The Mysterious Etruscans

Course No. 3421
Professor Steven L. Tuck, Ph.D.
Miami University
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Course No. 3421
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  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. While the video version can be considered lightly illustrated, it does feature maps, timelines, building plans, and images of paintings, statues, terra-cotta, bronzes, and other art demonstrating the skill of Etruscan artisans. Visual learners have the added benefit of on-screen text to help reinforce material.
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What Will You Learn?

  • Meet the Etruscans and see how they served as a conduit between the Greeks and the Romans.
  • Explore the Etruscan necropolis - a literal city of the dead - to learn about the afterlife, social class, and more.
  • Discover the innovations that we associate as being Roman were actually Etruscan, such as chariot races and architecture.
  • Review the role of women as priestesses, wives, mothers, and members of society at large in a culture ahead of its time.

Course Overview

How much do you know about the Etruscans? Many people, even those who are fascinated by ancient history, are less familiar with this intriguing culture than with the history of Greece and Rome—but the story of the Etruscans is equally captivating and far more important than you may have known. This ancient civilization prospered in the region of modern-day Tuscany, maintaining extensive trade networks, building impressive fortified cities, making exquisite art, and creating a culture that, while deeply connected to the Greeks and Romans, had striking contrasts.

The Etruscans were the original inhabitants of central Italy. Centuries before the rise of Rome, they built cities such as Pompeii, Capua, and Orvieto along fortified hilltops. They developed a system of roads and invented what we call the Roman arch. While they had their own system of government, their own myths and legends, and their own cultural attributes, the Etruscans imported and repurposed much from the Greeks—and, in turn, gave much to the Romans.

Etruscan culture acted as a conduit, transmitting Greek art, mythology, language, and cultural icons to Rome, but it also had many unique elements that the Romans later adopted. You might be surprised to find out how much of Roman civilization—from togas to bronze military armor to Rome itself—actually has Etruscan origins. The Etruscans are largely responsible for:

  • transmitting the alphabet, and therefore writing, to the Romans and other ancient societies as far away as the Nordic regions
  • granting Rome much of its celebrated architecture and infrastructure, from the Cloaca Maxima water-control system to the storied arch
  • developing exquisite works of bronze and terra-cotta, as well as mesmerizing tomb paintings
  • creating well-known symbols of republican government—imagery that still lives on in U.S. government buildings like the Lincoln Memorial
  • engaging in sports and spectacles such as chariot racing and gladiatorial combat

Without the Etruscans, much of what we associate with the Roman world, and thus the foundations of Western civilization, would largely disappear. The Mysterious Etruscans is your opportunity to discover this astounding culture and fill in a critical gap in your understanding of the ancient world. Taught by Dr. Steven Tuck, an award-winning Professor of Classics at Miami University, these 24 fascinating lectures give you an inside look into a seldom-studied but vitally important history.

Explore This Culture through Historical Detective Work

Little from Etruscan society remains unchanged, which means that to flesh out more than a bare-bones description, we must rely on deductions from the artworks, records, and tombs that survive. Part Sherlock Holmes, part CSI detective, Professor Tuck compiles the evidence to build the case for who the Etruscans were and what impact they made on the world around them. Over the course of his investigation, he considers questions such as:

  • Where did the Etruscans come from? Did they migrate to the region from Asia Minor, or were they autochthonous—that is, did they spring up in from the region itself? Consider the evidence from primary sources such as Herodotus and the Aeneid, and compare it to the results of modern DNA research.
  • What can we deduce from their tombs? Funeral practices are slow to change in any society, and therefore tell us much about how a civilization viewed itself in relation to the cosmos, as well as its cultural beliefs and priorities. Professor Tuck takes you inside the Etruscans’ famous “cities of the dead,” where you’ll discover a great deal about Etruscan culture among the living.
  • Was Rome actually an Etruscan city? The Etruscans built a number of city-states on fortified hills, much like the geography of Rome. Professor Tuck examines the rulers and customs of Rome, as well as its urban design, to show why it isn’t too far-fetched to suggest that the city actually has Etruscan origins.
  • Where did the Etruscans go? Because we know the Etruscans are no longer here, we might assume they gradually folded into Roman culture. Take a look at their final years as a distinct culture—and how the Romans appropriated and repurposed much of what was uniquely Etruscan.

Go Inside the Public and Private Lives of the Etruscans

Beyond their influence on Roman culture, the Etruscans are fascinating in their own right. Their family structures alone make them unique among ancient civilizations. For instance, unlike women in Greek or Roman societies, Etruscan women enjoyed relative equality with men—appearing in public and at social gatherings

One of the most popular forms of social entertainment was the banquet. The Etruscans held banquets to honor the dead, celebrate military victory, and worship the gods, among other reasons. As you’ll discover, other societies often viewed the Etruscans as decadent and immoral with all those women out in public, but the Etruscans had different—and, we might say, ahead of their time—cultural beliefs and priorities.

