Quote from J. H. Plumb's 'The Italian Renaissance':
“In so primitive a world, the personalities of kings and popes could lead either to strong government or to social anarchy; peace and good harvests could lift prosperity with outstanding rapidity; war and disease and famine could hold in check all progress, all growth, for a generation.”
The study of ancient 'magick' can teach us much. Not only about ancient society, but about human nature and human social structures in general. Ancient practitioners had their own private notebooks. This is where their painstakingly accumulated secrets were preserved. Although the Etruscan religion did not survive the onslaught of Christianity intact, the indigenous beliefs could not be completely erased.
Mysterious signs left behind by our ancestors offer us a glimpse into the past and often inspire us to learn more about the people who have preceded us.
In C.G. Leland's 'Etruscan Roman Remains' we read: “this Stregheria or old religion, is something more than a sorcery, and something less than a faith. It consists in remains of a mythology of spirits, the principal of whom preserve the names and attributes of the old Etruscan gods.”
The Etruscan people have amazed its contemporaries with their meticulous, respectful and accurate religious rites. They continue to amaze us today for the complexity of their sacred world.
The Etruscans were, essentially, the beginning of an entire culture - going down through the Greeks, Romans and on to modern day Italy. The Etruscans represent one of history's most fascinating people. They knew how to write and had their own language. Many were sailors, warriors, miners, merchants and metalworkers. They planned their cities, cemeteries, temples and roads. The cities they built are still thriving today, with slightly different names of course. The Etruscans transformed Rome into a city and started it on its way to becoming an Empire.
Another important item in the Etruscan life was music. Nearly every happening in Etruscan daily life was accompanied by music: flutes, pipes, lyres, castanets, zithers and trumpets. The Etruscans also used music when hunting to lure stags and boars from their hiding places.
Italy is routinely associated with two historically significant events. First, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, then, Rome's evolution as the center of Christianity. What most people do not know, or perhaps have forgotten, is the Romans were only one of the ancient populations to inhabit the Italian peninsula. Christianity was, in its early years, another one of many cults. The Etruscans were polytheist, meaning they believed in more than one God. These gods formed two different groups: the gods and goddesses of the state religion and the spirits, which were thought to inhabit shrines.
Most people traveling to Italy are automatically drawn to historical sites relating to either the Roman Empire or the city of Rome. They often fail to realize that archeological sites or other monuments may be neither Roman nor Christian, but actually, an Etruscan settlement or a temple dedicated to Isis or Mithra.
WHERE DID THE ERTUSCANS COME FROM?
Quote from 'Tarquinia and Etruscan Origins' by Hugh Hencken:
“Herodotus said that the Etruscans came from Lydia, and Dionysus said they originated in Italy.”
There are several theories as to where the Etruscans came from. The Greek historian Herodotus, who lived in the 5th century BC, upheld the theory that they came by sea from Lydia in Asia Minor. Other historians of the classical age believed the Etruscans to be of Italic origin who had lived on the peninsula since remote times. Another theory is that of groups from the eastern Mediterranean who brought with them a technically and culturally advanced society. They mixed with the resident Italic population around the 10th century BC and emerged as the Etruscans. Yet another theory is that the Etruscans came down from the north through the Alpine passes.
Herodotus, in his famous "Storie" told that: “during famine, a King from Lydia, Atis, the son of Mane, decided to divide his people and make half of them emigrate under the direction of his son Tirreno. These people left Smyrna with a fleet, reaching the Umbrians, where he settled with his people founding the towns which gave way to the culture of the Tirreni or Tysenòi, as the Greeks called the Etruscans.”
More than 400 years after Herodotus declared the Etruscans had come from Lydia, Dionysius remarked that: “Etruscans have not the same language as the Lydians, do not worship the same gods as the Lydians, do not have the same laws.”
During the 8th Century BC, the Greeks arrived in Italy. They came from Euboea, Argolis, Locris, Crete and the Aegean islands, settling on the southern coasts (from Campania to Apulia) and eastern and southern Sicily. They founded many prosperous colonies whose economy was based generally on agriculture and commerce. Often they allied together against common enemies but they were also divided by disagreement and rivalry. The term `Magna Grecia' describes a population and civilization rather than a political reality.
While the Greeks were saturating the south of the peninsula and Sicily with their civilization, the Etruscans were building up in central Italy. From the 8th Century BC onwards, they were a powerful empire whose growth was checked only by that of Rome.
According to Paul MacKendrick in his book 'The Mute Stones Speak': “The Po Valley in the Bronze Age was a melting pot in which a variety of cultures, indigenous and immigrant, mingled. The Etruscans were an advanced civilization whose origins are still not clear. Whether they migrated from the East (as many aspects of their civilization suggest) by land or sea, or developed on the peninsula itself as direct heirs of the Villanovans, it is clear that the Etruscans formed the most important Italic cultural and political ethnic group before the advent of Roman power.”
Regardless of where they came from, a distinct Etruscan culture evolved around the 8th century B.C. and developed rapidly during the 7th century B.C. They achieved their pinnacle of power and wealth during the 6th century B.C. and declined during the 5th and 4th century B.C.
Before the rise of Rome as a power in the Mediterranean region, the Etruscans dominated ancient Etruria on the northern part of the Italian peninsula and generally the area south of the river Arno and north of the river Tiber. This was roughly equivalent to the size of modern Tuscany. Etruria comprised a loose confederation of city-states, including Clusium (now Chiusi), Tarquinii (Tarquinia), Veii (Veio), Volterra and Perusia (Perugia), which were highly civilized. At no time was Etruria a nation. The Tusci, as the Romans called them, gained great power in Italy and the western Mediterranean. They held sway over Rome until 509 BC. They built a commercial and agricultural civilization that reached its peak in the 6th century B.C.
The Etruscans ruled Northern Italy, including Rome, from 616-509 B.C. In 508 B.C., the Etruscan ruler Lars Porsena attacked Rome. Some of the last Kings of Rome before the creation of the republic in 509 B.C. were Etruscans: Tarquinius Priscus, Servius Tullus and Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud). Their dominance in the area led to a rivalry with the Greeks in the Mediterranean trade. Because of this, increasing pressure was put on their civilization by Greeks, Romans and Gauls.
