History Travels with Nancy Padgett: Seeing History
The Etruscans: Interesting Facts 

Interesting Things to Know about the Etruscans


The Etruscans figured out how to increase their food supply: control the water.

Their cuniculus system increased the amount of water. This engineering feat diverted meandering streams through trenches and shafts into mini-reservoirs.

Dry farming techniques then maximized the  water made available by the cuniculus system.

More water control = more food = more people = more soldiers= greater military power.

  cuniculus water control system schematic
Cuniculus water control system.
Alphabet and Language: Unusual "documents" with Etruscan words

1. Gold plaques from the Etruscan port city of Caere, discovered only in 1964. 

2. The Mummy of Zagreb

3. A tile from Capua, in southern Italy. Inscribed with about 300 readable words, the inscription is a genealogy of gods and goddesses descended from the Etruscan goddess Aph.

gold plaques of caere (pyrgi)-etruscan language
Gold Plaques of Pyrgi (Caere) in Etruscan and Phoenician languages. Etruscan. 500 BC. Gold. Museo Villa Guilia, Rome.
4. The Roman Emperor Claudius was practically the last known person of the Roman ruling classes who could read Etruscan.

Claudius wrote a 20-volume study of the Etruscans, compiled a dictionary, interviewed elderly Etruscans who still knew the language, and married an Etruscan as his first wife.

Unfortunately his great history of the Etruscans has been lost to the modern world.

Sources: Bonfante, Laura, The Etruscan Language (1983)

  Claudius bust
Roman Emperor Claudius.


The Etruscans introduced t
iled roofs to Italy. Tiled roofs protected the perishable wooden building underneath.

The notable contribution made by the Etruscans was to lay down rectangles of tile across the roof, then overlap half-round tiles on top, along the seams of the rectangles--an ingenious seal.
  modern terracotta roof tile
A terracotta roof tile, schematic

The ends of the tiles along the roof line were sealed with fierce-looking antefixes.
  Roof tile antefix
Antefix: Gorgon or Medusa. Etruscan. 5th c BC. Terracotta. Getty Villa.


The Etruscans so loved the Greeks  that it's not easy to define differences between Greek art and Etruscan art.

More Greek vases have been found in Etruscan tombs and sites than have been located in Greece itself.  About 500,000 Etruscan tombs are in southern Etruria alone.

In this typical Etruscan vase, you can clearly see Greek mythology ("Hercules Slaying the Hydra") and Greek vase design.

Sources:  Richard de Puma,, Etruscan Art in the Metropolitan Museum (2013) Nigel, Spivey, Etruscan Art (1997)

  Vase of Hercules slaying the Hydra 
Vase : Hercules Slaying the Hydra. Etruscan. 5th c BC. Terracotta. Getty Villa


One belief the Etruscans evidently held was predestination: each civilization had only a specified  lifespan. Theirs was allocated eight centuries, ("saecula"). which ran out in the 1st c BC. At that point, they more or less gave in to the Roman armies, believing Rome's turn had begun.

The Romans found the Etruscans' religious beliefs alien. They also found it  very powerful.  After the assassination of Julius Caesar, the Roman authorities, taking no chances with the gods, summoned the  Etruscan diviner Vulcanius to Rome.  The Romans wanted him to make sense of the conjunction of Caesar's death with the pass-by of a comet. Vulcanius  pronounced the end of the 9th Etruscan period and the beginning of the 10th, or last. That is, the end of the world, even for the Romans. Vulcanius proved to be spectacularly wrong.

  Etruscan Bronze Liver of Piacenza. Piacenza, Italy 
The Liver of Piacenza, a
teaching tool for Haruspicy.
Etruscan. 2nd c BC. Bronze. Palazzo Farnese, the Municipal Museum of Piacenza.  Piacenza, Italy.


Men and women of the upper classes tended to dress alike. They wore long flowing garments, gold jewelry, long sandals with upturned toes.

A wealthy, hedonistic look.
  Dancing woman fashion 


The Etruscans introduced gladiators  and gladiatorial-style combat to ancient Italy.  These warriors are more likely boxers.

Note the priest in the upper left, divining something from the flight of the birds--perhaps the outcome of the fight?
  Tomb Fresco showing Boxers  

Music and musical instruments

The Etruscans devised wind, percussion, and stringed instruments.

Musicians and instruments accompanied the military, providing important sound signals to the soldiers.

Swineherds kept their animals together with a type of trumpet called a buccina.

Tomb frescoes depict musicians and dancers in many of the banqueting, dancing, and games scenes.

What the music sounded like is unknown, their musical tradition probably oral.
Frescoes. Etruscan. probably 5th c BC. Tomb of the Lions, Tarquinia, Italy. Courtesy Mysterious Etruscans.


Etruscan dice have been discovered, so they had some kind of numbering system. It was probably a decimal system.



What the Etruscans were called

 The Etruscans called themselves used the term "Rasenna."

The Romans called them the “Tusci” or “Etrusci."

The Romans mocked the Etruscans by calling them pudgy ("pinguis"). Their obesity was a an index of their decline.

 The Greeks used “Tyrrhenioi” (Tyrrhenians).

What the Etruscans named their children

Girls: Larthi, Velia, Ramtha, Husti, Thania

Boys: Lars or Laris, Vel, Sethre, Arnth, Avle, Vanth
You may contact me, Nancy Padgett, at NJPadgett@gmail.com. Updated  August 2015