History Travels with Nancy Padgett: Seeing History
The Etruscans:  Where to See 
Etruscan Mars of Todi head, bronze statue, Vatican Museums
The Mars of Todi Statue. Etruscan, 5th c BC. Bronze, Gregoriano Etrusco Vatican Museums, Rome.


The Etruscans lived in hilltop city-states, characterized by a

--Fierce warrior society

--Beautiful material objects

--Specialized religious rituals

--Greek-inspired hedonism

Slideshow of Etruscan Art in U.S. Museums


The Etruscans: Before the Romans

Even today, ancient Rome's success over its rivals surprises us, and no more so than Rome's successes in its earliest days. More developed states had already established outposts in
Italy: Greeks, Carthaginians, Phoenicians.

Plus there was an indigenous culture that was  "ahead" of the Romans—the Etruscans.

The Etruscans originally lived between Rome and present day Florence.  First ferocious, next wealthy, and then even more ferocious, they became a major player on the Italian peninsula from about 750 to 400 BCE, expanding north and south.

But, after 400 BCE, they fell apart militarily. By the 1st century BCE, the Etruscans as an independent culture had disappeared into the Roman maw.

Finding the Etruscans

I had first run across the Etruscans in 1975, when Time-Life Books issued a volume about them, still pretty good today.  The Etruscans have long attracted attention as "mysterious."  This just means we moderns are mystified because no written literary texts, such as philosophies or memoirs, have survived to explain their way of thinking. We only know them through archeological artifacts and what other cultures, such as the Romans, wrote about them.
  Spouses Sarcaphogus
Sarcophagus of the Spouses. Etruscan. 5th c BCE. Terracotta sculpture. Villa Giulia, Rome
Today, you can find Etruscan artifacts at two fabulous museums in Rome: at the Vatican and at the Villa Giulia.

On this trip, April 2009,  I didn't travel outside Rome, but I did find my way, via public transportation, to the two museum collections in Rome.

  Bronze figure on horseback
Etruscan:  Bronze Figure on Horseback. Gregoriano Etrusco Museum, Vatican Museums, Rome

The Vatican's Gregoriano Etrusco Museum

This is a good place to start.

On a bright April day during Easter week, I  put on sturdy walking shoes and hopped on the tram in Trastevere, connecting easily with a bus across the bridge, to visit the vast Vatican Museums complex.
The trusty tram in Trastevere.
At the Vatican, the Gregoriano Etrusco Museum is located on the second floor of the complex, same as the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel, but at the opposite end of the building. Quite a walk if you visit the Sistine Chapel first.

No one else was in the Etruscan Museum: eerie to find  quiet in the Vatican Museums. Plus benches.
  Visitors at the Vatican Interior
Visitors enjoying the elegant Vatican Museums.
The quiet is at odds with the dynamic, spirited Etruscan objects. These folks may not have left a literary footprint, but the artifacts found by archeologists almost shout their military might, religious enthusiasms, and delight in earthly pursuits.

  Military Shield Vatican Military shield, ceremonial. Etruscan. Bronze Gregoriano Etrusco Museum, Vatican Museums, Rome.
Beyond the clamor of some Etruscan art is surprising delicacy in the details, skill in rendering emotion, and sophisticated working of the material.

  Etruscan jewelry Lion detail
Lions: Jewelry detail.
Etruscan. Gold. Gregoriano Etruscano Museum, Vatican Museums, Rome.


The Mars of Todi

The Mars of Todi warrior: dressed in armor, the warrior held in his open right hand a cup for drinking libations, perhaps a supplicating toast to Mars, god of War. Certainly a pre-battle libation would be needed in the hand-to-hand-combat of battle tactics of this era. The closed left hand held an iron spear, now broken into three pieces and in a display case in the museum.

Hidden for centuries, the statue was rediscovered in 1935 in a monastery in Todi, an Etruscan settlement on the river Tiber.
  Etruscan Mars of Todi statue, full length, Vatican Museums
Mars of Todi. Etruscan. Bronze. Vatican Museums.

Etruscan Gold Necklace with Lions

  Gold necklace Vatican
Necklace. Etruscan. Gold. Vatican Museums.

Bronze shield with one-eyed god

Another Etruscan ceremonial war shield with a god. Over the centuries, he has lost one eye and part of his beard, inadvertently magnifying the power of his intensive stare.
  Ceremonial military shield, Vatican
Military shield, ceremonial. Etruscan. Bronze. Vatican Museums.

Etruscan large gold fibula

A fibula was an ornamental necklace, part ofa dress
  Gold Fibula, Vatican
Fibula for dress, ornamental. Etruscan. Gold. Vatican Museums.

