"Religion is in fact the best known facet of the Etruscan civilization." In making this statement, Massimo Pallottino noted that very many of the archaeological remains of the Etruscans and the literary sources about the Etruscans in Latin and Greek have a connection, in one way or another, with religion. The well-known statement of Livy describing the Etruscans as being the nation most devoted to religion, excelling others in their knowledge of religious practices (5.1.6; see Appendix B, Source no. I.1), provides evidence that the ancients also recognized the pervasiveness of religion in Etruscan civilization.
It is a little odd, given the acknowledged importance of this subject, that there are relatively few general, sustained accounts of Etruscan religion, and there is as yet none today in the English language. It is also surprising that there does not seem to exist a critical review of the history of the study of Etruscan religion, which might help to evaluate the original sources and frame the problems and methodology for current study of the topic. In this introduction we shall consider the latter subject—the history of scholarship on Etruscan religion—and at the end attempt to show how this particular book relates to the former topic: the need for a comprehensive treatment in English. Here and throughout the book, there will be an emphasis on the evidence from written sources, and accordingly, frequent reference will be made to a special feature of this volume, the appendix on Selected Latin and Greek Literary Sources on Etruscan Religion (Appendix B).
In antiquity the study of and theorizing about Etruscan religion was already well developed, with scholarship that we may distribute into three main categories: canonical texts, philosophical treatises, and historical/antiquarian writings.
The Canonical Texts
There were studies of the many different Etruscan texts having to do with the Etrusca disciplina,* that body of original Etruscan religious literature describing the cosmos and the Underworld, as well as prescribing various rituals and ways to interpret and act upon messages from the gods. The names of the texts that have survived include the Libri rituales, Libri fatales, Libri de fulguratura ("on lightning") and Libri Acheruntici (concerning Acheron, i.e., the Underworld), as well as books named after the two principal Etruscan prophets, who were called Tages and Vegoia in Latin: Libri Tagetici and Libri Vegontici. Both Etruscans and Romans were involved in this study, which included translating and interpreting the old texts and teaching them to appropriate individuals. The practitioners of this type of study perhaps relate to their material in a manner similar to that of the Jewish and Early Christian scholars who studied, taught, and commented on their religious literature.
Unfortunately, we know so little of these writings and teachings that we are unable to discern what, if any, may have been their theological concerns or what debates may have enlivened their encounters. Further, it is a perennial frustration in studies of Etruscan religion that little about Etruscan prophetic or priestly texts can be confidently traced back earlier than the first century BCE, when in fact Etruscan civilization had become fully submerged in the dominant Roman culture.
Among the names that have survived are individuals who lived in the first century BCE, such as Aulus Caecina from Volterra, friend of Cicero, who wrote De Etrusca disciplina, a publication that has been described as a "major event" in the intellectual life of the Late Republic; the admired and erudite Nigidius Figulus, who composed books on dreams, private augury, divining from entrails and a brontoscopic calendar (the latter surviving in a Greek translation; see Appendix A for the text and a full account of Figulus); and Tarquitius Priscus, friend of Varro, known to have written an Ostentarium Tuscum, a translation of an Etruscan work on prodigies and signs, as well as a book on prognosticating from trees. Tarquitius also produced a translation of the cosmic prophecies of the nymph Vegoia, a fragment of which has survived (Appendix B, Source no. II.1). Another figure in this category is Cornelius Labeo, whose date is unknown but who seems to have written translations and commentaries, in fifteen books, on the prophecies of Vegoia and Tages.
Also in this category are the many shadowy figures who are mentioned as being consulted for advice by the Romans, the soothsaying priests or haruspices,* as for example, Umbricius Melior, described as "most skilled," the Early Imperial soothsayer of Galba. Sulla had his haruspex Postumius, and the famous Spurinna tried to warn Caesar about the Ides of March. There must have been many more Romanized Etruscans involved in these pursuits (there are a few more such figures whose names alone have come down to us), for we know that as a general principle, the Romans thought the Etruscan teachings to be so important that they had a practice of sending their sons to Etruria to study this ancient lore.
