Etruscans , an ancient people of Italy. The Etruscans inhabited a region known as Etruria, consisting of 12 city-states. Etruria extended along the west coast of central Italy from the Tiber River on the south and east to the Arno on the north. The modern name for most of this region, Tuscany, is derived from “Etrusci” and “Tusci,” names given to the Etruscans by the Romans. At the height of their power in the sixth century B.C., the Etruscans ruled Italy from the Po River Valley in the north to Naples in the south.

Although the Etruscans used an alphabet much like that of the Greeks, the Etruscan language was very different from any other that is known. Nevertheless, scholars during the 1970's and 1980's were able to decipher most of the surviving Etruscan inscriptions. Unfortunately, only a few lengthy texts exist. Most of the thousands of inscriptions are simple one-word proper names.

The Etruscans carried on an extensive sea commerce. They were skilled in working bronze and iron; built impressive temples and city walls; and constructed roads, bridges, sewers, and irrigation canals. Etruscan mythology was elaborate, involving many gods, and greatly influenced Roman religion.

Etruscan art, much of it intended to comfort the souls of the dead, was highly developed. Archeologists have found many art objects in decorated tombs and temples. The Etruscans made some of the most detailed gold work in the ancient world and were famous for terra-cotta vases and statues. They also knew how to build arches and vaults.

The origin of the Etruscans is uncertain. Many scholars believe that an Etruscan civilization began to develop from Iron Age farming communities in the region about 900 B.C. During the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., Rome was ruled by kings of Etruscan origin, the Tarquinii. In about 509 B.C., the Romans expelled the last Tarquin king. In the same period Etruria declined in power, and in the third century B;C. it became part of the Roman Republic.