Regardless of the obscurity of their origins, it is clear that a distinctive Etruscan culture evolved about the 8th cent. B.C., developed rapidly during the 7th cent., achieved its peak of power and wealth during the 6th cent., and declined during the 5th and 4th cent. Etruria had no centralized government, but rather comprised a loose confederation of city-states. Important centers were Clusium (modern Chiusi), Tarquinii (modern Tarquinia), Caere (modern Cerveteri), Veii (modern Veio), Volterra, Vetulonia, Perusia (modern Perugia), and Volsinii (modern Orvieto).
The political domination of the Etruscans was at its height c.500 B.C., a time in which they had consolidated the Umbrian cities and had occupied a large part of Latium. During this period the Etruscans were a great maritime power and established colonies on Corsica, Elba, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands, and on the coast of Spain. In the late 6th cent. a mutual agreement between Etruria and Carthage, with whom Etruria had allied itself against the Greeks c.535 B.C., restricted Etruscan trade, and by the late 5th cent. their sea power had come to an end.
The Romans, whose culture had been greatly influenced by the Etruscans (the Tarquin rulers of Rome were Etruscans), were distrustful of Etruscan power. The Etruscans had occuped Rome itself from c.616 B.C., but in c.510 B.C. they were driven out by the Romans. In the early 4th cent., after Etruria had been weakened by Gallic invasions, the Romans attempted to beat the Etruscans back. Beginning with Veii (c.396 B.C.) one Etruscan city after another fell to the Romans, and civil war further weakened Etruscan power. In the wars of the 3d cent., in which Rome defeated Carthage, the Etruscans provided support against their former allies. During the Social War (90–88 B.C.) of Sulla and Marius the remaining Etruscan families allied themselves with Marius, and in 88 B.C. Sulla eradicated the last traces of Etruscan independence.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.