If I am allowed to speak for myself, as well as for other antiquity fans and archaeologists, the Etruscans were one of the ancient world’s greatest civilisations.
According to the traditions recorded by the Greek historian Herodotus, the Lydians were afflicted by a famine among their people during the 13th-12th century B.C. They were geographically at home in western Turkey and its offshore islands at that time.
The Lydian people were divided into two groups under King Atys. Under the command of the king’s son Tyreus, half of the population sailed in a westward direction to the area of modern Tuscany and a new age began here. They developed their own culture and civilization, and Tyreus became the king and leader of the new Etruria.
The Etruria of the twelve cities was an alliance of autonomous and yet interdependent city-states, each of which had its own king and shaman as its leaders. Each city made its own contribution to this alliance of the twelve, which created a symbiosis among them.
The Etrurians had a very substantial cultural and geographic influence. The city of Rome was even ruled by the Etrurians in the 6th century B.C. Each Etrurian king was a combination of general and judge. After a total of seven Etrurian kings, the Roman people had enough of this government and wanted a republic. They resisted the Etrurian rulers, drove them out of the city and transformed Rome into a republic.
Who were these Etrurians? Come with us on a journey to the Etruria of the 3rd century B.C., a time when this country’s inhabitants were at the zenith of their development.
We all have images in our heads, which is also true when we hear the name of Rome! To many people, ancient Rome is a symbol for the civilisation at the beginning of all cultures, republics and empires…
Please forget all of this. The story told here is not related to this Great Rome that we know today. It is set at a time about 280 years before Christ. Rome was an independent city with dreams but also still quite cautious and fearful because:
Very strong Greek colonies lurked in the south and twelve rich Etrurian cities existed in the north. Further in the north, on the fertile Po Plain, the Romans had to watch out for the Gallic and Germanic villages. Although Rome was ambitious at this time, we would say that it was just an outsider by today’s standards.
You are certain to ask how this relates to the Etruscans. Please be patient, dear reader. Now we will go to the Etruscans, or actually to their roots in the Etrurians. The Etrurians were or are a people to whom the word civilisation was foreign. They found it much more important to live in the now, quite like the native inhabitants of North America. The Etrurians loved handicrafts, nature and the family. They had seers and shamans and already practiced equality between man and woman. They knew that death is not final. The tombs that they constructed for their dead were larger and more splendid than their own homes.
Open your mind and we will take a little journey through the Etruria of this time:
I Casira / Caere
The journey to its twelve cities began northwards from Rome, and the best route was along the coast. It reached the first Etrurian city of Casira about 30 kilometres to the north. The Romans called it Caere.
II Tarquinii / Tarchuna
After taking the northward coastal pathway for about another 40 kilometres to a river and following its course for about five kilometres inland, we come to Tarquinii, as the Romans called it. It was the city of the cities. The natives – who built most of the ships and made the sails – gave the name of Tarchuna to their secret capital. Etruria actually did not have a capital city, but Tarchuna thought of itself as the heart of the region because of the city’s wealth, the significance of its military and its strategic position in the Central Italy of antiquity. In short, Tarchunans were a bit arrogant due to their importance in matters of politics and prosperity.
III Vulci / Velcha
Further northwards – another 30 kilometres along the coast and about ten kilometres inland – was Vulci, as the Romans called it. The city was given the name of Velcha in Etrurian. It was a beautiful city, located on a lively river that provided enough water for the huge fields of grain. In terms of its surface and residents, the city had immense dimensions. Velcha was protected on two sides: by the river on one side and by a gigantic city wall on the other. The wall was both forbidding and hewn of lovely tuffstone.
IV Volsinii / Velzna
Further along in the journey, it was necessary to head 40 kilometres inland in a north-eastern direction towards an old volcano. After another ten kilometres to the east along the road, the real centre and the heart of Etruria was somewhat concealed. This is where the kings, shamans and spiritualists of that age met to celebrate, hold counsel and make sacrifices to the gods. The Romans called it Volsinii, but it was Velzna to the Etrurians.
