History Travels with Nancy Padgett: Seeing History
The Etruscans: Glossary  


Apennine Mountains

We usually visualize the Apennines as running due north-south. We forget they also arc east to southwest. One point begins in the northwest of Italy, around Genoa,  and the other ends in the southwest, toward the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Apennines extend 750 miles. At its narrowest point, it's   31 miles wide; at its broadest, the mountain range spans 60 miles in width.

The tree line goes up to 6200 feet. Above the tree line there are 21 peaks, with the tallest, Corno Grande, at 9550 ft. The Corno Grande lies 100 miles east of Rome,  in the Abruzzi region. 

A major river flows from the Apennines. It's the Tiber River,  rising near Arezzo, about 50 miles southeast of Florence.

In Etruscan times, the mountains barricaded the western from the eastern side of the peninsula. Roads between the two were no more than primitive paths, the mountains rugged, with ferocious mountain tribes waiting the brave or foolish.

Etruscan cities flourished on the broad plains of the west. East of the mountains, only the town of Spina flourished. Spina lay where the Po River flowed into the Adriatic Sea, south of present-day Venice.
  Apennine Mountains
The Apennine Mountains

The rock composition of the Apennines is mostly limestone and dolomite.  Over time, rain has dissolved some of the rock, creating fissures known as "karst."

Karst terrain in the central Apennines supports a large amount of ground water. The outflow is estimated to be 58,000 gallons of water per second.


Arno River

The Arno is a short river that flows through Florence. Etruscan remnants can still be found in their main settlement, Fiesole, outside Florence. The Arno is only 150 miles long. Its headwater is 25 miles east of Florence in Mount Falterona in the Apennines.

In Etruscan times, the mouth of the Arno went only to inland Pisa. From Pisa to the sea was a large delta. Today, the Arno empties into the Ligurian Sea, seven miles west of Pisa. 

  Arno River
The Arno River


Calendar and Dates

BCE, BC, CE, and AD: BCE means "Before the Common Era." It corresponds to the traditional Western, Christian BC (i.e., "Before Christ").  

CE means the "Common Era". It corresponds to the Christian AD (i.e.,  "In the year of the Lord Jesus Christ"). There is no Year 0.

The ancient world did not think of time or dates the way we do. The Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans did not even have a word for "date." The Etruscans had a calendar organized into twelve months with June as the first month, but the calendar was a tool for priests to interpret thunder. For example, if there was  thunder on "September 5," the crop barley would be bountiful but wheat would decrease.

Unlike the Romans, the Etruscan
calendar(s?) cited women and their activities. Today, we do not have a single original Etruscan calendar. They have all perished.
  Roman CalendarRoman Calendar, Fragment. Fasti Antiates Maiores. National Museum, Palazzo Massimo, Rome.



Bronze is an alloy made from copper and tin, greatly prized for sculpture, arms, and military equipment. Copper with tin picks up a dull green patina with age.

In the Renaissance, the word "bronzo" appeared. This is not bronze. "Bronzo"  meant an alloy of copper and zinc, which we later call "brass."
  Bronze military helmet
Etruscan Military Helmet. Etruscan. 5th c BC. Bronze. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Bucchero Black Pottery

Etruscan black pottery, heavily incised, is called bucchero. Because of its shiny finish, bucchero appears to be metalware, a more precious object. 

The color black was obtained by firing the clay without much air. Lacking oxygen, the air became heavy with carbon monoxide, which converted the (red) iron oxide in the clay to black.

The Etruscans used many more animals, some real and others imagined, in their incised artwork than did the Greeks or, later, the Romans.
Bucchero black vase with animals
Black Vase with Animals
Etruscan. 5th c BC. Bucchero. Getty Villa, Los Angeles.


Carthage was located in present-day Libya, North Africa, near Tunis.  Carthage rose to become a great Mediterranean power after the Phoenicians migrated from their homeland in Syria to Carthage. (6th c BC).

A formidable sea power, the Carthaginians traded throughout the Mediterranean, establishing contact with the Etruscans.

Carthage held all the colored areas on this map except the Italian peninsula.

Map of Carthage
Map of the Carthaginian Empire.
Courtesy: Wikipedia


There were about 30 Etruscan urban settlements cohesive enough to be a city-state. They all shared a common culture and language, though politically only a few united from time to time to fight an external enemy.

