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Literary Sources for Pre-Roman Umbria, Etruria

and Upper Sabinium


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Ancient Umbria     Etruscan Volsinii and Perusia     Upper Sabinium and Nursia

Herodotus (ca. 480 - 430 BC)

Herodotus of Halicarnassus has been described as the first historian.  At the time of his birth, Halicarnassus (modern Bodrum) was part of the Persian Empire. His book, "the Histories" deals with the history of the Persian Empire from the time of Cyrus the Great until the Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC.  It was transcribed by scholars in Alexandria in the 3rd century.

Herodotus on the Foundation of Etruria

Herodotus puts forward the following account of the presumed Lydian foundation of Etruria:

  1. “In the reign of Atys son of Manes, there was great scarcity of food in all Lydia.  ....  At last 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. ...[This group] left the country and came down to Smyrna and built ships, in which they loaded all their goods that could be transported aboard ship, and sailed away to seek a livelihood and a country; until at last, after sojourning with one people after another, they came to the Ombrici, where they founded cities and have lived ever since. They no longer called themselves Lydians, but Tyrrhenians, after the name of the king's son who had led them there” (1:94).

Herodotus on the Extent of Umbria

As noted above, Herodotus believed that the Lydian immigrants who became the Etruscans took their new land from the “Ombrici” (Umbrians). Later in his account, he implies that Umbrian territory extended as far north as the Alps:

  1. “From the region which is above the Ombricans, the river Carpis and another river, the Alpis, flow also towards the North Wind and run into .... the Ister (Danube)” (4:49). 

The Alpis and perhaps the Carpis, which are otherwise unknown tributaries of the Danube, seem to have been originated in the Alps.

Pseudo-Scylax (4th or 3rd century BC)

The so-called Periplus of Pseudo-Scylax is one of a number of ancient Greek descriptions of coastlines (Latinised as “peripluses”) that survive.  It records the circumnavigation of the “inhabited sea” (the Mediterranean) by someone who calls himself “Skylax of Karyanda”.  

“Skylax” on the Coasts of Etruria and Umbria


The relevant part of the voyage starts by travelling south from Iberia, along the Tyrrhenian (west) coast of Italy:

  1. Skylax first comes across the “Tyrrhenoi” (Etruscans):

  2. “And after Antion [comes] the Tyrrhenian nation as far as the city of Rome, a coastal voyage of 4 days and 4 nights” (paragraph 5).

  3. Later, after rounding Sicily, he continues north along the Adriatic coast, meeting, in succession:

  4. the “Ombrikoi” (Umbrians):

  5. -“And after Saunitai is the nation Ombrikoi, and in it is a city, Ankon (Ancona).  And this nation worships Diomedes, having received benefaction from him: and there is a sanctuary of him.  And the coastal voyage of Ombric territory is of two days and a night” (paragraph 16).

  6. the “Tyrrhenoi” again:

  7. -“ And after the Ombric nation, Tyrrhenians.  And these extend from the Tyrrhenic open sea outside to the Adriatic: and there is a Hellenic city (Spina) [an Etruscan port at the mouth of the Po], with a river: and voyage inland to the city by river of about 20 stades.  And there is up to it from Pise city [Pisa] , a road of 3 days” (paragraph 17).

  8. the Keltoi (Celts):

  9. -“And after Tyrrhenians are the Celtic nation, left behind from the expedition [is this the sack of Rome in ca. 390 BC ??], upon narrows extending as far as [the] Adriatic.  And here is the inner end of the Adriatic gulf” (paragraph 18).

Cato (234 - 149 BC)

Marcus Porcius Cato (who is often called Cato the Censor) came from a prominent military family and was himself a successful soldier as well as a statesman and a literary figure.  He was a staunch defender of the conservative values of the Republic.   He acted as Censor in 184 BC, and became famous for imposing his idea of Republican rectitude on the Senate.

Only his "De re rustica" (on farming) survives, although there are references to fragments of his most important work , "Origines" in the surviving works of other authors.  The latter related the history of Rome from its earliest foundations to his own day.  It was in seven books, and took its name from the second and third of these, which described the origins of the Italian cities.

Cato on Ameria (Amelia)

Pliny the Elder, in Book 3:19 of the “Natural Histories”, recorded:

  1. "Cato writes that Ameria ... was founded 964 years before the war with Perseus". 

The war with King Perseus of Macedon ended in a famous victory at the Battle of Pydna (168 BC).

Cicero (106 - 43 BC)

Marcus Tullius Cicero was a Roman politician, lawyer and orator, and a stalwart supporter of the Republic.  He was also a prolific author and published many of his letters and public orations.  His books include "de Divinatione" ("Concerning Divination"), a philosophical treatise in two books written in 45 BC that takes the form of a dialogue between Cicero himself and his brother Quintus Tullius.

Cicero on the Etruscans and the Art of Divination

In "de Divinatione", Cicero provides an account of the myth of Tages and of the art of divination that he had imparted to the Etruscans:

  1. “The tradition is that, once upon a time, in the district of Tarquinii, while a field was being ploughed, the ploughshare went deeper than usual and a certain Tages suddenly sprang forth and spoke to the ploughman.  Now, this Tages, according to the Etruscan annals, is said to have had the appearance of a boy but the wisdom of a seer.  Astounded and much frightened at the sight, the rustic raised a great cry; a crowd gathered and indeed in a short time the whole of Etruria assembled at the spot.  Tages then spoke at length to his numerous hearers, who received with eagerness all he had to say and committed it to writing.  His whole address was devoted to an exposition of the science of soothsaying.  Later, as new facts were learned and tested by reference to the principles imparted by Tages, they were added to the original fund of knowledge.  This is the story as we get if from the Etruscans themselves and as their records preserve it, and this, in their own opinion, is the origin of their art” (II:23).

Cicero on Divination in Etruria and Umbria

In "de Divinatione", Cicero describes aspects of the practice of divination on the part of the Etruscans, Umbrians and others:

  1. “... the Etruscans are very skillful in observing thunderbolts, and in interpreting their meaning and that of every sign and portent.  That is why, in the days of our forefathers, it was wisely decreed by the Senate ... that, of the sons of the chief men, six should be handed over to each of the Etruscan tribes for the study of divination, in order that so important a profession should not, on account of the poverty of its members, be withdrawn from the influence of religion, and converted into a means of mercenary gain.  On the other hand the Phrygians, Pisidians, Cilicians, and Arabians rely chiefly on the signs conveyed by the flights of birds, and the Umbrians, according to tradition, used to do the same. 

  2. Now, for my part, I believe that the character of the country determined the kind of divination which its inhabitants adopted.  For example, ... the Etruscans, being in their nature of a very ardent religious temperament and accustomed to the frequent sacrifice of victims, have given their chief attention to the study of entrails.  And because:

  3. -on account of the density of the atmosphere, signs from Heaven were common among them; and furthermore

  4. -since these atmospheric condition caused many phenomena both of earth and sky and also certain prodigies that occur in the conception and birth of men and cattle;

  5. the Etruscans have become very proficient in the interpretation of portents.  ...

