ETRUSCAN RELIGION . Between the beginning of the eighth century bce and the end of the fifth century bce, Etruria was the dominant power in central Italy. The Etruscans had built up profitable commercial relations with the Phoenicians and the Greeks, established on the island of Pithecusa (modern Ischia) in Campania, then on the mainland in the town of Cumae around 750 bce. This wealth and these relations allowed them to develop a much more advanced level of civilization than other peoples of the region. One indication of this is that Rome was under the rule of Etruscan kings between 616 and 509 bce. Yet it is not this image of a military and political power that the Romans retained concerning their northern neighbors; as the historian Livy remarked at the time of Emperor Augustus, they were "the people most dedicated to matters of religion" (Livy 5.1.6). Thus the Romans saw the Etruscans' intense religious nature as their distinctive characteristic.
Sources of Information on the Etruscan Religion
This appreciative judgment concerning Etruscan religion might appear surprising in that the Etruscan religion seems to be simply a rather ordinary polytheism with gods like those in the Greek or Roman pantheon. This is the picture that comes through from the majority of the existing sources.
These sources are restricted. Apart from divination, a subject this article will return to, Greek and Latin writers give few details, and Etruscan literature that could provide this information has not survived. As for Etruscan inscriptions, they make a limited contribution. The majority are epitaphs, which yield only the name of the deceased, while the votive plaques placed in temples reveal only the name of the divinity to which they were dedicated. Admittedly, some longer documentary sources are available, which could be of greater interest concerning the subject, but the continued inability to understand the language means that they are only partially understood. This is the case with the two longest extant Etruscan texts: the Capua Tile, a terra-cotta plaque bearing three hundred legible words, and the Liber Linteus (Linen book) of Zagreb, a text of twelve hundred words. The story of the latter's survival is amazing. It was written in ink, as was the practice in ancient Italy, on a linen cloth that was taken to Egypt, where it was cut into strips and used as the wrapping for a mummy now preserved at the Zagreb Museum. These texts are both ritual calendars, in any case.
Some archaeological finds exist. Even with these, however, what can be deduced remains limited. The results of excavations of many Etruscan temples are known, and they confirm the statement of the Roman architect Vitruvius that the Etruscans were responsible for the spread of the "Tuscan temple" that, in contrast to the Greek temple from which it took its inspiration, was raised on a high podium, dominating the town the god protected. However, it is impossible to be certain that, as Latin authors claim, the main city temples were dedicated to triads (groups of three gods). Only certain temples at Veii (Portonaccio), Orvieto (Belvedere), or Marzabotto (temple C) demonstrate evidence of a triple structure. It is not impossible that the idea of triadic temples was inferred from the Roman Capitol built by the Etruscan kings (the Tarquins), where Jupiter was flanked by two goddesses, Juno and Minerva.
There remains an extensive amount of iconography on tomb or vase paintings, statues, stone and terracotta reliefs, and engravings on bronze mirrors. From its beginnings, however, Etruscan art was suffused with Hellenic influence. Often, Etruscan documents portray scenes from Greek mythology. Nonetheless, this has one advantage: these Etruscan documents provide the names of the gods corresponding to their Greek equivalents, using the process of interpretation that consists of identifying a Greek god with the local god whose functions are most similar.
The Etruscan Pantheon
In this way, scholars have some idea of the Etruscan pantheon. It included a heavenly chief god, analogous to the Greek Zeus or the Latin Jupiter, whom they called Tin or Tinia, which means "the shining day" (like the names Zeus and Jupiter). Just as with the Greek Zeus, this god is portrayed as a majestic bearded figure armed with thunderbolts. This Tinia is associated with a female consort, Uni, identified with the Greek Hera or the Latin Juno (whose name is perhaps related). Other female divinities are known, sometimes with names of Greek origin, such as Phersipnai, who is the Etruscan equivalent of the Greek Persephone. She appears enthroned at the side of her husband Aita (an Etruscan transcription of the Greek god of the underworld, Hades) in paintings on the tomb of the Orcus at Tarquinia and the Golini tomb at Orvieto. Another underworld divinity, Vei, has a purely Etruscan name, however. This name, which must be part of the name of the town of Veii, remains obscure. This is not the case with another indigenous underworld goddess, Culsu, who is depicted on the sarcophagus of Hasti Afunei at Chiusi as placed at the entrance of the underworld. She is its guardian, and the Etruscan word culs, meaning "gate," derives from her name. The indigenous name Lasa is given to a series of minor female deities with various names who appear to be associated with more important goddesses, such as Achavisur, Alpanu, and Zipna, and who can be seen on mirrors assisting Turan, the goddess of love, the equivalent of Aphrodite, in getting dressed. The Etruscans also recognized a powerful chthonic goddess, Cel ati; the two parts of her name mean "earth" and "mother." She is a "Mother Earth," analogous to the Greek Demeter and the Latin Terra Mater. Mention should also be made of Menerva, derived from the Latin Minerva, goddess of the intellect (mens ).
