The Full Wiki

Etruscan religion: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


(Redirected to Etruscan mythology article)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Etruscan mural of the God Typhon, from Tarquinia.
Reconstruction of an Etruscan temple, Museo di Villa Giulia, Rome. It is heavily influenced by studies of the Temple of Apollo at Portonaccio (Veio)

The Etruscans were a diachronically continuous population speaking a distinct language and practicing a distinctive culture that ranged over the Po Valley and some of its alpine slopes, southward along the west coast of Italy, most intensely in Etruria, with enclaves as far south as Campania, and inland into the Appennine mountains, during the period of earliest European writing in the Mediterranean Iron Age, in the second two quarters of the first millennium BC. Their prehistory can be traced with certainty to about 1000 BC. During their floruit of about 500 BC they were a significant maritime power with a presence in Sardinia and the Aegean Sea. At first influential in the formation and conduct of the Roman monarchy they came to oppose the Romans during the Roman Republic, entered into military conflict with it, were defeated, politically became part of the republic and integrated into Roman culture. The Etruscans had both a religion and a supporting mythology. Many Etruscan beliefs, customs and divinities became part of Roman culture, including the Roman pantheon.

The Etruscans believed that their religion had been revealed to them in early days by seers,[1] the two main ones being Tages and Vegoia. A number of canonical works on their teaching were written in Etruscan and survived until the middle centuries of the 1st millennium AD, when they were destroyed by the ravages of time and by Christian elements in Roman society. After defeating the Etruscans the Romans, whose original population had included significant Etruscan elements, did not harbor ill-will against them but the Senate voted to adopt the key elements of their revealed religion. It was in practice long after the general Etruscan population had forgotten the language and was perpetuated by haruspices and members of the noble families at Rome who knew Etruscan and claimed an Etruscan descent. In the last years of the Roman Republic the religion began to fall out of favor and was satirized by such notable public figures as Marcus Tullius Cicero. The Julio-Claudians, especially Claudius, who claimed a remote Etruscan descent, perpetuated an obscure knowledge of the language and religion for a short time longer, and then it was lost.


Polytheistic belief system

The Etruscan system of belief was an immanent polytheism; that is, all visible phenomena were considered to be a manifestation of divine power and that power was subsided into deities that acted continually on the world of man and could be dissuaded or persuaded in favor of human affairs. Seneca the Younger said[2] (long after the assimilation of the Etruscans) that the difference between "us" (the population of the Roman Empire) and the Etruscans was that

Whereas we believe lightning to be released as a result of the collision of clouds, they believe that the clouds collide so as to release lightning: for as they attribute all to deity, they are led to believe not that things have a meaning in so far as they occur, but rather that they occur because they must have a meaning.

Three layers are evident in the extensive Etruscan art motifs concerning religion. One appears to be divinities of an indigenous nature: Catha and Usil, the sun, Tivr, the moon, Selvans, a civil god, Turan, the goddess of love, Laran, the god of war, Leinth, the goddess of death, Maris, Thalna, Turms and the god Fufluns, whose name is related in some unknown way to the city of Populonia and the populus Romanus.

Ruling over this pantheon of lesser deities were higher ones that seem to reflect the Indo-European system: Tin or Tinia, the sky, Uni his wife (Juno), and Cel, the earth goddess. As a third layer the Greek gods were taken into the Etruscan system: Aritimi (Artemis), Menrva (Minerva; Latin equivalent of Athena), and Pacha (Bacchus; Latin equivalent of Dionysus) during the Etruscan Orientalizing Period of 750/700-600 BCE.[3]

Prophets and prophecy


Etrusca Disciplina

The Etruscan religion was a revealed one. Its scriptures were a corpus of Etruscan texts termed the Etrusca Disciplina. This name appears fully in Valerius Maximus[4] but Marcus Tullius Cicero in the later Roman Republic refers to a disciplina in his writings on the subject. Massimo Pallottino summarizes the known (but non-extant) scriptures as the Libri Haruspicini, stating the theory and rules of divination from animal entrails, the Libri Fulgurales, of which the topic was divination from lightening strikes and the Libri Rituales. The latter were composed of the Libri Fatales, expressing the religiously correct methods of founding cities and shrines, draining fields, formulating laws and ordinances, measuring space and dividing time; the Libri Acherontici, dealing with the hereafter and the Libri Ostentaria, rules for interpreting prodigies. The revelations of the prophet Tages were given in the Libri Tagetici, which included the Libri Haruspicini and the Acherontici, and those of the prophetess Vegoia in the Libri Vegoici, which included the Libri Fulgurales and part of the Libri Rituales.[5]

