Etruscan civilization is the modern name given to a civilization of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany, western Umbria, and northern Latium. The ancient Romans called its creators the Tusci or Etrusci. Their Roman name is the origin of the terms Tuscany, which refers to their heartland, and Etruria, which can refer to their wider region.
In Attic Greek, the Etruscans were known as Τυρρηνοὶ (Tyrrhēnoi), earlier Tyrsenoi, from which the Romans derived the names Tyrrhēni (Etruscans), Tyrrhēnia (Etruria), and Mare Tyrrhēnum (Tyrrhenian Sea). The Etruscans called themselves Rasenna, which was syncopated to Rasna or Raśna.
As distinguished by its unique language, this civilization endured from the time of the earliest Etruscan inscriptions (ca. 700 BC) until its assimilation into the Roman Republic in the late 4th century BC. At its maximum extent, during the foundational period of Rome and the Roman kingdom, it flourished in three confederacies of cities: of Etruria, of the Po valley with the eastern Alps, and of Latium and Campania.
Culture that is identifiably Etruscan developed in Italy after about 800 BC approximately over the range of the preceding Iron Age Villanovan culture. The latter gave way in the 7th century to a culture that was influenced by Greek traders and Greek neighbours in Magna Graecia, the Hellenic civilization of southern Italy. After 500 BC, the political destiny of Italy passed out of Etruscan hands. The latest mtDNA study (2013) shows that Etruscans appear to fall very close to a Neolithic population from Central Europe and to other Tuscan populations.
The origins of the Etruscans are mostly lost in prehistory. Historians have no literature, no original texts of religion or philosophy; therefore, much of what is known about this civilization is derived from grave goods and tomb findings. Historians have first relied on the historical accounts of prominent Greek and Roman authors such as Herodotus and Pliny the Elder, who both described the Etruscan people and theorized about their origins, for example by comparing their coins to others from different regions. Herodotus, based on such metallurgic examinations speculated that the Etruscans emigrated from Lydia, at the Eastern coast of Anatolia, and were sent by their king to find a better land (Umbria) after a drought ravaged their homeland. Due to the fanciful and hypothetical nature of these tales, modern historians have been skeptical of these accounts. Pliny the Elder put the Etruscans in the context of the Raetic people to the north and wrote in his Natural History (79 CE):
"Adjoining these the (Alpine) Noricans are the Raeti and Vindelici. All are divided into a number of states. The Raeti are believed to be people of Tuscan race driven out by the Gauls, their leader was named Raetus".
A mtDNA study (2013) suggests that the Etruscans were most likely an indigenous population. The study extracted and typed the hypervariable region of mitochondrial DNA of 14 individuals buried in two Etruscan necropoleis, analyzing them along with other Etruscan and Medieval samples, and 4,910 contemporary individuals from the Mediterranean basin. Comparing ancient (30 Etruscans, 27 Medieval individuals) and modern DNA sequences (370 Tuscans), suggests that the Etruscans can be considered ancestral. By further considering two Anatolian samples (35 and 123 individuals) it could estimate that the genetic links between Tuscany and Anatolia date back to at least 5,000 years ago, strongly suggesting that the Etruscan culture developed locally, and not as an immediate consequence of immigration from the Eastern Mediterranean shores. Among ancient populations, ancient Etruscans are found to be closest to a Neolithic population from Central Europe.
An mtDNA study (2007) confirms that the Etruscans were not related substantially to the Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherer populations of Europe, and also showed no similarities to populations in the Near East. Another earlier DNA study performed in Italy however, partly gave credence to the theory of Herodotus, as the results showed 11 minor mitochondrial DNA lineages extracted from different Etruscan remains occur nowhere else in Europe, and are shared only with Near East people.
The latter hypothesis gives credence to the main hypotheses which state they are indigenous - probably stemming from the Villanovan culture or from the Near East. Etruscan expansion was focused both to the north beyond the Apennines and into Campania. Some small towns in the 6th century BC disappeared during this time, ostensibly consumed by greater, more powerful neighbours. However, it is certain that the political structure of the Etruscan culture was similar to, albeit more aristocratic than, Magna Graecia in the south. The mining and commerce of metal, especially copper and iron, led to an enrichment of the Etruscans and to the expansion of their influence in the Italian peninsula and the western Mediterranean sea. Here their interests collided with those of the Greeks, especially in the 6th century BC, when Phoceans of Italy founded colonies along the coast of Sardinia, Spain and Corsica. This led the Etruscans to ally themselves with the Carthaginians, whose interests also collided with the Greeks.
Around 540 BC, the Battle of Alalia led to a new distribution of power in the western Mediterranean Sea. Though the battle had no clear winner, Carthage managed to expand its sphere of influence at the expense of the Greeks, and Etruria saw itself relegated to the northern Tyrrhenian Sea with full ownership of Corsica. From the first half of the 5th century BC, the new international political situation meant the beginning of the Etruscan decline after losing their southern provinces. In 480 BC, Etruria's ally Carthage was defeated by a coalition of Magna Graecia cities led by Syracuse. A few years later, in 474, Syracuse's tyrant Hiero defeated the Etruscans at the Battle of Cumae. Etruria's influence over the cities of Latium and Campania weakened, and it was taken over by Romans and Samnites. In the 4th century, Etruria saw a Gallic invasion end its influence over the Po valley and the Adriatic coast. Meanwhile, Rome had started annexing Etruscan cities. This led to the loss of the Northern Etruscan provinces. Etruria was conquered by Rome in the 3rd century BC.
According to legend, there was a period between 600 BC and 500 BC, in which an Alliance was formed between twelve Etruscan settlements, known today as the Etruscan League, Etruscan Federation, or Dodecapoli (in Greek Δωδεκάπολις). The Etruscan League of 12 cities was founded by two Lydian noblemen: Tarchon and his brother Tyrrhenus. Tarchon lent his name to the city of Tarchna, or Tarquinnii, as it was known by the Romans. Tyrrhenus gave his name to the Tyrrhenians - the alternative name for the Etruscans. Although there is no total consensus on which cities were in the league, the following list may be close to the mark: Arretium, Caisra, Clevsin, Curtun, Perusna, Pupluna, Veii, Tarchna, Vetluna, Volterra, Velzna , and Velch. Some modern authors include Rusellae. The league was mostly an economic and religious league, or a loose confederation, similar to the Greek states. During the later imperial times when Etruria was just one of many regions controlled by Rome, the number of cities in the league increased by three. This is noted on many later grave stones from the 2nd century onwards. According to Livy, the twelve city states met once a year at the Fanum Voltumnae at Volsinii, where a leader was chosen to represent the league.
There were two other Etruscan leagues; that of Campania, the main city of which was Capua, and the Po Valley city-states in the North, which included Spina and Adria.