The Origins of the Etruscans

From Troy to Atlantis and Italy

  Etruscan warrior
This civilization flourished on the territory which is nowadays central Italy (from Po River to Naples) and besides the Greek one, was the most influential for Romans.

The Etruscans are still shrouded in mystery, even if there is a lot of data regarding their life, dances, or other habits, due to Roman writings and many archaelogical discoveries (frescoes, tombs, settlements and others).

Women were equal to men, a fact that shocked the "civilized" Greeks and Romans: they did not change their name after marriage, wore elegant clothes, participated in dances and sports. Women of high hierarchy had bronze boxes adorned with inscriptions, so they knew how to read.

The Etruscans had a perfected technique of processing bronze and iron. The Etruscan mystery is in connection to their unknown origin: where did they come and what language did they speak? All that is known is that their language was not Indo-European and knowing more about their language would dissipate their enigma.

Herodotus, the Greek historian of the 5th century BC, said that Etruscans came from Lydia, an ancient kingdom from present-day Turkey. Indeed, tombs discovered in ancient Lydia are extremely similar to those of the Etruscans.

A recent DNA analysis showed that cattle in central Italy seem indeed to have originated in modern Turkey and Middle East. As there is no link between these cattle and others from other European regions, they must have entered the peninsula by sea.

Rome is known to have been funded by Etruscans and the legend of its foundation points to the Lydian theory: they were survivors of the Troy war and Troy was located on the Asia Minor, inside the Lydian territory. But the Lydian theory has a weak point: the Lydian language was Indo-European.

But in the first century BC, Dionysos of Hallikarnas said the Etruscans came from nowhere, being the natives of Italy, before the invasion of the Indo-Europeans, that brought the Latin language in the peninsula. In this case, the theory of their relativeness with the Basque should stand, even if the probability that Indigenous pre-Indo-European people could have survived the massive Indo-European invasion for so long and even dominate after is relatively low.

What is certain is that the Etruscans were registered by history as appearing around 800-750 BC in Tuscany, the Italian region that was named after the Tuscans (Etruscans).

The Tyrrhenian Sea could also have a name with Etruscan roots. In fact, Etruscans were not only farmers, but also skilled sailors, who traded with the Greeks and Cartagena and the God of the Sea, Neptunus, was important in their religion.

The sailing abilities support not just the Lydian theory, but also that of the "People of the Sea", seafaring raiders that were at war with the Egyptians in the 12th century BC. Their civilization was centered in Crete (now an island in southern Greece) and this people spoke a non-Indo-European language.

There are significantly increasing proofs that match the Crete and Minoan civilization to Atlantis and its decline to a huge ancient tsunami. Etruscans were good riders and maintained a well instructed army, but Romans conquered their city-states one by one between 358-265 BC. These city-states were at war themselves and this lack of unity eased the Roman conquest.

In 87 BC the Etruscans were given the same rights as the Romans and this eased their assimilation.

There are over 10,000 Etruscan inscriptions known by now, most of them short. But except about 200 words known to be human names, the meaning of the others is hard to decode.

A paradoxical thing is that their language is very easy to read, as they borrowed and adapted the Greek alphabet in the eighth-seventh centuries BC, but it is almost impossible to understand their texts. Their language seems not to belong to any known group. A bilingual document like that used Champollion to decode the Egyptian hieroglyphs would help.


By    9 May 2007, 23:11 GMT