- Great advances have been made in the systematic study of Etruscan agriculture now that direct methods of analysis have substantially augmented the indirect interpretation of texts and art historical records. Mediterranean polyculture (wheat, vine, and olive) and the principal animal domesticates of sheep, cattle, and pig were the basis of agricultural production. Sheep and goats were particularly important in the Final Bronze Age, ranging between 46 percent (Sorgenti della Nova) and 67 percent (Gubbio), falling to lower levels in the full Etruscan period (20 to 40 percent). Pigs were generally a small component of stock breeding in the Bronze Age (6 to 36 percent) with the particular exception of Sorgenti della Nova, where part of the site’s stock was 75 percent piglets. Pig consumption increased slightly in the full Etruscan period (4 to 46 percent), but it was only in the Roman period that pig consumption became dominant on some sites (around 80 percent). The role of cattle was much more varied. Cattle consumption varied between 12 and 53 percent in the Final Bronze Age and between 13 and 82 percent in the full Etruscan period, reflecting different ecological contexts and specialization.Hunting was practised at a very low level in the Bronze Age and was mainly confined to some wild boar and deer, with slightly higher frequency at one or two sites such as Vejano (16 percent), Luni sul Mignone (19 percent), and Pitigliano (24 percent). There was also some specialized working of horn and bone, although this is most noticeable at Frattesina strictly outside the Etruscan area in Northern Italy. In the early Iron Age, there was a higher frequency of wild animals in some sectors of Gran Carro (32 percent). In the full Etruscan period, wild animals appear to have been employed for ritual purposes at the San Giovenale Spring Building (60 percent) and perhaps for aristocratic hunting at Murlo.The chicken was an exotic import in the early Iron Age. The oldest evidence is from Latium (Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, in the ninth century) and the Po Valley of northern Italy (eighth century BC). The earliest evidence in Etruria is images from wall paintings and bones from a tomb in Vulci and eggshells from braziers in Caere and Tarquinia from the sixth century BC. The early use thus appears to be ritualistic (there is further evidence from Pyrgi in the fourth century BC) and it is only from the third century BC that the animal enters the farmyard, as indicated by the more numerous finds of chicken bones at Populonia and Blera. The exception to this rule is among Etruscan sites of the Po Valley, where the chicken seems to be present from as early as the sixth century BC (San Claudio and Marzabotto) and the fifth century BC (Casale di Rivalta). Wheat and barley had been present since the Neolithic, but the dates of the introduction of domesticated vines and olives are more controversial. Domesticated vines may have been present in the Iron Age (Gran Carro), but olives seem to have appeared later, in the seventh century BC. Systematic faunal and/or floral studies at key sites such as Blera, Caere, Roselle, Podere Tartucchio, Tarquinia, and elsewhere are beginning to establish patterns of regional variation, ritual practices, and economic specialization. It is difficult to judge the relative importance of the different products of agriculture in the Etruscan diet. Preliminary studies from a seventh- or sixth-century sample of human bones from Ferrone cemetery, based on strontium/calcium/zinc analysis, suggest a varied contribution of meat and vegetarian food in the diet. Studies of a slightly later population from Tarquinia suggest a more uniformly vegetarian diet.Around some major Etruscan cities, such as Veii, there is clear evidence for practices of intensification such as the construction of tunnels (cunicoli) to control the flow of water and sediment, improving the stability of the landscape so essential for the support of the Etruscan city’s food supplies.Altitude also affected agricultural potential. Studies of traditional land use, although not directly transferable to the Etruscan past, point out the major differences that can be tied into archaeological evidence. Mediterranean types of cultivation (olives, vines, fruits, wheat, and maize) were restricted to the lower hill slopes, valleys, and basins. The traditional method of cultivation was coltura promiscua, that is, the polyculture or growing together of olives, vines, and cereals to provide temperature and water control. The rearing of animals (chiefly sheep, but also cattle and pigs on the central Apennines and goats in the south) was concentrated on the less fertile ground. An important issue is that of transhumance, an agricultural practice which exploits the contrasts between upland and lowland to move flocks between lowland winter and upland summer pastures. A number of scholars have emphasized the long-standing presence of these economic practices as one potential strategy, facilitated by the mountain plain structure of the Italian peninsula, that required political networks as well as ecological complementarity for their effective execution. Modern practices suggest that there were two alternative strategies for sheep and goat rearing. One was transhumance, involving in the most elaborate instances large numbers of animals driven over large distances. The other was to hold the smaller numbers of animals in stalls by night (providing manure for arable cultivation) and then allow them to graze locally.
Historical Dictionary of the Etruscans. Simon K. F. Stoddart.