In 509 B.C., they were chased out of Rome. The proud city-states, lacking a strong national identity, were not able to co-ordinate any real resistance and were thus defeated. Eventually their civilization was taken over by the Romans who adopted much of the Etruscan culture. In 386 B.C., the Gauls took over Rome and the Po valley, causing the Etruscans to lose their trading routes across the Alps. The Etruscans perished in the grip of the Gauls on the north and the Romans on the south. In 282 B.C. what was left of the Etruscan city-states accepted a peace treaty after suffering yet another defeat. Within a few years, all Etruscan cities were taken over by Rome, and the Etruscans vanished from the political realms of the world.
In freeing themselves from Etruscan rule, the Romans lost trade with the Etruscans and with Greek colonies in southern Italy. What little there had been in imports ended. Rome's working-class merchants and craftsmen suffered and Rome experienced economic depression and grain shortages. While under Etruscan rule, Rome had been the greatest power among the Latins.
THE ETRUSCAN CITIES
Quote from 'Italian Sculpture' by Massimo Cassa:
“The fertile plains of ancient Etruria, accessible mountains and rich mineral deposits contributed to make life relatively pleasant and easy for the inhabitants.”
An Etruscan city was not considered a true city unless it had three temples, three streets and three gates. The First gate, which faced sunrise in the East, was considered lucky and it was through this gate that the soldiers marched to battle. The Second gate, which faced West, was considered unlucky and through this gate, those sentenced to death were taken for execution. Although there is much speculation, the direction and reasoning of the third gate is unknown. The temples were built on a raised platform with steps only in the front. Life-size statues of the gods, made of terra cotta, decorated the temples. Usually attributed to the Greeks, these terra-cotta antefixes were adopted by the Etruscans. The artists imaginations were given full reign to create images, from the serene and peaceful, to the sinister. The buildings were decorated with brightly colored drawings of fighting warriors, nymphs and people dancing. Public buildings were painted in much the same way.
Quote from 'Tarquinia and the Etruscan Culture' by Hugh Hencken:
“Grid plans suggest a sophisticated, if rigid, political organization for Etruscan cities.”
When the Etruscans found a piece of land they wanted to develop, the seers were called to read the omens. This was done in many different ways. If the omens were favorable, boundary stones marked the land at intervals on each side. The builders made sure the space between the outer walls and inner walls was untouched - virgin land if you will. Soil untouched by cultivation. It was forbidden to build upon or to plough the space of land between the walls and the buildings. The Romans called this space the 'pomoerium'. As the City grew, these sacred boundary stones were always moved forward as far as the walls were advanced.
The priest would determine the north-south (the 'cardo') and east-west (the 'decumanus') lines by the sky. At the central point of the town, a deep shaft was dug and sealed with great stone slabs. This was called the 'mundus'. The boundaries of the city were then drawn in a great circle around this point. Of course, this was done only when the priests determined it was favorable. A priest using a white bull, a white cow and a bronze plow plowed the circle.
This fixed position of centrality, the 'mundus', also determined the location of gates, streets, altars and temples. The temples would face a north-south direction so the gods could extend protection over the city. Under the rule of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, the old way of building began to give way to new architecture. Dwellings were no longer set on the bare ground; instead, they were given a stone foundation. The walls were built with sun-dried brick instead of wattle and daub. Brick walls were painted with colorful designs. The roofs were covered with hollow tiles instead of straw.
Roads were always designed to drain well and the cities had sewage systems. Undaunted by the rugged terrain of Etruria, the engineers built a network of roads and bridges. Processional roads were built from the cities to the cemeteries. Cross-country roads connected the cities to one another. The Etruscan engineers manipulated water as well as they did the land. An extensive system of inland waterways was constructed along the coast. Wells and clay pipes supplied drinking water. The Etruscans knew the methods to build dams and dig channels; they knew of land drainage and they knew how to cultivate the soil. Bridges ranged from the simple planks across a river to spans supported by massive stone abutments.
New cities pulsated with life. In the streets and squares, traders offered an abundance of goods, both foreign and native. From Africa came ostrich eggs, ivory and scarabs; from Arabia came incense; oils from Greece; cauldrons from Anatolia; and gold jewelry from the East.
New workshops were set up and produced goods for export. Pottery shops made earthenware of all kinds; foundries made bronze vessels and utensils, mirrors, and decorations for furniture; and goldsmiths produced fine filigree jewelry.
Although clearly much is owed to Greek sources, Etruscan works have a definite character of their own. The principal centers of art were Caere (Cerveteri), Tarquinii, Vulci, and Veii (Veio). Because of abundant ore deposits, bronze statuary was common, as were large-scale carvings. Most Etruscan sculpture, however, was created in clay.
In the book 'Italian Sculpture' by Massimo Carra, he says: “The Etruscans became a refined, decadent, conservative society. The existence of the rich became more and more refined and luxurious. Sculpture suddenly became elegant and decorative.”
The Etruscans became great by peaceful development. They prospered by production and trade; the skill and methods of their engineers laid the foundation on Italian soil for the growth of their culture.
Quote from 'Etruscan Places' by D H Lawrence:
“The Etruscan Lucumones, or prince-magistrates, were in the first place religious seers, governors in religion; then magistrates; then princes. They were first and foremost leaders in the sacred mysteries.”
The Etruscans were known by several names. They referred to themselves as Rasna or, Rasenna. The Greeks called them Tyrrhenoi or Tyrsenoi. The Romans called them Etrusci or Tusci.
When the Etruscans dominated Rome, they brought in a system of organization that put people into classes. The person with the highest authority was the Rex. The main attribute that made the Rex so powerful was the Imperium. The Imperium was divine power given to the Rex by the gods. The Imperium gives the Rex the ultimate authority to rule the people the way the gods would want it to be done. The power of the Imperium comes from the gods, and the Rex is to use his authority to protect the 'favor of the gods'. The first Etruscan Kings that ruled Rome were not seen as tyrants and were even credited with helping to make Rome a better place.
