Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact:Jeff Matthews

entry 2008 update,  Dec 2011, box added Mar 2018, updated May 2021 and Sept 2022

The Etruscans in Campania
                                                       & (below) Etruscan Museum and Digs Reopen in Tuscany

                                                                                                             & Etruscan Cave Roads/Trails

"Etruscan" generally evokes the image of the great pre-Roman civilization in central Italy, a still somewhat mysterious people about whom we would like to know a lot more than we ever will. You don't generally think of Etruscans this far south, in the Campania region of Italy, near Naples; yet, they were here. (Clearly, their ambitions stretched southwards but were eventually thwarted.) Indeed, Parthenope (then to become Neapolis—Naples) was somewhat of a late-comer in the area and could be founded only when Etruscan influence had weakened and almost disappeared, which it had by the mid-400s b.c., the presumptive date of the founding of Parthenope.

A few miles north of Naples is the town of Santa Maria Capua Vetere, the modern name for the ancient city of Capua, called Campeva in ancient histories. (The modern town of Capua is right next door, but “ancient Capua” means modern Santa Maria Capua Vetere.) Well before the Romans, Campeva was founded by the Etruscans in about 600 b.c. and used to be considered the southernmost identifiably Etruscan town in Italy (but see the link to "Pontecagnano," below); Campeva is well to the south of "Etruria" and not one of the 12 famous towns of the Etruscan confederation in north-central Italy, all of which are north of Rome. (See Capua, a Short Tale of Two Cities.)
box added Mar 20, 2018
This Etruscan appliqué depicts the Sun God Usil. It is dated to 500 - 475 B.C. and is from Vulci (near the Tyrrhenian coast about 80 km (50 miles) northwest of Rome (identified with the Etruscan name, Velch, on the map, above). It is in bronze and is 20 cm high (7 7/8 inches). It probably decorated an Etruscan chariot or funeral cart. The applique represents the solar deity Usil (the equivalent of the Greek god Helios and Roman god Sol). There are a few other similar examples in museums in the world, but this one is said to be the best preserved. It is in the collection the J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California. Vulci or Volci was a rich and important Etruscan city and her artisans were known as master sculptors in bronze. The city was named for the tribe, which was one of the legendary twelve peoples of Etruscan civilization who later formed the Etruscan League. During the days of the so-called Grand Tour in the 1700s and 1800s, Vulci was held to be as signficant as the Greek and Roman sites and was a major stopping point. There are, of course, a great number of Roman "additions" to Vulci from the centuries of later Roman domination. The site may be visited and there is a National Archaeological Museum on the premises.                               (image: Getty images)

The Etruscans were not Indo-Europeans (as we know from their language). To my knowledge, there is no consensus among scholars whether they (1) came from somewhere else, possibly what is now southern Turkey —as stated by Greek historian, Herodotus, or (2) are a remnant of a pre-Indo-European people indigenous to the Italian peninsula. (But see update below.) They were in Italy, however, by the tenth century b.c. They expanded into their confederation and a number of other towns in central Italy by the seventh century and were at the height of their power by about 600. By that time they had also settled their southernmost outpost in Italy, Amina (later known to the Romans as Picentia and today as Pontecagnano) on the plain just south of modern-day Salerno. They then started to fade as they came into contact with the newly encroaching immigrants of Magna Graecia, who built towns at Cuma and Paestum, limiting further Etruscan expansion along the southern coast. In the 400s BC the Etruscans of Capua also came into contact with —and were eventually subdued by— the belligerent native Italic people known as the Samnites (an Oscan tribe and one of a group of tribes referred to in the literature as “Sabellian”—from Sabine), who were about to engage the young and not-yet-imperial Romans in centuries of war for the domination of central Italy.

The Etruscans were also defeated in important naval battles with the Greeks from Siracuse (Sicily), first off of Cuma in 474 BC and then at Elba in 453; with that, the Etruscans lost control of the waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Their “last gasp,” so to speak, was in 414 when they went to the aid of the Athenian army that was besieging Siracuse in what is called in the history of the Peloponnesian War, the “Sicilian expedition.” (The two-year war was an utter disaster for the Athenians, leading to the eventual overthrow of the Athenian democracy.) The Etruscans were then further pressed by invading Celts in around 400 b.c. and thereafter simply dissolved into the fabric of Sabellian- and then Roman-controlled Italy. Their cultural influence is still seen even further south than Capua, however, in such things as the well-known tomb decorations in Paestum (photo, above). Their presence in the area near Capua and to the south towards Naples figures in the display at the new archeology museum in nearby Succivo.

references: "The Etruscans and the Sicilian Expedition of 414-413 B.C." by M.O.B Caspari in The Classical Quarterly,  Vol.5, No. 2 (Apr., 1911) pp.113-115.

update on Etruscan origins: In 2007, Professor Alberto Piazza, from the University of Torino reported to the European Society of Human Genetics that there is overwhelming evidence that the Etruscans were settlers from old Anatolia (now in southern Turkey). That conclusion was based on comparative DNA studies. "We think that our research provides convincing proof that Herodotus was right", said Professor Piazza, "and that the Etruscans did indeed arrive from ancient Lydia."


