*** pre-Roman Italian history Italy Etruscan slavery

The Etruscans: Slavery

Etruscan slavery
Figure 1.--One of the nost useful sources on Etruscan society are the tomb paintings. Unlike the ddustruction above ground, the burial paintings have survived over two millenia. This one of a Rimabesque banquet was found at Tarquinia (Tomb of the Leopards) and dates to 5th century BC. It is likely that the figures not colored in are the spirits of ancestors buried there. The naked servants are presumably slaves, although we have no idea why one would be waving a stick. We wonder if he might be a son of the banqueting revelers. Notuce that both the banquetors abd slkaves are depicted with laurels.

We know that slavery was a part of Etruscan culture, but we know very little about it. Authors largely extrapolate Etruscan slavery based on what is known of slavery in the wider Mediterranean world. They tend to believe that slaves were widely employed in a wide range of tasks, including household servants, field labor, mining, quarry work, artisan manufacture, and entertainers. We are not sure about soldiers. It is believed that slaves were used in the same manner as in Rome and obtained in the same way. They were taken in the same way: war prisoners including civilians of conquered cities, trade, and probably also criminals and debtors. One sources identifies Trasalpine Europe a an important source. [Briggs] It is likely that Etruscan slavery was common. What we do not know is how common it was nor the status of the slaved. We suspect that it was much less common then in Rome, largely because the Etruscan city states did not have huge empire won by military conquest and thus access to huge numbers of conquered peoples. A rare , source of information on Etruscan slavery is the tomb paintings, but they mostly depict only household slaves. Slaves can be distinguished from servants because they are pained naked. The fact that they are some tines named, suggesting their status may have been higher than was the case in Rome. The distinction between slaves, freed slaves, and laborers as well as social status is largely unknown. This is very different from Rome where a great deal is known. The only known written sources are Greek and and only address Etruscan silvery indirectly. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, for example, notably described those disenfranchised in Etruscan society as free men who were treated like slaves. This is similar to the other references. All are indirect and often refer to what is often see as abnormal circumstances. This has caused some historians to speculate that Etruscan slavery was more humane than Greek or Roman slavery. [Benelli]


Benelli, Enrico. The Etruscan World (2013). There is a chapter on "Slavery and Manumission".

Briggs, Daphne Nash. (2002) "Servants at a rich man's feast: Early Etruscan household slaves and their procurement," Etruscan Studies Vol. 9, Article 14.


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Created: 8:36 PM 6/4/2022
Last updated: 8:36 PM 6/4/2022