V Perusia / Phersna
About 50 kilometres to the northeast, the route goes to the somewhat more rugged Perusia or Phersna, as the natives of that time called it. The city had a strategic position in the upper Tiber Valley. Its city walls were made of travertine and extended over an entire three kilometres with two large monumental gateways that made a strong impression.
VI Clusium / Clevsin
The route from Phersna continued through rough terrain for about 45 kilometres in a westerly direction and ran over hill after hill to Clusium. The Etrurians called it Clevsin. The city’s founding was attributed to a prince by the name of Cluso. He established the city on a hill to the west of the Chiana River. Clevsin was a handicraft city and trading hub for the interior of Etruria. It was famous for its Buccero crockery and ivory carvings, but also valued its musicians and held some sporting competitions.
VII Cortona / Curtun
Cortona or Curtun, as the Etrurians it called, was 30 kilometres to the north. It was situated in the foothills of the Sant’Egidio Mountain in the middle of the fertile Chiana Valley and famous for its bronze sculptures that stood in almost every Etrurian city of this time.
VIII Arretium / Aritim
Dear reader, we continue for about 25 kilometres in a northern direction to Aritim. Sitting sleepily on a hill where the Chiara Valley meets a little mountain massif, it had an abundance of gold and an ideal geographic location. It controlled the passage into the north and the travel of the Celts, Umbrians and Teutons into the south when they went from the Po Plain to the Tiber Valley. The royal family in Aritim was not as wise as the other kings of Etruria. Because they did not listen to their shamans and seers, tensions continued to rise in its metal and clay manufacturing. The population wanted a voice in the shaping of politics and civic issues. These tensions were no secret to the other eleven cities.
IX Volaterrae / Velathri
Volaterrae, or Velathri for the Etrurians, was found another 85 kilometres to the northwest. The city was located at a rather lofty elevation and the path to this very high – if not even the highest hill of Etruria – was almost endlessly long. Stretching over 7.5 kilometres in length, the city walls were also imposing. Volaterrae was very impressive and at the zenith of its development during this time. It had a type of acropolis and a large temple complex. Its necropolis, the city of the dead, reached far under the mountain. There was also a necropolis outside of Velathri, but it was reserved solely for the warriors, who were buried here with all honours.
The city itself was one of the most diverse and successful in the Etrurian League of Twelve Cities with regard to craftsmanship. It produced statuary of alabaster and marble, red and black Buccero ceramics, gold, silver and copper jewellery. The objects from that time were made of any metal that the people wanted. Even though they were far into the interior of the land, they had a little artificial lake at the foot of their hill. This is where they built ships and reached the ocean over the Ceccina River from here.
X Populonium / Pupluna
Returning from the sea, the route headed in the direction of Populonium to the south. The smoke from the chimneys of its iron smelters could already be seen from far away. The Etrurians called this city Pupluna-Fufluna, associating its name with the wine god Fufluns. Despite its countless iron smelters that sometimes gave the blue sky a blackish grey colour, it was one of the most beautiful places in Etruria. Pupluna was known for its complex smelting techniques and the mining of copper, lead, tin and silver in the city’s backcountry. Right off the coast, the island of Ilva (Elba) provided iron ore in nearly endless amounts. Ilva means “the black dyed one” because iron was also smelted here at this time. In addition, the harbour of Pupluna was the largest and best-protected against bad weather and enemies because it was possible to survey the entire sea from the coastal city.
XI Vetulonia / Vatluna
Another 30 kilometres to the south along the coast and seven kilometres inland, the route reached Vetulonia high up on a hill. It had a number of harbours and preferred to trade with Syria, Cyprus and the big kingdom of Egypt. The city was rich and produced high-value trade goods such as silver and frankincense containers, vases with iron handles in the shape of lotus blossoms and all types of gold objects. However the city Vatluna, as it called itself, mainly made a name for itself through trade.
