Etruscan sarcophagus with man and wife, from Cerveteri
Before the Romans, Central Italy was dominated by the Etruscans, who spoke a language of unknown origin. In the seventh century BC they began to build powerful city-states with paved streets, sewers, palaces and public buildings. Their striking rock-tombs often echo details from houses and other buildings. Some are painted with cheerful scenes that seem to reflect a good life: banquets, games, musicians, dancers. Prolific sea traders, they absorbed cultural features from Greece and the Middle East. In turn, they passed on much to the Romans: artistic styles, religious practices, water and drainage systems, the toga, the basic forms of the house and temple.