1. EARLY VILLANOVAN CULTURE, 9th–8th CENTURIES BC.
(1) Leader with war-chariot, Tarchuna area. The early example of a war-chariot is from grave 15 at Castel di Decima, and the warrior is reconstructed partly from grave Monterozzi 3 in the Arcatelle necropolis, Tarquinia. This contained, among other objects, a crested helmet, an antennae sword, a spearhead and a fibula. His bilobate shield, of Aegean origin, is reconstructed after the fragmentary specimen from Brolio and the miniatures from grave XXI at Pratica di Mare; it lacks the typical ornamentation of the later Orientalizing Period. Chest-protecting bronze kardiophylakes are well attested. Note also the red ‘war paint’ used on the face and limbs by some Etruscans and Latins.
(2) Villanovan-Tarquinian axeman. The axeman is protected by the ‘bell-helmet’ from the Pozzo grave, Monterozzi necropolis; pairs of holes along the rim suggest the attachment of an organic-material lining, chinstrap and/or neck-guard. The oval shield is made of wood with leather covering, and has a raised wooden reinforcing rib with a central ‘boss’. The use of necklaces and bracelets was widespread, but we do not know to what degree these were associated with military or civil fashions.
(3) Sardinian mercenary, Pupluna area. This mercenary, copied from the ‘Teti archer’ statuette, wears a low-profile horned leather helmet, a bronze breastplate and greaves. His main weapon is the long composite bow, made of wood, horn and sinew. Note the leather protector worn on the left forearm.
2. VILLANOVAN ARISTOCRATIC WARS, 8th–7th CENTURIES BC.
1) Villanovan aristocratic cavalryman, Felzna area, 8th century
This cavalryman – partly reconstructed from grave 525, Askos Benacci, near Bologna – is protected by a crested helmet (from an example in Hamburg Museum), and has slung on his back a decorated bronze shield (example from Verucchio). His offensive weapons are a spear and the curved antennae ‘sabre’ from Bologna. Graves around Bologna have yielded a bronze prod for a horse, and a snaffle bit with chained and mobile elements with circular sections. The original terracotta horse showed a blue mane and tail, and red markings suggested tattoos or brands, perhaps with magical significance. These features are also found in other graves, e.g. the Tomba di Tori at Tarquinia.
(2) Proto-Etruscan leader, Narce area, 730 BC
Mainly obscured here by his cloak, the bronze armour of this senior leader, extensively decorated with repoussé work, is shaped like a ‘poncho’; it is composed of one-piece front and back plates joined by straps under the arms. According to Cowan, it was shaped for an individual with very broad shoulders and a heavily muscled chest. His helmet, of crested type over a rounded bowl, is 43cm (16.9in) high, made of two sheets of bronze fastened partly along the crest by folding one sheet over the other.
(3) Villanovan leader, Tarchuna area, second half of 8th century
Reconstruction of the ‘Corneto warrior’ in his full panoply, to which we have added from another grave a calotte or cap-helmet, with decoration perhaps suggesting a human face. The Corneto skeleton possibly had an early example of linen corselet (linothorax), fastened with bronze buttons and hooks. It was reinforced with a bronze shoulder piece, and a rectangular breastplate decorated with gold foil and ornamented with stamped patterns of swimming ducks, stylized lotus flowers and other details. The shoulder guard worn on the right (the side not covered by the shield), recalls one from an Achaean grave at Dendra in Argolis; it retains traces of padding, confirming that parts of metal armour were lined with organic materials for comfort. The earlier Etruscan warrior custom of painting the face red would be retained by the Romans for some special ceremonies, in reference to the red-painted statue of Jupiter Capitolinus in the statuarum praetextae ritual.
3. C ‘ORIENTALIZING PERIOD’, NORTHERN ETRURIA, 7th CENTURY BC
(1) Late Villanovan leader from Verucchio area
The presence of crested helmets in the Verucchio graves has led some scholars to suggest that this area was strongly colonized by Tarquinia or Veii, where such helmets were produced. The crest of this example is of painted horsehair mixed with gold threads, as attested by necropolis finds (e.g. grave Lippi 89). At this time the lords of Verucchio were armed with short iron swords in richly decorated scabbards, and ornamented axes. Leaning on his grounded spear is a shield with beautiful embossed decoration; his embossed armour is copied from the Basle Museum specimen.
(2) Rachu Kakanas, Vetulonian leader, with war-chariot
The grave of this named Rasenna-Etruscan dux of Vetulonia was one of the richest in military finds, including the remains of his two-horse chariot, reinforced with bronze disk phalerae of Orientalizing style. Leaning against the wheel, we show the interior of his circular bronze shield 84cm (33in) in diameter, probably manufactured in Tarquinia. His helmet has an extended hemispherical dome and a flared rim. His weapons included a richly ornamented dagger in an ivory scabbard, a spear, knives, and a trapezoidal axe. The plated belt is from examples such as those in drawings on page 27, and we have added a pair of greaves from a neighbouring grave. Note the sceptre, a symbol of command.
