Total Colonial Warfare: Ethiopia I

Like no other Italian city, Rome symbolized the Fascist experience. The past was evoked by a huge monument with the inscription “Mussolini Dux” near the sports center Foro Italico, and by a series of architectural reminders in the form of bombastic buildings, large avenues, and spacious squares, which formed an ideal background for military parades and mass meetings. Even the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935-6 left its footprint in the old capital of the Impero dell’Africa Italiana. One of the famous Axumite monoliths, which dates from the fourth century, still stands next to the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, although the Italian government has now promised to return it to Ethiopia as soon as possible. The obelisk was transported to Rome as a war trophy in 1937. Rome’s northeastern districts also display reminders of colonial times. “Viale Eritrea,” “viale Etiopia,” “viale Somalia,” “via Adua,” “via Dessie,” “via Tembien,” “via Endert ` a,” and “Piazza Addis Abeba” all ` refer to geographical locations in eastern Africa, which were sites of major battles in the Italo-Ethiopian War.

Even though the signs of the colonial past are still manifest, historians and the general public have until recently suppressed memories of the Italo-Ethiopian War. In contrast to the interwar commentary, Italian historiography has since 1945 been reticent about the Italian colonial experience and the colonial wars on the African continent, even though these conflicts had exercised a formative influence on the young nation-state for seventy-five years. The subject was long regarded as unworthy of mention. Defeat in World War II and the resulting loss of the Italian colonies as a status symbol led to this state of affairs. As a result, Italian historiography remained relatively unaffected by the turmoil of decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s. Even the Roman Catholic Church, particularly Pope Pius XI and his advisers Monsignor Pizzardo and Monsignor Tardini, never officially criticized the war in Abyssinia, despite ancient diplomatic relations between the Coptic Church and the Vatican. Fascism never hesitated to cooperate with as many supporters as possible. Moreover, the church and its missionaries were well versed in the game of imperialism. The exponents of the consolata order were literally mobilized to promote the war, and the fascist party exploited the idea of Italy’s “civilizing mission” in Africa to justify the cause. Thus, both clerical and secular authorities supported the seizure of Ethiopia. In most European historiographies, imperialism has registered as a narrative of colonial warfare. Italian expansionism provides no exception to this rule. But while the colonial histories of other imperialist powers featured wars of nation-states against stateless societies, Italian expansion in East Africa in the 1930s featured a war between two states. Both were members of the League of Nations, although they differed profoundly in their political, economic, and military development.

One telling example illustrates the disparity in military strength. In March 1929 young Ras Tafari challenged his last rival, Ras Gugsa Wolie. He achieved final victory thanks to a mysterious weapon, a single airplane that bombarded his enemy’s army. Soon after the victory, Ras Tafari was proclaimed emperor of Ethiopia and adopted the name Haile Selassie, “Power of Trinity.” Even as he did so, several hundred Italian officers, engineers, and scientists deliberated about the character of future war, its proper objectives and methods. In this connection, they seized on the idea of a “nothing-but-air war.” The enemy’s civilian population, not its armed forces, was to be targeted. In earlier wars civilians had been involved in military action and suffered attack, but never as directly, massively, or on such a sustained basis as the Italian advocates of air power now recommended. The employment of fleets of bombers represented one of several doctrines that emerged during the interwar period, but it was a central feature of the next European war.

The central question in this essay pertains to the character and significance of the Italo-Ethiopian War in the military history of the twentieth century. Was it an unlimited war of conquest, fought with all available financial, economic, and military means? Or was it a traditional colonial war, with limited expenditures and restricted war aims? Do lines of continuity extend from the first Italian expansion into East Africa, which culminated in the disaster of Adowa in 1896, to the Italo-Ethiopian War of the 1930s; or are there significant disjunctures between these two imperial episodes?

Statistics are lacking about the total number of those killed, injured, or imprisoned during this second East African war. Nor is it clear how many people starved to death, were dislodged or raped, or were crippled for life. The Italian historian Angelo Del Boca has estimated that on the Ethiopian side, 55,000 to 70,000 combatants were killed on the two fronts of the war – the southern, Somali front and the northern, Eritrean front. According to the files of the Central Archive in Rome, the Italians lost some 9,000 men. These numbers cover the period between October 10, 1935, and May 5, 1936, which marked out the official duration of the war. In addition, 500 Italian workers, who had been recruited for road construction in Africa, were killed. The soldiers and officers killed in action were generously decorated with medals. On average, every fourth fatality earned a medal.

In this “war of seven months,” mass armies fought one another. While the Italian armed forces comprised five hundred thousand combatants, the Negus managed to mobilize only half that number. In addition, the Ethiopians lacked modern equipment, weapons, and ammunition, as well as the financial resources to provision a larger army. There was thus a great material imbalance between the opponents. In spite of the discrepancies, Haile Selassie decided to confront his enemy with regular armies. He rejected the idea of a guerilla warfare, which would presumably have brought him a tactical advantage, for such a people’s war might have jeopardized his own claim to the imperial throne. In most of the five principal battles of the war, the Ethiopians were thus the weaker party, not only numerically but also technologically and logistically. In the fall of 1935, shortly before the conflict began, there were 170,000 soldiers, 65,000 ascaris, and 38,000 workers ready for war in Africa on the Italian side. In May 1936 there were twice as many – about 330,000 soldiers, 87,000 ascaris, and 100,000 workers. Ninety-thousand pack animals and 14,000 motor vehicles of various categories, from automobiles to trucks, supported the Italian forces. The effective Italian armaments included 10,000 machine-guns, 1,100 artillery pieces, 250 tanks, and 350 warplanes, most of which were reconnaissance planes and bombers. The daily petrol consumption of these machines exceeded Italy’s total petrol consumption during World War I. The Italian navy transported soldiers, building materials, and arms to the African colonies. Altogether 900,000 soldiers and civilians, as well as several hundred thousand tons of goods, were shipped to the colonies and back.

The most evident consequence of the Italo-Ethiopian War, and later the Spanish Civil War, was the loss of military effectiveness. Manpower and arms were exhausted. Fifteen hundred airplanes were lost during the two wars – about 20 percent of the air force’s entire capacity. In the aftermath, Italy had to increase exports of its own warplanes in order to finance imports of critical raw materials. The backwardness of Italy’s military technology on the eve of World War II was the product of the conflicts of 1935-6 and 1936-9. Diminished productive capacity and the expense of technological innovation impeded the modernization of the Italian military until the outbreak of World War II.

According to the initial plans, the Italo-Ethiopian War was supposed to cost 1.5 to 2 billion lire. But the financial burden amounted to 1 billion lire per month. Including the preparation of the campaign and the period of reconstruction shortly after the war, Italy spent about 57,303,000,00 lire from 1935 to 1940. The short-term effect of the Italo-Ethiopian War was to encourage Italian heavy industry, particularly the armament industries, and to reduce unemployment. But the country’s financial reserves diminished rapidly. From 1935 to 1940 some 77 billion lire were consumed by the costs of the wars in Ethiopia, Spain, Albania, and the pacification campaigns in East Africa. This sum corresponded to two-thirds of the military budget of that period.

The first serious plans for the campaign were initiated by Emilio De Bono, the minister of colonial affairs. He ordered two complementary studies. Within three months, the military experts in Asmara had prepared a memorandum dated September 8, 1932, which described a scenario for offensive war against Ethiopia. In December 1932 the second plan, an analysis of a defensive war, had been completed, too. The plan for the offensive war assumed that Europe was at peace and that Italy had arranged a diplomatic agreement with France and Great Britain, the two other powers that were interested in stability in the African Horn. The second memorandum, on the defensive war, posited an Ethiopian attack during a period of instability in Europe, during which the metropolitan army’s movement to Africa would be impeded. The first of these plans assumed that on the Italian side a colonial army of 35,000 regular soldiers and 50,000 mercenaries would suffice. Within one month, the Ethiopian army was supposed to mobilize 50,000 to 60,000 soldiers. Within three months, however, Ethiopian mobilization was to comprise between 200,000 and 300,000 men. The maximum force available on the Ethiopian side was supposed to reach 500,000 men. In the second plan, nearly all the manpower on the Italian side had to be provided by the colonies of Eritrea and Somalia. About 60,000 to 80,000 Eritreans would be called to arms. The equipment had to be imported from Italy, but the quantity and quality of the requested material was to depend on the military situation in Europe. In order to be prepared for any of the alternatives, offensive or defensive, on November 29, 1932, De Bono called for the deployment of at least a hundred airplanes, which the aircraft industry was to supply. He thus based his plans on the speed of Italian mobilization and on the destructive potential of warplanes, for he knew that the Ethiopian side possessed only a handful of airplanes and antiaircraft guns. De Bono planned to invade the Ethiopian plateau from the north. A second attack, from Italian Somaliland, was not considered at this time, because environmental conditions were regarded as too harsh for Europeans and Eritrean ascaris alike.