  6. But the Arabians, Phrygians, and Cilicians, being chiefly engaged in the rearing of cattle, are constantly wandering over the plains and mountains in winter and summer and, on that account, have found it quite easy to study the songs and flight of birds.  The same is true of ... our fellow-countrymen, the Umbrians” (I: 92-4).

This is the earliest classical text in which the ethnic “Umbrians” are mentioned.

Varro (116–27 BC)

Marcus Terentius Varro, who was a celebrated scholar in Rome, was one of the few scholars of his day who could read Etruscan.  He had his political ups and downs: although he had supported Pompey, Julius Caesar rehabilitated him; but he fell from favour again in 44BC, after Caesar's murder, and sensibly devoted the rest of his life to writing.  Only two of his many books survive: ‘De Lingua Latina’ (on the Latin Language); and ‘De Re Rustica’ (on Farming).  Fragments from lost works are quoted by other authors; see, for example, Pliny the Elder, below.

Varro on Sheep Farming in Umbria

Varro, in a paragraph that touches on the skill of the Umbrians in raising sheep, advised those of his readers who needed a sheep dog “to buy from a shepherd a bitch which has been trained to follow sheep, or one that has had no training at all; for a dog forms a habit for anything very easily, and the attachment he forms for shepherds is more lasting than that that he forms for sheep.  [For example,] Publius Aufidius Pontianus of Amiternum bought some herds of sheep in furthest Umbria, the purchase including the dogs but not the shepherds, but [the terms of the sale provided] that the shepherds should take [the sheep and the dogs] to the pastures of Metapontum and to market at Heraclea.  When [these shepherds] had returned home, the dogs, without direction and simply from their longing for their masters, returned to them in Umbria a few days later, though it was a journey of many days, having lived off the country.  And yet not one of those shepherds had done what Saserna directed in his book on agriculture: [namely] that a man who wanted a dog to follow him should throw him a boiled frog! ” (De Re Rustica, II:9:6, with thanks to Bill Thayer for sending me this link to the English translation).

Varro on the Etruscan Ritual for Founding Cities

Varro described the elaborate ritual by which the Etruscans were reputed to have established their city-states:

  1. “Many founded towns in Latium by the Etruscan ritual; that is, with a team of cattle, a bull and a cow on the inside, they ran a furrow around with a plough.  For reasons of religion, they did this on an auspicious day), so that they might be fortified by a ditch and a wall.  The place whence they had ploughed up the earth, they called  ‘fossa’ (ditch), and the earth thrown inside it they called the ‘murus’ (wall).  The ‘orbis’ (circle), which was made [at the ??] back of this, was the beginning of the ‘urbs’ (city);  because the circle was ‘post murum’ (behind the wall),'it was called a ‘postmoerium’ [i/e/ pomerium]; it sets the limits for the taking of the auspices for the city.  Stone markers of the pomerium stand both around Aricia and around Rome”.

He went on to explain how this was reflected in Latin usage: “Therefore:

  1. -towns that had also earlier had the plough drawn around them were termed ‘urbes’ ... ; [and]

  2. -colonies and cities are considered to have been founded (‘conduntur’) because they are placed inside the pomerium”.

(De Lingua Latina, V:143, search on “colonies”)

Varro on Caeles Vibenna, the Vicus Tuscus and Vortumnus

“In the section of the Suburan region, the first shrine is located on the Caelian Hill, named from Caeles Vibenna, a Etruscan leader of distinction, who is said to have come with his followers to help Romulus against King Tatius.  The [Etruscan] followers of Caeles are said to have been brought down from this hill into the level ground after his death, because they were in possession of a location that was too strongly fortified and their loyalty was doubted.  For them was named the ‘Vicus Tuscus’  (the Etruscan Way); and they say that the statue of Vortumnus stands there because he is the most important god of Etruria” (De Lingua Latina, V:46, search on “Etruriae”). 

Virgil (70 - 19 BC)

Publius Vergilius Maro, who was born in Mantua, was arguably the greatest Roman poet.  His works include:

  1. the “Eclogues” (Pastorals):

  2. the “Georgics” (on Husbandry); and

  3. the “Aeneid”, a Homeric saga of the foundation of Rome by the descendants of the Trojan Aeneas, which was written at the behest of the Emperor Augustus and unfinished at Virgil's death.

Virgil on Aeneas’ Etruscan Allies

In the Aeneid (10: 153-214), Virgil writes of Aeneas’ alliance with the Etruscans:

  1. “When, on ... entering the Tuscan camp, he had met the king, he announced his name and race, and the help he sought ... Tarchon [the mythical founder of Tarquinia], joined forces with him without delay, and agreed a treaty: then, fulfilling their fate, the Lydian people took to their ships by divine command, trusting to a ‘foreign’ leader.  Aeneas’s vessel took the van ..”  He then described “the company that followed Aeneas from Tuscan shores” and “the princes chosen to sail in the 30 ships to the aid of Troy [i.e. Aeneas]:

  2. Massicus, leading men from “Clusium and the city of Cosae”;

  3. Grim Abas, , leading men from “Populonia, the mother-city... and the island of Ilva [Elba]”;

  4. Asilas, leading men from Pisa, “city of Alphean foundation, set on Etruscan soil”;

  5. Asilias [was] in an “interpreter of gods and men, to whom the entrails of beasts were an open book, the stars in the sky, the tongues of birds, the prophetic bolts of lightning. He hurried his thousand men to war, dense ranks bristling with spears”.

  6. The description of Pisa as being “of Alphean foundation” refers to the tradition of its foundation by migrants from the city of Pisanear the river Alpheus in the Peloponnese.

  7. Astur, leading men from “Caere, the fields by the Minio, ancient Pyrgi, unhealthy Graviscae”;

  8. Cunerus and Cupavo, who (unlike the other five leaders) are Ligurians;

  9. Ocnus, who “called up troops from his native shores [Mantua]”;

  10. “[Ocnus], the son of Manto the prophetess and the Tuscan river, who gave you your walls, Mantua, and his mother’s name”.

  11. “Mantua rich in ancestors, but not all of one race: there were three races there, under each race four tribes, herself the head of the tribes, her strength from Tuscan blood”. 

  12. “From [Mantua] Mezentius armed 500 men from here against himself [i.e. this exiled Etruscan king, whom Livy makes king of Caere, had raised an army from Mantua to fight against other Etruscans].

  13. Aulestes, who is described later in the poem (12: 288) as “an Etruscan king with a king’s emblems” in a scene in which he is killed by Messapus, the leader of the enemy contingent from Falerii.

In his commentary on this poem (‘In Vergilii Aeneidem commentarii’), which was written in the late 4th or early 5th century, the grammarian Maurus Servius Honoratus explained the significance of three aspects of this account:

  1. On Ocnus and Aulestes:

  2. “ ...some consider Ocnus the son, others the brother, of Aulestes, who founded Perusia: they say that, to avoid contention with his brother, [Ocnus] founded the Gallic territory of Felsina, which today is called Bononia [Bologna]” (10:200).

  3. On Perugia:

  4. “ [Mantua] was not founded only by Ocnus, but also by others: first by the Thebans; then by the Etruscans; then by the Gauls; or, as others insist, by the Sarsinates, who had already founded Perusia “ (10:201).

