Etruscan Italy – Classical and Hellenistic Periods

During the Classical and Hellenistic periods (470-300 BC and 300-31 BC, respectively), the Etruscans’ economic power, political autonomy, and distinctive cultural identity gradually eroded, until the Etruscans no longer existed as a separate people. During the Classical period the Etruscan cities engaged in a series of conflicts over sea and land, which ultimately weakened their economic and political significance in Italy.

At the end of the Classical period, the Roman Republic emerged as the preeminent threat to the autonomy of the Etruscan city-states. In 396 BC the first Etruscan city, Veio, fell to the Romans after a brutal ten-year siege. With the Battle of Sentinum in 295 BC, between Rome and the Quattuor Gentes (an alliance of Samnites, Gauls, Umbrians, and certain Etruscans), Rome gained supremacy over the entire Italian peninsula. After 270 BC relations were largely peaceful between the Etruscans and Romans. Rome began to colonize southern Etruria in the third century BC. During the second century BC the Romans built the via Aurelia, via Clodia, and via Cassia, roads that provided them with communication and control over all of Etruria.

By the first century BC Etruria was no longer a separate entity, politically or culturally; instead, it was part of the growing Roman state. In 89 BC all residents of Etruria were given Roman citizenship and registered in Roman tribes for bureaucratic and voting purposes. By the end of the first century BC Etruria for the most part was Latin speaking and assimilated into Roman culture.

Settlements and Cemeteries

The conflicts of the Classical and Hellenistic periods (the fifth to first centuries BC) affected the Etruscan city-states differently. Whereas many Etruscan cities in the south were hurt by the maritime and territorial wars, other cities in the north continued to thrive. Volterra was minimally affected by the upheaval during late Etruscan times. The Hellenistic period was, in fact, a time of great urban development and renovation.

Public works-including roads, agricultural terraces, city walls, and religious and civic structures- allowed settlement in the Volterra on a far greater scale than before. The city walls, begun during the late Classical period, were completed during the Hellenistic period. The city also was provided with terracing walls, a sewer, and a drainage and canal system. Hellenistic period Volterrans created lavish tombs for their dead in the cemeteries surrounding the city. The Inghirami Tomb from the Ulimeto necropolis, in use from the early second century to the mid-first century BC, includes several elaborately carved alabaster ash urns, a local artisanal product. The tomb is reproduced in the garden of the Archaeological Museum in Florence.

Etruscan Legacy

Although the Etruscans ceased to exist as a distinct culture in the first century BC, their people and ideas remained essential to life in central Italy. Etruscans-now Roman citizens-were integrated into the politics, economics, culture, and society of Rome. A few specifically Etruscan contributions to Roman institutions remind us of their presence in later times. The symbols of Roman office-the fasces (bundled and tied rods with a projecting axe) and the curule (a folding chair)-are derived from Etruscan examples. The Romans adopted rituals of military triumph from the Etruscans. The Roman toga originated as the Etruscan mantle. And many of the most famous architectural and engineering feats of the Romans- houses, temples, tombs, roads, bridges, and sewers-were first achieved in Italy by the Etruscans.


Banti, Luisa. Etruscan Cities and Their Culture, 1973.

Barker, Graeme, and Tom Rasmussen. The Etruscans, 1998.

Boëthius, Axel. Etruscan and Roman Architecture, 1970.

Brendel, Otto J. Etruscan Art., 1995.

Cornell, T. J. The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars, c. 1000-263 BC. 1995.

Haynes, Sybille. Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History.

Macnamara, Ellen. The Etruscans, 1991.


Northwest Englanders Viking Blood


An interesting article from the Science Daily informs us that the blood of the Vikings is still coursing through the veins of men living in the North West of England — according to a new study.