Among the male gods is a god of water, Nethuns, and a god of the forest, Selvans, corresponding, respectively, to the Latin equivalents Neptune and Silvanus. Other gods with Latin equivalents include Satre, corresponding to Saturn; Velchans, corresponding to Vulcan (Volcanus); Vetis, corresponding to Jupiter of the night and the underworld, Vediovis. On the other hand, Apulu, a Greek name, is the god Apollo, whom the Etruscans adopted under this name along with his myths. The Apollo of Veii statue from the end of the sixth century bce in the temple of Portonaccio shows him fighting with Hercules in the episode of the capture of the Cerynian hind. Yet many other gods have local names. Several are the equivalents of figures in the Greek pantheon, including Turms, portrayed as the messenger of the gods Hermes; Sethlans as the blacksmith god Hephaistos; Usil as the sun god Helios, with rays coming from his head; and Fufluns as the god of the wine, Dionysos (and sometimes given the epithet Pachie, a transcription of the name Bacchus). However, several gods had no Greek equivalents. This is the case with Suris, who seems to have been an infernal and war god, like the mysterious Pater Soranus of Mount Soracte in Capena, in the territory of the Sabines, to which the name seems related.
This list shows Greek religious influence. Certain gods, such as Apollo, were borrowed from the Greeks, whereas on another level the success of the hero Hercules, whom they called Hercle, is noteworthy. A large number of statues and statuettes, evidence of his cult, have been found in Etruria. One should also be aware of the deities with Latin or Italic equivalents, including Nethuns, Selvans, Velchans, Vetis, Menerva, and certainly Uni and Satre, who bear names that may be explained as derived from Italic forms (and not the other way around). This shows that the Etruscan religion was formed in the same mold as the religions of the other peoples of the peninsula in prehistoric Italy at the end of the second and the beginning of the first millennium bce.
The Persistent Originality of the Etruscan Religion: The Vision of the Underworld
This does not, however, mean that the Etruscan religion is not original. Leaving aside divination, Etruria made its mark on what it borrowed from others. This can be seen most obviously in their portrayal of the underworld, where Greek influence is evident. The sacred books dealing with these matters were called the Books of Acheron, after the underworld river in Greek mythology, from which the Etruscans took the infernal boatman Charon. But Charon, who is called Charun, appeared on tomb paintings brandishing a huge hammer with which he made ready to strike those who were about to die, an element not found in the Greek original. More generally, the Etruscans created an entire demonology that was perhaps inspired by certain Greek pieces (such as the depiction of the underworld by Polygnotus in the Cnidian Lesche at Delphi) but that, starting from the first paintings, such as the Tomb of the Blue Demons at Tarquinia from the fifth century bce, certainly underwent considerable development. Another male demon is Tuchulcha, depicted with a hooked beak and pointed ears with two snakes rising on his head. Female demons also exist. They are often depicted on funerary urns to indicate that the person shown alongside is going to die. In particular, the female demon Vanth is a winged woman, bare-breasted or even completely naked, brandishing a torch, sometimes with snakes, at other times with a roll of parchment on which the fate of the deceased was written.
Etruscan Women and Religion
It is true that the Etruscans were original in one aspect in which their civilization differed from those of Greece and Rome; that is, the accepted position of women in society. The Etruscan woman enjoyed much greater freedom than her Greek and Roman sisters. She can be seen lying alongside her husband on the same banqueting couch. This would have been unthinkable in Greece, where the banquet was an entirely male affair and only prostitutes were present, with lawful wives remaining in the gynaeceum. One might therefore expect that Etruscan women would occupy a privileged religious position.
However, this is not apparent in the evidence. Women are more often found in classical roles without particularly high status, such as mourners who, on the fifth-century bce funerary reliefs at Chiusi, are seen weeping at the scene of the laying out of the dead. Maybe there were female priestesses, but the only definite instance involves a bacchante, who is depicted lying on the lid of a fine marble sarcophagus at Tarquinia holding a thyrsus and a vase with handles with a doe beside her. This woman appears in a religious role on the fringes of the official religion of the city.