The highest political and religious authority was a 'priest-king'. They came from the aristocratic upper classes. The person in this position held supreme authority when it came to being the judge, monarch, military leader and priest. The ruler was the center of magnificent ceremonies intended to show his power and majesty.
According to the Etruscan cosmogony, the evolutionary or creative processes involved twelve vast periods of time. At the end of the first period appeared the planets and the earth. In the second period the firmament was made. In the third period the waters were brought forth and in the fourth period the sun, moon, and stars were placed in the heavens. In the fifth period, living creatures appeared on the earth, and in the sixth period, man was created. These six periods comprehended one-half the duration of the cycle. After six more periods had elapsed, or after the lapse of the entire cycle of twelve periods, all creation was dissolved or drawn to the source of all life. Afterward a new creation was brought forth, under which the same order of events will take place. The involution of life, or its return to the great source whence it sprang, did not, involve the destruction of matter.
The wall paintings in Etruscan tombs show the many ways of life among the Etruscan people. Some lived exuberant lives. They feasted on choice foods and drank only the finest wine. They were waited upon by servants and slaves surrounded in luxury. The aristocratic dead were buried in lavish tombs. Gifted artists made sculptures of them and their Gods; metalsmiths fashioned weapons, jewelry and utensils. The Etruscan's on the whole were vivacious people with exquisite taste and a passion for the good life.
The care with which the Etruscans constructed their tombs lets us have a small peek into their lives. The structure of the burial chamber is believed to be a reproduction of the floor plan of the house in which the occupants lived. Several funerary beds are usually positioned against the walls. At the rear, doors and sometimes windows open into smaller rooms that hold additional beds. An entire family would typically share these 'afterlife' accommodations and rest peacefully together in death as they did in life. Comforts including pillows and slippers were often found in these tombs.
The Etruscans were a superb sea-faring power. They were bold and considered 'pirates' by the Greeks. In Etruscan culture piracy was considered a profession, the same as being a farmer, metalsmith or goldsmith. They were as dangerous on land as on the seas. Their military success can be attributed to their armaments and battle techniques. The Etruscan infantry marched in a close-massed body of men. Shoemakers produced shoes of leather that laced about the ankles. They also made boots for daily wear and overshoes for rainy weather. This gave the infantrymen an advantage over their bare-footed foes.
Throughout the Etruscan reign, their base strength was control of their mineral resources. From ore deposits came an abundance of copper, iron, lead and tin. Many of the ancient tombs that have been unearthed have revealed the Etruscan 'good life': bronze couches, bronze funeral wagons, bronze javelins, andirons of bronze and iron, fluted pottery, gold breastplates, gold jewelry, ivory dice and votive oil lamps.
The Etruscan women were not restricted to quiet chambers, weaving and child rearing like the Greek and Roman women. They appeared in plain view, openly eating and drinking with their husbands. The Etruscan women had names of their own, unlike the Roman women who had the feminine version of the masculine name. Women could transmit their family name to their children, especially in the highest social classes. Most Etruscan women were intensely feminine. They wore ornate jewelry, owned elaborate mirrors, wore makeup and dressed up routinely in colorful linen tunics. The men wore a cloak thrown over the shoulder, the predecessor to the Roman toga.
The Greek philosopher Posidonius wrote in the 2nd Century BC: “The Etruscans had tables sumptuously laid with everything that can contribute to delicate living: they have couch coverings embroidered with flowers and are served from quantities of silver dishes.”
Some Etruscan tombs hold prized possession such as bronze kitchen utensils, drinking vessels and plates. These were often marked with their owners' names. From the food to the utensils to the entertainment, the Etruscans clearly were a social people. Depicted in paintings are elegantly dressed diners reclining on their couches, men and women dancing, servants pouring wine and musicians.
Beneath the aristocrats were the farmers, herders, craftsmen, vintners and servants who labored to make the lives of the privileged supremely luxurious. Clearly a vast social gap existed between the ruling class and the masses that supported it. Some farmers raised pigs, cattle, goats, horses, sheep, ducks and chickens. The cattle were used for food along with being 'working' animals. They pulled the wagons and plows. From the sheep came milk and cheese. Etruria was rich in many grains: wheat, barley, rye, oats and millet. Etruria's harvests would prove so abundant that they were able to export large quantities of grain, linen, wine and cheeses. The hunters caught birds, hare, deer and wild boar. The fishermen built towers on the coastlines from which they could spot schools of fish, especially tuna.
Like all ancient civilizations, the Etruscans used slaves for their labor. The main sources of slaves were wars and raids in enemy territory. The slaves were men and women who had no civil or political rights but were considered objects of property. The slaves were not usually treated badly as they were considered valuable goods and the death of a slave was seen as a serious economic loss.
Their art would suggest that the Etruscans had a deep feeling for the animal kingdom and assigned great meaning to various beasts - there is almost an animistic quality to their art. It is believed there were no lions in Etruria. If there were no lions in Etruria, why the fascination with big cats? Is this perhaps a hint to their origins? Could it be 'big cats' were native to wherever they came from originally and they brought their devotion for these animals with them? Or were lions and leopards like dragons - mythical beasts? The lion in particular shows up frequently in statues, sarcophagi and models, though apparently there were no lions native to Etruria. Of interest is a recent excavation of an open-air altar at the foot of the hill town of Cortona. On either side of the stairway leading to the altar-top is a rough stone statue of a lion or sphinx devouring headfirst a warrior who has plunged his sword into the beast. Noble families may well have imported lions for hunting and as symbols of strength and ferocity.
Quote from D. H. Lawrence's 'Etruscan Places':
"Death, to the Etruscan, was a pleasant continuance of life, with jewels and wine and flutes playing for the dance. It was neither an ecstasy of bliss, a heaven, nor a purgatory of torment. It was just a natural continuance of the fullness of life. Everything was in terms of life, of living...."
The Etruscans were the most god-fearing people of their time. All ritual and religious observances were based on the division of the heavens. This division enabled the priests to decipher and understand the signs the gods had sent. The division of the universe also was used in the planning of cities and temples.
Each segment of the Etruscan universe was identified with a chief god or goddess who had a specific area of influence. Their universe was divided into three major forces: the heavens, the earth and the underworld. The Gods and Goddesses regulated, ordered, controlled and ruled all the natural elements: moon, sun, sky, weather and stars. Every craft and skill was under the patronage of some deity.