In 1932 Pietro Badoglio, the chief of the Supreme General Staff and governor of the North African colonies, became De Bono’s rival for leadership of the campaign. The rivalry grew in the ill-defined competencies of the Fascist bureaucracy. As governor of Libya, Badoglio was the colonial minister’s subordinate, but in military affairs De Bono was Badoglio’s. As chief of the Supreme General Staff, Badoglio coordinated the three branches of the armed forces and held the higher rank. The bureaucratic jungle encouraged the accumulation of important positions, however, and in this case, the issue was complicated by the involvement of Mussolini himself in his drive to institutionalize his own military power. In July 1933 he took over the War Ministry. Four months later he took over the Air Ministry and the Navy Ministry. The undersecretaries in the three ministries acted respectively as chiefs of the general staff of the army, the air force, and the navy. In the autumn of 1933, however, Mussolini designated De Bono, informally and secretly, as the military leader of a future African campaign, which both men anticipated would begin in 1935. Ignorant of the agreement, Badoglio worked out his own operational schedules for a campaign that carried special emotional significance for him: He had seen service at Adowa in 1896. However, he reckoned with a longer mobilization, which would conclude only in 1936; and he warned that the campaign would drastically weaken Italy’s military force in Europe. He expressed these concerns in a letter to Mussolini on January 20, 1934. A war against Ethiopia, he wrote, would not be one of the “usual colonial ventures.” It would be real war. It would catch the eye of the whole world and take place under completely different circumstances than the war of 1896. As Haile Selassie’s incipient modernization of the Ethiopian army made clear, that country was well aware of Italy’s desire for revenge for Adowa. In addition to the regular armies of his vassals, he had built up an Imperial Army, a kind of personal guard of several thousand men, all of whom were well equipped and well trained by Belgian instructors. Badoglio stressed that many Ethiopian officers had been trained in European military academies. Finally, Badoglio emphasized that the war would be fought by Italians, for he did not regard the Eritrean ascaris as reliable.

With countless problems waiting for solution, preparations continued secretly and at high speed after August 1934. The Italian ports in the Red Sea, Assab and Massawa, were enlarged, war materials were built up, pack animals bought, camps constructed, and the whole infrastructure improved. In addition, several landing fields were constructed. The colonial administration in Eritrea recruited most of the people who had earlier served in the Colonial Army. The training of the ascaris took place in special camps in Libya. Suddenly, at the end of 1934, Mussolini’s role became known, when he issued an appeal for war and explained to Badoglio the special features of the campaign he intended to “dictate” from Rome. He had become a convinced supporter of the campaign, for he recognized Ethiopia’s military inferiority. He wanted a decisive, powerful takeover, and he wanted it to happen quickly. The timing was crucial. A war 4,000 kilometers from home was feasible only while peace survived in Europe. The dictator trusted that a Franco-Italian diplomatic arrangement, which was imminent, would at least temporarily stabilize the European continent. In his memorandum of December 30, 1934, he scheduled the beginning of operations for October 1935. The goal of the war was to “destroy the Ethiopian Army and achieve the total conquest of the land” in a minimum amount of time. The sooner the war was over, he reasoned, the less resistance would arise in Europe, mainly from Great Britain and France.

In the view of the historian Giorgio Rochat, this memorandum held the key to Italy’s military policy in the interwar period. Rochat argued that Mussolini regarded the Ethiopian war as an opportunity to win broader support from the Italian middle classes. Ethiopia was hence, in Rochat’s opinion, no prelude to the conquest of other regions in Africa or Asia. Rochat’s interpretation of the war did not differ substantially from the analysis that he himself offered of the first Italian expansion into East Africa in the nineteenth century. In 1935 the proportions of the conflict were merely more vast. Nonetheless, Mussolini called his Ethiopian war a “national war.” The transition from colonial to national war was also analyzed by Esmonde Robertson. Like Rochat, he interpreted the war as an Italian response to an opportunity. He attributed the campaign in East Africa to an “improvised decision,” not to a systematic line of policy. Robertson’s interpretation portrayed the Italo-Ethiopian War as the last venture of European imperialism.

Historians are nowadays extending the investigation of modern military history. The “master narrative of total war” has itself been challenged and enlarged. Analysis is turning to neglected aspects of total warfare, such as the specific methods of war, mobilization, and the attempt to keep warfare under control – to make total war “practical.” If total war is conceived as the totalization of all these elements, the concept can be useful in comparing the world wars in Europe with the colonial war that was fought in East Africa in the 1930s.

However, two objections can be raised to this comparison straightaway. The first is the utter incomparability of the civilian casualties. The second is the fact that purists among the military thinkers in interwar Italy did not use the term guerra integrale to describe war overseas.

Total Colonial Warfare: Ethiopia II

Map showing the military actions from 1935 to February 1936.

Map showing the military actions from February to May 1936.

Giulio Douhet was one of the first to define the distinction between guerra totale and guerra integrale. The term guerra totale implied a war fought with all means against combatants. Guerra integrale, by contrast, implied a war fought against noncombatants as well. Other contemporary thinkers took up Douhet’s arguments and elaborated on the difference between the two concepts. Thereafter, strategists in Italy and elsewhere were not content to restrict their plans to land warfare or decisive battles among regular armies. Airplanes and noncombatants had become central in their thinking. Future wars would take place everywhere and encompass everyone. The morale of civil populations, friendly and enemy alike, would be essential. As formulated by Douhet and his disciples, the concept of a guerra integrale in Europe emphasized a war against civilians. In his pioneering writings on air power, Douhet noted in 1921 that the enemy’s urban centers should be destroyed. He considered aerial bombardment an effective and efficient solution to the stalemate of land warfare. He worked out the doctrine of the “command of the air,” which represented the prize of aerial warfare among technologically advanced nations. The tools of strategic bombing were explosives, incendiary bombs, and poison gas. Paradoxically, Douhet wrote, the annihilation of the enemy’s cities and industrial production would shorten the war and spare the lives of soldiers.

Living conditions in the colonial world, where there were few cities or areas of industrial concentration, hardly conformed to this vision. Nonetheless, colonial warfare resembled European war in the twentieth century in at least one respect, which might not be immediately apparent. Beginning with the Italo-Turkish War in 1911-12 and through the Great War, the “pacification” of Libya in the 1920s, the Italo-Ethiopian War, the Spanish Civil War, the invasion of Albania and finally World War II, Italy experienced war, both in Europe and overseas, almost without interruption for more than three decades. While theorists such as Douhet, Amedeo Guillet, Ugo Fischetti, and Ernesto Coop pondered the question of war in Europe, colonial officers, such as Rodolfo Graziani, Riccardo Barreca, and Ambrogio Bollati, focused on colonial warfare. Italian military doctrine evolved in the exchange of ideas and experiences between these two camps, primarily through the medium of the military journals.

De Bono moved to Eritrea in early 1935 in order to supervise the preparations for the campaign. As war broke out in October, De Bono, who was supposed to invade the Ethiopian plateau, hesitated. As soon as Mussolini became aware of the old general’s behavior, he dismissed him and named Badoglio his successor. Meanwhile, Badoglio had developed a series of new operational plans, which testified to his aggressiveness and enthusiasm for the campaign. The fact that he had also dropped his demand to delay the war until 1936 convinced Mussolini to choose him. In his operational plans Badoglio relied on air power, which was to bomb enemy combatants and to destroy the Ethiopian military infrastructure, including lines of strategic communication and supply centers. Badoglio assumed that the enemy troops would operate in masses, so bombers could locate objectives and inflict great damage. “200 kilometers south of our borders, our aircraft could cause such devastation that an army of 300,000 soldiers would be forced to withdraw,” he wrote. His strategy featured a colossal march over more than 800 kilometers, from Eritrea to the capital of the Ethiopian Empire, Addis Ababa. Passing through Adowa, the invading column was to advance steadily southward by foot or on motor vehicles. Warplanes were to precede the convoy and “prepare the territory,” bombing every city and intimidating the country’s population. Everything of importance was to be bombed with explosives and incendiaries. Terror was to reign. Badoglio’s war plans exceeded the traditional dimensions of limited colonial warfare. Indeed, Badoglio’s plans appear to have absorbed much of Douhet’s vision of future warfare. The totalization of warfare had become a necessity. Italy could not stand a long war, for Mussolini’s military advisers feared a deterioration of the political situation in Europe after 1936.

In November 1935 Badoglio assumed command of all the armed forces on the Eritrean and Somali fronts. Some three-quarters of the mobilized soldiers and officers thus came under his direct command. In Mogadishu, the other quarter of the Italian forces was commanded by general Rodolfo Graziani, who oversaw his part of the campaign with great autonomy and was more answerable to Mussolini than Badoglio, his immediate superior in the chain of command.

The war was fought against an enemy who was from the beginning at an enormous disadvantage. In fact, the war presented the Italians with a unique opportunity to practice aspects of modern warfare with little risk. Logistics were put to a severe test, because nearly everything had to be imported from Italy. Thousands of soldiers, officers, blackshirt volunteers, and workers were mobilized; and even the ascaris were allowed to demonstrate their reliability.

Immense effort went into the propaganda of war in Italy, the colonies, and the Ethiopian regions close to the borders. A Ministry of Propaganda was established in 1935 to confront its first challenge in the Italo-Ethiopian War. Critics were to be silenced by means of coordinated official communiques. Censorship of written correspondence, telephone calls, telegraphic ‘ communications, and the radio was to do the rest. Journals, literary and scientific reports, and books were full of war propaganda, which extended to the theatre, cinema, songs and poetry, museums, research centers, exhibitions, postcards, and stamps, even into comics and children’s books. Imperial expansion and war were portrayed as necessary. In the illustrated reviews, photography and printing depicted the color and exoticism of colonial life. The subjects of the propaganda were the heroic Italian soldiers, militiamen, and workers, who were fighting for the glory of the new empire in the distant colonies.

