Around 700 BC, the Bronze
Age people we call the Villanovans began
to be influenced by the Greeks
who were sailing around the Mediterranean. They began to do things the
way the Greeks and the Phoenicians did them. Historians call these people
the Etruscans (ee-TRUSS-kins). People used to think that the Etruscans
came from someplace in West Asia,
because the Greek historian Herodotus
tells a story about some people from West Asia, the Lydians,
who might have been the Etruscans. He says that these people fell on
hard times, and didn't have enough to eat. Now these people loved to
gamble with dice. So they
decided to only eat on even days, and on the odd days they would gamble,
to take their minds off how hungry they were! But the famine went on
for years, and Herodotus says that after a while these people decided
that half of them should go look for a better place to live. So historians
thought maybe these were the Etruscans. But now we think that the Etruscans
always lived in Italy.
The Etruscans lived mainly in northern Italy. Because they were learning from the Greeks and the Phoenicians, they learned how to do a lot of things that the Latins living around Rome didn't know how to do yet. The Etruscans built cities with stone walls. They built big stone temples and they put big statues in them. They dug canals and ditches to irrigate (bring water to) their fields. They had organized governments with kings. Soon some of the other people in Italy began to copy the Etruscan ways of doing things.
About the same time as the Etruscans, a lot of Greeks also came to make Greek colonies. At first they were probably mainly trading posts, but later Greek people settled down there and began farming. The Greeks settled in southern Italy, where they took over most of the Etruscan land there. The Greeks founded the city of Naples, which became an important port (and it still is today).
The Etruscans traded a great deal with the Greeks and with the Phoenicians. The Etruscans sent lumber, furs, and probably slaves to the East. They bought jewelry, spices, perfume, and Greek vases from the East. Most of the Greek vases we have in museums today were found in Italy, in the tombs of the Etruscans!
The city of Rome lay between the northern and southern parts of Italy where the Etruscans lived. Because it was a good place to cross the Tiber river, the Etruscans wanted to control it. For a while, Rome may have been under the rule of Etruscan kings. These kings, like other Etruscan kings, made people build strong stone walls and stone temples and canals for water.
Vulca the Etruscan, by Roberta Angeletti (1999). For kids.
The Etruscans, by Don Nardo (2004). For kids.
Hands-On Ancient People, Volume 2: Art Activities about Minoans, Mycenaeans, Trojans, Ancient Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans, by Yvonne Merrill (2004). For kids.
The Etruscans, by Graeme Barker and Tom Rasmussen (2000). A good general account.
The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000-264 BC), by Tim Cornell (1995). A little more specialized.
More on Etruscan architecture
or Etruscan art or Etruscan
More Roman history