Every natural phenomenon, such as lightning, the structure of the internal organs of sacrificial animals, or the flight patterns of birds, was therefore an expression of the divine will. The Etruscans believed in predestination. Although a postponement is sometimes possible by means of prayer and sacrifice, the end is certain.
The Etruscans cared a great deal more about the afterworld than about life on this earth. They built magnificent tombs they sometimes decorated with exquisitely detailed wall paintings and sometimes stocked with a lifetime supply of household goods. The burial items accompanying the dead person in the tomb consisted of objects related to clothing, personal ornaments, weapons and table services. These were objects that survivors placed in the burial chamber to indicate the dead's social status. They believed that the pleasures of life on earth could continue after death and felt it essential that the living gain the good will of the Gods in order to enjoy their afterlife. The 'stories' about the gods were unimportant; religion's function in the Etruscan times was to maintain a stable relationship between their gods and their community.
When a loved one passes there is always sorrow that this person will no longer be among us. This can be a selfish point of view, we must think of the person who has passed. He/she is no longer in any pain; they are at peace with the Goddess and God; they will be 'reborn' within their families and perhaps they have already met other family members. Who knows what Realm lays ahead for any of us? The Etruscan religion supports the idea that the dead live on in a place of 'refreshment, light and peace' there is a joyful side to the passing. The person who may have suffered for many years with illness or the infirmities of old age is now released to be eternally young and beautiful.
How can we be sure that death is not the end? Look at the world around us. The sun comes up again every morning, sets, and rises again. Each year autumn comes then winter. Nevertheless, each year, spring also comes and life begins again. Everywhere you look you see the same pattern. Look to the sky. Stars explode, become novas and die. The material left from the old star condenses down and becomes a new star. Look at the forests and trees, some will die and yet new seedlings will appear. How can human life not follow the pattern of nature?
After physical death, your inner self will go to a place in the spiritual world to rest or to be purified and prepare for its next incarnation. You will then be reborn into a new life determined by Fate. Now to some, this will mean being reborn as a 'human'. To some it will mean being reborn as a living creature: dog, cat, tree, fish etc. You will continue learning and growing on another level of existence; preparing for the next incarnation.
There are several sarcophagi whose lids show a couple in bed. It could be taken as an erotic image but I don't believe it was so intended. The man and woman lie in a rumpled bed and the curves of the sheets are beautifully rendered. They lie as a long married couple would comfortably snuggle. Not in the throes of passion, but in the calm familiarity of a shared life and, in the funerary context, a shared afterlife. The Etruscans enjoyed a life rich enough to wish for the continuation of it beyond death and this seems to include being together in the 'next' life also.
Central to the Etruscan idea of deity was the notion of 'manus' or 'numen'. Power they believed to underlie all of creation which manifested itself to humans as the gods. Manus became concentrated in certain places and could be harnessed to assist humans. Those who could discern the motions of this power, who could tap into it, would be in touch with the divine and would be favored in their lives. This is a principle in many philosophies and religions. Consciousness of this power is not enough: one must possess the wisdom to become a conduit for it. Numen attempts to help us attune ourselves to the cycles of life and nature.
The Romans inherited some of their ideas of anatomy and medicine from their Etruscan ancestors. They adapted them to the practice of the official state religion, specifically in the practice of hepatoscopy, or reading the divine signals in animal livers. The liver was considered by the Etruscans to be the 'seat of life', a quivering internal organ that represented the universe. The attempt to discover the meanings behind occurrences and the ability to read messages from these occurrences led to the emergence of a powerful class of 'soothsayers'. In the Etruscan language they were called 'netsvis' and 'trutnvt frontac', more commonly known as 'haruspices' and 'fulguriatores'.
OMENS, PORTENDS AND PRODIGIES
There was a technical difference between omens, portends, and prodigies, which are treated as synonymous in English. The Etruscans believed whole-heartedly in predestination; a postponement may be possible thru prayer and sacrifice but the end is certain.
Omens were the signs read during taking of the auspices that was a form of divination used to consult the gods' opinion prior to a new undertaking. The study of birds' activities and their entrails, and the study of the liver were the two most common means of divination. The Etruscans considered the liver to be an image of the cosmos. There were interpretations according to set formulas. Omens were spontaneous glimpses into the future and demanded immediate action.
Portends were supernatural phenomena, such as dreams, visions, hauntings, etc., which were taken to indicate some urgent message of immediate and dire impact. Portends extended farther into the future, but were of limited duration.
Prodigies were natural events, a lightning strike, an unusual birth, a tree growing in the cornice of a building, an exceptional harvest, the appearance of a comet, etc. which was believed to predict some change in affairs, either for the better or the worse. The Etruscan soothsayers who were responsible for reading the lightening and thunder were called 'fulguriatores'. The place where lightening struck was considered to be of great importance. Prodigies were long-range forecasts, extended well into the far future.
ETRUSCAN ROME'S EARLY KINGS
** Romulus ruled 753 - 715 B.C.
Romulus founded the city of Rome, making the perimeter large enough to allow for expansion. He opened a sanctuary-offering asylum and attracted a large number of refugees from neighboring peoples. He had the men but not enough women. Neighboring cities were reluctant to send their women-folk to be married. So he arranged a festival and invited the peoples of the surrounding cities. When the visitors attention as diverted, the men seized the Sabine women and carried them off. Peace was made with the Sabines when Romulus deemed the women would be treated honorably and be properly married.
Romulus disappeared during a thunderstorm in 715 B.C. The senator Julius Proculus later claimed that the king had been deified as the god 'Quirinus,' but Romulus was most likely murdered. Quirinus, who was a Roman warrior God originally, became a God who watched over the well being of the community, opposite to his former nature. The Sabines worshiped Quirinus. They had a fortified settlement near Rome, the Quirinal, which was named after their god. Later, when Rome expanded, this settlement was absorbed by the city, and Quirinus became, together with Jupiter and Mars, the god of the state. The Quirinalis, one of the Roman hills, was named after him. His consort is Hora. He was usually depicted as a bearded man who wears clothing that is part clerical and part military. His sacred plant is the myrtle and his festival, the Quirinalia, was celebrated on February 17.
