Love, Sex & the Etruscans in Volterra, Tuscany
There are many enigmatic civilizations that historians continue to speculate about. One is the wealthy and powerful Etruscan civilization, which existed over twenty-five hundred years ago in Tuscany, Italy. This past September, we visited Volterra, which was one of the epicenters of the Etruscan civilization. This ancient town has become a medieval treasure of this region thanks to its unique “walled town” and its Etruscan heritage. It’s hidden in the rolling hills of countless vineyards in Chianti, about one hour south of Florence.
The most intriguing aspect of the Etruscan civilization was its women. The status of women in any society has repercussions in the interpretation of life and sex. In striking contrast with women in Greek and Roman cultures, Etruscan women were emancipated and allowed to act as they wished. As the Greek and Roman women were submissive to men and relegated to be an instrument to ensure the continuation of the family lineage, in the Etruscan society, the women were equal to men. They chose their partners; they were able to marry for love and affection and were free to express their sexuality and desires. They would not only bear children, but could sit next to their husband at the table. This would unfairly “earn” them the reputation as one of the most scandalous women in ancient history.
This aspect of Etruscan woman is verifiable from the funerary remains that have been discovered, where women were surrounded by lavish objects, and where husbands and wives were buried together, thus depicting their affection. Additionally, many legends would serve as a testament to validate the perception of women in Etruscan society.
One of them was the story about Sporinna, an extremely handsome young man. Sporinna’s beauty was unique and rare, and all the women from the village wanted to be with him, pursuing his affection. The young man was overcome by the demand of the women’s attention and was afraid of the jealousy that it stirred among other men. One day, to stop his internal conflict, Sporinna disfigured his own face with a knife. This ended his unusual suffering.
The trend of strong independent women in society like the Etruscans was not seen again till modern times. And unlike Sporinna, who was unable to handle attention of many women, most men today would gladly deal with it.