Read more here



The Etruscan civilization reached its greatest political and economic significance during the Archaic and Classical periods (575-470 BC and 470-300 BC, respectively). During the sixth and fifth centuries BC, the powerful Etruscan city-states developed and allied themselves in the League of Twelve Cities. The most important Etruscan cities were Cerveteri, Tarquinia, Vulci, Roselle, Vetulonia, Populonium, Veio, Bolsena, Chiusi, Perugia, Cortona, Arezzo, Fiesole, Volterra, and Pisa. (The number of cities in the league varied through time.)

Etruscan city-states were autonomous and had their own sociocultural institutions, spheres of influence, and political and economic institutions. Etruscan political organization was generally oligarchic, with important families controlling the territory of individual city-states. A patron-client system linked families within cities and between cities and the countryside. During the Archaic period the Etruscans expanded beyond their traditional boundaries, in order to establish new commercial bases. They colonized land as far south as Campania, as far north as the Po valley, and east to the Adriatic coast of Italy. Roman annalists report that the Tarquin dynasty of Etruscan kings was established in Rome throughout much of the Archaic period, from 616 to 509 BC. Many of these colonized lands were lost during the Classical period.


During the Archaic and Classical periods, Etruscan towns developed into city-states – urban centers surrounded by regional territories. In Volterra the process of urbanization is visible in increasing settlement density and in the expansion and reorganization of urban space, including the development of public works, places, and cults. A great wall circuit was begun during the Classical period, with a perimeter of 7 kilometers enclosing an area of 116 hectares. Traces of the wall are still visible at numerous points, including the city gates of Porta all’Arco and Porta Diana. A network of roads connected the foothills and valley bottom to the city.

Excavations at Acquarossa, in southern Etruria, provide evidence for domestic architecture during the Archaic period. Houses were rectangular, built on stone-block foundations. The walls usually were built of sun-dried mud bricks, supported by a wooden framework, covered with plaster, and painted. Roofs were made of terra-cotta tiles and decorated with statues and other terra-cotta ornaments. The floor plan often included a larger central room in front and two or three smaller rooms in the back. Sometimes a porch protected the doorway. The house interior was used for sleeping, protection from bad weather, and storage of tools and foodstuffs. The adjacent outdoor courtyard was where most daily activities took place. Storage spaces and shelters for cattle were carved into rock outcrops next to the houses. Archaic Acquarossa also included one monumental residential building complex constructed after the mid-sixth century: two buildings laid out in an L-shaped plan, with a large courtyard. The complex boasted a portico in front and revetment plaques on the facade, with scenes of banquets, dancing, warfare, and mythical events.

Marzabotto, an Etruscan colony established in northern Italy at the beginning of the fifth century, was laid out on a regular plan-similar to that of Greek colonial towns and quite different from the plans of settlements that developed through time, such as Volterra and Acquarossa. Four main streets, each 15 meters wide, defined the habitation area of Marzabotto. One north-west street ran the length of the town, and three east-west streets crossed it. Minor streets, each 5 meters wide, ran parallel to the main north-south axis, creating rectangular blocks. Marzabotto’s city blocks were filled with mudbrick houses and workshops. Craft workshops- including pottery and tile kilns, iron smithies, bronze foundries, and smelting furnaces-faced the street. Living quarters were located in interior courtyards, reached through narrow passageways. Each courtyard had a cistern to collect rainwater running off the tiled roofs.


Archaic period cemeteries reflect the development of new “middle” classes. Whereas cemeteries of the previous period comprised many humble tombs and a few dominating tumuli, Archaic period cemeteries consisted of many simple, uniform tombs laid on streets. Examples of Archaic cemeteries include the Banditaccia at Cerveteri and Crocefisso del Tufo at Orvieto, both from the sixth century BC. The streets of Crocefisso del Tufo were laid out in a grid during the later sixth century, and the cemetery was used throughout the fifth century BC. The small, rectangular tombs were constructed from tufa stone blocks. Their chambers usually have two stone benches for deposition of the dead. The roofs are made of stone slabs and covered with a modest mound and small stone markers (cippi).

