Not every day you read a headline like that, is it? From the Beeb:
‘After seven hot summers of digging, an Italian archaeological team believe they have discovered one of the most important sites of the ancient world. Fanum Voltumnae, a shrine, marketplace and Etruscan political centre, was situated in the upper part of the Tiber river valley.
It lies at the foot of a huge outcrop of rock, upon which is perched the mediaeval city of Orvieto. A walled sanctuary area, 5m-wide (16ft) Etruscan roads, an altar, and the foundations of many Roman buildings that have laid buried for two millennia have been discovered.’
As exciting a discovery as this is (and it did get my inner-nerd all a-twitter), I couldn’t help but think of the work of T.J. Cornell, specifically his book ‘The Beginnings of Rome‘.
One of the principal reasons any mention of Etruscan culture generates such interest is because of the long-held assertion that it was fundamental in shaping what became known as the Roman Empire. Cornell makes a persuasive case for suggesting that the Etruscans didn’t have half the influence on Rome (especially in it’s arts and technology) that many historians routinely assert they did.
The entire thing, Cornell seemed to suggest, was fanciful thinking on the part of romantically-inclined historians seeking a softer edge to Rome’s birth myth, perhaps in order to paper over the vicious brutality at the heart of Rome’s later power.
Such revisionist readings are not new – for example Simon James suggested, in a simlar vein, that the entire notion of a ‘Celtic Ireland’ was merely the invention of green-leaning Irish archaeologists eager to hasten the revival of Ireland’s fortunes and self-esteem in the 19th century.
Such suggestions may seem uncomfortable at first (and James’ would seem to be rubbished by the glut of La Tene art on display in the National Museum of Ireland) but it is worth noting that the original accounts of Etruscan culture and political organisation came from the Roman historian Livy. He wrote his works in the 1st century A.D. – some four centuries after the ‘Etruscan state’ was consumed by Rome.
T. J. Cornell’s ‘The Beginnings of Rome’
Also see A History of Rome, by M. Cary and H.H. Scullard.
Titus Livius or ‘Livy’ (Roman Historian)
Hibernia Romana: What did the Roman’s ever do for us?
Photos from Flickr. Tag ‘Etruscan’.