Etruscan Kings

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Etruscan Kings

Postby Horatius Piscinus on Mon Sep 30, 2002 1:40 pm

Salvete

Reading through some recent posts I have continually come upon references to a 19th century notion of Etruscans once ruling Rome and Latium. Pity how such bad ideas persists. No, Mus Etruscan kings did not ever rule over Rome, and Etruscan armies never seized Rome. And no, Scorpio, the Etruscans never held Latium, so they could never regain it. As for the Etruscan League, that formed late, in response to Roman expansion, and was never effective in bringing the Etruscan cities together even for a single battle.

Where did this idea of Etruscans once ruling Rome come from? I have said in the past that history is more reflective of the time it is written in than that it tells of events in an earlier time. Here is a case in point. In the 19th century, after Italy had united, but before Rome became part of Italy in 1871, Italy was trying to develop a national identity. It looked towards Renaissance Florence, adopted Tuscan as a model for standard Italian. Rome at that time meant Papal rule, and Italy was attempting to make a secular republic. Discoveries of the Etruscans were relatively new at the time. It became an interpretation, for current political reason, to promote an Etruscan, therefore "Italian" and secular, history, and this idea of Etruscan rule over Rome was born.

You will not find any mention of Etruscans seizing Rome in Roman records. If they had the Romans would not have hid it any more than that the Gauls seized Rome. The closest was when Lars Porsenna attempted to return the Tarquini to the throne. The Tarquini were not Etruscan but Greek, the first Tarquinius elected to office. The only" king" to seize the throne without election was Servilius, who never called himself king btw. Servilius was the son of a slave woman and unknown father, so himself of unknown origin. I do not see how he is considered an Etruscan. Servilius' origin as a slave was embarassing to the Romans, used by Mithridates for propaganda. If he represented a period of Etruscan rule why would that not also have been mentioned in the Roman's histories? Why would not Mithridates have mentioned it as a way to say Rome could be defeated?

No, the first you ever hear of this idea of Etruscan rule of Rome is in 19th century Italy, and there has never been any real evidence to substantiate it. So I must wonder where some people today have gotten this idea and continue refering to this modern myth.

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Postby Anonymous on Mon Sep 30, 2002 6:47 pm

Salvete,

I must agree with Piscinus : It has been clearly stated in recent years that there is no tangible evidence of a formal Etruscan rule any time in Rome. this idea is based on conjectures and interpretations.

It is another matter altogether, however, to discuss Greek culture in Italy in general and Etruscan influence in particular in Latium. It would appear that increasingly important trade routes and the development of commerce led to horinzontal movement of population all over the region. It comes as no surprise, if we believe our sources, that an open society such as early Rome would have welcome "foreigners" and allow them to stand in elections (the way kings were first chosen until Servius).
The Tarquini are only a sign of a wider "common culuture" rather than a proof that Etruscans ever directly impose their will on Romans.

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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Mon Sep 30, 2002 7:28 pm

Perhaps, if I may, a nuance could be made... What qualifies as a "ruling class"?

Although any people (including the Romans) liked to associate themselves with exotic and advanced ancestors, it doesn't mean that nothing of it was true. Many Roman names have Etruscan origins (Gnaeus, for example, or Aulus) and the name Tarquinius is a latinised version of Tanaquil. The Romans also borrowed the Etruscan alphabet when they began to develop their distinct civilisation.

Here's my personal stab: the generally Latin population of the Latium area came under Etruscan influence and was associated (not directly ruled by) with Etruria. Etruscans and Romans may have cooperated together in Rome, until Tarquinius Superbus came along and was thrown out by the increasingly stronger Roman upper class (or perhaps by some Etruscans who hated the king) with republican tendencies "in the name of the surpressed people".

What do you think?

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Postby Anonymous on Mon Sep 30, 2002 8:43 pm

Salve Scorpio,

I'd better leave my esteemed brother comment on the Etruscan influence over Latium : His expertise on the subject is likley to enligten us all.

