In the land of Hetruria there flourished once a mighty vine thither translated from the desolate plains of Troy. Florence claimed this beauteous plant her own; and well might she glory in it, for "its branches stretched forth unto the sea, and its boughs unto the river." From the banks of the Arno and the shores of the blue Tyrrhene Sea the branches of that great tree extended themselves to the far land of Erin. That great tree was the noble race of the Geraldines, who, under the shadow of Tuscan banners, penetrated regions whither Roman legions never dared to venture.

Ten years' seige had destroyed the glorious city of Ilium [Troy], and cut off all its leaders, with single exception of Aenas, who, being compelled to fly, assembled about him a trusty band of youths, who had outlived their country's overthrow, foremost of whom in dignity and bravery was the founder of our Geraldines.... Aenas soon afterwards divided the land of Italy amongst his followers, assigning to each his portion; and in the distribution he bestowed on the great ancestor of our Geraldines that Region of Hetruria where Florence now stands. So wrote Father Dominic o'Daly in his history of the Geraldines, Earls of Desmond, written about the year 1655.[1]


Mona Lisa


'Gerald, chief in Ireland of the family of the Gherardini; Earl of Kildare; Viceroy of the most serene King of England.,' wrote in 1506 '.to all the family of the Gherardini, noble in fame and virtue, dwelling in Florence, our beloved brethren in Florence..' The earl informed them that his 'ancestore, after passing from France to England, and having remained there, arrived in this island of Ireland in 1140.'[2]

Without direct genealogical evidence the search stops there. But a broad consensus is that the Geraldini/FitzGerald/Mackenzie origins began in Troy and Etruria - now Tuscany, Italy. Where did they come from and what did they do? Who were these Etruscans, who set the stage for Rome and were appointed Roman kings? Who were the people who founded the powerful Geraldini family, our Mackenzie ancestors?

Mona Lisa was a middle class Italian wife, a Gherardini daughter-in-law.[3] Who better could Leonardo have painted than a member of this faimly? While she was not a family relative, the family was prosperous and well-established and her husband was the typical sort of patron for an artist to look to for to gain a favoured commission. The Gherardinis had been eclipsed in power, but still remained a powerful and influential Florentine family.


Etruscan Myths and Origins



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The Egyptians and the Sea People, Ramses III era (1200 -1166 BC). The Sea People are thought to be ancestors of the Achaeans, Etruscans, Sicilians and others.

Ramesses III defeated Sea People (c1191 BC)


There is no agreement as to who the Etruscans were, or where they came from.[4] Humans have lived in Eastern Europe for at least 45,000 years.[5] Academic opinion suggests that the Etruscans were a native people, perhaps originating in Turkey.[6] The Sea People may have been descended from the Achaeans, related to the Etruscans, and included the Philistines.


After the fall of Troy, Greek mythology portrayed the few surviving Trojans migrating to Italy. Most survivng historical data is Roman, or Greek, and both nations had prejudices against the Etruscans. Neither the Romans or Greeks left us a clear understanding about the Etruscans. At their peak, the Etruscans controlled most of Italy and the surrounding sea.[7]

It seems likely that the Etruscans were a different people from both the Romans, who replaced them, and the Greeks. Romans and Greeks shared a common Indo-European heritage, but the Etruscans had quite different values in religion, equality of sexes, in writing, and in dress and art. One of these Etruscan families, which survived through to the modern era, was the Gherardini. The Gherardini had been a leading Tuscan family for well over a millennium.[8] Tradition has them beginning in Tuscany and helping to organise northern Italy to develop from a farming community to dominate the eastern Mediterranean, drain the swamps, clear the Palatine hills, and lay the foundation for the later Rome. Their story began at Troy.




The Trojan War was fought between the Greeks and Trojans with their allies, at the city of Troy (Ilium), in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The war lasted for ten years and it has been traditionally dated from 1194 to 1184 BC. The primary source is Homer's Iliad, which was written in c800 BC. So how much Greek mythology do we remember? Aeneas was the son of the Greek gods Anchises and Venus. He was a cousin of King Priam of Troy, and leader of Troy's Dardanian allies during the Trojan War. After the fall of Troy, he apparently led a band of Trojan refugees to Italy and became a founder of Roman culture (although not of the city of Rome itself).