XII Roselle / Rosaelle
Located twenty kilometres in a south-easterly direction, Roselle was situated on a tributary of the Ombrone River. One of its large lagoons gave it access to the sea. The length of its city walls was three kilometres. The city controlled access to the heartland of Etruria, but it was poorer than the other municipalities because it was settled by farmers. They owned the large fertile plains. The fields of grain and olive plantations were the pride of Rosaelle.
The Etrurian League of Twelve Cities was geographically founded in about 980 B.C., which was before the time in which our story takes place.
Protected and bounded in the north by the Arno River, the Etrurians still possessed a few colonies further to the north, but had to retreat to south of the Arno River under the pressure of the barbarian Celts and Gauls.
In the south, the Etrurian League of Twelve Cities had the Tiber River as its boundary and this was also respected. Up until one hundred years before the time of our story, the war with the Rumans (a somewhat dismissive name that the Etrurians used for the Romans) broke out. The Etrurian kings had underestimated Rome and suffered a defeat as a result.
Although the city of Veji had been a member in the League of Twelve Cities up to that time, it was the tribute of peace to Rome. Pupluna later took its place.
But the history lesson is over now. Our story begins in Pupluna, one of the twelve Etrurian cities that had become wealthy through the production of iron and its trade.
“Thesan….Thesan…? Where are you?” Ushil, the queen, called out. Thesan was far away, sitting on a cliff and looking into the distance of the Mediterranean. But she saw even further… The mother was desperate as she inquired whether the town’s people of Pupluna had seen her daughter. As attentive as the people were, they not only knew that Thesan was a princess but also that she was a treasure for the entire Etrurian culture. Many of them subconsciously saw her as the hope for their people.
The residents directed Queen Ushil and her two accompanying sentries to the cliffs. Once they arrived there, Ushil called out several times: “Please come here, Thesan.”
But Thesan could not hear her mother because she was very far away. She was looking into the future…. Thesan cried and did not know what she saw there. But she was aware that she had to immediately speak with her grandparents. She slowly began to hear the voice of her mother: “Thesan, come here right now.”
Completely dazed as if she was waking up from a bad dream, Thesan replied, “Yes, Mother, I’m coming right away!”
Her mother asked in disbelief: “Didn’t you hear me? I’ve been calling you the whole time!”
“I know that you have been especially chosen by our gods, but I am still concerned about you, my child. Let’s go home. Your father, our King Krankru, is coming back from Tarchuna today. He met with the other eleven kings there. I wonder what he will tell us about it.”
At that moment, a shiver ran down Thesan’s back…
Senator and patrician Chrachallus spoke to the people of Rome: “Romans and fellow countrymen, we are a small but independent people. You know that the Greeks in the south are taking a strong toll on us. But as a messenger from the south has reported, our legions – six in number – are very brave. We have excellent relations in the north with the Etrurians. Please treat our fellow Etrurian citizens with the same respect that they treat us. And I am sorry that all Romans must abstain from so many things at the moment due to the high costs of war.”
The people of Rome accepted this because they had no other choice and had already chased away a number of kings! Chrachallus talked to his centurions Lucius and Argentus who had remained at the palace after his speech: “We hope that it does not occur to the Etrurians to sweep us off the map.”
Lucius responded, “We will have to wait and see about that!”
The senator: “I respect all of your battle experience, but if the Etrurians get this idea and the twelve kings of Etruria bring us war from the north, we will be in trouble. Then the two of you – Lucius and Argentus – could perhaps buy us one or two days at most before Rome would fall back into servitude. In the worst case, Rome will be burned down and extinguished from history. Its language will be forgotten…”
Lucius and Argentus looked at each other and thought the same thing at that moment: In case he thought that this would happen at some point in the coming years, the senator had reckoned without his two centurions. Lucius, whose roots were in Etruria, loved his city of Rome above all. The freedom and beauty of Rome infatuated Lucius so very much that he sometimes even completely forgot his roots.
On the other hand, Argentus was the Germanic adopted son of a patrician family and loved Rome because he despised his own people. The Romans adored him because of his heroic deeds. There were rumours that Argentus had slayed and killed fifteen or even eighteen men before hitting the ground. Spurred on by his feats, the rest of his legion had surrounded the injured centurion and transformed defeat into a victory.
