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Author Topic: ETRUSCAN RELIGION  (Read 20834 times)
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« Reply #15 on: June 02, 2007, 07:02:17 am »

Carrara putto

end 4th-3rd cent. BC
hollow-cast bronze
Height cm 32.7
cat. 12108

The statue, that was originally fixed on a pedestal to which it was attached by a bed of lead, is missing its left arm and two of the fingers of the right hand, the latter broken in ancient times. It has an incomplete inscription on its arm mentioning a votive offering to the god Silvanus. The statue forms part of the category of ex-votos portraying youths, crouching or seated, in the act of making an offering to the divinity, just like others from the ancient Etruscan shrines of lake Trasimeno, of Vulci and of Cerveteri. The appearance of our youth with a mature face has led to the supposition that this portrayed the mythical Tagetes, the young soothsayer with the wisdom of an old man who, precisely in Tarquinia, having miraculously appeared from ground that had been ploughed too deeply, was the first to dictate to the principes Etruriae the Etruscan discipline, that is the foundation of the Etruscan religion, later codified in sacred books.
« Last Edit: June 02, 2007, 07:05:53 am by Bianca2001 » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #16 on: June 04, 2007, 08:45:34 am »

The Religion of the Etruscans, according to Massimo Pallottino
Associated to Place: articles -- by * Tanaquil Sergius (85 Articles), Historical Article   1 Featured October 19 , 2005
by Tanaquil Sergius

Part 1: problems and documents

Religion is the best known facet of the Etruscan civilization; this is hardly surprising owing to the relative abundance of sources of a literary nature and especially the great number of archaeological monuments that, in one way or another, throw some light upon the subject of Etruscan religion. However, not everything that can be said about Etruscan religion has been said and it is not the case that the data in our possession (especially archaeological) have been so worked that no further research or results may be expected. Clemen's comparatively recent work on the subject (Die Religion der Etrusker, 1936) is a case in point: here, the various problems have been attacked from a most original angle, with an intelligent and modern critical approach. This book, together with the more recent and no less praiseworthy essays of Giglioli and Grenier, confirms our opinion of the need for a vast future survey that would re-examine all useful sources and make use of all the various results arrived at so far to paint a single, comprehensive picture of the whole.

The reputation the Etruscans had of being a most religious race is one of those frequent literary commonplaces continually to be found in the works of ancient writers. Livy (V,I,6) describes them as gens ante omnes alias eo magis dedita religionibus, quod excelleret arte colendi eas (a people who above all others were distinguished by their devotion to religious practices, because they excelled in their knowledge and conduct of them). Arnobius (Adv. gentes, VII, 26) proclaimed Etruria to be genetrix et mater superstitionum (the birthgiver and mother of beliefs). There is even an indigenous folk-etymology that would derive 'Tusci' from qusiazein, 'to sacrifice' (Isidore, Etym., IX, 2, 86; cf. also Dionysius of Halicarnassus, I, 30, 3). Modern scholars, too, seem prone to give credit to this unusual reputation the Etruscans enjoyed amongst ancient peoples.

In actual fact, the quantitative assessment of religiosity on the part of different peoples runs the risk of losing all reality unless we take into account the historical reasons prompting it. Etruscan traditions were of very great importance to the Romans of the imperial age, not only because Etruria gave the first and most important contribution to the definition of those Italic religious forms amongst which the religion of Rome developed from its very beginnings, but also because religion was that portion of the Etruscan inheritance acknowledged with theleast reserve by Rome and most vigorous in its resistance to the overwhelming impact Hellenic culture. But more important are the qualitative differences that existed between the religion of Etruria on the one hand and that of Greece and Rome on the other. In the former are evident a scrupulous attention to ritual, to conformity and to the will of the gods, the continual dread of dark and overwheleming forces, of time limits that could not be deferred.Tthere was in Etruria a feeling of the nonentity of man before the divine will, unknown to the Greeks even in the anguish the latter felt before the allpowerful Fates, and which the Romans tended to resolve in a prevalently juridical conception of the relationship between man and god, both a concrete and practical solution. For both in the religion and the religious art of the Graeco-Roman world, man played in spite of all the role of the protagonist; in Etruria on the other hand, the deity appears to dominate to the exclusion of man, as if reciting an eternal monologue in which the only role left to man was that of a cautious and timorous commentator. Once this qualitative point of view is accepted, the result of the comparison becomes obvious and the statements of ancient writers on the deep and exceptional religiosity of the Etruscans are shown to be fully justified.

The liber linteus or linen book of Zagreb

In attempting to reconstruct a picture of that particular combination of spiritual attitudes, tendencies, and practices that constituted the religious world of the Etruscans, the question becomes all-important. These are of two kinds: direct, such as original Etruscan texts, the majority of which are still obscure: i.e. ritual texts of the liber linteus (linen book) of the Zagreb mummy or those on the Capua tile; a number of inscribed onbjects (e.g. the famous bronze model of a liver found at Piacenza); figured monuments (paintings, sculptures, and especially scenes engraved on the back of mirrors); the ruins of temples, tombs, etcetera; or indirect, such as the accounts by Latin and Greek authors of imperial and post-classical times.

