Etruscan culture began in Northern Italy between the eighth and ninth centuries BC—about three centuries before the year of the birth of the Roman Republic. Their language and customs were alien to Europe. Since the last Roman kings seem to have Etruscan sounding names, some historians have surmised that the Etruscans had became the rulers of the ancient Roman village (founded in 753 BC). They might have played a role in the evolution of the Roman village into first a kingdom and then a republic in 509 BC.
The eighth century BC Greek writer Hesiod described the Etruscans as the people living in Central Italy. But the oldest account of the origin of the Etruscans comes from Herodotus. He has claimed that the Etruscans migrated from Lydia, an Iron Age kingdom in present day Western Turkey.
Herodotus says that in Lydia there was a 18-year famine, which led the King of Lydia to order half the population to leave the country and find a better life elsewhere. These people sailed from Smyrna (now the Turkish port of Izmir) to look for a new home. After several adventures, they reached Umbria in Italy where they founded their colony which developed into a sophisticated culture and expanded to cover much of Northern Italy. Herodotus claims that the Lydians invented the game of dice to divert their mind from the misery of the famine.
The Roman tradition of gladiator games originated with the Etruscans. In Etruscan custom when an important political figure died, two warriors fought to death at the funeral ceremony. This tradition was imitated by the Roman Kingdom, and the Roman Republic institutionalized it. For much of the period of the Republic, the gladiator games remained a minor affair and took place mostly at the funerals of the leaders. The first large-scale gladiator game was organized by Pompey in 57 BC at Rome’s Circus Maximus.
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