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ETRUSCANS

A History of the Etruscan people including their cities, art, society, rulers and contributions to civilization

By: Robert Guisepi

2002

Geography and natural resources

Ancient Etruria lay in central Italy, bounded on the west by the Tyrrhenian Sea (recognized early by the Greeks as belonging to the Tyrrhenoi), on the north by the Arno River, and on the east and south by the Tiber River. This area corresponds to a large part of modern Tuscany as well as to sections of Latium and Umbria. The chief natural resources of the region, undoubtedly playing a crucial role in Etruscan commerce and urban development, were the rich deposits of metal ores found in both northern and southern Etruria. In the south, in the maritime territory stretching between the first great Etruscan cities, Tarquinii and Caere (modern Cerveteri), the low-lying Tolfa Mountains provided copper, iron, and tin. These minerals also were found inland at Mount Amiata, the highest mountain in Etruria, in the vicinity of the city of Clusium (modern Chiusi). But the most productive area turned out to be in northern Etruria, in the range known as the Catena Metallifera ("Metal-Bearing Chain"), from which copper and especially iron were mined in enormous amounts. The city of Populonia, located on the coast, played a leading role in this industry, as did the adjacent island of Elba, evidently renowned from an early date for the wealth of its deposits.

The forests of Etruria constituted another major natural resource, providing abundant firewood for metallurgical operations as well as timber for the building of ships. The Etruscans were famous, or perhaps infamous, for their maritime activity; they dominated the seas on the western coast of Italy, and their reputation as pirates instilled fear around the Mediterranean. Their prosperity through the centuries, however, seems also to have been founded on a stout agricultural tradition; as late as 205 BC, when Scipio Africanus was outfitting an expedition against Hannibal, the Etruscan cities were able to supply impressive amounts of grain as well as weapons and materials for shipbuilding.

 

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