The bronze liver of Piacenza

This second class of documents must naturally be made to undergo a thorough critical examination before being utilized towards a reconstruction of the religion of the Etruscans, for in matters as delicate as religious beliefs and ritual, there are bound to occur many alterations, misunderstandings, and contaminations of te original elements, especially because of the fact that Greeks and Romans had a different approach to religion in comparison to the Etruscans. Owing to the relative resemblance of certain spiritual attitudes of Etruria and Rome, the correspondence of certain deities and the parallelism of various ritual forms, it is hardly surprising that Etruscan traditions as transmitted by Roman writers on religious matters or as included in the treatises of Christian apologists (e.g. Arnobius) should have reached us in somewhat distorted versions.

The Tile of Capua

Typical in this respect is the tradition referring to the creation of the world: the Etruscans believed, according to the medieval encyclopaedist known as Suidas, that this took six millennia to accomplish - an obvious reminiscence of biblical cosmogony. In this particular case the explanation probably lies in the contamination of Etruscan and Christian elements within the literary elaborations of the late Roman age.

To conclude this part of the article, the elements that can be used towards a reconstruction of Etruscan beliefs and ritual are both limited and of uncertain interpretation. The loss of original Etruscan religious literature is irreparable: how small in fact our knowledge of the spirit, the dogmas, the rites of Christianity would be, if all we had to go by were a few sacred images and liturgical objects, and the ruins of churches.

Part 2: the Etruscan Conception of the Divine

Even if we did possess a greater number of documents, it would not be easy to obtain a true picture of the Etruscan religion and of its original and most genuine forms. The influence exerted by the civilization of Greece upon the Etruscans was too powerful and too ancient in character, especially in mythological and artistic inspiration, not to have left a considerable mark upon Etruscan religious attitudes and manifestations. This is particularly evident in the Etruscan conception of both the individuality and form of the divinity. Clemen has attempted to find in certain aspects of Etruscan religious conceptions the survival of fetishist forms, such as the worship of weapons, trees, waters, etcetera. It is doubtful, however, whether the worship of weapons and trees was ever a genuine manifestation even amongst the earlier Mediterranean civilizations: it may have been no more than a religious symbol whereby the personality of the god, evn if not conceived anthropomorphically, was represented by its chief attribute. Similarly, it is difficult to connect Etruscan animism with animism understood as the worship of ancestors. There is, however, no doubt that in the most genuine aspects of Etruscan religious expression - genuine both because they had been recorded by the ancients and because of their continued survival despite the contrast they offered with the more widespread and familiar forms belonging to the classical world - their conception of supernatural beings was permeated by a certain vagueness as to number, attributes and appearance. This vagueness seems to point towards an original belief in some divine entity dominating the world through a number of varied manifestations which later become personified into gods, or groups of gods and spirits. This outlook is responsible for the concept of the genius as a vital and life-giving force which is, or may be, a single divinity or the prototype of a great number of male or female spirits (the so called lasae) mingling with men and gods and inhabiting the underworld; or which may actually manifest itself in non-anthropomorphic sexual symbols. The Roman genius, reflecting and accompanying both human and divine beings, was originally mainly an Etruscan conception.

Thus one is naturally led to to the conclusion that the great individual deities were solely due to foreign, or to be more specific, Greek influences, playing upon this vague and amorphous religiosity of the Etruscans. Such a conclusion is unlikely to be true, however, especially when it is considered that the formation of the Etruscan civilization occurred rather late in the Mediterranean world and was preceded by centuries, not to say millennia, of cultural minglings and elaborations. The concept of a supreme ebing, with eminently celestial attributes, manisfesting his will by means of the thunderbolt, may in no way be considered to have been a late motif or one imitated from outside. The same may be said of the concept of the goddess of Love, Turan (whose name probably meant orginally 'the lady'), which certainly crystallized within the compass of the primitive religious elaborations of the Mediterranean world. At most we may speak of a typical archaic or primitive flvour of Etruscan religious conceptions, of lingering themes and beliefs that has already been discarded, or very nearly, by their Mediterranean neighbours; this will become more apparent in the light of the following considerations.

It is true on the other hand that the influence of Greece may have assisted and favoured the individualization and the humanization of the Etruscan deities, multiplying and defining as a result the various aspects of the major deities, promoting local spirits and heroes to the rank of national gods, fusing groups of beings with analogous characteristics into one. A typical case is that of Veltha or Veltune or Voltumna (Vertumnus in its Latin form): a god with strange and contrasting attributes, represented at times as a maleficent monster, at others as a god of vegetation of uncertain sex or as a great war god. We have here a typical example of the process of the individualization and the transformation of a local earth spirit, pertaining to a territory of southern Etruria, into a superior divinity, or rather to the national god par excellence, the deus Etruriae princeps (Varro, L.L. V, 46: 'the first and principle god of Etruria'). In the same way, the protecting spirits of war, represented as armed heroes, tend to coalesce into a single deity, the Etrusco-Roman Mars, on the model of the Greek god Ares.