Although original Etruscan cities have largely been built over, Professor Tuck is able to take us inside their homes by looking at the current city foundations as well as the Etruscan necropolises—literal cities of the dead fashioned to mirror their cities for the living. This evidence gives us crucial insight into the Etruscans’ sophisticated family structure, as well as their views on children, religion, and more.

Gain a New Perspective on the Ancient World

The Etruscans built an impressive trade network across the Mediterranean. As such, they were able to import much from the Greeks, the Phoenicians, and other societies and bring it to central Italy and the Romans. One of the delights of this course is seeing how the Etruscans took cultural motifs from elsewhere, modified them, and made them their own. For example, you’ll see how they borrowed extensively from Greek mythology and adapted it for their own religious practices.

You’ll also see how Etruscan culture influenced the larger world around them. One dramatic example is their art, craftsmanship, and metalworking. Tomb paintings, portraits, terra-cotta vessels, and other pieces give us insight into the process of artistic creation and the way art reflects, and in some cases informs, society. Meanwhile, the Etruscan traditions of bronze sculptures, military armor, and more were picked up by the Romans and revived in the Renaissance.

Although they are too often ignored by today’s history enthusiasts, the Etruscans had complex religious, social, and governmental customs; built an incredible trade network; and created exquisite and advanced arts and architecture. Their stories may have been overshadowed by their outsized neighbors, but now, The Mysterious Etruscans gives you the chance to fill in those eye-opening details and learn about one of the most interesting civilizations omitted by the history books.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Between the Greeks and Romans
    Meet the Etruscans. Although you may not know much about them, this opening lecture quickly shows how they served as a conduit between the Greeks and the Romans, influencing much of what we think of as Western civilization. Begin by surveying their world to gain context for this mysterious people. x
  • 2
    Lost Cities of Tuscany
    Although Etruscan cities no longer survive, we can learn much by studying the geography and the foundations of cities that were built over the Etruscan developments. Explore three Etruscan cities to find out how they were designed, and see what urban development tells us about the people and their impact on future civilizations. x
  • 3
    Who Founded Rome?
    Much of Rome's geography, architecture, and artistic inscriptions suggest strong Etruscan influence. After discussing three Etruscan kings who ruled Rome, Professor Tuck reviews the evidence - particularly in some of the city's prominent temples - that Rome was, in fact, largely founded as an Etruscan city. x
  • 4
    Etruscan Cities of the Dead
    Step into the Etruscan necropolis - a literal city of the dead - which tells us much about how the culture viewed the afterlife, social class, and more. In this first of three lectures on the dead, you'll visit several ancient tombs to find out about how this mysterious people lived - and how their culture changed over time. x
  • 5
    Etruscan Burial and Mourning
    Funeral rites are some of the most conservative components of a culture. Because they change so slowly, we can learn much from looking at a society's funerals. Here, examine Etruscan tomb paintings to learn about their religious rituals, from which we can deduce much of their beliefs, cultural priorities, and more. x
  • 6
    Etruscan Afterlife
    Round out your study of the Etruscan view of the dead and the afterlife by examining wall paintings. Reflect on some of the key symbols around the transition from the living to the dead - including divers, underworld guides, and kings. Then consider how the Etruscan afterlife compared to Greek beliefs and mythology. x
  • 7
    Etruscan Gods and Goddesses
    Shift your attention from the afterlife to survey Etruscan gods and goddesses. Learn about their pantheon and see how their deities compare to Greek and Roman gods, and consider what these deities indicate about the Etruscan worldview. See how collective action among the deities mirrored the culture's government, family life, and more. x
  • 8
    Divination: The Will of the Gods
    One of the longest-lasting Etruscan legacies is divination, which had a profound influence on Rome. Venture into the Etruscan cosmos and find out how the interpretation of entrails, the flight of birds, and portents such as lightning strikes influenced their world. Then turn to blood sacrifices and other rituals designed to interpret the world and appease the gods. x
  • 9
    Sanctuaries and Sacred Places
    Sanctuaries reflect Etruscan religious beliefs and offer critical insight into their culture and politics. Examine the placement and design of several key sanctuaries, and contrast them with Greek temples. After reflecting on the geography of religious spaces, Professor Tuck turns to religious art and sculpture. x
  • 10
    Etruscan Myths, Legends, and Heroes