In Africa, De Bono set up rudimentary offices of censorship, in Asmara and in Mogadishu, in January 1935. Thereafter the flow of military and personal information from the front to families in Italy or abroad, and from families to the front, was put under increasing control. The censors read the reports of hundreds of Italian and foreign correspondents. Journalists were gathered together in an elaborate media center, which was established in an old camp near Asmara, far from the front. The center included a dining room, a settlement of huts for lodging, and a special office that supplied journalists with photographs and documentation, as well as a post office and a telegraph and telephone station. Within eight months, 80,000 meters of film were recorded, and some eight thousand official photos were shot, to be reproduced more than three hundred fifty thousand times. In addition, special newspapers and radio transmissions went out to the soldiers and road-builders. The purpose of all this effort was to keep up the morale of listeners and readers and to promote a ruthless policy.

The correspondence carried by airplane or ship to and from Eritrea and Italian Somaliland amounted to two million letters and postcards monthly. The censors selectively read two hundred thousand pieces of civilian correspondence and a similar amount of military correspondence. Reports from the front were read with special attention, and letters that contained sensitive information were censored. This procedure allowed the political and military leaders to keep abreast of the general situation in other countries, as well as the Italian people’s feelings about the invasion of Ethiopia and reactions to the sanctions that the League of Nations imposed. Of greatest importance was the correspondence to and from Italy. Surveys of censored correspondence were transmitted to the ministries, secret services, and the secret police, who could use it to reconstruct regional patterns of resistance to the war.

The army’s secret service (Servizio Informazioni Militari, SIM), the navy’s secret service (Servizio Informazioni Segreti, SIS), and the information service of the air force (Servizio Informazioni Aeronautiche, SIA) decoded telegraphic correspondence within Ethiopia, including messages sent to and from the emperor and telegrams among the Ethiopian military commanders. In this way the Italians were normally well informed about the enemy’s armament, mobilization, and, later in the war, about crucial troop movements. A staff of translators and spies kept information and rumors flowing. As the process took on a certain momentum, the mass of news to be controlled and censored (or the rumors to be spread) increased. Errors and misinterpretations were impossible to avoid. Sometimes secret information on Italian military operations leaked out. But on the whole, the “information front” underwent totalization in this war.

Neither Badoglio nor Graziani shied away from using chemical weapons. Although Italy had in 1928 ratified the international convention forbidding the use of chemical and bacteriological weapons, this document proved to be no obstacle. The “pacification” of Libya in the 1920s concluded as Italians employed chemical agents, although military operations in Libya did not find much echo in public opinion. In the case of Ethiopia, the use of chemical agents was long planned. The documents that related to chemical weapons were treated with great discretion, and use of gas was often only implied. In his memorandum of December 1934, Mussolini ordered “absolute superiority in artillery and gas weapons.” The commander of the chemical services in Eritrea had already completed studies of gas warfare by the spring of 1934. He concluded that the terrain, meteorological conditions, and an enemy who would be unprepared all favored the use of gas. His report recommended its employment as soon as the Ethiopian Army came within range of the air force. The results would be effective if the Ethiopians’ routes and rallying points were properly contaminated. Nor were Ethiopian soldiers to be the only people targeted. E. Venditti, the chief of the chemical services in Asmara, wrote in February 1935 that the air force should also use fire-bombs, in order to destroy Ethiopian huts, which were built of highly flammable materials such as tree branches, twigs, and straw.

In his correspondence with Badoglio in February 1935, Giuseppe Valle, the undersecretary in the Air Force Ministry and chief of staff of the air force, also proposed the use of chemical agents in bombing Ethiopian cities, such as Addis Ababa, Gondar, and Harrar.

Chemical weapons, above all mustard gas, were in fact used during the Italo-Ethiopian War. Gas was not, however, released over the capital. It was instead employed in remote areas, over provincial towns, against the armed forces, and later against the guerillas. Rochat, who pioneered research on the gas war in Ethiopia, calculated that before January 1936 about 300 tons of mustard gas were used on the northern front. On the southern front, 30,500 kilograms of mustard gas and 13,300 kilograms of phosgene were put to use. 35 On the variety and quantity of bombs used in the following months, there is little information.

Bacteriological weapons were not used in the campaign, although De Bono had suggested the idea in February 1935 and Mussolini had welcomed it early in 1936. The Italian failure to employ these weapons was not due to Badoglio’s humanitarian feelings. It was rather a question of political rationality. The overwhelming superiority of the Italian Army after the battle of Enderta had altered the situation. Badoglio did not want to attract ` the animosity of the local population by needlessly harming Italy’s future subjects. Particularly in the Tigray region, the official policy became one of reparation in 1936, as the Italians tried to make amends for the damage they had caused. This policy, too, was part of the propaganda effort to win the confidence of the local elites, above all the clergy. Between February and April 1936 at least 476,000 leaflets, printed in Amharic, Tigrine, and Arabic, were dropped by airplane over villages and towns. In some cases buildings and Coptic churches were reconstructed, indemnities were paid, and village chiefs were allowed to lodge complaints about marauding troops at the newly established bureaus of the unita politiche `.

Many aspects of the war against the civilian population are waiting to be examined. While there is a good paper on the attitude of the International Committee of the Red Cross, we know little about the treatment of Ethiopian civilians in the north and south. Given the rivalry between Badoglio on the northern front and Graziani on the southern, we can speculate about different military priorities and their effects on combatants as well as noncombatants. The impact of the Italo-Ethiopian War on civilians deserves an important place in the totalization of war in the twentieth century. The employment of forbidden weapons is but one dimension of this story. Another is the perception of the enemy, combatants and noncombatants alike. The Italians’ representation of the Ethiopian enemy was deeply influenced by fascist ideology. Racism became a prominent feature in it, as the mass media celebrated the beauty of war, and millions of Italians professed adoration for the Duce. The Italo-Ethiopian War was thus of fundamental significance in the regime’s pursuit of two goals: the militarization of society and the fascistization of the army.

While the ruling Ethiopian elites fought for survival, for Ethiopia’s independence, and the preservation of their own social and economic positions, Italy’s war aims were more limited. Unlike Libya, Ethiopia was not to become a settlement colony for Italian peasants. The goals of the Italian leadership were to destroy the Ethiopian army and to conquer the land in a short period of time. Officially the war lasted seven months. But the conquest of Ethiopia was by no means complete. Italian propaganda misrepresented the situation, as it spread the news that Italy had accomplished its “total” aims.

Nor did the conflict approach “total war” in other respects. Although a huge army was supplied for the first time with motor vehicles and from the air, the tactical and strategic lessons of the war were modest. Italian leaders were aware that they could not have waged war in the same fashion against an enemy that was armed with a comparable air force, artillery, and antiaircraft guns, or one that could exploit the same kind of mobilization and propaganda machinery as the Italians enjoyed.

Nonetheless, the enormous financial, propagandistic, and military exertions caused by the Italo-Ethiopian War vastly exceeded the parameters of nineteenth-century imperialism. The doctrines and techniques of warfare, the mobilization of society, and the attempt to establish total control over the war effort all reached dimensions unknown in the previous century.

Military violence, new weapons systems, and the full powers of propaganda were used against noncombatants as well as combatants. Involving civilians in war in this fashion admittedly resembled practices in earlier wars of colonial conquest, but it also conformed no less to the futuristic vision laid out in Europe’s military academies, military journals, and general staffs.

The Italian mobilization for war was impressive. Several hundred thousand tons of war material and some nine hundred thousand men were transported to Africa. In addition, the war had had a tremendous impact on the minds of the Italian people, as it forged a kind of community feeling. As Italian historians emphasized in the 1970s, the war served in this way the purpose for which it was launched, to legitimize the Fascist regime. Growing popular self-esteem went hand-in-hand with the expansion of the Fascist Empire. During the war the populace was increasingly subjected to government control. The incessant repetition of the message that Mussolini and the military commanders in the colony had the situation well in hand created a climate of stability and faith in the regime. Propaganda pervaded nearly ‘ every sphere of life – schools, youth organizations, trade unions, leisure time, women’s organizations, and, to a certain extent, even the church, as well as the armed forces. Above all in its methods, in its wholesale mobilization of the population, the attempt to establish total control, and the systematic waging of war on civilians, the Italo-Ethiopian War represented an important way station on the road to total war.

Sioux-USA War 1862-64

Minnesota Sioux Uprising, August 1862

By 1862, the Santee Sioux had given up their traditional homelands, which comprised most of southern Minnesota, in exchange for a narrow reservation on the southern bank of the Minnesota River. As compensation for their lands, the Sioux were to receive cash annuities and supplies that would enable them to live without the resources from their traditional hunting grounds. Because of administrative delays, however, both the cash and food had not arrived by the summer of 1862. Crop failures the previous fall made the late food delivery particularly distressing to the Indians. Encroachment by settlers on reservation land and the unfair practices of many American traders also fueled Sioux suspicions and hatred. Furthermore, the Sioux were emboldened by the Minnesotans’ relative weakness, brought on by the departure of many of their young men to fight in the Civil War. This combination of hunger, hatred, and the perceived weakness of the Minnesotans and the local military created an explosive situation that needed only a spark to bring on a full-scale war.

