Etrusca-who?

It's hard not to write about food every time I hope on this blog. Let's just say, I'm a closet food fanatic. But today, I'm resisting temptation and writing about my other great love - the Etruscans. I'll be the first to admit that I'd never heard of the Etruscans before I came to the Maremma. Maybe it was youthful naivety or a dodgy Australian education - we barely learn our own history, let alone others! But whatever the reason, this ancient civilisation was not in my vocabulary. The other day, I was writing away when I stumbled across George Dennis - a British explorer who explored Etruria in 1842-1843, discovering many of the Etruscan archaeological sites that are now open to tourists What struck me about Dennis was that he was a self-taught polyglot who rarely received the recognition he deserved for his writings on the Etruscans because of his lack of formal education. Then again, if you ask the Maremmani, they'll probably tell you he got what he deserved. Most are none to happy that Dennis came to their home and nicked all the best archaeological treasures to take back to British museums. But that's a story for another time. It's such a shame that so few people know about the Etruscans. The Romans were amazingly successful in their widespread genocide of the Etruscans in the 1st century BCE. It was pretty much a 'join us or die' situation. The Etruscans that weren't killed, were assimilated into the Roman Empire, only to have their memory wiped from the landscape. Before that, the Etruscans were a cultured and sophisticated population, which made them easy targets for the Romans! They lived primarily in what is now modern Tuscany from the 9th century BCE, or thereabouts, to the Roman invasion. Etruria was divided into a series of major cities or tribes. When the Romans arrived, the Etruscans largely fought separately, rather than banding together, and the Romans simply picked them off, one by one. I could write about the Etruscans all day, but for this post, I think I'll just stick to Etruscan culture. The Etruscans excelled in the Arts, music and literature, something they learnt from their Greek neighbours, along with wine making. Almost every modern Maremman museum has a section dedicated to Etruscan art. If you visit the archaeological museum in Pitigliano, you can see big, intact black vases called 'buccheri'. These vases were one of a kind because they were black both inside and out. To achieve this, the Etruscans would cook their clay pots without oxygen. In Scansano, there's a model of an Etruscan sandal. It's not exactly art, but it's still beautiful - made out of one block of lacquered wood with leather straps. The sandals were so revolutionary, the Greeks took them home and copied them! Almost all of what we know about the Etruscans stems from necropolises. The Etruscans buried their dead in huge stone chambers with every object the dead person was likely to use in the afterlife. The Etruscans practised polytheism and their burial rites were very similar to the Ancient Egyptians, believing their dead needed to live as opulently in death as they had in life. For archaeologists, this was a win! Everyday Etruscan life was recreated in these tombs. Richly coloured murals of scenes from mythology and real life were painted on the walls. Names were engraved on tombs, providing examples of the Etruscan's unique and advanced language. Burial chambers were found filled with ornate jewellery and beautifully toys... and weapons, which showed just how talented the Etruscan craftsmen were. The Etruscans were an incredible civilisation. And, I might be a little biased, but they get extra points in my books because their women had equal, if not higher, standings than their men in the home, business and even land ownership. It's like an ancient suffrage!

Elisa Scarton Detti

Elisa is an Australian journalist who came to Tuscany for a year, fell in love (how cliché?) and decided to stick around. Not one to keep amazing holiday destinations to herself, she now writes a blog and travel guide about the infinitely beautiful Tuscany.

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