    While much of their art incorporates Greek elements - confusing archaeologists for decades - the Etruscans have their own distinct myths and legends. Here, delve into some of those stories and meet heroes such as the Vipinas brothers, who were a pair of folk heroes rooted in history. Explore the relationship between myth and history. x
  • 11
    Greek Myth: Etruscan Tombs and Temples
    Between the 7th and 3rd centuries BC, the Etruscans imported thousands of pieces of Greek pottery, and this ubiquity influenced much of their own art. Study the urns, tomb paintings, and other artworks to uncover how the Etruscans incorporated and reinterpreted Greek myths for their own purposes. x
  • 12
    Greek Myth: Etruscan Homes
    Continue your study of how Greek mythology influenced the Etruscans. Look at carvings, sculptural reliefs, bronze works, and other media that depict scenes from Greek myths. Examples include scenes from the Odyssey and the Iliad - adapted to Etruscan life in interesting ways. x
  • 13
    Etruscan Language and Literature
    The Etruscan language survives in more than 13,000 texts, from religious transcriptions on mummy linens to fascinating legal contracts written in stone. Because the Etruscans had a primarily oral culture, their writing tended to be analytical and straightforward, yet from it we can deduce much. x
  • 14
    Etruscan Government
    Reflect on the Etruscan form of government, which shifted from tyranny to a kind of city-state democracy. Examine some of the limitations of their democracy - especially in the realm of defense against Roman invaders. Then consider how much the Etruscan government and its symbols informed Rome, and therefore much of Western civilization. x
  • 15
    Etruscan Warriors and Warfare
    The Etruscan militaries were formidable, and their navies sailed around the Mediterranean, threatening many foreign settlements. Yet the military structure - or lack thereof - combined with a lack of any grand strategy, meant that the Etruscan military was more of a loose confederation than a unified force. Learn about their armor, battle tactics, and major confrontations. x
  • 16
    Mediterranean Artisans and Merchants
    Turn to the Etruscans' extensive trade network across the Mediterranean, and consider some of their imports from the Greeks and Phoenicians - including pottery, ivory, glass, and more. Reflect on arts and crafts such as Greek vases, terra-cotta vessels, and pottery, and find out what Etruscan imports and exports might tell us about their politics and society. x
  • 17
    Bronze, Terra-Cotta, and Portraiture
    Dig deeper into Etruscan artwork and go inside the world of bronze metalworking and the terra-cotta industry. Professor Tuck shows you the patterns to their art, traces the Greek influence, and surveys the Etruscan gift for portraiture. You'll study examples of their art and the techniques that went into making it. x
  • 18
    Etruscan Sports and Spectacles
    Sport and spectacle have long been part of human affairs. We associate gladiatorial combat with the Romans, but it actually originated with the Etruscans, who held such combats and chariot races as part of religious observances. Study the exciting world of Etruscan sports and find out the context surrounding different types of games. x
  • 19
    The Etruscan Banquet
    Banquets were the most significant social experience in the Etruscan world. Using tomb art as your guide, delve into the banquet world and see the customs for celebrating victories and observing religious events. You'll also learn about the inclusion of women in these public events - unique in the ancient world. x
  • 20
    Etruscan Women
    One stark contrast between Etruscan society and the Greek and Roman worlds is the relative equality of Etruscan women to men. They appeared in public and even danced and banqueted in mixed company, inspiring strident condemnation from foreign authors. Here, review the role of women as priestesses, wives, mothers, and members of society at large. x
  • 21
    Etruscan Families
    Relative equality between men and women extended to family life, as well. In this lecture, take a look at the Etruscan family structure and compare it to the Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews. Professor Tuck uses tombs, funerary markers, myths, and more to present a picture of the Etruscan family, gender roles, and the status of children. x
  • 22
    The Etruscan World Falls Apart
    Many people assume that Etruscan culture simply died after the rise of Rome, but in truth, the culture lived on several centuries into Roman rule. Trace the history of the Etruscans' final years, from the invasion of Rome to various resistance and revival movements to their eventual integration into the Roman world. x
  • 23
    Etruscan Legacy in the Roman World
    Tour Rome in the era of Augustus at the turn of the Common Era to reveal the Etruscans' influence on all things Roman. While Etruscan culture officially faded away, you'll see that without the Etruscans, Rome would lack many of its strongest attributes, from roads and bridges to military armor and togas to religion and sport. x
  • 24
    Where Have the Etruscans Gone?
    In this final lecture, you'll trace the influence of Etruscan art and architecture in the Renaissance, when many exports of Roman" culture were actually Etruscan. Then review what modern DNA research tells us about the origins and endings of the Etruscans - and the limits of our knowledge about this mysterious people even today." x

