The Etruscans were an early Italian peoples. They begin to emerge in the 8th century BC and have their heyday in the 7th and 6th centuries. Their’s was an urban civilisation; while the rest of Italy were living in villages, the Etruscans alone had towns. These had enclosing walls, gates and temples built of stone.
They consisted of a confederation of “city-states” with magistrates. Materially and technologically they were advanced compared to their neighbours in the rest of Italy. They practiced draining and irrigation. They built shaft and tunnels to access metal ore deposits.
Etruscan religion was one of books, sacred books of prophets- the chief of whom was Tages. He laid down the rules concerning ritual and prescribing the life of states and men, the interpretation of the weather, the art of reading entrails and the knowledge of conducting dead men safely to the afterlife. Their religion was highly ritualised. One of object, the famous bronze liver of Piacenza, seems to be a reference guide to reading the liver’s of sacrificed beasts with different bits referring to different gods.
They under a Triad of gods; Tinia (Jupiter), Uni (Juno) and Menrva (Minerva), they developed a pantheon of gods similar to the Greeks. These included Voltumna/Vertummus (the first of the gods of Etruria according to Varro), Turan (Aphrodite), Fufluns (Dionysos), Turms (Hermes), Sethlans (Hephaestus), Hercle (Herakles), Maris (Ares) and Nethuns (Neptune).
They believed in an afterlife. On one hand there was a beautiful paradise full of coolness, music and banquets, on the other their was a “hell” full of melancholy, grief, torture and suffering. In this hell ruled two monstrous spirits- Charun (Charon) and Tuchulcha (Hades). These two gods were appeased by the blood of combatants (perhaps a precursor to Roman gladiatorial contests).
Their art was much influenced by Hellenism, like their religion. They produced sculptures (in the round, bas relief, statuettes, tripods, and sarcophagi). They developed a skill for modelling in clay and firing large scale works, particularly of note are large terra cotta sarcophagi depicting the decased. They painted their tombs with frescos, most notably at Terquinii. These survive today and are incredibly important as they are a reflection of “the great archaic painting, lost in Greece”.
It was the Etruscan civilisation, along with the Greeks that influenced an early Rome. During the 4th to the 1st century BC they gradually yielded to Rome’s growing power.