Typical of the Etruscan social order was the great level of importance given to the rulers, which was shown in the solemnity of the ceremonies underlining their public actions. The form of the state was oligarchic, with collegial bodies of government, with the highest magistrate, the lucumone, being elected for a pre-established period from the noblest families. On the other hand, the monarchic system, which was the most widespread in the archaic period, continued in some cities.

The lucumone combined the role of civil, military and religious chief. The symbol of his authority was a fasces of rods with an axe in the middle. Other symbols of power were a golden crown, a sceptre, a purple mantle and an ivory throne. Little is known about the social divisions of the Etruscan world: we can distinguish between a class of masters, divided between the aristocracy and the merchant class on the one hand and a servile class, divided between free men and slaves. The servile class never had the possibility of intervening directly in running the state and gained only marginal advantage of the wealth of the affluent classes. This clear-cut separation represented a factor of weakness in times of crisis, undermining the bases of that social cohesion necessary to resist external dangers.

Placed in a pivotal region for trade between the Orient and the West, the Etruscans were able to fully exploit this advantageous position. With the control of the Tyrrhenian Sea ensured by their fleet, Etruscan merchants were as famous as the Greeks or Phoenicians to the peoples living along the coasts of the Mediterranean. The overland commercial routes leading to the north of Europe were also covered by Etruscan merchants who thus acted as intermediaries between the advanced civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean and the lesser developed peoples of the west and the far-off north. The products for which the Etruscans were best known were wine, vases, including bucchero ware, bronze arms and treasures. To make trade and the movement of troops easier, the Etruscan territories were covered by a dense network of roads, some of which were built with complex engineering works. Taking these roads towards the north, the Apennines could be crossed to reach the plains of the Po Valley; towards the south, they linked Etruria with Etruscan Campania and the flourishing cities of the south of Italy.

In the most remote times when trade was already flourishing, the majority of exchanges were made by bartering. The first means of exchange were pieces of copper or unrefined silver. In the archaic period, when the economy was based essentially on bartering, the few coins that circulated were Greek. The systematic minting of coins began in the mid 5th century BC and was concentrated in Populonia, in correspondence with the richest mining area of the whole of Etruria. Only towards the end of the 4th century BC, following the Roman example, did the first coins of melted and minted bronze appear.

The language
The incomprehensible nature of the language has contributed to the creation of an aura of fascination and mystery around the Etruscan civilization. In fact, although the alphabet is clearly derived from the Greek one, the Etruscan language appears to scholars as isolated in the historical context. The dissatisfactory level of knowledge, which prevents us from inserting it in a specific linguistic group, contributes to creating uncertainty regarding the origin of the Etruscan people.
For more than four centuries, from the 15th century to the present, experts of linguistics and simple enthusiasts have tackled the fragmentary Etruscan texts that have come down to us. Today we can say that the enigma of the Etruscan language has been at least partially solved, insofar as we know its phonetics, the meaning of many words and we can reconstruct some of the grammatical rules. If the level of our knowledge allows us to understand the meaning of the texts in our possession, it is equally true that we are incapable of reconstructing their exact literal meaning. It is not a question of finding a key of interpretation for a sudden full comprehension of the Etruscan language, but of studying in depth the level of analysis of the material we have at our disposal.


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