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Your professor

Steven L. Tuck

About Your Professor

Steven L. Tuck, Ph.D.
Miami University
Professor Steven L. Tuck is Professor of Classics at Miami University. After earning his B.A. in History and Classics at Indiana University, he received his Ph.D. in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. He held the postdoctoral Arthur and Joyce Gordon Fellowship in Latin epigraphy at The Ohio State University. An esteemed teacher, Professor Tuck received the 2013 E. Phillips Knox Teaching Award,...
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The Mysterious Etruscans is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 52.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not So Mysterious, After All In his introductory lecture, Dr. Steven L. Tuck made a confident prediction that the material covered in his course would be amazing and well worth examining. As far as both my wife and I were concerned, he was absolutely right! Decades ago, in our university studies on the history of Western Civilization, the ancient Etruscans were mentioned only briefly, almost as “also-rans,” with far more attention paid to the more-celebrated Greeks and Romans. The present course made a strong case that much of what we in the present day know about Roman culture and about the art and mythology of the Greeks is, in fact, thanks to Etruscan innovations and adaptations, what was borrowed from them and by them, plus what they valued for inclusion in their elaborate tombs. Etruscan influence was widespread long ago and persists even in the modern world. The professor’s essay-like lectures were, in general, clear and informative. He was erudite, but also witty. His third lecture was a particular high point, framed as a trial-by-jury to resolve the question of who really were the founders of Rome. Throughout the course, Dr. Tuck’s gestures were appropriate and non-distracting. It was a bit frustrating, though, when he drew analogies to things that were a mystery to me, elements perhaps of pop culture or television shows. On a few occasions, he also made reference to nebulous events or terms before eventually explaining them. Some of the visual extras that were included in the course were beautiful, relevant, and effective. Others featuring what looked like moving scans of texts in Latin, Greek, and/or Etruscan did not seem helpful at all—I’d have rather been left watching the professor himself as he was describing what those texts were about. Lists and labelled maps, when displayed, were very helpful, though these were rather sparse during detail-packed stretches of personal names, place names, and dates, when they would have been particularly appreciated, perhaps with the professor still visible in an inset or cameo, as per a technique used in some of the other Great Courses. Overall, “The Mysterious Etruscans” is eminently worthwhile. It did a fine job of “filling in gaps” in my own awareness of the ancient history of the Mediterranean World/Western World. Considering the Etruscans “in context,” though, seemed especially revealing; so, I would suggest that newcomers to this whole domain of history would do well to study more general courses, too, even simultaneously.
Date published: 2018-11-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I knew very little about the Etruscans, and I thought that little was known about them in general. Well, I was wrong about that, there is enough known about them to fill a twelve hour course. Interesting facts, too!
Date published: 2018-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Oops! Love the course, but accidentally bought the audio version rather than the CD. I'll be watching for sales again!
Date published: 2018-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great coverage of these ancient people I learned so much from this course. I am very happy I bought the audio CDs.
Date published: 2018-05-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Some thoughts and ideas. This course could do with halving the number of lectures and then editing what is left. For example, Three lectures on Etruscan mythology is excessive and could be covered in one lecture. More needs to be made of the visual presentation. Watching a person read from an autocue is not value for money - I could do that, for half his fee! The reader gives many example of places and structures - as if we are familiar with them. Use the visual medium to show us photos and sketches. The recommended reading section is not realistic. From Amazon many lie between £70-£350 !!! We do not have access to free university libraries. How about including e-books - we pay enough for the courses.
Date published: 2018-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great, as usual I first experienced Professor Tuck from the Experiencing Rome course, which is spectacular, so, as so often is the case re. courses/professors, I followed his subsequent courses; and they have all been five star, always with humor (hey, who doesn't like humor), always with expertise, and I've come to realize, originality: and what I mean is, he will present theories of his own that sometimes, or many times, competes with the status quo; and guess what, he's the one who is correct, you can tell. He approaches history, as any good historian does, without arrogance, without dogma, but with the attitude of, "Well, we don't really know. But the evidence, or lack thereof, suggests..." And he does so sans ego. Watching his courses is truly like watching a friend talk to you about really interesting history. And the Etruscans - wow! They are so crucially important to the basis of Rome, so much so that the emperor Claudius, in the decades when he was a nobody, wrote a history of them (and a dictionary of their language), which is lost. But we have this course, thank goodness. And as with the other great courses from TTC, I will rewatch it in the future, like I have the other Roman and Greek courses, by Tuck, Fagan, McInerney, Fears; which is why these courses are so great, you can watch them over and over. I don't think I've ever spent money on dvds that have profited me so much...
Date published: 2018-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Should have got the DVD I liked the professor very much but wish I had bought the DVD, as he covered the Etruscan art often. I would have appreciated seeing what he was talking about. I tend to get the CD's because the DVD's usually don't have enough visuals. Now I'll have to buy a book to see the art.
Date published: 2018-01-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Lost Culture Particularly having spent 10 days in Rome, I found the idea that this culture predated and greatly influenced what I saw in Rome of real interest. The "cross-pollination" of Greek, Etruscan and Roman cultures is worth exploring.
Date published: 2018-01-20
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