Why the Romans Don’t Want You to Know About the Etruscans

They’re the influential civilization hardly anyone’s heard of. Time to redress the balance.

Fiona Cameron Lister
15 min readSep 19, 2020

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“I sposi” (the married couple), detail from an Etruscan sarcophagus. Image: Dreamstime

The Romans. Famous for their straight roads, underfloor central heating, emperors, gladiators, cities, togas… Ask who invented something ancient and clever, and a spectral Roman arm will rise up from the annals of history and stake claim.

But none of the above ideas are Roman, even though they want us to believe they are. They have tried to erase the real founding civilization from getting the credit they deserve.

Well, enough is enough.

Step forward Etruscans. It’s your well-deserved turn in the spotlight.

Etruria

The Etruscans were an ancient and powerful pre-Roman civilization who lived in Etruria. If Italy is a thigh-high boot, then Etruria is an inverted triangle which begins just above the front of the ankle and swoops upwards and across the thigh to the Veneto. Although there is evidence of Etruscan inhabitation at either end of Italy, the real focus is in north Lazio, Tuscany and western Umbria.

“They are the teachers of our teachers”

I have lived in Etruria for over 25 years. My house is in the village of Pieve a Socana, a few hundred yards from an Etruscan temple and altar - one of the most important in Italy.

I have found an Etruscan coin in my garden, a little bronze fragment with tiny Etruscan hands and sherds of their black pottery in the nearby field. I have learned as much as I can about the Etruscans. The more I discover, the more I am convinced that the Romans did a pretty good job of whitewashing these clever, literate, fun-loving people from history.

My Etruscan coin, found metal detecting in my garden. Our house is a stone’s throw from the Etruscan altar at Pieve a Socana. Images: Fiona Cameron Lister

Some historians believe Rome was originally an Etruscan city and that Rome’s first kings were actually Etruscans. Unquestionably, the civilization shaped the way the Romans thought, their numerals, alphabet and their religion. The architectural features many people associate with Rome…

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Fiona Cameron Lister

Experienced British writer/editor/mentor in Italy | MWC semi-finalist| Loves words, history, humour, unusual subjects| Contact: fcameronlister@gmail.com