Saturday, 18 June 2016

The Etruscan League and the Emergence of Rome



Originally published in Slingshot, issue 265, March 2010 / the magazine of the Society of Ancients




Introduction
At the height of its power in the sixth century BC Etruria covered modern Tuscany, great parts of Emilia Romagna and Lazio as well as the western part of Umbria.  This large area, favoured by the mild Mediterranean climate and its well-watered and wooded rolling hills, was ideal for growing the most important crops in antiquity: grain, vines, olives and flax.  Livestock could be held in the lush river-valleys, timber and stone to build houses and ships were provided in large quantities by the forests and quarries.  Valuable mineral deposits (silver, copper, iron) were to be found in the Colline Metallifere, the hills of La Tolfa, as well as on the island of Elba, where enormous supplies of iron were mined up to Roman times.  It was this richness of natural resources and the exploitation of Italian metals that attracted the notice of the Etruscan and Greek traders in the ninth and eighth centuries BC.
 

Origins of the Etruscans
There is historical evidence
for the presence of both the Etruscans and Latins as of the beginning of the 1st millennium BC.  Ancient authors argued as much about the origin of the Etruscans as modern authors do today. The high level of civilisation of these mysterious Italians, unrivalled by the other inhabitants of the Italian peninsula at the time, aroused the curiosity and interest of the first Greek writers.
Herodotus (ca.485-ca.425 BC) mentions that, due to a famine which occurred around 1250 BC, shortly before the Trojan War, the Etruscans migrated from Lydia to Italy, led by the Lydian prince Tyrrhenus, or Tyrsenos, from whom they took their (Greek) name Tyrrhenians or Tyrsenians.  Maybe the Twr(y)š, Turus or Teresh, as referred to in Egyptian hieroglyphic reports on the Sea Peoples, are Egyptian names for Etruscans that were looking for new lands to settle in.  The Etruscans, who referred to themselves as Ras(en)na”(“people”) also adopted the terms Tursa or Tursikina (adjective), from which the Roman Tu(r)sci or Etrusci derives. This is where the name of modern-day Tuscany comes from.
The erudite Emperor Claudius (r. 41-54 AD) is known to have produced a 20-volume history on the Etruscans (Tirrenika), but unfortunately these works have not survived the turbulences of time.  Surviving Roman sources such as Quintus Fabius Pictor (254-201 BC) and Livy (59 BC-17 AD) are generally not very reliable. Their works are often deeply tainted by propaganda and as a result frequently have an anecdotic rather than a historical character.
The problem of modern researchers is a significant portion of “pagan” Etruscan literature was systematically destroyed after 391 AD when all cults, save Christianity, were prohibited under Emperor Theodosius I.  So far only around 10,000 Etruscan inscriptions have been discovered, but the number is steadily growing. Though Etruscan can easily be read, it cannot be completely understood, as the available material is scant and the vocabulary used rather restricted (religious texts and epitaphs).

Epitaph in Etruscan script, Perugia
Anatolian Roots 
Recent genetic studies appear to have established unambiguous links between the old inhabitants of Tuscany and Anatolia.  DNA probes taken by Alberto Piazza of the Department of Genetics, Biology and Biochemistry of the University of Turin have shown that the genetic material of men from Volterra and Murlo is similar to that of men in southwest Turkey.  Especially in Murlo (25 km south of Siena) men appear to have a gene-variety that is unique for present inhabitants of Anatolia. 
No irrefutable evidence has been delivered yet, but if the Etruscans indeed do hail from Anatolia, the Luwians or Lydians must have been their most likely direct linguistic relations.  Like Hittite, Luwian and Lydian belonged to an extinct subgroup of the Indo-European language family.  Woudhuizen, for instance, sees clear parallels between Luwian and Etruscan.  Traces of a language close to Etruscan have been found on Lemnos, an island off the northwest coast of Anatolia, near ancient Troy.  The oldest Etruscan inscriptions that have been found in Italy to date go back to around 700 BC.
The technique used in the construction of chamber tombs in Lydia (west Anatolia) and Mysia (northwest Anatolia) may be additional evidence for their Anatolian origins. These constructions are 100% identical to the one used in the necropolis of Cerveteri in Lazio.  Other features of Etruscan architecture seem Asiatic/Anatolian in inspiration as well.  So were some religious practices such as the divination of the future from the livers of sacrificed animals.  Anatolian roots would explain why Etruscan were so culturally different from the rest of the Italic peoples, as well as technically much more advanced.  Based on the frequent finds of chariots in Etruscan tombs and in vase paintings, it is clear that horse breeding, horse and chariot racing were popular activities with the Etruscans. Chariots were unknown in Italy before the Etruscans arrived, but wide-spread in the East.  Most excavated chariots are datable between the second half of the eighth and the fifth centuries BC.
Why the Etruscans left Anatolia is highly speculative.  We know that western Anatolia was in turmoil when the Hittite Empire collapsed at the end of the thirteenth century BC and that it was the target of regular raids and invasions.  The first raids were carried out by the Mycenaeans (cf. the Trojan War) and the so-called Sea Peoples.  In the end, this political unrest may well have been the reason for the founders of Etruria to relocate to the fertile soil of Italy.

