ancient etruscan

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Etruscan Bronze Mirror, 4th-3rd Century BC

Engraved with two nude male figures, the figure on the right standing wearing a helmet and mantle, leaning on a shield with his left hand and holding a spear in his right hand, and the figure on the left, a satyr wearing a fillet tied around his head, leaning on a thyrsus in his right hand and holding a bone in his left hand, with foliate decoration on either side and below,

The Origins of Pasta

Pasta, as we know it today, can only be made from triticum turgidum var. durum, or “durum wheat.” Because of its high gluten content, this type of wheat allows hard, dry pasta with a long, safe shelf life. Because the ancient Etruscans and Romans did not know about durum wheat, they could not have invented pasta.

That honor likely goes to the Arabs. In a dictionary by Syrian physician and lexicographer Isho bar Ali published in the 900s, we have something called “itriyya” – string-like pasta shapes made of semolina and dried before cooking. This early Arab version made its way to Sicily a few centuries later, where it was called triyakh. However, there is still debate today over whether the Sicilians had pasta introduced by their Arab invaders, or independently invented it, and just picked up the name.

Etruscan Bronze Cista Feet, 4th Century BC

Each in the form of a winged female deity, perhaps Lasa, standing on a beaded groundline with voluted ends, surmounting a lion paw, the deity depicted frontally with her feet turned out, pulling her tunic to the right with her right hand and up over her shoulder with her left hand, wearing a necklace and a beaded fillet in her hair, with her wings upraised, the details of the feathers incised, with two perforations and a tenon on the reverse for attachment.

In Etruscan mythology, Lasas were gods and goddesses who accompanied Turan, the goddess of love.

Ancient peoples of Italy

The future of the southern Italian peninsula was shaped by the different peoples who inhabited it between the years 800 and 200 BC. These include the Etruscans, Greeks and the many  Italian tribes such as the Latins, Campanians, Samnites, Sabines, etc.  Such tribes had spread out much earlier into Europe from the east and southeast both as invaders and, more gradually, as farmers, giving up  hunting and gathering for the more efficient process of tilling the soil. In the process they developed  towns, government and written language. This slow process started before 6,000 BC.

By 1000 BC early Italic peoples were in place on the peninsula; these are the peoples who would become the Latini, Sabines, Oscans, etc. etc. They were in place as a result of the Indo-European population diffusion, Indo-European being a term that declares common origin (3,000-4,000 years ago) of peoples as different as Swedes and Iranians or Punjabis and Spaniards. These pre-Italic Indo-Europeans can plausibly be figured to have started trickling onto the peninsula around 2500-2000 BC. There were, obviously, already some non-Indo-European inhabitants of Italy, just as there were elsewhere in Europe.

We wil talk about Etruscans later. Let’s see now some other smaller peoples.

  • Many peoples lived along the Tiber river; among these were, of course, the Latini. There is confusing historical overlap of Latini and Romans. Traditionally, Rome is said to have been founded in 753 by descendants of Aeneas, a refugee from the Trojan War. Archeology places Latini culture as early as 1100 BC. True imperial expansion of Rome starts in 295 BC when the Romans, at the Battle of Sentium (near modern Ancona), put an end to the competition in Italy by defeating a combined force of Samnites and Etruscans.
  • Along the Tiber, too, were the Sabines. The proximity of the Sabines to Rome has made it difficult to identify their ruins with certainty, although there are some from as early as the 9th century BC. The Sabines were related to the Samnites to the south, and they adopted writing from the Etruscans.
  • Other neighbors of the Romans in central Italy were the Volscians and the Equians. Most knowledge of them comes from later Roman historians complaining about these piddling little peoples getting in the way of real empire! They were Indo-European and spoke languages closely related to Latin.
  • The Samnites were an important sister tribe of the Latins. Their capital was modern Benevento in the  rugged terrain east of Naples. At the time of the first contacts between Roman and Samnite (around 350 BC), Samnium was larger than any other contemporary state in Italy. For almost two centuries, the Romans and Samnites fought for control of South/Central Italy. As warriors, the Samnites were ferocious, and some say they were the ones who gave the Romans the idea for those gruesome gladiator fights to the death.

