How Etruscan Art Shaped the Roman Identity

Baule earring, 6th century B.C., Etruscan, Gold and enamel (1994.374). Image credits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The development of the arts of the great Roman civilization owed much influence from the early Etruscan arts and later on to the Greek Hellenistic culture. It should be no wonder – considering the documented records of exchanges between these early civilizations and the almost similar forms of mythology and philosophy that evolved from the events at that era.

The Etruscans were the dominant culture in the Italian peninsula, prior to Roman domination. As the Etruscans became part of the Roman culture, the latter adopted the Etruscans love for Greek arts and architecture. This was manifested through the reviving motifs and elements of Athenian arts and architecture at the time when Rome flourished into a grand republic and empire. The influence of Etruscan art could be further manifested in the Roman temple architecture, portraiture and wall painting (Terras, 1997).

While several may contend that the similarities of the arts among the ancient societies are only heightened through their perceived differences and the aggression of Rome, and that as Plutarch may agree, that “Rome neither had nor even knew of these refined things, nor was there in the city any love of what was charming and elegant; rather, it was full of barbaric weapons and bloody spoils” (Plutarch, 2A.D.), one could not deny that with all of Rome’s “barbaric” and egocentric qualities, it became capable to embrace the refineries of its invaded culture, and perceive the same aesthetic qualities of artwork in the same manner, which their makers may have perceived them.

Art reflects the character of the culture and the people in a given era. In the Roman context, art became not just an avenue for bringing together the richness of the influences brought by different cultures. Rather, it succeeded in becoming a vessel of Western civilization, brought forth by the forerunner or modern government and society: the Republic of Rome.


—- (1996). The Bulfinch Guide to Art History: A Comprehensive Survey and Dictionary of Western Art and Architecture.Boston: Little Brown & Co.

Terras, Melissa M. (18 April 1997). Greek Art and Republican Rome. Accessed 27 January 2010 from