Etruscan gold bracelets

Fabricated around 650 BC, these bracelets came from the tombs at Cerveteri, Italy
  Gold bracelets, Vatican
    Bracelets. Etruscan c 650 BC. Gold. Vatican Museums.

The Villa Giulia

My second stop, the following day, was to the north part of Rome, to the Villa Giulia (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia). It's a tranquil setting for this anything-but-tranquil civilization.

Begun in the 1550's under Pope Julius III as a summer country retreat, the small villa is worth a visit in itself. In 1889 the Villa Giulia was taken over by the state of Italy and became the National Etruscan museum. Over the next century, the Italian state purchased or was given important private collections of Etruscan artifacts, including a late 19th c. replica of an Etruscan temple.
  Interior Courtyard, Villa Giulia, Rome
Interior Courtyard, Villa Giulia.
Today, the Museum houses 30 rooms of artifacts from Etruscan excavations throughout Italy. The spaciousness of the Villa Giulia is a true gift for Etruscan studies, since the Etruscans inhabited many city-states, each with somewhat different resources and culture.

On the female head pictured to the right, enough of the color pigments remain that you can imagine the rest of the colors used by the Etruscans, and later by the Romans. The woman's entire head, not just the bulging eyes and bee-sting lips, was slathered with vivid shades.

After only two days of Etruscan hunting, I was a convert. You will be too.
Woman's head of painted terracotta, Villa Giulia, Rome
Woman's head. Etruscan. Painted terracotta, Villa Giulia, Rome.
Gregoriano Etrusco Museum, Vatican Museums.
Viale Vaticano.
Tel +39 06 698 84676
Vatican Etruscan Museum

The Vatican Web site sells tickets in advance. After lunch and Wednesday mornings after 10:30 are less crowded. Note: the official audioguide is about the growth of the Museums, not a guide to the galleries.

Full cafeteria dining room and snack bar. Cafes in the vicinity.
  Vatican Museum crowds
Vatican Museums:
art lovers and crowds of tourists.
Villa Giulia Museum (Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia)
Piazzale di Villa Giulia 9, Roma 00196. Tel. +39 06-320.1951.
For an English language Web site: Roma2000.

The  Villa Giulia is quite uncrowded; advanced tickets are not necessary. When I was there, no cafe or refreshment facilities were open.

Note: the displays have no English translations.. Buy a guidebook on the way in or do your research ahead of time.
  Interior Colonnade, Villa Giulia, Rome
Interior colonnade of the Villa Giulia, with its 16th C.  frescoes.

Close to Rome are the ancient Etruscan sites  at Cerveteri and  at Tarquinia. Further away: Bologna was the important Etruscan city-state called Felsina. Florence has a few ancient collections, including some Etruscans, though most of Florence is clearly Renaissance and later. Orvieto, between Florence and Rome and beautiful to visit, was one of the major Etruscan hill-top cities.


Necropolis Tel: 06-994.0001. No Web site.

About 30 miles from Rome, Cerveteri makes a good day trip from Rome. Famous for its Necropolis some call the town “the city of the dead.”

At Cerveteri, the Etruscans constructed mound- tombs with rooms, almost as if you’re visiting someone& home. But note: there are few frescoes in the tombs. To see painted frescoes, you need to visit Tarquinia.
  mound tomb Cerveteri
Cerveteri Mound-Tombs.
Visitors descend into the mounds to get to the Necropolis rooms.
The main burial ground at Cerveteri is Banditacca. It holds the  most famous tomb in Cerveteri, the Tomba Bella. Belonging to the Matuna family, representations of the family's possessions, including its pets, were painted in stucco on the walls.

Although most of the artifacts uncovered at Cerveteri were moved to the Villa Giulia Museum in Rome, some remain  in its (free) museum. 

Museo Nazionale Cerite
in Cerveteri (tel. 06-994.1354); located on the Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore, within the Ruspoldi Castle. No Web site.
  Tomb of Reliefs Interior, Cerveteri
Cerveteri's main burial ground is
Banditacca, with its Tomb of the Reliefs, (Tomba Bella).


The Etruscan Necropolis  of Tarquinia.
Tel. 0766-856.308, no Web site

Further away from Rome
is Tarquinia, with larger and more recent excavations. The tombs in the necropolis here have the famous frescoes on the walls. The necropolis area  is separate from the museum.

The site covers an  area of 2 1/2 miles. Thousands of tombs have been located, some still unexplored.

