Everything about the Etruscans - even their origins - is a mystery.
What we do know, is that Etruscan women played an important role in society - which was unusual among societies of that time.
Greek women, especially in Classical Athens, were excluded from public and political life. They couldn't vote, hold public office, or even attend the theatre or the Olympic Games, which were central to Greek societal life. Women had no legal standing and were usually considered the property of their fathers or husband. Marriages were arranged, and brides were usually quite young - sometimes as young as 14, while grooms were often in their thirties.
In contrast to their male counterparts, Greek women also had limited access to education or intellectual pursuits. The only exceptions were the hetaerae, or courtesans that were educated to entertain men intellectually as well as physically ( but still not considered respectable or educated women because of their profession).
For the Ancient Romans, things were only marginally better. While wealthier women sometimes had some freedom of movement, they were still expected to adhere to strict codes of conduct that prioritized modesty and fidelity. Public roles were limited, and women's primary sphere of influence was the home, where they were under the authority of their fathers or husband and couldn't vote or hold public office.
They were also barred from certain professions, and while divorce was possible for some - it too was usually controlled by the husband.
These examples provide a stark contrast to the relatively equal status Etruscan women appear to have enjoyed.
While Greek and Roman women were shaped by the restrictions of their patriarchal societies, their Etruscan counterparts experienced a surprising degree of emancipation, demonstrating an impressive level of autonomy and societal participation.
The Etruscan civilization, which thrived in Tuscany and Lazio from the 8th to the 3rd century BCE, gave women an elevated status. They were frequently literate, a privilege rarely extended to their Greek and Roman sisters, and this is underscored by tomb artefacts bearing their own inscriptions.
Etruscan tomb frescoes also depict women engaged in feasting and athletic activities alongside men, a clear indicator of their comparatively equal societal status.
One of the most striking shows of the reverence for the feminine in Etruscan society is seen in their spiritual beliefs.
Powerful female deities, including Uni, Minevra and Turan populated their pantheon, providing a reflection of a society where the divine feminine was honoured and influential.
This vivid portrait of Etruscan women’s autonomy and societal celebration paints a remarkably progressive picture of their society and was in stark contrast to the constrained lives of women in ancient Greece and Rome.
Though Etruscan, historical records mention many examples of notable Etruscan women that held positions of power and influence in their society. Here are four notable examples:
Tanaquil: Tanaquil, also known by her Etruscan name Thanchvil Tarnai, was an influential and wise Etruscan queen and priestess. Married to the future Roman King, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, she could interpret omens and prophecies, which contributed to her husband's ascension to the throne.
Lars Porsena's Daughter: The daughter of Lars Porsena, an Etruscan king who attacked the Eternal City, was mentioned in Livy's history of Rome, where she is said to have braved the frontline of a battle in an attempt to negotiate peace between her father and the Romans.
Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa: Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa was an Etruscan noblewoman from the 2nd century BCE, known for her beautifully decorated sarcophagus found in a tomb near Chiusi. The reclining sculpture of her on the sarcophagus suggests she was a woman of high status and is a testament to the important societal roles Etruscan women once held.
Ramtha Visnai: Known from the Liber Linteus, a book of Etruscan religious texts, Ramtha Visnai appears to have been a powerful priestess with powers of divination. Her inclusion in these sacred texts is an indication of how significant roles could be held by Etruscan women.