ETRUSCAN RELIGION


Introduction | Education | Rituals - Founding a city | Belief in Predestination | Etruscan Deities | Home |


Introduction

The basis of Etruscan religion was the fundamental idea that the destiny of man was completely determined by the vagaries of the many deities worshipped by the Etruscans. Every natural phenomenon, such as lightning, the structure of the internal organs of sacrificial animals, or the flight patterns of birds, was therefore an expression of the divine will, and contained a message which could be interpreted by trained priests such as Augurs.

Emerging from this basic concept the Rasenna scrupulously followed a complex code of rituals known by the Romans as the "disciplina etrusca". Even up to the fall of the Roman Empire, the Etruscans were regarded by their contemporaries with great respect for their religion and superstitions.

It may have been the fact that Etruscan religious beliefs and practices were so deep-rooted among the Romans that led to the complete destruction of all Etruscan literature as a result of the advent of Christianity. Arnobius, one of the first Christian apologists, living around 300CE, wrote ,"Etruria is the originator and mother of all superstition" .When the Gothic army under Alaric was approaching Rome, the offer made to Pope Innocent I by Etruscan Haruspices was seriously considered by the senate, but finally rejected.

The obvious Eastern Greek influence in Etruscan religion and art from the emergence of the civilisation in the 8th Century BCE, can be interpreted either as evidence of the Etruscan origins in Lydia, or as the influence of subsequent Greek settlement in the prosperous region of Etruria. However it is interpreted, the Etruscan religion was fundamentally unique to the region.


The Etruscan Religion was, like Christianity and Judaism, a revealed religion. An account of the revelation is given by Cicero(On Divination 2.50) . One day, says the legend, in a field near the river Marta in Etruria, a strange event occurred. A divine being rose up from the newly ploughed furrow, a being with the appearance of a child, but with the wisdom of an old man. The startled cry of the ploughman brought lucomones, the priest kings of Etruria hurrying up to the spot. To them, the wise child chanted the sacred doctrine, which they reverently listened to and wrote down, so that this most precious possession could be passed on to their successors. Immediately after the revelation, the miraculous being fell dead and disappeared into the ploughed field. His name was Tages, and he was believed to be the son of Genius and grandson of the highest God, Tinia (or Jupiter as he became known to the Romans). This doctrine was known to the Romans as the disciplina etrusca,

From the writings of the Etruscan haruspex Tarquitius around 90 BCE, we also get a glimpse of the prophesy of the nymph Vegoia (Latinised form of the name). This is bound up in the Gramatici veteres, in a corpus of Roman land surveys, We have a passage in which a divinity, the nymph Vergoia, speaks to Arruns Velturnnus:

"You should know that the sea is separated from the earth. When Jupiter claimed the land of Etruria for himself, he decided and commanded the fields to be surveyed and the lands marked out. Knowing the covetousness of man and his worldly greed, he wanted the boundaries of everything to be marked by boundary stones. Those which at any time anyone has placed because of the greed of this eighth - almost the latest - saeculum, arrogating to themselves licence, men with wrongful deceit will violate, touch and move. But if anyone touches or moves a boundary stone, extending his own possessions or diminishing those of someone else, for this crime he will be condemned by the gods. If slaves shall do this, they shall be moved to a lower status by their owner. But if this is done with the knowledge of the master, the household will be immediately uprooted, and the whole of his family will perish. The people responsible will be afflicted by the worst diseases and wounds and their limbs will be weakened. Then even the land will be shaken by storms or whirlwinds and many landslips. The crops will be frequently laid low and cut down by rain and hail, they will perish in the heat of the summer, they will be killed off by blight. There will be civil strife amongst the people. Know that these things happen, when such crimes are committed. Therefore do not be either a deceitful or treacherous. Place restraint in your heart. ..." .



The Disciplina Etrusca

The disciplina etrusca seems to have comprised three categories of books of fate. The first was that of the libri haruspicini, which dealt with divination from the livers of sacrificed animals; the second, the libri fulgurates, on the interpretation of thunder and lightning; the third, the libri rituales, which covered a variety of matters. They contained, as Festus says, "prescriptions concerning the founding of cities, the consecration of altars and temples, the inviolability of ramparts, the laws relating to city gates, the division into tribes, curiae and centuriae, the constitution and organization of armies, and all other things of this nature concerning war and peace.

