to other members of what is called the Tyrsenian language family, which in itself is an isolate family, that is, unrelated directly to other known language groups. Since Rix (1998) it is widely accepted that the Tyrsenian family groups Rhaetic and Lemnian are related to Etruscan.

No etymology exists for Rasna, the Etruscans' name for themselves. The etymology of "Etruscan" comes from Tusci, a word which is based on a beneficiary phrase in the third Iguvine tablet, which is a major source for the Umbrian language. The phrase is turskum ... nomen, "the Tuscan name", from which a root *Tursci can be reconstructed. A metathesis and a word-initial epenthesis produce E-trus-ci. A common hypothesis is that *Turs- along with Latin turris, "tower", come from Greek τύρσις, "tower." The Tusci were therefore the "people who build towers" or "the tower builders." This venerable etymology is at least as old as Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who said "And there is no reason that the Greeks should not have called them by this name, both from their living in towers and from the name of one of their rulers."

Giuliano and Larissa Bonfante (Bonfante 2002) speculate that Etruscan houses seemed like towers to the simple Latins. It is true that the Etruscans preferred to build hill towns on high precipices enhanced by walls. On the other hand, if the Tyrrhenian name came from an incursion of sea peoples or later migrants, then it might well be related to the name of Troy, the city of towers in that case.

Founding of RomeEdit

The founding of Rome is the subject of several traditional stories handed down by the ancient Romans themselves, which explain the earliest history of their city in terms of legend and myth. The most familiar of these myths, and perhaps the most famous of all Roman myths, is the story of Romulus and Remus, the twins who were suckled by a she-wolf. This story had to be reconciled with a dual tradition, set earlier in time, that had the Trojan refugee Aeneas escaped to Italy and founded the line of Romans through his son Iulus, the namesake of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Now, it is being investigated through archaeology.

Founding mythsEdit

AeneasEdit

Aeneas flees burning Troy, Federico Barocci, 1598. Galleria Borghese, Rome.

The national epic of Rome, the Aeneid of Vergil, tells the story of how the Trojan prince Aeneas came to Italy. According to the Aeneid, the survivors from the fallen city of Troy banded together under Aeneas, underwent a series of adventures around the Mediterranean Sea, including a stop at newly founded Carthage under the rule of Queen Dido, and eventually reached the Italian coast. The Trojans were thought to have landed in an area between modern Anzio and Fiumicino, southwest of Rome: probably at Laurentum, or in other versions, at Lavinium, a place named for Lavinia, the daughter of King Latinus, whom Aeneas married. Through a series of armed conflicts, the Trojans won the right to stay and to assimilate with the local peoples. The young son of Aeneas, Ascanius, also known as Iulus, went on to found Alba Longa and the line of Alban kings who filled the chronological gap between the Trojan saga and the traditional founding of Rome in the 8th century BC.

Romulus and RemusEdit

The wolf, feeding the twins Romulus and Remus, probably the most famous legend of the founding of the city.

The myth of Aeneas, Greek in origin, had to be reconciled with the Italian myth of Romulus and Remus, who taken as historical figures would have been born around 771 BC. Romulus and Remus are the twin brothers and central characters of Rome's foundation myth. Their mother was Rhea Silvia, daughter to Numitor, king of Alba Longa. Before their conception, Numitor's brother Amulius had seized power, killed Numitor's male heirs and forced Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin, sworn to chastity. Rhea Silvia conceived the twins by the god Mars, or by the demi-god Hercules; once the twins were born, Amulius had them abandoned to die in the river Tiber. They were saved by a series of miraculous interventions: the river carried them to safety, a she-wolf found and suckled them, and a woodpecker fed them. A shepherd and his wife found and fostered them to manhood, as simple shepherds. The twins, still ignorant of their true origins, were natural leaders. Each acquired many followers. When they discovered the truth of their birth, they killed Amulius and restored Numitor to his throne. Rather than wait to inherit Alba Longa they chose to found a new city.

Romulus wanted to found a city on the Palatine Hill; Remus preferred the Aventine Hill. They agreed to determine the site through augury but when each claimed the results in his own favor, they quarreled and Remus was killed. Romulus founded the new city, named it Rome, after himself, and created its first legions and senate. The new city grew rapidly, swelled by landless refugees; as most were unmarried, Romulus arranged the abduction of women from the neighboring Sabines. The ensuing war ended with the joining of Sabines and Romans as one Roman people. Thanks to divine favour and Romulus' inspired leadership, Rome became a dominant force, but Romulus himself became increasingly autocratic, and disappeared or died in mysterious circumstances. In later forms of the myth, he ascended to heaven, and was identified with Quirinus, the divine personification of the Roman people.