“So, Lucius,” spoke Chrachallus, “your roots are in Etruria?”
“Yes, my senator.”
Two more senators – Potzius and Rufus – had come to visit in the meantime after hearing about this meeting. Led by Rufus, they all said at once to Lucius: “Would you visit the Etrurian cities as an ambassador for Rome?”
Lucius responded: “I am a soldier, not a politician!”
Potzius spoke with emphasis: “We need your evaluation of the situation. What is the attitude of the individual cities and the population of Etruria towards us?” Senator Lucius presented him with the insignia of an ambassador of Rome. A golden armband with the engraved lettering SPQR and the eagle was to accompany him. This represented the people and the Senate of Rome. They also gave him a signet ring to let everyone know that Lucius was travelling as an ambassador of Rome. Finally, he also received twelve papyrus scrolls – one for each king of an Etrurian city. They were intended as a letter of friendship in the name of Rome to the cities of Etruria.
Lucius was somewhat uneasy about exchanging his sword for the insignia. But if this was how he could save Rome and his legion from destruction, then it was worth it. With conviction in his voice, Lucius departed from the senators and the powerful centurion with these words: “Argentus, my friend, take care of my men and train them hard. Double the weight of the shields and their equipment. In the case that I fail with my mission, our two legions must stay in good spirits and know that we will stand firm no matter what!”
Argentus responded: “I will have our legions train in their formations so that they know the positions with their eyes closed by the time you return. Do not be concerned. I will take care of your men as I take care of mine. I wish glory and honour to my friend Lucius.”
“Ave Amicus,” responded Lucius.
“One more thing,” said Argentus. “Do your best and if you should fail or see that your mission will fail, then return immediately to Rome. Your soldiers, Rome and I need you. Everything will come as it must, Ave.”
Lucius removed his armour, mounted his raven-black horse Merlinus and rode off in the direction of Tarchuna.
The royal family sat at the table in a magnificent and beautifully decorated room: Thesan’s grandfather and grandmother, King Krankru, Queen Ushil and Thesan’s brother Culsans. When the royal family had finished eating and was still sitting together, the grandmother whispered to Thesan at the table: “I hear that you were at the cliffs and saw something special?”
“Yes, Grandmother, I saw an eagle fighting against a dolphin.” Together with her granddaughter, the grandmother – who had abilities similar to those of Thesan – retreated to a corner of the hall that was adorned with splendid Etrurian scenes of times long past in earth-coloured shades. Thesan’s brother Culsans had a resentful look as he watched them. Although he was the first-born and therefore the legal heir to the throne, the people and his grandparents revered Thesan due to her divine abilities and charisma. The population secretly hoped that Thesan would lead the Etrurians into a new age of peace with the wisdom of the gods.
So the brother’s anger grew with every smile that the grandparents gave Thesan. The King and Queen of Pupluna were too involved with the iron city’s everyday business affairs to comprehend the full scope of Thesan’s gifts. As a result, they also did not notice how Culsans’ anger towards Thesan increased as he saw his position endangered…
“Tell me more about your visions,” whispered the grandmother to Thesan in a secluded corner.
“Keep your vision to yourself for now,” said the grandmother, who immediately understood the momentousness of this vision but also knew that knowledge about the inspiration by the gods was very dangerous!
With curiosity and an obsession for power, the brother joined the two seers with a phony smile. “What are you two whispering about?” Culsans wanted to know.
“Nothing at all,” responded his eleven-year-old sister as quick as lightning. But since Thesan was bad at lying and her brother knew her very well, Culsans immediately figured out that this must be an important conversation.
The parents were concerned as they looked towards the corner where this scene was unfolding. They could feel how the tension was rising, so the father called to his son: “Come here my young warrior. Tell me about your training with the sword and leave your sister alone.” But the prince with his young rebellious nineteen years did not really want to obey his father. So instead of the father, the king now spoke in a firmer tone: “Culsans, come to me right now. I am not saying this as your father but as the king!” He usually never spoke like this, so it was quite obvious how seriously the father meant it. The son, who was clearly in an inferior position compared to his father, walked towards the king with a lowered head. The situation in the main hall of the Pupluna palace gradually relaxed and calmed down again.