A Classical period house interior is re-created in the Tomb of the Reliefs, from the Banditaccia necropolis at Cerveteri, built at the end of the fourth century BC. The underground tomb was carved from tufa stone; then a stucco surface was applied to the walls and painted. The original owners, a married couple, were represented lying side by side in bed. They are surrounded by relief stucco representations of everything they might need to keep house: utensils, tools, vessels, and even a gaming board. The power of the husband, a magistrate, is indicated by his ivory folding chair, trumpet, and weaponry.

Religion and Temples

During the Archaic period Etruscans continued their own distinctive religious practices, although Etruscan divinities were assimilated with the Greek Olympian gods. Again influenced by the Greeks, Etruscans also began building monumental temples. The Temple of Minerva at Portonaccio, Veio, was constructed in the mid-sixth century BC and rebuilt at the end of the century. The Tuscan-style temple is oriented to the east, facing a paved piazza. It has a square plan, each side approximately 18.5 meters. The temple was built on a low podium. Steps at the front of the temple led to a deep porch, or pronaos. The pronaos had two columns with Tuscan capitals; beyond it was placed the sacrificial altar and a sacred pit where libations to the underworld divinity were poured. At the back of the temples were three cellae, or rooms, side by side. The foundation, walls, and columns of the Temple of Minerva were built of tufa stone blocks. The wooden roof was decorated with terra-cotta sculpture, a famous product of Veio. The revetments were graced with floral ornamentation; the antefixes included heads of nymphs and masks of the Gorgons, the snake-haired sisters of Greek myth. Painted terra-cotta statues, larger than life size, were placed on the roof ridge. The famous statue of Apollo (now in the Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia, Rome) probably aimed his bow at Heracles, representing the Greek myth of their conflict over the golden-horned hind of Ceryneia.


Etruscan monumental sculpture typically was executed in terra-cotta or bronze. The Etruscan city of Cerveteri was famous for its terracotta sculpture during the Archaic period. One well-known example is a sarcophagus depicting a married couple reclining on a bed, placed in a chamber tomb beneath a tumulus in the Banditaccia necropolis around 525 BC. The husband lies behind his wife, placing his hand on her shoulder. She pours scented oil onto his palm, a rite for the deceased.

The statue of the Chimera (now in the Archaeological Museum, Florence), is a fine example of Etruscan bronze sculpture. The Chimera was a mythological fire-breathing creature with the body of a lion and heads of a lion, goat, and snake. In this representation, the creature is wounded, suggesting that the statue may have been part of a group that included the hero Bellerophon and his winged horse Pegasus. The statue (or group) probably was created as a votive offering in the late fifth century or early fourth century BC.


Tarquinia was the main center of tomb painting during the Archaic period. The rock-cut tombs from the Monterozzi necropolis are small, rectangular chambers with shallow ridge roofs. After about 530 BC brightly colored paintings covered entire walls of the chambers. The paintings showed mythological scenes, funerary games and ceremonies, banqueting and entertainment, sports, and scenes of the underworld. The Tomb of the Leopards, from the early fifth century BC, is a vibrant example.


The Etruscan economy became increasingly specialized and intensified during the Archaic period. New socioeconomic classes emerged, based in the great city-states and trading towns: manufacturers, crafts producers, and merchants. Internal trade throughout Etruria was effected via coastal waters, rivers, and roads. Long-distance trade was completed in emporia, or trade towns, along the Etruscan coastline. Bronze ingots dating to the early Archaic period probably were used as currency in long-distance trade. Pottery and metalworking remained important Etruscan industries during the Archaic and Classical periods. Early in the Archaic period the Etruscans created their own versions of red figure pottery, modeled after the famous Greek products. Beginning in the fourth century BC a distinctive Etruscan product dominated the pottery industry: tableware coated with a glossy black slip, and decorated with stamped and modeled (relief) motifs. Workshops at Vulci and other Etruscan cities worked bronze into chariots, weapons, armor, vessels, and other utensils. Precious metals, such as gold, were made into jewelry.


