Very little has survived about the Etruscan religion and mythology. They left no great literary works, and their language has only be partly deciphered. They lived in Etruria, what is now Central and Northern Italy. They predated the Roman Empire by several centuries, going back possibly as far as the 10th Century BC or so, and existing as a culture for about 1,000 years. The Etruscan people eventually ended up in conflict with Rome. After they were defeated, their culture and religion were swallowed up a la Interpretatio Romana. The finer details were lost over the generations, and most of what survived is broad comparisons to the mainstream Roman beliefs.
The Etruscans' religion was very mystical and magical one, revealed to them by seers and prophets who communicated with the gods. The two most important seers were Tages and Vegoia. Regular divine communion and contact was a standard part of their existence. They read sheep's livers for auguries, via a process known as the haruspex. They also had a method of divination by observing and interpreting the lightning flashes of a storm.
The Etruscans placed a great deal of value on how the dead were preserved. The Etruscans had a very large number of gods and goddesses of the underworld, death, and the afterlife. They believed the souls of the ancestor's lingered on, and so (like the Ancient Egyptians) they would put works of art and furniture in the tombs for the comfort and use of the dead. The sacrophagi were intricately carved with images from mythology. They also left a lot of bronze hand-mirrors in the tombs. The backs of these mirrors would often have sculpted images of mothers breast-feeding or taking care of their children. All of these mirrors include inscriptions in the lost language of the Etruscans, implying a high level of literacy in their society, especially for women at that time.
Based on the artwork that survived them, scholars believe the Etruscans had very domestic, family-centric, peaceful lives compared to the Greeks and Romans. Parents put great value on the care of their children, and the living took great pains to take care of the dead. However, Theopompus of Chios, a 4th Century BC Greek Historian, basically depicts the Etruscans as swingers and exhibitionists. What level of propaganda his account entails is unknown, and the ancient Greeks criticizing someone else for their loose morals brings to mind an old proverb about a pot and kettle.
A high percentage of their gods were always depicted with wings. There's also a lot of snake imagery, but we don't really know what serpents represented to them. As previously mentioned, much of the pantheon are gods of death and the underworld. Genders on Etruscan deities seem a bit mutable, with the same individual sometimes being presented as a god and other times as a goddess.
Here's a limited list of Etruscan deities, largely leaving out those that seem to be foreign in merely incorporated by "Interpretatio Etrusca":
- Alpan, winged Lasa goddess of love and the underworld
- Ani, sky god, god of departures and returns
- Calu, god of wolves
- Cautha, daughter of the sun, goddess of beginnings, dawns, and sudden arrivals
- Celu, earth goddess, provider of resources and luck
- Culsans, god of doors
- Culsu, underworld demoness
- Ethausva, winged servant of Tinia
- Evan, Lasa goddess of immortality
- Februs, god of purification and the dead
- Feronia, goddess of fertility, freedmen, fire, and forests
- Fufluns, god of growth, happiness, health, and plants
- Horta, harvest goddess
- Karun, a horrific death god who carries a hammer
- Laran, god of war
- Leinth, faceless goddess of death, "She Who Stops"
- Lethans, goddess who protects the underworld
- Lusna, moon goddess
- Malavisch, deity of mirrors and weddings
- Mania (Etruscan Mythology), goddess of the dead, mother of spirits
- Mantus, god of underworld
- Maris the child, god of agriculture, fertility, and the spring
- Nortia, goddess of fate, chance, and fertility
- Phersu, deity of masks
- Selvans, god of the woodlands, a danger to children
- Tarchies, snake-legged god of wisdom, taught Etruscans divination
- Tarchon, mortal hero who founded the 12 cities of Etrusca
- Tecum, patron god of the ruling class
- Tellumo. earth father, half of Tluscva
- Tellus, earth mother, half of Tluscva
- Thalna, winged goddess of childbirth, wife of Tinia
- Thelmuth, god of the underworld and fate
- Thuflthas, lightning, Tinia's enforcer
- Thimrae, Lasa but also some sort of punisher or enforcer
- Tinia, the sky god, god of light, lightning and time
- Tivr, the moon
- Tuchulcha, snake-donkey demon of the underworld
- Turan, winged goddess of love, the Lasa are her servants
- Tvath, goddess of resurrection and the love the living have for the dead
- Uni, goddess of the cosmos, marriage, pregnancy, and nursing
- Usil, the sun
- Vanth, winged herald of death, goddess of justice
- Vegoia, nymph prophetess
- Vecu, Lasa goddess of prophecy and divination
- Veive, god of revenge
- Veltha, earth god of seasonal change
- Vetis, evil underworld god of death and destruction
As the Etruscans had more contact with other cultures, they adopted some gods from the greeks:
See Interpretatio Graeca for a list of the Etruscan names of Greek and Roman Gods. (Perhaps with a few exceptions, we probably won'thave pages on the Etruscan version of the greek gods here, as the differences are minimal or poorly documented.Karun, for example, is probably different enough from Charon, at least in appearance, to be worth documenting.)
Game and Story Use
- The Etruscans were a culture in close proximity (geographically and temporally) to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. They strongly influenced the culture and religion of the later. However, their language is largely undeciphered by modern scholars (and has few linguistic links to other languages of the region), and little is known of the finer points of their culture and religion. This makes them a huge opportunity for the GM. They're something alien and undefined right in the heart of the classical world. You can steal bits from classical mythology and the ancient world as you see fit, and then work in your own twists and turns. The players will never know what to expect next.
- So you can have Etruscan NPCs in a game set in Greece or Rome, and they'll be a big question mark. An Etruscan NPC could constantly surprise the PCs with cultural idioms and a unique perspective.
- You could set the whole campaign in Etruria (the Etruscan region), and let the players have a hand in defining the culture as the game progresses.
- In a Scion RPG campaign, the Etruscan gods could provide some interesting avatars and incarnations of gods who are otherwise all too familiar. Just as you think you've got Aphrodite all figured out, she shows up in the form of Turan and her retinue of winged Lasa death goddesses…
- Like the Ancient Egyptians, the Etruscans put all sorts of comforts into tombs. This suggests tomb raider and grave robbing plot lines. You might dream up an Etruscan catacomb counterpart to the Great Pyramids, and just hand wave it's absence in the real world as "the Romans stole the above ground parts for building materials".
- Interesting that the Romans followed on such an enthusiastic burying culture with one that loathed burial and insisted on cremation…
- Several of the more fearsome looking underworld deities would make strikingly memorable new demons for a fantasy campaign. Karun, Tuchulcha, Tarchies, Culsu and Vanth are a good place to start.
- The gods that the Etruscans picked up from the Greeks, or that the Romans picked up from the Etruscans, via Interpretatio Graeca could be used as part of a code or riddle. Most players won't recognize "Tinia" like they would "Zeus" or "Jupiter".
- A campaign that's going to visit the underworld would likely want to make it memorable and suitably otherworldly. Using the less-familiar Etruscan characters will really round out the NPC list in the lands of the dead, and allow you to avoid using cliches (or save the somewhat cliched characters for when they're appropriate or expected). About half the Etruscan pantheon is associated with death, so you've got plenty of potential NPCs to choose from.
- The Etruscan pantheon has a lot of gods of love, and their gods of death are non-threatening. They seem to have a friendly, peaceful, very domestic existence. This all builds to "sympathy". If designing a new culture intended to be the underdogs, little guys, good guys, or the victims, the Etruscans might serve as a model for it.