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The Etruscans: History and Society - 10 credits (HS4364)

Staff: Guy Bradley

The Etruscans are considered 'mysterious' and enigmatic in popular literature, chiefly because of the (non-Indo-European) language they spoke. Yet in fact Etruscan society is in some ways one of the most studied and best known in antiquity. Their great cities occupied the area of modern Tuscany and northern Lazio in Italy, where vast cemeteries are still visible. Etruscan society was highly literate in ancient terms, but no Etruscan literature survives. The views of Greek and Roman authors about the Etruscans were clearly influenced by their fascination for this 'lost' civilisation, and this literary evidence has to be carefully compared with the rich archaeological record. At their peak, the Etruscans were thought to have controlled much of Italy and the western Mediterranean and to have been a formative influence on Rome. This course will examine the truth behind this image, and the gradual process by which these cities were conquered and brought under Roman domination.

Optional for: all Archaeology and Ancient History degrees
Availability: spring semester in alternate years
Teaching: 10 lectures, 1 museum trip and 1 seminar
Assessment: one source criticism (50%) and one 1-hour examination (50%)

Syllabus content

  • the Villanovan and Orientalising periods
  • urbanisation and settlement patterns
  • language, literacy and literature
  • government and social structure
  • religion and sanctuaries
  • death and burial
  • trade and external relations
  • the Roman conquest of Etruria and the Etruscans after the Roman conquest: a question of decline?
  • Etruria and Etruscans during the Imperial period: nostalgia for the past?
  • the 'rediscovery' of the Etruscans and their impact on European scholarship and culture


To introduce students to the history of one of the most important peoples of the ancient Mediterranean, illuminating the way that cultures on the 'fringes' of the ancient world in chronological and geographical terms can provide important and interesting case studies; to explore the breadth of evidence for Etruscan society and what it tells us about the differences and similarities of the Etruscans to their neighbours, particularly the Romans; to cover the full duration of Etruscan history, from the beginnings of urbanisation in the late Bronze Age and the subsequent emergence of Etruscan cities as independent political entities through to their conquest and eventual incorporation into the Roman state.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, the student will demonstrate:

  • a knowledge of the main events in the history of the most important Etruscan cities, and an understanding of their geographical context.
  • a knowledge of the archaeological, epigraphic and numismatic evidence for aspects of Etruscan society such as political organisation, social and economic life, religious activity and ethnic identity.
  • an ability to assess the historical implications of this evidence.
  • a knowledge of the ancient literary texts that deal with the Etruscans and an awareness of the perspectives embodied in them.
  • an ability to compare and combine this information with the picture of the material evidence.
  • an ability to discuss these issues in written work with coherent and logical arguments, clearly and correctly expressed.

Preliminary reading

L. Banti, The Etruscan Cities and their Culture (1973)
G. Barker & T. Rasmussen, The Etruscans (1997)
L. Bonfante (ed.), Etruscan Life and Afterlife (1986)
S. Haynes, Etruscan Civilisation (2000)
M. Pallottino, The Etruscans (1976)
H. H. Scullard, The Etruscan Cities and Rome (1967)
N. Spivey & S. Stoddart, Etruscan Italy (1990)
N. Spivey, Etruscan Art (1996)
M. Torelli (ed.), The Etruscans (exhibition catalogue, 2001)

Related modules

Prerequisite modules: HS2102 Archaeology of the Greek and Roman World or HS3101 Introduction to Greek History or HS3102 Introduction to Roman History

Other modules to consider taking in conjunction with this one:

HS2386 Art and Archaeology of Archaic Greece

HS3331 Roman Religion

HS3333 Rome and Carthage

HS4359 Early Rome: History and Legend