Etruscan society changed greatly during the Archaic period. Cities and trade towns supported the growth of new socioeconomic classes- merchants, manufacturers, foreigners-that were not bound by traditional patron-client relationships. These new groups shared common political and economic interests that were at odds with the interests of the established Etruscan aristocracy. Their growing influence and power contributed to the dissolution of the traditional Etruscan social system.


Banti, Luisa. Etruscan Cities and Their Culture, 1973.

Barker, Graeme, and Tom Rasmussen. The Etruscans, 1998.

Boëthius, Axel. Etruscan and Roman Architecture, 1970.

Brendel, Otto J. Etruscan Art., 1995.

Cornell, T. J. The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars, c. 1000-263 BC. 1995.

Haynes, Sybille. Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History.

Macnamara, Ellen. The Etruscans, 1991.



The establishment of the professional Roman army


In 31 BC in the aftermath of Actium, Octavian held under his control not only the combined legions of his own and Antony’s armies, totaling some 60 legions of probably varying strength, but also the fleet that had won his decisive victory for him, numbering some 400 or so ships, and the unrecorded numbers of allied units that had contributed to the armies of the triumviral period. These numbers needed to be reduced: an over-large army was financially unsustainable, would be impossible to employ usefully, and posed a threat to political and social stability. Romans saw the existence of large armies loyal to individual generals rather than the state as a major factor contributing to the civil strife of the late republic; they were also clear evidence of political crisis (Cassius Dio 52.27).

If Augustus wanted to stabilize the state and build public confidence in his new regime, he needed to show that the crisis was over. A massive reduction in the legions would help to do this, as well as appease the soldiers themselves, many of whom had enlisted or been conscripted to fight for individuals in civil war and were eager to be discharged with an appropriate reward. Whether reducing the size of the army would have provided any reassurance to the Senate as to the nature of Augustus’ regime is another matter, but the princeps himself considered it important enough to give it considerable prominence in his Res Gestae. The inscription begins with an extremely brief and partisan account of Augustus’ rise to power, a bald statement concerning the extent of his campaigns and conquests, and then, the first action of the newly self-appointed princeps to be recorded is that of the half a million men under arms he discharged 300,000 of them with the reward of land grants or cash bonuses (Res Gestae 3).

In order to retain his position as Rome’s sole leader and prevent a recurrence of the civil wars and political instability that had brought an end to the republic, Augustus needed not only to maintain firm control of the army, but to change its whole relationship with the Roman state. The military reforms he undertook served to remove soldiers from the active involvement in politics that they had enjoyed during the last century of the republic and the triumviral period, and aimed to break the ties of loyalty to individual generals and expectation of reward that had made a major contribution to the end of the republic; instead the army’s loyalties were directed towards the emperor and members of the imperial family rather than to their own commanders.

The citizen militia of the early and middle republic was already evolving into a more professional army by 31 BC, but Augustus accelerated that process by establishing a standing army with permanent units of citizen legions and noncitizen auxiliaries. The army was based in the provinces and on the frontiers; with the exception of the Urban Cohorts and Praetorian Guard, no military units were stationed in Italy, which had suffered so much during the wars of the first century BC, and Italian society swiftly became demilitarized. Whilst many of Augustus’ military “reforms” were little more than the regularization of changes that had been taking place in the late republic, others were radical in the context of a generally conservative society that placed great emphasis on ancestral traditions.

By the late republic the legions, which had originally been raised on an annual basis to wage war in Italy, were serving for continuous periods, sometimes for many years, in provinces throughout the Mediterranean. That length of service could vary enormously. The two legions raised by Valerius Flaccus in 86 BC for the campaign against Mithridates were still serving when Pompey took over the command nearly 20 years later, whilst the three legions of Metellus Creticus involved in operations against pirates may have served for only three years, from 68-65 before being returned to Italy and discharged.

