The Etruscans

The Etruscans inhabited part of western central Italy, roughly the area of modern Tuscany. They learned much from the Greeks but had their own distinctive character, which influenced the neighbouring Italian peoples, including the Romans. Ancient Etruria was rich in mineral ores, agricultural resources and valuable timber from the forests.

Etruscan civilisation developed out of the early Iron Age culture of Etruria during the Villanovan period of the ninth and eighth centuries BC. The people are usually called 'Etruscans' only after 700 BC, when their language was first written. Twelve city-states were established, which were loosely allied in a league and bonded by language and religion. In early times, the cities were ruled by kings but by about 500 BC power was generally held by magistrates drawn from the aristocratic class.

The Etruscans grew rich from trade based on the mineral resources of copper and iron. They reached the height of their power during the sixth century BC. Mainly as the result of assaults from Greeks, Gauls and Romans, the Etruscan civilisation began to decline. From their city-states, the Etruscans continued to fight with the Romans until, by about 280 BC, all had been defeated. By the first century BC, the Etruscans had been assimilated into the Roman world.

Since Etruscan literature has not survived, it is archaeological evidence together with the writings of Greek and Roman authors that provide most information about the history and development of ancient Etruria.

Related galleries