The grandmother, the former Queen of Pupluna, continued the conversation with her granddaughter. “Do you know what you saw there, Thesan?”
“Grandmother, I presume that the dolphin stands for our people, right? But I do not know what the young eagle means. Do you perhaps have an idea?”
The grandmother briefly thought about it and then spoke: “The eagle could stand for a city that is in the south. The city is very young. I believe that it was mentioned for the first time about 250 summer solstices ago. It calls itself Rome.”
“Rome?” responded Thesan, “is that what you think the young eagle represents?”
“Yes, Thesan, its power animal is an eagle, just as we have the dolphin,” the grandmother explained. “And its population is rather strange. It dreams of freedom and progress. It is a very mixed people that admires the Hellenes but is conducting a war against them at this very moment! The Romans drove away their rulers because the kings were not wise. Thesan, do you know how old our people is?”
“Old, very old, but I do not know the exact figure.”
Thesan: “Do you mean that our people will perish?”
“Yes,” said the grandmother, “the exact prophecy is that our people, the Etrurians, will encounter a crossroads after one millennium. One of the paths leads to war and the abyss!”
Thesan: “How can you talk about this so serenely?”
“You should know that we as an entire people have this in our hands. And as seers, we can show the possible paths but not avert our destiny. More than twelve hundred years ago, the people of the Etrurians left their beloved homeland of that time and fled because of a huge volcano eruption. Thanks to our seers and shamans, we searched for and found a land that was much more beautiful and fertile – with gentle hills and countless trees. With enough space for both people and animals, no matter if they were wild or tame. So Thesan, come with me. We will go outside.”
They went to the terrace, looked out to the sea and enjoyed the gentle breeze. The grandmother took Thesan with her to the adjacent palace, which was the home of the former queen. The grandfather was already waiting and received the two of them with much joy. He said: “Welcome my queen and princess.”
The grandmother immediately contradicted him: “I am no longer the queen!”
The grandmother spoke to both of them: “Come with me. I want to show you something because now is the right time. On the day of your initiation, Thesan, I made this present for you. But you were too little back then to wear it, so I saved if for you to this day. Before your initiation, I had a vision. I saw you as a seer and the saviour of our people. That is why I had this piece of jewellery symbolising the Third Eye made for you.”
She opened the iron casket took out the golden disc with its symbols, which had two dolphins leaping towards each other on it. “About ten years ago, when we celebrated the festival of your initiation and gave you the name of Thesan, I placed this ornament on your forehead and fastened it on your head with a leather strap.”
The grandmother repeated the ceremony at this moment. As the golden disc touched Thesan’s forehead, the two of them suddenly found themselves at a little lake. The grandfather was moving towards them on a pathway. He spoke with a voice that was unfamiliar to them: “Welcome, emissaries.”
Both of them replied at the same time: “Grandfather, is that you?”
“Grandfather, who is grandfather?” the voice responded.
“Where are we? Are we still at the palace?”
“Grandfather, are you Voltumna – the god of the gods?”
“No,” he laughed, “at most an ambassador…”
“What are we doing here? Why did you bring us here?” Thesan asked. The ambassador of the heavens remained silent. The grandmother had a questioning look on her face, and a moment of stillness passed…
The figure continued to speak in riddles: “Your people love freedom, nature and animals and also allows other societies this way of life, even if they are different. Warn your people against the bear!”
“The bear? How will we recognise the bear?” Thesan wanted to know.
“He will be big and strong, and you will recognise him by the spiral that he wears.” They were quite astonished at this spiritual being and his mysterious words as he continued: “You cannot conquer the eagle. His will to have freedom is too great! He is too agile and young. His eye is too sharp. His talons are too dangerous, and his beak is too deadly. Call upon your abilities of art and song, handicrafts, nature and your knowledge about the ore. Then the eagle will become your friend and protector.”