Posts Tagged With: etruscan

Etruscan Art and Architecture

web_DrawingEtruscanTempleEtruscan artwork and architecture exists in plenty in some areas and in others it’s only been recorded and described by others. From the foundations that remain and the writings of Vitruvius, we have some idea of what a typical Etruscan temple looked like. Located at the center of an orthogonal planned city, Etruscan’s constructed temples from the resources available, in this case mud brick and a volcanic stone called tufa. The square structure was raised on a podium, with equal space being designated for a covered porch and the interior rooms or cellas. Wooden columns in the Tuscan order were positioned at the front and the temple was accessible by a single staircase.

04apollodescIn place of the elaborate entablatures Greek Temples were famous for, terra-cotta statues lined the tiled roof, like this statue of Apollo dating from 510-500 BCE. Originally part of a group, the life-size Apollo includes a lively amount of motion and the “archaic smile” that is similar but somewhat more advanced than the Greek kouroi. As far as the chronology and progression of art history, the Etruscan’s present a more naturalized depiction of the human form even if the proportion inaccuracies would have had the Greeks in an uproar. The hint of motion and the visible spark of life is characteristic of Etruscan sculpture.

300px-Banditaccia_Sarcofago_Degli_SposiCounter intuitive though it may seem, tombs are also an important window into Etruscan culture. At Cerveteri, the cemetery is laid out like a small town and the tombs themselves like houses of the dead. Inside the “Tomb of the Reliefs” you can see it was set up to closely resemble a house. The walls are painted and couches were carved from stone. There are everyday household items carved into the walls. The most well known sarcophagus from Cerveteri is the “Sarcophagus of the Spouses” from 520 BCE. Now located in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco in Rome, the terra-cotta sarcophagus shows a husband and wife reclining together on a couch. Again the Etruscans favor depiction of humans with archaic smiles and the appearance of expressions, rather than the classical straight face. Details from their hair and clothes leave use with some idea of contemporary culture.

697px-Chimera_d'arezzo,_fi,_03Bronze sculptures encompass some of the finest pieces we have from the Etruscans. Their skill with bronze made the products marketable around the Mediterranean and the pieces they kept at home are of amazing quality. While their Greek counterparts were concerned with idealized perfection, Etruscan artists seem at ease with inaccuracies and care more about the emotion they seek to communicate in their artwork. That emotion comes through clearly in the bronzes we have in a variety of styles. The bronze Chimera of Arezzo is one example of Etruscan bronze work. The mythical chimera was part lion, goat and serpent, a deadly fire breathing creature that was a popular subject in early Italian art. This depiction, however, shows the typical Etruscan flair for life and movement in their sculptures. The Chimera of Arezzo is now kept in the National Archaeological Museum in Florence.

brutus_exhibition_pageTwo pieces that visitors to Rome are likely to come across is a bronze bust known as the “Capitoline Brutus” and a bronze She-wolf known as the “Capitoline Wolf.” It’s not surprising that these pieces are both found in the Capitoline Museum. The bust is believed to be a portrait of the famous hero Lucius Junius Brutus, the early republican character from the Rape of Lucretia. Despite the bust being from the mid-3rd century BCE, the strong verism in the features make it easy to believe that this is indeed the face of Roman legends. The eyes are made of painted ivory. The Capitoline Brutus is one of the oldest surviving portraits from antiquity, it’s existence is made even more remarkable because bronze was often melted down.

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The Etruscans


As a powerful culture that predates the Romans and would eventually influence their younger neighbors in many ways, the Etruscans are an interesting introduction into the culture and foundation of Rome.

The historical record surrounding the Etruscans begins in 1200 BCE, when a Bronze Age people known as the Villanovans occupied the northwest region of Italy. The Etruscans would become the predominate group and by the 7th century BCE would control the region known as Etruria (Tuscany), located to the north of Rome on the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Etruria was rich in metals such as copper, iron and tin, creating a culture of smiths suited to working with bronze. Combined with fertile soil and forests, Etruscans were able to expand their network across the Mediterranean

493px-Etruscan_civilization_mapEvidence exists of the Etruscans trading with the people of Greece, Egypt and Phoenicia. Their skill with bronze fueled a market for reliefs, statues, vessels and jewelry. No literary documents have survived, but records from trading partners like Greece and Egypt have enabled historians to piece together some knowledge of Etruscan history. Further information has been assembled by archaeologists excavating tombs and urban remains. Despite the lack of written documents the archaeological evidence paints a picture of a surprising advanced society, wealthy, with a lavish lifestyle, and a capable naval presence.


Sarcophagus of the Spouses, National Etruscan Museum, Rome. Late 6th century BCE

The Etruscan’s existed in a loose confederation of tribes, similar to the Greek polis, led perhaps by kings or chiefs in the major cities of Veii, Tarquinia and Cerveteri. Society was divided along class lines into the aristocracy and lower classes. Etruscan women enjoyed a rare amount of status, even for Roman women and especially for Greek women. They were educated, and even participated in public life as demonstrated in this sarcophagus. Here, a husband and wife recline on a couch, the man supposedly holding a drink as if at a party.


