What is Etruscan Revival Jewellery? Who Were the Etruscans?

What is Etruscan Revival Jewellery? Who Were the Etruscans?



© Met. Museum

This post will answer these questions:

1. Who were the Etruscans?

2. Where and when did the Etruscans live?

3. How did the Etruscans live? 

4. Which came first the Etruscan or Roman civilisations?

5. What is Etruscan Revival jewellery? 

6. Why were the Victorians so fascinated by the Etruscans?



J Paul Getty Museum 

 Who were the Etruscans? 

The Etruscan civilization was one of the greatest the world has ever seen. Centuries before Rome became powerful the Etruscan elite presided over a civilization with trading links that rivalled the Phoenicians and Greeks. Their architecture and arts were as sophisticated as the Greeks. They possessed wealth similar to that of Egypt. It is said that originally the Etruscan regions were ruled by kings but like the Greeks, before them, they overthrew the kings in the 5th - 4th centuries BC, eventually replacing them with republics.

An Etruscan priest predicted that the Etruscan civilisation would last no more than 1000 years. This prediction came true. One hundred years before the birth of Christ the power of the Etruscans had gone and other civilisations would take the credit for their remarkable inventions and way of life. 

Where and when did the Etruscans live?

Three thousand years ago in central Italy in an area now known as Tuscany the era of one of the great ancient civilisations began. The first Etruscans (Bronze Age) lived in villages. Their dwellings were constructed from mud and thatch. The fertile soils and large forests provided them with all they needed. They drained the swamps and managed the land so well that it ensured them plentiful supplies of grain.

How did the Etruscans live?

The Etruscans were said to be deeply religious or superstitious people. Before the influence of the Greeks, the Etruscans worshipped natural phenomena and gods centred around the moon and the sun. The Hellenic gods appear to have been adopted by the Etruscans, although they gave them different names. The Etruscans worshipped many gods. The Hellenic influence saw the Etruscans adopt the Greek gods, Apollo, Hercules and Persephone as their own.

The Etrusca Disciplina were scriptures defining how people should live. Natural events like the weather, behaviour of animals and birds would be subject to interpretation. Ritual sacrifice of animals would take place so that the priests could read their entrailsEven the foundation of cities would be laid out according to religiously correct methods. The Etruscan priests formed a theocracy and only they could interpret what the gods wanted. Consequently, they had enormous powder and they were consulted about most decisions. 

Eventually the Romans would adopt Etruscan rituals as their own. Etruscan sporting events would take place at the locations best known for religious festivals. Javelin, discus throwing, wrestling, chariot races and gladiatorial combat were all Etruscan sports which gained popularity in Rome.

It was the Romans who named them the Etrusci. They called themselves the Rasenna. The region of Tuscany is named after the Etrusci, as it was one of their power bases. Tuscany was rich in mineral deposits and the Etruscans grew wealthy from mining. The deposits of silver were the largest in Europe. The ruling elite also became wealthy from mining lands which were rich in iron and copper.

© AlMare

By the 9 century the Etruscans had established small hill villages and society had become more complex. The dwellings of the most wealthy citizens were ornately decorated villas. The Villanovan era saw wealthy Etruscans bury their dead in lavishly decorated necropolises. Everyday utensils, armour and jewels were interred with the dead. Luxurious items made by the Greeks and Phoenicians have been found in the necropolises giving us evidence that there were regular seafaring trading links with other civilisations.


Like the Egyptians, the Etruscans believed in the afterlife. The necropolises were cities of the dead, with walkways and miniature domed houses which served as ornate family tombs. These tombs were lavishly decorated with frescoes and every type of utensil the deceased might need in the afterlife in plaster reliefs on the walls and columns. The dead were buried with collections of pottery, furniture and items of sentimental value.

Warriors would be buried with their armour and weapons.

In death the Etruscans were elevated to the level of a spirit god. The living worshipped their ancestors and believed that they should honour them to guarantee their own good fortune.  

The Etruscans were a dominant seafaring nation which the Greeks described as pirates but in truth they were only doing as the Greeks did. Piracy was a danger to all nations and one way to protect your fleet and goods was to have the fastest fleet. When other nations relied on single sail ships the Etruscans developed ships fitted with a fore sail. Two sails ensured that their fleets were the fastest. 

A recent discovery buried in the sea bed near France is an Etruscan ship which carried over 30 tonnes of wine. Yes, the Etruscans were wine producers and they even exported wine to the French, who were then known as the Gauls.

Within a few hundred years the Etruscans would become the fastest growing economy in Europe due to the wealth created by mining. Their technical skills and the discovery of iron made the development of tools, such as the axe and the plough possible which allowed them to practise intensive agriculture. This gave them more than one crop growing phase throughout the year. Forests were cleared to make way for more agricultural land.

By the 7th - 6th centuries BC the villages had grown from towns into magnificent city states in grid formations with running water, sewage systems, paved roads, aqueducts and temples. Up to 25,000 people would inhabit the city states, which was a huge population for this era. The Etruscans built canals and roads and established hill top cities when the Romans were still living in mud huts. In the 6th century BC the owners of the mines had become aristocrats. The middle class was well established and it consisted of merchants, traders and craftsmen. 

