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By Valdemaro Casini, Taken from "The Etruscan Maremma" © Edizioni Medicea - via L. Gordigiani, 40/c - 50127 Firenze

The ruins of Roselle

The ruins of Roselle (the Etruscans apparently called it Russel, in Roman times it became Rusellae and then Roselle from the Middle Ages onwards) are situated 10 kilometres away from Grosseto on the road for Siena. From its high position (150 metres above sea level) above the plain of Grosseto, Roselle dominated the lake of Prile (which gradually became marshland and was eventually drained), and thus access to the sea. It flourished from 7 B.C. through to 3 B.C. Roselle was one of the most important cities in Etruscan Maremma. The excavations are those that, for the moment at least, give us the best idea of the way the Etruscans lived, how the city was run, their everyday life and stimulate our imagination the most. We should in fact remember that little evident visual documentation has survived of their monuments, temples, houses, bridges and roads or towers, compared with those of Roman times or the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, apart from the splendid archeological finds that can be admired in various museums (jewellery, pottery, weapons and utensils), almost all discovered in the tombs, the only documentation we have of this people - apart from information provided by the historians of antiquity, who were mostly Roman - is composed of the ruins of their cities and necropoli. However the excavations carried out so far, or those under way, make it possible, by combining a little imagination with the opinions of eminent Etruscan experts, scholars and researchers, to enjoy a fascinating tour of the city.
Roselle today Vetulonia was another important Etruscan city that stood only about twenty kilometres away from Roselle and overlooked the same coastal bay. Some historians believe that Roselle was at first a dependent city of Vetulonia and that in the end, after its great development, it was to destroy it. The Etruscans as a people did not feel loyalty to the State or national unity (and this is typical of much of the history of Italy and even, perhaps, of humanity). The excavations carried out so far show us that this was a busy and wealthy city. Roselle developed a thriving and famous fishing industry thanks to its position near the lake of Prile. All Etruscan cities were surrounded by high walls built with huge blocks of stone, which were almost always polygonal in shape and often placed one on top of the other without the use of mortar. Roselle was constructed in the same way and surrounded by powerful walls, large stretches of which can still be seen today, built with enormous stones that came from a quarry within the city; it is thought that the residual space from this quarry was probably put to rational use later. The Etruscans were in fact a very rational minded people, which can be seen from their ability as metal working contractors and as "plumbers" or expert controllers of water. The streets within the walls were fairly wide, the houses were roofed over with tiles, usually baked in the sun, and there was an organised system for collecting rainwater that 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 that 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. Agriculture and trade were the most important economic activities in Roselle. As a rule land ownership of land was hereditary (or else as a result of conquest). Farming therefore created a landowning aristocracy who held the power; the people who held the most important civic, political or religious positions in the city-state were almost always selected from this elite. However the highest power in the early Etruria was concentrated in the hands of a king called the lucumone; from the sixth century B.C., this supreme authority was gradually forced to cede the reigns of government to the great families of the aristocracy. Probably some of the inhabitants of the city had no political rights at all while the conquered pre-Etruscan population (thought to be composed of Italic Umbrians) counted even less. All these people were forced to accept a form of political subjection that was exercised by the parties of the noble families. In around the 8th century B.C., while almost everywhere else in Italy people were still living in villages created in natural caves, huts or rudimentary houses, the Etruscans were already founding their first cities in central Italy. There were several hundred of these at least. Some historians think that there were as many as 350 important inhabited settlements though this did not lead to the abandon of the countryside or agricultural activity.
Roselle today Roselle was a powerful "City-state". Apart from what historians tell us, this is fairly obvious from its imposing road system, squares, temples, public palaces and houses whose ruins have survived in a very good state to this day. The Etruscans' preference for a "city-state" rather than a "nation" - a concept that instead characterised the Romans - was to be their strength and at the same time their weakness. When we talk about a "city" today, we are thinking of an urban agglomeration linked to others that, grouped together, form the State. Instead, the Etruscan city, with its surrounding territories, was understood as a community whose religion, laws, institutions, economy and social classes contained fundamental and self-sufficient elements which were not necessarily linked to those of other communities. Some scholars define the organisation of the Etruscan community as follows: "The Etruscan city-state was a political and religious centre that functioned according to the legal and economic position of its members." If on one hand this strengthened and emphasised the internal rules regarding the city community and its territory, it did absolutely nothing for the people or the nation (if we can call it that). The Romans took advantage of the Etruscans' incapacity to feel part of a nation and gradually, city after city, subdued the whole of Etruria. However, even though Etruria could not be considered a federalist state as we understand it today, all the Etruscan city-states were linked together in groups of twelve, the so-called "League of the dodecapoli", which were more of a religious than political character. The oldest league was based in maritime Etruria and included the cities of Roselle, Vetulonia, Populonia, Cere, Tarquinia, Vulci, Volsinii, Chiusi, Volterra, Cortona, Perugia and Veio. The Romans conquered Roselle in the 3rd century B.C. (apparently in 294).

Translated by Susan Glasspool

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