The origin of the Etruscans is highly debated. According to some ancient sources, they came from the East just before the Trojan War. Herodotus (in the 5th century BC) said Etruscans migrated from Lydia in Asia Minor around the 12th century BC. Some scholars link the Etruscans with the Trsw or Tyrsenoi, one of the Sea Peoples who attacked Egypt during the time of Ramses III (1230 - 1170 B.C.). The Etruscans believed that the gods had granted their civilization a certain time span that was divied into time periods called saecula. The first saecula seems to have started around the 11th or 10th century BC. If the Etruscans migrated into Etruria, they probably would have done so before 1000 BC. (2, 3, 4, 5).
Other authors believe the Etruscans had lived in the area for a very long time. In the 1st century BC, Dionysius of Halicarnassus said the Etruscans were the indigenous people of Italy. A language written on a stele on the island of Lemnos (near Asia Minor) during the 6th century BC is thought to be similar to Etruscan. This could suggest either that the Etruscans came from the Aegean or that their language was part of a pre-Indo-European language family that was once spread throughout the Mediterranean (2, 3, 4, 5).
The people of Etruria have long had contact with people in the Aegean. The natives of Etruria had contact with the Mycenaeans and people of Crete and Cyprus by the end of the Middle Bronze Age, which ended c 1250 BC. After the fall of the Mycenaeans in the 12th century BC, Etruria lost contact with the eastern Mediterranean. Etruria was influenced by central Europe from c 1250 - 900 BC. During the Early Iron Age, from 900 - 700 BC, the Villanovan culture flourished in the Po Valley, Etruria, and parts of Campania. There was a coastal trade in the 9th century BC between Etruria, Sicily, Calabria, Campania, Sardinia, and the western Mediterranean. This culture was probably a proto-Etruscan culture (2, 3, 4).
By 775 B.C., Greeks were founding colonies in southern Italy. The Greeks founded colonies in western Italy nearest to the metal ores rather than in eastern Italy near Greece. Euboean Greeks settled on Pithekoussai (the island of Ischia) about 775 BC or 760 BC. They later settled the mainland from Taran to Cuma and southern Sicily. The Greeks introduced the potter's wheel to the Etruscans (4, 5).
Phoenicians also traded with Italy. They may have been trading since 814 BC, the approximate date of the founding of Carthage. Carthaginians or Punic peoples had colonies in western Sicily and Sardinia. Short Phoenician/Etruscan bilingual inscriptions appear by 500 BC. The Etruscan goddess, Uni, was associated with Phoenician Astarte. Aristotle said the Etruscans and Carthaginians were so close that it was like they were one people (4, 5).
During the 8th century B.C., the previously egalitarian society was replaced by a more stratified society. Some groups became very wealthy and aristocratic families arose. A script, possibly derived from the Chalcidian Greek alphabet of Cumae, appeared in the 7th century B.C. By the beginning of the 6th century B.C., many cities has fortified walls, temples and public buildings, and an elaborate road system. Caere, Veii, Tarquinia, Vulci, and other southern cities were especially dominant. Caere, one of the first cities, was home to a group of villages by the 9th century B.C. Its Etruscan name was Cisra or Chaisr(i)e (modern Cerveteri). Caere was the southernmost Etruscan maritime city and thus was closest to the Greeks of Cumae (Cuma). It succeeded Tarquinii as the dominant sea power and had 5 ports. Northern cities, like Rusellae, Vetulonia, and Populonia, gained prominence because of their proximity to mineral deposits but they were still dependant on the southern cities. Vetulonia's prominence declined as Populonia's increased. During the 6th century B.C., the Etruscans established colonies in the Po Valley (2,3, 4).
During the 2nd and 1st centuries BC the Etruscans lost their independence to Rome. Etruscan civilization merged with that of Imperial Rome during the 1st century AD. It was the Etruscans who introduced the Greek alphabet to the Romans (4, 5).
The Etruscan language survived as a religious language after it ceased being a living language. Etruscan continued to be taught at Roman colleges for soothsayers. Julian the Apostate used the services of Etruscan soothsayers in the 2nd century AD. In 408, an Etruscan soothsayer was called on to create lightning for the Visigothic king, Alaric, as he sacked Rome (2, 4).
Today, the Etruscan language can be transliterated or sounded out but the language is not known. It is a language isolate that is not related to other languages. Basque and other languages have been compared to it without success. Michael Ventris thought that Linear B (which he later realized was Mycenaean Greek) was Etruscan. (5)
Many divination and soothsayers' books were written in Etruscan but none have survived. The survival of Etruscan words into the Roman language, such as histrio for actor, litterae for writing, stilus for a writing instrument, and cera for the wax in wax writing tablets suggest that the Romans were beholden to the Etruscans for writing and perhaps literature. The Etruscans may also have written dramas, histories, and other literature in their own lanuage. Etruscan women were probably literate as there is writing on their bronze mirrors. Etruscan tombs in modern Tuscany were explored after 1828 but a few Etruscan finds were known from before that time (4, 5).
Arntlei - (Variant of Arnthi?) - Arntlei Petrus, puia was Arntlei, the wife of Petrus (5)
Hasti(a), Fasti(a) - (1)
Ra(v)ntha, Raunthu (1)
Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa - This woman lived around 150 - 130 BC (4)
Thana - Thana Ancarui Thelesa lived around 150 - 100 BC (1, 4)
Thanchvil (Latin Tanaquil) - This may mean "Gift of Thana". Tanaquil, Tullia, and others were part of the Tarquin family. (1, 4)
Aranth, Arnth (Latin Arruns) - Arnth Spedo was the son of Thocero (1, 5)
Aule (Roman Aulus) - Aule Vipinas was known as Aulus Vibenna to the Romans (1, 4)
Cae, Cai (1)
Caile (Latin Caelus, Caelius) - Caile Vipinas was known as Caelius Vibenna (1, 4)
Cneve (Latin Cnaeus, Gnaeus) - (1)
Cuinte (Latin Quintus) - (1)
Laris, Lars - Lars Porsenna was a ruler at modern Chiusi or Clevsina. Laris Celatina Lausa was a man's name. There was also a Laris Pulenas (1, 5)
Marce (Latin Marcus) - (1)
Spurie (Latin Spurius) - (1)
Spurinna - A haruspex or diviner who warned Julius Caesar of the Ides of March (5)
Tages - An Etruscan prophet (2)
Tarquin (Roman Tarquinius) - An Etruscan king (2, 4)
Thefarie (Latin Tiberius) - Thefarie Velianas was the ruler of Caere c 500 BC (1, 4)
Thocero - (Roman Thoceronia)? (5)
Tite (Latin Titus) - (1)
(1) Reading the Past: Ancient Writing from Cuneiform to the Alphabet, New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1990.
(2) Etruscan Life and Afterlife: A Handbook of Etruscan Studies, (ed.) Larissa Bonfante, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1986.
(3) A Guide to the Ancient World: A Dictionary of Classical Place Names, Michael Grant, New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1986.
(4) The Etruscans (British Museum), Ellen MacNamara, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1991.
(5) Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World's Undeciphered Scripts, Andrew Robinson, New York: BCA , 2002.
Return to the Ancient Names Galleria
Or Names of Europa
Return to the main room of the Peiraeus Public Library.
Last updated November 30, 2009
Created before November 2001