Etruscan Romanization: The end of the powerful and mysterious ancient culture

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A map showing the extent of Etruria and the Etruscan civilization; the map includes the 12 cities of the Etruscan League and notable cities founded by the Etruscans.

The brief but unimpressive Etruscan recovery in the 4th century B.C. was not quite enough to stave off a future superpower: the Romans.

At the end of the 5th century B.C., an understated recovery of the Etruscan economy began to take place. Small-scale trading of pottery with the Greeks began again, but nothing like the scale of days gone by. Craft production also resurged. And, there was building again. Temples, fortification walls, and homes began to be constructed with the previous care and attention to artistic detail that have made the Etruscans such a fascinating force of ancient history.

Most importantly, a real economy for the Etruscans emerged, in the form of the first-ever coinage. The confidence in the Etruscan economy that allowed for coinage led to a new aristocracy. This aristocracy was no longer exhibited by the privately held rituals of the past, such as banquets and funerals. Rather, public political office became the symbol of status of the high-class Etruscan, like so many other cultures in ancient history.

The Road to Civil War

The Etruscan League of Cities, made up of 12 of the most powerful city-states in the region, was led by Tarquinia. This league started stretching its military wings early on, getting involved with Athenian military conflicts, as well as an Etruscan rebellion against Rome.

However, this minor renewal of economic, political, and cultural power was not enough to make Etruria invulnerable to the inevitable. Inner economic and social conflicts of the past still haunted the region, along with the Gallic invasions in several Etruscan centers (from the end of the 5th century through the 4th century B.C.). This eventually led the Etruscans to fall victim to the ultimate aggressor – Rome.

Rome had been gradually developing itself as a force to be reckoned with, and began its expansion into Etruscan territories in 396 B.C., when it conquered the city of Veii. Rome continued to conquer Etruscan cities one by one, despite counterattacks and last ditch efforts by the Etruscans to revolt. By the mid 3rd century B.C., much of Etruria had been sacked by Rome.

Despite all of the conquering by Rome, the Etruscans remained surprisingly loyal to her; even fighting alongside the Romans during was with Carthage. There were the predictable rumored plots of revolt among the cities, but none ever materialized.

Civil wars among the Etruscan cities erupted around 83 B.C., when the Etruscans sided with Marius, a bitter opponent of Roman general and eventual dictator Sulla. Sulla was victorious, and was quite vengeful against the Etruscan cities (or what was left of them) that fought against him. He took out his anger on them by placing restrictions on the privileges of Roman citizenship, and by commandeering chunks of Etruscan territory for his own men. He also forced starvation on many of the Etruscan rebels.

Romanization

Etruscan society never recovered, and the inevitable assimilation into Roman society took place. The old Etruscan ruling classes suffered suppression for many years. But, by the time of the Emperor Augustus (27 B.C.), some of the members of the Etruscan aristocracy were incorporated into the new Roman political structure.

There was much appreciation by the Romans of the great Etruscan culture, as well as a great thirst by the old Etruscans themselves to remember their good old days. Memorials were erected to great Etruscan leaders in their old city centers. And Roman scholars collected historical documents, and worked to reconstruct Etruscan events and family histories to pay homage to their historical roots. Thus was the official end of the history great and mysterious Etruscan culture.