Herodotus made the first credible account in c440 BC. He stated that the Etruscans originated in Lydia, in Asia Minor, and left due to a famine.[9] The Roman poet Virgil made Aeneas the hero of his epic, the Aeneid. Virgil referred to the town of 'Cerveteri, built on an ancient rock where once the Lydians, a race distinguished in war, settled the hills of Tuscany'. Seneca (who died in AD 65) stated that 'Asia claims the Etruscans as her own.' Excavations on the Greek island of Lemnos uncovered a community, dating to c600 BC, which links to the Etruscans. To modern Italians they are Etrusci and the Etruscan Sea is the Tyrrhenian after an Etruscan king. There are therefore no good sources available, but archaeological, mythological, cultural, and linguistic clues, which at best are only guides to facts.

There is a Greek Lemnos inscription shown below, which is in a language similar to Etruscan. It was found in a warrior's tomb with his weapons and pottery. These last items are also very similar to early Etruscan. The necropolis of the city contained 130 cremated burials. In the women's burials an early form of Etruscan pottery was found and the clay was used by the people of Asia Minor and by the Etruscans. In the male sites typical Cretan, or Etruscan, daggers and axes were found. The evidence is of a small community, with strong cultural ties to both the Etruscans and Asia Minor.

Homer introduced the Pelasgians, a name he applied to a prehistoric people whose traces were believed to exist in Greece. In the Homeric poems the Pelasgians were among Troy's allies. There is thus a Trojan connection between the Pelasgians and the Etruscans and therefore perhaps between themselves. Historically the Pelasgians lived near modern Larissa in Greece and were expert spearmen.



The Lemnos Stele c600BC



The alphabet was then current in Northern Etruria. The earliest Etruscan inscriptions c750 BC used a Greek script. The inscription above may represent a colony of 'Pelasgians' or Etruscan pirates. Either the Etruscans, or the Pelasgians, could have colonised Lemnos, but the stylistic Greek writing suggests that the Etruscans were a serious possibility.The Sea People, called the Phoenecians, who may have included the Etruscans, were also known as intrepid explorers as well as tradesmen.[10] There is some evidence that these people circumnavigated Africa in c600 BC. The Phoenecians colonised Cathage and that colony became an empire as the Carthaginians.

Phoenicians traded as far as Britain and in Spain they established Cadiz, and may have explored the Azores and Brazil. Carthage, which was established c800 BC, was a major Mediterranean port. The Carthaginians mined extensively in the interior of Spain and were the supreme Mediterranean traders. One expedition leaving Carthage c500 BC had 60 ships and carried 30,000 men and women, and provisions to colonise coastal Africa, well past the Straits of Gibraltar. Carthaginian relics have been found in southern Africa.

Etruscan Rise and Fall


Text Box:  Etruscan civilisation began c968 BC, and evolved to create Etruria, now modern Tuscany. By 700 BC villages migrated to cities, and land was cleared and drained, Greek artefacts confirm early Aegean trade. Exports typically used large amphorae, and metal ingots have been found in several sites. Nearby ore deposits, and rich agriculture created Etruscan prosperity and rapid development. Cities such as Caere and Tarquinia were well established by c600 BC. According to legend, Tarchun and his brother Tyrrhenus, founded the Etruscan League of 12 cities. Kings, who wore purple robes and sat on a throne, ruled the cities.[11] The city-states had extensive trading links with the Greeks and Phoenicians. In c650 BC, Etruscan underground chamber tombs began to appear in Caere, and Veii.


The Greeks had established their first colonies in Southern Italy and Corsica around the middle of the 8th century. Together with the Phoenicians they had a profound influence on the Etruscans, such as the use of a Greek alphabet. Some of the first Etruscan writing began to appear on pottery and jewellery from Caere and Tarquinia in c700 BC. Etruscan hegemony extended over Latium, including Rome.


Rome was strategically important as it guarded the Tiber River, the southern boundary of Etruria. The first Etruscan king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus rebuilt Rome and organised it into a thriving city. Between c625 and 575 BC, skilled Etruscan engineers drained marshy ground, between the Roman hills, and Rome began to grow. By then, Etruscan Rome was becoming a true city and was making rapid progress in civil engineering, roads, sewers, and a water supply. The Cloaca Maxima, the Great Sewer of Rome is still in use and dates from this era. The Second Etruscan king of Rome was Servius Tullius, (579-534 BC), who built the Servian Wall.[12]


The Etruscans developed naval power, and co-operated with the Carthaginians in opposing Greek settlements in Corsica and Sardinia. The Etruscans reached a peak of military and commercial strength around c550 BC when they occupied ports in eastern Corsica, and became the acknowledged masters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. During this expansion, they came into conflict with both the Carthaginians; and the Greek colonies in southern Italy, from whom they seized considerable territory. The Etruscans occupied Campania (southern Italy), and both Capua and Pompeii were Etruscan settlements. In the north, the cities of Felsina, Mantua, Spina and Atria dominated, and there were trading links into the Aegean and beyond.


