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Herodotus' Corner

This session's topic: Greek & Etruscan Influences on the Romans

Romeís development was very much influenced by both the Etruscans and the Greeks. From the Etruscans Rome got the gladiatorial games, funeral rights, and political influences. From the Greeks the Romans got ideas about the arts, mythology, and city planning.

The gladiatorial games came to Rome from Etruscan funeral rites. When an important or wealthy Etruscan noble died it was common to have fights to the death between men at the dead personís funeral. This was done by the Etruscans to honor the dead, and the Romans evolved them into a popular entertainment that was held to amuse the masses. Roman funerals for the elite were grand happenings with much pomp and circumstance, involving a parade through town with a train of hired dancers, mourners, and priests. They sometimes had a sacrifice, which involved men in early times, but evolved into the sacrifice of an animal by the time of the Empire. Cremation and/or inhumation of the dead were both practiced by the Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans. Their popularity waxed and waned throughout Roman history, and depended largely on what the current fashion was.

The Roman model for their Republic was based in part on the Etruscan Monarchy and hierarchical structure. The leadership positions in Rome were not based on heredity, but to be elected into the senatus which ruled Rome one did have to be a part of the Patrician class and of wealthy standing. Other groups that helped rule Rome, such as the comitia curiata and comitia centuriata, had been around since the time of Etruscan kings and were kept and incorporated into the Roman Republic. The senatia itself had Etruscan origins, and had the power to elect citizens to control Rome in times of crisis.

The Greeks influenced the Romans mostly in intellectual and religious ways. Roman mythology and cosmology were based on Greek and Etruscan models. The Romans took their own gods and attributed Greek stories and folklore to them. Many Greek and Roman gods shared similar characteristics, and those, like Apollo, who could not be combined with a local deity, were placed in the Roman pantheon as new members. Various other local Roman gods have Etruscans origins. The Etruscan gods were based primarily in nature, being gods of things such as rivers, trees, and fountains. The Greeks had some nature gods, but they were not as important to them as the Olympic Pantheon, which they represented in their art. The early Roman religion did not use icons to represent their gods and goddesses, and the Greeks introduced this practice from their colonies in Italy. Rome as a power was rather new, and in order to cement its place Roman writers used Greek history and mythology to show that Rome had ancient origins. The Roman story of the Aeneid draws from Greek mythology to have Aeneas being the son of Aphrodite, and coming from the ruins of Troy to found a settlement that would eventually become a large part of the Roman Empire.

Sources:

Le Glay, Marcel, and Jean-Louis Voisin, and Yann Le Bohec. A History of Rome. Blackwell Publishing: Malden, MA, 2001.

Potter, T.W. Roman Italy. University of California Press: Los Angeles, 1987.

Roerts, Timothy R. Ancient Rome: Chronicles of the Roman World. MetroBooks: New York, 2000.