The legend as a whole encapsulates Rome's ideas of itself, its origins and moral values. For modern scholarship, it remains one of the most complex and problematic of all foundation myths, particularly in the matter and manner of Remus' death. Ancient historians had no doubt that Romulus gave his name to the city. Most modern historians believe his name a back-formation from the name Rome; the basis for Remus' name and role remain subjects of ancient and modern speculation. The myth was fully developed into something like an "official", chronological version in the Late Republican and early Imperial era; Roman historians dated the city's foundation to between 758 and 728 BC, and Plutarch reckoned the twins' birth year as c. 27/28 March 771 BC. An earlier tradition that gave Romulus a distant ancestor in the semi-divine Trojan prince Aeneas was further embellished; and Romulus was made the direct ancestor of Rome's first Imperial dynasty. Possible historical bases for the broad mythological narrative remain unclear and disputed. The image of the she-wolf suckling the divinely fathered twins became an iconic representation of the city and its founding legend, making Romulus and Remus preeminent among the feral children of ancient mythography.

Foundation dateEdit

During the Roman Republic, several dates were given for the founding of the city between 753 BC and 728 BC. Finally, under the Roman Empire, the date suggested by scholar Marcus Terentius Varro, 753 BC, was agreed upon, but in the calendar, the Roman calendar, the Fasti Capitolini, the year given was 752. Although the proposed years varied, all versions agreed that the city was founded on April 21, the day of the festival sacred to Pales, goddess of shepherds; in her honour, Rome celebrated the Parilia (or Palilia).

Today debate has raged over the validity of the stories of Rome's foundation. Archaeology offers the best chance of sorting out the debate, and indeed recent discoveries on Palatine Hill in Rome have offered good evidence. Chief among these is a series of fortification walls on the north slope of Palatine Hill that can be dated to the middle of the 8th century BC, when legend says that Romulus plowed a furrow (sulcus) around the Palatine Hill in order to mark the boundary of his new city.

The name of RomeEdit

The name of the city is generally considered to refer to Romulus, but there are other hypotheses. Jean-Jacques Rousseau suggested Greek "ῥώμη" ("rhōmē"), meaning "strength, vigor". Another hypothesis refers the name to Roma, who supposedly was the daughter of Aeneas or Evander. The Basque scholar Manuel de Larramendi thought that the origin was the Basque word "orma" (modern Basque "horma"), meaning "wall".

Rome is also called the "Urbs", the word that in later Latin generically referred to any town or city. "Urbs" may ultimately have come from "urvus", the furrow cut by a plough, in this case, by that of Romulus. The name "Romulus" is probably a back-formation; that is, the name "Romulus" was derived from the word "Rome". The suffix "-ulus" is masculine and a diminutive, so "Romulus" means "the little boy from Rome."

Archaeological researchEdit

Archaeological research tells us that the first hill to be inhabited seems to have been the Palatine (therefore confirming the legend), which is also at the center of ancient Rome. Its three peaks, the minor hills (Cermalus or Germalus, Palatium, and Velia), were united with the three peaks of the Esquiline (Cispius, Fagutal, and Oppius), and then villages on the Caelian Hill and Suburra. These hills had expressive names. The Caelian Hill was also called Querquetulanus, from "quercus"" (oak), and "Fagutal" (pointing to beech-woods, from "fagus" meaning "beech"). Recent discoveries revealed that the Germalus on the northern part of the Palatine was the site of a village (dated to the 9th century BC) with circular or elliptic dwellings. It was protected by a clay wall (perhaps reinforced with wood), and it is likely that this is where Rome was really founded.

Festivals for the Septimontium (literally "of the seven hills"), on December 11, were in the past considered related to the foundation. However, because April 21 is the only date for Rome's foundation upon which all the legends agree, it has been recently argued that Septimontium celebrated the first federations among Roman hills: a similar federation was, in fact, celebrated by the Latins at Cave, Italy, or at Monte Cavo (in Castelli).

AttributionEdit

"Etruscan Civilization" (Wikipedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etruscan_civilization