(3) Lictor, Vetulonia
The man in the lictor’s grave was probably a soldier armed with a simple sword, axe and two knifes, but bearing on his shoulder the important symbol of the fasces, so was probably a royal guard. He wears a typical padded tunic of the period, and proudly brandishes his fasces, which has a total length of 60cm (23.6in). When different armies formed war alliances, it is believed that lictors were sent to the overall commander by other leaders as a sign of their temporary subordination.
4. D ETRUSCAN EXPANSION. 6th CENTURY BC
(1) Lars Porsenna, Lucumo of Clevsin, with chariot
This is a reconstruction of the Etruscan king immortalized for generations of British schoolboys by Macaulay’s poem Horatius at the Bridge. While there would have been some variations in their equipment, it is likely that the heavily-armoured dynatotatoi would have had a complete panoply: here, a full Corinthian helmet with high lophos, a painted ‘bell-shaped’ cuirass, protections for the thighs, and greaves decorated with embossed lion-masks. His cloak and helmet-crest are in purple and gold, symbolizing his royal power. The chariot is based on a splendid example from Monteleone da Spoleto, decorated with bronze panels representing the myth of Achilles.
(2) Rasenna hoplite of the first class, Clevsin
First-class hoplites wore defences similar to the Greeks, although produced by their own armourers. This high-status warrior, copied from the Tomba della Scimmia (480 BC), has a Chalcidian helmet with Italic-style feather plumes flanking the crest. His early muscled cuirass shows red-lacquered shoulder-guards. He is otherwise protected by greaves, and by a hoplon shield decorated with a possible city blazon. His weapons are a spear and (obscured here) a curved, single-edged kopis sword.
(3) Etruscan horn-player
The simply-dressed hornist plays the precious specimen of a cornu now preserved in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco, Villa Giulia, Rome. This bronze horn is smaller than the later specimens of the Roman Imperial period; derived from prehistoric ox-horn instruments, it is almost circular in shape (ex aere ricurvo). The cross-brace in the middle, to help the hornist hold it steady, was not always present.
5. ETRUSCAN WARS WITH ROME, 5th CENTURY BC
(1) Roman tribunus Aulus Cossus, 437 BC
This officer is based on accounts by Livy and on the bone plaques from Praeneste showing Latin hoplites. He is armed with a spear and a two-edged xiphos sword, and carries a round clipeum shield. The crest and diadem of his Attic-type helmet are (hypothetically) shown here in the same colour. His leather muscled armour is copied from the Roman warrior depicted in the so-called ‘François Tomb’; it was probably moulded and hardened by the cuir-bouilli technique that would be used until the Middle Ages.
(2) Tolumnius, Lucumo of Veii
Livy (IV, 17-19) and Plutarch (Romulus, XVI) give us important attestations to the employment of the linothorax by an Etruscan king. Following the single combat between King Tolumnius of Veii and Aulus Cornelius Cossus in 437 BC, the former’s linen armour was dedicated at the temple of Jupiter Feretrius: ‘… Then he [Aulus] despoiled the lifeless body, and cutting off the head stuck it on his spear, and, carrying it in triumph, routed the enemy… He solemnly dedicated the spoils to Jupiter Feretrius, and hung them in his temple… Augustus Caesar …read that inscription on the linen cuirass with his own eyes.’
(3) Rasenna archer
The use of the composite recurved bow (arcus sinuosus) is attested on painted plaques of the Tarquinii period; constructed of bonded wood and horn, it would have required great strength to draw. Vergil quotes the Etruscan archers using the quiver or leves gorytus (X, 168).
6. THE LAST WARS, 4th CENTURY BC.
(1) Aristocratic Rasenna woman
This Etruscan lady is copied from the Tomba dell’Orco frescoes, and is dressed in the common fashion of ‘Magna Graecia’: a garlanded headdress, discoid earrings, a long cloak over a pleated linen tunic, and calcei repandi on her feet.
(2) Rasenna hoplite from Velzna
Reconstruction of the warrior from the Settecamini tomb near Orvieto, which yielded a Montefortino-style helmet, a shield and a muscled cuirass. Archaeological fragments of Etruscan shields from graves in Perugia and Settecamini give us clear evidence for the heavy phalanx style of fighting in the 5th–4th centuries. The central position of the porpax arm-loop shows that it passed around the arm just below the elbow (see G1), with a handgrip near the rim; this was useful only in the linear ‘shield wall’ formation typical of the hoplite phalanx.
