After several days of marinating in the sweet life we found ourselves ready to delve into the ancient history of Tuscany and its namesake: the Etruscans. On a quest, we set off in a southward direction on the A1 to the village of Chiusi (population 8,600) and entered the National Etruscan Museum and Tombs to gain a deeper appreciation for the Etruria peoples who inhabited Tuscany between 800-200BC. The museum maintains a small but excellent collection of artifacts that were extracted from the Etruscan tombs located just outside the village walls.
The Etruscans were a great civilization and Chiusi (Chianciano in Italian) was one of its most important cities, with thriving commercial and agricultural endeavors (including wine making). There is an ongoing debate about the origins of the Etruscans. Some say they were aboriginal peoples and others say they migrated from Asia (e.g., present day Turkey). However, the mystery of their origins is tied to the mystery of Tuscany’s wine! Whether the grapes were brought from Asia by the Etruscans or they were a wild, native crop already living on the land, the cultivation of grapes became a central part of Etruscan agriculture.
The Etruscans were also expert Mediterranean seafaring people and routinely traded with the Greeks who influenced their art (e.g., frescoes, bronze work, mosaics, and terra cotta figurines), cultural, and religious traditions. I was struck by the innovation of 3-dimensional figures in their terracotta work (remember, this was long before the Italian Renaissance came on the scene to the north of us in Florence) and their beautiful design sensibility.
Located to its south, Rome centralized its governing power and eventually became no match for the less organized Etruscan government leading to their defeat in the Roman-Etruscan Wars around 265BC and over time the Etruscans were assimilated into the Roman Republic.
Evidence suggests that it was the Etruscans who taught the Romans the alphabet and numerals, along with many elements of architecture, art, religion, and dress. The Etruscans also helped to improve Roman building practices and it is to them that the Romans owe their talent for building aqueducts and sewers. Which means we owe much of modern-day society to the Etruscans, as well as our wine!