Early Etruscan Society 
(1000-800 BC)
Early Etruscan culture gradually fused with the existing local culture in Etruria.  The immigrants and local Italics intermarried and became a new people with its own social structure, economy and culture, though the Etruscans clearly occupied dominant positions in this new society, which explains why their language and customs survived the way they did.
This cultural transformation seems to have taken place from the end of the Bronze Age (1200 BC) throughout the Iron Age, which means that the Etruscans must have arrived after 1200 BC.  Latium clearly shows a different culture from the one in Etruria at the time.  During the so-called Villanovan period of the ninth and eighth centuries BC, nearly every Etruscan city was already inhabited.  Early Villanovan culture was remarkably homogeneous and the cemeteries of the time reveal a fairly egalitarian society, so that it may be assumed that economic and social structures were also quite uniform.

Etruria between 800 and 600 BC
In the eighth century BC certain
groups be
gan to exhibit greater wealth and appear to possess many metal objects, arms, armour and objects of daily use.  A new social stratification developed from which the powerful and splendid aristocracy of the following century would emerge.  Within early Etruscan society cities in southern Etruria such as Tarquinia, Veio and Vulci took a leading role, followed by Capua and Pontecagnano in Campania. At the same time a more complex social system evolved.
From the eighth century BC onwards, the Etruscans are the first Italic civilisation to undertake a policy of expansion.  This expansion was more the result of a desire for economic growth than of an ambition for power. Being a fully decentralised society, Etruria did not have the clout to impose its authority the way Rome would be able to do a few centuries later.  As between the seventh and sixth centuries BC Etruscan influence did not meet with any organised opposition, it covered a vast area of the Italian peninsula, from the Po valley in the north to Campania in the south. Etruscan merchants reached all the Mediterranean ports and were rivals with the Greeks and the Phoenicians (the later Carthaginians).
In the seventh century BC Falerii, the capital of the Faliscan-speaking region on the right-hand bank of the Tiber, whose language was closely related to Latin, became Etruscanised.  In the first half of the seventh century, Praeneste (modern Palestrina) in Latium, the principal inland centre of communications between Etruria and Campania, was in the hands of Etruscan families.
In the second half of the seventh century, also Rome was ruled by Etruscans, the well-known dynasty of the Tarquins.  Rome was strategically located on the via salaria, the salt road, and for the Etruscans it was important not only to rule over the plains and important cities of Latium, but also to keep the route to Campania to its south under control. 
In this period, gradually an aristocratic and monarchal elite had developed. By the sixth century BC monarchy seems to have prevailed everywhere in Etruria.  This led to a form of organisation and legal system, which in Tarquinian Rome at least, developed into a kind of serfdom and personal relationship between the aristocrats and the rural population.  To the rural people, it guaranteed ownership of their land and the protection of the prince, called servitus.  In the seventh century this servitus seems to have been firmly established.  The legal forms involved must have been military in origin.  This style of government as well as the increasing importance of defence encouraged ever-growing concentrations of populations in the cities and towns.

