The ruling class
The ruling class in the Etruscan city-states was made up of an aristocratic class, which came into being in remote times from rich families, both of Italic and non-Italic origin, who held the most important levers of power and from a growing class of merchants and landowners who aspired to join the ruling oligarchy. From inscriptions, we can recognize the members of the noble class because their personal name was always accompanied by the name of their family group. The noble class was at the origin both of the expansion and decline of the Etruscan civilization. Capable of great impetus in archaic times and up to the 5th century BC, it was not able to accept the technological and social developments that marked the historical evolution of the more advanced ancient civilizations, thus condemning their culture to decadence.

Civil architecture
The most typical form of dwelling of the ruling class was characterized by a large central courtyard which gave access to various rooms. Another typology of dwelling consisted of adjacent rooms that opened on to an entrance hall. Buildings were not high and were constructed with a base of square stone blocks. From this rose the walls built of rows of clay blocks or unbaked bricks or pebbles in a wooden latticework and plastered with clay. Sloping roofs covered with tiles were the most typical form of roof but terraced roofs were also to be found. The outside of the house was richly decorated with polychrome terracotta and indoors the walls of the rooms were frescoed with geometric patterns or figurative scenes.

The banquet
The banquet so often reproduced in tomb frescoes had a double meaning for the Etruscans. It was a religious ceremony in that the relatives of the deceased took part in a banquet, as part of the funeral ceremonies, and they believed that the spirit of the deceased was also present. In addition, in daily life, it was a symbol of wealth and marked membership of a social Èlite. It was in fact only the aristocratic class that could afford to give magnificent receptions, where the guests, high-ranking men and women, would lie in pairs on convivial couches, served by numerous slaves, whilst musicians and dancers accompanied the banquet with music and dancing. The tables were covered with embroidered tablecloths and laid with rich dishes; the food was plentiful, with meat, in particular game, vegetables and fruit.

Music and dancing
The Etruscans played percussion, string and wind instruments, in particular the flute in all its various forms, although the double flute was considered the national Etruscan instrument. They greatly appreciated music and it accompanied all their daily activities: working, eating, civil and religious ceremonies. Even on the battlefield the movements of the troops were directed by the sound of trumpets. Music often accompanied the rhythmical movements of dancers, both male and female, whose dancing was not only for entertainment but could also be a ceremony linked to propitiatory rites or funerals. Music was also part of dramatic performances of more ancient origin, with mime by masked actors-dancers. From the IV century BC, drama with dialogue became common, inspired by Greek theatre.

From the 6th century BC, the dress of the Etruscans is reminiscent of that of the Greeks. In the archaic period, men went bare-chested but later a short tunic came into use, with a coloured mantle thrown over the shoulders. This mantle, fuller and embroidered, then became the Etruscans' national garment: the tèbennos. Women and the elderly wore long tunics reaching the feet. These were usually made of a light pleated material and were decorated at the edges; heavier and coloured mantles were worn on top. Skirts, shifts and bodices were also found amongst the items of women's clothing. The commonest type of footwear were sandals, high boots and a characteristic shoe, of Greek or Oriental origin, with an upward pointed tip. The most common headgear was a woollen cap, but there existed many different shapes: pointed, conical, hooded and broad-brimmed; often they identified the specific social class the wearer belonged to. From the 5th century BC onwards, the habit of going bare-headed prevailed. It was also from the 5th century that the men, who previously wore beards, began to shave and wear their hair short. Women had various hair-styles: long hair in a ponytail or in a braid down the back; later they left their hair loose in curls on the shoulders and also gathered up in a chignon on their head or in nets and caps. Dress was completed by jewellery of excellent workmanship, such as earrings, necklaces, bracelets, fibulae and pectorals. Etruscans were experts in the production of these items.

In the Etruscan world, women, unlike their contemporaries in Greek civilization, enjoyed great freedom. The Greek authors disapproved of this fact and spread malicious comments about the moral customs of Etruscan women. Whilst Greek women lived in a position of submission to their husbands and spent most of their time shut up in their homes, Etruscan women were entitled to take part in all public events, at banquets they sat next to their men on convivial couches, they could dress unconventionally and they were educated. Evidence of this prominent role is the custom of identifying people by their mother's name alongside that of their father. In the last phase of Etruscan history, when Greek cultural influence made itself felt more strongly in the arts and in customs, Etruscan women lost part of their independence.

The total absence of Etruscan written profane texts and the fragmentary nature of the religious texts that have come down to us prevents us from gaining more than a very superficial knowledge of Etruscan culture. The loss of the literature of an entire people is a highly tragic event. By the first centuries of the Christian era, the Etruscan language was known only by a few scholars and with the end of the classic civilization even the memory of it was lost, and with it the possibility of handing it down to the present. If from the quotations of a few classic authors we can be certain of the existence of an Etruscan historical literature, we cannot say the same regarding epic narrative, which was probably alien to the thinking of that people. However, we possess a large amount of documentation, although rarely direct, on Etruscan religious literature, which also had an ethic-juridical value. The sacred texts were divided into books which contained the rules of divination, the religious calendar, the rules of behaviour in daily life and public events. Of great curiosity and scientific value was the discovery of a fragment of an Etruscan religious text mentioning detailed rituals and prescribed rules of conduct on strips of cloth used as a wrapping for an Egyptian mummy.


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