What happened to the Etruscans

What remained of the Etruscans

"My name is Claudio Sangiolo and I've lived in San Gigminiano since I was born."

"We discovered this place by a lucky coincidence. We are completely enthusiastic about the archeology and therefore explore the fields in the area. I've been there for over 20 years. When the farmers have worked the soil with their machines, we go for it looking for ancient remains. Here, in this field, I saw immediately that many ancient fragments came to light. They were neither modern nor from the Middle Ages. They were clearly Etruscan or Roman. "

The place is called Il Monte and is located in the vicinity of San Gimignano. Dr. Dennis Graen, archaeologist at the University of Jena, knew Claudio Sangiolo from previous excavations. The two stayed in contact and so the project developed, in which scientists from the university and the Roman-Germanic Commission of the German Archaeological Institute are now involved.

"We are currently in the process of taking on the somewhat rougher work. We will go about ten centimeters deeper in this area in order to get to the lower layers, because we are still in an ancient fall here, so in the remains a collapsed house probably. "

It is still unclear exactly when the residents of the house lived here: They were probably Etruscans, maybe also Romans. You don't know exactly yet. They could not yet see San Gimignano with its medieval towers, but they too were probably looking out over olive groves and grapevines. Even without the legendary city in the background, the foresight is fantastic.

The residents of this house could exemplify the fate of the simple Etruscan population in Tuscany. Because to this day nobody knows exactly what happened to the still mysterious people of the Etruscans after their wedding in the sixth century. How was the transition from the Etruscan to the Roman Empire? And above all: How did the common people fare?

This is what the scientists want, under the direction of private lecturer Dr. Find out Günther Schörner, Dennis Graen and Thomas Schierl.

The Secret of the Etruscans; the riddle of their writing; the magic of the places where they lived; the fervor of their religiosity - all of this has been intensively researched, but much has remained in the dark.

This also applies to their origin:

"There are different theories."

Günther Schörner, Chair of Classical Archeology at the University of Jena.

"First, that it was an indigenous ethnogenesis, that is, an indigenous people's education. Then, of course, the theory that the Etruscans immigrated from Asia Minor is also very prominent. There are various epigraphic, i.e. linguistically inscribed, evidence from the Aegean region It is of course an opinion that tries to combine both, that a relatively small group immigrated, was culturally determinant and then the native culture gradually became the Etruscans bit by bit is most likely. "

But when the need did not subside, but pressed them even more, the king divided all Lydians into two groups and let them be drawn. Half were to stay in the country, the other half had to emigrate. Those who had hit the lot of emigration went down to Smyrna and built vehicles. In it they loaded everything they needed for seafaring and then set off in search of a livelihood and land. They passed many peoples and finally came to the land of the Umbrians. Here they founded cities and still live there today.

Herodotus, Histories, First Book.

"Most of the material survived, which of course can be seen here in the museum in San Gimignano."

Dr. Hadwiga Schörner, Classical Archaeologist, University of Jena.

"There are two main groups: ceramics and then bronze work, bronze vessels, utensils, statuettes. This is what the Etruscans are famous for. What there is also is the famous Etruscan gold jewelry. At the beginning, when it came out of the Bronze Age so that there were relatively simple vessel shapes that had simply proven themselves in terms of their functionality. There you can see that there are different degrees of fineness of the clay. Up here, for example, that is fine clay. It is muddy, that is, Substances that do not belong in there have been taken out, while the so-called impasto looks very coarse down here, because organic and other substances such as lime were intentionally added there for a reason that does not make much sense to me personally, because the negative effect is man can of course make thick walls, you can make large storage vessels, but they also break very easily because the clay is so impure. "

Very similar to the Greek póleis, the Etruscan founded city-states. The traditional twelve cities kept alliances with one another and saw themselves as a unified people. There was probably no tension, as is known from the ancient Greek cities. They shared a common religion, economy and political interests. These twelve cities felt themselves to be favored by God and as a manifestation of the supernatural cosmic order on earth.

To this day, it is not certain which of the twelve cities this covenant was concerned with. The archaeologists Franco Falchetti and Antonella Romualdi believe that there could have been a point of contact with the twelve cities of the Ionian Confederation. In their book "The Etruscans" they include Arezzo, Perugia and Volterra. Twelve kings presided over these cities, one of which was elected annually primus inter pares.

Etruscan society seems to have been divided into two clearly structured groups: that of masters and that of slaves. A middle class of craftsmen, teachers and administrators was nowhere near as important as it is today. The peasants who worked for the aristocratic landowners also belonged to the slaves.