Romulus also is said to have founded several 'laws'. Some of these include: anyone who sold his wife was sacrificed to the gods of the Underworld; a woman united with her husband by a sacred marriage shall share in all his possessions; and the forbidding of the burial of a pregnant woman before the child is extracted from the womb.
** Numa Pompilius ruled 715 to 672 B.C.
Numa, who was the next king, was a Sabine and was appointed to the position of king by the people. He built the Regia that was first meant to be a residence of the king, but Numa was so involved in religious matters that this building became the official headquarters of the Pontifex Maximus, the chief priest of Rome. The Regia was a public and religious archive, containing information on how to perform sacred rights, the state calendar of holy days, the record of events of each year, and laws relating to marriage, death, and wills. The Roman people acknowledged King Numa with having set up the ancestral forms of worship, which were distinctive of their race and their civilization. Numa believed that fire was the primary principle of the universe, that blood sacrifice was odious to the deities, and that peace was the highest civic goal. He abolished all blood sacrifices, ordaining that only grains, fruits, and other products of agriculture should be offered on the altars. Numa is also credited with diverting the Etruscans from thoughts of war to a peaceful existence.
Numa built the temple of Janus, whose doors were open during war to symbolize soldiers marching out. Janus was a god of doorways, including the gates at the walls of Rome. The greatest of all his works was the preservation of peace and the security of his realm throughout the whole of his reign. Under his administration, there was peace throughout Italy for forty-three years. Numa died of natural causes in 672 B.C.
** Tullius Hostilius ruled 672 - 641 B.C.
He was a man of more warlike spirit even than Romulus, and his ambition was kindled by his own youthful energy and by the glorious achievements of his grandfather, Hostilius (who had fought so brilliantly at the foot of the Citadel against the Sabines). Tullius had the further distinction of being killed by a lightning bolt, which might be thought to have been in rebuke for his casting away the laws of Numa. Tullius had achieved great renown in war, and reigned for two-and-thirty years
** Ancus Marcius ruled 641 - 616 B.C.
The people chose Ancus Marcius as King, and the senate confirmed the choice. His mother was Numa's daughter. Ancus reigned twenty-four years, unsurpassed by any of his predecessors in ability and reputation, both in the field and at home.
** Lucius Tarquinius Priscus (the Ancient) ruled 616 - 578 B.C.
Lucius Tarquinius Priscus (his Etruscan name is Lucumo) is said to have come to Rome on the advice of his prophetess wife, Tanaquil. Legend says that when he was riding into town an eagle snatched his cap and replaced it on his head. Tanaquil interpreted the omen to mean he would one day be king. He was made king 616 B.C. Under Priscus, valuable new land was recovered in Rome due to the drainage techniques of the Etruscan experts. Priscus fathered Lucius and Arruns, but adopted the slave-boy Mastarna, who was called Servius Tullius. Lucius Tarqinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud) murdered his father-in-law, Servius Tullius, to get the throne.
** Servius Tullius ruled 578 - 534 B.C.
Servius was the slave-boy, Mastarna, who was adopted by Lucius Tarquinius Priscus. He instituted the taking of the census - the citizens were ordered to register their names and give a monetary valuation of their property. He also ensured that the rich would pay more taxes than the poor: every man's contribution should be proportionate to his means. Servius also divided the population into six 'classes': the richest in the first class and the poorest in the sixth class. All free residents were made liable to military service and were granted political rights.
Servius consolidated his power quite as much by his private as by his public measures. To guard against the children of Tarquin treating him as those of Ancus had treated Tarquin, he married his two daughters to the scions of the royal house, Lucius and Arruns Tarquin.
Servius was thrown down the stairs of the senate by Tarquinius Superbus and stabbed to death on Cyprus Street, later called the Street of Sin, in 534 B.C. His daughter Tullia was riding in her carriage when she saw her dead father in the street. Instead of stopping, she had the driver run right over his body. Her husband and future king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, murdered Tullia in 535 B.C
Servius Tullius reigned forty-four years, and even a wise and good successor would have found it difficult to fill the throne as he had done. The glory of his reign was all the greater because with him perished all just and lawful kingship in Rome.
** Lucius Tarqinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud) ruled 534 - 510 B.C.
Lucius, who was half Etruscan and half Greek, was a tyrant. As a result of Lucius' conduct, he earned the nickname of 'Superbus'. He deprived his father-in-law, Servius Tullius, of burial, on the plea that Romulus was not buried, and he slew the leading nobles whom he suspected of being supporters of Servius. He was the first of the kings to break through the traditional custom of consulting the senate on all questions, and the first to conduct the government on the advice of his palace favorites. War, peace, treaties, alliances were made or broken off by him. He gave his daughter in marriage to Octavius Mamilius of Tusculum.
Tarquin the Proud was the last King that was called a 'Rex' at the time, to rule over Etruscan Rome. He was a tyrannical King who used his authority for his own self- interest and not for the good of the people. It was his rule as the King of Etruscan Rome, the actions of his son, Sextus Tarquinius, and the actions of Brutus, that saw the end of the rule of Kings in Etruscan Rome. It also saw the development of a political system with elected leaders.
The first Etruscan Kings that ruled Rome were not seen as tyrants and were even credited with helping to make Rome a better place. This changed during the rule of Tarquin the Proud. He was only interested in his own self being and used his status to exploit his people to boost his worth. He took land from many of the patrician nobles and sent many of them to death. Lucius Tarquinius Superbus reigned twenty-five years.
Tarquin the Proud's selfish and tyrannical behavior helped to inspire Brutus to over-throw the existing system of government and it also led to the eventual exile of him and his family from Rome. The actions of Tarquin's son, who was much like his father was also a factor. As the legend tells, Tarquin the Proud's son, Sextus Tarquinius was also a selfish man who took what he wanted.