It was the Etruscans who created many inventions that have long been thought to be those of the Romans.


Copyright British Museum

The wealthy elite collected art and jewellery. 




Copyright British Museum.

The city states appear to have been independent from each other and sometimes wars would break out between them, as they were fiercely competitive. 

However, the most powerful city states formed The League Of Twelve Peoples c.600BC. 

At the height of the Etruscan civilisation 750 - 450 BC they founded the cities known today such as Pisa and Bologna. For centuries the Etruscans were the prevailing powder in the region. 


Copyright British Museum


Liberated female population:

Compared to their neighbours, Etruscan women were remarkably liberated. Unlike Roman and Greek women the Etruscans were not considered chattels of their husbands. They could own property, transfer property and assets, make bequests, socialise and drink wine just like their male counterparts. This is said to have scandalised neighbouring tribes whose women were not permitted to socialise as freely as men. Etruscan women also featured as religious leaders. It was not uncommon for them to be Oracles or Priestesses. Leaders would consult the oracles when making political / important decisions.



© Sailko




Etruscan Military

In the Villanovan era Etruscan warriors rewarded for their bravery became the elite ruling class. The warriors were clad in bronze armour and equipped with iron tipped weapons. Horse drawn chariots, mounted warriors and foot soldiers fought alongside each other in what was more like a mêlée than organised and disciplined troops. 

The Hellenic influence spread to armed combat, weaponry and armour. By the 6th century BC the Etruscan armies were organised into phalanxes of heavily armed warriors backed up by mounted warriors and less well armed foot soldiers who were most likely not professional soldiers. The organisational skills, vast wealth and desire for expansion would see the Etruscans rule most of the Italian peninsula. 



Picture published by Guillaume Rouille 16th century


In 616 BC an Etruscan nobleman, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, from Tarquinia was crowned the first Etruscan King of Rome. He reigned from 616 to 579 BC.  He introduced sanitation systems to Rome, organised the Roman army to subjugate the neighbouring tribes and ordered grand architectural structures to be built.

Etruria was famous for its organised athletic games, athletes and chariot races. Lucius Tarquinius summoned athletes and charioteers from Etruria to Rome and built the Circus Maximus, where the games and races took place. The Romans were being introduced to the favourite pastimes of the Etruscans. These leisure activities would later become thought of as Roman traditions. 

The royal lineage would last for two generations until Tarquinius Superbus was exiled for his tyranny.

Rome then became a republic. 

In 396 BC the Roman republic under the leadership of Marcus Furius Camillus conquered and sacked the Etruscan city of Veii. The other Etruscan city states were seemingly not alarmed, as they saw Veii as a rival. This was the undoing of the Etruscans. Bitter rivalry between the city states meant that they did not join together to form a powerful army to keep the Romans from invading.

Over the next few centuries Rome took over more and more of the Etruscan lands. Many of the city states had suffered repeated incursions from the Gauls which weakened them tremendously. The Romans knew it was only a matter of time before these valuable lands and the vast wealth of the Etrusci would be theirs. Only when it was too late did the city states realise they needed to be a cohesive force to prevent the Roman expansion.

In 298 BC the Etruscans, Gauls & Samnites joined to push back the Roman advance but they were defeated. 

While many Etruscans were killed by the Romans, others were assimilated into Roman society and so were their traditions, culture and art.

The Romans are seen as the greatest power of the ancient world and many inventions have been credited to them which were in fact those belonging to the Etruscans. Roman numerals were Etruscan numerals first.




What is Etruscan Revival jewellery?

In the nineteenth century excavations had revealed the great Etruscan necropolises, which were adorned with beautiful frescos, jewellery and everyday items for use in the afterlife. The intricately wrought gold jewellery was ornamented with tiny gold beads, filigree work and gems. 

Wealthy Victorians saw images of these archaeological finds and commissioned jewellers to make replicas. Victorians adored the Egyptian and Greek styles and their fascination for ancient jewellery naturally meant that they were in awe of Etruscan jewellery unearthed from the necropolises. European and British royalty and nobility commissioned earrings, brooches, lockets and sets of matching pieces.

Queen Victoria's long mourning of her dear departed Albert created a fascination for mourning jewellery and so these pieces retrieved from necropolises became immensely popular. 

Why were the Victorians so fascinated by the Etruscans?

In 19th century England the Grand Tour was a fashionable way to educate young upper class gentlemen prior to marriage. Some gentlewomen also completed the Grand Tour but they would have been chaperoned. The Grand Tour could last years or a mere couple of months. Popular destinations were France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy. The Renaissance treasures, literature and art attracted many in search of a well rounded education, as did the history of ancient Rome. Victorian travellers, writers and adventurers found that their written material which focused on the mysteries of the Etruscans was hugely popular. Their descriptions of Etruscan cities, landscapes, necropolis and jewellery inspired wealthy Victorians who commissioned their jewellers to create gorgeous pieces which became known as Etruscan Revival Jewellery.

Gold jewellery has been sought-after and cherished throughout history.

Gem set gold, filigree, granulation, semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli, malachite and designs which feature layer upon layer epitomised the Etruscan Revival style.



Kings and Generals