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Who were the Etruscans?

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Quick Answer

The Etruscans were a city-state people contemporary to the earliest Romans. These people lived primarily north of Rome in Etruria, or modern Tuscany, and were dominant on the Italian peninsula from about the eighth to the fifth centuries B.C. The Romans conquered the major Etruscan city Veii in 396 B.C.

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The origin of the Etruscans is mysterious, but according to the historian Herodotus, they came from somewhere in Asia Minor in around 1200 B.C., fleeing a famine. Herodotus thought they were probably Lydian, but other historians debated that because of linguistic differences in the Etruscan language. That language is a mystery to modern scholars, though several written examples have been found. Most modern knowledge of the Etruscans is derived from ancient sources or from archaeological evidence left in their peculiarly home-like necropolises.

The Etruscans appear to have been the first Roman kings. Etruscan government, like Greek government, was based around a loose league of city-states. Though at first, Rome was occupied by Latin shepherds, the Etruscans crossed the river and started a city on one of the seven hills. Eventually, the Latins took over government of the city, though the descendants of the original Etruscans probably remained in Rome's Etruscan Quarter. Rome adopted much Etruscan culture and at one point sent their children to be educated in Etruria.

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