The rewards of service could be equally inconsistent with some legions being settled on land, such as Saturninus’ settlement of Marius’ veterans (Appian, B. Civ. 1.29) and Sulla’s displacement of Italian farmers to settle his civil war veterans, whilst other legions received no substantial reward when their service was completed. The potential reward on discharge was one of the principal factors that encouraged the loyalty of soldiers to their generals rather than to the Roman state, and contributed to the civil wars that ended the republic. By establishing fixed rewards which were available only after completion of an established minimum length of service, Augustus was able to break the financial dependence of soldiers on their generals and some of the ties of loyalty.

This might seem an obvious solution, and, after the establishment of the aerarium militare in AD 6 to finance the settlement of veterans, an appropriate one since the new taxes inevitably had a greater effect on the elite who had so steadfastly refused to reward veterans in the late republic, but we should not be too critical of the senate for failing to take such steps earlier. In spite of the growing tendency in the last century of the republic for some citizens to see the army as a profession and the decreasing importance of any kind of property qualification for legionary service, there had remained a strong belief in the idea of a Rome whose military superiority lay in the traditions of a citizen militia drawn on the property owning classes who served in the legions when necessity demanded. The creation of an army of long-service professionals recruited regardless of social, and sometimes citizen, status signaled an end to this central feature of the Roman Republic, and even though it was merely the next logical step in the evolution of the Roman army, Augustus drew on republican precedents in establishing his imperial army.

After the mass settlement of veterans following Actium, Augustus retained in service 28 of the legions that had been in existence in 31 BC, drawn from both his own and Antony’s armies. Although the number of legions fluctuated over the next two and a half centuries as units were destroyed, disbanded for dishonorable behavior or raised for campaigns, the total number of legions, and indeed overall size of the army, did not change fundamentally from that established by Augustus, as indicated by Cassius Dio’s valuable summary of legionary comings and goings (Cassius Dio 55.23-24). Tacitus (Ann. 4.5) stated that the number of auxiliaries approximately equaled that of the legionaries, but opted not to provide a list of all the units and their stations because there were so many; military strength in the early imperial period was around 300,000, about half of whom were legionaries and half auxiliaries.

In setting the length of legionary service, Augustus drew on the traditional requirement that a citizen be available for up to 16 campaigns, or 20 in times of national emergency (Polybius 6.19) and set service at 16 years plus four in reserve. Dio records this in 13 BC (Cassius Dio 54.25), but it is likely that since Actium there had been an expectation that soldiers would serve for this length of time. In AD 5, this was increased to 20 plus five in reserve; whatever the distinction was between ordinary soldiers and those in reserve, it seems to have been dropped fairly soon afterwards and all legionaries and auxiliaries served for 25 years. Conscription through the dilectus remained an option but although there are occasional references to levies, such as during the Pannonian revolt or in the aftermath of the Varian disaster, or the occasional levy of non-citizen troops in the provinces, the vast majority of recruits were volunteers.

Augustus did not raise military pay which had been doubled to 225 denarii a year by Caesar (Suetonius, Jul. 26), but soldiers were now guaranteed a regular income for a fixed period of time, followed by a guaranteed discharge bonus. At first the reward for veterans came in the form of a land grant, following the precedents of the late republic and triumviral periods, and continuing, though in a different form, the long established link between land ownership and military service. Augustus went to great efforts to avoid the confiscations that had provided for veteran settlement in the unsettled decades at the end of the republic. Such redistributions of land were associated with civil strife and political dominance such as Sulla’s dictatorship or the triumvirate, in which the then Octavian had been responsible for the deeply unpopular confiscations in Italy following Philippi (Appian, B. Civ. 5.19; Suetonius, Aug. 13; Vergilius, Ecl.).

As Augustus, he ensured that in both Italy and the provinces the lands assigned to the veterans were purchased, not confiscated, and he publicized in his Res Gestae not only the extraordinarily large sums he personally committed to this task (a total of 860,000,000 sesterces for the large-scale settlements of 30 and 14 BC), but also the boast that he was the first and only person to have paid for such lands, another clear sign that the political and military crises of the late republic had been resolved. The size of the allotments is not known, though it is estimated that they may have been up to 50 iugera (14.7 ha) for ordinary legionaries, sufficient to provide for a family and produce a surplus, and more for former centurions and tribunes.