An unwise Etruscan attack but successful defeat of the Greeks at Alalia in 525 BC marked a turning point and probably contributed to its downfall. According to the Roman author, Livy, the king's daughter and her husband, Tarquinius Superbus, (who would be the last king), killed the Etruscan king, Servius Tullius. Rome and Latium continued to prosper under Etruscan domination until approximately 510 BC when the Romans expelled this last king,. The Greeks and Latium peoples collaborated and together defeated the Etruscan navy at Cumae (north of Naples) in 474 BC. Prior land defeats, had led to the loss of Latium and the Southern trade routes to Campania. In the South, Samnites invaded Campania; while in the North, Celts poured into the Po Valley in a massive invasion. (The Celts later virtually destroyed Rome in 386 BC.) The Romans seized Veii in 396 BC, the first Etruscan heartland city to be lost. The Etruscans discovered the flaw in independent city-states: each fell to the Romans isolated from its neighbours who failed to support each other.

Etrurian Evolution

The Etrurians lived in a tough neighbourhood, since the Greeks, Carthaginians, and Romans were all more powerful and each united as Etruria was not. Sadly for the Etrurians they created a centrist world in which the separate cities held power and their domination of their neighbours was by trade. The Etrurians survived between the decline of the Greeks and the rise of both the Carthaginians and then Romans. In the end it was their closest neighbour, Rome which brought their good life to an end. (See the maps showing the basic phases of the Etrurian evolution.)

Rome profited by Etruria's experience and the Romans decided early that kings were a bad idea. The Romans also used many of the social and military developments used by the Etrurians, although they were also in general use in other states such as Greece. The Romans also adopted both the concept of the structural arch and gladatorial entertainment, as well as many of their economic practices.[13]

Etruscan Social Life


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Etruscan Priest

A Priest


The Etruscans built a society of classes in which the rich were able to enjoy pleasure.[14] Many scholars hypothesize the existence of a powerful aristocratic class, and craftsmen, merchants, and seamen would have formed a middle class; it was probably at this time that the Etruscans began to maintain the elegant slaves for which they were famous.

Etruscan religion was polytheistic and fundamentally unique to Italy. Every natural phenomenon, lightning, the internal organs, or birds flight patterns, indicated a divine will and message which could only be interpreted by priests. Priests wore a conical hat, which survives today in the form of a bishop's mitre, and held a lituus - a bishop's crook. Unique amongst Italian burial practices are the city tombs, which are claimed to be "among the great archaeological centres of the classical world."[15] Even up to the fall of the Roman Empire, the Etruscans were regarded with great respect for their religion and superstitions. Constantine's turn to Christianity finally led to the complete destruction of Etruscan literature, the source of superstition.

Tinia, Uno and Menrva (Jupiter, Juno and Minerva) were the Etruscan gods worshipped during the Roman monarchy and Tarquinius Superbus built the great temple on the Capitoline hill dedicated to this trinity.[16] The complex and all-embracing a religion required long and laborious study. Special training institutes enjoyed the highest repute and were a kind of university with several faculties. For their curricula included not only religious laws and theology, but also the encyclopaedic knowledge required by the priests, which ranged from astronomy and meteorology through zoology, ornithology, and botany to geology and hydraulics. In Etruria theological and secular knowledge were not separated. Etruscans believed in predestination and their elaborate burials suggest an underlying belief, similar to the Egyptians, that a part of the soul remained with the body and that the body was important in the after life. Their earliest gravesites were cremations, continued in northern Etruria up to the 1st century BC.[17]


Tomb and funeral


Writing, the potter's wheel, and monumental funerary architecture reflected the luxury goods of gold and ivory and exotic trade items such as ostrich eggs, shells, and faience. A powerful aristocratic class, a midd le class of craftsmen, merchants, and seamen and elegant slaves made up the society.[18] Various Greek and Roman authors report on how Etruscan slaves dressed well and how they often owned their own homes. They easily became liberated and rapidly rose in status once they were freed.

Etruscans had elaborate burials and may have had belief in an after life. The earliest grave sites were from cremations, with the ash apparently retained in urns. Gradually inhumation burials began to appear, the first being in Tarquinia and Caere, and later burials became the norm, except in northern Etruria, where cremation persisted to the 1st century BC, epitomised by the elaborately carved alabaster urns of Volterra.