Etruscan culture
Language

Etruscan was the first written language in ancient Italy.  There is evidence that before the development of the alphabet the Etruscans used a syllabary denotation, which probably hailed back to older Anatolian Luwian or Hittite hieroglyph or cuneiform writing.
In Italy the Etruscans adopted (and adapted) the Greek alphabet and the first known Etruscan inscriptions in this alphabet date back to ca. 700 BC.  As a result, Etruscan developed into a lingua franca, which was also used by the local nobility in e.g. Genua, Busca (Piemonte) and Latium.  This corroborates the high standing of the Etruscan culture. However, spelling was not fixed.  There are significant discrepancies in the spelling of some words and names and basically a northern and southern variety of Etruscan developed.
 

Architecture
The E
truscans developed Italy’s earliest monumental architecture in their fortified hill towns, but apparently the checkerboard planning, which some of these exhibit, was only borrowed from the Greeks after the fifth century BC. They excelled in the construction of drainage channels, bridges and gateways. In the third century BC they adopted the use of the true arch, which made construction very durable as well as pleasing in appearance. Special training institutes were founded, which were a kind of university with several faculties, run by priests.
As in the ancient East, theological and secular knowledge were not separated.  The curricula included religious laws, theology, zoology, meteorology, ornithology, botany, geology and hydraulics.  The latter was the subject of so-called aquivices, who advised the city-states on all their hydraulic engineering projects.  They were expert diviners, who knew how to find subterranean water, how to bore wells, how to dig water channels, supply drinking water to towns, install irrigation and draining systems and create artificial reservoirs. Aquivices collaborated with other priests who specialized in constructing subterranean corridors and tunneling mountains.
 
Tombs
Etruscans made elaborate provision for a life after death by constructing great tombs, filled with furniture and precious
objects and with vivid, realistic pictures on the walls.  Tombs took either the form of large tumuli, as in Phrygia or in Lydia, or the form of an elaborate underground house, with a series of rooms and corridors tunnelled through the rock.
The wall paintings of the tombs of the sixth and fifth centuries BC were strongly under the influence of Ionian and Athenian art, but drew most of their subject matter from Etruscan life.  Typical are e.g. Etruscan funeral combats fought to the death by armed prisoners of war and slaves.  These were regarded as a sort of human sacrifice and were the prototypes of the later Roman gladiatorial exhibitions.

Etruscan tombs at Cerveteri
Religion
Etruscan religio
n is a so-called revealed religion.  Tages or Tarchies, the grandson of the god Tinia or Tins (Jupiter), had come to earth in the form of a small child and was ploughed up from the soil near Tarquinia by a farmer called Tarchon.  His cries of surprise attracted a number of Etruscan priests to whom Tages started to teach.  His teachings were recorded and became known as the Etrusca Disciplina. 
This body of Etruscan religious literature, parts of which survived in the form of Latin translations dating from the first century BC, described the cosmos and the Underworld.  It also prescribed various rituals, ways to build temples, cities and city-walls and how to interpret and act upon messages from the gods. Later, also Romans were involved in this study, which included translating and interpreting the old texts and teaching them to appropriate individuals.
Etruscan religious and secular knowledge was so important to the Romans, that they had a practice of sending their sons to Etruria to study this ancient lore.  A great variety of Etruscan topics was dealt with by Varro, ranging from the practice of sacrificing a pig for a ritual pact (“De re rustica”) to the Etruscan rite for laying out a city (“Etruscus ritus; De lingua Latina”).

Model of an Etruscan temple

The Etruscan religion was fatalistic in the sense that it considered the destiny of man to be completely determined. Though Fate could not be escaped, postponement was sometimes possible by prayer and sacrifice. The Etruscans regarded life, in a world extensively peopled with spirits ready to harm mankind, as hazardous and developed an elaborate set of procedures for telling the future and for warding off evil.  Most characteristic was liver divination (by a netsvis, Lat. haruspex), which was adopted by the Romans.  Also the interpretation of thunder and lightning (by a trutnvt, Lat. fulguriator), the flight of birds and freaks of nature all had a particular relevance to human activities as signs from the gods and required interpretation by experts. 
In this light, it may be understandable why the Etruscan temple emphasized the awful majesty of the deities by the impressive façade and by the deep porch and dark closed room of the cella.  Greek temples, in contrast, were designed to attract people to visit the house of their gods.  Finally, an interesting feature is that, compared to e.g. the ancient Greek world, the social status of Etruscan women was high.  The fact that they are frequently depicted sharing the company of men at banquets games and ceremonies is a clear sign of social parity between the sexes.  They also actively participated in the careers of their husbands. 
 
