Of all the peoples of antiquity, the Etruscans today occupy a very special place in our eyes. Their long history on the soil of the Italian peninsula began in the early years of the 7th century B.C. and came to an end only a very short time before the Christian era. At war, first against the Greeks, with whom they disputed the hegemony of the Mediterranean, then against the Romans, who were compelled to fight hard before subjugating them, the Etruscans occupy a place of considerable importance in the works of authors in both the Greek and Latin tongues. Their name, which once inspired such fear, occurs constantly in the Annals of Livy; and Virgil, in his epic description of the origins of Rome, makes a point of relating in broad outline the exploits of the dashing horsemen of ancient Tuscany. Even today, traces of Etruscan cities and burial grounds are very numerous in Umbria, Tuscany and Latium. Over the centuries, chance discoveries and organised excavations have brought to light an immense number of objects of all kinds--sculptures, paintings and products of the minor arts--deriving from the studios and workshops of Etruria. These objects are now the pride and glory of private collections and museums in both Europe and America.
But in spite of the evocative power of them relies, which conjure up out of the darkness aspects of a highly developed but now extinct civilisation, in spite of all this evidence provided by its plastic art, which is both of great historical interest and of rare artistic value, Etruria still presents scientists and laymen alike with a mysterious and obscure phenomenon. Nor do centuries of patient attempts and persistent efforts appear to have succeeded so far in penetrating the veil of mystery behind which she shelters.