The foregoing individuals we have mentioned may be recognized as real practitioners of Etruscan or Etruscan-style religion, and as such they had their own bias. Our second division is related, but it manifests a different approach: intellectuals with a concern for philosophy. There is no more significant surviving text for the study of Etruscan religious practice than the treatise on divination by Cicero, written around the time of the death of Caesar, ca. 44 BCE. In De divinatione Cicero presents a vivid debate on the reliability of divination in its various manifestations, with the principal interlocutors represented as his brother Quintus and himself. The evidence presented on both sides is all the more interesting because Cicero had intimate knowledge of the subject from his own experiences as an augur of state religion.
This first-century Roman debate is of course sophisticated and probably shows some thought patterns well beyond any present in Etruscan religious teaching. Quintus Cicero supports credence in divination from the standpoint of Stoic philosophy, and Marcus Cicero, while rejecting actual faith in divination, in the end admits the importance of traditional rites and ceremonies solely for political aims. He has great contempt for most divinatory practices and heaps scorn upon, for example, the important Etruscan revelation myth of the prophetic child Tages. What is most important in the treatise for our purposes is the abundant evidence about the principal Etruscan methods of divining, by reading of entrails and by interpretation of lightning (cf. Appendix B, Section VIII). When we can sort these out from Roman interpolation, we have some of the most meaningful reports from antiquity on Etruscan practices.
The treatise of Seneca, Quaestiones naturales, written shortly before his death in 65 CE, also promotes philosophy but is fascinating for its sympathetic presentation of the point of view of Etruscan priests. We have a clear statement of the contrast of thought between the two sides, in the famous declaration that "this is the difference between us [philosophers] and the Etruscans, who have consummate skill in interpreting lightning: we think that because clouds collide, lightning is emitted; but they think the clouds collide in order that lightning may be emitted" (Appendix B, Source no. VIII.1). In fact, we know little about the Etruscan studies of the natural sciences, but the passage in Seneca tends to confirm suspicions that their observation of natural phenomena was carried out with religious premises and conclusions.
A third and rather different brand of scholarship is that of the historians, philologists, and antiquarians. Livy (d. 12 or 17 CE) transmitted a great deal of information in his narratives of Roman/Etruscan politics and war, such as in his frequent references to the Etruscan federal sanctuary of the shrine of Voltumna (3.23.5, 25.7, 61.2; 5.17.6; 6.2.2). Verrius Flaccus, the tutor of the grandsons of Augustus, wrote a treatise on Etruscan matters (Libri rerum Etruscarum) that has not survived, but we do have some of his observations as preserved in the epitome by Festus of his De significatu verborum, which contained rare and obsolete words and accompanying archaic antiquarian lore. Vitruvius, a practicing architect of the time of Augustus, has left a precise account of the theoretical and practical aspects of building and locating an Etruscan temple (De architectura 1.7.1-2, 4.7; Appendix B, Source nos. V.2, V.3).
The pure antiquarians are especially useful. They were intrigued with the past and recorded information objectively about Etruscan religion out of curiosity. A great variety of Etruscan topics was treated by the most learned of all Romans, Varro (116-127 BCE), ranging from the practice of sacrificing a pig for a ritual pact (De re rustica 2.4.9), to the Etruscan rite for laying out a city (Etruscus ritus*; De lingua Latina 5.143; see Appendix B, Source no. V.2). He wrote a treatise on human and divine matters of antiquity (i.e., what was ancient at that time, 47 BCE), the loss of which is most unfortunate. It contained fascinating material on the lore of lightning, such as that other gods beside Jupiter, for example, Minerva and Juno, were allowed to throw lightning bolts (Appendix B, Source no. VIII.7). It was Varro who provided the famous and precious reference to Vertumnus as the "principal god of Etruria" (De lingua Latina 5.46; Appendix B, Source no. VI.3).
