EtruscansEtruscans - One cannot study the history of early Rome without reading about Etruscan civilization. And the origin of the Etruscans is truly a mystery. Herodotus claims they migrated to the Italian peninsula from Asia Minor around 1000 B.C.. He may have been right. But others believe they were indigenous, the first true Italians. There are no written records from the Etruscans or any of their neighbors from this early period, so all we can determine comes from archaeology and from historians who lived centuries later. The evidence leans toward a migration from the East because their civilization was more advanced than the others in the area. Also, their language was unique, unrelated to the Italic languages and Gaulish language spoken in the region. We know this from the few written documents which survive from the time of the Roman monarchy.


Early Rome was ruled by the Etruscans (see Tarquin). Probably the most important record is the Pyrgi Tablets, which are three gold leaves with a dedication to the Phoenician goddess Ashtaret (Ishtar). Two are written in Etruscan and the third in Phoenician. This makes the Pyrgi Tablets roughly the equivalent of the Rosetta Stone for cracking the Etruscan language. It also helps us trace the evolution of the Phoenician alphabet from one civilization to the next. The alphabet was invented by the Phoenicians and adopted by the Greeks. The Etruscans borrowed it from the Greeks, and the Romans got it from the Etruscans, who used it to turn spoken Latin into a written language. They occupied the land of Etruria to the northwest of Rome in Tuscany, western Umbria and northern Latium. Veii was the largest and wealthiest Etruscan city, and was only about 10 miles (16km) northwest of Rome. The Greeks called them Tyrrhenians (from which we get the Tyrrhenian Sea), but they referred to themselves as Rasenna. Because of their early domination of Rome, the Romans borrowed much of their culture from the Etruscans. However, much of it was later superseded by Greek culture when the Romans fell in love with all things Greek.