Who were the Etruscans?

Small story of the Etruscans, a mysterious population, and Etruscans in Cortona – their importance for the Tuscan town

If you have ever visited Cortona, or if you plan to, you surely have heard about the Etruscans. This population represents our roots, which we are very proud of. And we have our good reasons: over two thousand years ago, before the Romans conquered their large empire, Etruscans were Europe’s most advanced civilisation outside Greece.

“Etruria” was a large area in central Italy, covering from southern Tuscany, western Umbria to northern Lazio. Etruscans’ origins have always been a bit of a mystery. According to classical sources they came from the East – Herodotus tells they came from Lydia, where after a great famine half of their population ended up settling in central Italy (does this reminds you of another story?). According to archaeologists, however, the origins of Etruscans are clearly established as an evolution of the Villanovan culture in central Italy (1000 to 800 BC) and previous Urnfield culture from the Iron Age.

Etruscan learnt much from the Greeks and their culture. In the 8th century, Greeks were exploring Italy for minerals and established their colonies in Southern regions, when they met Etruscans and started trading with them, showing them various technologies, teaching them their writing.

Their civilization was quite advanced. Etruscans sailed across the Mediterranean for international trade, made wine, painted Greek-style vases, created art pieces and sculptures (especially for their tombs and cult of the afterlife), built aqueducts and drained marshes, built cities and much more.

But why Etruscans are not as famous as their neighbours, Greeks or Romans?

Basically, because they were completely overshadowed by Romans and few is left from them. Much of what they did we know from their burials (almost the only constructions we have left), from the small artefacts and a few writings found in their tombs.

At the beginning, the Romans were charmed by Etruscans’ development (two of Rome’s earliest kings were Etruscans) and learnt from them (biggest example, they learnt the alphabet from the Etruscans!). From the 4th century BC, Romans began a slow, systematic conquest of Etruria. The cities fell one by one under their control – the last to fall to Roman control was Velzna (now Orvieto) in 264 BC, and finally, in 89 BC, all Etruscans were granted Roman citizenship.

And Cortona?

Cortona was one of the most important Etruscan cities. Following the Greek model, Etruscan society was formed of a league of 12 cities, one of these being Cortona! Cortona was on the league with modern Orvieto, Perugia. Arezzo, Tarquinia, Volterra.

Throughout the whole territory, in Cortona we have Etruscan traces, tombs and several interesting finds displayed at the archaeological museum… If you are interested in history, stay connected. I will dedicate more posts to this fascinating population that make us very proud of our roots!

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