He was of course frequently quoted by other antiquarians, such as Pliny the Elder (d. 79 CE), who drew from him information about the decoration of Etruscan shrines, in his book on painting and modeling sculpture (HN 35.154), and about the tomb of Porsenna, in his section on building stones and architecture (HN 36.91; Appendix B, Source no. V.5). Pliny included a good bit of Etruscan material in his encyclopedic Historia Naturalis as part of his goal of being compendious, and in this way he preserved many interesting fragments of information from various sources, such as lore about signs from the birds in his sections on zoology; he refers to an illustrated Etruscan treatise (HN 10.28, 30, 33, 35-49).
Among the antiquarians we may also classify selected Latin poets who drew on early Roman and Etruscan antiquities for one reason or another, during that period of the first century BCE when we detect so much other activity regarding Etruscan religion. Vergil, exposed to Etruscan culture in his native Mantua, has left us his stirring description of the warrior priest from Pisa, Asilas, skilled in the interpretation of all the signs from the gods, embracing entrails, the stars, birds, and lightning (Aeneid 10.246-254).
No text from the Romans is more important for studying Etruscan divinity than the poem of the Umbrian Propertius about the statue of Vertumnus set up in Rome (4.2; Appendix B, Source no. VI.1). It expresses vividly the Etruscan tendency to be vague or ambivalent about the gender and other characteristics of a particular deity.
Ovid, too, has related the myth of Vertumnus, and interestingly has the god change sex to appear as an old woman in the story of the courtship of Pomona (Meta. 14.623-771; see Appendix B, Source no. VI.2). His calendar in the Fasti, replete with lore of early religion in Rome, is relevant but must be used with caution, both because the poet is sometimes inaccurate in his citations (and he does not tell his sources) and because the material on the Etruscans is certainly colored by the Roman context. Of course, all the poetic literature—of Vergil, Propertius, Ovid, and others—must be read critically as just that, rich in allusions, sometimes created for the occasion by the poet and not necessarily reflecting Etruscan belief or practice.
After this, we can note a crowd of later Roman polymaths who took an interest in Etruscan culture, probably most often using some of the writers we have already cited. Festus (second century CE), as noted, prepared an epitome of Verrius Flaccus, and this was in turn epitomized by Paulus Diaconus in the eighth century. The grammarian Censorinus (third century CE) wrote on a wide range of topics such as the origin of human life and time (Appendix B, Source no. III.6). The indefatigable and generally trustworthy Servius (fourth century CE) has left an abundance of observations on the Etruscans in his commentary on Vergil's works. He took a great interest in augural lore, and though he did not always refer directly to the Etruscans, his comments are useful in augmenting our knowledge of this important branch of Etruscan religious praxis. Macrobius (probably fifth century CE), whose Saturnalia is a potpourri of antiquarian, scientific, and especially philological lore, provides in his dilettante's way little nuggets of Etruscan information, for example, on the use of the sacred bronze plow in founding a city (Sat. 5.19.13 [Appendix B, Source no. IV.5]) or on the good omen seen in the wool of sheep when it was naturally tinted purple or golden (Sat. 3.7.2 [Appendix B, Source no. IV.6]). Finally, we may include in this group Arnobius, a rhetorician and Christian convert living in Africa in the late fourth and early fifth century CE, who assembled his text intelligently from other sources, as shown by his passage quoting Varro on the group gods such as the Penates recognized by the Etruscans (Adv. nat., 3.40 [Appendix B, Source no. IX.3]).
An absolutely singular case is that of Martianus Capella. He, too, flourished in the atmosphere of North Africa in the fifth century, leaving as his chief work a compendious pedantic allegory on the marriage of Mercury and Philology (De nuptiis Mercurii et Philologiae). Regarded as eccentric, tedious, and superficial in its discourse on the seven liberal arts, the text of Martianus is nonetheless of the greatest importance for Etruscan studies. It contains the single most significant text in Latin for understanding the Etruscan pantheon and cosmos (1.45-61; Appendix B, Source no. III.4). Martianus sets the stage for the wedding of Mercury and Philology by sending out invitations to gods all around the sky, and he depicts them as inhabiting sixteen main divisions.
