Much of the evidence from the early Villanovan period (around 9th century B.C.) has been found in the Etruscan cemetary sites. In any culture, much information can be revealed from funerary remains and monuments including basic societal structures, art styles, wealth, and lifestyle. The Etruscans were no exception, and their necropoli provided a good amount of information for archaeologists.
The types of offerings found with the funerary the funerary urns (at this time, human remains were still being cremated) reflect the social status of the individual, and illustrate the social stratification of this period in Etruscan society. It was during this period that Etruscan society was have been egalitarian in structure, though labor was divided by gender. The men, for example, would have been the warriors, and the women would have been the homemakers.
During the 8th century B.C., greater wealth began to appear in Etruscan society, which led to the inevitable division of classes. This is demonstrated clearly in the quality of grave goods among different funerary remains. Among some, there were more extravagant goods, including metallic armor and daily goods.
It was around this time that the division of labor began to solidify as well. There were working classes made up of farmers, potters, and metal workers. This division of labor, as well as advances in technologies (carpentry, the potter’s wheel, ore extraction methods) that facilitated the amount and quality of production is what led to the boon of wealth for certain groups of Etruscans.
The societal shifts of the Etruscans were regional; different areas of the civilization advanced at different rates. The Central and Northern regions were slower to develop than Southern Etruria, which had larger population centers that had developed out of smaller settlements uniting and urbanizing.
Trade became a vital part of the Etruscan territory during the Villanovan period. When the Greeks colonized the Southern Italian coastal areas, the inevitable exchange of goods, knowledge, and resources began. Chief among the colonies that traded with the Etruscan centers was Pithekoussai (which colonized around 775 B.C.). It was a large commercial center that worked to serve the other Greek colonies as well as Southern Etruria.
Heading into the 8th century B.C., trade became lively and accounted for the continued stratification of Etruscan society. The vast mineral deposits throughout the regions of Etruria provided a great deal of material wealth to the higher Etruscan classes, but also served to make sea trade explode in Etruria.
As we can see, the Villanovan period was a turning point for the young Etruscan culture. Society began to stratify, wealth bloomed, and culture began to develop through the influence of the Greek settlers along the Southern Italian coast. In part 3, we will look at the Orientalizing period, where art and culture exploded, thanks to the influence of neighbors to the East.