Schmuck der Etrusker

Etruscan gold and jewelry

The Etruscan civilization existed in the first millennium BC in the area of present-day Tuscany in Italy. The Etruscan culture preceded the Roman one, was influenced by it and then absorbed by it. It developed on the basis of the local Villanova culture and the immigration of various peoples in ancient times. The ancient Etruscan art was characterized by geometric forms, then its art developed under the influence of the Phoenicians and Greeks. From the Syro-Phoenicians came sacred symbols such as the solar disk and the crescent moon, floral patterns and other oriental elements. The Etruscans adopted jewelry techniques from the Phoenicians, including filigree and grain jewelry, and the best jewelers were found in the southern cities of Cerveteri, Tarquinia, and Vetulonia. The well-developed Mediterranean trade system played an important role in the emergence and development of Etruscan jewelry art.

Gorgonias, pomegranates, acorns, lotus flowers and palms were indications of the Greek influence on Etruscan jewelry. A type of jewelry appears, such as the bulla, a pear-shaped vessel in which "labdanum", a substance used in perfumery, was kept and decorated with symbolic scenes by engraving. The Egyptian scarab, a symbol of good luck, also appears in Etruscan jewelry. In the VIth to VIIth centuries BC, Etruscan jewelry art reached its peak. Using simple tools, Etruscan goldsmiths created very high quality items. Many pieces of jewelry were made especially for burials.

Gold and jewelry of the Etruscans
Gold jewelry of the Etruscans


Etruscan amulet, 5th century B.C. Head of Acheloi. Pendant from an Etruscan gold chain, ca. 480 B.C. From Chuisi. Acheloi is usually depicted as a bull with a human face, sometimes in human form with bull horns; the horn of Acheloi corresponds to the horn of Amalfem and the horn of plenty. The concept of the horn of plenty comes from ancient Greek mythology, in which it belonged to the goat Amalthea or to the actor Acheloi, who became a bull. In ancient times, the horn of plenty (and everything related to wealth) was associated with Hades, the realm of the dead.

The horn of plenty belonged to Plutos, the god of wealth. The linguistic proximity of the names Plutos (Πλοῦτος), god of wealth in Greek mythology, and Pluto (Πλούτων), ruler of the realm of the dead, is not accidental. In its earliest form, Plutos, like Pluto, is associated with Persephone. In the Eleusinian mystery, Plutos and Pluto were identified. The latter was considered the possessor of immense subterranean riches.

Etruscan amulet
Etruscan amulet


Graining (granulation) - decoration of smooth gold surfaces with patterns of microscopic gold grains. The technique was invented in Mesopotamia in the third millennium BC and later spread to Anatolia, Syria, Egypt, Cyprus, and Mycenaean Greece. The disintegration of Bronze Age civilizations led to the disappearance of these fine arts in Greece, but they survived in the Near East, and from there they were brought back to Greece in the ninth century and transferred to Italy in the second half of the eighth century.

In fact, there was no 24-karat gold among the Etruscans. The combination of metals was widely used because pure gold is too soft, almost like wax. To obtain jewelry that could stand the test of time, the Etruscans had to combine their gold with other metals.

Most often copper was used for this purpose. Most Etruscan jewelry is made of 18-karat gold, which can be up to 15-karat. 18-carat gold is much stronger and harder than 24-carat gold, while 15-carat gold is much harder and "heavier" than 18-carat. Some of the Regolini-Galassi funerary jewelry was too thin and too large to be worn, while stronger and less gold jewelry could be worn while alive. The Etruscans also cast their jewelry in stone molds.

Necklace from Ruvo, 5th century B.C. Naples, Archaeological Museum
Necklace from Ruvo, 5th century B.C. Naples, Archaeological Museum.


Among the jewelry found in tombs from the Archaic period were large disc earrings. This was probably the trend of the time, as they were found in several tombs. Earrings of this type were originally Lydian-style jewelry and became a fashion trend in the Archaic period, when Eastern Greek influence was widespread (in the second half of the 6th century BC). Valise earrings were made mainly in Vulci and were very common. Heavy pendants came into fashion, as well as floral elements in Near Eastern and Mediterranean styles.

In the Archaic period, brooches became more sophisticated. In the Villanova period they were mostly made of bronze. But gradually they became real jewelry.

Unfortunately, the classical period was a time of crisis for the Etruscans. In the V century there was a decline in Etruscan jewelry art. Filigree and grain gradually disappeared. Others, such as repoussé, were used to decorate fine bands for the dead, necklaces, and medallions (or bullae). During this period, another type of earrings in the shape of a grape came into fashion. These earrings covered the whole ear and sometimes hung down to the neck.

In the archaic period, the more jewelry, the better. Large dangling earrings, long necklaces and heavy pendants or oxen were in fashion and worn by both men and women. Women were heavily adorned and wore large tiaras, bracelets and lace, hair spirals, heavy grape earrings and large heavy pendants (which were also worn by men and children).

These adornments were in fashion throughout the 5th and 4th centuries. Necklaces were paired. People wore large necklaces with various beads and another with a large pendant. Earrings with a long oval pendant and a smaller pendant were also common in the Etruscan community. Pearl and bulla necklaces are still popular at the beginning of the 3rd century, as well as torsos, rings around the neck made of hair dye or feathers. At the end of the classical period, body jewelry became more popular and was combined with other artifacts like shoes, mirrors, etc.

All these styles remained popular during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. In the Hellenistic period, jewelry is characterized by a technical decline and overly complex forms. They are very widespread and have unisex character. In the pictures, women are often seen wearing only slippers and a necklace. The heavy necklaces of the classical era are replaced by beaded necklaces.

In 2013, jewelry was stolen from the Etruscan Museum in Villa Giulia. The theft had a "Russian trail," but a year ago everything stolen was returned to the museum. The burglars were mainly targeting the Castellani collection, which includes ancient jewelry from the 7th century BC and jewelry from the 19th century.