We thus pass on to the second consequence of the Hellenic influence on the Etruscan religion: the giving of human forms to (or anthropomorphization of) the various deities, or, to be more precise, the external and formal moulding of divine figures on the patterns provided by Greek anthropomorphism. The Etruscans must have possessed from the very beginning a certain anthropomorphic image of their own for their gods, though we are unable to tell how important the early influence of the mature civilizations of the East may have been on such popular representations. This must certainly have played a part in the case of the war gods mentioned above or in that of the celestial god Tin, which a coarse bronze statuette represents as a young man holding a thunderbolt in his right hand. But Greek literature and art soon imposed –from the first half of the sixth century at least- its own representations of the great divinities as they gradually came to be elaborated in the various cities of the Hellenic world. As a result of this process a whole series of Etruscan deities came into being, substantially parallel, if not identical, with those of Hellas: Tin, Tinia (Jupiter) corresponding to Zeus, Uni (Juno) to Hera, Menerva (Minerva) to Athene, Sethlans (Vulcanus) to Hephaistos, Turms (Mercurius) to Hermes, Turan (Venus) to Aphrodite, Maris (Mars) to Ares, etcetera.

A number of Greek divinities were also introduced directly into Etruria: Herakles who became the Hercle of the Etruscans and the Hercules of the Romans, Apollon who in Etruria became Apulu or Aplu (and Apollo in Rome), Artemis, known by the Etruscans as Artumes or Aritimi, got a totally different name in Rome, namely Diana.

Characteristic specializations of gods, myths, and ritual also gradually came to be modelled upon corresponding Greek forms. Original Etruscan monuments and texts give evidence of such syncretisms and contaminations: the lead tablet of Magliano, the Capua tile or the text of the wrappings of the Zagreb mummy all mention individual deities, as also the bronze model of a sheep’s liver found at Piacenza, used by haruspices to facilitate the reading and interpretation of the liver of sacrificed sheep –its surface is in fact divided into compartments, each enclosing the name of a particular deity.

Next to the major deities whose personalities and outer forms became fixed under the influence of the Greek Olympian gods, there were a number of indigenous supernatural beings, colleges of obscure and mysterious divinities, whose number and whose very names were unknown (Varro, in Arnobius, III,40). Ancient writers, recalling, though often none too clearly, native traditions, speak of Dii superiores or Dii involuti (i.e. gods superior or enveloped in the shadows of mystery), who counselled Jupiter on when to throw is most dreaded thunderbolt (Caecina, in Seneca, Quaest.nat., II,41); the Dii Consentes or Dii Complices, also advisers to Jupiter, pitiless and anonymous, generally thought to be twelve in number (Varro and Caecina, in the passages referred to above); the Penates, divided into four classes: of the heavens, the waters, the earth, and the souls of men (Nigidius Figulus in Arnobius, III, 40); the nine gods (novensiles), casters of lightning (Pliny, Nat.Hist., II, 52, 138; Arnobius, III, 38); the Favones Opertanei (Martianus Capella, de nupt. Merc.Philol., I, 45); the Lares, the Manes, etceteri. The realationships between some of these deities are far from being clear: Varro, for example, identifies the Consentes with the Penates. Indirect references appear to indicate that many should be considered as gods of fate. Etruscan texts in their frequent mentioning of the word 'gods' (aiser, eiser), most probably refer to such divine colleges, i.e. the gods considered as a collective object of worship against individual deities (Zagreb mummy, lead tablet of Magliano, various minor inscriptions).

There is also no lack of specific determinants, as in the case of eiser si-c-seu-c (Zagreb mummy), or aiseras thuflthicla or, simply, thuflthas, thuplthas, etcetera (in the genitive case): in the latter word there may be correspondence with the Latin consentes, complices, on the analogy of thusurthir = consortes, coniuges, if we accept the correspondence of the Etruscan root thu-/tu- with the numeral one: it would therefore also be equivalent to Latin una, 'together'.

Next to the colleges of twelve gods and to the enneads, the existence of triads has also been surmised on the basis of the shape of the three-cell temple and on the analogy of the religion of Rome. First and foremost, that of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, worshipped upon the Capitoline hill in Rome, and generally thought to be of Etruscan origin; the question however has recently ben re-openend to discussion (1955).

The existence of dyads is, on the other hand, more certain: each is composed of a male deity and of an accompanying goddess (e.g. the infernal pairs Aita and Persipnai, Mantus and Mania), or of twins such as the Dioscurides, Castor and Pollux (Tinas' clenar), or the thuluter of a terracotta from Bolsena (CIE 5180).

