Malcesine on the eastern shore of Lake Garda in the Veneto, 40 km from Verona. It’s the northernmost comune on the Veneto shore of the lake, immediately to its north lies Trentino-Alto Adige. 2 of the largest islands of Lake Garda are located in Malcesine: Isola di sogno and Isola dell'olivo. The first recorded inhabitants of the area were Etruscans dating to around 500 BC.

Maecenas and the art

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Maecenas Presenting the Liberal Arts to Emperor Augustus

Gaius Maecenas, also called Gaius Cilnius Maecenas   (born c. 70 bc—died 8 bc), Roman diplomat, counsellor to the Roman emperor Augustus, and wealthy patron of such poets as Virgil and Horace. He was criticized by Seneca for his luxurious way of life.

The birthplace of Maecenas is unrecorded, but his mother’s family, the Cilnii, had lorded it centuries earlier in Arretium (modern Arezzo, about 90 miles [145 km] north of Rome), and this was apparently also the hometown of his father’s family. Tacitus (in Annals) once calls him Cilnius Maecenas (Etruscans used the mother’s family name), but officially he was Gaius Maecenas. His great wealth may have been partly inherited, but he owed his position and influence to Octavian, later the emperor Augustus. Maecenas felt that, though a knight (slightly humbler than a senator but basically a nonpolitical member of the privileged class), his lineage and power overtopped any senator’s, and he refused a career as one.

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This is the earliest known tomb painting in Europe, and it’s in Veii, Italy. It’s a very, very early example of the funerary frescoes which the Etruscans would be remembered historically for. This tomb is known as the Tomb of the Roaring Lions and it is probably my favorite thing of all time. 

It’s also got some ducks, which were apparently super special to the Etruscans and nobody really knows why.

sources: x x x


Tarquinia - Necropolis of Monterozzi

Some beautiful Etruscan frescoes founded in the Necropolis of Tarquinia (the ancient Tarchuna).

The necropolis has about 6,000 graves, the oldest of which dates to the 7th century BCE. About 200 of the gravestones are decorated with frescos. During the course of the IV century B.C. Tarquinia began to produce paintings on the inside of its tombs, a cultural sight unique to them at the time, something wich in 2004, lead them to became part of the world’s heritage under UNESCO.

Ancient Romans Ate Meals Most Americans Would Recognize

Let’s pretend it is 56 B.C. and you have been fortunate enough to be invited to a party at the home of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, a great social coup. Piso, after all, was Julius Caesar’s father-in-law and a consul of Rome.

What’s for dinner?

You need to prepare for pig. Archaeologists studying the eating habits of ancient Etruscans and Romans have found that pork was the staple of Italian cuisine before and during the Roman Empire. Both the poor and the rich ate pig as the meat of choice, although the rich, like Piso, got better cuts, ate meat more often and likely in larger quantities.

They had pork chops and a form of bacon. They even served sausages and prosciutto; in other words, a meal not unlike what you’d find in Rome today – or in South Philadelphia. Read more.

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.

Bronze ramo secco “withered branch” piece, Etruscan 6th-4th centuries BCE.

Before the adoption of coinage proper, northern Italian groups traded metals at their bullion values. The Etruscans were among the first to create marked, standardized bars that could be traded without the need to weigh and check the purity of the metal at every transaction.

This kind of object, you may observe, bears a lot of similarity to coins, since it is a object, marked with a symbol of value, perhaps related to a specific issuing authority, that is traded as a unit of value for goods or services. The difference between this and a coin is not necessarily clear. We understand that these objects were traded for their bullion/commodity value, which in the case of bronze is commonly pretty low, which is not the case, for example, when we think of modern, fiduciary coinages, but is still a consideration for many silver and gold coins, which had a denominational value as well as a value as a metal.


Etruscan Civilization

One of the most important people of ancient Italy was the etrsucan civilization.  Its homeland was in the area of central Italy, just north of Rome, which is today called Tuscany. In ancient times there was a strong tradition that the Etruscans had emigrated from Lydia, on the eastern coast of present-day Turkey. Modern historians have largely discounted this idea, and believe that the Etruscans were an indigenous population. 

The Etruscan civilization lasted from the 8th century BC to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. In the 6th century the Etruscans expanded their influence over a wide area of Italy. Early Rome was deeply influenced by Etruscan culture. Between the late 6th and early 4th centuries BC, Etruscan power declined

This peolpe were highly  influenced by the Greek and the Egyptian. This can be seen in the top pictures, as they combine both of art styles. 


The Etruscans adopted the city-state as their political unit from the Greeks, earlier than their neighbours in central Italy. The Etruscan homeland was originally divided into twelve city-states.

Like the Greeks, most Etruscan cities moved from monarchy to oligarchy in the 6th century BC. Some seem to have retained their monarchies.


The Etruscan system of belief was, like those of the Greeks and Romans, polytheistic, based on the worship of many gods and goddesses: Tin or Tinia, the sky, Uni his wife, and Cel, the earth goddess. Later, Greek deities were taken into the Etruscan system: Aritimi (Artemis), Menrva (Minerva), Pacha (Dionysus). The Greek heroes taken from Homer also appear extensively in Etruscan art, which is an other proof of the greek influence. 

Art and scripts

The surviving Etruscan art which has come down to us is figurative sculpture in terracotta (especially life-size tomb statues in temples) and cast bronze, wall-painting and metalworking (especially engraved bronze mirrors). As with all ancient peoples, Etruscan art was strongly connected to religion; the afterlife was of major importance in Etruscan art. 

The only written records of Etruscan origin that remain are inscriptions, mainly funerary. Otherwise, Etruscan literature is evidenced only in references by later Roman authors.

If you want to see estruscan letters, you can find them here:


Adria, Veneto, Italy

The Adriatic Sea owes its name to this town, probably founded between 9th and 6th c. BC; in fact, at that time, it was on the coastline. It became later an Etruscan colony, a Greek one, until the definitive Roman civilization. A few centuries later, the near delta of the Po river filled it in (see the animation #2). Anyway, the sea keeps this name up till now.

A large collection of ancient finds is now displayed in the local museum.

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Oxford University Press publishes Religious Architecture in Latium and Etruria, c. 900-500 BC by Charlotte R. Potts.

From the publisher:

Religious Architecture in Latium and Etruria c. 900-500 BC presents the first comprehensive treatment of cult buildings in western central Italy from the Iron Age to the Archaic Period. By analysing the archaeological evidence for the form of early religious buildings and their role in ancient communities, it reconstructs a detailed history of early Latial and Etruscan religious architecture that brings together the buildings and the people who used them.

The first part of the study examines the processes by which religious buildings changed from huts and shrines to monumental temples, and explores apparent differences between these processes in Latium and Etruria. The second part analyses the broader architectural, religious, and topographical contexts of the first Etrusco-Italic temples alongside possible rationales for their introduction. The result is a new and extensive account of when, where, and why monumental cult buildings became features of early central Italic society and set precedents for the great temples of republican Rome.

Etruscan civilization, 750-500 B.C.E. (CC BY-SA 3.0), Norman Einstein - based on a map from The National Geographic Magazine Vol.173 No.6 (June 1988)

Etruscan hut urn, ca. 800 BC, impasto, Vatican Museums

Hut-shaped urn, from Castel Gandolfo, Montecucco, tomb A, first half of 9th century BCE

Model of Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Rome