The Religion of the Etruscans

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Tatum b. Feeney , Beard, M. Crook, A. Lintott, and E. Rawson, vol.

In this Book

North, and S. Price Religions of Rome.

The Religion of the Etruscans

Feeney, D. Liebeschuetz, J. Continuity and Change in Roman Religion. Linderski, J. Roman Questions. North, J. Roman Religion. Price, S. Rawson, E. Roman Culture and Society. Tatum, W. Chapel Hill. Clark, eds.

Edited by Timothy Insoll

Byrne and E. The well-known statement of Livy describing the Etruscans as being the nation most devoted to religion, excelling others in their knowledge of religious practices 5. It is a little odd, given the acknowledged importance of this subject, that there are relatively few general, sustained accounts of Etruscan religion, and there is as yet none today in the English language. It is also surprising that there does not seem to exist a critical review of the history of the study of Etruscan religion, which might help to evaluate the original sources and frame the problems and methodology for current study of the topic.

In this introduction we shall consider the latter subject—the history of scholarship on Etruscan religion—and at the end attempt to show how this particular book relates to the former topic: the need for a comprehensive treatment in English. Here and throughout the book, there will be an emphasis on the evidence from written sources, and accordingly, frequent reference will be made to a special feature of this volume, the appendix on Selected Latin and Greek Literary Sources on Etruscan Religion Appendix B.

In antiquity the study of and theorizing about Etruscan religion was already well developed, with scholarship that we may distribute into three main categories: canoni-. Both Etruscans and Romans were involved in this study, which included translating and interpreting the old texts and teaching them to appropriate individuals. The practitioners of this type of study perhaps relate to their material in a manner similar to that of the Jewish and Early Christian scholars who studied, taught, and commented on their religious literature.

Unfortunately, we know so little of these writings and teachings that we are unable to discern what, if any, may have been their theological concerns or what debates may have enlivened their encounters. Tarquitius also produced a translation of the cosmic prophecies of the nymph Vegoia, a fragment of which has survived Appendix B, Source no.

Quintus Cicero supports credence in divination from the standpoint of Stoic philosophy, and Marcus Cicero, while rejecting actual faith in divination, in the end admits the importance of traditional rites and ceremonies solely for political aims.

He has great contempt for most divinatory practices and heaps scorn upon, for example, the important Etruscan revelation myth of the prophetic child Tages. Appendix B, Section viii. When we can sort these out from Roman interpolation, we have some of the most meaningful reports from antiquity on Etruscan practices.

The treatise of Seneca, Quaestiones naturales, written shortly before his death in 65 ce, also promotes philosophy but is fascinating for its sympathetic presentation of the point of view of Etruscan priests. In De divinatione Cicero presents a vivid debate on the reliability of divination in its various manifestations, with the principal interlocutors represented as his brother Quintus and himself.

Livy d. Vitruvius, a practicing. The History of the Study of Etruscan Religion architect of the time of Augustus, has left a precise account of the theoretical and practical aspects of building and locating an Etruscan temple De architectura 1. The pure antiquarians are especially useful. They were intrigued with the past and recorded information objectively about Etruscan religion out of curiosity. He wrote a treatise on human and divine matters of antiquity i.

The Etruscans and their influence on Ancient Roman religion

It contained fascinating material on the lore of lightning, such as that other gods beside Jupiter, for example, Minerva and Juno, were allowed to throw lightning bolts Appendix B, Source no. He was of course frequently quoted by other antiquarians, such as Pliny the Elder d. Pliny included a good bit of Etruscan material in his encyclopedic Historia Naturalis as part of his goal of being compendious, and in this way he preserved many interesting fragments of information from various sources, such as lore about signs from the birds in his sections on zoology; he refers to an illustrated Etruscan treatise hn Vergil, exposed to Etruscan culture in his native Mantua, has left us his stirring description of the warrior priest from Pisa, Asilas, skilled in the interpretation of all the signs from the gods, embracing entrails, the stars, birds, and lightning Aeneid No text from the Romans is more important for studying Etruscan divinity than the poem of Propertius of Perusia about the statue of Vertumnus set up in Rome 4.

It expresses vividly the Etruscan tendency to be vague or ambivalent about the gender and other characteristics of a particular deity. Ovid, too, has related the myth of Vertumnus, and interestingly has the god change sex to appear as an old woman in the story of the courtship of Pomona Meta. His calendar in the Fasti, replete with lore of early religion in Rome, is relevant but must be used with caution, both because the poet is sometimes inaccurate in his citations and he does not tell his sources and because the material on the Etruscans is certainly colored by the Roman context.

After this, we can note a crowd of later Roman polymaths who took an interest in Etruscan culture, probably most often using some of the writers we have already cited.

Etruscan Culture, Religion, and Art

Festus second century ce , as noted, prepared an epitome of Verrius Flaccus, and this was in turn epitomized by Paulus Diaconus in the eighth century. The grammarian Censorinus third century ce wrote on a wide range of topics such as the origin of human life and time Appendix B, Source no. He took a great interest in augural lore, and though he did not always refer directly to the Etruscans, his comments are useful in augmenting our knowledge of this important branch of Etruscan religious praxis.


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An absolutely singular case is that of Martianus Capella. Martianus sets the stage for the wedding of Mercury and Philology by sending out invitations to gods all around the sky, and he depicts them as inhabiting sixteen main divisions. Scholars are united in regarding this number as a clue that Martianus was following the Etruscan system of dividing the sky cf. Cicero, De div. The antiquarian trend continues in the Middle Ages in isolated instances, such as the writings of the Byzantine scholar Johannes Lydus, who taught Latin philosophy and championed that language in sixth-century Constantinople.

It is he who recorded the thunder calendar of Nigidius Figulus Appendix A; note the discussion of the career and writings of Lydus there. In addition, he left a quite lengthy discussion of Tages De ostentis, 2. B; Appendix B, Source no. The texts that had come to be associated with the name of Tages continued to be of interest long after Etruscan and Roman religion were no longer operative.

Isidore of Seville also mentions Tages Etymol. The Etruscans were largely forgotten during the medieval centuries.

The Religion of the Etruscans

When interest in them was reborn during the Renaissance in the former Etruscan territories,16 it was some time before their religion became a focus of study. That famous old fraud Annio da Viterbo d. A section near the beginning was devoted to Etruscan religion, drawing on various texts he had available.


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  4. The work was not published until over. In spite of the veritable mania for the Etruscans Etruscheria of the eighteenth century,19 few yet took an interest in the topic of religion. The Accademia Etrusca,20 founded at Cortona in , met regularly and heard papers and reports, but its members and other contemporary scholars seem to have been more interested in Etruscan architecture and material antiquities, along with the Etruscan language. Lampredi went to some pains to explain the contradiction he perceived between Seneca and the account in the Suda.

    Following this product of German scholarship came the basic formulation of the various categories of the disciplina by the Swede Carl O. Thulin — His two essays on lightning and haruspicy and a third on the ritual books and the haruspices in Rome were gathered together as Die Etruskische Disciplin Darmstadt, Nor does either contain very much evidence derived from the study of the Etruscan language, which was still a pioneer discipline in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Nevertheless, Thulin did utilize the bronze liver found near Piacenza in see Fig.

    Moreover, Deecke,. In , Pallottino summed up the scholarship by listing the chief researchers on the topic: almost all of the literature was in German, Italian, or French.