Unlike Cerveteri, the burial sites in Tarquinia are not laid out like house-mounds in a city. They are more like individual mineshafts descending into the earth. Filled with wall paintings whose colors have survived, the tombs convey the earthy, vigorous sensuality that the wealthy Etruscans were noted for.
  Tomb of the Jugglers Fresco, Tarquinia
Tomb of the Jugglers,
Etruscan Necropolis of Tarquinia.
Tarquinia National Museum (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Tarquinia). The museum is housed in the Renaissance Palazzo Vitelleschi, located in the Piazza Cavour.
; no Web site.

The museum's claim to fame is its pair of life-sized winged horses made of terracotta from around 350 BCE.

The Winged Horses of Tarquinia were found in a
tomb at Tarquinia
  Winged Horses of Tarquinia
Winged Horses of Tarquinia. Etruscan. Terracotta. The
 National Museum, Tarquinia, Italy. Photograph by Ulrich Mayring,  Wikipedia

Bologna (Felsina)


Museo Civico
Via dell'Archiginnasio, 2
Tel. 051 233849

Crammed with antiquities, the museum is located under one of the splendid Renaissance arcades near the central Piazza Maggiore inside the Palazzo Galvani. Unfortunately, the museum needs for refurbishment. The Etruscan artifacts are displayed in a somewhat dark and musty interior, reminiscent of museums of a much earlier era. Since there is sparse labeling and little in English, take a good guidebook and great patience. No photography allowed.
main palazzo Bologna
Bologna:  the Piazza Maggiore. The Museo Civico is across the piazza.


Museo archeologico nazionale di Firenze (Florence Archaeological Museum)
Via della Colonna, 36
Tel. +39 055 23575

Among the Renaissance architecture and treasures that Florence is famous for is the less-well known National Archaeological Museum of Florence. It is housed in the Palazzo della Crocetta, built for the grand duchess Maria Madalena of Austria in 1620. No photography.
The Chimera of Arezzo, Florence
The Chimera di Arezzo.
Etruscan. Bronze. National  Archeological Museum of Florence. Photo: Museum

Museo Faina and the National  Archaeological Museum of OrvietoThese are two separate museums, located on the opposite side of the Duomo.
p.zza del Duomo, 29.
Tel. 0763 341216-341511

Etruscan artifacts are everywhere, including in the fruit orchards of the B&B below the town, where we stayed two nights, the most excellent Casa Selita. The artifacts were uncovered by a university archeological dig. The owner of our B&B converted one, not of museum quality, to an outdoor plant container.

  Orvieto countryside from wall
View of surrounding countryside from city wall, Orvieto.  The commanding heights and their walls gave the Etruscans protection from most enemy tribes.

 plant container

Etruscan Tufa, now a plant container.  Casa Selita B&B, Orvieto.

Or, find your own Etruscan tomb.

The Department of Monuments has road signs throughout the old Etrurian area, denoting mounds and tumuli.

While on the road between Florence and Siena, we found this Etruscan burial mound with typical underground shaft in a small village. We bumped through (legally) someone's backyard to emerge at a small car park, mound, and set of four entrances.

Not much down under--no frescoes. You will need lots of imagination as well as a flashlight.
  Mound near Siena
At the entrance to wayside Etruscan mound, on the road between Florence and Siena.


Can't get to Italy? There are wonderful Etruscan artifacts in Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Paris,  London, and Zagreb. 


Allard Pierson Museum
(the Archeological Museum of the University of Amsterdam)
Oude Turfmarkt 127
1012 GC Amsterdam, Netherlands
020 5252556

I was surprised to find-- amidst the Van Goghs, the Rembrandts, the modern art, and the canals-- this wonderful museum devoted to archeology.

It's a small Etruscan collection but well displayed.

  Votive in form of a swaddled child
Votive in form of a swaddled child. Etruscan. Terracotta. Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam. Photo: Pierson Musuem


Altes Museum
(Staatliche Museen zu Berlin)
Am Lustgarten
10178 Berlin, Germany
030 266424242

Do not miss!

Open Mon-Wed,Fri-Sun 10am-6pm; Thu 10am-10pm. Good Web site in English.
One of the great museums of the world for antiquities. The Etruscan and Roman antiquities are installed in spaces that were beautifully refurbished in July 2010. With excellent signage in English and good lighting, the classical collection at the Altes Museum is well worth an afternoon.

  Drawing of Etruscan soldier's military gear, Berlin Drawing of soldier's military gear. The gear was  found in grave in Tarquinia, dating 8th c BCE. Altes Museum (SMB), Berlin
The military shield on the right has rattles fastened to its reverse side, presumably to frighten the enemy. Some of the clasps of the soldier's gear were made of gold as well as bronze--a sign of high social rank.

