In Wikipedia it's claimed that Etruscan Civilization had a rich literature, but only one Etruscan text has survived.

And AFAIK at the same moment we have many Ancient Greeks texts roughly from the same historical period as Etruscans. And we know that Greeks and Etruscans communicated and traded at that time (Etruscans even used the part of Greek alphabet). So why the Etruscan literature left no trace as it never existed?

1 Answer 1


Greek was in wide usage as the lingua franca of the Near East. It also has the benefit of actually surviving Roman rule, in the same capacity, all the way till the Late Antiquity. The Romans themselves read and spoke Greek. Thus, Greek works have had a much greater chance of surviving simply from a great, wider, and more durable distribution.

The Etruscan language, on the other hand, was never that widespread. It also reached its height much earlier than Greek; most surviving Etruscan dates from around 700 B.C. Having been conquered by Rome since the third century B.C., the Etruscan heartland was completely subsumed into the Latin civilisation at time when Greece was thriving.

The Etruscan language had largely gone extinct by the time of Claudius. Apart from perhaps some priests/scholars, Etruscan works would have been unintelligible to almost anyone who might possess Greek books.

Given the highly limited, if not outright extinct, readership, it is unsurprising that Etruscan literature were mostly lost. It would happen both from natural attrition over the centuries, as well as in the ravages of Late Antiquity wars in Italy. The (better preserved) religious Etruscan texts were lost in warfare around the same time.

So in summary:

  • Written Etruscan is confined to more ancient, and shorter, times than Greek
  • Etruscan was not nearly as widely spoken
  • Etruscan actually went extinct
  • Etruscan texts were more exposed to destructive forces
  • 1
    Semaphore, great logical answer. My potential quibble with it, as an explanation for why languages are poorly attested, would be due to logical circularity. Are there other languages which meet the four criteria you've given here for Etruscan but for which we have significantly more attested texts? I am tentatively thinking of Sumerian and Akkadian, and numerous others. If there are such languages, then the given answer would add up to "Etruscan texts don't survive because Etruscan texts had all the properties of Etruscan texts". The logical circularity is in using description as explanation. Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 20:01
  • @AhmedFasih Hmm, I'd disagree; there are plenty of poorly attested languages that share these points with Etruscan. An "extinct ancient language limited in distribution whose legacy was subjected to strife" would seem to be highly generic IMHO. Good point about Akkadian and Sumerian though; I think the main factor is they started to be written down much earlier than Etruscan. I clearly hadn't thought that "confined to more ancient times" criteria through :P
    – Semaphore
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 20:33
  • Correction. The Greek language dates back long before the Etruscan language. The earliest known evidence of Greek dates to Mycenaean times, about 800 years before the apex of the Etruscan language. Although the Greek language, as an international language emerges centuries after the Etruscan language, the earliest known origin of the Greek language is much older.
    – user26763
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 23:30
  • 2
    @Alex ...no one said Etruscan predates Greek, so I don't know what you think you're correcting. Maybe try actually reading a post first next time. Further, if you're trying to establish which language is older, it's logically absurd to compare the "earlier known" of Greek to the "apex" for Etruscan.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 7:51
  • 2
    Sumerian and Akkadian have survived on clay tablets, which is much more durable than the writing material used around the Mediterranean. If we did not have the original documents, we would know very little about those texts. Roman and ancient Greek texts have instead mostly survived by being copied.
    – andejons
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 20:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.