Intertwined: Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans
dominated the central part of the Italic peninsula during the
late 8th through the 6th centuries BC. Their economy depended
largely on trade, and their commercial contacts favored the Greek
colonies in Southern Italy and Sicily. They imported Greek pottery
in great quantity, and, in fact, much of the Greek pottery preserved
to us from antiquity was found in Etruscan tombs. Etruscans were
influential in transforming Rome into an urban center in the 6th
century BC and Roman tradition identifies a family of Etruscans,
the Tarquins, as the last dynastic rulers of Rome. Although their
civilization was eventually eclipsed by Roman rule, their legacy
lived on in Roman customs and culture.
Greeks were the pre-eminent merchants of the Mediterranean world.
Even in the Bronze Age their commercial contacts reached to Egypt
and the Near East. During the height of Greek civilization their
city-states dominated the economy of the entire Mediterranean region.
The Greeks were also energetic colonizers. From as early as the
8th century BC Greek emigrants founded new settlements in Italy,
North Africa, southern France, Asia Minor, and the Black Sea region.
Alexander the Great (d. 323 BC) conquered the east as far as India.
His successors brought about an unparalleled expansion of Greek
civilization in which Greek language and culture became the koine,
the most common and acceptable way of life.
Romans traced their mythical beginnings to the Trojan War and
to Romulus, who supposedly founded the city of Rome in 753 BC. It
was the genius of the Romans to transform Greek ideals and the ways
of their Etruscan forerunners into their own civilized and highly
organized way of life. During the 4th and 3rd centuries BC they
absorbed many parts of Italy, including the Etruscan homeland. In
the 3rd and 2nd century BC they captured the Carthaginian controlled
areas of North Africa, Sardinia, western Sicily and Spain, the Greek
colonies of southern Italy and Sicily, the Greek homeland and the
Hellenistic kingdoms. Under the reign of Trajan (AD 98-117), the
Roman Empire reached its greatest extent. Roman norms embraced the
empire, incorporating peoples of various races, language groups,
and cultural backgrounds.