  5. On the parallel between the political division of Mantua and of Etruria:

  6. “Mantua had three tribes of people, each divided into four curiae, over each of which a “lucomo” ruled.  It is known that the “lucumones” of all Etruria were twelve, one of whom presided over all” (10:202).  Earlier in the work, he had explained: “the word ‘Lucumones’ means ‘kings’ in the Etruscan language” (2:278). 

Dionysius of Halicarnassus (1st century BC)

Dionysius was a Greek scholar who worked in Rome.  He was a contemporary of Livy (see below), although there is no evidence to suggest that they knew of each other's work.  His ‘Roman Antiquities’ covered the history of Rome from its foundation to 264 BC in 20 books, although only the first 11 of these (to 443 BC) survive in tact.

Dionysius on the Umbrians

Dionysius describes the arrival of a group of Pelasgians in the lands of the Umbrians:

  1. “Those [Pelagians] ... who had turned inland [and] crossed the mountainous part of Italy came to the territory of the Umbrians, who were neighbours to the Aborigines. (The Umbrians inhabited a great many other parts of Italy also and were an exceedingly great and ancient people.)  At first the Pelasgians made themselves masters of the lands where they first settled and took some of the small towns belonging to the Umbrians.  But when a great army came together against them, they were terrified at the number of their enemies and betook themselves to the country of the Aborigines” (1:19).

Dionysius on the Etruscans

“I do not believe either that the Tyrrhenians were a colony of the Lydians; for they do not use the same language as the latter, nor can it be alleged that … they still retain some other indications of their mother country.  ...  Indeed, those probably come nearest to the truth who declare that the nation ... was native to the country, since it is found to be a very ancient nation and to agree with no other, either in its language or in its manner of living.  And there is no reason why the Greeks should not have called them by this name [Tyrrhenians], both from their living in towers and from the name of one of their rulers.  The Romans, however, give them other names: from the country they once inhabited, named Etruria, they call them Etruscans, and from their knowledge of the ceremonies relating to divine worship, in which they excel others, they now call them, rather inaccurately, Tusci, but formerly, with the same accuracy as the Greeks, they called them Thyoscoï.  Their own name for themselves, however, is the same as that of one of their leaders, Rasenna.  In another book, I shall show what cities the Tyrrhenians founded, what forms of government they established, how great was the power that they acquired, what memorable achievements they performed, and what fortunes attended them” (1:30).  Unfortunately, if this book were ever written, it as not come down to us.

Dionysius on Upper Sabinium

In Book 1:14, Dionysius refers to two earlier traditions for the origins of the Sabine people near Reate (Rieti), who presumably included the people of Nursia:

  1. -Zenodotus of Troezen, [an ancient Greek historian] relates that the Umbrians ... first dwelt in the Reatine territory ... and that, being driven from there by the Pelasgians, they came into the country that they now inhabit, and changed their name  ... from Umbrians to Sabines. 

  2. -But Porcius Cato says that the Sabine race received its name from Sabus, the son of Sancus, a divinity of that country, and that this Sancus was by some called Jupiter Fidius.  He says that the Sabines’ first place of abode  was ... near the city of Amiternum; and from there they made an incursion ... into the Reatine territory, which was inhabited by the Aborigines together with the Pelasgians, and took their most famous city, Cutiliae, by force of arms and occupied it; and that, sending colonies out of the Reatine territory, they built many cities, in which they lived without fortifying them ...”

In a later account, he explains how the Sabines or Reatines (who are nearly synonymous) expelled the initial inhabitants of the territory following  their settlement of Reate and nearby Amiternum:

  1. -“... the Sabines captured [Lista, which he had just described as the ‘mother-city of the Aborigines’] by a surprise attack, having set out against it from Amiternum by night.  Those who survived the taking of the place, after being received by the Reatines, made many attempts to retake their former home, but being unable to do so, they consecrated the country to the gods, as if it were still their own, invoking curses against those who should enjoy the fruits of it” (2:49).

Dionysius on the Twelve Etruscan City-States

According to Dionysius, when King Tarquinius Priscus (traditionally 616-579 BC) led an army against the Etruscans:

  1. “they met in a general assembly and voted to treat with him about ending the war; and they sent to him the oldest and most honoured men from each city, giving them full powers to settle the terms of peace” (3:59).  

Shortly afterwards, when they accepted peace terms from Tarquinius:

  1. “The [Etruscan] ambassadors [returned] ... bringing the insignia of sovereignty with which they used to decorate their own kings.  These were a crown of gold, an ivory throne, a sceptre with an eagle perched on its head, a purple tunic decorated with gold, and an embroidered purple robe like those the kings of Lydia and Persia used to wear ...  This kind of robe is called toga by the Romans  ... And according to some historians they also brought to Tarquinius the 12 axes, taking one from each city.  For it seems to have been a Tyrrhenian custom for each king of the several cities to be preceded by a lictor bearing an axe together with the bundle of rods, and whenever the 12 cities undertook any joint military expedition, for the 12 axes to be handed over to the one man who was invested with absolute power” (3:61). 

(See also Livy below)

Dionysius on the Etruscan/Umbrian attack on Cumae

  1. “In the 64th Olympiad, when Miltiades was archon at Athen [524 BC], the Tyrrhenians, who had inhabited the country lying near the [Adriatic] but had been driven from thence in the course of time by the Gauls, joined themselves to the Umbrians, Daunians, and many other barbarians, and undertook to overthrow Cumae ..., though they could allege no other just ground for their animosity than the prosperity of the city” (7:3).

The Cumaean general Aristodemus easily defeated the badly organised "barbarians", and subsequently became tyrant of Cumae).

Dionysius on the Goddess Feronia

There was a sanctuary dedicated to Feronia at Narni.  Dionysius explains how this cult was instituted in Italy: he attributes the origin of the Sabines to migrants from Sparta, who “called the place where they first landed Foronia, in memory of having been borne along through the sea, and built a temple to the goddess … they now call Feronia” (2:49).

He later describes Lacus Feroniae, the important cult site dedicated to her north of Rome:  “There is a sanctuary, honoured in common by the Sabines and the Latins, that is held in the greatest reverence and is dedicated to a goddess named Feronia; some of those who translate the name into Greek call her Anthophoros (Flower Bearer); others Philostephanos (Lover of Garlands); till others Persephone.  To this sanctuary people used to come from the neighbouring cities on the appointed days of festival, many of them performing vows and offering sacrifice to the goddess and many with the purpose of trafficking during the festive gathering as merchants, artisans and husbandmen; and here were held fairs more celebrated than in any other places in Italy” (3:32).

Dionysius on the Evocation of Juno/Uni from Veii to Rome

In 396 BC, “when conducting his campaign against Veii [the dictator, Marcus Furius Camillus] made a vow to Queen Juno of the Veientes [whom the Etruscans worshipped as Uni] that, if he should take the city, he would set up her statue in Rome and establish costly rites in her honour.  Upon the capture of the city, he accordingly sent the most distinguished of the knights to remove the statue from its pedestal; and when those who had been sent came into the temple and one of them ... asked whether the goddess wished to remove to Rome, the statue answered in a loud voice that she did.  This happened twice; for the young men, doubting whether it was the statue that had spoken, asked the same question again and heard the same reply” (13:3). 