Among the libri rituales were also three further categories: the libri fatales, on the division of time and the life-span of individuals and peoples; the libri Acherontici, on the world beyond the grave and the rituals for salvation; and finally, the ostentaria, which gave rules for interpreting signs and portents and laid down the propitiatory and expiatory acts needed to obviate disaster and to placate the gods.


Education

So complex and all-embracing a doctrine naturally required long and laborious study. For this, the Etruscans had special training institutes, among which that at Tarquinii early enjoyed the highest repute. These institutes were much more than priests' seminaries in the modern sense. To judge by their range of studies they were a kind of university with several faculties. For their curricula included not only religious laws and theology, but also the encyclopaedic knowledge required by the priests, which ranged from astronomy and meteorology through zoology, ornithology, and botany to geology and hydraulics. The last subject was the specialty of the aquivices who advised the city-states on all their hydraulic engineering projects. They were expert diviners who knew how to find subterranean water and how to bore wells, how to dig water channels, supply drinking water in the towns, and install irrigation and drainage systems in the fields. In addition they could create artificial reservoirs and they collaborated with other priests who specialized in constructing subterranean corridors and tunneling mountains. In Etruria, as in the ancient East, theological and secular knowledge were not separated. Whatever man set himself to do on earth must be in consonance with the cosmos. Thus all the efforts of the priests were directed upon the heavens when it was necessary to discover the will of the gods in accordance with the sacred doctrine. The orientation and division of space were of crucial importance as much in divination from an animal's liver as in laying the foundation of a temple, in interpreting a shooting star as in surveying land and marking out a garden and field.


Rituals and Planning

Heaven and earth were imagined as being quartered by a great invisible cross consisting of a north-south axis called cardo and an east-west line called decumanus, to use the Latin terms. All ritual and religious observance was based on this division of celestial and terrestrial space. It alone enabled the priests to decipher and understand the signs emanating from the gods. And every sacral and secular undertaking on earth had to be coordinated with it. For the Etruscans believed that auspicious and inauspicious powers were irrevocably and for all eternity located in the four quarters of the sky, in accordance with the cosmic stations of the gods. The east was considered of good augury, because there the highest deities, those favourable to man, had chosen to dwell. The north east was the most auspicious and promised good fortune. In the south the gods of earth and nature ruled. The terrible and merciless gods of the underworld and of fate dwelt, it was believed, in the drear regions of the west, especially i n the quarter between north and west, which was the most inauspicious.

The Etruscans even evolved a system of town planning based on these religious concepts, which were likewise reflected in the elaborate ritual prescribed for the foundation of a new city. In Etruria the town laid out in accordance with the sacred rules was considered a minute portion of the cosmos, harmoniously integrated with an all-embracing order governed by the gods.

The priest, after fixing the north-south and east-west lines by the sky, turned to the south and pronounced the words: "This is my front, and this my back, this my left and this my right."

Then wearing his conical hat (which survives today in the form of the Bishop's mitre) and holding his lituus (the Bishop's crook), he solemnly marked out the cross of the cardo and the decumanus.


Etruscan Priest



Belief in Predestination

The Etruscans believed in predestination. Although a postponement is sometimes possible by means of prayer and sacrifice, the end is certain. According to the libri fatales as described by
Censorinus, Man had allocated to him a cycle of seven times twelve years. Anyone who lived beyond these years, lost the ability to understand the signs of the Gods.

The Etruscans also believed the existence of their people was also limited by a timescale fixed by the gods. According to the doctrine, ten saecula were allotted to the Etruscan name. This proved very accurate, and it is often said that the Etruscan people predicted their own downfall.

Etruscan Deities


The following list of Deities is not exhaustive.
The Etruscan Pantheon is quite extensive since the Etruscan Cities were autonomous and each had slightly different traditions, and in some cases, languages.



