Tyrrhenians: Strabo on Etruscans as a powerful “bandit” people (early first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Tyrrhenians: Strabo on Etruscans as a powerful “bandit” people (early first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 6, 2024, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=20216.

Ancient author: Strabo, Geography 5.1.10; 5.2.2; 5.4.3 (link).

Comments: In the midst of his survey of the Italic peoples (link coming soon), Strabo frequently makes reference to the Tyrrhenians, in this case the equivalent of Etruscans. He draws a picture of a bandit-like people who were nonetheless one of the two dominant powers (the other being Umbrians) in Italy at one point in the past.


[Umbrians and Tyrrhenians as previous rivals for domination]

(5.1.10) Now the peoples this side [south] of the Padus [Po] river occupy all that country which is encircled by the Apennine mountains towards the Alps as far as Genua and Sabata. The greater part of the country used to be occupied by the Boians, Ligurians, Senonians, and Gaizatians; but since the Boians have been driven out, and since both the Gaizatians and the Senonians have been annihilated, only the Ligurian peoples and the Roman colonies are left. The Romans, however, have been intermingled with the stock of the Umbrians and also, in some places, with that of the Tyrrhenians. Both of these peoples, before the general expansion of the Romans, carried on a sort of competition with one another for the primacy, and since they had only the river Tiber between them could easily cross over against one another. And if, as I suppose, one of the two peoples went out on a campaign against a third people, the other of the two conceived a contentious desire not to fail to make an expedition to the same places. Furthermore, when the Tyrrhenians had sent out an army into the midst of the barbarians around the Padus river and had fared well, and then on account of their luxurious living were quickly cast out again, the other of the two made an expedition against those who had cast them out. Then, in turns, disputing over the places, the two, in the case of many of the settlements, made some Tyrrhenian and some Umbrian. The majority were Umbrian, however, because the Umbrians were nearer. But the Romans, upon taking control and sending settlers to many places, helped to preserve also the populations of the earlier settlers. And at the present time, although they are all Romans, some are nonetheless called “Ombrians” and some “Tyrrhenians,” as is the case with the Henetians, the Ligurians, and the Insubrians. . . [omitted list of other settlements and natural resources south of the Po river].


[Tyrrhenians and Tarquinians in northwestern Italy, including the Lydian colonists theory and the sea-bandits characterization]

(5.2.2) The Tyrrhenians, then, are called among the Romans “Etruscans” and “Tuscians.” The Greeks, however, so the story goes, named them after Tyrrhenos son of Atys, who sent out colonists here from Lydia: At a time of famine and dearth of crops, Atys, one of the descendants of Herakles and Omphale, having only two children, by a casting of lots detained one of them, Lydos. Assembling the greater part of the people with the other, Tyrrhenos, sent them out. And when Tyrrhenos came, he not only called the country Tyrrhenia after himself, but also put Tarqo in charge as “coloniser,” and founded twelve cities. I am talking about Tarqo after whom the city of Tarquinia is named. On account of his wisdom since boyhood, the myth-tellers say he had been born with grey hair.

Now at first the Tyrrhenians, since they were subject to the orders of only one ruler, were very strong, but in later times, it is reasonable to suppose, their united government was dissolved, and the Tyrrhenians, yielding to the violence of their neighbours, were broken up into separate cities. For otherwise they would not have given up a happy land and taken to the sea for banditry (lēsteia), different groups turning to different parts of the high seas. Actually, in all cases where they acted in concert, they were able, not only to defend themselves against those who attacked them, but also to attack in turn and to make long expeditions. But it was after the founding of Rome that Demaratos arrived, bringing with him a host of people from Corinth. Since he was received by the Tarquinians, he married a native woman, by whom he begot Loukoumo. And since Loukoumo had proved a friend to Ancus Marcius, the king of the Romans, he was made king, and his name was changed to Lucius Tarquinius Priscus.

Be that as it may, he too adorned Tyrrhenia, as his father had done before him. The father did so by means of an ample supply of artisans who had accompanied him from home and the son by means of the resources supplied by Rome. It is further said that the triumphal and consular adornment, and, in a word, that of all the rulers, was transferred to Rome from Tarquinians, as also fasces, axes, trumpets, sacrificial rites, divination, and all music publicly used by the Romans. This Tarquinius was the father of the second Tarquinius, the “Superbus,” who was the last of the kings and was banished. Porsinas, the king of Clusium, a Tyrrhenian city, undertook to restore him to the throne by military force, but was unable to do so, although he broke up the personal enmity against himself and departed as friend, along with honour and large gifts. That is what can be said about the lustre of the Tyrrhenians.


[Tyrrhenians in Campania and southern Italy]

(5.4.3) . . . Above these coasts lies the whole of Campania; it is the most blest of all plains, and around it lie fruitful hills, and the mountains of the Samnites and of the Oscians. Antiochos, it is true, says that the Opicians once lived in this country and that “they are also called Ausonians,” but Polybios clearly believes that they are two different peoples, for he says “the Opicians and the Ausonians live in this country around the Crater.” Again, others say that, although at first it was inhabited by the Opicians, and also by the Ausonians, later on it was taken by the Sidicinians, an Oscan people. However, the Sidicinians were ejected by the Cumaeans, and in turn the Cumaens by the Tyrrhenians. For on account of its fertility, they [Antiochos and Polybios] continue, the plain became an object of contention.

The Tyrrhenians founded twelve cities in the country and named their capital city “Capua” [north of modern Naples]. But due to their luxurious living they became soft, and consequently, just as they had been made to get out of the country around the Padus river [Po], so now they had to yield this country to the Samnites. Then, in turn, the Samnites were ejected by the Romans. . . [omitted details of the produce of the land and details about Cumae and Baiae].


Source of translation: H.L. Jones, Strabo, 8 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1917-28), public domain (passed away in 1932), adapted by Harland.

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