However, the restricted role played by women in what the sources reveal concerning Etruscan religion need not be at variance with real life. Even if Etruscan women had more rights than Greek or Roman women, one must be careful not to overrate their social role. One should not take at face value what Greek and Latin writers say about Etruscan women. As peoples who had been the Etruscans' enemies, they were inclined to be critical of them. Thus, the liberty, at least in a relative sense, that the Etruscans allowed their women might be taken by these writers as loose living. They also tended to exaggerate everything they said about them, stating that they gave themselves shamelessly to lovemaking with anyone at all during banquets. The same exaggeration occurred in the religious sphere. Whereas Roman tradition holds that Tanaquil, the wife of L. Tarquinius Priscus, was an expert in divination and interpreted the omens from which her husband and the young Servius Tullius benefited, this is more a matter of Roman imagination than Etruscan reality. The haruspices known from the epigraphic or literary sources are exclusively men.
Prophets of the Etruscan Religion and the Etrusca Disciplina
Even so, there is one sphere in which the Etruscans developed their own myths, and these reveal what is truly original about Etruscan religion and why the Romans considered them the most religious of peoples. They had created what the Romans called Etrusca disciplina, using the Latin word disciplina to mean a "science." In their case it is a religious science centered around divination and rituals. The Etruscans did not view this Etrusca disciplina as the work of human beings. It was the result of a revelation given by gods to human beings at the beginning of their national history. This revelation, committed to writing, was the basis for the Etruscan religious sacred books.
Several competing traditions existed. The most famous was from Tarquinia. According to this version, the Etrusca disciplina was owed to a divine child called Tages. As a newborn, he was discovered by a plowman on the outskirts of the town. He had obviously been born from the earth, and no sooner had he been born than he began to speak and issue a revelation. He set out the basic principles of religious science, which those present eagerly committed to writing. Then he disappeared as mysteriously as he had appeared.
The story seems ridiculous, and Cicero, who relates it in his treatise On Divination, is openly contemptuous. As a good Roman he did not believe the gods could intervene directly in human affairs and rejected mythology as puerile stories. But the legend may be analyzed in terms of standard motifs. There is the autochthonous myth, in which a being is described as earthborn, produced like a plant. This is how the Athenians described their origins. This motif is coupled with the combination of old man and infant, fusing in one person the physical characteristics of infancy and the wisdom of old age. These are standard legendary motifs; what is interesting is that, in the Etruscan case, they are not used for the tale of a hero or the story of the origin of a people but to establish the founding myth of the national religious science. This proves its importance to the Etruscans.
The revelation issued by Tages (or by Vegoia) gave rise to an entire sacred literature, the "Etruscan books," which set out the substance of the national religious science that Latin writers frequently describe. This means that, for once, scholars are relatively well informed. These books were the mark of the specialists of the Etruscan discipline, the haruspices. These haruspices—whose name originally applied to one of their specialities, the inspection of the liver of sacrificial victims, but then took on a more general meaning—could be recognized by their distinctive dress. They wore a tapering, pointed hat. Sometimes this hat is seen on sarcophagi on top of a kind of folded sheet, which is in fact a linen book (like the one from the Zagreb mummy). This was the particular mark of the haruspex of the dead, who carried out his duties wearing this headgear while consulting his books.
These haruspices, at least in Etruria, were high-ranking individuals. Thus Cicero tells that one of his Etruscan friends, Caecina, was an expert in the national religious science and belonged to one of the most important Tuscan aristocratic families. Haruspices considered the Etruscan discipline as their exclusive possession and handed down the books from one generation to the next, fathers taking care to instruct their sons in their use. This instruction was deadly serious, conveying the scientific aspect, at least to ancient eyes, of the Etruscan discipline. Etruscan haruspicy, concerned with ritual or even with divination, did not allow itself to be guided by what the Greeks called mania, the god entering the body and soul of the person acting as the intermediary between the gods and human beings. Etruscan haruspicy studied the phenomena set before it with the help of the classifications laid down in its books. This required seriousness, the exact opposite of the trances of soothsayers possessed by divine inspiration. A famous fifth-century bce mirror from Vulci shows Calchas, the soothsayer of the Greek army at Troy, as an Etruscan haruspex examining the liver of a victim. He is bent over the organ, which he is studying carefully, looking at the slightest variations in shape, texture, and color. It is quite correct to talk of a science, the term for the rigorous deductive method based upon detailed observation by which the haruspex formed his opinions. The Etruscan discipline even involved experimental science. Far from becoming a closed corpus, fixed once and for all by the initial revelation of Tages, Etruscan sacred literature was enhanced by observations of haruspices of later times. Cicero says they noted in their books new phenomena they observed and thus managed to enlarge upon the basic principles contained in the religious literature handed down to them.
