Ancient Etruscans: Burying the Dead

When the Etruscans laid their dead to rest, they elaborately decorated their final resting places and used varying approaches towards building tombs. In this article, we will explore some of the types of tombs and catacombs the Etruscans followed and some of the ways they executed funerary architecture and decoration.


When scanning Etruscan graves, it is the specimens constructed of stone that were able to survive and provide details of how people of this time conducted their funerary practices. It was the belief of the Etruscans that in the afterlife, they would receive an environment that they could identify and feel comfortable in. This meant surrounding the dead with personal objects they were quite familiar to them during their lifetime.


Great care was taken to built tombs, which was decorated with Etruscan painting that displayed bright and colors on the walls of tombs. Common themes showcased the scene of the sky or everyday life. This was an attempt to add light to some of the darkness associated with the thought of a spiritual death. Usually, final resting places were situated outside of the city wall of a town, but still allowed quick and easy access by streets. When analyzing Etruscan burial practices, one can learn a lot about the daily life, beliefs, and common habits of the people, which are not immediately highlighted in written texts.


When it comes to Etruscan tombs and catacombs, there are three different types to consider: Hypogeum, Aedicula, and Tumulus. For starters, Hypogeum tombs were completely dug underground or constructed within a location that already offered a hollowed-out space (such as a grotto or cave). One of the most well known of Hypogeum tombs is called the Hypogeum of the Volumni, which was uncovered and excavated in 1840. With this type of catacomb, a steep flight of steps directly led into a lobby, which offered a look at single tombs or grouped objects that were accessible by a collection of slim corridors. Some believe that this kind of burial practice was set-aside for people who help a certain social rank. An example of this includes politicians, priests, and soldiers.


Aedicula tombs were positioned on open land and constructed in the shape of mini-temples, but were actually made to look like examples of the earliest type of Etruscan homes. When viewing Etruscan depictions, there was a great deal of significance attached to the shape of these temples, as they were representative of the kind of journey that the dead would embark upon when they transferred from the living to the dead. The temple serves as the last phase on the path of life that is lived on earth. One of the best examples of an Aedicula tomb is the well-preserved Bronzetto dell’Offerente located in Populinia.


Tumulus tombs are molded to construct an “artificial hill” that is covered with piles of dirt, where each of the graves were arranged according to how rich a resident was or how reputed they were in their community. The status of their family also affected the way they would be buried. Tumulus tombs are circular in their construction. One of the best examples of this kind of tomb is seen in the “Tomba dei Rilievi,” which translates into the Tomb of the Reliefs, which was situated within the necropolis of Banditaccia, close to Cerveteri.