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The Etruscans

A mysteriously happy people at the fringes of the classical world

Chimera of Arezzo, 400 BCE
768 BCE264 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

Circular “pilgrim” Flask

750 BCE
Pair of Hands

Pair of Hands

700 BCE
Gold Pectoral

Gold Pectoral

675 BCE
Large Wall Fibula

Large Wall Fibula

675 BCE
Pyxis and Lid with Sphinx-Shaped Handle

Pyxis and Lid with Sphinx-Shaped Handle

650 BCE
Canopic Urn

Canopic Urn

600 BCE
Bronze Etruscan Woman

Bronze Etruscan Woman

600 BCE
Apollo of Veii

Apollo of Veii

550 BCE-520 BCE
Etruscan Mirror

Etruscan Mirror

500 BCE
Mars de Todi

Mars de Todi

500 BCE
Chimera of Arezzo

Chimera of Arezzo

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

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

400 BCE
Etruscan Mirror

Etruscan Mirror

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

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

300 BCE
Terracotta Votive Statuette of Two Draped Females

Terracotta Votive Statuette of Two Draped Females

300 BCE
Etruscan Woman

Etruscan Woman

300 BCE
Ombra Della Sera

Ombra Della Sera

300 BCE
Alabaster Cinerary Urn

Alabaster Cinerary Urn

300 BCE-200 BCE
Liver of Piacenza

Liver of Piacenza

200 BCE
Head of Etruscan Woman

Head of Etruscan Woman

200 BCE
Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa

Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa

140 BCE
The Orator

The Orator

90 BCE

Next movement: Ancient RomeRoads, Plumbing, High Culture = Empire.

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