But where the religiosity of the Etruscans most clearly manifested itself was in the so called discipline: i.e. that collection of rules regulating the relations between men and gods. Its main basis was the scrupulous questioning of the divine will by all available means; amongst these, the most important and traditional were the reading and interpretation of animal entrails (and especially the liver: ars haruspicina) and the interpretation of lightning. The antecedents of both these sciences may be traced back to the East, and particularly to Mesopotamia; in Etruria, however, they assumed specific national characteristiscs which were to render them in certain ways both foreign and superficial to the religious customs of the Roman world though intimately tied in other respects to the Etruscan tradition. It is interesting to note that the Romans, on the other hand, like the Umbrians before them, used the method of divination based upon the observation of the flight of birds (auspicium). But was this latter method really of secondary importance in the Etruscan discipline of the ostenta (i.e. the interpretation of divine signs and prodigies)? We know a great deal on this subject, but very much more escapes us. Amongst the other aspects of the Etruscan discipline that ought to be mentioned here are the detailed rules governing the ritual of ceremonies and sacrifices, the doctrine of fixed time-limits for both men and states (a doctrine connected with the religious chronology of the 'centuries') and the beliefs and prescriptions concerning life after death.

Among the many gaps that exist in our knowledge of the Etruscan discipline, there is one question of fundamental importance that is yet unanswered: what is the significance of this discipline taken in its entirety, what vision of the world, human and divine, was responsible for it? Both these worlds were intimately connected, according to a principle of mystical participation and indiscrimination that calls to mind the mentality of primitive people. As far as we are able to perceive from available sources, many aspects of the Etruscan spirituality that seem obscure when appraised by means of standards belonging to Graeco-Roman thought become clear when seen from from the different viewpoint provided by classification under a different system of religious conceptions. Heaven and earth, supernatural and natural reality, macrocosm and microcosm appear to echo each other down open or recondite channels within a preordained unitary system in which the orientation and division of space assume fundamental importance. In this connexion the findings of modern scholarship (susceptible of further developments) are based one the one hand upon comparison of the names of deities written in the various compartments into which the surface of the bronze liver found at Piacenza is divided (see the liver and the circle diagram with the partition above) and, on the other, the partition of the sky, with its divine inhabitants, according to Pliny (Nat. Hist., II, 54, 143) and Martianus Capella (de nuptiis Mercurii et Philologiae, I, 45 ff).

This 'sacred space', oriented and subdivided, corresponds to a concept which in Latin finds its expression in the word templum. It refers to the sky or to a consacrated area on earth (such as the enclosed space within a sanctuary, city, or acropolis, etcetera) or even to a much smaller surface (e.g. the liver of an animal used in divination) as long as the orientation and the partition of the area according to the celestial model are followed.

Orientation is determined by the four cardinal points, joined by two intersecting straight lines of which the north-south line was called cardo (a word of pre-Latin origin) and the east-west one decumanus: both these forms belong to the Roman town-planning and surveying vocabulary which we know was closely connected with the Etrusco-Italic doctrine. If the observer places himself at the cross-point of the two lines with his shoulders to the north, he will have behind him the space to the north of th decumanus: this half of the total space is in fact called pars postica ('the posterior part'). The other half placed before him towards the south constitutes the pars antica ('the anterior part'). A similar partition of space also occurs along the cardo line: to the left of the observer, the eastern sector, of good omen (pars sinistra or familiaris); to the right, the western sector, of ill omen (pars dextra or hostilis).

The vault of heaven, thus quartered and orientated, was further subdivided into sixteen minor parts in which were placed the habitations of many divinities. This plan appears to be reflected in the outer ring of compartments of the liver of Piacenza (which are in fact sixteen in number) and in the inner compartments corresponding, though not very clearly, to them. There are unmistakable identities between the gods of the sixteen celestial regions, quoted by Martianus Capella, and th names of the divinities inscribed upon the liver, though the correspondence is by no means absolute since the original Etruscan tradition must have reached the writer of late Roman times in a much altered state, with a number of breaks in the sequence. Nevertheless it is possible to reconstruct an approximate picture of the relative cosmic stations of the gods according to the Etruscan doctrine.


The top and bottom parts of the bronze liver found in Piacenza; on the rim of the top the sixteen regions of the gods of heaven, earth and infernal regions are to be seen

This shows us that the great superior deities, strongly individualized and generally favourable were placed in the eastern sectors of the sky, especially in th north-eastern; the gods of the earth and of nature were towards the south; the infernal deities and the gods of fate, inexorable and fearful, were supposed to inhabit the dread regions of the west, especially the north-west, considered to be the most inauspicious of all.

