Worlds Intertwined: Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans

The Etruscans 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.

The 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.

The 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.