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

By: Robert Guisepi


Etruscan Organization 

From the 6th century BC onward, territorial organization and political and economic initiative were concentrated in a limited number of large city-states in Etruria itself. These city-states, similar to the Greek poleis, consisted of an urban center and a territory of fluctuating size. Numerous sources refer to a league of the "Twelve Peoples" of Etruria, formed for religious purposes but evidently having some political functions; it met annually at the chief sanctuary of the Etruscans, the Fanum Voltumnae, or shrine of Voltumna, near Volsinii. The precise location of the shrine is unknown, though it may have been in an area near modern Orvieto (believed by many to be the ancient Volsinii). As for the Twelve Peoples, no firm list of these has survived (indeed, they seem to have varied through the years), but they are likely to have come from the following major sites: Caere, Tarquinii, Vulci, Rusellae, Vetulonia, Populonia--all near the coast--and Veii, Volsinii, Clusium, Perusia (Perugia), Cortona, Arretium (Arezzo), Faesulae (Fiesole), and Volaterrae (Volterra)--all inland. There also are reports of corresponding Etruscan leagues in Campania and in northern Italy, but it is far more difficult to generate a list of Etruscan colonies or Etruscanized cities that would be likely candidates for these.

The names of some magistracies both in the league and in individual cities--such as lauchme, zilath, maru, and purth--are known, though there is little certainty as to their precise duties. Lauchme (Latin lucumo) was the Etruscan word for "king." The title of zilath . . . rasnal, translated into Latin as praetor Etruriae and meaning something like the "justice of Etruria," was evidently applied to the individual who presided over the league.

The men holding such magistracies belonged to the aristocracy, which derived its status from the continuity of the family. Onomastic formulas show that persons of free birth normally had two names. First came an individual name, or praenomen (relatively few of these are known: for men, Larth, Avle, Arnth, and Vel were frequent; for women, Larthia, Thanchvil, Ramtha, and Thana); it was followed by a family name, or nomen, derived from a personal name or perhaps the name of a god or a place. This system was in use by the second half of the 7th century, replacing the use of a single name (as in "Romulus" and "Remus") and reflecting the new complexity of relationships developing with urbanization. The Etruscans rarely used the cognomen (family nickname) employed by the Romans, but often inscriptions include the name of both the father (patronymic) and the mother (matronymic).Etruscan women enjoyed an elevated status and a degree of liberation unknown to their counterparts in Rome and, especially, in Greece. They were allowed to own and openly display objects and clothing of a luxurious nature; they participated freely in public life, attending parties and theatrical performances; and--shocking to Greeks and Romans--they danced, drank, and rested in close physical contact with their husbands on the banqueting couches. Etruscan ladies were often literate, as one may deduce from the inscriptions on their mirrors, and even learned, if Livy's portrayal of Tanaquil as skilled in augury may be trusted. Their prominence in the family was a consistent feature of Etruscan aristocratic society and seems to have played a role in its stability and durability.


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