The confines of ancient Etruria bordered closely upon the city of Rome, being separated from it only by the Tyber to the south-east and south. There is proof, indeed, that almost all Italy was at one time under the power of Etruria.
Although the Etrurians seem to have arrived at the highest point of civilization, and even of luxury, at an early period, whilst Rome had as yet no existence, and to have been distinguished in a variety of respects far beyond the people of surrounding nations, we are almost wholly ignorant of their history, and even their origin is involved in the greatest doubt.
The people of Etruria, called by the Romans Etrusci or Tusci, are styled Tyrrheni or Tyrseni by the Greek historians.
The difficulties of the Etruscan question are increased by a difference of statement and of opinion in the accounts recorded on the subject, by Herodotus and Dionysius, two of the greatest antiquaries and historians of ancient times.
Herodotus, who, says Athenseus (lib. xii.), obtained his account from Lydians, gives to the Tyrrheni a Lydian origin, and states that they emigrated under the command of Tyrrhenus, one of the sons of Atys: while Dionysius, partly because Xanthus, an historian of Lydia, is silent respecting this emigration, will not allow the tradition to be true, but imagines them to have come from the north. It is not improbable that both are in part correct: the earlier portion of the Etrurians might have come from the north, while the later colony (who must have been advanced in civilization to have effected the voyage) might have been Lydians; and in all probability these subsequent settlers constituted the dominant portion of the invaders of Etruria. — Sir William Gell's Topography of Rome, 8vo. 1834.
The Etruscan language must have been the same, or nearly so, with the Hebrew and Phoenician, For, whether we consider them as descended from Ashur, Peleg, the Egyptians, Phoenicians, or even Celtes, and from some of these they undoubtedly descended, their language must have been either the same with the Hebrew and Phoenician, or nearly related to them. The first Pelasgic settlements in Etruria could not have been many centuries after the deluge, and very few after the dispersion; and at that time the languages, or rather dialects, of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Celtes, Syrians, Arabs, &c., must have approached extremely near to the Hebrews and Phoenicians, which the learned allow to have been almost the same. With regard to the Canaanites or Phoenicians migrating into Etruria, after the first colonies of the Pelasgi or Tyrsenians settled there, it cannot be denied, that their language had received but little alteration from the primitive Hebrew. So that both sacred and profane history concur to evince the Hebrew, Phoenician, and Etruscan tongues to have been, in the earlier ages, nearly the same.
This likewise farther appears from the letters and manner of writing anciently used in Etruria. The letters are almost the same with those of the earliest Greeks, brought by Cadmus out of Phoenicia. The manner of writing is purely Oriental, the letters being drawn from the right hand to the left, consonant to the practice of the Eastern nations. The former point is rendered indisputably clear by the Eugubian tables, in conjunction with the Sigean inscription, and the latter by a bare perusal of the generality of the Etruscan inscriptions. Nay, the very remote antiquity of the first colonies that settled in Etruria, as well as of the Etruscan language and alphabet, may be easily inferred from those inscriptions. For as the Pelasgic alphabet, that prevailed in Greece before the age of Deucalion, consisted of sixteen letters, the Etruscan or Pelasgic alphabet, first brought into Italy, composed of only thirteen letters, must have preceded the reign of that prince. The high, not to say almost incredible, antiquity of the Etruscan language and alphabet, has been clearly evinced in two dissertations, by Mr. J. Swinton, printed at Oxford in the year 1746. — Univ. Hist. 8vo. vol. xvi. 1748.
The author of a “Tour to the Sepulchres of Etruria, in 1839,” in a visit to General Galassi's museum at Rome, says, “If we had been surprised at Campanari's exhibition, we were petrified at the general's. Here we saw an immense breastplate of gold, which had been fastened on each shoulder by a most delicately wrought gold fibula, with chains like those now made at Trichinopoly. The breastplate was stamped with a variety of arabesques and small patterns, as usual in the Egyptian style. The head had been crowned with fillets and circular ornaments of pure gold, and a rich mantle had covered the body, flowered with the same material.
In this grave also had been found a quantity of arms, round bronze shields with a boss in the centre which was stamped, spears, lances, and arrows; a bier of bronze, as perfect as if made a year ago; a tripod, with a vessel containing some strange looking lumps of a resinous substance, and which on being burnt proved to be perfumes so intensely strong, that those who tried them were obliged to leave the room. There were many small images, perhaps of lares, or of ancestors, in terra cotta that had been ranged in double lines close to the bier; also some large common vessels for wine and oil, and some finely painted vases and tazze, with black figures upon a, red ground, which had been consecrated to the dead.
There were wheels of a car upon which the bier had been brought into the sepulchre, and many other things which I do not remember; but the wonder of all these treasures was a sort of inkstand of terra cotta, which had served as a schoolmaster's A. B. C. On it were the Etruscan letters, first in alphabet, and then in syllables, and both the letters and the syllables are the same as the oldest form of the Greek. It was deciphered by Dr. Lepsius, and is the key to all we at present know, and will be the basis of all we are ever likely to know, of the Etruscan tongue.” “This humble article is likely to prove to Europe, what the stones of Alexandria and Rosetta have been before it, the dictionary of a lost language, and the interpreter of an extinct race.”
“ I noted that upon this inkstand were four alphabets engraved, and after each the syllables, — thus, ba, be, bi, &c., ma, me, mi, and so forth; that one of these is in the oldest or archaic form of the Greek alphabetic letters, and that hence connexion is likely to be traced and demonstrated between the Egyptian, Etruscan, and Pelasgic.”