Etruscan origin riddle solved
June 24, 2007 10:53 AM   Subscribe

The Etruscan civilization flourished in central Italy around the 6th century BC before the rise of the Roman Empire. Known for high art and high living, some say the Etruscans were influential in molding Roman and western civilization, however it has always been an enigma on where the Etruscans originally came from. DNA evidence has probably solved the mystery, confirming what Greek historian Herodotus first said over 2,500 years ago.
posted by stbalbach (33 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
That makes sense. When I've seen how other cultures drew the Etruscans (particularly in Egyptian art), the features definitely looked a lot different than Greeks or Romans to me, especially the hair. Seemed little closer to how they portrayed ancient Ottomans. Not a total match to that either, though.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:13 AM on June 24, 2007


My Ancient Civilizations teacher in high school spent a class trying to prove the Etruscans came from outer space.
posted by chunking express at 11:13 AM on June 24, 2007


Fascinating! Thanks. ah Toscana. Spent four amazing summers in Tuscany, on the island of Elba, with typical walled, mountain villages.

"Tuscany was the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Dante Alighieri."
posted by nickyskye at 11:19 AM on June 24, 2007


chunking express: Heh. I just had a survey course on ancient history last quarter at college, and my prof did something similar. He was obsessed with anything "alien-like" that was to be found in ancient history sources. For example, look up Alexander the Great's siege of the city of Tyre, when he built a causeway to gain access to it. Some sources say he saw two "flying shields" that fired beams or fire or some such at the city. My prof obsessed over this, claiming they were UFOs.

Anyway - interesting update about the Etruscans. Thanks for the links.
posted by JoshTeeters at 11:22 AM on June 24, 2007


I can't see how Professor Piazza squares these results...argh, can't finish my bad pun.
I get the impression that early historical sources often turn out to be accurate after all (thinking of a documentary I saw on locating Troy) after falling out of favour. Thanks for the interesting read.
posted by Abiezer at 11:27 AM on June 24, 2007


This story needs more extreme CSI close-ups.
posted by stavrogin at 11:29 AM on June 24, 2007


I might be totally misunderstanding my shadowy ancient history, but this sort of jives with the understanding that troy was likely in turkey and the first italians migrated from turkey to italian soil after the greeks sacked troy as mythologized by homer in the illiad and virgil in the aeneid.
posted by shmegegge at 11:39 AM on June 24, 2007


I might be totally misunderstanding my shadowy ancient history, but this sort of jives with the understanding that troy was likely in turkey and the first italians migrated from turkey to italian soil after the greeks sacked troy as mythologized by homer in the illiad and virgil in the aeneid.

This is surprising, since the Aeneid was a propaganda piece written after the fall of the Republic.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:13 PM on June 24, 2007


This is cool. My favorite professor from undergrad is an Etruscanologist; she was working on a book about the thunder divination last I heard. (Her favorite was the one that if it thundered on such-and-such a day, women would overturn men and rule the cities.)
posted by cobaltnine at 12:17 PM on June 24, 2007


Yeah, Troy was near Istanbul (not Constantinople), I believe.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:19 PM on June 24, 2007


It sounds like 66% of Ancient History profs need to be removed from their posts. How do fucktards like those mentioned in this thread get work teaching at the university level? Maybe timecube guy should get a job teaching physics.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:30 PM on June 24, 2007


The Aeneid is a glorious propaganda piece though. Read the John Dryden translation.

I don't think Virgil invented the idea that the ancestors of the Romans came from Troy. IIRC it was a mix of self-aggrandisement (we Romans are great, must have come from a great civilization) and timing (they thought Troy fell roundabout the same time their ancestors turned up).

However, I think the Romans tended to think of the Latins as their ancestors and the Estruscans as their early enemies.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:32 PM on June 24, 2007


From the second link:

The latest findings confirm what was said about the matter almost 2,500 years ago, by the Greek historian Herodotus. The first traces of Etruscan civilisation in Italy date from about 1200 BC.

About seven and a half centuries later, Herodotus wrote that after the Lydians had undergone a period of severe deprivation in western Anatolia, "their king divided the people into two groups, and made them draw lots, so that the one group should remain and the other leave the country; he himself was to be the head of those who drew the lot to remain there, and his son, whose name was Tyrrhenus, of those who departed".