The Sacred Books of the Etruscan Religion
According to Cicero, Etruscan religious literature was divided into three kinds of books: the books of thunderbolts, the books of haruspicy, and the books of rituals. The extensive role of divination is clear, since the first two categories were dedicated to it. The libri fulgurales dealt with divination by thunderbolt and lightning, or brontoscopy; and the libri haruspicini with divination by inspecting the livers of sacrificial animals, or hepatoscopy; whereas in the libri rituales certain other kinds of divination are also considered, such as omens.
The books of thunderbolts
The Etruscans were not the first to be interested in thunderbolts; the phenomenon has always seemed to be of divine origin. In observing them, the haruspices demonstrated their analytical abilities. Seneca, in his Natural Questions, and Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History, drawing on Etruscan sources, show the fine distinctions the Etruscans made, establishing minute, generally complex classifications, distinguishing thunderbolts by their color, their shape, and the effect they had when they hit the ground. This theory of thunderbolts gave rise to a vision of the way the world worked. The Etruscans maintained that the principal god Tinia had three kinds of thunderbolts. The first, the most benevolent, was used to issue warnings; he used this on his own authority. The effects of the second were more serious; it brought only misfortune. However, the god could only hurl this on the advice of a council of twelve deities, six gods and six goddesses. The third left nothing untouched and changed the way the world was organized. Tinia only used this on the instructions of mysterious divinities—masters of destiny—gods said to be hidden or superior, whose names, numbers, and gender remained unknown.
The Etruscans did not consider the workings of the world the result of the whims of a god, however, even the chief god Tinia. Even he was subject to a destiny more powerful than he. This idea was developed in certain libri rituales, the books called fatales, concerning fatum (destiny). For the Etruscans the history of the world did not unfold by chance but was divided into a certain number of saecula (a period of varying length, calculated according to the lifespan of the longest living individual of a particular generation, so saecula could consist of 123 or 119 years). Each nation was entitled to a given number of saecula, ten in the case of the Etruscans, after which it would disappear, its destiny fulfilled.
The Books of Haruspicy
The libri haruspicini dealt with another classical kind of divination, hepatoscopy, which was particularly well known among the ancient peoples of the Middle East and based upon the study of the livers of animals offered to the gods in the central cult ceremony, the bloody sacrifice. Scholars are relatively well informed on Etruscan hepatoscopy. In 1877, in a field near Piacenza in Emilia, a bronze model liver was discovered. Subsequently known as the Liver of Piacenza, it had a box diagram on its surface, each section marked with the name of a god. This model liver was used to teach young haruspices. Thus they learned a particular interpretative grid, which they then used as a gauge for the actual livers they examined. If they found a particular feature in one of the boxes in the diagnostic diagram, they knew the god named in that box had sent this sign and needed to be placated.
The Liver of Piacenza allows still further understanding of the Etruscan religious system. The apparently unsystematic arrangement of boxes on the surface of the liver is in fact amenable to a certain organization. The two halves of the organ are separated by the anatomical division, the incisura umbilicalis. The right side, which literary sources call the pars familiaris, with neatly arranged square boxes, contains the heavenly gods, such as Tinia, who are relatively benign. In contrast, the left side, which sources describe as pars hostilis, arranged in a circle, has the names of infernal gods, such as Vetis, or unsettling gods, such as Satre or Selvans. Above all, the circumference of the organ has a series of sixteen boxes in a band around the object. This ties in with a detail known from elsewhere: Etruscan haruspices divided the vault of heaven into sixteen sectors according to the cardinal points, beginning from the quadrant going from north to west.
This allows an understanding of the theoretical basis of Etruscan hepatoscopy. By reproducing the sky with the abodes of the gods who live there, the liver is a microcosm reflecting the macrocosm of the universe, whose workings the gods oversee. It logically follows that the gods imprint in the microcosm signs that correspond to their actions in the macrocosm. And it is not a matter of indifference that these signs are passed down to the human race using the liver of a sacrificial animal.