As for the overthrow of Superbus, it is very improbable, and I base myself on TJ Cornell and Momsen, that it was the result of an alleged disgust for Etruscan rule from an increasingly powerful roman elite. We are wrong here, I believe, to present the facts in such a dichotomy (etruscans vs romans) : Latium was a pluricultural society and Rome, like any other city, reflected that. The fact that we find names of etruscan origins and other artefacts of this culture in Rome is a sign of openness to the world and not of the domination of one culture over another.

So yes, we had Etruscans in Rome. Yes, Etruria influenced Roman culture like Greek merchants or the Sabines did. Yes, some of them became so influent within the city that they were elected king (Priscus) or forcibly seized power (Servius and Superbus). But these men were first and foremost roman within roman tradition.
And if Superbus got kicked out the city, perhaps was it because he was a popular tyrant. And indeed, the upper Roman class (as a whole, children of sabines, latins, etruscans, passing greeks etc ) decided to make a move. But it was all about getting power, not getting rid of Etruscan influence...

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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Tue Oct 01, 2002 12:32 pm

Well actually mi Corneli that's what I meant; perhaps my words were ill-chosen :).

I also believe that there was no real "clash of civilisations" although the image of a fully pluricultural Rome may be a little far-fetched. I can't imagine that there were no Romans opposed to this, as in later times every influence from other cultures also had its proponents and opponents.

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re: Etruscan Kings

Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Tue Oct 01, 2002 9:23 pm

Salve Horatii
So what you are saying is that the Etruscan League nver ruled over Rome until 510 BC? So many books refer to this fact?
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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Wed Oct 02, 2002 10:46 am

Salvete

Yes, Orce, the Etruscan League did NOT form until after 510. The Etruscan did NOT manage to seize Rome after the expulsion of the kings. There is solid evidence that Etruscans did not control Rome after the formation of the Republic in 510. The base culture, common to Etruscans and Latins, i.e. the Villanovan material culture, disappears from Rome at that time or shortly after. That is very significant because we are not talking here of an absence of luxury items in the material culture, but of the kind of utensils that even the lowest classes of citizens were using. Shortly after the Republic forms there is also a noticeable decrease in Greek luxury goods. That is generally interpreted as Roman trade with Etruria being cut, and that Greek goods had been coming through Etruria. That is not necessarily the case however.


Along the Tyrrhenian coast, from Etruria through Latium and into northern Campania, the material culture was generally homogeneous, composed of various elements including Greek, Etruscan, and Latin. There are instances of individuals with Latin names living in Etruscan cities, just as Etruscans lived in Rome and other Latin cities. What is found in Etruria that can be identified as Latin does not necessarily come from Rome either, for Rome was only one Latin city and not always was it the most important.

Another 19th century notion tried to identify the patricians of Rome with Latins, and held the plebeians to be Sabines. As Momigliano said, one cannot tell what a Latin grave looks like compared to a Sabine grave at Rome. There is no distinction. Nor would the grave of any Etruscan buried at Rome have been any different. The mixing of different ethnic groups at Rome was not reserved solely to an elite class but was at every level of Roman society.

With Servius there seems there may have been a division developing in Roman society between the urban center and the landed aristocracy. Servius does not exactly seize power by force, but does usurp his position. The title he uses is not king, but reflective more of a tyrrant. And tyrrant in that period, we should understand, was a populist title. In other words, Servius had the support of the urban population, and of all classes in the urban center. That poses that another class may have opposed him, and those who do finally expel Superbus and establish the Republic would seem to be this class. Among the revolutionaries are Latins and Sabines and Etruscans, patricians and plebeians, there is even a Tarquinius among them.

This brings us to the other problem in early Roman history. Exactly what distinguished a patrician from a plebeian? These two categories of Romans grow out of the Regal period, but I tend to think that the distinction did not really emerge until after the Republic formed. It may relate back to the factions that supported or opposed Servius. What we can say is that the distinction of plebeian from patrician was not made along ethnic lines, or of relative wealth, power, or position. The fact is we have no idea what the distinction was based on and all attempts to give an answer have proven wrong.