(3) Rasenna hoplite from Tutere
One of the most spectacular statues of warriors, the nearly life-size ‘Mars of Todi’ dated to about 350 BC, shows the employment of lamellar armour. The lamellae could be in bronze or – as suggested by their white colour in many artistic representations – of white metal, or even of an organic material such as bone.
7. THE LATE ETRUSCANS, 3rd CENTURY
(1) Rasenna mercenary, Tarchuna
An inscription from Tarquinia attests to the mercenary service of one of its townsmen at Capua during the Second Punic War. This warrior is copied from the so-called ‘Amazons Sarcophagus’ from Tarquinia, on which the decoration of each corselet is individualized, reflecting real-life practice. One of the major differences between Greek and Etruscan linen corselets in the monuments is that the latter are much more often decorated with painted floral and vegetal patterns.
(2) Rasenna marine, Roman fleet, Punic Wars
Etruscan marines served in the Roman fleet during the Punic Wars. The urns from Volterra which represent sailors or marines of the 3rd–1st centuries show the use of conical felt caps (piloi) and padded or quilted garments, probably made of felt and wool (coactiles and centones). The sea-fighters often employed axes (secures) and long, complex polearms (drepana) to cut the rigging of enemy ships when they came together for boarding actions.
(3) Aristocratic eques Marcnal Tetina; Clevsin, 225–200 BC
The last period of Etruscan armour-making shows the employment of composite armours with linen, padded and scale elements. Richly elaborated ‘Hellenistic’ helmets seem to be represented, worn by warriors on Etruscan urns from Volterra dated around 200 BC. These are often of the Phrygian shape, with a forward-curling extension of the dome, decorated cheek-guards, and two feather side-plumes.
8. ETRUSCANS IN THE ROMAN ARMY, 2nd–1st CENTURIES BC
Painted urns from Volterra show cornicines and lictores attending victors or magistrates; this lictor is copied from the Tomba del Convegno (Monterozzi necropolis, Tarquinia). He is wearing the toga gabina and carries an iron double-axe (bipennis).
An unusual urn from Volterra, representing the myth of Eteocles and Polynices, shows the brothers dressed like Roman cavalrymen of the period, with Boeotian helmets fitted with the geminae pinnae of Mars, shields of popanum typology, leather armour (spolas), greaves, and short swords.
This Roman centurion, copied from an urn in Florence Museum, wears a pseudo-Corinthian helmet fitted with a crista transversa. His composite armour is made of leather (shoulder-guards), padded material (main corselet), and on the chest bronze scales (squamae). Note his calcei boots, and the richly varied colours of his panoply.
Reconstructed from the Sarteana urn, this Roman miles wears a late Montefortino helmet found in Forum Novum. His body armour combines a bronze kardiophylax breastplate and a linothorax corselet. We have added a single left greave and the curved oblong legionary scutum of his time; his weapons are the hasta and the deadly gladius hispaniensis.
The absorption of Etruria into Rome saw leading Etruscan families climbing the government hierarchy. This official, copied from the famous statue of Aule Metele, wears the toga exigua over a tunica; the latter’s purple angusticlavi, and the gold ring on his left hand, identify him as a member of the equestrian order. Hidden here, he would also be wearing high calcei boots with lingula, and fastened by corrigiae.
Unlike later Roman conflicts for which we have more sources, the Etruscan Wars do not survive well in the ancient sources, numerous difficulties arise in assembling their course. These wars occurred so early in Roman history that extensive elements of the early narratives are shrouded in mythology and should be heavily discounted. Livy is our best surviving source for this early period, but he wrote four centuries after the events and drew on sources that were recorded at least two centuries after the events they described. Also, his account does not become more detailed until the last phase of the Etruscan conflict, and then it breaks off abruptly with events in 293. The problems in all of our sources are such that no continuous narrative of the Etruscan Wars can be reconstructed. It is, however, possible to discern at places the general course of the wars.
The Etruscan Wars began with Rome’s three wars against the city of Veii, beginning in 483 BCE. Veii was a successful Etruscan city nine miles north of Rome. Both cities were of similar size and strength and had been in competition for years. It is not clear from our sources which side struck first, but the warfare was annual, and the raiding by both sides continued alongside regular campaigns. There was a Roman battle victory in 480, but the Veiians were still able to invade and set up a camp in Roman territory on the Janiculum Hill. In response, the Fabian clan of Romans set up a fort in Veiian territory on the Cremera River. Veii destroyed this fort in 477. Finally in 474, the two sides signed a 40-year truce.
As it happened, the truce coincided with the Battle of Cumae off central Italy. The Greek tyrant Hiero I of Syracuse, allied with Aristodemus of Cumae, defeated a large Etruscan fleet in the bay of Naples. Rome played no role in the engagement, but the naval battle resulted in the end of Etruscan hegemony in central Italy and left a power vacuum into which Rome would eventually turn its energies.