According to a thorough analysis of the portion given to the human beings and the portion given to the gods in Greece by Jean-Pierre Vernant and Marcel Detienne and a group of their pupils, published in La cuisine du sacrifice in Paris in 1979, the liver reverts to the gods, to whom it is conveyed, when burned upon the altar. Considered by the ancients as the life center of the animal, it reverts by right to the immortal gods, masters of the life of every living creature. Yet if, as this work has emphasized, the Greek sacrifice in this way stresses the difference between the gods and human beings, in the Etruscan sacrifice it was their association, the exchange effected between them, that was considered crucial. The Etruscan sacrifice was defined by ancient authors as consultative: the consultation, involving the examination of the liver by the haruspex, was considered a fundamental part of the ceremony. What mattered to the Etruscans above all was the examination performed on the liver by the haruspex. The organ became the place of exchange between human beings and the gods, and the divinatory signs the gods placed there were their responses to the offering made.
The books of rituals
The third category of books, the books of rituals, is not a single whole. These books discuss divination as regards omens and destiny, the subject of the subcategory libri fatales. Nevertheless, rituals are also a significant subject for a religion that regarded the exact performance of ceremonies of vital importance, the slightest error potentially provoking the anger of the gods and leading to disaster. Many Etruscan rituals were brought to Rome. The foundation rite that Romulus is said to have followed when he founded Rome in 753 bce is universally considered of Etruscan origin. Romulus invited specialists from Etruria, who explained to him how to draw the sacred boundary of the city, the pomerium, by digging the sulcus primigenius, the first furrow, with the help of a plow pulled by a white bull and a white cow.
These books also describe other rituals. The subcategory called the Books of Acheron describes certain sacrifices offered for the dead, who it was believed were thus able to become actual gods, called dei animales, where animales means "created from a soul" (anima means "soul" in Latin). The process was simply ritual: it was sufficient to sacrifice certain animals and offer their blood to certain deities. This may seem childish; however, compared to the specifically Roman religion, which said nothing concerning human prospects after death, the Etruscan religion had an infinitely richer view of the future of human beings in the afterlife.
Rome and Etruscan Haruspicy
Far from disappearing after the Roman conquest between 396 bce, the date of the fall of the first Etruscan city, Veii, and 264 bce, when the last remaining independent city, Volsinii, fell, this aspect of Etruscan religion continued to exist in a world that had now become a Roman one. The Romans were impressed by the practical benefits of the Etruscan discipline.
An ancient state could not be secular. One of its most important tasks was to ensure good relations between the city and the gods. If human beings were to blame for some misdeed or some oversight on their part, what was called the pax deorum (peace of the gods)—that is, the harmonious state of relations between the gods and the city—was broken. The gods showed their anger, which risked turning into the worst of disasters, visible in terms of events that indicated a break in the natural order of things, omens, and the outbreak of the supernatural in the normal course of existence. Faced with such signs, it was vital that the city understand what it had done wrong and what action should be taken. Confronted by such divine signs, Roman religion, in terms of its national heritage, was powerless. Faced with disasters, such as earthquakes or epidemics, heavenly signs, such as comets or hailstorms, or even mere curious happenings, such as the birth of a hermaphrodite child or a sheep with two heads, it was necessary to consult the Etruscan haruspices, who would discover in their books what needed to be done.
Rome was not slow to employ the skills of Etruscan specialists in matters of rituals and divination. Probably from the time they had completed the conquest, the Senate organized the Order of Sixty Haruspices, drawn from young nobles of various Etruscan cities, who could be consulted as soon as some event seemed to require the use of the Etruscan discipline.
The Spread of Haruspicy in the Roman Empire
In these circumstances the integration of Etruria into the Roman sphere, far from signaling the disappearance of the Etruscan discipline, enabled new expansion. Individuals also took advantage of the knowledge of the Etruscan soothsayers for their own personal needs. Some important people had their own haruspex in their retinue: Spurinna, Caesar's haruspex, unsuccessfully warned him of the danger on the Ides of March. Many generals were accompanied by a haruspex, and subsequent emperors had their own specialized staff for Etruscan divination.
These were important figures. Spurinna belonged to one of the most important Etruscan aristocratic families, and an imperial haruspex like Umbricius Melior, who in turn served Galba, Otho, and Vespasian, was important enough for the town of Tarentum to be honored by his patronage. Yet not all haruspices were such highfliers. Many were poor scoundrels trading on public gullibility. Cato, in his treatise on agriculture, warned the steward of the ideal farm he described to be wary of the haruspices who roamed the countryside. A number of Latin authors, including Cicero, the comic playwright Plautus, and the philosopher-poet Lucretius, denounced low-grade haruspices as nothing more than charlatans. This did not prevent them from flourishing; inscriptions indicate their presence throughout the Roman Empire.