Etruscan Deity Other Equiv. Comments
Aita,Eita Pluto Ruler of the dead & personification of the underworld. Wolf's head from Greek Hades
Aivas, Eivas, Evas Ajax aivas tlamunus, aivas vilates - Terror "
Ani Janus God of Beginnings. Sky god (North)
Note: Ani/Ana (male/female)
Aplu Apollo Weather God:Thunder and lightning. Wears laurel Wreath, holds staff & laurel twig.
Artumes/Artimi Artemis Goddess of night and death, Growth in nature.
Atuns Adonis Rebirth God. *(Boy, Oracle, Voice of the Gods.) Consort for Turan
Cautha, Cath Sun god. Often shown rising from the ocean.
Cel,Cilens Celens Equivalent of Greek Gaia. Ati/Apa Cel: Mother/ Father Earth
Charontes Etruscan demons of death. Name suggests a connection with Charun/Charon.
Cul, Culsu Culsu: The Etruscan demoness: guards the underworld. Torch & scissors.
Evan Goddess of personal immortality, belongs to the Lasa
Ethausva Winged Lady in service to Tinia
Februus Purification, Initiation & the dead. Associated with February
Feronia Etruscan Goddess who protects freedmen, associated with woodlands, fire & fertility.
Fufluns, (Pacha?) Bacchus? God of wine, Rebirth, Spring. Wild Nature. Fertility.Son of the earth-goddess Semia.
Horta Goddess of Agriculture
Herc/Horacle/Hercle Heracles Strength & Water ?
Karun/Charun Charon Demon of death; Blue Demon? With Red hair and snake, feathered wings and an axe or hammer. Or human with red hair & beard.
Laran God of war. Youth with helmet and spear
The Lasa: Alpan, Evan, Racuneta & Vecu Female deities, guardians of graves. Attributes: mirrors & wreaths.
Lasa Vecu Nymph Vegoia Prophesy
Leinth Faceless goddess. Waits at the Gates of the Underworld with Eita
Letham/Lethans Protector, lives in Eita (underworld)
Lusna, Losna Moon Goddess
Mania & Mantus Guardians of the underworld. Mantus is associated with the city Mantua
Maris Mars Agriculture. Fertility. Savior God.
Menrva Minerva Goddess of Wisdom & the arts. Born from the head of Tinia
Nethuns Neptune God of Water & Moisture.Trident,anchor seahorse,dolphins
Nortia Fortuna Goddess of fate and fortune. At the beginning of the New Year a nail was driven into a wall in her sanctuary as a fertility rite.
Persipnei/Ferspnai Persephone/ Prosperpine Queen of the Underworld.
Satres Saturn God of time and necessity. Old man carrying a sickle and hour glass. sand
Selva Silvanus Earth God,Woodlands
Semla Semele Mother of Atuns. In common Mother and child motif.
Sethlans, Velchans Vulcan Axe God. Fire, the Forge
Silenus Silenus The Satyr. *Wild Nature"
Tarchies,Tages Boy, Oracle, Voice of the Gods. Appeared from ploughed field. 2 snakes for legs
Tecum God of the Lucomones(Ruling class)
Thalna Winged Lady. Lover of Tinia. Goddess associated with childbirth
Thesan Aurora ? Goddess of the Dawn, Childbirth
Thethlumth Underworld deity, fate
Tuchulcha Grotesque demon. Horse's ears, a vulture's beak and snakes in his hands.
Thufltha(s) A fury: Inflicts punishment on behalf of Tins
Tinia Tins Jupiter Supreme God. Sky god.With Uni, & Menrva forms a triad of gods. Attributes: Lightning bolts, spear and a scepter.
Tiv(r) Moon deity (cf Germanic Tiw)
Tluscva (Tellus and Tellumo) Tellus and Tellumo, Earth mother and father.
Turan Venus Goddess of love, health & fertility, Goddess of the city Vulci. Usually portrayed as a young woman with wings on her back. Attributes: Pigeon and black swan. Accompanied by the Lasas. Wife of Maris.
Turms Mercury Trade and Merchandise. Messenger of the Gods. Winged shoes / Heralds staff
Turns Aitas "Hermes of Hades" Leader of the dead.
Tvath Demeter Goddess of Resurrection, Love for the Dead
Uni Juno The supreme goddess. She is the goddess of the cosmos, City goddess of Perugia. Together with her husband Tinia and the goddess Menrva she forms a triad. Mother of Hercle (Hercules).
Usil Sun God
Veive God of revenge: Youth with laurel wreath & arrows in hand. A goat stands next to him.
Vanth female demon of death. Lives in the underworld. With the eyes on her wings she sees all and is omni-present. Herald of death and can assist a sick person on his deathbed. Attributes:snake,torch & key.
Veltha Voltumna, Vertumnus Original God of the Etruscans, Patron of the Etruscan League Centred on the Fanum Voltumnae in Volsinii.God of Change,Seasons.
Vetis Underworld god of death and destruction





Introduction | Education | Rituals - Founding a city | Belief in Predestination | Etruscan Deities | Home |


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