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Postby Publius Dionysius Mus on Wed Oct 02, 2002 4:20 pm

Salvete!

I am currently reading TJ Cornell's "The Beginnings of Rome". The theory as presented here by Marcus Horatius is elaborated in this book. I have, as Orcus said, indeed read many books supporting a theory of Etruscan rule over Rome, and their arguments were very convincing (For example in Peter Connolly's "Greece and Rome at War"). TJ Cornell's book is the first one I encounter with the opposite theory, and I must say he seems to have even better arguments. I will now start reading chapter 6, called The Myth of 'Etruscan Rome'. I hope to find the best defended theory soon enough :wink:

I thought TJ Cornell is a very reliable writer, is this right?
And what about Peter Connolly?

Any other good contemporary writers on ancient Rome (I already know people like HH Scullard, R Etienne, etc.)

And the older writers like J Carcopino and T Mommsen? Can we still rely on their information?

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Postby Anonymous on Wed Oct 02, 2002 7:11 pm

Salve Mus,

I hav read Cornell and enjoyed every bit of it : A refreshing outlook. Cornell worked (still works!) on the Cambridge Ancient History; The latest edition is bound to present a good interpretation of the latests theories.
As for Mommsen, I believe it is a classic and a real pleasure to read. I haven't gone far enough however to exress a judgement on it. So far It is impressive and seems like a daunting task to go through (thousands of flimsy pages, almost like a bible! :roll:)

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re: Etruscan Kings

Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Wed Oct 02, 2002 9:04 pm

Salvete
So basicly the whole Etruscans ruling Rome before the expelsion of the kings is a myth like the matriarchy ruling societies before the "evil" patriarchy took violently over from them.
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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Wed Oct 02, 2002 11:39 pm

Salvete

Yes, Orce, Etruscan rule of Rome is a modern myth.

The other myth you mention, patriarchal displacement of matriarchal society, is an extreme presentation. There is an element of matriarchal lineage in Oscan tribes. The status of women in Etruscan and Minoan societies differed from other societies, possibly indicating matriarchal lineage as well. What is wrong about this myth is the modern presentation of what matriarchal societies are like. There are matriarchal societies in Africa and were among native American tribes. Matriarchal lineage does not equate with female domination of the society, as is sometimes posed today by feminists. (Apologies to all my sisters in NOW. I am still a member in good standing, one of the few male members, but do not agree with what some feminists say on this issue.) What matriarchal societies do have is a clear division of roles between the sexes, and a form of equality, more than that one gender dominates over the other in all areas.

Regarding modern historians. T.J. Cornell is a good author to begin with as he does present the various arguments on a few issues in Roman history. Now that a couple others here have his "Beginnings of Rome" maybe we can take up his arguments on the patrician vs plebeian issue too.

Mommsen's work is a classic, a starting point for much on Rome. You do have to take into consideration when he wrote with regard to his personal views and characterizations of the Roman constitution. Republic and democracy did not mean the same then as today. Some of his work, in its details, can be critiqued, but basically still holds up with what has since been discovered. It is Mommsen that provided the reconstruction of lacuna for many of the inscriptions found in the CIL. Some who are not historians or archaeologists, such as Dumezil, have challenged some of Mommsen's annotations. Archaeologists tend to rely on Mommsen uncritically. It is valuable to read what Dumezil and others have to say on this point, even though I do not particularly agree with them.

Other modern historians to read are Michael Crawford and John North. Michael Crawford's "The Roman Republic" is a good book for those first reading on Roman history. And then there is Mary Beard for some special topics. Roman art and the Religio Romana. Mary Beard and Michael Crawford has an interesting book called "Rome in the Late Republic." It is not a history of the period but a presentation of different historical issues and their arguments for a revision of Roman history.

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