These works did not present prophecies or scriptures in the ordinary sense; the Etrusca Disciplina foretold nothing itself. The Etruscans appear to have had no systematic ethics or religion and no great visions. Instead they concentrated on the problem of God's will: if God created the universe and man and has a will and a plan for everyone and everything in it, why did he not devise a system for communicating that will in a clear manner?

The Etruscans totally accepted the inscrutability of God's will. They did not attempt to rationalize or explain why he does anything or put any doctrines in his intent. As answer to the problem of ascertaining his will they developed an elaborate system of divination; that is, God offers a perpetual stream of signs in the events and phenomena of daily life, and if only read rightly they can direct man's affairs at any level of detail, private or public. The will revealed in this manner may not be otherwise understandable and may not be pleasant or easy but can only be doubted at the peril of the questioner. The Etrusca Disciplina therefore was mainly a set of rules for the conduct of divination of all sorts; Pallottino calls it a religious and political "constitution." It does not dictate what laws shall be made or how men are to behave, but rather elaborates rules for asking God these questions more directly and receiving answers no matter how incredible. Cicero said[6]

For a hasty acceptance of an erroneous opinion is discreditable in any case, and especially so in an inquiry as to how much weight should be given to auspices, to sacred rites, and to religious observances; for we run the risk of committing a crime against the gods if we disregard them, or of becoming involved in old women's superstition if we approve them.

He then quipped, regarding divination from the singing of frogs:

Who could suppose that frogs had this foresight? And yet they do have by nature some faculty of premonition, clear enough of itself, but too dark for human comprehension.

History of the discipline

Divinatory inquiries according to discipline were conducted by priests whom the Romans called haruspices or sacerdotes. Tarquinii had a college of 60 of them.[5] The Etruscans, as evidenced by the inscriptions, used several words: capen (Sabine cupencus), maru (Umbrian maron-), eisnev, hatrencu (priestess). They called the art of haruspicy zich nethsrac.

Religious practices

Rare Etruscan fanu located at Orvieto.

The Etruscans believed in intimate contact with divinity.[7] They did nothing without proper consultation with the gods and signs from them.[8] These practices were taken over in total by the Romans. A god was called an ais (later eis) which in the plural is aisar. Where they were was a fanu or luth, a sacred place, such as a favi, a grave or temple. There one would need to make a fler (plural flerchva) "offering".

Around the mun or muni, the tombs[citation needed], were the man or mani (Latin Manes), the souls of the ancestors. In iconography after the 5th century BC, the deceased are shown traveling to the underworld.[9] In several instances of Etruscan art, such as in the Francois Tomb, a spirit of the dead is identified by the term hinthial (literally "(one who is) underneath"). A special magistrate, the cechase, looked after the cecha, or rath, sacred things. Every man, however, had his religious responsibilities, which were expressed in an alumnathe or slecaches, a sacred society. No public event was conducted without the netsvis, the haruspex, or his female equivalent, the nethsra. They read the bumps on the liver of a properly sacrificed sheep. We have a model of a liver made of bronze, whose religious significance is still a matter of heated debate, marked into sections which perhaps are meant to explain what the bump in that region should mean. Divination through haruspicy is a tradition originating from the Fertile Crescent.[7]

Beliefs of the hereafter

Etruscan beliefs concerning the hereafter appear to be a compound accumulation of beliefs from different historical influences. The Etruscans shared in the general early Mediterranean belief, such as the Egyptian, that survival in the hereafter and prosperity there depend on the treatment of the deceased's remains here.[10] Etruscan tombs imitated domestic structures and were characterized by spacious chambers, wall paintings and grave furniture. In the tomb, especially on the sarcophagus (examples shown below), was a representation of the deceased in his or her prime, often with spouse. Not everyone had a sarcophagus; sometimes the deceased was laid out on a stone bench. As the Etruscans practiced mixed inhumation and cremation rites, the proportion depending on the period, a tomb might also contain urns holding the ashes and bones; in that case, the urn might be in the shape of a house or be shaped into a representation of the deceased.

