Etruscans: How much of Rome’s Culture Comes from the Etruscans?

This is a complex question.  The Etruscans language is only partially understood and there are few Etruscan manuscripts.  Hence, we are left for written evidence to later Roman historians, who are universally negative on the Etruscan civilization.  Further, a great deal of what is know comes from tombs and their artifacts.  In the Tarquin Valley, outside of Rome, large numbers of Etruscan tombs have been found.  These tombs have beautiful frescoes which provide our best insight into Etruscan life.  These tombs were filled with artifacts many of which are in museums around Italy, including Museo Nazionale Archeologico in Florence, The Vatican Museum in Rome, and the Museo Nazionale Tarquiniese in Tarquinia, a small town of 90,000 outside of Rome.

In the next series of articles, I will provide photographs from my collection as well as other images collected from the internet to illustrate what is know about the Etruscans.

Map of the Etruscans
This map shows the greatest extent of Etruscan influence in Italy, during the seventh to fifth centuries BC, including the Campania region to the south

One could simply answer that some of the first kings of Rome were Etruscans and thus Etruscan culture naturally flowed into Rome.  This, of course, is true, but I do not think it is the whole story.  But let’s first explore the Etruscan kings.

First, one has to be aware that according to tradition, at least three of Roe’s seven kings were Etruscans.  Romulus, the first king was succeeded by Sabine kings until Tarquinius Priscus, (Tarquinius I) the first Etruscan monarch, succeeded Marcius as the fifth King of Rome. Tarquinis supposedly ruled from 616 – 579 BC.   According to tradition, each king’s reign is marked by specific achievements.  In the case of Tarquinis Priscus, he is credited with the foundation of the Roman games (Ludi Romani), the Circus Maximus and the construction of the great sewers (cloacae).  As we will see, Etruscans did indeed hold gladiatorial  games.  In addition, much of Rome’s military symbolism (the eagle, etc.) and civil offices is believed to have been developed during this period.  Because it was during this period that the Romans conquered several more neighboring Latin and Sabine tribes.  He is also credited with bringing the Etruscan military triumph tradition to Rome, and being the first to celebrate one in the city.

Servius Tullius followed Tarquinius and ruled as the sixth King from 578 to 534 BC. He is renowned for implementing a new constitution further developing the citizen classes. The Servian Walls (city walls of Rome) are attributed to him, but modern archeology indicates that the existing walls were built in the 4th Century BC, which clearly rules out the walls as having been constructed during his reign. He is also credited with the construction of the Temple of Diana on the Aventinus hill. He was assassinated by his daughter Tullia and her husband Tarquin known as Superbus..

The seventh and final King of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, (Tarquin the Proud) ruled from 534-510 BC. Under his rule, the Etruscans were at the height of their power, and the authority of the monarchy was absolute. He repealed several earlier constitutional reforms and used violence and murder to hold his power. His tyrannical rule was despised by the Romans and the final straw was the rape of Lucretia, a patrician Roman, at the hands of Tarquinius’ son Sextius. The Tarquins and the monarchy were cast out of Rome in 510 BC in a revolt led by Lucius Junius Brutus and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus.

Etruscan culture was influenced by many factors.  Roman historians believed that the Etruscans had come from Anatolia.  This assertion is supported by modern DNA testing.  But the Etruscans derived elements of their culture from other sources.  We will explore these other sources in  the next article.

Etruscan art
Early Etruscan civilisation was heavily influenced by the Phoenicians and Greeks