The position of signs manifested in th sky (thunderbolts, flights of birds, portents) indicates the god responsible for the message and whether it be of good or bad omen. Apart from its point of origin, a complicated casuistic body of information concerning the characteristics of the signal (e.g. the shape, colour, and effect of the lightning etcetera) helps to narrow down its meaning: whether it is a friendly message, for example, or an order, an incommutable pronouncement, etcetera. The same exhortative or prophetic messages may be communicated through the appearance of the liver of a sacrificed animal, which the haruspex interprets by making its various parts correspond to the sectors of the sky (see the images of the bronze liver of Piacenza compared to the diagram of the sky). Thus the art of the fulguriator and of the haruspex, the two typical forms of Etruscan divination, appear to closely connected and it is not surprising to find them occasionally united in the same person -as in the case of L. Cafatius, whose bilingual epitaph was found at Pesaro and who was both haruspex (Etr. nets'vis) and fulguriator (Etr. trutnvt frontac, i.e. 'interpreter of the lightning').

The bilingual inscription of Pesaro, the epitaph of Laris Cafates a.k.a. Lucius Cafatius (See also: Thanchvil Cilneis',Bilingual Inscriptions in Etruria

Similar rules must have governed the divinatory observation of the flight of birds, as Umbrian sources (the Iguvine tablets) and Latin ones make clear. In this respect special importance was attached to the observation area on land, i.e. to the augural templum, with its orientation and partitions, with which are almost certainly connected the lay-out of sacred enclosures generally and of the temple itself, i.e. th sacred edifice containing the divine image. This generally faces towards the south in Etruria, with a pars antica represented by the cell or cells. And, similarly, trhe sacred rules of orientation were observed (ideally at least) in the lay-out of cities -a concrete representation of which is given by Marzabotto in Aemilia- and in the partition of the fields.

The city plan of Marzabotto in Aemilia

In all these practices and conceptions, as in all Etruscan ritual manifestations generally, one receives the impression of surrender, almost of abdication, of all human spiritual activities before the divine will: this is shown by the two-fold obsession to know and to put into effect the will of the gods. The deity, omnipresent and vague, is generally obscure, hermetic, incomprehensible: its very name, character and sex is often unknown. The whole desperate effort of life was directed towards making it speak, forcing its secret and penetrating its mysteries; recourse was taken to the strangest of means at man's disposal, generally involved and ineffectual. Once the god's will was understood, or thought to be understood, it became necessary to make good any eventual lapse; involuntary thought that might be, and execute its wishes so as not to incur the tragic consequences of divine vengeance dimly foreseen in the doctrine of fatal and peremptory time limits. Such a religion, pushing as it does to extremes well-known tendencies in the spiritual life of ancient peoples, with its blind fatality and its formal and juridical aspects, does not appear to have possessed ethical values, though certain scholars have found parallels with Christianity. It is, however, possible that at least the more rigid aspects of such a conception only took shape during the final phase of the Etruscan civilization within the orbit of the priest class and the ritual and theological elaborations that found their expression in the sacred books. This tendency was probably, perhaps unconsciously, favoured by the desire of priests to become the sole interpreters of the divine will and thus gather into their hands the reins controlling the spiritual life of the nation. What is certain is that, with the exception of mystery cults (which appear to have been somewhat widespread in Etruria), Greek religion, with gods made human and intelligible in all their aspects through myth, appears diametrically opposed to the Etruscan. And perhaps it is this clash that underlies the variety, confusion, and even contrasts to be observed from time to time within the complx of Etruscan religious phenomena and, in the realm of figurative art, the decorative superficiality given to the illustration of Greek myths -modified occasionally with local elements- and the few existing Etruscan myths.

Another aspect of this 'primitive' mentality of the Etruscans is illustrated by the illogical and mystical intrepretation of natural phenomena which, persisting as it did till a fairly late period, contrasts strikingly with the scientific rationalism of the Greeks. Particularly significant and revealing in this respect is the following passage from Seneca (Quaest. nat., II, 32, 2) on the subject of lightning:

Hoc inter nos et Tuscos....interest: nos putamus, quia nubes collisae sunt, fulmina emitti; ipsi existimant nubes collidi, ut fulmina emittantur (nam cum omnia ad deum referant, in ea opinione sunt, tamquam non, quia facta sunt, significent, sed quia significatura sunt, fiant)

Translation: 'The difference between us [i.e. the Graeco-Roman world] and the the following: that whereas we believe lightning to be released as a result of the collision of clouds, they believe that clouds collide so as to release lightning (for as they attribute all to teh deity, they are led to believe not that things have a meaning in so far as they occur, but rather that they occur because they must have a meaning)...'