In addition to the world still influenced by terrestrial affairs was a transmigrational world beyond the grave patterned after the Greek Hades[citation needed]. It was ruled by Vanth. The deceased was guided there by Charun, the equivalent of Death, who wielded a hammer and was blue. The Etruscan Hades was populated by Greek mythological figures and also a few native, such as Tuchulcha, of composite appearance.



The mythology is attested by a number of sources in different media; for example, representations on large numbers of pottery, inscriptions and engraved scenes on the Praenestine cistae (ornate boxes; see under Etruscan language) and on specula (ornate hand mirrors). Currently some two dozen fascicles of the Corpus Speculorum Etruscorum have been published. Specifically Etruscan mythological and cult figures appear in the Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae.[11] Etruscan inscriptions have recently been given a more authoritative presentation by Helmut Rix, Etruskische Texte.[12]

Mythological systems

The primary trinity included Tinia, Uni and Menrva.

List of Etruscan mythological figures


  1. ^ Cary, M.; Scullard, H. H. (1979). A History of Rome (3rd ed.). p. 24. ISBN 0312383959. 
  2. ^ Seneca the Younger. "II.32.2". Naturales Quaestiones. 
  3. ^ Dates from De Grummond & Simon (2006), p. vii.
  4. ^ Maximus, Valerius. "1.1". Factorum et Dictorum Memorabilia. 
  5. ^ a b Pallottino (1975), p. 154.
  6. ^ De Divinatio, section 4.
  7. ^ a b Pallottino (1975). p. 143. "The religiosity of the Etruscans most clearly manifested itself in the so-called 'discipline', that complex of rules regulating relations between men and gods. Its main basis was the scrupulous search for the divine will by all available means; ... the reading and interpretation of animal entrails, especially the liver ... and the interpretation of lightening" 
  8. ^ Livius, Titus. "V.1". History of Rome. "...a people more than any others dedicated to religion, the more as they excelled in practicing it." 
  9. ^ Krauskopf, I. 2006. "The Grave and Beyond." The Religion of the Etruscans. edited by N. de Grummond and E. Simon. Austin: University of Texas Press. p. 73-75.
  10. ^ Pallottino. 1975. p. 148. 
  11. ^ "An illustrated lexicon about the ancient myths". Foundation for the Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC). 2009. Retrieved 21 June 2009. 
  12. ^ Rix, Helmut, ed (1991) (in German, Etruscan). Etruskische Texte. ScriptOralia. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag. ISBN 3-8233-4240-1.  2 vols.


  • Bonfante, Giuliano; Bonfante, Larissa (2002). The Etruscan Language: an Introduction. Manchester: University of Manchester Press. ISBN 0-7190-5540-7. 
  • Bonnefoy, Yves (1992). Roman and European Mythologies. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226064557.  Translated by Wendy Doniger, Gerald Honigsblum.
  • De Grummond, Nancy Thomson (2006). Etruscan Mythology, Sacred History and Legend: An Introduction. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology. ISBN 1931707863. 
  • De Grummond, Nancy Thomson; Simon, Erika, eds. (2006), The Religion of the Etruscans (Austin: University of Texas Press), ISBN 0-292-70687-1 
  • Dennis, George (1848). The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria. London: John Murray.  Available in the Gazeteer of Bill Thayer's Website at [1]
  • Pallottino, M.; Cremina, J (Translator); Ridgway, David (Editor) (1975). The Etruscans (Revised and Enlarged ed.). Bloomington & London: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-32080-1. 
  • Richardson, Emeline Hill (1964, 1976). The Etruscans: Their Art and Civilization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226712346. 
  • Rykwert, Joseph (1988). The Idea of a Town: the Anthropology of Urban Form in Rome, Italy and the Ancient World. MIT Press. ISBN 0262680564. 
  • Swaddling, Judith, and Bonfante, Larissa (2006). Etruscan Myths. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0292706065. 
  • Thulin, Carl (1906) (in German). Die Götter des Martianus Capella und der Bronzeleber von Piacenza. Alfred Töpelmann. 

See also

External links


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address