The story goes that when he was invited to a friend's house, Collatinus, Sextus met Collatinus's wife Lucretia, whom he immediately fell in love with. Lucretia was the example of the perfect Etruscan women; she was true, honest and she had her most important attribute, her virtue. A few nights later when Collatinus was not around, Sextus went to Lucretia's place and stayed as a houseguest. Later that night Sextus, who had to have what he wanted, went into Lucretia's room and raped her. When Collatinus and Lucretia's father heard of this they were destroyed. In response to her losing her virtue and everything she believed in, Lucretia killed herself with a dagger. The Romans drove Tarquin the Proud from the throne (510 B.C.). Lars Porsena , the Etruscan king of Clusium, considered that the presence of an Etruscan upon the Roman throne would be an honor to his nation; accordingly he advanced with an army against Rome. He tried to restore the family; failing, he made peace with Rome. Brutus, who also witnessed Lucretia's demise, drew the dagger from her, put it in the air and vowed that there would never be another tyrannical king ruling in Rome. It would be the actions that Brutus would carry out after this, that would see the fall of the king system and development of a more democratic system. Thus began the age of the Roman Republic.
COLLEGES OF PRIESTS
In the time of the seven Etruscan kings, the superintendence of the entire religious ritual and worship belonged to the Kings. The state religion was under the management of several Colleges of Priests.
- Traditionally they had been established by Romulus, the first King. They knew the appropriate procedure for 'taking the auspices', by observing the flight of birds - and for their interpretation when taken. Their number historically varied from 3 to 15 and they held their office for life. They were religious officials expert on auguria - signs encouraging or discouraging a particular course of action. An approved action was 'fas' or promising, favorable, and religiously permitted. By contrast, an unfavorable action was 'nefas', not permitted. No business, public or private, could be transacted on a day that was 'nefas'. Augury was a science; a science the understanding of which was contained in special books.
In his observation of birds the augur actually did not confine himself to noticing their flight. The birds were distinguished in two main categories, the alites and oscines. The alites were birds like eagles and vultures, which gave signs by their manner of flying. The oscines were birds that gave signs by their cry; like ravens, sparrows, owls and crows. There were also birds sacred to some particular God, and the mere appearance of which was an omen of good and evil.
- These were originally Etruscan soothsayers. They interpreted the divine will from the entrails of sacrificial victims, namely animals. Their business was to interpret the signs, to ascertain which deity, if angry, demanded expiation, and to indicate the nature of necessary offerings. Generally a sheep's liver was used and the Haruspices determined the will of their Gods by the color, markings and shape.
- They who were a college of 20 members elected for life, whose job was to maintain the form of international relations between Rome and its neighbors. No war or peace could be declared or concluded without the approval of the Fetiales. In case of conflict with other nations, they gave an opinion, based on the merits of the case.
- These were a college of leaping priests comprised of twelve highborn young men. They had both a praesul (a leader in the dance) and a vates (a leader in the song), and looked after the holy shields (ancilia). Obviously they were connected with war ceremonies. In March, at the beginning of the campaigning season, they led a procession through the city, dressed in battle armor and once before the altars, they danced a war dance, singing martial songs and beating their shields with staves.
- These were 12 priests, life-members, who performed the worship of an agricultural Goddess, patroness of cornfields. Its members were persons of high rank. They wore a wreath of ears of corn.
- The Vestal Virgins were 4 at first but gradually their number grew. Their duty was chiefly to maintaining and keep the eternal fire in the Temple of Vesta. Eligible girls had to be between 6 and 10, without personal blemish, from respectable families, whose parents lived in Italy. The choice was made by lot out of a number of 20, nominated by the High Pontiff. No exception was granted. The Virgin chosen immediately relinquished family ties and was placed under the authority of the Goddess. She was dressed entirely in white. The time of service was 30 years, ten of which were set aside for learning, ten for performing and ten for teaching the duties. At the end of their stint they were allowed to leave and marry but they seldom took advantage of this privilege.
- The Luperci were priests of the Wolf God & Goddess and were associated with the constellation of Lupus in the Stellar Mysteries. The rites were in honor of Faunus (another of his names was Lupercus), protector of herds and crops. During the Lupercalia, the Luperci sacrificed goats, the skins of which they cut into strips to be used in the purifications, during which the priests ran, nearly naked, through the streets of the city, sweeping the ground with the goatskins. It was believed that any recently married young matron whom they struck with the skin would be fertile. Why goats?? Goats would have been an important part of rural life. The peasants could use the meat for food; milk & cheese; the hair could be spun into yarn. Records show, for instance, that Mark Antony was master of the Luperci College of Priests. He chose the Lupercalia festival of the year 44 B.C. as the proper time for offering the crown to Julius Caesar.
In D.H. Lawrence's 'Etruscan Places' we read: 'To the Etruscan all was alive; the whole Universe lived; and the business of man was himself to live amid it.
The Etruscan pantheon is a complex civilization just as the Etruscans were. There were/are many components to the identity of each God. Some were natural, political, cultural, and familial; some were chaotic or passive. The Gods and Goddesses regulated, ordered, controlled and ruled all the natural elements: moon, sun, sky, weather and stars. Every craft and skill was under the patronage of some deity. The worship of these gods was an effective way to mobilize the entire community. This two-gendered, polytheistic pantheon mirrors the duality of nature itself.
The mainstream Etruscan religion believed in a wide array of gods and goddesses. They set up shrines at crossroads, river crossings and fresh water springs to honor their Gods. They believed in survival after death and in divination, and they studied the entrails of animals (haruspices) and the flight of birds (auspices). The Etruscans believed in the necessity of divining and obeying the God's wishes. The Etruscan's had a relationship with the Gods based on submission. They believed the Deities lived in the sky or under the ground and it was necessary to understand their will.
All through history people have recanted myths, and within all those myths, are captured the stories of goddesses and gods. The myths we read today are not the same as the myths were originally. These myths were subject to many accidental changes over time. They were also altered purposely. As one tribe or country was over taken by another, the ruling tribe most likely made changes in their predecessor's myths, so that they reflected their own gods. They also changed the names and meanings of festivals and holidays. With the introduction of Christianity, many of these old stories transformed and became attached to Catholic saints and martyrs.
Myths helped explain the natural world, the seasons, the weather and the heavens. They were often grounded in physical reality. Religious myths were often concerned with the meaning of life and the ways of the Gods. Mythology was used to inspire the young and teach them while, at the same time, they were being entertained.