Part 3: Life after Death

The mystic unity between the celestial and the terrestrial world extended in all likelihood to the underworld as well, which, according to later Etruscan doctrines, was the abode of the dead. Much of our knowledge of the civilization of ancient Etruria comes, as we know, from tombs: the very great majority of inscriptions are funerary in character and we owe our fundamental data on the development of artistic forms and on various aspects of everyday life to funerary paintings, sculptures, and furnishings. And it is natural that tombs should offer us, more or less directly, indications of the beliefs concerning the future destiny of man and the customs and rites connected with these beliefs. Nevertheless, we are still a long way from possessing a clear picture of Etruscan eschatology. Complex and contrasting themes point to different levels of religious attitudes and to heterogenous influences: a source of many problems as yet unsolved but particularly alluring to the research worker.

The very character of the tombs and of their furnishings, especially during the earliest phases, is an unmistakable pointer to the persistance of those primitive beliefs common to the whole Mediterranean world according to which the individuality of the dead man, in whichever way it was conceived, survived in some way linked to its mortal spoils, wherever the latter were laid. Hence the necessity on the part of the living to guarantee, protect, and prolong in a concrete way this survival not only as the sentimental tribute of loving piety, but also as a religious obligation where the element of fear played in all likelihood an important part. To this type of belief was owed the tendency in Etruria and elsewhere, especially in ancient Egypt, to give the tomb the shape and layout of a house, to provide it with furniture and household objects, to ornament it with decorations that must, originally at least, have carried a magical meaning; to surround the corpse with its clothes, jewels, or arms, to provide it with food and drink and an entourage of statuettes to represent the servants; and, finally, to reproduce the features of the dead man himself so as to provide an incorruptible 'seat' for the soul menaced by the decomposition of the body: whence the development of the funerary portrait in Etruria, reflecting what had earlier taken place in Egypt.

But what may have been the true and deeper nature of the religious ideas that break to the surface in such customs and how they might have been able to subsist and evolve by the side of other and contrasting beliefs are both matters that remain on the whole very obscure. At the beginning of the history of the Etruscan cities we see in fact the almost exclusive dominance of the funerary rite of cremation which, wherever it appears and in whichever way it spreads, cannot help reflecting beliefs incompatible to that of a material link between the body and the soul of the dead man. Indeed, cremation appears at times to carry the idea of a 'liberation' of the soul from the shackles of matter towards a celestial sphere. It is all the more odd, therefore, that in Etruscan tombs of the 'Villanovan' and 'orientalizing' period, the ashes and bones of the cremated dead are sometimes contained in urns in the shape of houses or in vases attempting to reproduce the features of the dead person (the so called 'canopics' of Chiusi). This reveals, from the very earliest formative period of the Etruscan nation, a mingling of beliefs including perhaps the re-establishment of Mediterranean funerary traditions over crematory customs.

Nor is it possible categorically to state that belief in man’s survival in the tomb excludes all belief in the transmigration of souls to a realm beyond the grave. It is certain, however, that in Etruria the latter belief became progressively more established and definite under the influence of Greek religion and mythology, with a consequent weakening of the original beliefs. This realm beyond the grave was conceived according to the Homeric Avernus and peopled with local divinities, the spirits of ancient heroes and the shades of the dead. Monuments as early as those of the fifth and fourth century, but especially those belonging to the Hellenistic period, represent death as a journey to the kingdom of the dead, the future subterranean abode of the soul: a sad, hopeless sojourn dominated at times by the fear inspired by the presence of monster demons or evenby tortures inflicted upon the souls of the dead. It is, basically, the materialization of the fear of death in an atmosphere of true pessimism.

And two infernal figures are the most symbolic of death: Vanth, the goddess with the great wings, representing, like her Greek counterpart Moira, implacable fate; and Charun the demon, a semibestial figure armed with a heavy hammer, who may be considered as a frightening deformation of the Greek Charon, whose name he assumes.

The Etruscan infernal demonology is both rich and picturesque: it includes a number of other personages partly inspired by Greek mythology (e.g. the Erinyes) as well as completely original ones such as the horrific Tuchulcha with the face of a vulture, the ears of a donkey, and armed with serpents.

Even for this later period monumental sources are insufficient in their fragmentary and external aspects to provide a reliable or complete picture of contemporary beliefs concerning the underworld. If we are to go by funerary paintings and reliefs, the fate of the dead would appear to be inexorably mournful and equalitarian: the merciless law spared not even the most illustrious dignitary –his superiority is expressed only in the sumptuous clothing, the attributes of office and the retinue that accompanied him on his journey to the underworld. However, a number of references to consoling doctrines of salvation, more or less explicit in nature, exist in literary tradition (Arnobius, II, 62; Servius, ad Aen., III, 168; Martianus Capella, II, 142): these mention the possibility of attaining a state of beatitude or even of deification, by means of certain rituals supposed to have been described by the Etruscans in their Libri Acherontici. A precious original document of such a ceremony of suffrage, with prescriptions as to offerings and sacrifices to deities (especially infernal deities), has been preserved in the Etruscan text of the Capua tile, dating back to at least the 4th century BCE. We do not know how much the development of these new eschatological beliefs owe to the diffusion in Etruria of Orphic or, still more, Dionysiac doctrines (the cult of Bacchus is in fact widely attested in Etruria, evn in the connexion with the funerary world). Nevertheless hopes of salvation appear to be tied mostly to the concept of magico-religious rituals proper to a primitive type of spiritual development, rather than to a superior ethical principle of recompense for the good done during life on earth.