Scholars are united in regarding this number as a clue that Martianus was following the Etruscan system of dividing the sky (cf. Cicero, De div. 2.18.42, Appendix B, Source no. III.3), and have found that the scheme agrees in some striking details with that other famous document of the Etruscan cosmos, the bronze model of a sheep's liver from Piacenza (see Fig. II.2). The use of deities who may be readily equated with well-known Etruscan gods, along with divinities who are completely obscure in Roman religion, suggests that we may indeed have here a reflection of an original Etruscan doctrine.
The antiquarian trend continues in the Middle Ages in isolated instances, such as the writings of the Byzantine scholar Johannes Lydus, who taught Latin philosophy and championed that language in sixth-century Constantinople. It is he who recorded the thunder calendar of Nigidius Figulus (Appendix A; note the discussion of the career and writings of Lydus there). In addition, he left a quite lengthy discussion of Tages (De ostentis, 2.6.B; Appendix B, Source no. II.5). The texts that had come to be associated with the name of Tages continued to be of interest long after Etruscan and Roman religion were no longer operative. Isidore of Seville also mentions Tages (Etymol. 8.9.34-35, seventh century). The encyclopedic text, the Suda, has left a strange account of creation, undoubtedly affected by biblical precedents, attributed to the Etruscans (tenth century; Appendix B, Source no. III.5).
The Etruscans were largely forgotten during the medieval centuries. When interest in them was reborn during the Renaissance in the former Etruscan territories, it was some time before their religion became a focus of study. That famous old fraud Annio da Viterbo (d. 1502) was interested in the mythology of Etruria, but he had as distorted a view of the gods as he had of the Etruscan language, which he translated quite wrongly. In the seventeenth century, the Scotsman Thomas Dempster, serving as a law professor in Pisa, pioneered serious research on the Etruscans with his treatise De Etruria regali libri septem ("Seven Books on Etruria of the Kings"). A section near the beginning was devoted to Etruscan religion, drawing on various texts he had available. The work was not published until over a century later and thus had little impact until the following century.
In spite of the veritable mania for the Etruscans (Etruscheria) of the eighteenth century, few yet took an interest in the topic of religion. The Accademia Etrusca, founded at Cortona in 1726, met regularly and heard papers and reports, but its members and other contemporary scholars seem to have been more interested in Etruscan architecture and material antiquities, along with the Etruscan language. Their studies often embraced Roman archaeology, and of some interest for our theme is a treatise on the origins and development of shrines in the ancient world, based on Roman numismatics especially, presented by the academician Filippo Venuti and published in 1738 among the Saggi di dissertazioni of the Accademia Etrusca. A remarkable study of "Etruscan philosophy" by Giovanni Maria Lampredi, a young priest and tutor in Florence, also belongs to this period. Saggio sopra la filosofia degli antichi Etruschi (1756) drawing on Seneca especially, argues that the Etruscans had an "emanative system" for the cosmos tied to Pythagoreanism and Stoicism. Lampredi went to some pains to explain the contradiction he perceived between Seneca and the account in the Suda.
In the nineteenth century, as part of the scientific trend manifest in various branches of Etruscan studies, we find the first extended consideration of Etruscan religion based on a rigorously critical assemblage of texts. The great classic handbook on the Etruscans, Die Etrusker, published by Karl Otfried Müller (1828) and significantly augmented by Wilhelm Deecke (1877), devoted Book 3 to a lengthy survey of Etruscan gods and spirits, the Etrusca disciplina, and the various branches of divination.
