The Etruscan Necropolises 
of Cerveteri and Tarquinia (2004)

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Two large Etruscan cemeteries, which reflect different types of burial practices from the 9th to the 1st century BC, and bear witness to the achievements of Etruscan culture. Some of the tombs are monumental, cut in rock and topped by impressive tumuli (burial mounds). Many feature carvings on their walls, others have wall paintings of outstanding quality.
  • Italy 2002.  Definitive stamp in a series depicting "Women in Art", this one a woman's head from the Etruscan Period.  

Italy 2002. Definitive stamp depicting "Women in Art". Etruscan Period.

The necropolis near Cerveteri, known as Banditaccia, contains thousands of tombs organized in a city-like plan, with streets, small squares and neighbourhoods. The site contains very different types of tombs: trenches cut in rock;  tumuli; and some, also carved in rock, in the shape of huts or houses with a wealth of structural details. These provide the only surviving evidence of Etruscan residential architecture. The necropolis of Tarquinia, also known as Monterozzi, contains 6,000 graves cut in the rock. It is famous for its 200 painted tombs, the earliest of which date from the 7th century BC. 

Italy 1984. Etruscan Art. Broze statue of a warrior. Italy 1984. Etruscan Art. Exhibition Logo. Italy 1984. Etruscan Art. Silver Mirror.

Etruscan Civilization is the culture of the ancient people of Etruria, an area roughly equivalent to modern Tuscany, Italy, which flourished between about 800 and 300 BC. At the height of its power, between the 7th and 5th centuries BC, Etruria probably covered a territory stretching from the Alps to the Tiber. The name "Etruria" is the Latin version of the Greek name "Tyrrhenia" or "Tyrsenia"; the ancient Romans called the people Etrusci or Tusci, from which is derived the name of the modern Italian region of Tuscany. But gradually during the last four hundred years their art has come to be appreciated and enjoyed, with the emergence of richly frescoed tombs, exquisite jewelry and sculpture, metalwork and painted vases at sites such as Cerveteri, Tarquinia and Vulci. 

Sweden 1972. Etruscan Art.

Sweden 1972. Etruscan Art. First day cover.

Italy 1981. Tarquinia

The origins of the Etruscans are obscure and even in antiquity there was much speculation about their identity. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus maintained that the Etruscans came from Lydia, an ancient country in western Asia Minor. The later Roman historian Livy and Greek historian Polybius agreed with Herodotus, as did the Roman poets Publius Papinius Statius and Tiberius Catius Silius Italicus. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, however, held that the Etruscans were an indigenous people, a view taken by many modern scholars.  

Whichever their origin, the Etruscans are one of the enigmas of history.  A cultured, artistic, socially adept, economically prosperous and pleasure-loving people, they dominated Central Italy for 800 years until, eclipsed by the burgeoning power of Rome in the fourth and third centuries BC, their civilization was absorbed and their identity obliterated.  

Art and Architecture 
Etruscan art was related to that of the Greeks (in both Greece and southern Italy) and to that of Egypt and Asia Minor. It also exhibits local elements and reflects Etruscan religious beliefs. Etruscan art was a major influence on later Roman styles. Modern knowledge of it is based overwhelmingly on murals and frescoes that survive in tombs. 

The Vatican 1983. Fragment #1 of three souvenir sheets depicting Etruscan Art. The Vatican 1983. Fragment #2 of three souvenir sheets depicting Etruscan Art. The Vatican 1983. Fragment #3 of three souvenir sheets depicting Etruscan Art.

Nothing remains of Etruscan palaces, public buildings, and early temples, which were built of wood and brick. Votive ceramic models of temples, as well as traces of later stone structures, indicate that temples were built in enclosures and had tiled, gabled roofs supported on pillars, like their Greek counterparts. A Greek temple, however, was built on an east-west axis on a low terrace and could be entered from a colonnade on all four sides; an Etruscan temple, to meet religious requirements, was located on a north-south axis and stood on a high podium with a four-columned porch in front of three doors leading to three parallel rooms for the three chief Etruscan gods. The brilliantly painted terracotta statuary that decorated the roof along the eaves, ridge pole, and at the gable ends also served the practical purpose of hiding and protecting tile joints and rafter ends. Plaques with low-relief figures adorned the entablature. Roman temples followed the plan developed by the Etruscans.

Most Etruscan cities were laid out in the form of a quadrangle, with fortifications and encompassing walls enforced by double gates and towers. These building methods were also used outside Etruria. The wall surrounding the early city of Rome, reputedly built during the time of Servius Tullius (reigned 578-534 BC) was of Etruscan construction. 

The Etruscans, like most ancient peoples, did not value art for art’s sake but created objects for either utilitarian or religious purposes.

The Vatican 1983. Etruscan bronze sculpture of a child's head.

Few artists are therefore known by name and few examples of public art or large-scale sculpture in stone survive. Moreover, Etruscan art, while sharing general characteristics, differed from one city to another, reflecting the political independence of each. 
  • The Vatican 1983. Etruscan bronze sculpture of a child's head.  Click on the image to see the stamp's position in the full sheet. The link will open in a new window.  

One of the most famous sculptures, "Sarcophagus of a Married Couple" from the Banditaccia necropolis in Cerveteri (late 6th century BC). Each of the couple once held separate objects, perhaps eggs. 

Etruscan Art. Photograph. Reclining couple. Back. Etruacan Art. Photograph. Reclining couple. Front.