Part 4: Forms of Worship

Monumental sources and documents written in Etruscan (as far as we are able to understand them) together with references in classical literature provide us with numerous data towards the reconstruction of religious life and the forms of worship of the Etruscans. Traditional customs in this respect, at least as far as their material aspects are concerned (i.e. sacred places and temples, organization of priestly bodies, sacrifices, prayers, offerings and votive gifts, etcetera)do not differ substantially from their counterparts in the Greek, Italic, and especially Roman worlds. This may be explained by taking into account one the one hand the common spiritual orientation of the Graeco-Italic civilization beginning with the archaic age; on the other, the very strong influence exerted by Etruria on Rome in matters of religion. A study of Etruscan religious antiquities should not therefore be considered apart from the much more detailed and complex picture given to us by Greece and Rome on the chapter of ritual, and, as a result, it becomes all the more difficult to estimate how much the development of rituals of worship owed to the religious mentality of Etruria. In the first place we should attribute to the Etruscans that concrete and almost materialistic adherence to rules established ab antiquo, that scrupulous formalism of ritual and frequent demand for expiatory sacrifices that may be detected within the body of Roman religious traditions as elements foreign, as it were, to the simple and rustic religiosity of the earliest Latins and indicating the presence of a collateral factor that is impossible not to identify with the ceremonial of an ancient and mature civilization such as, in fact, the civilization of Etruria. This ars colendi religiones, to quote the expression used by Livy in a passage to which we have already referred, fully agrees with the feeling of subordination of man to the deity, which, as we have seen, was a predominating factor in the Etruscan religion, and presupposes faith in the magical virtue of ritual, a faith frequently met in more primitive mentalities.

This concrete quality is shown by precise determinations as to place, temple, persons, and formalities in which or by means of which the acts of invoking or placating the deity take place: proceedings which the Romans designated by the term res divina and the Etruscans (probably) aisna (i.e. 'divine' service; from ais, god).

These proceedings take place within consecrated ground (the 'templum') of which mention has already been made: an enclosure with altars and sacred buildings containing images of the gods. Such buildings were often made to face the south. The concept of consacration for worship of a particular piece of ground or building was was perhaps expressed in Etruscan by the word sacni (whence the verb sacnis’a): this status could be extended, as in Greece and Rome, to a complex assemblage of enclosures and temples as on the acropolis of many cities (e.g. Marzabotto). Characteristics in some ways similar were shown by funerary enclosures, near which or within which sacrifices were offered and gifts deposited.

The regulations pertaining to the timing of feasts and ceremonies must also have been of special importance in Etruria; these, together with the ceremonial surrounding acts of worship, constituted the subject matter of the Libri Rituales mentioned by tradition. The longest ritual text in Etruscan in our possession, the manuscript on cloth preserved in the bindings of the Zagreb mummy, contains an actual liturgical calendar with indications as to the month and day on which the ceremonies described were to take place. It is possible that other documents were also drawn up, similar to the sacred calendars of the Romans: i.e. consecutive lists of days countermarked solely by the name of the feast or of the deity to be honoured. The Etruscan calendar was probably similar to the pre-Julian Roman calendar: we know the names of some of its months, and it appears as if the 'Ides' had, at least in name, an Etruscan origin; the numbering of the days of the month is, however, consecutive. Each sanctuary an each city must have had, as is to be expected, its own particular feasts: as in the case of the sacni cilth –the sanctuary of a city which remains unidentifiable- referred to in the Zagreb ritual. On the other hand, the yearly celebrations at the sanctuary of Voltumna, near Volsinii, were national in character.

Even when we come to try and understand the nature and organization of the priestly bodies we are forced to have recourse to comparisons with the Italic and Roman worlds. There are at any rate grounds for believing that they were many and had specialized functions, closely connected with public magistracies and often grouped into colleges. The priestly title cepen (with variant cipen in Campania), particularly frequent in Etruscan texts, is, for example, often followed by an attribute that determines its sphere of action or its specific functions; e.g. cepen thaurch, a name that almost certainly indicates a funerary priest (from thaura, tomb). Other words connected with priestly offices, both general and specific in character, include eisnevc (connected with aisna, the sacrificial action), celu, cechasie, and, perhaps, tamera, santi, etcetera.

