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The Etruscans

The Etruscans

The inscription above is the name Seianti, carved on the elaborate stone coffin of the Etruscan noblewoman who bore that name. Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa was evidently quite wealthy, as the lid of this sarcophagus is adorned with a surprisingly lifelike sculpture of her reclining.

This was only one of the many Etruscan artifacts housed at the British Museum, and the whole Etruscan room held a certain charm for me. Perhaps it is their relative obscurity—everyone knows about the Greeks and Romans, but Etruscans? Who were they? They were the ancient inhabitants of a region of Italy called Etruria, and their civilisation existed in the time before Rome’s domination. They were a non-Indo-European people, and this is known by their language, which was entirely unrelated to the great majority of the other European languages, such as Latin, Greek, and Oscan.

Like the Arabs and Israelis today, the Etruscans wrote their words from right to left, although their alphabet is a predecessor of the Roman one. The language itself is mostly unknown to us today, since nearly all the surviving examples of it are carvings on burial stones. However, what little we do know about the Etruscan language is enough to fascinate me, and make me wish we knew more about the people of Rasna.

(British Museum, London)

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