The most famous Etruscan works are in terracotta, or baked clay, and these include not only sculptures on sarcophagi lids such as the reclining couple (late 6th century BC, Villa Giulia, Rome) from Caere, but also works from temples, such as revetments to protect the wood as well as roof and pedimental sculptures. Please compare the stamp directly with the photograph above left  and see the delicate lines of the engraving, so well adapted from the original sculpture.  

  • San Marino 1971.  Sarcophagus of a Married Couple. 

  • Republic of Madagascar 1994.  Idem.  Scan by courtesy of Mario Petretti (Italy).  

San Marino 1971. Etruscan Art. Reclining couple. Republic of Madagascar 1994. Etruscan Art. Reclining couple.
Monaco 1960.  Etruscan Art. The Roman she-wolf on an olympic stamp. Republic of Madagascar 1994. Etruscan Art. The Roman she-wolf.

The artists from Vulci excelled in carving images from nenfro, a local limestone, such as the Sphinx and Winged Lion in Rome. 

The Etruscans were also exceptionally skilled bronze-workers. It was for long believed that the icon of Rome's foundation, the Capitoline She-Wolf, was of Etruscan origin, and adopted by the earliest Romans as a symbol for their city; the sculpture was crafted in the Middle Ages, not the Antiquities, according to a research into the statue’s bronze-casting technique. 

Recalling the story of a she-wolf which fed Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, and his twin brother, Remus, after they had been thrown in a basket into the Tiber River, the statue has been always linked to the ancient world. The Etruscan Art has lost one of its masterpieces !  

Source: Discovery Channel, News, verified by an article in the Italian newspaper "La Republicca", dated November 2006. The original Italian article (in Talian) can be forwarded upon request to the webmaster. 

Consequently, another bronze work, believed to be of Etruscan origin, The Chimera from Arezzo, shown immediately below left, will be the subject of further researches, which may eventually prove the sculpture to be of a later origin. 

San Marino 1971. Etruscan Arts. Chimera from Arezzo. San Marino 1971. Etruscan Art. Head of Mercury from the Portonaccio Temple. San Marino 1971. Etruscan Art. Duck-shaped jug.

Etruscan murals (painted on to stone) and frescoes (painted on to plastered stone walls and ceilings) are those in tombs at Tarquinii (now Tarquinia) and around Clusium (now Chiusi). A few painted plaques are also extant. In the early murals of the 6th and 5th centuries BC the drawing is strong, and the colours bright and flat. Figures are stylized, heavy, and often outlined in black. The below set of four stamps, issued by San Marino 1975 depict such murals from the tombs at Tarquinia.  These stamps are so beautifully detailed, that it is justified to show them in large format; click on either of the images to see enlargements.  

The subjects depicted are religious, as on four slabs from Caere (c. 550 BC, British Museum, London), or are drawn from Greek literature, such as scenes from the life of Achilles in the Tomb of the Bulls (530-520 BC) at Tarquinii. 

San Marino 1975. Etruscan Arts. Achilles and Troilus, from Tomb of the Bullls, Tarquinia.

Most murals from Tarquinii are lively depictions of the games, dancing, music, and feasting that accompanied Etruscan funerals, as are those from the Tomb of the Augurs (520-510 BC) and the Tomb of the Triclinium (480-470 BC). 

Tombs from the 4th century onward were influenced by Hellenistic art when Etruscan power was in decline; they were painted in a more realistic style and were strikingly gloomy in character. 

San Marino 1975. Etruscan Arts. Musicians, Leopart Tomb, Tarquinia. San Marino 1975. Chariot Race, Tomb on the Hill, Chiusi. San Marino 1975. Etruscan Arts. Dancers, Triclinium Tomb, Tarquinia.

Decorative Arts 
The Etruscans at first imported or copied painted Greek pottery. They also developed a distinctive polished black bucchero ware with incised or relief decoration suggesting metalwork, which reached its peak of development in the late 7th and 6th centuries BC. Among works in bronze, the Etruscans created chariots, bowls, candelabra, cylindrical coffers, and especially polished mirrors, all richly engraved with mythological motifs. They also crafted fine gold, silver, and jewellery fashioned from ivory, using filigree and granulation. 

Italy 2001. Etruscan Art. The Etruscan Liver. Postcard.

The Etruscan Liver is a 2nd century BC object originally used mainly for divination and now housed at the Museum of Piacenza.  It derives its name from its shape and shows the 16 "cells" into which the Etruscans divided the sky. 

The cancellation reads:  
(first round - top):   29100 Piancenza Centro = city postal code (location of exhibition)
(second round- top):   27.1.2001 = January 27, 2001   

(first round - bottom):  Flufluns (Bacco) = Flufluns was an Etruscan god of vegetation, vitality and gaiety, son of the earth-goddess Semia.  He shows many similarities with Dionysus and Bacchus, the Greek and Roman gods of wine. 
(second round - bottom):  Il "Fegato Etrusco" (II sec. a.C) = The Etruscan Liver (2nd century BC).
(third round - bottom):  14º "Pantheon" - Mostra Tematica Vite - Vino = 14th "Pantheon" Thematic Exhibition "Lives and Wine". 

The influence of Etruscan art on Roman art and architecture predominated from the 6th century to the 3rd century BC when the Hellenistic style became more influential.  

Sources and links:

Many thanks to Mr. Mario Petretti (Italy), for all help, research, and encouragement in setting up this page.

Other World Heritage Sites in Italy (on this site). Inactive links are not described on stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section Italy for further information about such sites. 

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Revised 26 aug 2007  
Copyright © 1999 Heindorffhus 
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