Haruspices and the Defense of Traditional Roman Religion
Henceforth the Etruscan religious tradition no longer seemed like a foreign body differing from the national Roman tradition, the mos maiorum, as the Romans called their ancestral traditions. Etruscan religion was fully integrated into the heart of Roman religion and had an officially recognized place. It even seemed to be a key element. For Emperor Claudius, who reorganized the ancient collegium of sixty haruspices in 47 ce, it represented the the most distinguished part of traditional Roman religion.
Claudius justified his actions by the need to combat "foreign superstitions," namely all those religious systems not part of traditional Greco-Roman paganism, including the developing Christian religion. The old Etruscan tradition was called upon to play its part in the defense of the mos maiorum, and the place held by haruspicy in the religious functions of the Roman res publica meant that at times haruspices were effectively in the forefront of the struggle against the Christians. Thus, the Great Persecution of Diocletian, decreed in 303 ce, the gravest crisis the young religion had faced, was embarked upon following an incident, reported by the Christian writer Lactantius, in which haruspices played a key part. Lactantius stated that Christian slaves present at the celebration of an imperial sacrifice disrupted it, causing the anger of the gods. Consequently Diocletian decided to persecute the Christians.
Development of Etruscan Religious Tradition under the Empire
It would be misleading, however, to see in the attitude of the haruspices toward new religions, and particularly in their hostility to Christianity, nothing more than narrow-minded conservatism. On the contrary, it is notable that the knowledge of the development of Etruscan beliefs during this period demonstrates the haruspices' adaptability to contemporary expectations—including, if need be, features borrowed from their rivals. An amazing text, preserved in the Byzantine lexicon the Suda, presents a supposedly Etruscan account of creation, which is simply a copy of the biblical story in Genesis. As noted, the Etruscan discipline was not closed and inward-looking. The scant evidence of its later condition shows that it evolved and adopted ideas that would have originally been totally alien in the early days, such as the idea of the world being created by God. The Etruscan tradition contained within it an ability to adapt, which other forms of Greco-Roman religion did not possess.
Etruscan Religion and the Defense of Roman Paganism
The main explanation of the genuine revival enjoyed by the Etruscan religious tradition in the late days of the Roman Empire is that, compared to other religions, it appeared firmly rooted in the most authentic Roman tradition. In an age when, as that great defender of traditional Roman religion in fourth-century Rome, the senator Symmachus, remarked, all religions were considered of equal value in approaching the ineffable mystery of God, the Etruscan tradition retained an enormous advantage over the others. It seemed to be from Italy and thus something with which the Romans should urgently reconnect. This is stated in a letter from a pagan priest, Longinianus, to Augustine, who had asked him about his beliefs. This has been preserved in the letters of the bishop of Hippo. In the letter, Longinianus outlined a theory of revelation, explaining that every part of the world has its own particular prophet and that for Italy this prophet had been Tages, the child-prophet of Tarquinia, to whom the Romans should turn back as a matter of urgency. Here is the trump card of the Etruscan religious tradition: it could put forward prophetic figures, like those required in Judeo-Christian traditions, and it was based upon sacred books setting out the teachings of these prophets. With Tages and the sacred Etruscan books as part of their national heritage, the Romans had no need of the Bible or of a prophet born in a remote corner of Judaea.
These aspects of Etruscan religious tradition ensured that it played a part in the task of defending ancient religion, which occupied philosophers at the end of paganism. A Roman writer of the second half of the third century, Cornelius Labeo, put it forward in his writings, notably in a treatise in which he described the doctrine of the transformation of the souls of the dead into gods, as mentioned in the Books of Acheron. His works have not survived, but they had some influence because this Etruscan doctrine is one of the pagan doctrines concerning the afterlife that Christian writers felt it necessary to attack.
Nonetheless this intellectual volte-face was unable to prevent the imminent disappearance of the last vestiges of the Etruscan religion. These vestiges were closely bound to traditional Roman religion, and they were even, because of the place given to haruspicy in the official religion, bound up with the position of the ancestral religion in the workings of the res publica. As soon as the Empire abandoned these religious practices and, with the edicts of Theodosius in 391 and 392 ce, banned public celebration of the pagan cult, the old Etruscan tradition, which was too directly bound up with the official cult, was doomed to die out. Whereas one can hear echoes in Proclos, the "last pagan" who ran the school of philosophy at Athens between 430 and 485 ce, and even later in the work of John the Lydian, who in the time of Justinian was interested in the ancient religious customs of Etruria in that last outpost of Rome, Byzantium, they were nothing more than nostalgia for a past long gone.