The passion for games was widespread among Etruscans. Besides the funeral games, others of skill were popular. In one, the objective was to throw a series of disks into a large bowl on a woman's head. Another game was climbing a slippery wooden pole. Sporting competitions were important events and took place at religious ceremonies such as funerals. Athletic competitions of jumping, discus and javelin took place in stadiums while horse races took place in Hippodromes. The chariot race was quite popular.

The art reflected the problems and preoccupations of the day. The optimism of the 600-400 period and its dancing figures and banquets were replaced by more serious themes, and included grotesque underworld figures.[19]


1 Translated and edited by C.P. Meehan (c1878), quoted in the Mediaeval Bendings website, and cited by J. Horace Round in 'The Ancestor', 1902, pp. 119-126. Round also cites an earlier historian, Gamurrini, who, sadly, failed to specify a pedigree in his remarks about an Etruscan heritage.

2               Round, op cit. pp. 119-126.

3               In 2004, an Italian professor Pallanti published a book Monna Lisa, Mulier Ingenua, (Mona Lisa, Real Woman) and confirmed the historical opinion that Lisa Geraldini, a middle-class housewife, was the subject of the Leonardo painting. No direct Mackenzie relationship is suggested, but she was the wife of a wealthy Florentine merchant named Francesco del Giocondo. Why was she smiling? Apparently she might have been pregnant: see BBC Report " Mona Lisa pregnancy theory mooted",, dated 27 September 2006.

4              NK Sandars, The Sea Peoples, pp, 197-202. Sandars identifies the Sea Peoples as a collection of tribes including the: Shardana, who gave their name to Sardinia; Shekelesh, who gave their name to Scily; Peleset, who gave their name to Palestine; and the Lukka, Meshwesh, Denyen, who may have settled in Turkey, or Syria; and the Teresh, who may have settled in Etruria. Trude and Moshe Dothan, People of the Sea, describe archeaological and other efforts to identify the Philistines. The conclusions show a descent from the Achaeans and Minoan/Myceanian by common pottery types. The disruption of the Greek world from the c1625 BC erution of Thera at Santorini may have been a factor in initiating a southward Greek migration as far as Anatolia and Palestine. See, see also the BBC News Report "Cave fossils are early Europeans",, dated 30 October 2006.

5              See BBC News Report "Clues found for early Europeans",, dated 12 January 2007. See also BBC News Report "Italy mystery of prehistoric hug",, dated 8 February 2007.

6              JB Bury, et al, The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol VIII, p.448.

7              The Mysterious Etruscans Website, I have used this as a primary source and owe much to the excellent research and analysis.

8              Don Eugenio Gamurrini, Il testo riprodotto dall'opera, Istoria Genealogica delle Famiglie Nobili Toscane et Umbre, vol. II, pp. 111-138, in Fiorenza 1671: assolutamente conforme all' originale, e al fine di rendere pi agevole la lettura si sono usati caratteri grafici attuali, modificando solo la punteggiatura e aggiungendo alcune note. I examined a copy of this book in Naples in 2002 and confirm that there is no pedigree.

9              Michael Grant, The Etruscans, refutes Herodotus' logic in claiming Lydia as a source home for the Etruscans, due to an error in Herodotus' translation, pp. 71-78.

10            Adapted from Grahame Clark, World Prehistory, In New Perspective, pp. 198-199; and NK Sandars, The Sea Peoples, pp, 197-202.

11            Christopher S. Mackay, 'Lecture 2 Etruscans', CLASS_365/Etruscans.html

12            The Mysterious Etruscans Website,, op. cit.

13            Christopher Hampton, The Etruscan Survival, pp. 233-244. Hampton also remarks on the debt owed to the Etruscans in the development of mediaeval and renaissance city-states, which he notes came into being after Rome fell.

14            The Mysterious Etruscans Website,, op. cit.

15             Christopher Hampton, op. cit, p. 130. Hampton quotes Massimo Pallottino, who remarked on one of the earliest tumuli, the Royal Sorbo Tomb, in his book The Necropolis of Cervetari, p. 5.

16             Bury, et al, op. cit., p.449-450. Bury, et al disagree that Uni and Menrva were Etruscan originated and state that those names are 'purely Italian'. They do concede that the Romans inherited temple-building and cult-statue worship from the Etruscans.

17             Ibid., pp.448-451. Bury, et al remark on ".the very strong penetration of Greek ideas and Greek modes of religious cult." They also note the Roman resistance to some aspects of Etruscan ideas, notably the lack of demon-haunted religion.

18             The Mysterious Etruscans Website,, op. cit.

19             Bury, et al, op. cit., p.449, specify this precise characteristic as lacking in Roman culture and therefore conclude that Etruscan influence was not universal and the Romans were selective in adopting practices.

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