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Tribes of Italy: The Etruscans

Tribes of Italy: The Etruscans

Although the Latins would eventually conquer the people of Tuscany, for hundreds of years the Etruscans were the most vaunted force in the Italian peninsula. The Romans called them Etrusci and the Greeks called them Tyrrenoi. The Etruscans referred to themselves as the Rasenna. Everyone knew them them to be accomplished traders, warriors, sailors, the best winemakers of that time and it was understood that their culture was ancient even by the standards of the ancients themselves.

Accomplished sailors, they traded along the coast of the Mediterranean with Phoenicians, Celts, and Greeks; all of which had very nice things to say about them. That being said, they were also feared for their martial prowess and skill at naval warfare. The Etruscans, joined by their Carthaginian (Phoenician) allies, destroyed two thirds of a Greek fleet circa 540 BC during the Battle of Alalia which forced the Greeks to abandon their interests in Corsica which they ceded to the Etruscans and Sardinia which went to the Carthaginians. It was generally known at the time that to openly fight the Etruscans, especially at sea, would be a losing proposition. 

One of the greatest mysteries related to these people is their origins. Historians such as Herodotus claimed he was told the Etruscans were from Lydia and that he agrees with the theory. They are, according to Herodotus, Hellenic transplants of some sort. Now, there are plenty of reasons for this not to be the case. Remember, Herodotus was working off of conjecture, hearsay, and possibly connecting the name of Lydian king, Tyrsenos, to the Koine word for the Etruscans, Tyrrenoi. These methods of recording history are not totally invalid, especially for the time as Herodotus was recording history in a manner we still use; narratively and as objectively as possible using what he regarded as evidence to prove his claims. Today, we have reasons to doubt the transplant theory.

It is very possible that the Etruscans were the native people of the Po River Valley going back into prehistory. They were a culture all their own; something long known but not quite understood. Their language is not Indo-European which means, far more likely than not, that it existed in the region before the spread of Indo-European languages to Europe more than 6,200 years ago. 

Quite independently, I would like to extend a hypothesis I have been working on that will help connect the Etruscans to the native people of the region. The part of this hypothesis most completely worked out is the connection between the mummified remains of the neolithic hunter/gatherer, Ötzi. 

Ötzi was discovered with a copper axe, several arrows embedded in his back that were too deep to pull out and the remnants of his last meal still in his belly which helped forensic anthropologists piece together his last day alive before he was murdered. The axe was left under his body, presumably, because he was murdered by someone he knew. As a high ranking member of a nearby tribe, the axe would have been known as his and so anyone that took it would be immediately found to be the murderer.

Ötzi's copper axe; a symbol of his tribal authority. 

 

The symbol of power in the Roman Kingdom (and later republic) was the fasces, an axe that looks nearly identical to the one found with Ötzi's body. The Romans adopted this representation of authority from their Etruscan overlords when they rebelled and took over the city. To hold fasces meant to hold authority. The use of fasces for this purpose looks to have come directly from the culture of neolithic towns of Tuscany and the time period.

An ornate iron Etruscan fasces; the symbol of authority for Etruscan Kings.

 

I posit that the neolithic cultures of the region evolved into the Villanovans (name for the culture unearthed in Villanova) and then soon after into what we know as the Etruscans. This creates a linear path between the prehistoric world and the world of the Etruscans. If this were true, it would mean that the Etruscans were one of very few cultures to survive the migration of Indo-European speaking peoples that entered Europe. Other examples of indigenous Europeans include the Basques. It's a very exclusive club to be directly descended from the Cro-Magnons who conquered Europe by spear and sperm 30,000 years prior. 

 

Tribes of Italy: The Samnites

Tribes of Italy: The Samnites

Cultural Appropriation is Central to all Human Civilization

Cultural Appropriation is Central to all Human Civilization