(See also the account of Livy, below).

Livy (59 BC - 17 AD)

Titus Livius is the most important of the Roman historians.  His "History of Rome from its Foundations" was originally in 142 books, although only 35 survive.  Fortunately, the first 10 books, which cover the period from the foundation of Rome to the conquest of central Italy in 295 BC, survive in tact.  There are on-line English translations of Books 1-8; and of the surviving parts of Books 9-26; and of Books 27-36.  There is also an on-line translation of the work known as the Periochae, (4th century AD), which contains summaries of some of the lost books.

Livy on the Etruscan Books of Fates

Livy (5:16-9) records that, in 398 BC, in the closing stages of the siege of Veii,

  1. “many prodigies were announced [in Rome]... The attention of all was turned to a particular prodigy: the lake in the Alban Grove rose to an unusual height without any rain or any other cause that could account for the matter, except for a miracle”. 

The Romans sent men to consult the oracle at Delphi, but before their return, Roman soldiers captured an Etruscan soothsayer.  Under interrogation, he admitted:

  1. “It is written in the books of the fates that , if the Alban water shall rise to a great height and if the Romans shall discharge it in the proper manner, victory will be granted to them.  Until that is done, the gods will not desert the walls of Veii." 

When the men returning from Delphi  confirmed the prophecy, the Romans drained the lake as instructed and the fall of Veii became inevitable (5:15).

Livy on Romans Educated in Etruria

In his account of the escapade in which Marcus Fabius, the brother of the consul Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus undertook in 310 BC to “go and explore [Etruria] and to bring [back] .... an account of every particular”, Livy explains his qualifications for the task: “Being educated at Caere, where he had friends, he was perfectly acquainted with the Etrurian language.  I have seen it affirmed, that, in those times, the Roman youth were commonly instructed in the Etrurian learning, as they are now in the Greek ....” (9:36).

Livy on the Twelve Etruscan City-States

According to Livy, at the time of the foundation of Rome, Romulus had followed precedents set by the Etruscans:

  1. “from whom were borrowed the curule chair and the gown edged with purple.  [He also appointed 12 lictors, since] the Etrurians adopted that number, because their king was elected in common from 12 states, each state which assigned him one lictor” (1:8). 

Writing of the events of 352 BC, Livy mentions a panic at Rome and the consequent appointment of a dictator (Caius Julius), following what proved to be,

  1. “a groundless alarm of an Etrurian war, as there was a report that the 12 states had conspired [against Rome]” (8:21).

If Livy was correct about this, a new 12the city must have been promoted, because Veii had fallen to the Romans in ca. 396 BC. 

(See also Livy on the Etruscan Colonisation of the Po Valley - below)

Livy on Etruscan Colonisation of the Po Valley

“For 200 years before they laid siege to Clusium and captured the city of Rome [i.e. 200 years before the sack of Rome in ca. 390 BC], the Gauls passed over into Italy.  Nor were these the first of the Etrurians with whom the Gauls fought: long before that they frequently fought with those who dwelt between the Apennines and the Alps.  Before the Roman empire, the sway of the Tuscans was much extended by land and by sea; how very powerful they were in the upper and lower seas, by which Italy is encompassed like an island, the names [of these seas] is a proof;

  1. -the one of which the Italian nations have called the Tuscan sea, the general appellation of the people;

  2. -the other the Hadriatic, from Hadria, a colony of Tuscans. 

The Greeks call these same seas the Tyrrhenian and Hadriatic. 

This people inhabited the country extending to both seas in twelve cities, colonies equal in number to the mother cities having been sent, first on this side the Apennines towards the lower sea, afterwards to the other side of the Apennines; who obtained possession of all the district beyond the Po, even as far as the Alps, except the corner of the Venetians, who dwell round the extreme point of the [Hadriatic] sea” (5:33).

(See also Strabo, below)

Livy on the Fanum Voltumnae

Livy makes several references to the Etruscans’ central meeting place at the temple of Voltumna [Etruscan Vertune], where important decisions were taken as to whether or not Veii should be supported in resisting the threat from Rome:

  1. In 434 BC: “. Alarm was raised in Etruria after the capture of Fidenæ, not only the Veientians being terrified by the apprehension of similar ruin, but the Faliscians also, from the recollection of the war having first commenced with them, although they had not joined with those who renewed hostilities.  Accordingly, the two nations, having sent ambassadors around to the 12 states, and succeeded so far that a general meeting was proclaimed for all Etruria at the fanum Voltumnae.  The senate, apprehending a great attack threatening from that quarter, ordered Mamercus Æmilius again to be appointed dictator ... and preparations for war were made with so much the more energy than on the last occasion, in proportion as there was more danger from the whole body of Etruria than from two of its states.  [In fact, the] matter passed off much more quietly than any one expected: word was brought by certain traders that aid was refused to the Veientians, and that they were bid to prosecute with their own strength a war entered into on their own separate views, and not to seek out persons as sharers in their distresses, to whom they had not communicated their hopes when flourishing” (4: 23-4).

  2. In 433 BC: “Schemes for exciting wars were agitated in the meetings of the Æquans and Volscians, and in Etruria at the fanum Voltumnae.  Here the matter was postponed for a year and [it was resolved] that no meeting should be held before that time, the Veientian state in vain complaining that the same destiny hung over Veii, as that by which Fidenæ had been destroyed” (4: 25).

  3. In 405 BC: “By these [tribunes], Veii was first invested.  A little before the commencement of this siege, when a full meeting of the Etrurians was held at the fanum Voltumnae., it was not finally determined whether the Veientians were to be supported by ... the whole confederacy” (4: 61). 

  4. In 403 BC, when they were facing a threat from Rome: “The Veientians, ... through disgust at the annual intriguing, which sometimes caused  dissension, elected a king.  That step gave offense to the feelings of the [other] states of Etruria, not only because they hated kingly government, [but also because this particular king had] become obnoxious to the nation by reason of his wealth and arrogance.  [In particular, he had] violently broken off the performance of some annual games [presumably at the fanum Voltumnae], the omission of which was deemed an impiety, ... because another had been preferred to him as a priest by the votes of the 12 states: ... in the middle of the performance, he suddenly carried off the performers, most of whom were his own slaves.  The nation, therefore, devoted beyond all others to religious performances, because they excelled in the method of conducting them, passed a decree that aid should be refused to the Veientians, as long as they should be subject to a king” (5:1).

  5. In 397 BC: “ ... assemblies of Etruria were held at the fanum Voltumnae., and the Capenatians and Faliscians demanding that all the states of Etruria should by common consent and resolve aid in raising the siege of Veii, the answer given was: "that on a former occasion they had refused that to the Veientians, because they had no right to demand aid from those from whom they had not solicited advice on so important a matter.  That for the present their own circumstances denied it to them, more especially in that part of Etruria.  That a strange nation, the Gauls, were become new neighbours, with whom they had neither a sufficiently secure peace, nor a certainty of war: [...however] if any of their youth were disposed to go to that war, they would not prevent them (5:17)"  (Veii finally fell to the Romans in 396 BC.)

  6. In 389 BC, “some traders brought [intelligence to Rome] that a conspiracy of the leading men of Etruria from all the states had been formed at the fanum Voltumnae.” (6: 2).

