TECHNOLOGY & COMMERCE

By the 9th century BC, Etruscans had mastered mining and the working of bronze and iron. During the Archaic and Classical periods (6th through 4th centuries BC), foreign trade stimulated new technologies: goldsmithing, glassmaking, mass production of terracotta tiles and urns, and monumental stone carving. Metal crafting and pottery continued to thrive.

Etruria’s most distinctive products were sought throughout the Mediterranean world. Fine vases, metal utensils, arms and armor, wine, grain and timber were exchanged for Baltic amber, Gaulish slaves, Athenian olive oil, Corinthian and Rhodian perfumes, or glass, faience, and ivories from Phoenicia, Syria, or Egypt.

Etruscan cities came to be known for their different specialties. Vulci, for example, produced wines, pottery and fine metal goods for wide export. Orvieto (Volsinii) shipped raw products from the Italian interior, along with fine manufactured goods including bucchero and gilded vases. Chiusi, farther north and inland than Vulci or Orvieto, developed a quaint style of its own in pottery, stonework and metalwork. In the cemeteries of these and other Etruscan cities, we find the goods that were prized at home and abroad, the non-perishable tokens of a thriving long-distance trade.

Bucchero Kantharos - Museum Object Number: MS1284TRADE

The Etruscans’ reputation as seafarers and commercial competitors of the Greeks and Romans was widespread. By the 7th century BC painted vases from Greece depict battles between Etruscan merchants and pirates in Greek-style warships. Etruscan shipwrecks found off the coasts of Italy, Sardinia, and France produce a suprising assortment of Greek vases alongside Etruscan amphorae filled with produce. Etruscan products of pottery and bronze appear in sites throughout the Mediterranean. The Greek philosopher Aristotle tells us that the Etruscans and Carthaginians signed treaties pledging alliance for purposes of trade.
So many Greek vases have been excavated from Etruscan tombs that archaeologists once assumed they had been made in Etruria. Now that sources of pottery clays can be identified and styles are better understood, we know that Greek potters exported their wares in quantity to an avid market of collectors and social climbers in Etruria. As they became familiar with Etruscan tastes, Greek potters altered some of their products to please the Etruscan consumer. They imitated Etruscan shapes, painted them with popular Etruscan themes, and shipped them off to Italy.
The transfer of goods or ideas was not always commercial, however. Villanovan armor and Archaic Etruscan metal vessels, for example, have been found at Greek shrines like Olympia and Samos. These might be trophies taken by colonial Greeks in forgotten wars, but they could also be the offerings of Etruscan voyagers at foreign shrines. Many of the fibulae found in votive deposits in the Aegean may be all that remains from offerings of clothing made by Italian visitors to those shores.
We may never know how many people moved back and forth, intermarrying and raising children in two cultures, but we can be sure that some of the cultural riches of Etruria came from foreign associations.