The Etruscans were the most god-fearing people of their time. All ritual and religious observances were based on the division of the heavens. This division enabled the priests to decipher and understand the signs the gods had sent. The division of the universe also was used in the planning of cities and temples.
We read in D.H. Lawrence's 'Etruscan Places': 'The cosmos was alive, like a vast creature. The whole thing breathed and stirred.'
Each segment of the Etruscan universe was identified with a chief god or goddess, who had a specific area of influence. Their universe was divided into three major forces: the heavens, the earth and the underworld.
In the North, East and North-East dwelled the highest deities, those Gods most favorable to man. These were the most powerful and advisory gods. In the East also dwelled the Gods of Wisdom. In the South the Gods of earth and nature ruled. In the West dwelled the Gods of the Underworld and misfortune. The South-West was considered the Fearful Region.
In order to know the God's names and position in the universe, a bronze model of sheep liver can be helpful: it is the famous "Piacenza liver". It is divided into specific cells with the inscription of the names of the divinities of the sky such as Tinia and Uni; of the sun such as Nethuns; of the earth such as Fufluns and Selvans; and of the underworld such as Cel, Culsu, Vetis, Cilens, Vanth, and Charun .
Of the liver, D. H. Lawrence says 'That organ where the blood struggles and overcomes death, was an object of profound mystery and significance.'
Tinia, Uni and Menrva were associated with the east, and especially the northeast. The nature gods were associated with the south: Nethuns, Catha, Fufluns and Selvans. In the west were the infernal gods and the gods of fate: Letham, Cel and Culsu. You can see how the Etruscan Deities figured in every corner of life and death; every occupation; every craft and skill imaginable and in the heavens.
In his book 'The Etruscans', Massimo Pallittino, the father of modern Etruscology calls attention to the question of the originality of Etruscan linguistic structures, stating:
"Generally speaking, the construction of the simpler, more easily analyzable sentences shows remarkable analogies with Latin."
The Etruscans spoke a language seemingly unrelated to either Latin or Greek, but it was from them that the Romans learned the alphabet that developed into the one we use today. The only Etruscan book to be translated by the Romans was 'Disciplina Etrusca'. This was the sacred document that helped govern Eturia. This book seems to have comprised three categories of the books of fate. The first was that of the libri haruspicini, which dealt with divination from the livers of sacrificed animals. The second, the libri fulgurates, on the interpretation of thunder and lightning. The third, the libri rituales, covered the division of time and the life span of individuals and peoples, and the world beyond the grave.
There are some characters used in the scripts that share common characteristics with Greek letters. The Etruscan scripts were written and read from right to left, the reverse of classical Greek, Latin or English. Another peculiarity of the writing style is that the Etruscans often put no spaces dividing words and barely used punctuation marks. It is often assumed that the Etruscans had learned the alphabet from the Greeks, and adapted it to their own language.
The Encyclopedia Britannia states: “The alphabet derives from a Greek alphabet originally learned from the Phoenicians. It was disseminated in Italy by the colonists from the island of Euboea during the 8th century BC and adapted to Etruscan phonetics; the Latin alphabet was ultimately derived from it. (In its turn the Etruscan alphabet was diffused at the end of the Archaic period [c. 500 BC] into northern Italy, becoming the model for the alphabets of the Veneti and of various Alpine populations; this happened concurrently with the formation of the Umbrian and the Oscan alphabets in the peninsula.)"
Hugh Hencken raised some of the many questions about the Etruscan language in his book 'Tarquinia and Etruscan Origins': Did the Etruscans come to Italy from someplace else? If Etruscan is related to the Indo-European languages of Asia Minor, how did it get to Italy? Did the Villanovans bring it? Was Etruscan its own nationality? Why did the Etruscan language only surface in Italy?
In the book 'The Etruscans: The Emergence of Man' by Dora Jane Hamblin, we discover the following: “The Etruscan language's nearest possible relative exists on a stone grave marker on the island of Lemnos in the Greek archipelago. The language of its inscription shows resemblances both to the Etruscan and the tongues of Asia Minor.”
According to Dr. Selahi Diker, in his book 'And The World Was Of One Language', we read: 'many other similar 'lost' languages including Etruscan, Scythian, Achaemenid Elamite and Aramaic, Parthian, Urartian, Hurrian, Phrygian, Lycian are deciphered to be of Turkish dialects.'
The Etruscan alphabet consisted of 26 letters, but this number varied from time to time and place-to-place. As the Etruscans adapted the alphabet to their regional speech patterns, they found sounds they did not need and still other sounds they needed to add. And to further complicate their deciphering, some Etruscans wrote right to left and then continued on the next line left to right. They also wrote some of their letters backwards. It appears that the Etruscans spelled phonetically, that is, exactly like the word sounded. The loss of vowels in spelling results in clusters of consonants.
As far as actually being able to 'pronounce' these Etruscan words, we can make a guess, but the clicks and hisses have not been yet deciphered. This is like knowing: 1. What the word looked like; 2. How the word is spelled; and 3. What the word meant. But we still do not know 'how' to pronounce it.
The Etruscan language has been widely studied, but I believe it is still poorly understood. Although many Etruscan inscriptions have been found and deciphered, they are too short to provide much context for deriving the meaning of individual words. There is not a sufficient variety of Etruscan examples that survived to allow us to examine and compare them. There were only four vowels in the Etruscan alphabet: a, e, i, and u. In speaking, the words ending with b, d, or g, were pronounced like p, t, or k. From about the 6th Century the words are usually divided by a ( . ) or ( : ).
According to Larissa Bonfante in her intriguing book 'Reading the Past: Etruscan', she writes: “The alphabet of twenty-six signs displayed on all objects is called a 'model' alphabet. Some of its letters - - are never used in Etruscan inscriptions (so, too, Italian children learn the signs k, j, w and y, which never appear in Italian words). Etruscan has no b, d or g (voiced stops), and no o, but these signs are included in the alphabet, which faithfully reproduces the Greek model from which the Etruscan derived. Of the four signs for s, only two were regularly used at any one time or place.”
