The best books about the ancient, “mysterious” Etruscans

Sinclair Bell Author Of A Companion to the Etruscans
By Sinclair Bell

Who am I?

I have been fascinated with ancient civilizations since my parents, amateur historians, moved our family to Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s, and we began to travel extensively around the Mediterranean, especially Greece, Italy, Egypt, and Jordan. I went on to study classical art and archaeology in graduate school in England, Scotland, and Germany, and excavated in Greece, Italy, and North Africa. My own research ranges widely, from the Etruscans to sport and entertainment in the Roman empire (about which I made a film with the Smithsonian, Rome’s Chariot Superstar). I currently live in Chicago, where I teach at a university. 


I wrote...

A Companion to the Etruscans

By Sinclair Bell (editor), Alexandra A. Carpino (editor),

Book cover of A Companion to the Etruscans

What is my book about?

This collection of papers presents a rich selection of innovative scholarship on the Etruscans, a vibrant, independent people whose distinct civilization flourished in central Italy for most of the first millennium BCE and whose artistic, social, and cultural traditions helped shape the ancient Mediterranean, European, and Classical worlds. The contributing authors counter the claim that the Etruscans were culturally inferior to the Greeks and Romans by emphasizing fields where the Etruscans were either technological or artistic pioneers and by reframing similarities in style and iconography as examples of Etruscan agency and reception rather than as a deficit of local creativity.

The books I picked & why

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Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History

By Sybille Haynes,

Book cover of Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History

Why this book?

If there is a Bible of Etruscan studies, this is it. The author is a revered authority in the field, having worked closely with Etruscan objects at the British Museum for many decades. Her “cultural history” is firmly rooted in the evidence of the Etruscan soil itself, and she is particularly adept at using material culture to dispense with the various Greek and Roman myths about the “mysterious” Etruscans. While the book is a mighty tome, both in its scholarly heft and physical weight, no serious student of the Etruscans can do without it. 

Etruscan Civilization: A Cultural History

By Sybille Haynes,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Etruscan Civilization as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This comprehensive survey of Etruscan civilization, from its origin in the Villanovan Iron Age in the ninth century B.C. to its absorption by Rome in the first century B.C., combines well-known aspects of the Etruscan world with new discoveries and fresh insights into the role of women in Etruscan society. In addition, the Etruscans are contrasted to the Greeks, whom they often emulated, and to the Romans, who at once admired and disdained them. The result is a compelling and complete picture of a people and a culture.
This in-depth examination of Etruria examines how differing access to mineral wealth,…


The Etruscans: A Very Short Introduction

By Christopher Smith,

Book cover of The Etruscans: A Very Short Introduction

Why this book?

If you are looking for a short, accessible, and up-to-date introduction to the Etruscans, this is it. Like other works in the Very Short Introductions series, Smith’s scope is broad, his tone is chatty, and his discussion is highly current. Whether you are an undergraduate or a general reader, this book speaks to all audiences. 

The Etruscans: A Very Short Introduction

By Christopher Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Etruscans as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From around 900 to 400 BC, the Etruscans were the most innovative, powerful, wealthy, and creative people in Italy. Their archaeological record is both substantial and fascinating, including tomb paintings, sculpture, jewellery, and art. In this Very Short Introduction, Christopher Smith explores Etruscan history, culture, language, and customs. Examining the controversial debates about their origins, he explores how they once lived, placing this within the
geographical, economic, and political context of the time. Smith concludes by demonstrating how the Etruscans have been studied and perceived throughout the ages, and the impact this has had on our understanding of their place…


Etruscan Art: in The Metropolitan Museum of Art

By Richard De Puma,

Book cover of Etruscan Art: in The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Why this book?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a collection of Etruscan art that is unrivalled within the United States, but for many decades it was not updated and many important works sat out of view. The reinstallation of the Etruscan galleries in 2007 was thus not only a major event for the museum’s public, but for the field of Etruscology more broadly. This sumptuously-illustrated book, written by a leading expert in Etruscan art, introduces the reader to the rich visual culture of the Etruscans, from their earliest creations to some of their most famous masterpieces. 

Etruscan Art: in The Metropolitan Museum of Art

By Richard De Puma,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Etruscan Art as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This informative and engaging book on the Museum's outstanding collection of Etruscan art also provides an introduction to the fascinating and diverse culture of ancient Etruria, which thrived in central Italy from about 900 to 100 B.C. Masterpieces of the collection include 7th century B.C. objects from the Monteleone di Spoleto tomb group (including the famous remarkably well-preserved bronze chariot), intricate gold jewelry, carved gems, and wonderful ambers. For the first time in more than 70 years, this incredible body of work is published in a comprehensive and beautifully designed book that draws upon decades of exhaustive research.

Etruscan Art…


The Etruscan World

By Jean MacIntosh Turfa (editor),

Book cover of The Etruscan World

Why this book?

This is a rich, encyclopedic-like collection of brief chapters about various aspects of Etruscan culture by all the major scholars (60!) in the field. If you are looking to gain access to Etruscan civilization by randomly reading about particular aspects—from art (the evidence of the earliest portraiture) to women’s lives to sport to engineering to trading contactsthen this is the book for you. All of the chapters are written very accessibly, andwhile shortthey are packed with information and helpful suggestions for further reading.

The Etruscan World

By Jean MacIntosh Turfa (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Etruscan World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Etruscans can be shown to have made significant, and in some cases perhaps the first, technical advances in the central and northern Mediterranean. To the Etruscan people we can attribute such developments as the tie-beam truss in large wooden structures, surveying and engineering drainage and water tunnels, the development of the foresail for fast long-distance sailing vessels, fine techniques of metal production and other pyrotechnology, post-mortem C-sections in medicine, and more. In art, many technical and iconographic developments, although they certainly happened first in Greece or the Near East, are first seen in extant Etruscan works, preserved in the…


The Scarith of Scornello: A Tale of Renaissance Forgery

By Ingrid D. Rowland,

Book cover of The Scarith of Scornello: A Tale of Renaissance Forgery

Why this book?

Ingrid Rowland is a fabulous writer, with a wide and frankly unrivalled knowledge of the art, architecture, and archaeology of Italy, from the Etruscans to modern day. She spins this little-known “17th-century caper” about the forgery of “Etruscan” artifacts with great verve, drawing the reader in like a good detective yarn. In her telling, what appears at first like a historical footnote ends up having implications far beyond, implicating—and scandalizing—the Vatican itself and beyond. 

The Scarith of Scornello: A Tale of Renaissance Forgery

By Ingrid D. Rowland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Scarith of Scornello as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Bored teenager Curzio Inghirami staged perhaps the most outlandish prank of the seventeenth century when he hatched a wild scheme that preyed on the Italian fixation with ancestry by forging an array of ancient Latin and Etruscan documents. Stashing the counterfeit treasure in scarith (capsules made of hair and mud) near Scornello, Curzio reeled in seventeenth-century Tuscans who were eager to establish proof of their heritage and history. However, despite their excitement, none of these proud Italians could actually read the ancient Etruscan language, and they simply perpetuated the hoax. Written with humor and energy by Renaissance expert Ingrid Rowland,…


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Interested in Etruscan civilization, Italy, and Tuscany?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Etruscan civilization, Italy, and Tuscany.

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