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WHO WERE THE ETRUSCANS?

One of the enduring mysteries of classical history is the identity of the Etruscans - the mysterious inhabitants of Tuscany, first referred to in the 9th century BC.

According to legend, Rome (founded 753 BC), was ruled by Etruscan kings until a rebellion drove out the last of them, Tarquinius Superbus, in 510 BC, and established a republic.

Linguistically the Etruscans have been difficult to place, although some scholars have detected a similarity with Lydian (Lydia being in SW Anatolia, modern Turkey), and their script remains undeciphered. The Lydian link may, however, provide a clue - and a possible connection with another mystery of ancient Mediterranean history - namely, what happened to the survivors of the sack of Troy?

The siege and sack of Troy by a combined Achaean (Greek) force, was, as everyone knows, the principal legend of Classical Greece. The epic poems Iliad and Odyssey, attributed to Homer (c. 720 BC), were considered by the Greeks to have been their greatest literary achievement, and became more or less national epics during the Persian War of 490-480 BC. The story of the abduction of Helen of Sparta by Paris, prince of Troy, the siege, the exploits of Achilles and Hector, the wooden horse, the sack of the city and the wanderings of Odysseus have exerted an influence over the western imagination second only to that of the Bible.

Evidence that the Trojan War was a real historical event does exist. In the 19th century, Heinrich Schliemann's excavations at Hissarlik in NW Anatolia (modern Turkey), overlooking the Dardanelles, the narrow sea route between the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea, revealed the ruins of Troy. It is the 7th level of the city, dated to around 1240 BC, that is generally believed to be the city of the legendary Trojan War. In the 20th century, Hittite records from central Anatolia between 1300-1250 BC provide a context for the war. The records, tablets inscribed with cuneiform script, refer to a struggle between the Hittite empire and an alliance of coastal states in rebellion against them. This rebellious alliance was the League of Assuwa, and included Masa, Luqqa, and Karkija, as well as Wilusa and Truisa. The Hittites also refer to the buccaneering antics of the king of Ahhijawa, evidently a powerful ruler from across the sea, who was nominally an ally of the Hittites, but who seemed to be playing everyone off against each other for his own ends.

The place names are suggestive. In the Iliad, among the Trojan allies are listed Mysia (= Masa?), Lycia (= Luqqa?) and Caria (= Karkija?), all in modern Anatolia or Asia Minor (Asia = Assuwa?). Homer calls the Greeks Achaean, and the intriguing possibility emerges that the mysterious (and troublesome) king of Ahhijawa is the king of Achaea - namely Agamemnon, commander of the Greek forces besieging Troy. Moreover, the Hittites list Truisa and Wilusa among the League of Assuwa - references to Troy and Ilios (an alternative name for Troy in the Iliad)?

The Hittite texts thus provide a context for the Trojan War - the Ahhijawans fight the League of Assuwa at Truisa (controlling the shipping in and out of the Black Sea through the Dardanelles), they also hint at a solution to the Etruscan enigma.

Homer knew Troy as Troia, and the Trojans as Troes. V.I. Georgiev argues that these words would have derived from the earlier forms Trosia (= Troy) and Troses (= Trojans), and suggests the Trojans may have called themselves Tros or Trus. Trus, is of course the root of the word Etruscan.

The possibility emerges that the Etruscans were originally from Anatolia (linguistically related to the Lydians), and migrated to Italy after the fall of Troy. Certainly the Romans claimed their own ancestors were Trojans, led by Aeneas, who came to Italy after years of wanderings (as recounted in Virgil's epic Aeneid). Is it possible that this 'Roman' tradition was originally an Etruscan legend, inherited by the Romans from the people who ruled them for 250 years in their early days, before they became a republic?

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