 Five—Cerveteri (Caere), Orvieto, Tarquinia, Veii, and Vulci—were among the richest city-states in all the Mediterranean. Vulci (Volsinii)surrendered over 2000 valuable bronze statues when sacked by Rome in the 3rd century BC. Even the Romans were astonished at the extent of Vulci's wealth. 
  Orvieto today Orvieto today


A cuniculus was an ingenious type of drainage trench engineered by the Etruscans. A reliable water supply was a big problem all over the arid Mediterranean--too much water at times, and not enough in other months. The Etruscans trapped water from springs in the Apennine Mountains.

More water meant more crops, which allowed the population to grow.
  Cuniculus schematic
Etruscan Cuniculus (modern sketch)


Etruria is the modern term for the geographical territory(ies) inhabited by Etruscan people.


The Etruscans were the premier goldsmiths of the ancient world. The beauty of their works--its delicacy and intricacy-- stems from a  technique of "granulation" still not fully understood by modern science.

Granulation is the bonding of very small spheres (granules) of metal to another metal surface. How could the Etruscans achieve granulation without the invention of a solder? And with such incredibly small granules (.14 mm)?

Archeologists and chemists speculate they took an organic glue, perhaps fish paste or cowhide glue, and mixed it with a copper mineral like malachite. Under heat, a bond is formed.  For a more technical discussion: Etruscan gold making techniques

  Etruscan gold earrings, New York MetEtruscan jewelry. Gold granulated earrings. Etruscan. 5th c BC. Metropolitan Museum, New York.


During the Etruscan period, the Greeks were prevalent in colonies in southern Italy and Sicily, especially Syracuse.

The Etruscans greatly admired the Greeks and collected things Greek. Most ancient Greek vases extant today are from Etruscan tombs in Italy, not from Greece. The extensive collection of Greek vases at the Metropolitan Museum in New York  comes from Etruscan tombs.

The colonial Greeks handed the Etruscans a pivotal defeat at sea at Battle of Cumae around 500 BC.
  Map of Greek colonies in Italy 6th c BC
Map of Greek colonies in Italy, c 500 BC. Colonies are shown in green.


A phalanx was the formation of  infantry devised by the Greeks. The Etruscans adapted it from them.  The infantry, called hoplites, were armed with shields and spears. The first rank of hoplites lined up shield-to-shield, sometimes with shields overlapping. The next ranks  projected their spears out over the first rank of shields, thus presenting to the enemy both a wall of shields and a large number of spear points.

This type of formation required a great deal of discipline and training and generally worked best on level ground. How the hoplites actually fought is still debated.
  Hoplites in phalanx formation
Greek Hoplite formation. (modern sketch)


Terracotta is an unglazed ceramic made of clay. In the ancient world, once formed, the clay was then dried or baked.

Terracotta objects were much less expensive to make than bronze.

This urn from Chiusi held the ashes of an Etruscan warrior.  Long after burial became widespread, the people of Etruscan Chiusi continued to cremate their dead.

Their cremation urns often had articulated arms, jewelry, wigs, even clothing. The lid presented a stylized portrait of the deceased.
Etruscan burial urn with man's head. NY Met Museum
Etruscan cremation urn.
Etruscan, (from Chiusi). Terracotta. 6th c BC. Metropolitan Museum, New York.

Tiber River

The Tiber is the river that flows through Rome. The Tiber's headwaters are about 50 miles southeast of Florence in the Apennines. It flows into the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The Tiber is 250 miles long.  In ancient times, the Tiber was a broad, flat river, navigable for 60 miles inland. As it flowed toward the sea, the Tiber drained into a large flat area around Rome, periodically causing floods and producing a marshy swamp around and in  Rome. Much of Rome could become underwater, with the Roman Forum an impassable marsh.
The Etruscans established territory on the right (west) bank of the Tiber. The Romans were across the river, to the east, on the left bank.

The right bank means the right side of the river as it flows downstream to the sea. Today's Vatican and the Trastevere district are on the right bank and the Roman Forum is on the left bank.)
Updated 22 July 2016. You may contact me, Nancy Padgett, at NJPadgett@gmail.com

Tiber River
Map of the Tiber River in the Ancient World.
Courtesy: Wikipedia