Mysterious Etruscans Essay, Research Paper
email: Orion185@aol.comtitle: The Mysterious EtruscansThe Etruscans were a very mysterious civilization. We do not know exactly whothey are, and where they came from is a large controversy that goes back the time ofHerodotus, the father of history. Also, their language is still yet to be deciphered. Still,they are a fascinating society. Living some 2,000 years ago, they flourished for arelatively brief time in modern day Italy, which was called Vitelia in earlier days. Nobody is quite sure of the origin of the Etruscans. There are different theories,but we do not know which one to believe because the Etruscans have always hadnumerous myths about them, and truths were usually mixed with falsehoods. Manypeople believe that they emigrated from Lydia, or Asia Minor. Herodotus tells that therewas a great famine in Lydia and that after trying to combat the hunger for eighteen years,Atys, the king, made a decision to split up his people. They drew lots, so that half of themwould stay in Lydia, under the rule of Atys, and the others would follow his son,Tyrrhenus. They left the country on ships, and sailed off to find what they could. Theythen called themselves the Tyrrhenians, after their leader. From this we got the name ofthe Tyrrenhian sea which is along the western coast of Italy. The Romans called them theEtrusci, which is where the term Etruscans comes from.1Another common theory is that the Etruscans were indigenous to Italy. The mainearly supporter of this idea was Dionysius of Halicarnassus. He noted that they did nothave the same language as Lydians. They also did not worship the same gods or in facthave any traits which might have been derived from their so-called homeland. Peoplewho believe this theory claim that the Etruscans were there first, and that they had beentaken over by Indo-European invaders, and that their birth in the 600 s B.C.E wasmerely a re-emergence. They slowly had re-conquered their land.2 In ancient times there were only those two theories about the origins of theEtruscans. In modern times, yet another one has been added. This one states that theycame from the north, over the Eastern Alps. One of the main supporters of this beliefwas Dr. Zacharie Mayani of the University of Paris. He did research comparing thephonetic, morphological and semantic similarities of the Albanian and Etruscanlanguages. He felt that it seemed as thought the Etruscan language was essentiallyIndo-European. He also thought they did not come from one place, but instead half camefrom the Danube, and the other half from Anatolia. They then formed a heterogeneouspeople in the new land which we called Etruria. The Language of the Etruscans is also a great mystery, but we are slowly learningtheir language. It is only known through sporadic words cited by Greek and Latinauthors. There are thousands of inscriptions, but most of them are simple epitaphs. It isimprobable that they did not have some type of literature, but none has survived. Theorigins of the Etruscan language have long been a controversy. Numerous andoccasionally outlandish theories had been made, but it was not until Massimo Pallottinothat any real progress was made in deciphering any of the texts. Pallottino adopted a newcombinatory approach. Instead of trying and force a connection between Etruscan andanother language, like previous historians, he compared the inscriptions with each otherand set them in a cultural context.The process of deciphering the Etruscan language continues to this day, and thanksto Pallottino’s methods and a certain amount of educated guesswork, some of thelanguages’ vocabulary and basic grammar have been revealed. The discovery of the Pyrgitablets in the 1960 s was an important advancement. They were written in Etruscan andPhoenician. We have deciphered Phoenician, so it was possible to compare the two texts,and even though the Phoenician turned out not to be an exact translation of the Etruscan,the content was similar enough to prove useful.As more and more is discovered about Etruscan, there is more evidence that it isnot related to any known living language. In particular, Etruscan does not belong to theIndo-European group of languages, so it cannot be connected to Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, orany other languages of that branch. There are only 2 that show any resemblance at all toEtruscan: Rhaetic, and a language recorded on some inscriptions and pottery from theGreek island of Lemnos. Still, these do not help to put Etruscan in it s place in the array ofthe world s languages. From what we know, it seems as thought Etruscan was probably an easternMediterranean language. If Herodotus theory of the Etruscans emigrating from AsiaMinor, then they may have picked up parts of their language from tribes that they passedon the way to the Italian peninsula.3Most of what we know about Etruscans religion is information obtained throughmaterials surrounding death. Images painted on the walls of tombs, and the artifacts