[Feb 2015]  there was a good small museum of Etruscan archaeology in Naples. It was on the premises of the Collegio Francesca Denza on via Discesa Coroglio and was run by the Barnabite fathers. The 800-piece collection was first assembled between 1869 and 1882 by the Barnabites. Those premises have now been  closed and the collection has come to Naples at the National Archeological Museum.]

[August 2018]
There are at least three other prominent Etruscan Museums in Italy.

1.The National Etruscan Museum (Italian: Museo Nazionale Etrusco), housed in the Villa Giulia in Rome.
Website here.  Also

2.The Tarquinia National Museum (Italian: Museo Archeologico Nazionale Tarquiniense) in Tarquinia. The collection consists primarily of the artifacts which were excavated from the Necropolis of Monterozzi to the east of the city. It is housed in the Palazzo Vitelleschi. Website here.

3. The Etruscan Museum and Archaeological site in Tuscany (directly below)
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added May 2021
The Etruscan Archaeological Site in Tuscany

Many museums in the world have put their works at the on-line disposition of the world. If you have the time the Louvre has the stuff (just checked
it's on-line. Go nuts). Italy has a lotissimo of archaeology to offer, and wouldn't it be nice once again if you could really go to the place and see it and walk around it with a knowledgeable guide. Good news: the Archaeological Museum "“Francesco Nicosia” of Artimo reopened on April 29. It is the best place in the world to learn about the ancient and mysterious Etruscans and if you are not curious about the Etruscans, you have no soul.

Opening hours: March-Oct. Mon-Tue-Thur-Fri-0930-1330; Sat & Sun -0930-1330 & 1500-1800.

The Etruscan museum  archaeological site is at Poggio Colla near the town of Vicchio in Tuscany.
The Wikipedia English description of the site is here.

Also see:   (first one is in Italian),  and
    The Mugello Valley Archaeologica Project

What's up Etruscan-wise these days? Ahhh, lots!

'Extraordinary Find': Rare Religious Text Written in Lost Etruscan Language
Go find out. Maybe they'll let you dig.

[Also see The Ancient Unknown City of Amina/Picentia and The Etruscan Language]

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added: Sept. 2022

he Etruscan Cave Roads/Trails

As popular as the region of Tuscany is, we still don't much about the Etruscans. They thrived here from 900 BC to about 700 BC until they were absorbed into the Roman Empire. Even modern Tuscans don't know that much, and their eyes go into overglaze if you ask them. Interest is picking up and there are now official guides who are keen to tell you about those strange vie cave (via cava is the singular), the sunken, walled pathways used to travel from the highlands to the riverbanks and vice versa. The towns of Pitigliano, Sorano and Sovana are among the oldest and most intact. The Etruscan held these paths to be what connected the land of the living with the land of the dead. It can spook you if you let it, for these trails link you with gods and devils and whatever else is on "the other side".

What we have learned through painstaking research over the years is that the Etruscans came from what is Turkey, the Anatolian peninsula. We still know very little about the language. Tomb inscriptions are a poor source, so what we want is some garrulous old Etruscan Homer to have bored his extended family to tears with tales of the "good old days" and then when writing came along, fiery whippersnippers to have written it down and buried it under what is now a parking garage. That never was much of even a fat chance, and it grows slimmer, concrete slab by concrete slab.
  So enjoy the trails. The steps are usually finely cut. The walls are not necessarily high but can be. Guides should explain the Etruscan engineering skill, also used in ancient Egypt
drill a hole for a piece of wood, fill the hole with water, the wood expands and forces the porous tuff stone to fracture. Do this a few thousand times and you have your stairway to the stars or whatever else you think is over or out there. You may come across a necropolis, a "city of the dead", usually a family affair packed with gold, food and clothing for safe passage into the afterlife. In spite of tomb robbers over the many centuries, historians have found pottery and painted frescoes that shed light on a salient feature of Etruscan culture: they valued men and women equally. This image of the "Bride and Groom", the so-called "Sarcophagus of the Spouses", found in the Etruscan necropolis in Cerveteri is one of the great masterpieces of Etruscan art. It is almost life-size. It clearly shows that men and women were held in equal status. The piece is now located in the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia in Rome.

          this is a superb article for the BBC by Joel Balsam

UNESCO and the Etruscans
Etruscan Necropolises of Cerveteri and Tarquinia

UNESCO has taken note of the Etruscan civilization and published literature on why parts of Tuscany are
in their list of World Heritage Sites. For example:

These two large Etruscan cemeteries reflect different types of burial practices from the 9th to the 1st century BC, and bear witness to the achievements of Etruscan culture, which over nine centuries developed the earliest urban civilization in the northern Mediterranean. Some of the tombs are monumental, cut in rock and topped by impressive tumuli (burial mounds)... They provide the only surviving evidence of Etruscan residential architecture. The necropolis of Tarquinia, also known as Monterozzi, contains 6,000 graves cut in the rock... The necropolises of Tarquinia and Cerveteri are masterpieces of creative genius: Tarquinia's large-scale wall paintings are exceptional both for their formal qualities and for their content, which reveal aspects of life, death, and religious beliefs of the ancient Etruscans.
[There is much more at the UNESCO link, below.]

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