The second war with Veii began in 437 when the Veiian leader Lars Tolumnius had Roman ambassadors murdered. In the ensuing warfare, Tolumnius died in single combat. In 436 or 435, Rome attacked and began to siege the Veiian city of Fidenae. Roman soldiers tunneled into the city’s citadel, capturing it. Remarkably, no other Etruscan city sent aid to Fidenae or Veii, so they had to sign a 30-year truce in 435. The final conflict with Veii began when Rome attacked it directly after the Veiians refused to pay an indemnity for the prior conflict. Rome laid siege to Veii. Livy’s report that the siege lasted 10 years and ended the same way as the siege of Fidenae are too poetic to be true. There may have been a siege, and the city did fall in circa 396 and was absorbed into Roman territory. The end of this conflict was merely the end of the first phase in the Etruscan Wars.
There was a brief war (358-351) between Rome and the Etruscan city of Tarquinii, which was later supported by the Etruscan communities of Falerii and Caere. Tarquinii soldiers raided Roman territory, and when they refused to pay reparations, the war began. As with so many Roman wars in this period, the quality of the leadership and combat was erratic, so the war dragged on. Rome won a major victory in 353, forcing Caere to sign a truce, and two years later after much pillaging, Tarquinii and Falerii signed truces also, ending the war. As with the prior conflict, most of the Etruscan communities did not send aid, though this pattern is not surprising given that the Etruscans did not maintain a federal or imperial system.
The final phase of the Etruscan Wars began in 311 when Etruscan cities, probably Volsinii, Perusia, Cortona, Arretium, and Clusium, banded together and attacked the Roman colony at Sutrium, in formerly Etruscan territory. What triggered the attack is not recorded, but it may have been connected with Roman warfare with the Samnites and Gauls. Rome responded aggressively, forcing Perusia, Cortona, and Arretium to sign treaties in 311 and forcing Volsinii to sign a treaty in 308. Even after bringing these cities to make peace, the Romans continued fighting in Etruria annually as the Samnites tried to forge a broader alliance to distract or crush Rome. This phase of the war turned more aggressive after the Battle of Sentinum against a Samnite coalition in 295. Roman commanders moved against the Etruscan cities that had allied with the Samnites, and more vigorous annual, or nearly so, campaigns into Etruria continued.
After 293 Livy’s narrative is lost for most of the third century, so there are only occasional notices. In 284 a Roman army was defeated by Gauls with Etruscan allies near Arretium, but in 283 Rome defeated a similar force at Lake Vadimon. By 280, the Etruscan communities of Vulci, Volsinii, Rusellae, Vetulonia, Populonia, Volaterrae, and Tarquinii had been forced to become allies of Rome. Caere’s conquest in 273 was the effective end of the Etruscan Wars. A last gasp occurred when Falerii revolted in 241, but the city was was razed and its population relocated as an example to other allies. Rome finally had unchallenged dominance of Etruria.
The Etruscan Wars read as if the outcome was a foregone conclusion, but it is important to recall that Rome lost numerous battles, and for a time early in the wars, part of its territory was occupied. During the later phase of the wars, Rome was distracted with wars in central Italy but still managed to bring this series of conflicts to a conclusion.
Rome benefited immensely in the long term from the war. Starting with the elimination of Veii and the seizure of its territory in 396, Rome added a great deal of territory to its public holdings. Rome also established a number of colonies that had the economic benefit of removing some of the poor from the city by giving them land elsewhere but also spreading Roman commercial interests and control over resources. Rome also gained control over Etruria, thus freeing up resources for employment to the south and adding to Rome’s pool of allied manpower reserves. This was the first war in which Rome fielded an army that included as many or more allied troops as legionaries. Rome applied the military, commercial, and colonial practices that evolved to win the Etruscan Wars to later conflicts in central and southern Italy. These wars contributed immensely to Rome’s later success.
Another consequence of these wars was internal political change in Rome. In his narrative, Livy connects the wars with a number of points in Rome’s political conflict called the Struggle of the Orders. During the wars, the Plebeians used crises to assert their demands. Thus, tribunes of the Plebeians were able to assert independent authority, the first Plebeian consul was elected, and the first Plebeian dictator was named. The Etruscan Wars were not internal conflicts in Rome, but they contributed to internal political change.
While the wars spread destruction and turmoil, over the long term they were an immense boon to Rome. They laid much of the groundwork for later Roman military and economic success. The Etruscan allies were sufficiently satisfied with the arrangement that when Hannibal invaded Italy in 218, they contributed men to Rome’s armies and remained loyal. When the Social War erupted, Rome’s allies participated but accepted the offers of citizenship and peace early. Shrouded in legend and lost sources, the Etruscan Wars were an important episode in Roman military history.