Modern Italian is practically a phonetic language; the same symbol represents the same sound under similar circumstances. All syllables are pronounced clearly and distinctly, without slurring the vowels. The modern Italian alphabet has 21 letters. All the same as the English alphabet except: j, k, w, x, and y. If the primary language that the Etruscans spoke was so entirely different then why did the influential families of Rome send their young men to Caere in Etruria for their education? The Roman historian Livy, plainly stated: “I have text which prove that it was the usual custom in those days to instruct young Romans in Etruscan letters just as today they are instructed in Greek Letters”. This statement from Livy would seem to indicate that the Etruscans were skilled teachers of the Latin language and literature. One of the mysteries of Etruscan civilization is why the written record is so sparse and why the Romans wrote almost nothing about the Etruscan language or its literature.
One of the most exotic remains of Etruscan inscriptions is the Zagreb mummy linen. The linen is actually a sacred text, also known as the Liber linteus Zagrabiensis, which contained a calendar of sacrifices and prayers. Being used as wrapping on a mummy preserved this text. Found in Egypt in the 1800's, the linen now resides at the Zagreb National Museum in Yugoslavia. It is the only example of a book written on linen cloth and it is the only Etruscan book handed down to posterity. Originally it was written on a linen canvas 340 cm x 35 cm and folded into twelve pages. The linen was, according to existing Etruscan sculptures, folded into the shape of an accordion. When the book lost its significance it was exported to Egypt where it was later cut into strips used to bandage the mummy of a woman, probably during the 1st century of our era. By putting the strips near one another, it was possible to reconstruct a part of the original manuscript. It consists of 230 lines of text and 1200 words that can be read more or less clearly, and 100 more words that can be reconstructed from the context with a high degree of confidence. The manuscript is a kind of religious calendar containing the indication of where and when the ceremonies had to take place, the concerned gods, and the offerings to be made.
In 1999, a letter-sized bronze tablet bearing 32 lines of text written in ancient Etruscan was discovered. The find has added greatly to our understanding of this language. Discovered in Cortona, Italy, by a building contractor, and turned over to Tuscany's superintendent of archaeology, the 2,300-year-old document is known as the Tabula Cortonensis. This tablet appears to be a contract, possibly a real-estate agreement, drawn up between two families. According to Larissa Bonfante of New York University: 'it is extremely valuable both for its length and the fact that it adds 27 new words'.
According to Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000:
“It is believed that runes are derived from a northern Etruscan alphabet used among Italic tribes in the Eastern Alps, and that they were developed in the 2nd or 3rd century AD by a Germanic people living in the region of modern Bohemia.”
In addition to their use as a written alphabet, the runes also served as a system of symbols used for magic and divination. The key characteristic that distinguishes a runic alphabet from other alphabets is that each letter, or rune, has a meaning. Creating an alphabet that could be easily carved with straight lines in wood and later stone was a natural development. Runes could be reversed and hold the same meaning. They also could be written and read left to right and right to left. Runes were used 'phonetically'.
The most common runes found today are the Elder Futhark, the Anglo-Saxon Futhorc and the Younger Futhark. These three systems of runes were developed in the Norse, Germanic, Scandinavian and Swedish countries. The number of runes can be anywhere from 16 to 24. The runes changed depending on the 'sounds' and changes in the languages.
It should be noted that the following interpretations of the meanings of the Etruscan runes, are at least partially speculative on my part and should not be taken as the 'Absolute True and Original Meanings of the Runes'
It is impractical to read the runes upright and reversed, since many will land sideways or at odd angles. The runes that land 'face up' represent the current situation. The runes that land 'face down' represent outside influences. Runes lying in the center are the most relevant, while those lying around the edges are less important and usually represent more general influences. Runes that are close together or even touching often compliment each other.
When the new Roman Empire had taken over Etruria, there were no half-steps taken in the Church's fight against Paganism. Etruria was called 'the originator and mother of superstitions'. Etruscan books were burned; severe penalties were imposed on any kind of haruspicy. Anyone who consulted the entrails for the purposes of divination might be burned alive. Under the Roman Empire rule, there was no academies; no learning schools; no one cared about the sciences, art or culture. The new Rome never created any industry within its walls and the land was not cultivated.
When Rome was made into the base city for the Roman Catholic Empire, they borrowed from the Etruscans. The purple of Etruscan kings became the color of the cardinals and the curved staff of the Etruscan haruspices became the Bishops' staff or crosier. The Etruscan priest's conical hat survives today in the form of the Bishop's mitre. The churches of the new religion were often built exactly on the site of the Etruscan temples. Candles were lit and incense was used.
The sinister representation of the Etruscan Underworld gods reappears in church art. Figures from this period of time are depicted with glaring eyes, distorted bodies, wild grimaces, gnashing teeth and threatening gestures. All taken out of context by the Church as being evil. The concept of Hell and all its terrors made its way into the new churches, in the guise of Etruscan art. Even at the present time, many of the emblems representing certain ideas connected with the creative principles, and which were part and parcel of the pagan worship, are still in use.
With the introduction of Christianity, many of the Etruscan stories transformed and became attached to Catholic saints and martyrs. Pagan holy sites and shrines were rededicated to Christian figures, yet they retained their mystical quality.
The Etruscans, by Werner Keller, 1974
Encyclopedia of Gods, by Michael Jordan, 1993
History's Timeline, by Jean Cooke, Ann Kramer and Theodore Rowland-Entwistle, 1982
A History of Rome to 565, by William G. Sinnigen and Arthur E. R. Boak; 1965
History of Rome, by Michael Grant, Scribners, 1978
Imperial Rome, by Moses Hadas, Time-Life Books, 1965
Europe: The Rough Guide, by Jonathan Buckley and Martin Dunford, 1997
Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, by Leslie A. Shepard, 1991
Night Battles, by Carlo Ginzburg, 1986 reprint
The Etruscans: The Emergence of Man, Time Life Books, 1975
A Field Guide to the Little People, by Nancy Arrowsmith, 1977
Etruscan Roman Remains, by Charles G. Leland, reprint
The Evil Eye, by Frederick T. Elworthy, 1895
© 1997 - 2010 Fabrisia, reprints not allowed without permission
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