What do you bet that the Lydians kept all the nubile women for themselves, expelling only the surplus males, even their own sons, such as the king's son Tyrrhenus?

This would have a parallel with modern heretical Mormon sects, where polygamy has led to wholesale expulsion of barely pubescent boys.

Next to be confirmed (with mitochondrial DNA, this time): the Rape of the Sabine Women.
posted by jamjam at 1:03 PM on June 24, 2007


What will this mean for Turkish EU ascenion? :)
posted by cell divide at 1:16 PM on June 24, 2007


Their real background will be told in the upcoming season of Stargate: Atlantis.

Wait for it. It will blow your mind.
posted by hank_14 at 1:21 PM on June 24, 2007


Troy is a popular place to claim descent from. The British people descend from Brutus of Troy, grandson of the Trojan hero Aeneas, (maybe after a long stopover in Italy).
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 1:22 PM on June 24, 2007


how they portrayed ancient Ottomans

Ancient Ottomans?

1) The Ottomans only go back to the 13th century (Osman, after whom they're named, died in 1281).

2) The ancient inhabitants of the region had nothing to do with the Ottomans or any other Turks, who infiltrated into Anatolia after the 8th century AD.

Troy was near Istanbul (not Constantinople)

Is this some kind of joke? Anyway, you can see exactly where Troy was on the map here (it's the one with the concentric red circles).

Interesting post, thanks!
posted by languagehat at 1:24 PM on June 24, 2007


I think I will never hear the end of this from the guys who run that grease truck at Rutgers. Their Turkish pride was off the charts before they had nearly conclusive support for their claim to have founded western civilization. Now they will be unbearable.
posted by Slap Factory at 1:38 PM on June 24, 2007


If they were from Izmir, of course, they were from Smyrna -- one of the easternmost outposts of Greek civilization. Izmir did not become Turkish until the 11th century.

The Lydians themselves were not biologically Greek per se, but they were not biologically "Turkish" either. The Turks came from the areas north of the Caspian Sea. (Per languagehat's (2).) Smyrna remained culturally Greek until many were expelled in the 20th century.

Anyway, yay Herodotus. He was more a teller of tales than a careful historian in many ways, but he got a lot of things right.
posted by dhartung at 1:44 PM on June 24, 2007


How and why did the Etruscans migrate a significant number of people from Anatolia to Italia? Maybe they were ex-Hurrians? Did this tie into the decline of the Mycenaean civilisation around that time? Maybe environmental conditions altered, or there was an external push from northern Europe or Eurasia (akin to the Hun migrations) causing a wave of displacement that went before it? What were the Egyptians doing around this time? Didn't the Hittite civilisation disintegrate during this period as well? The Hittites were big in Anatolia - and were constantly fueding with the Assyrians. Urartu emerged in what is now Armenia in the centuries after 1200 BCE - possibly connected to a population decline or power vacuum.
posted by meehawl at 2:51 PM on June 24, 2007


He was more a teller of tales than a careful historian in many ways

This is the standard rap on Herodotus, but I think it's mistaken. Thucydides gets higher marks because he sounds more professional from a modern point of view (more like the Wikipedia poohbahs want Wikipedia to sound like), but he clearly made up speeches, and who knows how much of his authoritative-seeming descriptions corresponded to reality as one would have seen it had one been there at the time? He was very consciously trying to be the anti-Herodotus and not include any of those crowd-pleasing tall tales. But the fact is that Herodotus always indicates whether he saw something with his own eyes or only heard about it, and he leaves readers to judge for themselves between conflicting stories or to evaluate the likelihood of a tale about strange creatures in faraway lands, which indicates a pleasing respect for the mind of the common reader. I think Herodotus was a superb historian as well as a great writer. He wouldn't get tenure today, but that reflects on today's desiccated academic world, not on him.
posted by languagehat at 3:28 PM on June 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think I will never hear the end of this from the guys who run that grease truck at Rutgers. Their Turkish pride was off the charts before they had nearly conclusive support for their claim to have founded western civilization. Now they will be unbearable.

Heh. Maybe you could respond by telling them they're descended from the ones who kicked out all the people who founded western civilization.
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:30 PM on June 24, 2007


They're mistaken: the Etruscans were from what's Appalachia, where their descendants are called Melungeons.
posted by davy at 4:11 PM on June 24, 2007


Er, "what's now called," I meant.
posted by davy at 4:12 PM on June 24, 2007


How do fucktards like those mentioned in this thread get work teaching at the university level? Maybe timecube guy should get a job teaching physics.