See more photos at:  Etruscan Artifacts in Berlin
Actual military shield, Tarquinia, now in Berlin  Military shield.  Etruscan.  8th c BCE. Bronze. Altes Museum (SMB), Berlin


(State Collection of Antiquities)
1 Konigsplatz, 80333 Munchen
(0) 89/599 888 30

I trekked to the state of Bavarian's collections of Etruscan, Roman, and Greek artefacts, giving up a day of pre-Oktoberfest, but well worth it.

The collections are housed in a lovely neo-classical building built by deep-pockets King Ludwig I in 1848. It's the "King's Place."  Across from it is  another neo-classical beauty housing Greek and Roman sculpture, the Glyptotek.

The  objects are displayed in state-of-the-art surroundings. Though it has a wonderful collection of Etruscan bronze figurines and jewelry, its collection of Etruscan pottery is gone, however--lost in World War II to Alllied bombing raids. No cafe but nice materials in English.
  Etruscan female with lion, bronze statuette, Munich
Female with lion(?). Etruscan. Bronze. Antikensammlungen. Munich


The Louvre:
need we say more? One of the great European collections of classical art.

I visited in spring 2009; be sure and wear good walking shoes--it's huge. This Sarcophagus of the (Happy) Spouses is virtually identical to the one in Rome, and to others in the Louvre.
  Sarcaphogus of the Spouses
Another Sarcophagus of the Spouses. Etruscan. Terracotta. The Louvre, Paris. Photo: museum


Can't get to Europe? The US has a surprising number of museums with Etruscan artifacts.

Los Angeles

The Getty Villa
17985 Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272

Do not miss!

The Getty Villa has a wealth of Etruscan,  Roman, and Greek treasures. The Getty Villa itself is an amazing re-creation of a Roman villa.  A magical place all around.

Black Vase, Getty Villa, Malibu
Black  (bucchero) incised jug.
Etruscan.  Earthenware. Getty Villa, Los Angeles, CA


The Museum of Fine Arts
100 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02116-6511
(617) 369-6500

The MFA has a nice, well labelled, and not heavily visited collection.
    Etruscan gold bracelet at Boston MFA
Bracelet. Etruscan. Gold. Boston MFA


The Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Il 60603-6404

The Art Institute, one of the great museums of the U.S., has a small but interesting collection of Etruscan and classical objects. It has a budget cafe, good restaurant.

Note how beautifully the Etruscan artist has rendered the horse and the dog. Although Etruscans borrowed decorative techniques from the Greeks, they had a different painting style.
  hunting scene on Etruscan storage jar
Hunting scene on  storage jar, detail of horse and dog. Etruscan. Black glazed terracotta. 5th c BC. Art Institute of Chicago.

New York

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

You can take a dazzling special tour of its Etruscan collection in the splendidly refurbished Classical Galleries.

View more photos of the Etruscan collection at the Met.
  Etruscan Chariot of Monteleone, NY Met MuseumChariot of Monteleone. New York Met Museum.

New Hampshire

The Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover NH

At the Hood Museum on the Dartmouth campus, I found among its classical collections the interesting Etruscan incised jar at the right. Who knew you could find Etruscan art in New Hampshire?

"Olpe" describes a vessel with a single handle, usually taller than it is wide.
  Olpe Jug Dartmouth CollegeOlpe Jug. Etruscan. 600 BCE. Terracotta. Hood Art Museum, Dartmouth College, Hanover MA


Seattle Art Museum
1300 First Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101-2003

Great restaurant, open to midnight Thursdays and Fridays. 

 The Seattle Art Museum has one Etruscan artifact.  It's nestled among  a few Roman and Greek objects, nicely displayed in a corner of the Museum.

Mirror back incised with scene of the Judgment of Paris. Typical of Etruscan mirrors, whose artists loved to render the Greek myths.

mirror showing judgment of paris, Seattle 
Mirror. Etruscan. 4th-3rd c BCE. Bronze. Seattle Art Museum

Worcester, Massachusetts

Worcester Art Museum
55 Salisbury St.
Worcester MA

In October 2009, I visited the Worcester Art Museum, a vast building with underappreciated art resources. It's one of those grand New England cultural institutions, built when Worcester and Massachusetts had a thriving textile and industrial base.  The Etruscan holdings are few but interesting.

This urn was once brightly painted. The deceased reclines on the lid, with a flower garland around his neck. Ferocious  battle scenes surround him below.

You may contact me, Nancy Padgett, at NJPadgett@gmail.com
  Cinerary Urn Worcester Art Museum, Worcester Mass.
Cinerary Urn. Etruscan. c. 160 BCE. Marble. Worcester Art Museum, MA