The spark came on 17 August 1862 when four Sioux warriors murdered five settlers near Acton, Minnesota. On 18 August, Indians at the Lower Sioux Agency rebelled, killing most of the settlers on their reservation. A few escapees managed to reach Fort Ridgely and warn its commander, Captain John S. Marsh, of the rebellion. Marsh and 47 men subsequently sortied from the fort only to be ambushed at Redwood Ferry, where half of them, including Marsh, were killed. Twenty-four soldiers managed to return to Fort Ridgely.

News of the rebellion spread quickly through the settler and Indian communities. For the Sioux, this was a catharsis of violence; for the settlers, a nightmare had come true. Most settlers in the Minnesota River Valley had no experience with warring Indians. Those who did not flee fast enough to a fort or defended settlement were at the Indians’ mercy. The Sioux killed most of the settlers they encountered but often made captives of the women and children. In response, the Army marshaled its available strength, 180 men, at Fort Ridgely, where well-sited artillery helped the soldiers fend off two Sioux attacks. At the town of New Ulm, a magnet for settlers fleeing the rebellion, defenders also repulsed two Indian attacks. The stout resistance of the settlers and soldiers effectively halted the spread of the rebellion.

Now, the military seized the initiative. A relief expedition under Colonel Henry H. Sibley arrived at Fort Ridgely on 27 August 1862. Sibley’s command consisted largely of green recruits with second-rate weapons. The Sioux surprised and inflicted a tactical defeat on Sibley’s men at Birch Coulee on 2 September. This minor setback, in any case, did not change the course of the campaign. From 2 to 18 September, Sibley drilled his soldiers and received supplies and reinforcements, including 240 veterans of the 3d Minnesota Infantry Regiment. On 19 September, Sibley resumed his advance. This time, the expedition encountered and defeated the Sioux at Wood Lake on 23 September 1862. Three days later, hostilities ended when some of the Santee Sioux surrendered and released their 269 captives. However, many of those that had participated in the uprising fled west into the Dakotas. Outraged over the uprising, state authorities executed 38 Indian prisoners and banished the other captive Sioux to reservations outside Minnesota.

The Sioux Campaigns of 1863 and 1864

In late 1862, the Army lacked the resources to pursue the Santee Sioux who fled west into the Dakotas. It wasn’t until the summer of 1863 that General John Pope, Commander of the Department of the Northwest, managed to collect enough resources to continue the campaign. He directed his subordinates to conduct a two-pronged campaign to find and punish the fugitive Santee Sioux and to threaten both the Yankton and Teton Sioux who had begun to support their Eastern brethren. Pope’s overall goal was to secure Minnesota’s western border from any Indian threat.

Brigadier General Henry H. Sibley commanded a 3,000-man column that marched west from Camp Pope, Minnesota. Brigadier General Alfred Sully commanded the second column. His command of about 1,200 men consisted of volunteer cavalry units from Iowa and Nebraska and some supporting artillery. He marched north from Fort Randall, South Dakota. The plan called for the two columns to rendezvous near Devils Lake in North Dakota.

Sibley’s large column departed Camp Pope on 16 June 1863 and reached the vicinity of Devils Lake around mid-July. There he established a base camp and then commenced pursuit of a large band of Santee and some Yankton moving toward the Missouri River. On 24 July, Sibley’s column caught up with the Sioux at Big Mound. The Indians escaped after fighting a desperate rearguard action that lasted most of a day. On 26 July, Sibley came close to overtaking the Sioux again at Dead Buffalo Lake when the Santee, reinforced with some Teton buffalo hunting groups, attacked Sully’s column. Sully’s troops cut short the Sioux attack with howitzer fire and then counterattacked driving them from the field. Sully pursued and caught up with the Sioux at Stony Lake on 28 July. Again, the Sioux fought a desperate rearguard action that allowed their families to escape over the Missouri River. In the course of the three fights, the Indians had lost an estimated 150 warriors and a large portion of their food supplies and equipage-a devastating loss. Though Sibley’s losses at Big Mound had been minor, he was critically short of supplies. So after 3 days of searching unsuccessfully for Sully’s column, Sibley decided to return to Minnesota reaching Fort Snelling on 13 September.

Delayed by low water on the Missouri River, Sully’s command didn’t arrive at the campaign area until the end of August at which time he learned that Sibley had returned to Minnesota. He also gained information that the uncaptured Santee Sioux had moved to the vicinity of the James River to hunt buffalo. Taking pursuit again, Sully caught up with the Indians near Whitestone Hill on the evening of 3 September. There he found a large village that may have contained as many as 1,000 warriors. In the confusion of a chaotic night battle, most of the Sioux managed to escape. However, the fighting was fierce; Sully lost 20 killed and 38 wounded, and the Army estimated Indian casualties at 150 to 200. In the ensuing pursuit, the Indians lost the majority of their equipage and 250 women and children captured. Sully had achieved a major victory and, being low on supplies, decided to return to Fort Randall.

In 1864, despite the decisive victories scored against them, a collection of free Santee, Teton, and some Yankton gathered together on the Little Missouri River and once again threatened the eastern Dakota settlements. In June 1864, Sully gathered over 3,000 men and marched up the Missouri River to disperse this conjoined band of Sioux. After establishing Fort Rice near present-day Bismarck, he turned his column west and commenced his pursuit. On 28 July 1864, he attacked the large Sioux contingent at Killdeer Mountain. During the battle, Sully formed his command into a British-style square and slowly advanced against the Indian encampment. In the day-long fight, the Indians suffered heavy casualties and were forced to abandon their village and most of their supplies. After the battle, Sully continued west to the Yellowstone River to intimidate the Teton, then returned to Fort Ridgely, Minnesota, in early October.

The campaigns of 1863 and 1864 had been highly successful in pushing the frontier further to the West. With the Santee Sioux decisively crushed, the Minnesota settlements no longer had any fear of an Indian threat. Anyway, the Teton Sioux participation in the hostilities had been minor. Only 2 years later, along the Bozeman Trail, the US Army directly challenged the Teton with very different results.


Sherden “mercenaries”

Noteworthy is the presence of Sherden “mercenaries” within the Egyptian army at Kadesh. Ramesses II marched out of Egypt on the ninth day of the second month of summer, stopping at Tjel, an Egyptian outpost. He had the Regiment of Amun, as well as three other major units with him, and the Sherden infantry, composing a force of 20,000 men. Sherden are present acting as a guard around Ramesses on the occasion when he ordered the Hittite scouts to be beaten. Clearly, these men served as an elite guard whose duty was primarily to their liege lord. There was a raid by Sherden pirates in the second year of Ramesses II’s reign; these pirates were not only defeated, but were also incorporated into the Egyptian military as mercenaries.

Sea Peoples by Johnny Shumate. The Sea Peoples wore different types of helmets. The Sherden, for example, wore bronze helmets with horns sticking out from the sides, while the Peleset helmet was probably a circle of reeds, stiffened hair, horsehair, linen, or leather strips held in place by a fillet and chin strap.


A term applied to a number of ethnic groups who were involved in conflict with Egypt in the 19th and 20th Dynasties. The Sea Peoples have also been associated with mass movement of population and major destruction of sites throughout Anatolia and western Asia at the end of the Late Bronze Age (c. 1200–1150 BC). The peoples involved were the Peleset, Lukki, Shekelesh, Weshesh, Shardana, Tjekker, Teresh, and Ekwesh. Some of these peoples are known independently from a variety of Egyptian sources from the late 18th Dynasty onward. Some of the names can certainly be associated with specific places (such as the Peleset and Palestine), others have generated more controversy (and are noted in the appropriate entries here). How we choose to understand the geographical associations of the names is fundamental to our interpretation of the nature of the Sea Peoples episodes. For example, the name Shardana (or Sherden) is generally accepted as being connected with Sardinia: but whether the Shardana came from the island we call Sardinia or whether they went there from the eastern Mediterranean after these events is central to the problem.

The temple reliefs show that the fighting was mainly hand-to-hand, notwithstanding the presence of Egyptian archers on land and in the ships. Many of the Sherden and other enemies are carved in the position of captives. Their hands are constrained within wooden shackles. Some Egyptians have spears whereas others brandish swords. The Peleshet, Sherden, and other sea enemies mainly depended upon spears, swords, and protective shields. The reliefs depict one enemy ship captured by Sherden “mercenaries,” and we can see their round shields, medium but thick swords, and distinctive helmets. (Note that the Sherden do not appear to have been part of the archer contingent of the Egyptian army.) Here, an Egyptian with shield is about to climb into an enemy ship. In another location one vessel has already been seized. Avner Raban, after subjecting the scenes of warfare, concluded that Ramesses’ flotilla may have been built upon the lines of the Sea Peoples’ fleet. We can add that it is equally possible that the Egyptians, with the Sherden for instance, may have reorganized their ships along more up-to-date military lines. Whether or not this was a contemporary innovation must remain open, especially because the encounter between Ramesses II and the Sea Peoples early in his reign could have provided such an impetus.

As with the Sherden pirates discussed above, the Sea Peoples were apparently also assimilated into ancient Egyptian empire after Ramesses III’s victory, although in the long-term this solitary victory was only putting-off the unavoidable as the region of Canaan was lost to the Sea Peoples by the end of the Twentieth Dynasty.

