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  • 8/14/2019 Problemas sobre los orgenes etruscos


    Department of the Classics, Harvard University

    The Problem of Etruscan Origins Some Thoughts on Historical MethodAuthor(s): John Bryan Ward-PerkinsReviewed work(s):Source: Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 64 (1959), pp. 1-26Published by: Department of the Classics, Harvard UniversityStable URL:

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  • 8/14/2019 Problemas sobre los orgenes etruscos




    T HE debate on the origin of the Etruscans may be said to have beenlaunched by the Augustan historian, Dionysius of Halicarnassus,who was the first to criticize the accepted belief that the Etruscans wereimmigrants from the North Aegean or from Asia Minor, and to claimthat they were, on the contrary, an indigenous Italian people. Today,after nearly two millennia of intermittent discussion, we are no nearerto an agreed solution. The currently fashionable theory is one that wouldhave met with the whole-hearted approval of Dionysius himself. It findsits most lucid and persuasive exponent in Professor Pallottino, who,while admitting the manifold external contributions to the make-up ofthe historical Etruscans, maintains that these foreign elements were all,in their varying degrees, incidental to what was, in essence, a developingnative tradition. The resulting civilization betrays its mixed origins. Butthe mixture took place on Italian soil; and the native ingredient, interms of parent stock, language, beliefs, and material civilization, wassufficiently homogeneous, the pattern of development sufficiently uni-form, to justify the claim that the Etruscans and their civilization areessentially of Italian origin.'The purpose of the present article (which reproduces the substance,though not the form, of two lectures, the Carl Newell Jackson lectures,given at Harvard in April 1957 under the auspices of the Departmentof Classics) is not to scrutinize in detail this or any other theory ofEtruscan origins; still less is it to press the claims of any particularanswer to a problem that cannot hope to find a definitive solution on theevidence at present available. It is rather to offer some general commenton the terms in which the problem may usefully be discussed, and tosuggest that some of the difficulties most commonly encountered maybe the result of ambiguities in the methods of approach normallyadopted, rather than be inherent in the nature of the problem itself.Such an enquiry can hardly escape being coloured by the writer's ownpersonal beliefs and prejudices; but it will have achieved nothing, ifthese are allowed to obscure the more general study of the principlesinvolved.

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    2 JohnBryan Ward-PerkinsTo this more general enquiry (which was the subject of the first ofthe two lectures in question) are appended some remarks on an aspect

    of Etruscan research which has been very largely neglected by modernworkers, but which has, none the less, a great deal to offer to the meth-odical student. Except in isolated instances, and those for the most partin the northern districts of Etruria, topographical studies have maderegrettably little progress since the days of George Dennis. Recentlythe British School has been engaged in a programme of field-work inSouthern Etruria, which is yielding a surprising amount of fresh in-formation about the pattern of Etruscan settlement, its distribution andits communications. The second half of this paper offers some observa-tions on the relevance of this material to the question of Etruscanorigins.

    The problem of Etruscan origins is, in no small degree, one of ourown creation. This is not to say that there are not still many importantquestions of fact that await elucidation; but many of the seeming dis-crepancies in the evidence are apparent rather than real. The Etruscanshave had the misfortune of coming into view at the awkward borderlinebetween prehistory and history, and this has often led to quite unneces-sary confusion in formulating the enquiry, a confusion that has extendedboth to method and to terminology. In both of these aspects, the pro-blem merits a more careful approach.First of all, method. Because the Etruscan civilization took shape onthe borderlines of prehistory and history, any enquiry into Etruscanorigins is bound to take place at the meeting-place of a number ofrelated disciplines. The traditional approach is, of course, that of thehistorian, through classical literature. To this traditional, historicalapproach, two centuries of excavation in the cities and cemeteries ofEtruria have added several others, the most important being thelinguistic and the archaeological. We may now study the Etruscans notonly through the eyes of classical historians but also through theirlanguage, as recorded in a very large number of inscriptions, or throughthe material remains of their civilization. Yet another possible approachis through their skeletal remains, either through the measurement ofphysical characteristics or, more recently, and perhaps with greaterpromise of useful results, through the determination of the blood-groupto which a particular specimen belonged.2 There is, in fact, no lack ofconverging evidence. But what is often forgotten is that each of these

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    The Problem of Etruscan Origins 3disciplines has its own objectives, its own methods, and its own limita-tions; and it is inviting trouble to apply the results indiscriminatelyfrom one field to another. The classic instance of that mistake is thetheory, long and widely held but now universally abandoned by allserious scholars, that the Latins were the descendants of an Indo-European, Latin-speaking people who reached North Italy from acrossthe Alps, already in the early Bronze Age a fully-formed racial entity.This theory was based almost entirely on the supposed resemblancesbetween certain features of early Rome and the remains of the so-called"terramara" people, established many centuries before in the area ofModena and Parma. As it turns out, we now know that even thearchaeological basis of the theory was mistaken; the supposed archaeo-logical resemblances between the two cultures simply do not stand up tocritical examination. However, quite apart from this error of fact, thewhole principle of the argument was wrong. One cannot possibly arguethat because two people share features of a common material culture,they must speak a common language; or that because they speak acommon language, they must belong to the same race. Put in suchterms, the fallacy is obvious; and yet so much of the past discussionabout early Etruscan and Roman history has been based on assumptionsof precisely this sort that it is worth while glancing briefly at the variousdisciplines involved, and noting something of the characteristics andlimitations of each.A great deal of the argument has in the past turned, and still continuesto turn, on the nature and affinities of the Etruscan language; and ifthese could once be established beyond question, they would undoubt-edly constitute a very important step forward towards the solution ofthe Etruscan problem. Unfortunately this is a subject upon which thereis still a strong division of competent opinion. On the one hand, thereare those who believe the Etruscan language to be an exotic intruder,representing a language (or group of languages) formerly current inAsia Minor (or possibly in the southeastern Balkans), of which the onlyother surviving monument is the well-known inscription from Lemnos;it owes its presence in Italy to a migration, about which there was stilla live tradition when Herodotus wrote in the fifth century B.C., des-cribing the Etruscans as, by origin, Lydians. This view, which still hasa wide following, is now challenged by a number of Italian scholars,whose study of (among other things) Italian place-names leads them tothe conclusion that, so far from being an exotic intruder, the Etruscanlanguage is rather a native survival from a pre-Indo-European phase ofItalian prehistory. In the face of such a divergence of qualified opinion,

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    4 JohnBryan Ward-Perkinsthose who, like the writer, have no competence in the field of com-parative linguistics have no alternative but to suspend judgment. What,however, the veriest novice in linguistics is entitled to stress is that evenan agreed conclusion as to the nature and relationships of the Etruscanlanguage would not necessarily carry with it an answer to other equallyimportant aspects of the Etruscan problem. Changes of language areusually the more or l