The Capitoline Wolf: Etruscan Masterpiece or Medieval Replica?

The Capitoline Wolf, is a nearly life-sized bronze statue of she-wolf suckling two twin infants, inspired by the myth of Romulus and Remus. The she-wolf was regarded as a symbol of Rome during antiquity, and statues are known to have existed in Rome as early as 295 BCE.

The origin and dating of the Capitoline Wolf is a subject of major controversy. It had been long established that twin infants were added to the statue sometime in the late 15th century, but the wolf portion was thought to be much older. In the 18th century, German art historian and archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann attributed the wolf statue to an unknown Etruscan artist in the 5th century BCE, based on the design of the wolf’s fur. The Etruscan attribution of the Capitoline Wolf was universally accepted for over two centuries. 

Although there were a few scholars in the 19th century who questioned the statue’s link to antiquity (believing it to be medieval instead), the date was not seriously challenged until 1997 when the statue was being restored. Conservator Anna Maria Carruba noticed that the she-wolf was cast as a single unit, a technique that was not used in ancient times.  Ancient bronze sculptures were casted from multiple pieces then brazed together. The technique was first used by the ancient Greeks and then adopted by the Etruscans and Romans. Single-piece casting was, however, a technique that was widely used in the Medieval period. In 2007, radiocarbon dating confirmed with an accuracy of 95% that the wolf was cast between 1021 and 1153 CE.

It was long believed that the Capitoline Wolf was the very same statue that the philosopher Cicero mentions as one of the sacred objects of the Capitoline Hill. Taking the new dates into consideration, it is more likely that the statue was cast as a replacement for an earlier (now lost) version, as Roman wolf statues were known to have existed as late as the 9th century CE. Despite the confirmation that the Capitoline Wolf is in fact a medieval creation, it is still taught in many art history and archaeology classes throughout the world as an example of Etruscan sculpture.

The statue is on display at The Capitoline Museums in Rome.

Orvieto is a town in the Province of Terni in Umbria. The site is among the most dramatic in Europe, rising above the almost-vertical faces of tuff cliffs that are completed by defensive walls built of the same stone. The ancient city, populated since Etruscan times, has been associated with Etruscan Velzna, but some modern scholars disagree. Orvieto was certainly a major center of Etruscan civilization; the archaeological museum houses some of the Etruscan artifacts that have been recovered in the immediate neighborhood.

Greek “Illyrian type” bronze helmet from Argolis (6th–5th centuries BC).

According to archaeological evidence, the “Illyrian” type helmet evolved from the Kegelhelm (or Kegel type) of the Archaic Period found in Argos.[1] The earliest “Illyrian” type helmets were developed in a workshop located in the northwestern Peloponnese (possibly Olympia), although the first Type II “Illyrian” helmets were created in Corinthian workshops.[2] The first Type III helmets were created in workshops situated somewhere on the Illyrian coast of the Adriatic.[6] The “Illyrian” type helmet did not obstruct the wearer’s critical senses of vision though the first two varieties hampered hearing. There were four types of these helmets and all were open faced:

  • Type I (c. 700–640 BC) left the neck unprotected and hampered hearing.
  • Type II (c. 600 BC) offered neck protection and again hampered hearing.
  • Type III (c. 550 BC) offered neck protection and allowed better hearing.
  • Type IV (c. 500 BC) was similar to Type III but hearing was not impaired at all.

The Illyrian type helmet was used by the ancient Greeks,[7]Etruscans,[8]Scythians,[9] and became popular with the Illyrians who later adopted it.[7][10] A variety of the helm had also spread to Italy based on its appearance on ivory reliefs and on a silver bowl at the “Bernardini” tomb at Praeneste.[4] The helmet became obsolete in most parts of Greece in the early 5th century BC. Its use in Illyria had ended by the 4th century BC.[11]