Sherden Mercenaries Marching to Kadesh, 1274 BC. 1: Regular infantryman, 2: ‘Sea Shardana’, 3: Royal guardsman. GIUSEPPE RAVA. Of interest is the sword used by the Sherden, one of the Sea Peoples that attacked Egypt in the eleventh century b. c. e ., only to be defeated and settled in Palestine, where they became known to history as the Philistines. Th e Sherden, however, entered Egyptian military service as elite guards to Pharaoh. One reason for their military value may have been their use of the long, straight sword. Th e sword was thirty-eight inches long and very narrow, its raised spine blade ending in a very sharp, needle-like point. Th e sword’s design suggests that it was used for a very specific purpose, which appears to have been killing charioteers in close combat. Th e sword’s length gave the Sherden warrior superior “reach” to get at his target while on foot and below the enemy charioteer. The sharp point could easily penetrate leather, lamellar, and, perhaps, even thin (two millimeters) bronze scale armor. Striking from below, the needle-like point could find a seam or slide under the overlapping scales of the charioteer’s armor coat. Used as “chariot runners,” supporting infantry surrounding Pharaoh in a chariot fight, the Sherden served as an elite battle guard, using their long swords to strike down any charioteer who tried to attack the king.

Military settlement in a portion of the Nile valley in Middle Egypt in the Twentieth Dynasty. The agricultural land is divided into four sections or zones, and against each one a pie-chart shows the relative proportions of four different categories of person renting land from institutions. The three shaded portions of each chart represent people connected with the military: stable-masters, soldiers and Sherden; the unshaded portion represents several groups who can broadly be regarded as civilians. The flanking figures are Sherden warriors, wearing their distinctive helmets and forming a bodyguard for Rameses II.

The Sherden

The Sherden, first mentioned in Egyptian records in the reign of Amenhotep III, were described as pirates; they served as mercenaries in the Egyptian army from Dynasty 18 onward and were rewarded by gifts of land for their service. In the conflicts with Ramesses III they fought both for and against the Egyptians, and later they were numbered among the pharaoh’s bodyguard. Egyptian temple reliefs show them with distinctive helmets with a large knob or disk at the apex and projecting bull’s horns. They carried round shields and two-edged swords.

They had a history as seafarers or pirates but were also probably associated with particular locations. Cyprus was perhaps their original homeland where bronze working was well established, but they may have moved on to Sardinia (according to the earliest Phoenician inscription found on the island, the name of Sardinia was “Shardan”). One theory identifies the Sherden with the bronze-working people who apparently arrived suddenly on the island between 1400 and 1200 BC and are known to have constructed the local nuraghi (stone towers). Bronze statuettes found on the island depict figures with round shields and horned helmets (but without disks) similar to the appearance of the Sherden. Also, on the neighboring island of Corsica, tombstone scenes depict warriors with banded corselets, daggers, and helmets.

Later, in Dynasties XIX and XX (the Ramesside Period), the Sherden, originally sea raiders in the eastern Mediterranean, performed similar duty. These foreigners appear both in texts as well as in battle reliefs serving the Pharaoh. They also owned plots of land in Egypt, small to be sure, but this must indicate that they had become settled within the Nile Valley. In other words, the Sherden were inhabitants of the land that they served. The males appear to have been organized into separate contingents within the Egyptian army. Indeed, they are connected with various “strongholds,” presumably set up by the Ramesside kings in order to continue their separate way of life. The Sherden are also known to have been organized along different military lines than the Egyptians. But they did not remain loyal to their monarchs only for pay. They actually lived in Egypt and belonged to the economic structure of the land.

The introduction of the Sherdens to the Egyptian army could possibly signify a major change in military thinking at the time. For a few centuries, the dominant arm of the Middle Eastern armies were the chariots, so much so that by the late thirteenth century BC, they were practically the sole arm, with infantry being used merely for policing, guard duty, and the occasional punitive expedition into rugged terrain where chariots could not go. Because chariots and the horses needed to pull them were expensive, the social elite became the military elite, while the masses remained unarmed and untrained for the most part. The Sherdens, however, introduced a new element to chariot warfare. Prior to this time, a support group of infantry, called runners, followed after the chariots in battle in order to finish off wounded enemy soldiers and gather loot. The Sherdens, using newly introduced long swords and hunting javelins, became light infantry that moved quickly through the battlefields, disabling enemy horses and attacking enemy charioteers and archers. This proved effective enough to mark the end of the chariot as a fighting machine.

RAN (1985)


Ran is a Japanese-French war film/period tragedy directed, edited, and co-written by Akira Kurosawa, adapted from Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear and the legends surrounding daimyō Mōri Motonari. The film stars Tatsuya Nakadai as Hidetora Ichimonji, an aging Sengoku-era warlord who abdicates for his three sons—with disastrous results.


Akira Kurosawa first conceived of the idea for the film that would become Ran (Japanese for “chaos” or “discord”) in the early 1970s, when he read about Mōri Motonari (1497–1571), a powerful daimyō in the Chūgoku region of Japan who is remembered as one of the greatest warlords of the Sengoku period (mid-16th century). Though a brilliant diplomat and strategist, Motonari is best known for an event that probably never happened: the “lesson of the three arrows,” a parable that Motonari illustrated by giving each of his three sons an arrow to break. He then gave them three arrows bundled together and pointed out that although one may be easily broken, three bundled together are impossible to break. Motonari actually had nine sons (two of whom died in childhood) but most prominent of them were the three sons the parable concerns: Mōri Takamoto (1523–1563), Kikkawa Motoharu (1530–1586), and Kobayakawa Takakage (1533–1597). Formulating a scenario that could generate real drama, Kurosawa imagined trouble among the three brothers rather than unity and reasonableness. As he later told an interviewer, “What might their story be like, I wondered, if the sons had not been so good? It was only after I was well into writing the script about these imaginary unfilial sons of the Mōri clan that the similarities to [Shakespeare’s 1606 tragedy, King] Lear occurred to me. Since the story is set in medieval Japan, the protagonist’s children had to be men; to divide a realm among daughters would have been unthinkable” (Grilli, 2008, p. 126). Kurosawa and two co-writers—Hideo Oguni and Masato Ide—had a draft of a screenplay completed by 1975, but Kurosawa would not be able to arrange financing for an expensive, large-scale epic set in medieval Japan for another seven years. In the meantime, he painted storyboards of every shot in Ran and made Dersu Uzala (1975) and Kagemusha (1980), the latter of which he described as a “dress rehearsal” for Ran. In 1982 Kurosawa finally secured funding for Ran from two sources: Japanese producer Masatoshi Hara (Herald Ace Productions) and French producer Serge Silberman (Greenwich Film Productions). After the box office success of Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Diva (1981), Silberman was able to put up most of the money needed to back Ran, which ended up costing ¥2.4 billion (i.e., $12 million), the most expensive Japanese film produced up to that time. Kurosawa cast Tatsuya Nakadai (who played the dual lead roles in Kagemusha) as Hidetora Ichimonji, an aging Sengoku-era warlord based on Mōri Motonari who decides to abdicate as ruler in favor of his three sons. Prior to production, several hundred elaborate costumes had to be created by hand, an arduous process that took two years to complete. Pre-production also involved extensive location scouting and set construction, for example, a castle destroyed in the middle of the movie had to be specially built on the slopes of Mount Fuji, only to be burned down.


Akira Kurosawa was 75 years old when he directed Ran (June 1984–February 1985) and was nearly blind when the initial photography started. He required assistance in order to frame his shots, and his assistants used hundreds of his storyboard paintings as templates to construct and film scenes. Almost the entire film is done in long shot, with only a handful of close-ups. An enormous undertaking, Ran used some 1,400 extras, 1,400 suits of armor (designed by Kurosawa himself), and 200 horses, some of them imported from the United States. Over his long career, Kurosawa worked with the same crew of technicians and assistants. Toward the end of the shoot, Kurosawa lost two of his old stalwarts. In January 1985, Fumio Yamoguchi, the sound recordist on nearly all of Kurosawa’s films since 1949, and Ryu Kuze, action coordinator on many of them, died within a few days of each other. A month later (1 February 1985), Kurosawa’s wife of 39 years, Yôko Yaguchi, also died. Kurosawa halted filming for just one day to mourn before resuming work on the picture.