General Works on Etruscan Religion
Dumézil, Georges. "La religion des Étrusques." In La religion romaine archaїque, pp. 593–600. Paris, 1966. Mainly based upon literary sources.
Gaultier, Françoise, and Dominique Briquel, eds. Les Étrusques, les plus religieux des hommes: Actes du colloque international Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 17–18–19 November 1992. XXes rencontres de l'École du Louve. Paris, 1997. Completely in French with contributions by the leading Etruscologists, the proceedings of a conference dealing with research on the Etruscan religion. Extensive bibliography.
Grenier, Albert. Les religions étrusque et romaine. Series Mana, vol. 3. Paris, 1948. Good description of Greek and Latin sources.
Jannot, Jean-René. Devins, dieux, et démons: Regards sur la religion de l'Étrurie antique. Paris, 1998. Well-informed survey with extensive iconography.
Maggiani, Adriano, and Erika Simon. "Il pensiero scientifico e religioso." In Gli Etruschi: Una nuova immagine, edited by Mauro Cristofani et al., pp. 139–168. Florence, 1984. Brief discussion but well informed, with a good iconography.
Pfiffig, Ambros Josef. Religio Etrusca. Graz, Austria, 1975. In German, a complete work with an analysis of archaeological and iconographical data.
Capua Tile and Linen Book of Zagreb
Cristofani, Mauro. Tabula Capuana, un calendario festivo di età arcaica. Florence, 1995. Work by one of the greatest Etruscologists, dealing with the meaning of the Capua Tile.
Pallottino, Massimo. "Il contenuto della mummia di Zagabria." Studi Etruschi 11 (1937): 203–237. Reprinted in Saggi di antichità, vol. 2, Documenti per la storia della civiltà etrusca, pp. 547–588. Rome, 1979. An old article but one of the best introductions to the contents of the Linen Book of Zagreb.
Banti, Luisa. "Il culto del cosidetto 'tempio di Apollo' a Veii e il problema delle triadi etrusco-italiche." Studi Etruschi 17 (1943): 187–201. An old article but helpful on the subject of triads.
Colonna, Giovanni. "Tarquinio Prisco e il tempio di Giove Capitolino." Parola del Passato 36 (1981): 41–59. On the exceptional nature of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome.
Colonna, Giovanni, ed. Santuari d'Etruria. Milan, 1985. Catalog of an exhibition in Arezzo in 1985 with a survey of the main Etruscan temple excavations and the corpus of archaeological data.
Prayon, Friedhelm. "Deorum sedes: Sull'orientamento dei templi etrusco-italici." In Miscellanea etrusca e italica in onore di Massimo Pallottino, pp. 1285–1295. Archeologia Classica 43. Rome, 1991. On the orientation of Etruscan temples.
Studies on Etruscan Gods
Ackerman, Hans Christoph, and Jean-Robert Gisler, eds. Lexicon Iconographicon Mythologiae Classicae. 8 vols. Zurich, 1981–1997. Articles dedicated to the various Etruscan divinities. Two index volumes were published in 1999.
Berti, Fede, ed. Dioniso, culti, e mistero. Comacchio, Italy, 1991. Proceedings of a conference dealing with the Dionysiac cult, notably in Etruria.
Capdeville, Gérard. "*Velchans (?)." In Volcanus, recherches comparatistes sur les origines du culte de Vulcain, pp. 289–409. Rome, 1995. In the context of a study of the Roman god Vulcan, introduction of data on the Etruscan Velchans that shows it is not possible to draw any firm conclusions.
Rallo, Antonia. Lasa, iconografia e esegesi. Florence, 1974. Study on the Etruscan Lasa, regarded as the equivalent of Greek nymphs.
Krauskopf, Ingrid. Todesdämonen und Totengötter im vorhellenistischen Etrurien, Kontinuität und Wandel. Florence, 1987. Study of the different Etruscan demons and their origins (predates the discovery of the Tomb of the Blue Demons in Tarquinia).
Roncalli, Francesco. "Iconographie funéraire et topographie de l'au-delà en Étrurie." In Les Étrusques, les plus religieux des hommes, pp. 37–54. Paris, 1997. Study of the Tomb of the Blue Demons.
Ruyt, Franz de. Charun, démon étrusque de la mort. Rome, 1934. Complete iconographical study of the Etruscan Charun.
Amann, Petra. Die Etruskerin, Geschlechterverhältnis und Stellung der Frau im frühen Etrurien (9.–5. Jh. v. Chr.). Vienna, 2000. Comprehensive study, well documented archaeologically, on the position of women in Etruscan society in the archaic period.