Apollo of Veii, 510-500 BCE

The Etruscan’s influence on Roman culture materialized in many ways including religion, architecture and government. Ancient sources have specifically credited the Etruscans with passing on the skill of divination to the Romans. Divination would include interpreting the will of the gods from the flight of birds, entrails of a sacrificed animal, or events in the sky.

Architecturally, the Etruscan style temple employed the post and lintel system to support mud-brick walls and a wooden roof. Vitruvius uses the term Tuscan order to define the variation of column that Etruscan’s preferred. Similar to the well known doric order, the Etruscan version used an unfluted shaft and simplified bases and capitals. The layout of an Etruscan temple was almost equally divided between a covered porch and the interior cella or room. The temple was built high on a podium  and was reached by a single staircase to signify the humility of the worshiper. The roof line of Etruscan temples appear to have been decorated with large terra-cotta statues of the gods like this example of Apollo. Romans would later take elements from both Greek and Etruscan temples to create their own hybrid.

The Etruscan’s political power arguably peaked during the Period of Kings, when three Etruscans ruled Rome in succession. They brought with them advances in engineering and urban planning, allies and trading opportunities. Roman society was also divided into classes along economic lines. For a short time Rome was a possession of Etruscan rulers. But by the 6th century BCE, the last king Tarquinius Superbus would be chased from Rome and a republic formed in his place. Rome did not defeat the Etruscans militarily overnight, as Rome was only a small part of their territory. But after two centuries of conflicts Etruria was assimilated into Roman culture.

Today, visitors can see these and many other Etruscan artifacts in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco, located at the northwest corner of Borghese Park. It’s a wonderful museum and one of the least visited in Rome. Housed in the Villa Giulia, the villa was originally built by Pope Julius III to showcase his collection of antiquities. The museum’s website appears to be only offered in Italian but follow this link for “Informazioni” where tickets appear to be eight euro and operating hours are from 8:30-7:30.

To read about the founding of Rome, click here.

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Early Rome and Romulus


Estimation of what the Capitoline Hill looked like.

Rome was a veritable late-comer onto the scene of founding civilizations. To bring some perspective, Herodotus estimated that Homer lived sometime around 750 BCE, so Greek Literature was well underway and the Trojan War longer than that. The Zhou Dynasty was settled into China, and busy introducing the Mandate of Heaven and don’t even bother running the numbers on the Egyptian Pharaohs.

This is a map of Italic languages in the 8th century BC

This is a map of Italic languages in the 8th century BC

So when Romulus settled on a hill overlooking a bend in the Tiber, Romans had considerable catching up to do. Thankfully, the Italian peninsula was a favorable place to start a civilization. The area was rich in metals and agricultural products like olives and wine. The Apennine Mountains created a sense of regionalism and the ocean provided trade opportunities. Early peoples included Celts in the north and Po River valley, Greeks colonizing the South and Sicily, Venetians in Venice, Oscans, Umbrians, and perhaps most importantly, Etruscans just to the North. Very Early Rome had closer neighbors we’re aware of, the Sabines and Alba Longa for starters, but the Etruscans put their stamp on Rome most effectively.

Etruria was a loose confederation with established political and religious systems. They already traded with Egypt, Phoenicia and Greece. When the Romans set up shop in a region known as Latium, now Lazio, they knew a good thing when they saw it. Romans have a talent for adopting and adapting qualities of other cultures and they began with Etruria. The Etruscan influenced the Roman ideals of architecture, religion, divination, and politics, providing Rome with the last three Kings.

To populate his city, Romulus took in…outcasts. Slaves, refugees, exiles, criminals. Apparently a group of bachelors, because Romulus soon had to concoct the “Rape of the Sabines” to correct to shortage of women within the city. As a result war broke out with the Sabines, but the two tribes reconciled as the Sabine women became integrated into the Roman village.

Many of the small tribes amongst the neighboring hills were integrated in Romulus’s thirty seven year rule. This quick consolidation wouldn’t have been accomplished without order and governance. Romulus set up a group of lictors, who carried fasces around to enforce the King’s authority. He elected one hundred elders to the position of senator to form an advisory committee.

Where you can see it today:

As you can imagine, Romulus’s city has changed quite a bit in three thousand years. But, on the Palatine Hill near the Tiber, close to the house of Augustus, archaeologists have uncovered Romulus’s village. It doesn’t look like much, but here are the original postholes where the huts of the village stood. Detritus from the postholes and carbon dating revealed a surprisingly accurate 8th century BCE date.

If you stand in the Roman Forum and look up to the Capitoline Hill and over to the remnants of the palaces on the Palatine, imagine the Rome of Romulus. The ground you are now standing on would have been a wet, marshy bog that flooded periodically. And wouldn’t be drained successfully for centuries. Each rise you see in the city would have meant a neighboring tribe. On the other side of the Palatine would have been the small port and market on the Tiber.

006Here’s some idea of what the huts might have looked like. These so called Hut-Urns are from the 8th century BCE. They were meant to replicate the huts that people resided in.

These humble origins played a very prominent role in the mentality and morals of the Roman people. They had come from a village of farmers and they (for the most part) retained a close connection to that ideology. And although most of what we know about this time comes from legends, the character of the Roman culture and many of its attributes can be credited to this early stage.

To read more about the Period of Kings click here.

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