ObeliskTimeline of Art
, Chimera of Arezzo

The Etruscans

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.

Reed Enger, "The Etruscans, A mysteriously happy people at the fringes of the classical world," in Obelisk Art History, Published September 26, 2015; last modified July 20, 2019, http://arthistoryproject.com/timeline/the-ancient-world/etruscan-art/.

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Circular “pilgrim” Flask, The Etruscans

Circular “pilgrim” Flask

750 BCE
Pair of Hands, The Etruscans

Pair of Hands

700 BCE
Gold Pectoral of Cerveteri, The Etruscans

Gold Pectoral of Cerveteri

675 BCE
Large Wall Fibula, The Etruscans

Large Wall Fibula

675 BCE
Pyxis and Lid with Sphinx-Shaped Handle, The Etruscans

Pyxis and Lid with Sphinx-Shaped Handle

650 BCE
Bronze Etruscan Woman, The Etruscans

Bronze Etruscan Woman

600 BCE
Canopic Urn, The Etruscans

Canopic Urn

600 BCE
Apollo of Veii, The Etruscans

Apollo of Veii

550 BCE-520 BCE
Etruscan Mirror, The Etruscans

Etruscan Mirror

500 BCE
Mars de Todi, The Etruscans

Mars de Todi

500 BCE
Chimera of Arezzo, The Etruscans

Chimera of Arezzo

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

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

400 BCE
Etruscan Mirror, The Etruscans

Etruscan Mirror

350 BCE
Etruscan Woman, The Etruscans

Etruscan Woman

300 BCE
Jug in the Form of a Woman's Head (Oinochoe), The Etruscans

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

300 BCE
Ombra Della Sera, The Etruscans

Ombra Della Sera

300 BCE
Terracotta Votive Statuette of Two Draped Females, The Etruscans

Terracotta Votive Statuette of Two Draped Females

300 BCE
Alabaster Cinerary Urn, The Etruscans

Alabaster Cinerary Urn

300 BCE-200 BCE
Head of Etruscan Woman, The Etruscans

Head of Etruscan Woman

200 BCE
Liver of Piacenza, The Etruscans

Liver of Piacenza

200 BCE
Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa, The Etruscans

Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa

140 BCE
The Orator, The Etruscans

The Orator

90 BCE
Next Movement
Ancient Rome, Ancient World

Ancient Rome

The roads make the empire

753 BCE-530 CE

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