Key to Umbria

         Orvieto, with the excavated sanctuary at                                                  Perugia

            Campo della Fiera in the foreground       

Pliny the Elder (‘Natural History’, 3:8) assigned two of the cities of modern Umbria to the Augustan Seventh Region, Etruria:

  1. the city of the Volsinienses, (i.e. Volsinii):

  2. the ancient city, which the Romans had destroyed in 264 BC, was probably on the later site of Orvieto; but

  3. the Romans moved its inhabitants to the shores of Lake Bolsena, and this ; and

  4. Perusia (modern Perugia). 

These people were culturally distinct from the Umbri and the Sabines (the other occupants of pre-Roman Umbria), and are therefore treated on this separate page.

Who Were the Etruscans? 

The Etruscan heartland extended: from Rome to the Arno valley; and from the Tyrrhenian coast to the Tiber.  According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1:30:4), these people called themselves the Rasenna.  Their defining characteristic was their language, which is now known only through Etruscan inscriptions, and which had no relationship to the Italic languages spoken by their neighbours (nor indeed to almost any other).

The singularity of the Etruscan language has long prompted speculation as to the origin of the people who spoke it.

  1. According to Strabo:

  2. “The Tyrrheni, then, are called among the Romans ‘Etrusci’ and ‘Tusci’.  The Greeks, however, so the story goes, named them thus after Tyrrhenus, the son of [King] Atys, who sent forth colonists hither from Lydia [in modern Turkey].  At a time of famine and dearth of crops, Atys ... assembling the greater part of the people [his son] Tyrrhenus, sent them forth.  And when Tyrrhenus [arrived on the coast of Italy], he not only called the country Tyrrhenia after himself, but also put Tarco in charge as ‘coloniser’  and founded twelve cities...” ‘Geography’ (5:2:2)

  3. Herodotus of Halicarnassus (‘History, 1:94) also subscribed to the theory that the Etruscans (whom he called the Tyrsenians or Tyrrhenians) had come from Lydia.

  4. However, Dionysius subscribed to the theory (now generally accepted) that they were autochthonic or aborigine”

  5. “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 ...: they neither worship the same gods as the Lydians nor make use of similar laws or institutions ...  Indeed, those probably come nearest to the truth who declare that the nation migrated from nowhere else, but 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”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1:30:1-2)

Ancient Cities of Modern UmbriaMain Page     Literary sources   

Ancient Umbria     Etruscan Volsinii and Perusia     Upper Sabinium and Nursia

Etruscan Volsinii and PerusiaMain page     Etruscan Federation     Literary sources      

Topics: Early Etruscan Inscriptions     Etruscan Religion

Return to the History Index


Etruscan Volsinii and Perusia (ca. 900-300 BC)

Home   Cities    History    Art    Hagiography    Contact

Etruscan Volsinii and PerusiaMain page     Etruscan Federation     Literary sources      

Topics: Early Etruscan Inscriptions     Etruscan Religion  

(Note that the page “Literary Sources” expands on all the classical references in the account below)