Etruscans were a non-Indo-European folk who inhabited northern and central Italy before 800 BC. Some scholars believed they migrated from the eastern steppes; Herodotus records the legend that they came from Lydia, which has support from non-Greek inscriptions found on the island of Lemnos that appear to be in a language related to Etruscan, and have been dated to the sixth century BC.
During the 700s BC, the Etruscans developed into a series of autonomous city-states: Arretium (Arezzo), Caisra (Caere or modern Cerveteri), Clevsin (Clusium or modern Chiusi), Curtun (modern Cortona), Perusna (Perugia), Fufluna or Pupluna (Populonia), Veii, Tarchna (Tarquinii or modern Tarquinia-Corneto), Vetluna (Vetulonia), Felathri (Volaterrae or modern Volterra), Velzna (Volsinii or modern day Bolsena), and Velch (Vulci or modern day Volci). Etruscan influence also developed far to the north and south. The Romans were under Etruscan power in the infancy of their own culture, and after they became independent always regarded the Etruscans with the half sneering condescension, half horrified fascination that former subject peoples usually view their erstwhile masters (this is an important point, for it lies at the heart of the very ambivalent Roman attitude towards Monarchies vs. Republics).
Knowledge about the Etruscans is fragmentary, and usually filtered through Roman eyes; knowledge of the Etruscan language only began with the discovery of the bilingual Phoenician-Etruscan Pyrgi Tablets found at the port of Caere in 1964, and is still incomplete. It is known that they normally acknowledged one among their number as High King. By the 5th century BC they were under increasing pressure from turbulent Italics on the one hand, and ferocious Celts on the other, and by the 3rd century they had fallen under the authority of Rome (the last Etruscan city to be subdued by Rome was Velzna, 265 BC). In 90 BC they were granted Roman citizenship, but they backed Marius a decade later, and as a result their language was suppressed and their distinct culture and folkways outlawed. A century later, the future Emperor Claudius could find enough elderly rustics remaining to compile an Etruscan dictionary (now lost), but they vanished as a distinct ethnic group soon after. Nevertheless, a large number of old Roman families retained a memory of Etruscan roots, for example the Sempronii, Licinii, Minucii, and Larcii. Then too, a number of the older Roman divinities turn out to be based closely on Etruscan originals. Some Etruscan rulers :
- Osiniu (at Clusium) probably early 1100s
- Mezentius fl. c.1100 ?
- Lausus (at Caere)
- Velsu fl 8th century
- Larthia (at Caere)
- Arimnestos (at Arimnus)
- Lars Porsena (at Clusium) fl. late 6th century
- Thefarie Velianas (at Caere) late 500s-early 400s
- Aruns (at Clusium) fl c.500
- Volumnius (at Veii) mid 400s-437
- Lars Tolumnius (at Veii) late 400s-428
- Bloch, Raymond. The ancient civilization of the Etruscans. Translated from the French by James Hogarth. Ancient Civilizations Series. New York: Cowles Book Co, 1969
- BYU Etruscans course website
- Internet Resources on the Etruscans
- Short article on a piece of Etruscan art
- Etruscan Splendors from Volterra in Tuscany
- Map of ancient Italian language areas, showing Etruscan-speaking areas