Following this product of German scholarship came the basic formulation of the various categories of the disciplina by the Swede Carl O. Thulin (1871-1921). His two essays on lightning (1905) and haruspicy (1906) and a third on the ritual books and the haruspices in Rome (1909) were gathered together as Die Etruskische Disciplin (Darmstadt, 1968). The works of Müller and Deecke and of Thulin are almost exclusively philological and historical and thus do not take into account the vast amount of archaeological material with bearing on the subject of Etruscan religion. Nor does either contain very much evidence derived from the study of the Etruscan language, which was still a pioneer discipline in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Nevertheless, Thulin did utilize the bronze liver found near Piacenza in 1877 (see Fig. II.2), though his listings of the inscriptions were very rudimentary. Moreover, Deecke, who was quite interested in the Etruscan language, drew upon the evidence of Etruscan mirrors, using the volumes of Gerhard's corpus of Etruskiche Spiegel, a rich repository of representations of gods identifiable by their names labeled in Etruscan or else recognizable by their resemblance to Greek or Roman gods (e.g., see Figs. II.8, 11, 16-19). Of great significance in this period for the study of original Etruscan texts was the recognition and publication (1892) of the astonishing linen book, an Etruscan ritual calendar, found reused as bandages for a mummy deposited in the National Museum of Zagreb (see Fig. II.1).
The Study of Etruscan Religion in the Twentieth Century
In the twentieth century, development in the study of Etruscan religion was not linear, but some trends and certainly major developments may be detected. In 1984, Pallottino summed up the scholarship by listing the chief researchers on the topic: almost all of the literature was in German, Italian, or French. A further and excellent guide to this literature was provided by the "nota bibliografica" of Mario Torelli, written for his chapter on Etruscan religion in the massive summa of Etruscan studies, Rasenna (1986). Historians of religion may be noted, such as Carl Clemen, who wrote the first true monograph on this topic, Die Religion der Etrusker (Bonn 1936). A series of articles in Studi e Materiali di Storia della Religione (4, 1928 and 5,1929) featured articles by a number of different experts on ancient religion (Clemen, H. J. Rose, C. C. Van Essen, H. M. R. Leopold, Franz Messerschmidt), including such topics as the relationship between Etruscan and Greek and Roman religion. Stefan Weinstock published a series of seminal articles, including his masterful study of the text of Martianus Capella and a basic study of the books on lightning, based on his careful scrutiny of the texts and intimate knowledge of the comparative religious material from the Near East.
Missing from the bibliographies of Pallottino and Torelli but worth mentioning here is the study by the comparativist Georges Dumézil, originally published in French (1966) and then translated into English as "The Religion of the Etruscans," a lengthy appendix to his Archaic Roman Religion. At the time, the book introduced a novel attitude toward the Etruscans, rather contemptuously removing them from forming background to Roman religion and placing them at the end of his study. Dumézil was eager to prove that Roman religion conformed to an Indo-European scheme and found the Etruscans inconvenient for his theory. A useful contribution to the study of sources was the Fonti di storia etrusca compiled by Guilio Buonamici, translations of various basic Greek and Latin texts, with a fairly full section on religion.
The greatest advances were being made by scholars who were strong philologists, especially those who were on the front lines in the study of the Etruscan language. Pallottino himself, Jacques Heurgon, and in particular Ambros J. Pfiffig brought to bear the ever-increasing scientific advances in the study of the language. In addition, they placed, for the first time, appropriate emphasis on the insertion of material culture into the dialogue.
The best general account in English to date, albeit brief, is that of Pallottino (1975, ch. 7). Likewise, his articles in the encyclopedic Roman and European Mythologies are all basic authoritative accounts. Pfiffig's Religio etrusca (1975) remains the only lengthy, systematic exposition of Etruscan religion that takes into account Greek and Roman literary sources, the Etruscan language, and the archaeological evidence. His bibliography was exhaustive (369 items).
