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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Etruscans were an ancient people who occupied a portion of the Italian peninsula known as Etruria, part of present day Tuscany. They are generally considered to be the forerunners of the Roman Republic, and were responsible for many accomplishments from which the Romans benefited.

The Etruscans were a dominant power in Italy for several hundred years. They developed the ability to make high quality tools and weapons of bronze and iron, built large cities and established political alliances between those cities, and traded throughout the Mediterranean basin by means of a large fleet of ships. They were the first to use the arch as an architectural device, primarily for building bridges. Among their other accomplishments:

  • They borrowed from the Greeks the concept of gods in human form, and instituted the use of fortune tellers and soothsayers.
  • They held public parades for war heroes as a testimonial to the hero's greatness. On the death of a great statesman or military hero, they often held slave fights as blood sacrifices. These were the forerunners of the gladiatorial games in which the Romans engaged.
  • They adapted a modified form of the Greek alphabet.

The Etruscans were attacked by Celts from the North and on one occasion were defeated at sea by a fleet of Greek ships. In 509 B.C.E. a particularly cruel Etruscan ruler was overthrown by Junous Brutus, a Roman who established a city-state type government, the beginning of the Roman Republic.

For all their accomplishments, the Etruscan language has never been translated. For that reason, a great deal of their culture remains unknown to modern scholars.


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