How Art Made the World Episode 5 The Skulls
of Jericho
The Aztecs
of Mexico

The Etruscans


Solomon & Greenberg:
Death Images
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The Etruscans

Almost without realizing it, humans seem to surround themselves with death images for two very different reasons. Some images like the Jericho Skulls, reassure, while others, like the Moche pottery, terrify. Living in Italy 500 years before Christ, the Etruscans were the first to bring together images of death that were both terrifying and reassuring - and at the same time.

Etruscan tombs were designed as houses for the dead. They featured windows, doors and porticos. They were cozy places, really, equipped with paintings of beds, livestock, and even luxury items like slippers. For these people, death was simply a joyful continuation of life.

A creature from the underworld… this image was intended not to reassure, but to terrify

But there was a dark side to the Etruscan afterlife. This was dramatically revealed in 1985 when an Etruscan tomb was discovered that shocked archeologists. Besides the usual enchanting images normally found in Etruscan tombs, there were now paintings of a hooked-nose Blue Demon, a creature from the Etruscan underworld. This image was intended not to reassure, but to terrify.

Something had changed for the Etruscans. By dating the tomb, archeologists reasoned their civilization was now being threatened by the rise of another Italian civilization - the Romans. The Etruscans knew they had to resist them, so from this point on in history, their tombs became a powerful call to arms. They were a constant reminder to their warriors that if they succeeded in defeating the Romans, there was a happy afterlife for them. But if they failed -- they were dammed.

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