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Etruscans History: The First Romans Were Actually Black People

Ancient History | October 16, 2019

Attic kyathos amphora with warrior, from the Etruscan civilisation, 6th-5th century BC. Source: (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

The Etruscan people populated a large region in what is now Tuscany and Lombardy in Italy, but they're probably not what you picture in your head when you think of Italians. (Don't lie---it was the Super Mario Brothers.) Strong evidence suggests that the Etruscans were dark-skinned people who traveled from Africa to settle parts of Europe. Not only did the Etruscan settlement predate ancient Roman and Greek civilizations, it greatly influenced the culture of Rome. The contributions of black cultures on the Roman Empire have, sadly, been whitewashed by Eurocentric historians.

Did black-skinned people have more of a presence in Europe than historians have led us to believe? Source: (realhistoryww.com)

Who Were the Etruscans?

Etruscan culture thrived until around the fifth century, when they were integrated into Roman society. During their height, the Etruscans built an economy based on agriculture, mining natural minerals, and trade with Carthage and Greece. They erected dwellings on steep hills and built thick walls around them for protection. The Etruscans had a unique language and were known to be great artists and craftsmen. 

The Etruscans lived in Etruria in present-day Italy. Source: (geographicus.com)

Where did the Etruscans Come From?

The true origins of the Etruscan people are lost to history, but there is some evidence that has helped anthropologists piece together a probable pre-history. In the fifth century BC, Herodotus wrote that the Etruscans came from Asia Minor. According to oral legends, the Etruscans are descendants from refugees who fled the city of Troy when it fell to the Greeks and that they were led to Italy by the prince, Aeneas, a common figure in Greek mythology who is often described as dark-skinned. The Etruscans were also said to worship Ra, a sun deity, which suggests that they may have had ties to the ancient Egyptians, Kemetics, or Phoenicians. Genetic research, however, tells a different story. 

The Etruscans pre-date the Romans and Greeks. Source: (ancient.eu)

A Genetic Study of the Etruscans

A 2013 DNA study seems to indicate that the Etruscans did not come to Italy from Africa or Asia. To paraphrase a great poet, they never left. The study of the Etruscan DNA showed that this group of people were indigenous to the region, and in fact, their DNA sequencing links them to other Neolithic groups of central Europe dating back as far as 7,600 years. This finding does not contradict the theory that the Etruscans were dark-skinned people. It could be that the indigenous group was later influenced by African travelers and tradesmen who intermarried with the Etruscans.

This mosaic shows a black-skinned soldier with a white-skinned woman. Source: (ancient-origins.net)

Etruscan Art

A number of ancient works of art remain from the time of the Etruscans, many of which depicts dark-skinned people. The Romans, who later took over the Etruscan cities, claimed that the mosaics, statues, and paintings of black people were all actually depictions of black slaves, but it seems unlikely that their slaves would be a favorite artistic subject matter for Etruscan artists. Add to that the fact the many of the images show the dark-skinned people in positions of power, and we have a bounty of evidence that the Etruscans were, in fact, black. 

The Etruscan language remains a bit of a mystery. Source: (reinventingknowledge6.blogspot.com)

The Mystery of Etruscan Language

As far back as 30 BC, scholars disputed the assumption that the Etruscan people came from Asia Minor. The key piece of evidence for this was the fact that the Etruscan language was vastly different from the Lydian language of that region. One ancient scholar, Hellanicus, wrote that the Etruscan language was notably similar to that of the Pelasgians of the Aegean Sea. Very few Etruscan words have been incorporated into Latin. 

According to mythology, Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus. Source: (britannica.com)

Did Black Etruscans Establish Rome?

Mythology tells us that Rome was founded by the twins Romulus and Remus, orphans who spent their childhood suckling a wild wolf, but evidence suggests that the city may have been established by the Etruscans. For example, some of the structures of ancient Rome predate the presence of the Romans and appear to be similar to the building practices of the Etruscans, such as building their homes on the sides of cliffs. Rome was built on a series of hills, beginning with Palatine Hill. It is entirely plausible that ancient Romans were dark-skinned people long before the influx of white-skinned Caucasians. 

Tags: Etruscans History

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.