Introduction to Rome and Roman antiquities
The first known inhabitants of the area between the Tiber and Arno Rivers, were the Etruscans. We do not known what they called themselves Etruscan was a later term. Their language is not considered Indo-European, but a relic the Mediterranean in more
ancient times. At the zenith of their civilization (ca. 500 B.C.); their territory stretched from the Po Valley to the middle of Campania; their capital was at Volsinii (today called Orvieto).
Map of Etruscan territory, ca. 500 B.C.
The best documented early culture of Etruscan was called Villanovan. It existed during the ninth and eighth centuries B.C. From the eighth century B.C., the Villanovans mined around Massa Marittima and Campiglia,
and had copper and iron furnaces, among other places, on Elba.
Bronze cart from the Olmo Bello necropolis; Bisenzio, ca. 750 B.C.; Rome, Villa Giulia.
Pottery and ceramics produced by the Etruscans were enormously influenced by Greek and Phoenician ware. In about 750 B.C., there was a noticeable increase in the quality of Etruscan pottery. Archaeologists believe
this is because of increased contact with the Greeks and the introduction of the lathe. Pieces from this period are signed by individual artists.
Etruscan pottery jug from Tarquinia, ca. eighth century B.C.; Museo Nazionale Tarquinese; Lazio, Italy
The black, highly polished pottery, was exported. The export ware mostly large pots for storage or drinking cups for the luxury market. The Etruscans were highly skilled and creative. They emulated the pottery made
by the Phoenicians, Egyptians, and Greeks, but always added their own touch. Often, the design on the pottery was their own, but the shape borrowed from others.
Jar, probably contained deceased's ashes; ca. 625 B.C.; from Chiusi, Tuscany, Italy, 18 inches; British Museum. This piece is strongly influenced by Egyptian canopic jars, used to hold funerary ashes. The head acts as the lid. The portraiture is realistic rather than idealistic. It is believed that hair may have been added to the head for the funerary rituals, and that the holes were for the attachment of a cloth mask.
The jewelry and engravings of the Etruscans sometimes surpass their Greek or Middle Eastern models. Much of the fine jewelry with significant gems have been found in the northern Etrurian cities of Arezzo, Fiesole
and Florence. Arezzo was particularly urban and prosperous. Lavish tombs with gold and ivory objects have been excavated in this inland, northern Etruscan territory.
Gold ear decoration, Etruscan, 5.6 inches; weight 1.15 pounds; British Museum, London, U.K.
From about 600 B.C. on, the Romans were rivals of the Etruscans for the domination of the central Italy. The Etruscans never formed a coherent, unified government like the
Romans. They always existed as basically autonomous but friendly city states.
In the early sixth century, northern Etruria was invaded by the Celts. The Etruscans basically abandoned that territory and moved south. They founded Capua at about this time. But in the fifth
century B.C., the Romans expelled the Etruscans from Rome, and shortly afterward drove them out of Campania.
The Etruscans once had a formidable navy. But by 474 B.C., the Greek settlers who now occupied much of Campania defeated the Etruscans in the naval battle of Cumae. The Samnites defeated the Etruscans
on the small part of Campania they still controlled in the mid-fifth century B.C., and the Romans destroyed the Etruscan stronghold Veii. All of Etruria was controlled by the Romans by about 400 B.C.
Bronze chimaera, Arezzo, ca. early fourth century B.C.; 25.6 inches high; Archaeological Museum, Florence, Italy.