Livy on the Evocation of Juno from Veii to Rome

In his account of the closing stages of the siege of Veii in 396 BC, Livy records:

  1. “the dictator [Marcus Furius Camillus] ... vowed, according to a decree of the senate, that he would celebrate the great games on the capture of Veii, and that he would repair and dedicate the temple of Mother Matuta, which had been formerly consecrated by King Servius Tullius” (5:19).   In his prayers before the final assault, he included the following: “queen Juno, who inhabits Veii [and whom the Etruscans worshipped as Uni], I beseech you to accompany us, when we are victors, into our city, soon to be thine, where a temple worthy of your majesty shall receive you." (5:21)

The city duly fell:

  1. “When all human wealth had been carried away from Veii, [the Romans] began to remove the offerings to their gods and the gods themselves, but more after the manner of worshippers than of plunderers.  For youths selected from the entire army, to whom the charge of conveying queen Juno to Rome was assigned, after having thoroughly washed their bodies and arrayed themselves in white garments, entered her temple with profound adoration, applying their hands at first with religious awe, because, according to the Etrurian usage, none but a priest of a certain family had been accustomed to touch that statue.  Then when someone ...  asked, ‘Juno, art thou willing to go to Rome?’ the rest joined in, shouting that the goddess had nodded assent.  To the story an addition was afterwards made, that her voice was heard, declaring that ‘she was willing’.  Certain it is .. that, having been raised from her place by machines of trifling power, she was light and easily removed ... [and] safely conveyed to the Aventine Hill, her eternal seat, whither the vows of the dictator had invited her; where the same Camillus who had vowed it, afterwards dedicated a temple to her” (5:22).

(See also Dionysius’ account above.)

Livy on Relations with Caere after the Sack of Rome

In the aftermath of the sack of Rome by the Gauls in ca. 390 BC, Marcus Furius Camillus proposed (inter alia)

  1. “that a league of hospitality should be entered into by public authority with the people of Caere, because they had afforded a reception to the sacred utensils of the Roman people and to their priests [during the sack of Rome by the Celts in ca. 390 BC]; and because, by the kindness of that people, the worship of the immortal gods had not been interrupted” (7:3).

[While some sources suggest (see, for example, Strabo - below) that the people of Caere were incorporated into the Roman state, but without voting rights, T. J. Cornell [reference needed] suggests that Livy is correct: under the league of hospitality, citizens of Caere would have voting rights in Rome if they were living there, and vice versa.]

Livy on War with Volsinii (392 BC)

[In 392 BC], a new war broke out with the Volsinians; whither an army could not be led, on account of a famine and pestilence in the Roman territories, which arose from drought and excessive heat; on account of which the Volsinians forming a junction with the [possibly Umbrian] Salpinians ... made an unprovoked incursion into the Roman territories.  War was then proclaimed against the two states.  .... The first engagement was with the Volsinians.  The war, important from the number of the enemy, was without difficulty brought to a close. At the first onset, their army was put to flight. 8,000 soldiers ... laid down their arms and surrendered.  The account received of that war had the effect of preventing the Salpinians from hazarding an engagement; the troops secured themselves within their towns.  The Romans drove spoil in every direction, both from the Salpinian and Volsinian territory, there being no one to repel that aggression; until a truce for 20 years was granted to the Volsinians, exhausted by the war, on this condition, that they should make restitution to the Roman people, and furnish the pay of the army for that year” (5:31-2).

Livy on Nortia, Volsinii and the Recording of Time

Livy’s reference to a temple to Nortia at Volsinii in the context of a plague that had affected Rome in 363 BC, when the remedy had been found in the ritual of “driving a nail”.  He then expanded:

  1. “There is an ancient law written in antique letters and words, that whoever is supreme officer should drive a nail on the ides of September ... into the right side of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, on that part where the temple of Minerva is.  They say that the nail was a mark of the number of years elapsed (because writing was rare in those times), and that the law was referred to the temple of Minerva because numbers are the invention of that goddess. 

  2. Cincius, a careful writer on such monuments, asserts that there were seen at Volsinii also nails fixed in the temple of Nortia, a Tuscan goddess, as indices of the number of years” (7:3).

Livy on the Gauls, Clusium and the Sack of Rome

In ca. 390 BC, “ambassadors came [to Rome] from the Clusinians, soliciting aid against the Gauls.  A report is current that [the Gauls], allured by the delightfulness of the crops  and more especially of the wine, an enjoyment then new to them, crossed the Alps and took possession of the lands formerly cultivated by the Etrurians; and that Aruns, a native of Clusium, introduced wine into Gaul for the purpose of enticing the nation, through resentment for his wife's having been debauched by Lucumo, whose guardian he himself had been: ([Lucumo was] a very influential young man, on whom vengeance could not be taken, unless foreign aid were resorted to).  [The reports alleged that Arus] served as a guide to the Gauls when crossing the Alps, and advised them to lay siege to Clusium.  I would not indeed deny that the Gauls were brought to Clusium by Aruns or any other native of Clusium” (5:39)

Livy on the Oscan Language

In 295 BC, during the Third Samnite War, the Roman general, Volumnius,

  1. “sent persons who understood the Oscan language [into Campania] to discover how [the Samnite forces there] were employed” (10: 20). 

Modern scholars still follow Livy in applying the term “Oscan” to the language of the Samnites, which was related to that of the ancient Umbrians.

Strabo (ca. 63 BC - 21 AD)

Strabo, who was born in Pontus, wrote principally in Greek.  He is best remembered for his "Geography" (ca. 7 BC), which described (in 17 books) the world as he knew it .

Strabo on the Umbrians and Etruscans in the Po Valley

[In the Po valley,] “only the Ligurian tribes and the Roman colonies are left.  The Romans, however, have been intermingled with the stock of the Ombrici [Umbrians] and also, in some places, with that of the Tyrrheni (Etruscans); for both these tribes, before the general aggrandizement of the Romans, carried on a sort of competition with one another for the primacy, and since they had only the River Tiber between them could easily cross over against one another.  [It seems that], if one of the two peoples went forth on a campaign against a third people, the other of the two [could not resist making] an expedition to the same places; so, when the Tyrrheni had sent forth an army into the midst of the barbarians near the Padus and had fared well, and then on account of their luxurious living were quickly cast out again, [the Ombrici] made an expedition against those who had cast them out; and then [after many disputes, some settlements became  Tyrrhenian] and some Ombrican: the greater number, however, Ombrican, for the Ombrici were nearer.  The Romans, upon taking control and sending settlers to many places, also helped to preserve the stocks of the earlier settlers.  And at the present time, although they are all Romans, they are none the less called, some ‘Ombri’, and some ‘Tyrrheni’  ...” (5:1).

Strabo on the Umbrians and Etruscans in Ravenna

“Furthermore, it has been said that Ravenna was founded by the Thessalians; but since they could not bear the wanton outrages of the Tyrrhenians, they voluntarily took in some of the Ombrici, which latter still now hold the city, whereas the Thessalians themselves returned home” (5:1).