Military colonies were set up throughout the empire, and 28 were established in Italy (Res Gestae 28). However, Augustus was unable to sustain this kind of expenditure and there was a limit to the amount of available land, especially in Italy, so increasingly the discharge bonus was paid in cash rather than land. These pay-outs, recorded in the Res Gestae, amounted to 400,000,000 sesterces and were made in 7, 6, 4, 3, and 2 BC (Res Gestae 16). The soldiers receiving these cash bonuses on retirement had been recruited in the 20s BC, had not fought in civil wars, and had only ever sworn an oath of allegiance to Augustus, who was by now so well established in power that he could afford to divert from republican traditions, and perhaps be less generous to his soldiers.

The evidence of the Res Gestae suggests that by the end of the first century BC a cash bonus on discharge had become the norm, and this is confirmed by Cassius Dio who records that at the same time that military service was increased to 25 years in AD 5, the bonus was set at 12,000 sesterces, a sum equivalent to over 13 years’ pay. To finance the retirement benefits of 4,000-5,000 men a year, Augustus established the aerarium militare, the military treasury, in AD 6, which he set up with a donation of 170,000,000 sesterces from his own funds (Res Gestae 17). The treasury’s income was derived from the introduction of new taxes, a 1 percent tax on sales at auction and a 5 percent inheritance tax. Whether auxiliaries also received such retirement payments is uncertain, but probably unlikely; from the time of Claudius, however, they automatically received Roman citizenship after their 25 years’ service. With the establishment of fixed lengths of service and retirement benefits, and a dedicated treasury to finance the latter, it is apparent that by the beginning of the first century AD, the Roman army was now a professional force; whereas in the republic the ideal was of the citizen soldier, now Augustus even separated his soldiers from the ordinary people in the theater (Suetonius, Aug. 44).

Augustus ensured the loyalty of his new professional army through these financial arrangements, and through other means. The sacramentum or oath of allegiance, had originally been sworn by legionaries who undertook to obey the consuls or their generals for the course of the campaign, and generals in the late republic had drawn on this to encourage great loyalty from their armies as the oath was sworn to them personally (Plutarch, Sulla 27); Augustus took this one stage further by requiring all those under arms to swear allegiance to him personally, rather than to their unit commanders or provincial governors, and this was repeated annually (Tacitus, Hist. 1.55).

At some point in the early empire, the imago was adopted as an additional military standard by both legions and auxiliary units; this standard was one which carried the image of the emperor (who also appeared on the coinage in which they were paid) and served to identify the unit with their emperor and commander in chief; the imago was closely associated with the unit’s standards which were considered sacred and housed in a sacellum in the principia or headquarters building when the unit was in garrison. The Rhine legions first expressed their change of allegiance from Galba to their provincial governor Vitellius by stoning or destroying the imagines of Galba (Tacitus, Hist. 1.55).

Various legal advantages were bestowed on soldiers, though to facilitate the swift movement of troops and their separation from civilian life, they were forbidden to contract legal marriages, another factor highlighting the difference between the republican army and the professional army of the principate.

The commanders and senior officers of all military units owed their positions to the patronage of the emperor, though it is uncertain whether or not centurions were also appointed directly by the emperor. Officers of senatorial and equestrian status owed future career promotions and magistracies to the emperor’s patronage whilst centurions were probably encouraged in their loyalty by rates of pay that were vastly superior to those of ordinary legionaries, and by the status and future career opportunities in imperial service that the most senior centurions could attain.

The loyalty of tribunes, prefects, and legates could contribute to the loyalty of those under their command, but ordinary soldiers were very aware of their own oaths of allegiance; there were no serious military threats to Augustus’ power and given the chaotic last decades of the republic and almost constant civil war, he did a remarkable job of taking firm control of Rome’s armies and establishing the armed forces that would maintain the pax Romana for several centuries.