Plot Summary

[Act I] Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai), a powerful warlord near the end of his life, decides to divide his kingdom among his three sons: Taro (Akira Terao), Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu), and Saburo (Daisuke Ryu). The oldest son, Taro, is bequeathed the sought-after First Castle and is named commander of the Ichimonji clan. Jiro and Saburo are given the Second and Third Castles, respectively. Hidetora retains his title of Great Lord, and the two younger sons are expected to rally behind Taro. Saburo calls his father a fool, stating that he can’t expect loyalty from sons who grew up watching their father use the most cruel, heartless methods for power and domination. Hidetora is threatened by his son, but his servant, Tango (Masayuki Yui), defends Saburo. Hidetora responds by exiling both men. Nobuhiro Fujimaki (Hitoshi Ueki), a visiting warlord, sees Saburo’s fervor and forthrightness and asks him to wed his daughter. [Act II] After Hidetora divides his remaining lands between Jiro and Saburo, Taro’s wife, Lady Kaede (Mieko Harada), encourages Taro to gain control of the entire clan. Emboldened, Taro tells Hidetora to give up his title of Great Lord. Hidetora, now betrayed by two sons, runs to Jiro’s castle only to discover that Jiro plans to use him in his own scheme for power and influence. Unsure of where to go, Hidetora and his company depart from Jiro’s castle. Tango finds his father and informs Hidetora of Taro’s new decree: anyone who assists Hidetora will be sentenced to death. Hidetora flees to Saburo’s castle, which was left empty when Saburo went into exile. [Act III] Hidetora and his samurais are attacked by Taro’s and Jiro’s forces. In the ensuing battle, almost all of Hidetora’s men are killed and the Third Castle is set on fire. Hidetora, alone and losing his mind, leaves the castle as it is consumed by flames. During the siege on the castle, Taro is killed by a bullet from Jiro’s general, Shuri Kurogane’s (Hisashi Igawa) gun. Meanwhile, Hidetora wanders the wilderness and is found by Tango, who tries to assist him. The pair take shelter in a peasant’s home, but realize that the peasant is Tsurumaru (Mansai Nomura), the brother of Lady Sué (Yoshiko Miyazaki), Jiro’s wife. Tsurumaru was a victim of Hidetora’s regime: he was blinded and left for dead after Hidetora murdered his father and conquered their land. [Act IV] After Taro’s death, Jiro takes on the title of the Great Lord, moving into the First Castle and commanding the Ichimonji clan. Jiro returns to the castle to find Lady Kaede, unbothered by Taro’s death, waiting to blackmail Jiro into an affair. Lady Kaede uses her influence with Jiro to call for Lady Sué’s death. Jiro orders Kurogane to carry out the task, but he declines, stating that Kaede will be the ruin of both Jiro and the clan. Kurogane runs to tell Sué and Tsurumaru to leave. Meanwhile, two ronin are captured by Tango, who coerces them to reveal plans for assassinating Hidetora. Tango leaves to share the news with Saburo. Hidetora is overtaken by madness and runs off into a volcanic plain while Kyoami (Pîtâ) runs after him. Saburo and Jiro meet on the battlefield and agree on a truce, and Saburo becomes concerned by the report of his father’s onset of madness. While Saburo meets with Kyoami and takes 10 warriors along to rescue Hidetora, Jiro takes advantage of the situation and sends gunners to ambush his brother and father. Jiro also attacks Saburo’s army, which falls back into the woods as the soldiers go on the defensive. As the family is warring, a messenger shares news that Ayabe, a rival lord, is headed towards the First Castle. At the same time, Saburo locates Hidetora, and the father experiences a reprieve from his insanity and begins to heal his relationship with his son. However, in the midst of the reconciliation, one of Jiro’s snipers kills Saburo. Hidetora dies out of sadness. Fujimaki arrives with his troops to see Tango and Kyoami grieving. [Act V] In the meantime, Tsurumaru and Sué get to the ruined castle, but realize that they forgot a flute at Tsurumaru’s home, one that Sué had gifted to Tsurumaru at the time of his banishment. She goes back for the flute, but is discovered and murdered by one of Jiro’s assassins. Simultaneously, Ayabe’s army attacks the First Castle. When Kurogane hears that Lady Sué has been killed by Jiro’s assassin, he corners Kaede and pushes her for information. She comes clean about her plot to obliterate Hidetora and his clan to avenge the deaths of her family members. Kurogane decapitates Kaede for her treachery. As Ayabe’s army overtakes the First Castle, Jiro, Kurogane, and all of Jiro’s men are killed. Tsurumaru is left amidst the rubble, alone.


Ran had its world premiere in Tokyo on 25 May 1985. It was subsequently screened at a number of film festivals before going into staggered general release in about two dozen countries. Ran did not do very well at the box office, initially making only enough to break even. It did, however, receive Oscar nominations for Best Director, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design (which it won), among many other international nominations and awards. Reviews were, for the most part, adulatory. Vincent Canby wrote, “Though big in physical scope and of a beauty that suggests a kind of drunken, barbaric lyricism, Ran has the terrible logic and clarity of a morality tale seen in tight close-up, of a myth that, while being utterly specific and particular in its time and place, remains ageless, infinitely adaptable … Here is a film by a man whose art now stands outside time and fashion” (Canby, 1985). Roger Ebert called the film “visually magnificent” and said he realized on seeing it again in 2000 that “the action doesn’t center on the old man, but has a fearful energy of its own, through which he wanders. Kurosawa has not told the story of a great man whose sin of pride drives him mad, but the story of a man who has waged war all his life, hopes to impose peace in his old age and unleashes even greater turmoil” (Ebert, 2000). Decades after its release, most film critics and scholars view Ran as Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece.

Reel History Versus Real History

The story that Ran tells is, of course, entirely fictional. One can only judge its historical accuracy in terms of its depictions of medieval Japanese castles; the look, dress, and demeanor of the Ichimonji clan; the conduct in battle of the samurai; etc. On these counts, Ran has extraordinary verisimilitude.

Germanic Warfare

Chatti Germanic Tribe | Northern Germanic Tribes: Cherusci, Jutes, Saxons.

Early Germanic warriors either first century BC or AD. The Germans east of the Rhine had a fearsome reputation and constantly waged war on their Gallic neighbours. The Gauls who lived close to the German border were considered to be the most hardened of the Gallic peoples as a result.

What we know of the Germanic warrior comes mainly from Greek- and Latin-speaking Roman authors. At this time, the Germans wrote nothing down. Some evidence survives in the archaeological record to give us a material picture of his arms and armour. Yet his reputation has survived the ages: fierce to the point of being savage, fearless bordering on the reckless, cunning like the fox. Unlike his Roman opponent, the Germanic war fighter was remarkably underequipped. In large part this was due to the paucity of basic materials. “Even iron is by no means abundant with them”, Tacitus noted, “as we may gather from the character of their weapons”. About one in ten warriors had a single-edged knife (measuring 7–12 centimetres, 2.8–4.7 inches long). Others carried a sword for cutting and thrusting; or a machete-like sax (measuring about 46 centimetres – 18.1 inches – long) for slashing and chopping. Some might bear a double-edged sword similar to the Celtic long sword of the Raeti and Norici or Roman spatha. However, Germanic weapons were made of a form of iron called ‘steely iron’ which has a much lower content of carbon, typically 0.5 to 1.5 per cent of its weight, making it softer and more likely to bend when struck with force. To compensate for this weakness, Germanic swordsmiths made the sax with a thicker upper edge, but notwithstanding this measure, against the harder steel weapons used by the Romans, Germanic swordsmen were at a material disadvantage.

Axes were wielded by those with means, while others with fewer means used wooden clubs hewn from logs which had been fire-hardened or made more deadly with iron spikes.35 Both weapons were used with devastating effect: even the rough edge of a club can cause considerable blunt trauma and crush bones. They also used bows of fir and yew and arrows, slings and slingshot that were devastating when used en masse. When the ammunition ran out, they threw rocks and stones.

Their preferred weapon was a slender but versatile spear. “They carry lances”, wrote Tacitus, “frameae as they call them, with the iron point narrow and short, but so sharp and so easy to handle that they employ them either for stabbing or throwing on occasions”. They also carried darts – missilia the Romans called them. Ranging from 90–275 centimetres (35.3–108.3 inches) in length with a tip 10–20 centimetres (3.9–7.9 inches) long, in an expert’s hand these were terrible weapons, especially to men wearing chain mail armour, the links of which the sharp, narrow point could pierce and rip apart. Each man carried several into battle and “they can hurl them to an immense distance”.

The regular Germanic fighter wore little or no body armour, unless stripped from an opponent or made by a local craftsman, “and only a man or two here and there a helmet or head piece”. Though there were likely national or clan differences in dress, he typically wore a short- or long-sleeved tunic, baggy or close-fitting long trousers belted at the waist, and a cloak fastened with a brooch. German woollen cloth was somewhat rough to the touch but nevertheless dyed in solid colours, or woven with stripes or geometric patterns. A shield was the primary mode of defence. Sculptures and coins show Germanic shields to be flat and long, and in shape oval, rectangular or hexagonal. Tacitus comments that their shields were not supported by metal or leather but were simply wicker or painted boards, however, metal edging strips have been found in eastern Germany contesting his generalisation. He also mentions the care with which they painted the coloured devices on the front of them. Surviving first century BCE examples from Denmark, one measuring 88 centimetres (34.6 inches) by 60 centimetres (23.6 inches) and the other 66 centimetres (25.9 inches) by 30 centimetres (11.8 inches), are made of wooden planks. In these specimens a central ‘barleycorn’ shaped shield boss protects the handgrip, but iron domed and pointed circular shield bosses have also survived.

Germanic warriors fought both on foot and horseback. Each was similarly equipped with spear or darts and shield. Lightly armed infantry made up the largest part of a Germanic tribal army but their cavalry, even in smaller numbers, were very effective. Germanic cavalry would often dismount and fight on foot and Caesar observed that they even trained their horses to remain standing in the same spot so they could leap up on to them and ride to another part of the battlefield or escape. “Their horses are not remarkable”, writes Tacitus snootily,

for beauty or speed, neither are they trained to complex evolutions like ours; the riders charge straight forward, or wheel in a single turn to the right, the formation of the troop being such that there is no rear flank.

The right turn meant that the rider’s shield side was presented to their enemy so he could launch his weapon with his right side fully protected.

