Exhibition: in Nîmes, the Etruscans reveal a rich and mysterious past

Fascinating, mysterious, sometimes indecipherable, the Etruscan civilization is revealed to the general public in the setting of the Museum of Romanity in Nîmes, through the temporary exhibition “Etruscans, a civilization of the Mediterranean”. Before Roman times, the Etruscan people occupied a large part of Italy, mainly in Tuscany, but also in Corsica. “There are a great many legacies that have entered Roman culture, whose Etruscan origin is only little known”, explains Léa Flori, tour guide.

Around 900 BC and until 264 BC, the Etruscan civilization flourished on all levels, societal, religious, commercial or artistic, before being absorbed by the Romans. Five thematic rooms reveal this almost millennium before our era of the Etruscans through surprisingly well-preserved objects, lent by Italian and French museums.

Navigator people

Rich in cereals, vines, forests and minerals, the Etruscans were also great sailors, like all the peoples of the Mediterranean. Witness, in the first room, these ex-voto in the shape of a boat, but also this little-known heritage: the two seas bordering Italy take their name from the Etruscan civilization, namely the Adriatic Sea, adjoining the Etruscan city of Adrian to the south of Venice, and the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west of the country, from the name of the Tyrrhenians given to the Etruscans by the Greeks.

Vestige of this navigating people, two amphora stoppers, dated from the beginning of the Ve century BC, appear in one of the showcases, found in the Grand Ribaud F wreck discovered in the year 2000. The cork, blackened by tar applied to seal the amphora, is impeccably preserved.

An aristocracy of recognized women

Little mentioned in the history books but highlighted in the exhibition, the place of women has marked this civilization. Among the striking objects, the lid of an alabaster funerary urn represents a deceased in a reclining position. We can still guess some gilding remaining on the belt.

“She came from the aristocracy, in view of the number of folds in her dress and her jewelry, explains Léa Flori. Etruscan women had a special status, if we compare with Greek or Roman women. They had a first name, which is not the case with the Romans. They therefore have their own existence and a place in society, at least among aristocrats. adds the guide lecturer, specifying that these women, considered too arrogant in the eyes of the Greeks and Romans, were decried and considered “like profligates and drunkards”.

An inspiration for Giacometti

The room devoted to religion among the Etruscans shows how much they were perceived, especially by the Romans, as “the most religious of men”. Polytheistic, very ritualistic, the religion of the Etruscans is revealed by a prophet, Tages. Of the Etruscan religious doctrine, only very few writings remain.

It was mainly conveyed by priests, the haruspices. They practiced the divinatory art of reading the future in the entrails of animals, and more particularly in the liver. Urn lids bear witness to this. Projected on the ground thanks to a luminous scenography in the middle of one of the rooms, a liver and its different faces show that the Etruscans saw this organ as a representation of the sky. Each part of the liver corresponded to a deity, some of which were borrowed from the Greeks.

In this same room, one of the most famous statuettes of the Etruscan civilization sits majestically in one of the display cases. The statue Ombra della seraall in bronze, represents an exaggeratedly slender man, whose profile – it is obvious – necessarily inspired Alberto Giacometti and his walking man. Magnificent heritage of Etruria…


What language did the Etruscans speak?

The enigma of the Etruscan language, which died out around the IIe century BC, has not been discovered due to the lack of original written records. Rare are indeed the testimonies – in the form of inscriptions – allowing archaeo-linguists to shed light on the writing of this people. Otherwise that it derives from the Phoenician-Punic but also Greek writings, adapted to flow into the Etruscan oral language.

It is just as complex, again due to the scarcity of written records, to constitute a lexicon of this mysterious idiom. Thus, knowledge about the Etruscan civilization, its culture, its social organization and its way of life comes from second-hand sources, in particular from Greek and Latin writings.

Note that it is assumed that Etruscan is related to the language spoken on the island of Lemnos in the VIe century BC. J.-C., on which a stele was found with inscriptions in characters close to those of the Etruscan. A relationship with the Rhaetian language (spoken in the Alps) would also be possible…

Exhibition: in Nîmes, the Etruscans reveal a rich and mysterious past