Rallo, Antonia, ed. Le donne in Etruria. Rome, 1989. Collection devoted to the place of women in Etruscan society.
Bouché-Leclercq, Auguste. Histoire de la divination dans l'antiquité. 4 vols. New York, 1975; reprint, Grenoble, France, 2003. Survey of divination practices in the world of classical antiquity. Good analysis of types of divination.
Thulin, Carl Olof. Die etruskische Disciplin. 2 vols. Göteborg, Sweden, 1906–1909. Old but fundamental work.
Weinstock, Stefan. "Libri fulgurales." In Papers of the British School at Rome, vol. 19, pp. 122–153. London, 1951.
Attitude of Greek and Latin Authors to Etruscan Divination
Guillaumont, François. Philosophe et augure: Recherches sur la théorie cicéronienne de la divination. Brussels, 1984. Attitude of Cicero to Etruscan divination.
Guittard, Charles. La divination dans le monde étrusco-italique. In Suppléments à Caesarodunum, vol. 1, Suppl. 52. Tours, 1985.
Guittard, Charles. La divination dans le monde étrusco-italique. In Suppléments à Caesarodunum, vol. 2, Suppl. 54. Tours, 1986.
Guittard, Charles. La divination dans le monde étrusco-italique. In Suppléments à Caesarodunum, vol. 3, Suppl. 56. Tours, 1986.
Guittard, Charles. La divination dans le monde étrusco-italique. In Suppléments à Caesarodunum, vol. 4, Les auteurs du Siècle d'Auguste et l'Etrusca disciplina, part I, Suppl. 61. Tours, 1991.
Guittard, Charles. La divination dans le monde étrusco-italique. In Suppléments à Caesarodunum, vol. 5, Les auteurs du Siècle d'Auguste et l'Etrusca disciplina, part. II, Suppl. 63. Tours, 1993.
Guittard, Charles. La divination dans le monde étrusco-italique. In Suppléments à Caesarodunum, vol. 6, Les écrivains et l'Etrusca disciplina de Claude à Trajan, Suppl. 64. Tours, 1995.
Guittard, Charles. La divination dans le monde étrusco-italique. In Suppléments à Caesarodunum, vol. 7, Les écrivains du IIe siècle et l'Etrusca disciplina, Suppl. 65. Tours, 1996.
Guittard, Charles. La divination dans le monde étrusco-italique. In Suppléments à Caesarodunum, vol. 8, Les écrivains du troisième siècle et l'Etrusca disciplina, Suppl. 66. Tours, 1999.
Guittard volumes present a systematic investigation of the attitude of Greek and Latin authors to Etruscan divination, with articles by different contributors.
The Liver of Piacenza
Maggiani, Adriano. "Qualche osservazione sul fegato di Piacenza." Studi Etruschi 50 (1982): 53–88. Fundamental study with new readings of inscriptions.
Meer, L. Bouke van der. The Bronze Liver of Piacenza: Analysis of a Polytheistic Structure. Amsterdam, 1987. Analysis of the evidence according to principles different from those adopted by Maggiani.
Omens and Gods Formed from a Soul
Bloch, Raymond. Les prodiges dans l'Antiquité classique: Grèce, Étrurie, et Rome. Paris, 1963.
Briquel, Dominique. "Regards étrusques sur l'au-delà." In La mort, les morts, et l'au-delà dans le monde romain, edited by François Hinard, pp. 263–277. Caen, France, 1985.
Haruspices in Republican Rome
MacBain, Bruce. Prodigy and Expiation: A Study in Religion and Politics in Republican Rome. Brussels, 1982. Fundamental work on the official haruspicy in Rome during the Republic.
Rawson, Elizabeth. "Caesar and the Etrusca Disciplina." Journal of Roman Studies 68 (1978): 132–152.
Position of Haruspicy in Imperial Rome
Briquel, Dominique. Chrétiens et haruspices: La religion étrusque, dernier rempart du paganisme romain. Paris, 1997. Relations between those ancient Romans representing traditional Etruscan religion and Christians.
Mastandrea, Paolo. Un neoplatonico latino, Cornelio Labeone. Leiden, 1979. Role of Cornelius Labeo in the revival of Etruscan discipline.
Montero, Santiago. Politica y adivinación en el Bajo Imperio Romano: Emperadores y harúspices. Brussels, 1991. Systematic examination of evidence regarding late haruspicy.
Dominique Briquel (2005)
Translated from French by Paul Ellis