Since the alphabet of the Etruscan script has now been deciphered, the language is still largely unknown, researchers only know about the Etruscan religion from traditions and archaeological finds:

"What we know of the Etruscan religion is based in many ways on Roman sources and is also based on what was taken over from the Etruscan religion in the Roman religion. We know that certain offices were taken over, that priestly insignia were taken over, and that certain too Rituals were adopted, in particular the disciplina etrusca, a special form of divination, the questioning of the will of the gods by examining the intestines of sacrificial animals. "

The graves brought the most spectacular finds so far. For example, graves were recovered near Volterra that were probably used by families from the eighth to the sixth centuries. The wealth of the family is reflected in the offerings: bronze and silver vessels, elements of an ivory chain in the shape of a monkey; golden, bronze and silver fibulae; an iron knife with an ivory handle inlaid with amber.

Funerary inscriptions and some sarcophagi cast an astonishing spotlight on Etruscan society: the position of women was relatively equal to that of men, although not comparable to that in our society:

Little is known about the architecture and the way of life. The sacred and profane buildings of the cities seem to be geometrically laid out, rural regions were built more spontaneously, like those that the German archaeologists are investigating. Thomas Schierl, research assistant at the Roman-Germanic Commission of the German Archaeological Institute:

"We have to assume that it is a smaller, probably a relatively small-scale settlement that may have consisted of several houses, more like 10-20 houses, one cannot estimate that larger. The houses are very simply built. They exist made of simple stone foundations, which were equipped with a rammed earth floor, burned on the fire. The houses were provided with simple rammed earth walls, roof tiles covered them. So that was a small settlement that should have a comparatively village character. "

The heyday of the Etruscans is dated to the sixth to the early fifth centuries. speaker

The Etruscan wedding came to an end in the fifth century. So far, it can only be guessed what factors play a role:

"Then there was obviously a change, a political change, where we don't know exactly what the reason is, it's just interesting that it roughly coincides with the establishment of democracy in Greece and the republic in Rome."

In the fourth century the southernmost city of the League of Twelve Veji is attacked. Left alone by the other federal cities, it fell to the Romans after a ten-year siege. The Gauls attack Melpum in the north. Even if this remains a singular event and the Samnites initially occupied the Romans, the decline of Etruria is looming.

The settlement around San Gimignano falls into this phase. This phase is also of interest to the scientists from Germany. Thomas Schierl and Mareike Rind bend over a shard:

"We just found a shard here, probably a shard from an amphora."

"You can actually see that very well from the edge that is in the profile here and because the whole thing is relatively difficult to remove, we now basically have to prepare it freely until we can recover the whole or perhaps half a vessel You just have to be pretty careful not to break off the rest of it. "

The excavation area covers around 70 square meters. What is striking - according to archaeologist Henning Wabersich -

"The enormous abundance of ceramics that we were able to recover from this relatively limited area and, within this amount of ceramics, very high quality. I can just see that a find has just been made here that we have a shard of wall with a red coating This is also a copy of the Roman Terra sigilata, Roman fine ceramics from the first century AD. Since it has just come out of the earth, I have to look at it myself first. "

In addition to ceramic finds, burnt bricks come to light; Charcoal, which suggests a fire; several spindles in one place. There could have been a workshop here. For other finds, the scientists have to use biologists, such as for the piece that Marcolf Baliga found.

"It's a tooth, as you can see a canine tooth. Maybe a wild boar or something like that. What you just ate here. We also found larger bones from an animal here in the area in front, where we don't yet know exactly what it is, but it's a pretty powerful ball joint with bones on it. "

In the evening the scientists sit around a large table and sort the finds into small plastic bags: they should be carefully identified and labeled so that they can be assigned later.
Günther Schörner:

"I'll write that into the computer right now. We have three columns: once the find complex number, then the exact description of where this find came from and then as the third column the list of what is in this find complex, that is, the breakdown into the usual Ceramic types with us a lot of terra sigilata, then also kitchen ceramics, which we again differentiate into fine and coarse, impasto, i.e. a very coarse ceramic, and then just a little rarer types such as amphorae or things like bones, slag, plaster what else comes along. "

At first glance, these finds do not seem very meaningful. But they do provide information about what happened during this turning point.

"I also think that it was a creeping condition. Yes, the end of the Etruscans is hardly known to us either. That is not the case, one morning they woke up and were no longer Etruscans."

This is where the excavation begins. The archaeologists want to find out

"What has changed in the everyday life of the former Etruscans or in the 3rd and 2nd centuries can still be described as whether they were completely absorbed in the Roman Empire, whether they might have died out and Roman citizens spread out from Rome To the north or whether they have simply mixed completely or, what is also possible, but still has to be investigated here, whether these two population groups come together and thereby create a new culture. "


Here are two more highly recommended books on the subject of the Etruscans:

- Franco Falchetti, Antonella Romualdi, Die Etrusker, Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart, 2001
- Sybille Haynes, Cultural History of the Etruscans, Philipp von Zabern, Mainz, 2005