Young men able to run fast formed the vanguard of the attack as they were able to keep up with the cavalry charge. It was actually part of their ritual of attaining manhood. When deemed ready, a young man was formally presented with a lance and shield in the presence of his tribal assembly in what was regarded as the youth’s admission to the public life of his community. In times of war, one hundred of the ablest young men were selected from their villages to accompany the cavalry on foot. Some, having proved their courage and skill, might then become retainers or bodyguards of the clan or war chief,

and there is an eager rivalry between the retainers for the post of honour next to their chief, as well as between different chiefs for the honour of having the most numerous and most valiant bodyguard. Here lie dignity and strength. To be perpetually surrounded by a large train of picked young warriors is a distinction in peace and a protection in war.

The relationship between the retainer and retained was complex, based on a code of honour, reward and recognition:

Upon the field of battle the chief is bound in honour not to let himself be surpassed in valour, and his retainers are equally bound to rival the valour of their chief. Furthermore, for one of the retainers to come back alive from the field where his chief had fallen is from that day forward an infamy and a reproach during all the rest of his life. To defend him, to guard him, nay, to give him the glory of their own feats of valour, is the perfection of their loyalty. The chiefs fight for victory; the bodyguard for their chief.

The Germanic nations were admired by Roman authors for their free spirit and democratic form of self-rule. Chiefs were elected by a tribal assembly to administer the law in their communities and each leader had a council of one hundred free men to consult for advice and to enforce his decisions. For campaigns they elected a war leader. Caesar had observed “when a state either repels war waged against it or wages it against another, magistrates are chosen to preside over that war with such authority, that they have power of life and death”. After the war, they relinquished that power. “They choose their kings for their noble birth”, observes Tacitus,

their generals for their prowess: the king’s power is neither unlimited nor arbitrary, and the generals owe their authority less to their military rank than to their example and the admiration they excite by it, if they are dashing, if they are conspicuous, if they charge ahead of the line.

These were characteristics Drusus would have admired as they were the very same principles by which he led his own men.

Raiding was common practice among Germanic nations. In part this arose from the need to keep retainers fed and usefully employed as “forays and plunderings supply the means of keeping a free table”.62 Not for them tilling the land, but yet they could stand bloody wounds if it meant their status would rise on account of them.63 Germanic tribes tried to avoid a pitched battle. ‘Hit-and-run’ was the preferred tactic in battle, using ambushes to strike their enemy when they were least expecting and prepared for an attack. Only as a last resort, did they meet in a set piece battle, and having first carefully picked the ground, preferring wet or wooded or stony ground. The Germanic army on the battlefield is often portrayed as a rabble, a mêlée, but this is inaccurate. They assembled in columns and took up wedge formations, familiar to the Romans as the cuneus, a tactic they themselves used. Like the Romans, the men in the wedge formation interlocked or overlapped their shields to form a shield wall or ‘shield castle’. In 58 BCE, the Germanic king, Ariovistus, arrayed his men against Julius Caesar by assembling the seven tribes under his command in columns of 300 men strong with spaces between them. The Romans attacked from the front and sides, and the Germanic left flank – their unprotected side – collapsed, but on their right flank – the side protected by their shields – Ariovistus’ men were able to deflect the Roman attack by pushing aggressively forward into Caesar’s ranks.68 They were only defeated when Roman reinforcements arrived.

Just as the warriors of Raetia, Vindelicia and Noricum did, Germanic warriors fired up their spirits by singing and chanting. The Germanic war fighters sang to Hercules according to Tacitus (who may have equated him to Thor or Irmin, son of Wuotan), and

they raise a hymn in his praise, as the pattern of all valiant men, as they approach the field of battle. They have also a kind of song which they chant to fire their courage – they call it barding (barritus) – and from this chant they draw an augury of the issue of the coming day. For they inspire terror in the foe, or become flurried themselves according to the sound that goes up from the host. It is not so much any articulate expression of words as a war-like chorus. Their great aim is to produce a hoarse and tempestuous roar, every man holding his shield before his mouth to increase the volume and depth of tone by reverberation.

Etruscan Warriors

(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.

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.

(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.

(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.

(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).

(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.

(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.

1) Lictor
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).
(2) Eques
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.
(3) Centurio
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.
(4) Guardsman
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.
(5) Magistrate
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.

The Etruscans 9th–2nd Centuries BC Osprey Elite 223

Author: Raffaele D’Amato

Illustrator: Giuseppe Rava

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.

War of the Flowers

William B. Fawcett

Only in the loosest sense, was the pre-conquest Aztec nation a nation in the European meaning of the word. The very concept of nation would have been virtually inconceivable to the average Aztec. He was a Texcocan or a Tlaxcalan. The Aztec nation was, in fact, a patchwork of city states with varying degrees of independence and mutual animosity. An individual’s allegiance was to his clan and tribe. (Most cities were inhabited by one tribe which was determined by customs and deities worshipped more often than common ancestry.)

The Aztec “empire” was in fact a conglomeration of city states that formed rather fluid coalitions which were normally centered on the most powerful cities found in the area of present day Mexico City. In these coalitions there were normally one or two major powers who, by their size and military strength, were able to compel the lesser cities to join in their efforts. When a city was ‘conquered’ the result was the imposition of tribute and economic sanctions rather than social or political absorption, as occurred in Europe or China. This tribute was reluctantly paid to the victorious city only until some way to avoid it was found (such as an alliance to an even more powerful city). Any political or military alliance was then ruled entirely by expedience, and quickly and easily dissolved.

This constant shifting was demonstrated by the actions of Texcoco when Tenochtitlan, then the chief power, was attacked by Cortes. Texcoca joined with several other cities in aiding the Spanish. Just a few years earlier Texcoco had been the reluctant ally of Tenochtitlan in her unsuccessful war with Tlaxcalans. (During which the Tenochtitlans arranged to have the Tlaccalans ambush a part of the Texcocans involved. Such treacheries were not uncommon.) Later the Spanish were able to play these former allies against each other.

The citizen of an Aztec city was imbued from birth with the concept that the city and tribe were important and the individual should act only in ways that benefited the whole. The concept of individualism we value would have been considered anti-social and obscene to the Aztecs. Though they amassed individual wealth and possessions most of the land was considered to either belong to the tribe outright or to be held in trust for the city by the individual. Anyone dying without an heir (male, son) automatically left his land and possessions to the city or clan for redistribution. Material wealth was considered less important than value to the tribe, as reflected by the positions held and honors received. If you do not realize how deeply this selfless spirit was ingrained in every citizen, it will be difficult to accept the attitudes demonstrated by captured warriors.

War itself was viewed by the Aztecs as a part of the natural rhythms. These rhythms were felt to permeate every level of existence and only by keeping in step to them could an individual and (more importantly) a tribe or city survive and prosper. Each day was seen as a battle between the sun and the earth. The sun losing every sunset and gladly sacrificing himself to the earth, so that men could prosper. Many of the workings of nature were viewed as being reflections of the rhythm of the war between the opposing natural and spiritual forces. War then took on a religious and ritual nature that both limited it in extent and made it part of the spiritual life of the community with strong metaphysical overtones. Rituals arose around the conducting of wars and to vary from them would have caused the war to lose its very reason for existing. On the more mundane level wars were fought for Revenge, Defense, or Economic reasons. A common cause for the formal declaration of war was that a city’s merchants were being discriminated against or attacked. (These merchants normally doubled as each city’s intelligence force and so were often harassed in times of high tensions.) Behind all political and economic justifications was always the strong force of the religious nature of war, and a never ending need for captives to sacrifice.

A common proximate cause for war was the failure of a vassal state to pay the tribute demanded. It is surprising to discover, but true, that in a system where tribute was one of the key ingredients, no system (such as hostages) was ever devised to guarantee the payment of tribute from a previously conquered area. If tribute was refused the only alternative was to go to war again.

The process of declaring war was long and elaborate. Followed in most cases, it left no room for the deviousness common in Aztec wars. The procedure to be followed was set in a series of real, but ritually required, actions. The actual declaration of war involved three State visits, often by three allied cities planning to attack. The first delegation called on the chief and nobles of the city. They boasted of their strength and warned that they would demand some of the nobles as sacrifices if the war ensued. The group would then retire outside the city gate and camp for one Aztec month (20 days) awaiting a reply. This was normally given on the last day and if the city or coalition did not accept their terms, token weapons were distributed to the nobles. (This was so that no one could say they defeated an unarmed foe.)

The second delegation would then approach the city’s leading merchants. This second delegation would describe the economic “horrors” of a defeat, comparing them badly to the terms offered, and generally trying to persuade the merchants to get the chiefs to surrender. This delegation then also retired for a month to await a reply. Should this also be negative a third and final delegation would arrive. This group was to talk to the warriors themselves. They would harangue a mass meeting with reasons why they should not fight and tales of the horrors of battle. Once more they would ask for the city to meet their terms (normally a virtual surrender or the loss of some territory) and then retire to a camp for the ritual one month wait. Finally, after all of this, the armies (having had plenty of time to assemble) would meet in a battle. Here any deception was acceptable and a cunning general as valuable as a courageous one.

The leadership of the Aztecs was the same in times of peace and war. Between wars the officers served as the administration, judiciary, and civil service of the city. Heading this organization was the Supreme War chief or Tlacatecuhtli. This was the position held by the unfortunate Montezuma in Tenochtitlan when Cortes arrived. Each clan was assigned to one of four phratries each having its own leader called a Tlaxcola who served as their divisional commander in wartime, and on a council with the other three that ran the actual administration of the city in times of peace. The head of each clan served as a regimental commander and was known as a Tlochcautin. In peace he would serve in a role similar to the English Sheriff. Below the clan level was a unit of approximately 200 to 400 men. This was the equivalent of our company and was really the largest unit over which any tactical control could be held once a battle began. The smallest regular unit was the platoon of 20 men. This organization was rigidly observed by the major cities and was such an integral part of Aztec culture that the symbol for ’20’ was a flag such as each platoon had.