Strabo on Etruria, Umbria and Upper Sabinium

Strabo describes “the country of the Tyrrheni ... [which] is washed,

  1. -on its eastern side (generally speaking), by the Tiber as far as its mouth, and

  2. -on the other side by the Tyrrhenian and Sardinian Seas. 

But the Tiber flows from the Apennine Mountains, and is fed by many rivers; for a part of its course it runs through Tyrrhenia itself, and in its course thereafter separates Tyrrhenia from:

  1. -first, Ombrica;

  2. -then the country of the Sabini; and then

  3. -that part of Latium which is near Rome and extends as far as the coast. 

These three lie approximately parallel to the river and Tyrrhenia in their breadth and also to one another in their length; and they reach up to those parts of the Apennine Mountains which closely approach the Adriatic, in this order:

  1. -first, Ombrica,

  2. -then... the country of the Sabini, and,

  3. -last, Latium,

all of them beginning at the river ...

  1. -But the country of the Sabini lies between that of the Latini and that of the Ombrici, although it too extends to the mountains of the Samnitae, or rather it joins that part of the Apennines which is in the country of the Vestini, the Peligni, and the Marsi. 

  2. -And the country of the Ombrici lies between the country of the Sabini and Tyrrhenia, although it extends over the mountains as far as Ariminum and Ravenna. 

  3. -And Tyrrhenia, beginning at its own sea and the Tiber, ceases at the very foot of those mountains which enclose it from Liguria to the Adriatic” (5:1). 

Strabo on the Etruscan Confederation of Twelve City-States

Strabo gives a long account of the foundation of the Etruscan city-states, and of the Etruscan kings of Rome:

  1. “The Tyrrheni, then, are called by the Romans: "Etrusci"; and "Tusci".  The Greeks, however, so the story goes, named them thus after Tyrrhenus, the son of Atys ... At a time of famine  ..., Atys ... , having only two sons, by the casting of lots detained one of them, Lydus, and sent forth the other, Tyrrhenus, with the greater part of the people.  And when Tyrrhenus came, he not only called the country Tyrrhenia after himself, but also put Tarco in charge as "coloniser," and founded twelve  cities.  [One of these, Tarquinia, had been named for Tarco] “on account of his sagacity from boyhood, is said by the myth-tellers to have been born with grey hair. 

  2. Now at first the Tyrrheni, since they were subject to the orders of only one ruler, were very strong, but in later times, it is reasonable to suppose, their united government was dissolved, and the Tyrrheni, yielding to the violence of their neighbours, were broken up into separate cities; for otherwise they would not have given up a happy land and taken to the sea as pirates, different bands turning to different parts of the high seas; indeed, in all cases where they acted in concert, they were able, not only to defend themselves against those who attacked them, but also to attack in turn and to make long expeditions. 

  3. But it was after the founding of Rome that Demaratus arrived, bringing with him a host of people from Corinth; and, since he was received by the Tarquinians, he married a native woman, by whom he begot Lucumo.  And since Lucumo had proved a friend to Ancus Marcius, the king of the Romans, he was made king, and his name was changed to Lucius Tarquinius Priscus.

  4. Be that as it may, he too adorned Tyrrhenia, as his father had done before him - the father by means of the goodly supply of artisans who had accompanied him from home and the son by means of the resources supplied by Rome.  It is further said that the triumphal and consular adornment ... was transferred to Rome from Tarquini, together with fasces, axes, trumpets, sacrificial rites, divination, and all music publicly used by the Romans. 

  5. This Tarquinius was the father of the second Tarquinius [ Tarquinius Superbus], who was the last of the kings and was banished.  Porsinas [Lars Porsenna], the king of Clusium, a Tyrrhenian city, undertook to restore him to the throne by force of arms, but was unable to do so, although he broke up the personal enmity against himself and departed as friend, along with honour and large gifts” (5:2:2-3).

(See also Livy, above)

Strabo on the Umbrians in Rimini

“Ariminum is a settlement of the Ombri, just as Ravenna is, although each of them has received Roman colonists” (5:11).

Strabo on Relations with Caere after the Sack of Rome (ca. 390 BC)

The above account of Etruria continues:

  1. “Thus much for the lustre of the Tyrrheni.  And still to be recorded are the achievements of the people of Caere: they defeated in war those Gauls who had captured Rome [in ca. 390 BC], having attacked them as they were returning through the country of the Sabines, and also took away as booty ... [valuables] that the Romans had willingly given them; in addition to this, they saved all who fled to them for refuge from Rome, and the immortal fire, and the priestesses of Vesta.  The Romans, it is true, on account of the bad managers that the city had at the time, do not seem to have remembered the favour of the Caeretani with sufficient gratitude, for, although they gave them the right of citizenship, they did not enroll them among the citizens, and even used to relegate all others who had no share in the equal right to ‘the Tablets of the Caeretani’ .... the city, once so splendid and illustrious, now preserves mere traces of its former self.”

Strabo suggests here that the people of Caere were incorporated into the Roman state, but without voting rights.  However, T. J. Cornell [reference needed] suggests that Livy (above) is correct: the grateful Romans agreed a league of hospitality, under which citizens of Caere would have voting rights in Rome if they were living there, and vice versa.

Strabo on the Sabines

  1. “The country the Sabini live in is narrow, but taken lengthwise it reaches even 1,000 stadia from the Tiber and the little town of Nomentum, as far as the country of the Vestini.  They have but few cities and even these have been brought low on account of the continual wars; they are Amiternum, and Reate ...  As for Cures, it is now only a small village, but it was once a city of significance, since it was the original home of two kings of Rome, Titius Tatius and Numa Pompilius ... As a whole, the land of the Sabini is exceptionally well-planted with the olive and the vine, and it also produces acorns in quantities; it is important, also, for its domestic cattle of every kind; and in particular the fame of the Reate-breed of mules is remarkably widespread... Not only are the Sabini a very ancient race, they are also the indigenous inhabitants (and both the Picentini and the Samnitae are colonists from the Sabini: and the Leucani from the Samnitae  and the Brettii from the Leucani).  And the old-fashioned ways of the Sabini might be taken as evidence of bravery, and of those other excellent qualities that have enabled them to hold out to the present time.  Fabius, the historian, says that the Romans realised their wealth for the first time when they became established as masters of this tribe.  As for the roads that have been constructed through their country, there is not only the Via Salaria (though it does not run far) but also the Via Nomentana ...” (5:3:1)

  2. “The Sabini, since they had long been at war with the Ombrici, vowed (just as some of the Greeks do) to dedicate everything that was produced that year; and, on winning the victory, they partly sacrificed and partly dedicated all that was produced.  Then a dearth ensued, and someone said that they ought to have dedicated the babies too.  This they did, and devoted to Mars all the children born that year; and these children, when grown to manhood, they sent away as colonists, and a bull led the way; and when the bull lay down to rest in the land of the Opici (who, as it chanced, were living only in villages), the Sabini ejected them and settled on the spot, and, in accordance with the utterance of their seers, slaughtered the bull as a sacrifice to Mars who had given it for a guide.  It is reasonable to suppose therefore that their name "Sabelli" is a nickname derived from the name of their forefathers” (5:4).  