The physics professor teaching my first year "Jackson" course was in the middle of being cashiered for embezzling 200K from his high energy physics grant. He was a major fucktard, give me classicists looking for UFOs anyday...at least they believe in something.

also, Yay Herodotus! I'm going on that dolphin ride cross the Mediterranean soon as I can...
posted by geos at 6:29 PM on June 24, 2007


The story of the Lydians drawing lots to determine who would stay and who would leave reminds me of that Gutasaga, relating how Gotland became overpopulated in the 1st century, leading a group of Goths to decide to leave and devastate parts of Europe (the first time around).
posted by deanc at 9:33 PM on June 24, 2007


How and why did the Etruscans migrate a significant number of people from Anatolia to Italia?

I think that's a key question, but one that this study doesn't try to answer. I don't think it even really says when, although it must have been long before the ascent of the Latins -- so at least hundreds of years B.C., possibly "as far back as the stone age". Another study apparently showed that even Tuscan cattle DNA indicate Near Eastern origin. It's probable that like other groups such as the Goths and Vandals they migrated by land, perhaps nomadically until they found a place sufficiently fertile and unoccupied.

As for environmental causes or power vacuums, I think history shows more and more that these are frequent and commonplace, and that winners writing the history means that the displaced peoples generally have less opportunity to tout themselves.

Now, one thing that's interesting about this is that this casts doubt on the claim that the Etruscan language was non-Indo-European. I have trouble with the idea that they accomplished such a feat without language, unless it was accomplished early enough in human prehistory that language was less necessary to success, in which case I am even more doubtful of the claim that historic Lydians would have an oral history of the event. Though I suppose it's certainly possible.
posted by dhartung at 10:52 PM on June 24, 2007


Interesting post, thanks!
posted by flippant at 1:59 AM on June 25, 2007


Now, one thing that's interesting about this is that this casts doubt on the claim that the Etruscan language was non-Indo-European. I have trouble with the idea that they accomplished such a feat without language, unless it was accomplished early enough in human prehistory that language was less necessary to success, in which case I am even more doubtful of the claim that historic Lydians would have an oral history of the event. Though I suppose it's certainly possible.

I'm completely at sea here.

1) Etruscan is certainly non-IE; we have a lot of Etruscan words, and they don't look anything like IE. (Some basic vocabulary: apa 'father,' ati 'mother,' clan 'son,' sech 'daughter,' ruva 'brother'; the numbers 1-6 are thu, zal, ci, sa, mach, huth, and 10 is sar.) This has nothing to do with genetics.

2) Who's saying anything about "without language"? Humans have had language for far longer than we have even the remotest traditions of migrations; whenever the proto-Etruscans made the move to Italy, they and their ancestors had been using language from time out of mind.
posted by languagehat at 5:47 AM on June 25, 2007


“In Murlo particularly, one genetic variant is shared only by people from Turkey, and, of the samples we obtained, the Tuscan ones also show the closest affinity with those from Lemnos.”

Looking at it from the other side, it's interesting to note that the descendants of the pre-ottomans are still around in Turkey in significant number. Which raises the next quesetion- are there any Etruscan-like linguistic traces in Anatolia?
posted by IndigoJones at 5:53 AM on June 25, 2007


Re my "Is this some kind of joke": I've been informed by a kindly correspondent that it was. Sorry about that—it went right over my head!
posted by languagehat at 8:21 AM on June 25, 2007


Don't worry, languagehat, it's nobody's business but the Turks.

Also, stbalbach, thanks for posting this.
posted by voltairemodern at 1:02 PM on June 25, 2007


This is surprising, since the Aeneid was a propaganda piece written after the fall of the Republic.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:13 PM on June 24 [+] [!]


Well, sort of not really. It was commissioned by Augustus for that purpose, but what Virgil wrote was subversive and subtly antagonistic to the purpose for which it was originally written. But yeah, I never meant to imply that it was accurate history or that Virgil was writing about something he witnessed, which is why I said he had mythologized the event. I had intended that to mean that he'd depicted something like it, accurately or otherwise, and in so doing had aggrandized a murky history with the clarity of narrative to the detriment of historicity. I'm sorry if that wasn't clear.
posted by shmegegge at 3:13 PM on June 25, 2007


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