Cultures & Traditions

The Etruscans

The Etruscans ruled powerful cities in central Italy before the Romans. They spoke a language unrelated to early Latin or any Indo-European language, so their origins are obscure. At the height of their power in the 7th to 5th century BCE, they dominated the areas of Tuscany and Umbria north of Rome, the city of Rome on the lower Tiber River, and parts of Italy between Rome and Capua, near Naples. Their wealth and power were due to their control of important iron deposits. They were expert metalworkers, sculptors, and builders.

The arts of the Etruscans were strongly influenced by Greek art, which they imported and adapted. This mixture of Greek art and myth with native Etruscan beliefs can be seen in the pair of funerary shields (135.2012.5-6) with the head of the river god Acheloos. Acheloos, a shape-changer, fought in bull form with the Greek hero Herakles but was defeated by him. The horned human face reflects this story. The physical sensuality so typical of Etruscan art appears in the powerful, fleshy face of the demigod. Acheloos also looks cheerful, since the Etruscans, unlike the Greeks, saw the afterlife and the world of the gods as being much like human life, with its appetites and pleasures.

Excerpt from

DMA Gallery text, Cecil and Ida Green Galleries, transcribed November 3, 2016.