Strabo might mean here that the”Sabelli” (little Sabines) were the sons of “bellum” (war). He is describing the tradition of the “ver sacrum” (sacred spring), a ritual in which sections of ancient Italic communities that faced famine were sent to found new colonies in order to avoid over-population.  In this instance, Sabines from the heartland in the Tiber valley apparently followed the ritual when colonising the land of the “Opici” in the Apennines, later Upper Sabinium.

Strabo on the Goddess Cupra

In his account of Picenum (across the Apennines from Umbria), Strabo records an  Etruscan temple dedicated to Cupra at modern Cupramarittima: 

  1. “Next in order comes the temple of Cupra, which was established and founded as a city by the Tyrrheni, who call Hera ‘Cupra’ ” (5:4).

Seneca (4BC - 65 AD)

Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a leading Roman intellectual and statesman who acted as virtual regent during the early part of the reign of the Emperor Nero (i.e. from 54 – 62 AD).  He then fell from favour and retired, committing suicide in 65 AD when he was suspected of plotting the Nero’s death.  Seneca wrote 9 tragedies and a number of other works, including the "Naturales Quaestiones" (Natural Questions), a book on natural philosophy.

Seneca on the Etruscan Divination by Lightning 

In the section of the on ‘Lightnings and Thunders’, Seneca provides a famous description of Etruscan theology as it relates to divination by lightning:  

  1. “Lightning portends the future, too.  Nor do the signs it gives refer to only one or two events: often a complete series of fate’s succeeding decrees is intimated, with proof ... far more distinct than if it were recorded in writing.  There are differences of interpretation, however, between our countrymen and the Tuscans [Etruscans], the latter of whom possess consummate skill in the explanation of the meaning of lightning:

  2. -we think that lightning is emitted because clouds collide;

  3. -they hold that clouds collide in order that lightning may be emitted.  They refer everything to the will of God: therefore they are strong in their conviction that lightning does not give an indication of the future because it has occurred, but [rather, that it] occurs because it is meant to give this indication.” (2:32) . 

In a later section, Seneca relates that the Etruscans, like the Romans, regarded Jupiter (whom they called Tinia) as the ultimate ruler of the universe:  

  1. “The ancient sages “recognised the same Jupiter that we do, the guardian and ruler of the universe, its soul and breath, the maker and lord of this earthly frame of things, to whom every name of power is appropriate.  ... The Etruscans thought so too.  They said bolts were sent by Jove, just because nothing is performed except by his power” (2:45).

Claudius (10 - 54 AD)

Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, who became the Emperor Claudius (41 54 AD), was also a scholar, and is probably the last person who is known to have been able to read Etruscan.  His written works included the “Tyrrhenika”, a history of the Etruscans written in Greek in 20 volumes.  Unfortunately, it no longer survives.

Claudius on the Early Kings of Rome

A speech by Claudius to the Senate in 48 AD contained a paragraph on the early history of Rome that is known from an inscription in Lyon (which is now in the Gallo-Roman Museum, Lyon):

  1. “At one time, [Rome] was held by kings, though they did not pass it along to successors from their own families: people from other families came to the throne, and even some foreigners.  

  2. -Numa, for example, succeeded Romulus, and was a Sabine; that made him a neighbor, certainly, but at the time he was also a foreigner. 

  3. -Another example is Tarquinius Priscus, who succeeded Ancus Marcius: because of his impure blood [he had a Greek father] ... Tarquinius was kept from positions of honor in his own land [the Etruscan city state of Tarquinia] and thus emigrated to Rome, where he became king.  

  4. -Between Tarquinius and either his son or his grandson (for our authorities disagree on this point) there came Servius Tullius.  And according to the Roman sources Servius Tullius’ mother, Ocresi, had been a prisoner of war.  According to the Etruscans he had been the faithful companion of Caelius Vivenna [more usually Caeles Vibenna] and took part in his adventures.  Later, when he was driven out by a change of fortune, he left Etruria with all the surviving troops of Caelius and seized the Caelian hill, which thus takes its name from his leader Caelius.  After changing his name (for his Etruscan name was Mastarna) he was given the name I have already mentioned [i.e. Servius Tullius], and became king, to the very great advantage of the state.

  5. -Then, after the behavior of Tarquinius Superbus came to be hated by our city, and not only his behavior but that of his sons, the people became tired of monarchy, and the administration of state was transferred to the consuls, who were annual magistrates”.

Pliny the Elder (23 - 79 AD)

Caius Plinius Secundus was a noted antiquarian in Rome, but his encyclopaedic "Natural History" is his only surviving work.   Here he drew together (in 37 books) an amazing variety of facts relating primarily to geography, anthropology and botany.   Pliny died during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Pliny the Elder on Umbria and the Umbri

The Augustan Sixth Region, which: "includes Umbria and the Gallic territory in the vicinity of Ariminum [Rimini]: 

  1. At Ancona begins the coast of that part of Gaul known as Gallia Togata.  The Siculi and the Liburni possessed the greater part of this district, and more particularly the territories of Palma, of Prætutia, and of Adria.  These were expelled by the Umbri, these again by the Etruscans, and these in their turn by the Gauls. 

  2. The Umbri are considered to be the most ancient nation of Italy (“gens antiquissima Italiae existimatur”), it being supposed that they were called "Ombrii" by the Greeks, from the fact of their having survived the rains which had inundated the earth.  We read that 300 of their towns were conquered by the Etruscans" (3:19).

Pliny the Elder on Amelia

At the end of his account of Augustan Sixth Region, Pliny added an interesting snippet of information on Amelia: 

  1. "Cato writes that Ameria above-mentioned was founded 964 years before the war with Perseus" (3:19). 

The war with King Perseus of Macedon ended in a famous Roman victory at the Battle of Pydna (168 BC).

Pliny the Elder on Bevagna

A chapter in Book 31 entitled “Walls of Brick and the Method of Making bricks”contained Pliny's observation

  1. “In Italy also there are walls of brick, at Arretium and Mevania” (31:49).

In fact, by Pliny’s time the walls of these cities were made of stone, but he could have been relying on information about earlier circuits that no longer survives.  Two facts give his account credibility:

  1. brick manufacture based on the local clay deposits was certainly feasible at Bevagna from an early date; and

  2. traces of brick walls from the 3rd century BC have been discovered at Arezzo.

Pliny the Elder on Etruria

The Augustan Seventh Region begins:

  1. “At an early period the Umbri were expelled from [the region] by the Pelasgi; and these again by the Lydians, who:

  2. -from a king of theirs, were named Tyrrheni, but afterwards;

  3. -from the rites observed in their sacrifices,

  4. were called, in the Greek language Tusci [i.e. Etruscans]” (3:8).

Two cities from modern Umbria were included in his list of Etruscan cities of the interior: Perusia (Perugia) and Volsinii.  He made no distinction in the latter case between the old Volsinii (Orvieto), which the Romans had destroyed in 264 BC, and its successor, which was on the site of modern Bolsena.

