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Although today its successor is more celebrated in History, the Etruscan Civilization thrived for centuries before the founding of Rome.
At its height from around 750 – 400 BCE, the Etruscan Civilization was very prosperous with a level of development and culture comparable to Egypt and Greece.
The Ancient Historian Herodotus suggested that the Etruscans originated in Anatolia, and an important clue to the origins of the Etruscans is the language they spoke which was unique because it was not of Indo-European origin like that of the surrounding peoples.
This suggests that the Etruscans were probably an indigenous European people, inhabiting Europe before the migration of Indo-European speaking peoples from the Caucusus mountains occured.
As a result, the Etruscan presence in Italy dating back to 1200 BC has been firmly established using Archaeological evidence. During the 9th century however, Etruscan society began to develop more rapidly with the discovery of vast mineral resources in the form of copper and iron.
This initiated a process of urbanisation and expansion of Sea Trade with the Near East in luxury goods from Phoenicia and Greece.
The Greeks, Egyptians and peoples of the Near East heavily influenced the Etruscans as shown by the Etruscan adoption of the Greek Alphabet.
During this period, Etruscan Cities with paved roads and aqueducts developed.
The Army also became more professional conquering neighbours, including Rome which was regarded as little more than an irrelevant backwater town.
Etruscan Government was characterised by separate City-States much like those in Ancient Sumer and their Religion was also greatly influenced by Ancient Greece and the Near East.
In addition, public spectacle was an important aspect of Etruscan Culture with Sports like boxing, wrestling and chariot racing being very popular. It was also the Etruscan custom to mix Public Sports with Religious Ritual.
Over time, and probably as a consequence of Greek influence, the Etruscan Military adopted Greek weapons and tactics. As a result, the Etruscan Army became so effective, the Etruscans eventually gained control over most of Italy.
However, the tide against the Etruscans began to turn circa 616 BC, when Etruscan Aristocrat Lucius Tarquinius Priscus ascended the Roman Throne. He introduced Etruscan Culture to Rome starting with a Sewage system and public sports.
In 509 BC, Priscus’ Grandson Tarquinius Superbus was overthrown which gave rise to the Roman Republic.
This marked a turning point as the Romans began to slowly expand, while the Etruscans slowly declined.
From about 396 BC, the Etruscan City-States were conquered by the Roman Military, and Volsinii, the last Etruscan City, fell to Rome in 264BC.
Thereafter, the Etruscan Cities were assimilated into Rome.
Despite the decline of the Etruscan Civilization, Historians agree that without the Etruscans, Rome probably would have never existed. The Etruscans provided Rome with a solid technological and cultural foundation by bequeathing an Alphabet based on Greek Letters, Architecture, unique Social Customs and even Military tactics to Rome.
Most importantly, the Roman culture of Public sports and spectacle had its origins in Etruscan Culture.
Ultimately, the Etruscans were a distinct Culture and Civilization with its own unique Chapter in History, and for this reason, the Etruscans should not be considered merely as a footnote in the shadow of Rome.