The basic integrated methodology of Pallottino and Pfiffig has become standard today, and those who seek to be effective in the study of religion need global knowledge of the field of Etruscan studies. The latest generation of Italian scholars exemplifies well this ideal: Mario Torelli, Mauro Cristofani, Adriano Maggiani, Francesco Roncalli, and Giovanni Colonna. But the international character of Etruscan religious studies today was clearly evident in the conference organized in Paris in 1992 by FranÁoise Gaultier and Dominique Briquel, Les Plus religieux des hommes: État de la recherche sur la religion étrusque ("The Most Religious of Men: The State of Research on Etruscan Religion"), which included sessions on iconography, the pantheon, comparative religion, cults and rituals, and the relationship between Etruscan civilization and religion. The resulting publication (Paris, 1977) has a brief preface that sums up the "state of research." In combination with use of the most current archaeological discoveries, we see light shed on an increased chronological arc (the earliest periods of the Villanovan and Orientalizing phases are now clearer), and scholars are investigating the ties of the Etruscans with external cultures: Italic, Greek, and Oriental. For the rest, the reader may deduce the state of the field from the manifold articles; twenty-two scholars of international status published their latest insights there, all translated into French. Not one native speaker of English was on the program.
As of the year 2005 there still does not exist a substantial general account of the Etruscan religion in the English language. To fill this lacuna, the present volume of The Religion of the Etruscans was planned as a handbook, intended to be used as an introduction to the subject, but with sufficient scholarly apparatus to be of interest and use to more advanced students and scholars as well. The chapters of the book are based largely on papers given in 1999 at the Sixth Annual Langford Conference of the Department of Classics at Florida State University. Erika Simon, in her capacity as the Langford Family Eminent Scholar of Classics for the year 1999, selected the participants for the conference from leading scholars in the field of Etruscan studies. With coordinator Nancy de Grummond, Prof. Simon requested that the presenters give a general introduction to their individual subjects and include as well some of their own latest front-line research in the field. The participants fulfilled their assignments admirably and, after lively discussions and ideas for further additions to the book, proceeded to do a formal written version of their papers, taking into account the contributions of others.
The table of contents for The Religion of the Etruscans reveals the range of topics. The aim is to be systematic and comprehensive. The chapter by Larissa Bonfante lays out the most important surviving Etruscan inscriptions and explains how they are relevant for Etruscan religion, including points from her latest research relating inscriptions to religious iconography. The next chapter, by Nancy de Grummond, presents information on the sacred books of the Etruscan prophets and the activities of priests in divining the will of the gods; her work on Etruscan mirrors has brought up some new ideas about the Etruscan rituals of prophecy. Erika Simon discusses her concept of the "harmonious" pantheon of gods, pointing out how much cooperation and friendship there was among Etruscan deities and how versatile individual gods were, especially in regard to their ability to come and go from the Underworld to the upper sphere. Her chapter concludes with an alphabetical listing of the most significant Etruscan gods and brief characterizations of them.
Next, Ingrid Krauskopf gives a full survey of concepts of the Underworld and the intriguing demons inhabiting that part of the cosmos. Jean MacIntosh Turfa reviews the fascinating range of votive objects found in Etruscan sanctuaries and sacred areas, providing a most useful site-by-site summary of votive deposits of Etruria. Ingrid Edlund-Berry then discusses the delineation of space and boundaries in the cosmos, including some of her own original conclusions about the nature of Etruscan federal sanctuaries. The text concludes with a chapter on altars, shrines and temples, in which Giovanni Colonna provides a thorough overview and includes considerable detail about his own latest discoveries at Pyrgi and the nature of worship as revealed by offerings to the gods. His information about turf altars at Pyrgi, used in popular religion as opposed to the state patronage of grand temples, is integrated into the study of Etruscan religion for the first time here and provides a window on the ordinary, pious Etruscan people who sought to live in harmony with the gods. Every chapter has its own bibliography, so that the reader may follow up the scholarship on each particular topic.
We hope that the many illustrations for the book will provide an album of primary material. A parallel special feature of the work lies in the appendices of Greek and Latin texts, with English translations, that provide written primary source material for the study of Etruscan religion. A glossary furnishes definitions of key terms.