Pliny the Elder on the Tiber

“The Tiber ... flows down from nearly the central part of the chain of the Apennines, in the territory of the Arretini.  It is at first small, and only navigable by means of [locks: it is] necessary to collect the water for 9 days, unless there should happen to be a fall of rain.  And even then, ...[it] is really more suitable for navigation by rafts than by vessels, for any great distance.  It winds along for a course of 150 [Roman] miles:

  1. -passing not far from Tifernum [Città di Castello], Perusia, and Ocriculum [Otricoli], and dividing Etruria from:

  2. -the Umbri and the Sabini;

  3. -and then, at a distance of less than 16 [Roman] miles from [Rome];

  4. -separating the territory of Veii from that of Crustuminum;

  5. -and afterwards that of the Fidenates and of Latium from Vaticanum” (3:9).

Pliny the Elder on Thunder and Lightening at Volsinii

“The Tuscan books inform us that there are 9 Gods who discharge thunderstorms, that there are 11 different kinds of them, and that 3 of them are sent out by Jupiter.  Of these the Romans retained only two, ascribing the diurnal kind to Jupiter, and the nocturnal to Summanus; this latter kind being more rare, in consequence of the heavens being colder ... 

The Etrurians also suppose that those which are named ‘Infernal’ burst out of the ground; they are produced in the winter and are particularly fierce and direful ... Those who have searched into the subject more minutely suppose that these come from the planet Saturn, as those that are of a burning nature do from Mars.  In this way it was that Volsinium, the most opulent town of the Tuscans, was entirely consumed by lightning” (2:53).

Pliny the Elder on Volsinii and “King” Lars Porsenna

“There is an old report in Etruria that thunder was invoked when the city of Volsinium had its territory laid waste by a monster named Olta.  Thunder was also invoked by King Porsenna [Lars Porsenna]” (2:54) 

Pliny the Elder on the Tomb of Lars Porsenna

“As to [the labyrinth that Lars] Porsenna, King of Etruria erected as his intended tomb, it is only proper that I should make some mention of it, if only to show that the vanity displayed by foreign monarchs, great as it is, has been surpassed.  But as the fabulousness of the story connected with it quite exceeds all bounds, I shall employ the words given by M. Varro himself in his account of it:

  1. ‘Porsenna was buried ... beneath the city of Clusium, in the spot where he had had [a square stone monument] constructed.   Each side of this monument was 300 feet in length and 50 in height, and beneath the base, which was also square, there was an inextricable labyrinth: anyone entering it without a ball of thread would never have found his way out.  Above this square building there stood 5 pyramids, one at each corner and one in the middle, 75 feet broad at the base, and 150 feet in height.  These pyramids were so tapering in their form that, upon the summit of all of them, there rested a brazen globe and [conical cupola] from which there hung, suspended by chains, bells that tinkled when agitated by the wind .... Upon this globe, there were 4 other pyramids, each one 100 in height; and above them was a single platform, on which there were 5 more pyramids.’ 

[Pliny comments that Varro had evidently been too embarrassed to divulge the height of these last 5 pyramids, but], according to the Etruscan fables, it was equal to that of the rest of the building.  What downright madness, to attempt to seek glory at an outlay that can never be of utility to any one, to say nothing of exhausting the resources of the kingdom, [especially since] the artist may reap the greater share of the praise!” (36:19).

Florus (ca. 70-140 AD)

Publius Annius Florus is known under several names:

  1. his first name is sometimes given as Lucius rather than Publius; and

  2. his family name is sometimes given as Anneus rather than Annius.

Although this could be because there were several authors with almost identical names, most scholars agree that there was only one, Publius Annius Florus.  He is best known for the “Epitome of Roman History”, which concentrates on the military exploits of the Romans.  It is largely based on the work of Livy, and is particularly useful because it covers parts of Livy’s work that no longer survive.

Florus on the Twelve Etruscan City-States

In Book 1:5: Tarquinius Priscus “was quite as able in war as in peace; for he subdued the 12 peoples of Etruria by frequent attacks.  It was from them that were derived the fasces, robes of State, official chairs, rings, horse-trappings, military cloaks, purple-bordered togas, the practice of riding in triumph in a gilded car drawn by four horses, embroidered robes and tunics adorned with palms — in fact all the ornaments and insignia which serve to emphasize the dignity of office”.

Festus (late 2nd century AD)

Sextus Pompeius Festus is known today only from his edited version (epitome) of the  "De verborum significatu", an encyclopaedic lexicon by Marcus Verrius Flaccus from the time of the Emperor Augustus.  This work in turn drew on many of the most important sources of the Roman world.  Festus' version of the lexicon survives in a single fragmentary manuscript.  However, the Epitome of Paul the Deacon, which Paul produced for the Emperor Charlemagne in the 8th century, fills in many of the gaps, albeit in a heavily edited form.

Festus on on the Etruscans and the Art of Divination

In "De verborum significatu", (search on ‘Genii’), Festus recorded:

  1. Tages nomine: Genii filius, nepos Jovis; puer dicitur disciplinam aruspicii dedisse duodecim populis Etruriae” (XVIII. 951).

Tages: the son of Genius, grandson of Jupiter; the boy is said to have given the discipline of divination to the twelve peoples of Etruria.

Festus on Amelia

Festus glossed Ameria as: “a city of Umbria, so-named by King Amiro” (Epitome 19, search on “Amiro”). 

Justin (3rd or 4th century AD)

Marcus Junianus Justinus is unknown except for his reference to himself as the author of the “Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus”, a summary of the “Historiae Philippicae et Totius Mundi Origines et Terrae Situs” (1st century BC, now lost) by Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus.

Justin on the Greek Origins of (inter alia) Perugia

“Many Italian cities, still, after so long a lapse of time, still exhibit some traces of Greek manners; for the Etrurians, who occupy the shore of the Tuscan sea, came from Lydia; ....; and Tarquinii, in Etruria, as well as Spina in Umbria, has its origin from the Thessalians; Perusia was founded by the Achaeans.  Need I mention Caere?” (20:1) .

John of Lydia (died 560 AD)

John of Lydia worked as an administrator at the court of Byzantium, where he was particularly valued for his knowledge of Latin and of Roman history and philosophy.  However, he fell from favour, and was dismissed in 552.  During his retirement, he wrote a number of books, three of which survive:

  1. De Ostentis”, which describes the ancient art of divination by thunder, lightning, and earthquake.  It includes the texts of some otherwise lost ancient works, such as the Brontoscopic Calendar of Publius Nigidius Figulus. 

  2. De Magistratibus”, which deals with the development of the Roman bureaucracy from its origins to his own day; and

  3. De Mensibus” on the Roman calendar and holidays.

John of Lydia on the Etruscans and the Art of Divination

“Tarchon [the Elder] ... was ... a haruspex, one of those who were taught by Tyrrhenos the Lydian. .... [Tarchon] tells that something miraculous happened to him by chance when he was ploughing once upon a time.  ....  A little boy appeared from a furrow; he seemed to be new born but nevertheless had teeth and other markings of great age.  This little boy was Tages ... When Tarchon ... had lifted up the child and placed him on a sacred place, he asked him to teach him the secrets [of divination].  His request was granted.  Based on the sayings, Tarchon wrote a book in which he asks questions in [Latin], but Tages’ answers have archaic elements which are unknown to us [i.e. they were in Etruscan]” (“De Ostentis”, 2.6.B, from N. Thomson de Grummond, Erika Simon, “The Religion of the Etruscans”, (2006), Appendix B, Source no. ii.5))


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