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.


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