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As children we were taught that our sole ancestors were the Romans, and that the Romans had nothing in common with their neighbours in Central Italy, i.e. the Etruscans.
The Etruscans were supposed to be a mysterious population with an incomprehensible language and exotic, rather Middle-Eastern culture. All in all, they weren't worthwhile and they disappeared almost magically, just before Rome's Great Period.
My research is leading me elsewhere, though...
I'd like to hear more, Philip.
I read a lot about the Etruscans in relation to Roman history. Their art is interesting as it has only a loose relation to Roman art. (The Louvre has some nice pieces.)
What connections have you made? And can you share the titles of any of the books you have read on the subject?
Thanks for your message, Sielwall.
Right now I'm at the beginning of my research and I doubt most scholars could provide a satisfactory answer as to who exactly founded the Roman Empire, so the only path we're left with is cautious, sensible intuition.
A fascinating book I've read and re-read lately is the controversial Mario Alinei's Etrusco: Una Forma Arcaica di Ungherese. The author admits the title may come as a shock and he's open to criticism, but I think he has a point when he compares the baffling Etruscan language with modern Hungarian. Not that the two languages are necessarily closely related: in fact my view is they're not. But they're part of a common layer pre-dating the Indoeuropean settlements, a layer belonging to yet poorly known civilizations of which the Etruscans were probably the pinnacle, a substratum that later generated the city and the empire of Rome.