The Elusive Etruscans: The Quests for the Origins of the Etruscan Civilization
Hirundo: the McGill Journal of Classical Studies: Vol.5 (2006-7)
The Romans prided themselves on their ability to embrace the very best aspects of each culture that they encountered. There was one culture in particular, however, that held their fascination: the Etruscans. Strabo in his Geography acknowledges many Roman debts to Etruria, from religion to public displays to music. But just who were these great Etruscans? Where did they come from? These questions have long been the source of great interest and contention. Even the Romans disagreed on the origins of Etruscan culture. Centuries later, Etruscology experienced a rich and erudite “prehis- tory,” which lasted from the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth. It was during this critical time that archaeology became recognized as a valid method of research and the interest in Etruscan artifacts ushered in a new era of speculation surrounding Etruscan origins.
By the twentieth century, interest surrounding the Etruscans exploded as more and more sites and artifacts were found. There is a plethora of scholarship from this period, all of which seeks to make its place in Etruscology. However, this early blossoming of scholarship often succeeded only in emphasizing the ephemeral quality of the Etruscans. Scholarly uncertainties and polemics on the interpretation of Etruscan inscriptions, the classification of the language and the problem of Etruscan origins gave birth to the notion of an “Etruscan mystery.” Scholars have since developed many theories to solve this mystery.