National Geographic : 1946 Nov
Etruscan Funeral BY THE eighthcentury B.c.amysterious ruling people, the Etruscans, had taken over many oftherude communities ofcentral Italy. Their earliestoccupations were near the coast andthey only later established themselves inthe interior. Therefore, it seems likely that they came bysea from Asia Minor, from the west coast oftheland nowadays called Turkey. The full-blooded Etruscans, though evidently compara tively few in number, seem tohave gained their hold by conquest of thenative peoples. The center oftheir power lay to the northofRome; but thelittle settlement beside the Tiber (founded, according tolocal belief, in753 B.c., not far from thetime when they came toItaly) fell easily under Etruscandomination. The later Romans referred totheir Etruscan overlords as the "Tarquin tyrants." When native Latin strength was great enough toexpel them from theland, their fall was hailed as an epoch inliberation. Etruscan occupation, however, hadgiven Rome thebasis of much of hercivilization, alien andun-European though it might be. From theTarquin tyrants Rome acquired a considerable partofher religious ritual, such asthe pointed caps of her priests andthecurved crooks oftheir augural staffs-probableprecursors oftheChristian bishop's crozier. She also took from them theaxes andbundled rods ofher lictors, which Mussolini's fascism was torevive andfrom which it was totake itsname; her trumpets for battle; her lore of divination andauspices; hertemple plans and life-size statues ofbaked clay-all these andmuch besides. One strong indication that theEtruscan invasions ofItaly came outoftheNear East was their remarkable skill in working thenative rock for chamber tombs andfoundation platforms andinfitting quarried blocks tobuild walls for their cities. They were the first outstanding architects and engineers ofItaly. From them came theuseofthearch, themain prop of Roman architectural mechanics. Itssecret wasknown to theGreeks astomost oftheOriental people ofthe Medi terranean world, but itsconsistent exploitation for gateways, galleries, anddrains came from theEtruscans. Early intheseventh century B.c.the Etruscans learned towrite, using theGreek letters taught tothem apparently byGreek colonists ontheBay ofNaples. Since these letters were never much altered from thearchaic Greek forms, scholars oftoday have no difficulty indeciphering thecharacters inthethousands ofsurviving Etruscan inscrip tions. Translation, however, remains aproblem; forthere isnoobvious key totheweird vocabulary oftheEtruscans. The inner walls ofmany tombs arecovered with brilliantly painted scenes, andthefloors ofsome not touched bycol lectors arestillladen with offerings inprecious metals, cast bronze, andjet-black clay. Other tombs have rock-hewn imitations oftimbered ceilings andpaneled walls. Inthese dark rooms theEtruscans laid outtheir dead onspindle-legged wooden couches, and, tothewailing ofmourners andthesound ofAsiatic flutes, gave thecorpse itslastanointing before laying itaway initssarcophagus onarock-hewn shelf oftheinnermost recess.