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The Etruscans

768 BCE — 100 BCE
Chimera of Arezzo, 400 BCE

A mysteriously happy people at the fringes of the classical world

From before the birth of Athens to the founding of the Roman empire, a mysterious culture lived on the fringes of the classical world. The Greeks called them Tyrrhenians and believed them to be cannibals. The Romans called them Etruscans, and whispered stories of piracy and witchcraft.

Today, much of our knowledge of the Etruscans history and culture is speculation. Only in the past 150 years have we begun to uncover remains of their civilization in western Italy, at sites in Veii, Cerveteri, Tarquinia, Vulci, and Vetulonia. And while more than 13,000 samples of Ertruscan texts have been discovered, most are short memorial messages found on funerary erns, and no major works of religious, historical or narrative literature have yet been found. 

So what can we surmise about these mysterious seafaring people from their art? Like many ancient cultures, much of the art that remains is funerary: catacombs and necropoleis full of urns and sarcophagi. The first thing we see is humor — these are smiling people, often immortalized in a moment of relaxation. It’s been suggested that women were equals in this society, since they share the same space and scale as their male partners in memorial sculptures. Among the few discovered frescos, we see banquets and wine. The Etruscan civilization lasted 1000 years, and never built an empire — maybe they were just having too much fun.

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Circular “pilgrim” Flask

750 BCE

Pair of Hands

700 BCE

Gold Pectoral

675 BCE

Large Wall Fibula

675 BCE

Pyxis and Lid with Sphinx-Shaped Handle

650 BCE

Canopic Urn

600 BCE

Bronze Etruscan Woman

600 BCE

Apollo of Veii

550 BCE-520 BCE

Mars de Todi

500 BCE

Etruscan Mirror

500 BCE

Chimera of Arezzo

400 BCE

Cista Depicting a Dionysian Revel and Perseus with Medusa's Head

400 BCE

Etruscan Mirror

350 BCE

Jug in the Form of a Woman's Head (Oinochoe)

300 BCE

Terracotta Votive Statuette of Two Draped Females

300 BCE

Etruscan Woman

300 BCE

Ombra Della Sera

300 BCE

Alabaster Cinerary Urn

300 BCE-200 BCE

Liver of Piacenza

200 BCE

Head of Etruscan Woman

200 BCE

Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa

140 BCE

The Orator

90 BCE
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Ancient Rome
The roads make the empire