The Etruscans were the people who settled in the Italian peninsula prior to 700 BC. Their language is unique; it is unconnected with Proto Indo European languages. This has puzzled linguists for some time, since it does, alternately, bear some connection to a Greek dialect on the far side of the Mediterranean Sea. Herodotus, who called the Etruscans the Tyrhennians, wrote that the Etruscans were offshoots of a tribe which lived in what would now be called Turkey, who left their tribe as a result of dwindling food supplies, to seek greener pastures in a new colony far across the sea. This theory, until recently, had little proof, and was thought by historians to be another one of Herodotus' outrageous, unverifiable, and likely false legends. Such a theory of Etruscan origins also conflicted with cranial analysis that suggested that the Etruscans were native to Italy. Only recently has DNA testing shed some light on Etruscan origins - suggesting that Herodotus may have been, in fact, correct.
Etruscan culture was composed of 12 city-states, which functioned in loose alliance, on the Greek model. The most powerful city-state was Veii. Most Etruscan cities functioned on a democratic-style system, and the cities would assemble with delegates once per year at the site (undiscovered, yet) of Fanum Voltumnae to set joint policy. Dissent within the ranks of the twelve cities is put forward as one of the reasons for Etrsucan decline, and weakness upon the rise of the Roman Republic.
Etruscan nomenclature in the names of the latter kings of the Roman Kingship suggests that the powerful Etruscan League exerted considerable control over the early Roman peoples. The Romans would later learn much of their culture from the Etruscans. Examples include the Roman polytheistic religion (drawn heavily from Etruscan contact with the Greeks), its associated rituals, the Etruscan belief in democracy (in a highly limited form), and the use of political symbols such as the fasces, or the twelve sticks tied around an axe, as a symbol of ultimate authority. The Etruscans would also fight many wars with the Roman Republic, resulting in the final sack and capture of the greatest Etruscan city, Veii, by Camillus.
The noun form for the land that the Etruscans inhabited, and for their empire, is "Etruria."
- NY Times, "DNA Boosts Herodotus' Account of Etruscans as Migrants to Italy," http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/03/science/03etruscan.html?ex=1176782400&en=c9c70938ec3e5f9a&ei=5070
- The Tarquins display almost completely Etruscan names.