Book of interest



The Etruscan period begins around 700 BC, when the first surviving historic documents were written in the Etruscan language. Etruscan society evolved directly from the prehistoric Iron Age. Many of the most characteristic features of Etruscan society- settlement in towns, distinctive cultural customs, production of goods for regional and long-distance trade and exchange-were present in incipient form during the Iron Age. Early Etruscans also were influenced by the Greeks, Phoenicians, and other contemporary Mediterranean societies.

The Orientalizing period (700-575 BC) is named for the imported goods and foreign styles adopted by the Etruscans during this time. The early Etruscans’ economic power was based on mineral and agricultural resources, which they transformed into goods for exchange. They cut a dashing figure across the Mediterranean, renowned for their seafaring skills as traders and pirates. As reflected in their art, monuments, and historical documents, Etruscans of the Orientalizing period were prosperous and cultured.


The Orientalizing period saw the transition from village to town life in Etruria. Excavations in Etruscan towns of this period have revealed signs of urban planning and public works, such as streets, drainage channels, reservoirs, retaining walls, fortifications, and sanctuaries. Volterra, in northern Etruria, became a small, fortified settlement at this time. In the seventh century BC, the numerous villages on the Volterran hilltop agglomerated into a single town. In the sixth century a circuit of walls was built to enclose the town, and sanctuaries were demarcated throughout the city. Differences among dwelling and burial types were accentuated, indicating that an aristocracy of prominent families had formed.

A similar type of urban development occurred in many other cities in Etruria and Latium (modern-day Lazio), including Roselle, Veio, Vetulonia, and Tarquinia. Across Etruria there was a significant change in domestic architecture during the Orientalizing period. Stone houses, presumably elite residences, appeared among the thatched huts. Excavations at Poggio Civitate, near Murlo, have uncovered the remains of a princely residence built during the seventh century BC. The complex at Poggio Civitate was built of rubble foundations, earthen walls coated with lime plaster, and beaten-earth floors. The roof was tiled and decorated with terra-cotta sculpture.

The buildings were placed in a U shape around a central courtyard. Two wings of the complex were residential, while the third served as a workshop for crafts made of metal, glass, pottery, wool, and other materials. A fire destroyed the Orientalizing period residence, and a second complex was built at Poggio Civitate in the early sixth century BC, or the beginning of the Archaic period of Etruscan history (575-470 BC). The early Archaic building surrounded a central courtyard, with colonnaded porches on three sides. At least twenty-three statues stood on the peak of the roof, including the famous seated “cowboy” figure, with his distinctive hat. Watchtowers were located at two corners of the complex.


Cemeteries surrounded Etruscan towns. Early cemeteries were placed next to hilltop settlements; as town populations grew during the Orientalizing period, burial areas spread down the hill. The rock-cut Tomb of the Five Chairs at Cerveteri, dating to the second half of the seventh century BC, provides some insight into burial rites of the time. The main chamber of the tomb held two bodies, while a side chamber provided space for mourners to worship an ancestor cult. Five chairs were carved from rock to hold terra-cotta statues representing ancestors, two women and three men. The ancestor statues sat before rock-carved tables laden with food offerings. A nearby altar held their drinks. Two empty chairs allowed the buried couple to join their ancestors at the feast. By the seventh century, burials show clear evidence of status differentiation according to gender, socioeconomic status, and region. While existing burial traditions continued, during the Orientalizing period the elite classes began building elaborate chamber tombs covered with tumuli (mounds).

Chamber tombs were carved out from soft volcanic rock faces or built from stone slabs or blocks. Their mounds could be as large as 30-40 meters in diameter and 12-15 meters high. A particularly grand example is the Tomb of the Chariots, Populonium, from the middle of the Orientalizing period (midseventh to early sixth century BC). Under a tumulus 28 meters in diameter, the tomb contained funerary beds for four occupants. At least one woman, with gold jewelry, was buried in the tomb. She was accompanied by men, who were provided with a chariot and two-wheeled carriage.