The military techniques of the Aztecs were inferior to those of Europe or China at that time. This is probably due primarily to the fact that while ritually involved and religiously important, war was less developed as a social solution in pre-conquest Mexico. This was caused by several factors, the major one being that the population density of the area was much less than in other parts of the world. In the period immediately preceding the Spanish only one area had really felt the pinch of overpopulation. This was the area around Lake Titicocca occupied today by Mexico city. Here is where the powerful and most warlike cities developed. Even then their tradition of war (as opposed to individual combat) was only a few hundred years old as opposed to thousands in other lands. The result was that while having a warrior attitude and with war deeply ritually ingrained in their culture, the techniques of battle were still quite unsophisticated and basic.

One reflection, of the undeveloped nature of Aztec wars was the absence of any sort of drills. Units acted as a group only during civil duties, or during the several religious ceremonies that they assembled for each year. The tactics of a battle then most often resembled the mass or swarm tactics of biblical times.

Another factor mitigated in favor of only limited military activities. This was the fact that it was extremely difficult for an army to engage in an extended campaign. Since the army was also the work force, a campaign during the planting and harvest seasons was prohibited. This is especially true since the agriculture was not so efficient as to be able to support the massive priests hierarchy and a standing army of any size. Nor could an army live off of the country, since it was likely that the area they would travel through would be inhabited by several city states that were not involved in the war and were independent of those involved. This meant that it was necessary not only to set up supply depots along any proposed route, but also to negotiate permission to trespass on other cities’ lands.

The marginal nature of the agriculture was also such, that sieges that lasted any length of time were virtually impossible. The besieging army would as likely starve as the besiegers. The result of this was that formal walls and other fortifications were rare. In their place canals (useful in trade also) were often used with portable bridges. Many cities were also located in easily defensible terrain such as on a mountainside or on the end of a narrow isthmus. There has also been no evidence that siege weapons of any sort were developed or used to any extent. Despite all of the problems listed the Aztecs were able to wage campaigns over a wide area of Mexico. Most often these were fought with armies made up chiefly of local allies with a contingent of Aztecs to stiffen them. In some cases it is recorded that the Aztecs were forced to engage in the laborious technique of having to subdue each of the towns and cities on their route.

The weapons and tools of the Aztecs were basic and simple in nature. Rather than developing new variations of weapons the efforts of the Aztecs went into elaborate decorations on them. There were four main weapons used by the Aztec warrior. A wooden club with sharp obsidian blades was used. Javelins were common and often used with a throwing stick called an atl-atl. The bow and arrow was also found in most armies as was a heavy javelin or lance for in-fighting. Occasionally a clan would have a tradition that caused some of them to employ the sling or spears. Axes were used as tools, but do not seem to have been a regularly used weapon.

The bulk of the weapons in a city was kept in an arsenal called the Tlacochcalco or roughly the “house of darts.” One of these was found in each quarter of a city and held the weapons for five clans (one phratrie). These arsenals were always located near the chief temples and were designed with sloping walls that enabled them to serve as a fort. The Tlacochcalcos served as the headquarters, assembly points and rallying points for the defenders of a city. Religious ceremonies were also held there by the military leaders and “Knights.”

The shields of the Aztecs were wickerwork covered with hide. Most were circular and elaborately painted and decorated. Skins and feathers were also often attached to augment their beauty. The warriors who used the clubs carried shields, but those using the large javelin or lance were unable to as they needed both hands to employ their weapon. Body armor was made of quilted cotton hardened in brine. This was quite successful against the weapons used by other Aztecs, (and useless against crossbows and steel swords). This cotton armor was in fact quickly adopted by the conquistedores as being effective enough and much cooler than their own metal armor. The quilted armor was often dyed bright colors, brocaded and embroidered with intricate designs and symbols.

Wooden helmets were worn by some warriors and the chiefs, (who rose to chief by being outstanding warriors). These quickly became elaborate and bulky. It was often necessary for them to be supported by shoulder harnesses. Most headdresses or helmets were stylized animals or protecting deities. The more elaborate the helmet the more renown the warrior in battle. There is mention of copper helmets in a few codexs, but none have been found and in any case would have been extremely rare. Metal working for tools and weapons was not advanced and obsidian was the basic (and effective) material.

As during comparable periods on other continents the Aztecs wore no uniforms. Each side would identify itself with a prominently worn badge or insignia. This often would be elaborated to show also the rank of the wearer. With the myriad of colors in the cotton armor and the elaborate helmets an Aztec battle was a kaleidoscope of swirling colors. A young warrior was taught the use of weapons as part of his schooling. (All males were soldiers.) All boys were required to either be tutored or to attend the Telpuchcalli or public school. Later, in lieu of unit training and drills, a new warrior was attached to veteran for his first battles. This program was actually quite similar to the apprenticeship or squire systems developed for the same purpose in medieval Europe.

The tactics and weapons of the Aztecs were greatly influenced by the goal of their wars, captives and whatever tribute or land demanded. It was the ultimate sign of ability in a warrior to bring back from a battle a live enemy suitable for sacrifice. Warriors then often strived not to kill their enemy, but to knock him out or deliver a non-fatal, but disabling wound. A victory was valued then by the number of enemies captured, not killed. To this end warriors were trained rigorously in individual combat, with little emphasis on formations or teamwork. The best warriors were admitted to select societies of “knights.” Only the most skillful

(as judged purely by the number of captives taken) were allowed to enter. These were known as the Knights of the Eagle, the Knights of the Ocelot (Tiger), and a less common group the Knights of the Arrow. Helmets depicting their namesakes were often worn and ceremonial costumes that copied their coloration were worn in ceremonies and into battle. These orders performed dances and participated in rituals at the Tlacochcalco. They also participated in the mock battles of sacrifice. These Knights received large shares of land when conquered territories were divided between the warriors. (This practice gave an occupation force a way to support itself.)

A warrior who was slain in battle or sacrificed after a defeat was guaranteed entry into a special warriors heaven. This was to be found in the East and a special heaven for women who died in childbirth was in the West (they were felt to have sacrificed themselves for a potential new warrior). To die in these ways was the greatest honor a defeated warrior could receive. (Non-warriors and cowards were sold into slavery.) To some it was the culmination rather than the ruin of the lives. There is recorded the story of Tlahuicol who was a Tlaxclan chief. Having been captured in battle he was given the honor of the mockgladitorial sacrificial combat. This meant that he was chained to a large round stone representing the sun and given wooden weapons, (no obsidian points or edges), and attacked one at a time by members of the Knights of the Eagle. In single combat he managed to kill a few and wound several more. The combat was stopped and Tlahuicol was offered the choice of the generalship of the Tlaxclan army or to be the sacrifice in their highest ritual. He choose to be the sacrifice, viewing it probably as the greater honor.

These sacrifices were viewed then not as a punishment (criminals were killed or enslaved, but never sacrificed), but as an opportunity to give their final great contribution to their communities. It was believed that the sacrifices were needed to prevent the wrath of the gods and bring anything needed such as the rain or spring. Perhaps the only close honor was to obtain a prisoner in battle.

A typical Aztec battle consisted of both sides coming upon each other, quickly forming up to charge and then rushing at each other amid fierce cries. Quickly this would break down into many combats between individuals and small groups. Both sides would contend, until one seemed to be gaining an advantage. The other would then break and run, avoiding capture to minimize their enemy’s victory. Often the defeat and capture of a major chief was enough to cause the morale of one side to break.

Many stratagems were used. Feints and deception were common, especially in the battles between the major cities. It was a common maneuver for one side to fake a route and then lead their pursuers past a second force in hiding. This force would then fall on the rear of their pursuers while the routing force rallied. A cunning war chief was considered as valuable as a courageous one. Whoever won, sacrifices were assured and the gods appeased.

If there was no war occurring, then an artificial war was instituted to assure sacrifices and give the warriors an opportunity to prove their skills. This was incongruously named the “War of Flowers.” Though it was an artificial war those participating in it fought a very real battle. Many died and many more were captured for sacrifice before one group would concede defeat.

Invited to participate were the best Knights and warriors of two or more rival states. The best warriors contended to be able to participate. If he won, a warrior would gain in renown throughout the cities. If he was killed, the warrior was given the honor of cremation. Reserved only for warriors, cremation guaranteed entrance to the special warriors’ heaven. Finally, if defeated and captured a warrior was given the supreme honor of being sacrificed. So popular were these Wars of Flowers that some were repeated annually for years.

The institution of war among the Aztecs evolved into something quite different from that which we perceive. It was foremost a means by which an individual could serve the all important tribe or city. It was an inherently ritualized and mystic event of deep-meaning and necessity. It was the only means by which captives needed to appease their bloodthirsty gods (actually it was the hearts they tore out and offered still throbbing). In a truly collective, military society it was the one area where an individual could gain renown and prestige.

Aztec Command Structure

Tlacatecuhtli -War chief, C in C

Tlaxcola – Phratry Commander (4)

Tlochcautin – Clan Commander