found in the tombs provide the largest clues to Etruscan religion. Because the Romanreligion inherited many of these aspects, a study of Roman religion could be helpful. Themainstream Etruscan religion believed in a wide array of gods, probably around 45.These ranged from Menrva, whom the Romans called Minerva (and the Greeks calledAthena) to water and forest gods. They also believed in demons, who were usuallydepicted as blue and squat. Religion was integral part of life for the Etruscans. 4Their main god was called Tinia. He was equivalent to the Greeks Zeus or theRomans Jupiter. He was believed to have been the creator of all things. Their belief ofcreation is in a way similar to that of the Judaism. The believed that in the first twothousand years, heaven and earth were separated. In the second, The land was made. Inthe third, the sea and other waters were formed. In the fourth two thousand years, thecelestial lights were formed- the sun, the moon, and the stars. In the fifth, the birds,reptiles, and four-footed animals were made. In the sixth two thousand year period, manwas created.5The Etruscans also were rather optimistic about death. They felt that death meantthe opening of a door into another life that was to be as joyous as the one left behind.They had another belief that different peoples each had an existence of predeterminedduration. The Etruscans began to flourish in the 8th century B.C.E, around the same timewhen the Greeks started colonizing in Italy. At that time, the two civilizations werefriends with each other. The Etruscans gave some of their metals to the Greeks, who gavesome luxuries to the Etruscans. Some people think that the Greeks also taught them howto write. Later on, however, their relationship worsened for a few reasons. First, theywere becoming trade rivals, trying to trade with the same people. Second, the Etruscanshad become allies with the Carthaginians, who were the Greeks bitter enemies. Most ofall, however, was that both of them were trying to expand at the same time. TheEtruscans controlled many places including Emilia-Romagna, Umbria, Lazio, Campania andCorsica. Around 535 B.C.E, the Greeks tried to conquer the island of Corsica. TheEtruscans fought back against this, and gained total control of the sea between Italy,Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, which is know as the Tyrrhenian Sea.6The downfall of the Etruscans started in the 6th century B.C.E when the Romansbanished all of the Etruscan kings. As a result of this, the Etruscans were often incontinuous war with the Romans , and Etruscans were usually stronger. Once, however,the Greeks helped the Romans, and they beat Etruscans in the sea battle of Cumae in474 B.C. After this defeat Etruscans basically submitted. Their once enthusiastic artbecame pessimistic and showed fear of death. By the end of 5th century Corsica andCampania were conquered by Greeks, Lazio had been taken by Romans, Umbria wasconquered by the Umbrians themselves, and Celtics got Emilia-Romagna. Most of thesecities had not been difficult to conquer, because the Etruscans had all but given up.When the Romans conquered Veii, their 1st major Etruscan city, in 406-396, the otherEtruscan cities did not help their compatriots. If all the Etruscan cities had united andattacked Rome, they would have certainly defeated them. There would have possiblybeen no such thing as the almighty Roman Empire. The Etruscans were still were muchstronger together than Romans. It took the Romans 10 years to conquer Veii which wasmerely a medium-sized Etruscan city. But the Etruscans had lost their trademarkoptimism. Only once did they fight together against Romans. This was in the battle ofSentinum in 295 B.C.E. but then it was too late. The Romans had already become toopowerful, and they conquered all of Etruria by 265 B.C.7They did not measure the passage of time the same way that we do. Theymeasured in indefinite eras called saeculum. A saeculum, someone once explained, lasted from the end of the preceding one till the death of the last of all those who hadbeen alive at it s beginning. It is rather mysterious, but the Etruscans predicted the timeof their down fall from the beginning of their civilization. They believed that they hadbeen assigned eight saecula. Supposedly the year 88 B.C was the last year of the lastsaeculum, and it was in this year that almost all of the Etruscans had become Romancitizens.8The civilization of the Etruscans was a fascinating one. Many of the ideas that weassociate with the ancient Romans, such as togas, gladiator fights, and their religion, weretaken from the Etruscans. The Romans greatly respected the Etruscans culture. One ofthe very first etruscologists was an emperor of Rome, Tiberius Claudius NeroGermanicus. He wrote 20 volumes on the history of the Etruscans, none of which,unfortunately, have been recovered. It is a shame that they died out like they did, becausethey could not reunite. It was a very interesting civilization, even if it was only around fora relatively short period of time.