Traditional Etruscan worship in open-air sanctuaries continued during the Orientalizing period, but new religious practices also arose. Influenced by Greek ideas, Etruscans began using enclosed structures for worship and representing gods in human form. The earliest known temple in Etruria, built around 600 BC, was excavated at Veio. It took the form of a large house; a distinctive architectural form would not be developed for Etruscan temples until the Archaic period.


By the Orientalizing period the Etruscan agricultural system was specialized and intensified, allowing farmers to support the growing town population. Drainage and irrigation techniques improved poor land, and new farming technologies, such as ironclad wooden plowshares, allowed farmers to work more efficiently. Farmers exchanged their surplus subsistence and luxury foodstuffs for craft goods. Craft production became increasingly specialized and intensified during the Orientalizing period. Etruscans were adept at numerous arts and crafts, including pottery, metalworking, and sculpture.

Technological improvements, learned from the Greeks, transformed Etruscan pottery production. Potters purified clay, built vessels on the fast wheel, and fired them at high temperatures in closed kilns. As production became more specialized and intensified during this period, pottery forms were increasingly standardized and distributed in a wide area. Bucchero, a kind of tableware with a distinctive gray core, glossy black surface, and stamped or molded decoration, was a famous Etruscan pottery product of the Orientalizing period. Other fine pottery wares included black figure vase painting, produced locally after eastern Greek models.

Metalworking remained an important industry at this time. Bronze was worked into vessels, utensils, armor, furniture, chariots, and carriages. Metalwork ornamentation was inspired by eastern styles, incorporating floral patterns, animals, humans, and divine figures. Etruscan bronze products were exported widely, throughout the Mediterranean and beyond the Alps. Etruria also was famous for jewelry production, particularly ornaments decorated with gold granulation (using fine beads of gold) and filigree (using fine spiral gold and silver wire). Etruscans probably learned these techniques from the Syrians or the Phoenicians.

Trade grew steadily. Beginning in the eighth century, Etruscans had extensive trade contact with eastern Mediterranean cultures, notably Greece and Phoenicia. Recovered shipwrecks were loaded with Etruscan trade goods: pottery and other crafts and amphorae filled with agricultural products, such as pine nuts, wine, and olives. In exchange, the Etruscans imported the eastern luxury goods found in such abundance in aristocratic graves. Etruscan trade was not administered centrally. Instead, many small political units, controlled by the elite, competed on more or less equal terms. The Greeks also established trade towns on the coast of southern Etruria, and Greek craft producers settled permanently to work in Etruria.


Banti, Luisa. Etruscan Cities and Their Culture, 1973.

Barker, Graeme, and Tom Rasmussen. The Etruscans, 1998.

Boëthius, Axel. Etruscan and Roman Architecture, 1970.

Brendel, Otto J. Etruscan Art., 1995.

Cornell, T. J. The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars, c. 1000-263 BC. 1995.

Haynes, Sybille. Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History.

Macnamara, Ellen. The Etruscans, 1991.

Medicine in ancient Persia

An interesting article on the History of medicine in ancient Persia by Hedieh Ghavidel of Tehran’s Press TV got published online.

Here’s an excerpt:

The history of medicine in Iran is as old and as rich as its civilization. In the Avesta, science and medicine rise above class, ethnicity, nationality, race, gender and religion.

Some of the earliest practices of ancient Iranian medicine have been documented in the Avesta and other Zoroastrian religious texts. During the Achaemenid era (559-330 BCE), the 21 books of Avesta encompassing 815 chapters were an encyclopedia of science consisting of medicine, astronomy, law, social science, philosophy, general knowledge, logic and biology.

It can be inferred from these books that Zoroastrians placed great importance on personal hygiene, public health and the prevention of contagious diseases. The best teachers of medicine and astrology were Iranian Magi and Mobeds (Zoroastrian priests) who passed their knowledge on to their pupils from one generation to the next…