By Bruno Daddi
The Etruscan Maremma
The extensive area covered by the beautiful and fascinating Etruscan Maremma should be visited slowly and with care and includes the following towns: Roselle, Populonia, Vetulonia, Massa Marittima (and lake of Accesa), Talamone, Orbetello, Ansedonia, Marsiliana, Saturnia, Sovana, Pitigliano, all in the province of Grosseto.
Who were the Etruscans and where did they come from? What caused this great civilization to disappear?
Some historians think that they originally came from beyond the Alps, attracted by the climate and the fertile Tuscan soil. Others believe that the same reasons brought them from the Middle East and that they were possibly exiles or fugitives from Troy after the fall of the city. Other experts again are of the opinion that they were an indigenous population which grew up and developed directly in Tuscany itself. Whatever the real story is, we do know that the Greeks called the Etruscans Tirreni, the Romans called them Tusci or Toscani while they called themselves Raseni and Etruria Rasna.
Rasna and the Raseni, or Etruria and the Etruscans
One of the first things that the visitor to so many necropoli will notice is that every Etruscan village or city had another city "for the dead" built outside its walls; this will naturally make him wonder why they had so much respect for the dead. The answer to this is that the Etruscans had their own particular conception of life after death; in fact they believed in the everlasting soul and that this maintained its earthly sentiments, thus the tombs had to be suitably furnished for the continuation in the next world of the way the person had lived on earth. The dead were therefore supplied with all the necessities of life, food, jewellery and surrounded with all the things that they had loved when alive.
When we enter their tombs - in spite of the fact that they are now despoiled of their funerary furnishings and treasure, either stolen or, the little that has been saved, now preserved in museums - it is impossible to remain unimpressed by the unique magic atmosphere within. It is deeply moving to remember that, 2500 years ago, other people, the ancestors of the Tuscans of today, stood and walked on the ground we stand on, mourned, despaired and paid their last respects to some man, woman, or child.
Ruins at Populonia
When people talk about the Etruscans and Etruria they usually mean the Tuscans or Tuscany. The ancient Etruscans lived in what is Tuscany today and part of northern Lazio; however, in the period of their greatest expansion, between the 7th and 5th century before Christ, settlements grew up in Emilia and Lombardy, as well as towns in the Veneto region and even in southern Italy. Some were just small villages, others larger and more important, and almost always trading centres, visible traces of which remain even today in Tuscany as well as in Lazio, the valley of the Po and Campania.
It is therefore clear that the Etruscans were an active and hardworking people who did not "just loaf about" as we say in Tuscany.
According to many historians the name of the Etruscans probably comes from "trojans" in the language of the Hittites.
Moreover many of the typical characteristics of this ancient population can still be found today among the Tuscans, with their strong individualism, mocking arrogance, critical attitude and creative talent. The Etruscans were blessed with very similar characteristics; their individualism was so strong that they never became a united nation but preferred to maintain their individual city-states (which is why they were conquered, one by one, by the Romans).
The Tuscan's love of art and beautiful things may also stem from the ancient Etruscans and may even be an explanation for the fact that the Renaissance first developed in Tuscany rather than elsewhere. Surely Giotto, Piero della Francesca, Leonardo da Vinci, Simone Martini, Donatello, Michelangelo and Brunelleschi must have had strong traces of Etruscan blood flowing through their veins?
Many scholars believe that the physical aspect of the Etruscans was probably very similar to that of the modern Tuscans. They were probably somewhat shorter than Tuscans of today (military medical check-ups show them to be among the tallest Italians). The average life span of the Etruscans has been calculated as being of 41 years for men and 40 for women. This information becomes even more interesting when we realise that that in 1800 the average life span in Europe was of 30 years and it was not until 1900 that in Italy it reached 44 years for men and 45 for women. The Etruscans can therefore be considered a strong and vital race for their period.
Ruins at Populonia
Founders of cities
Even their largest cities were never over 25-30 thousand inhabitants and these, considering the period, were really "metropoli". All the surrounding countryside was highly populated.
All the Etruscan cities were surrounded by high walls built with huge blocks of stone, which were almost always poligonal in shape, and often placed one on top of the other without the use of mortar. Roselle was constructed in the same way. The streets within the walls were fairly wide, the houses were roofed over with tiles, usually baked in the sun, and there was an organized system for collecting rainwater which was piped into wells or cisterns. The houses were usually built on a rectangular plan and composed of several brightly painted rooms furnished with beds, claw-legged tables, candleholders, chairs and stools, decorative textiles, a large number of cushions, three-footed holders for braziers and perfume burners, pottery and terracotta or metal containers. Etruscan houses were built around an internal atrium which gave light and air to the rooms and often had a portico as well. The houses were hut-shaped only in the earlier archaic age.
Many historians think that the Etruscans also founded Rome. The Raseni may have founded Rome on the already existing villages of the Palatine. In fact even Romulus may have been an Etruscan like Servo Tullio, Tarquinio Prisco and Tarquinio the Proud, in the period of the Kings of Rome. The decline of the Etruscans took place from the early 5th to the 4th centuries B.C. Etruscan Veio was conquered by the Romans in 389 B.C., followed by Sutri and Nepi. Roselle was subdued in 303 and this left the way open to the conquest of Vetulonia and Populonia. In 295 B.C., Rome won its final victory over the Etruscans, who had meanwhile formed an alliance with the Gauls; they were forced to capitolate and pay heavy fines in money, weapons and territories. The Etruscan cities were forced to accept a treaty that made them part of the Roman federal political system under the leadeship, naturally, of Rome which at this point was becoming a superpower. The treaty with Rome left the Etruscan governing classes with a series of formal duties and powers that included a limited amount of intervention in the internal laws of their cities but also imposed some extremely harsh political and economic limitations: Rome controlled trade and could request supplies of weapons and soldiers. It also reserved the right to intervene, if necessary, in the internal affairs of the federated cities; in fact they often did precisely this in support of the governing classes in cases of popular revolt.
Rome had invented "limited independence".
The City-States of the Etruscans
The City-states of the Etruscans were linked together in groups or leagues of 12 called "dodecapoli". This type of Etruscan structure can be found in the Po valley, in southern and central Italy and Campania. The Etruscan political structure also followed this rule.
The dodecapoli of maritime Etruria (the Maremma?), perhaps the first in the history of the Etruscans, was formed by Cere, Tarquinia (the oldest city), Vulci, Vetulonia, Volsinii, Chiusi, Roselle, Volterra, Cortona, Perugia and Veio. Populonia did not join the Etruscan federation until much later, probably in the 4th century.
The "dodecapoli" were probably created on the basis of a corresponding characteristic that existed in the Etruscan religion where twelve was considered a magic number (perhaps because it is a multiple of three, believed to be a necromantic number); the sky was thus divided into twelve regions, the year into twelve months, etc.
Every Etruscan city had to have at least three gates as well as three temples dedicated to the Gods, who were respectively Tinia, Uni and Menrva while a temple dedicated to Turan (apparently the equivalent of Venus) was always built outside the walls of the city.