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Ancient Etruscan

19842 Architectural Relief Depicting The Gigantomachy
Architectural Relief Depicting the Gigantomachy (Battle between Gods and Giants), 3rd–2nd century BCE. Etruscan. Katherine K. Adler Memorial Fund.
Also known as
Etruscan

The Etruscans were an ancient civilization that flourished in Italy beginning in the seventh century BCE. Based in Etruria, a territory just north of Rome, Etruscan civilization reached its cultural and economic peak around the sixth to fifth centuries BCE, and was fully overtaken by the Romans by the second century BCE.

The majority of what is known today about Etruscan culture comes from the artistic and archaeological record, including approximately 13,000 inscriptions preserved on locally produced and imported goods. These inscriptions suggest that the Etruscans actively engaged in trade with a number of ancient cultures in the Mediterranean world and beyond, particularly Greece, Egypt, Phoenicia, and Assyria. Such commercial exchange introduced foreign styles, subjects, and artistic forms into Etruscan culture, yet the Etruscans also maintained their own distinctive artistic traditions. 

The Etruscans were master metalsmiths. Ready access to copper and iron, which were abundant in Etruria, led to the widespread production of small, finely crafted bronze objects that served both decorative and functional purposes. These included incense burners, lamp stands, mirrors, garment pins, vessels, and chests for women’s cosmetics and toiletries. Such objects were widely exported throughout the Mediterranean world, attesting to the popularity of Etruscan bronze goods.

From around the seventh through the fifth centuries BCE, the Etruscans produced a unique local style of pottery, known as Bucchero ware, which is identified by its shiny black surface that resembles the appearance of metal. At the same time, Etruscans actively collected contemporary Greek pottery, producing painted vases of their own that evoked Greek forms and styles while using local materials.

The Etruscans were also highly accomplished at producing sculptures in terracotta. The lack of locally available hard stones such as marble and limestone made terracotta the preferred choice for many sculpted objects, including urns and coffins, votive heads and statuettes that served as offerings to the gods, and architectural sculptures. The latter included life-size statues of gods and figural reliefs, which adorned the edges of temple roofs.

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