There are moreover the priests with divinatory functions: the haruspices (nets’vis), represented on Etruscan monuments in characteristic dress consisting of a pointed cap and a fringed mantle and the interpreters of lightning (trutnvt frontac). The title maru, marum was connected, as we know, with sacred functions, as, for example, in the cult of Bacchus (marunuch pachanati, maru pachathuras). The double cepen marunuchva is worthy of note, combining as it probably did a priestly title with te functions pertaining to the maru; and also zilch cechaneri which must probably be understood as something approaching the Roman curator sacris faciundis. The collective pachathuras, alumnathuras, etcetera, probably refer to confraternities and should be compared as to their formal structure with such formations as velthinathuras, i.e. members of the Velthina family.

At Tarquinii there existed in Roman times an ordo LX haruspicum (CIL, XI, 3382), of probable ancient origin. An attribute particular to the priest was the lituus, a stick curved at one end.

Worship could be directed either towards interrogating the will of the gods, according to the rules of divination, or invoking their help or pardon by means of an offering. It is probable that both these operations were closely connected one with the other, though literary sources distinguish between victims sacrificed for the consultation of entrails (hostiae consultatoriae) and victims destined to act as actual offerings in place of human beings (hostiae animales). The offerings of liquids and food appear to be similarly mixed in complex ceremonials with the blood-offerings of animals. These liturgies are minutely described in prescriptive tones by the great ritual of Zagreb and the funerary ritual of the Capua tile; unfortunately our knowledge of Etruscan is not sufficient to allow us to establish accurately the meaning of the terms used in the description of the rites and, consequently, prevents us from reconstructing the ceremonies. Prayer, music, and dance must all have played a large part in such ceremonials.

Votive gifts offered in sanctuaries for favours requested or received mainly consist of statuettes in bronze, stone, or terracotta, reproducing the features of the divinity or of the giver or even of animals, in substitution for victims and parts of the human body. These objects, kept together in coffers or deposits, often carry dedicatory inscriptions. They vary greatly in value, artistic and otherwise, but, for the greater part, consist of modest moulded terracotta figurines: a sign that deep and widespread popular religious feelings existed round the great centres of worship.


Pallotino, M., The Etruscans, Harmondsworth, 1955, 154-177 (main source for this article).

Clemen, C., Die Religion der Etrusker, 1936.

Devoto, G., on Vertumnus-Voltumnus, in: Studi Etruschi, XIV, 1940, 275 ff.

Enking, R., Lasa, in: Mitteilungen des Deutschen Arch. Inst. Rom., LVII, 1942, 1 ff.

Giglioli, G.Q., La religione degli Etruschi, in: Storia delle Religioni, 4th ed., 1949, I, 635 ff.

Grenier, A., Les religions etrusque et romaine, in: 'Mana', Les religions de l'Europe ancienne, 1948.

Rose, H.J., On the relations between Etruscan and Roman religion, in: Studi e materiali di Storia delle Religioni, IV, 1928, 161 ff.

Pettazzoni, R., La divinita suprema della religione etrusca, in: Studi e materiali di Storia delle Religioni, IV, 1928, 207 ff.

Thulin, C.O., Die etruskische Disciplin, in: Goeteborgs Hoegskolas Aersskrift, 1905, 1906, 1909.

Thulin, C.O., Die Goetter des Martianus Capella und der Brozneleber von Piacenza, in: Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten, III, I, 1906, 60 ff.


CIE: Corpus Inscriptionum Etruscarum

CIL: Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum

~ Table of Contents ~
Archaeologia: ARS ROMANA, Wall Painting Styles
RELIGIO ROMANA, Cult of Mithras
SLL Lectiones Latinae
SLL Litteratura Classica
The Etruscan Library
The AW Neigborhoods
Roman Family Names
Hellenike Paideia, a concept of education in Ancient Greek
The Neighborhoods of The Roman World
Delenda Est Carthago
ELLHNIKH PAIDEIA Hellènikè Paideia
Roman Entries for the November issue of Acta Diurna
Acta II, 2004-2005
The Roman Hood Report
SLL X-mas wish
Roman Entry Acta IV, 2005 (concept)
Satyricon: a Roman Novel of the 1st Century A.D.
Satyricon: a Roman Novel of the 1st Century A.D.
AD April 2005 Issue, concept
Acta Issue, May 2005(concept)
Lesson II Ancient Greek Course
Acta Issue, IV,7 (concept)
Martialis, the poet of epigrams
Archaeologia: Menerva on an Etruscan mirror in the Badisches Landesmuseum in Karlsruhe, Germany
Archaeologia: Forum Romanum: Rostra, Curia, Decennalia Base and Lapis Niger
Archaeologia: The Southern part of the Campus Martius and the Circus Flaminius Area
Archaeologia: Forum Romanum: The Arch of Titus
Acta Diurna, Issue 8 (concept)
The Roman Family Project

The Religion of the Etruscans, according to Massimo Pallottino

Archaeologia: Forum Romanum: The Arch of Septimius Severus
The Divina Commedia and the Aeneid (under construction)
Archaeologia: Forum Romanum: The Temple of Vesta and the Vestal Virgins
Pullo and Vorenus

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