The Etruscans, a civilization of ancient Italy that corresponds roughly to the present-day Tuscany region, developed its own unique cultural identity, different from that of its neighbours, and mysterious in its origins.
Even today, historians have not reached a consensus on when the Etruscans first appeared. Some claim the civilization was an offshoot of the protohistoric Villanova culture that developed on the banks of the Adriatic, between the Arno and the Tiber valleys, emerging around 750 BC; while others, Dionysius being the first, postulates that they were an indigenous people from Lydia, which they fled after a wave of famine swept the country.
This enigmatic fact of the civilization’s origin is compounded by its yet undeciphered language, the uniqueness of its beliefs based on oracles and riddles, its original and unmistakable art with oriental influences, marked, later, by the imprint of the Hellenistic world, its social order and the prominence of Etruscan woman within a liberal and epicurean society.
When applied to the objective of relating the evolution of the history of perfume, these enigmas are translated into the incognito of not knowing whether it was the Etruscans who brought the use of cosmetics and fragrances with them, or if they were developed as part of an earlier culture.
The lack of literary sources means that we are unable to know exactly what materials the Etruscans used to produce their fragrances. It forces us to resort archaeology to help illustrate the first materials used and the containers that served to store perfumes, which included the classic shapes of the Egyptian alabastrons, the Greek lekythos, as well as the askos and the pyxis, small pottery boxes for ointments or cosmetics, and the spherical aryballos, which were made in characteristic bulbous and ring shapes. The many materials with which they were made include precious metals and gemstones, but an exclusive feature of Etruscan craftsmanship applied to the glasses for perfumed ointments was the class of ceramics called bucchero, which was black in colour with a very fine texture and featured extremely thin and shiny walls for especially delicate and beautiful pieces.