Tyrrhenians: Diodoros on Etruscan inventions, lifestyle, and decline (mid-first century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Tyrrhenians: Diodoros on Etruscan inventions, lifestyle, and decline (mid-first century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified August 26, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=17222.

Ancient authors: Diodoros of Sicily (mid-first century BCE), Library of History 5.40 (link).

Comments: After dealing with Ligurians to the northwest of Italy, Diodoros of Sicily briefly discusses the Tyrrhenians of northern Italy, an ancient designation that frequently (as here) pertains to Etruscans. Tyrrhenians of the old days are portrayed as having made important contributions to civilization which the Romans adopted and developed further. However, Diodoros speaks of their decline into unmanly and luxurious customs up to his own time, clearly indicating their inferiority to Romans in the process.

Source of the translation: C. H. Oldfather, Diodorus Sicilus: Library of History, volumes 1-6, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1935-1952), public domain (passed away in 1954), adapted by Victoria Muccilli and Harland.


[For Diodoros’ preceding discussion of Ligurians, go to this link.]

Book 5

[Tyrrhenians’ inventions and influence on Romans]

40  It remains for us now to speak of the Tyrrhenians. In ancient times, this people which excelled in manliness possessed great territory and founded many notable cities. Likewise, because they also availed themselves of powerful naval forces and were masters of the sea over a long period, they caused the sea along Italy to be named “Tyrrhenian” after them. And because they also perfected the organization of land forces, they were the inventors of the “salpinx” [a trumpet-like instrument], as it is called, a discovery of the greatest usefulness for war and named after them the “Tyrrhenian.” They were also the originators of that dignity which surrounds rulers. They provided their rulers with attendants (lictors), with an ivory stool,​ and with a toga with a purple band. In connection with their houses they invented the peristyle,​ a useful device for avoiding the confusion connected with the attending crowds.

These things were adopted for the most part by the Romans, who added to their embellishment and transferred them to their own communal institutions. (2) They also brought to greater perfection letters and the teaching about Nature and the gods. They elaborated the art of divination by thunder and lightning more than all other men. It is for this reason that the people​ who rule practically the entire inhabited world [i.e. Romans] show honour to these men even to this day and employ them as interpreters of the omens of Zeus as they appear in thunder and lightning.

[Lifestyle and luxury]

(3) The land the Tyrrhenians inhabit bears every crop, and from the intensive cultivation of it they enjoy no lack of fruits, not only sufficient for their sustenance but contributing to abundant enjoyment and luxury. For example, twice each day they spread costly tables and upon them everything that is appropriate to excessive luxury, providing brightly-coloured couches and having on hand a multitude of silver drinking-cups of every description and servants-in‑waiting in no small number. Some of these attendants are extremely beautiful and others are arrayed in clothing more costly than what is fitting for the position of a slave.

(4) Their dwellings are of every description and of individuality, those not only of their magistrates but of the majority of the free men as well. Generally speaking, they have now renounced the spirit which was emulated by their ancestors from ancient times, since they pass their lives in drinking-bouts and unmanly (anandroi) amusements. So it is easily understood how they have lost the glory in war which their ancestors possessed.

(5) The fertility of the land is not the least of the reasons for their level of luxury, because it bears every product of the soil and is altogether fertile and the Tyrrhenians lay up great stores of every kind of fruit. In general, indeed, Tyrrhenia, being altogether fertile, lies in extended open fields and is traversed at intervals by areas which rise up like hills and yet are fit for tillage. It enjoys moderate rainfall not only in the winter season but in the summer as well.

[For Diodoros’ subsequent discussion of Panachaians off the southern coast of Arabia, go to this link.]

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