Various theories have been formulated about the origin of the Etruscans, ranging from their being an aboriginal race, or a people that came from Asia Minor or from the North. Traces of their presence have been recorded from the 8th century BC to the 3rd century BC, in the area between the rivers Arno and Tiber, between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Apennines, known as Etruria, from where the Etruscan civilization spread to the Po valley and Campania.
Veio, Volterra, Cerveteri, Chiusi, Fiesole, Arezzo, Tarquinia, Vulci, Volsinii (Orvieto), Felsina (Bologna), Vetulonia, Populonia, Perugia and Nocera were all main Etruscan centres. The confederations of cities or the single city-states were run and governed by the Lucomone, who was also the holder of religious power.
Principal activities were agriculture, craftsmanship, and trade; the landowning aristocracy ruled over these middle social groups. We owe our knowledge of the customs and cult of the Etruscans to these upper classes. In fact, the necropolises with their funeral furnishings and murals are evidence of a society which in its upper classes was both refined and learned.
The necropolis of Populonia, Italy (photo FAN© 1997)
Evidence is provided in the frescoes depictino feasts with dances and music, and hunting scenes. Populonia is one of the many examples available of city-states. It owed its fortune to the working of iron from the island of Elba. Even today, dross from the blast furnaces still comes to the surface in the sand in the gulf of Baratti.
By studying the gulf and necropolis, close to the beach, we can understand the way in which Populonia grew. Its acropolis is at the top of the hill and lower down are the furnaces, near the landingplace for the ships which brought iron from Elba.
Other metals such as silver, copper, zinc and tin came from the Fucinaia valley at Campiglia Marittima. Today, this area is home to one of the most important archeological-mining parks, Rocca di San Silvestro, where mining continued up until the beginning of this century.
In this case, the choice of the settlement was established by the importance of the ore deposits and their possible exploitation. The skill of the Etruscans in working metals is evident from the findings discovered at the various necropolises.
The cult of the dead was the basis of the Etruscan religion, and the wealth employed at the burials was an indication of the social position of the deceased. In the funeral rites, which were repeated on several occasions throughout the year, homage was paid to the deceased, wishing him protection in the continuation of life beyond the grave. It was the repetition of these rites that brought about the necessity to create open tombs which were always accessible for the cult and its rites.