Etruscan Influence on Roman Life

Unsurprisingly, af
ter such a long time of cultural domination, Roman life was heavily influenced by Etruscan values, habits and art, until long after the time that the Etruscans had ceased to exist as an independent people. Rome’s “logo” par excellence, for instance, the she-wolf to whom in the fifteenth century AD the twins Romulus and Remus were added, was originally a piece of Etruscan artwork made in Orvieto (fifth century BC).
The Romans adopted the Etruscan alphabet, the Etruscan system for numbers and names (with nomen and gens - later the cognomen was added), the lunar calendar, with the Idus (from Etr. Itus) for the middle of the month.

The Roman guild of haruspices and other soothsayers was of Etruscan origin.  So was Rome’s legal system, as well as its class of magistrates, e.g. the lictores (Etr. laux(u)mes), who used to be representatives of the Etruscan cities. The same goes for Rome’s symbols of power, such as the fasces, the bundle of rods with the double-bladed axe in the middle, the emperor’s red shoes, golden crown, scepter, toga palmata and the sella curulis (folding chair), which would survive far into imperial times and would even be used by mediaeval kings. Roman temples and religion were heavily influenced by their Etruscan counterparts.
The development of agriculture, metallurgy, hydraulics, irrigation and architecture were originally all in Etruscan hand. The famous groma, an instrument without which no Roman town or military camp would be built, came from the Etruscans, who referred to it as cruma.  They, in turn, had borrowed the instrument from the Greeks, who called it gnomon.  Also the trumpet, which the Romans aptly called tirrenica was an Etruscan invention.
The centuriae, which would become the core of the Roman army system, were an Etruscan creation. So was the habit to hold a triumph in which the victorious general was carried through the city in a chariot with his face painted red. The red face indicated that the victor represented the god Tins/Tina/Jupiter.  It symbolized that he had only been able to win the victory as a human instrument of the divine powers.

The Greeks in Italy
Between 775 and 580 BC the Greeks had started an intensive wave of colonization in the Mediterranean and had managed to establish settlements on all coastal areas between Spain and the Crimea.  As the agricultural resources of Italy were much richer than those of Greece, they had also landed on Italy’s fertile west coast.  The first Greek colony, or rather emporion, (“trading-post”) in Italy was Pithekoussai on the island of Ischia in the Bay of Napels, followed by Kyme (Lat.Cumae, modern Cuma) on the mainland across the water.  The earliest Greek imports into Etruria and Campania are dated at around 800 BC.  In the next decades colonies on Sicily were founded (Syracuse and Messina), soon followed by Sybaris, Croton and Taras on the southern coast of Italy. From finds, especially buried in the truly princely tombs of Etruscan aristocratic family groups, it appears that there was a lively trade with the cultures of the East.
Apparently, it was these Greek colonists who fixed the name Italy on the land, referring to the southern part where they had settled as Vitelia, “land of cattle”.  The fertile coastal plains of Etruria, Latium and Campania, as well as the table lands of the central Apennines became the chief areas of settlement.
During the last decades of the seventh century BC the Etruscans accepted Greek culture in all its forms. Etruscan cities, which had long been protected by simple wooden embankments or earthworks, were now surrounded by fortified walls in cut stone, sometimes topped with sections of sun-baked bricks.  Greek myths inspired by Greek tradition were represented in Etruscan art and the style of life imitated that of the Greeks.
Enriched by commercial trade, prosperous cities grew up in the south, the most important of which was Capua. Military and commercial confrontations with the Greek colonies of southern Italy lasted for a long time, without either side emerging victorious, until the Greek fleet of Syracuse inflicted a decisive defeat on the Etruscans in 474 BC near Cape Miseno in the Bay of Naples.
 
Terracotta sculpture of Apulu (Apollo), Veii, ca 500 BC



The Etruscan League
The Etruscan League developed over the centuries and is traditionally referred to as a League of Twelve Cities, with no central government. These were in alphabetical order (with modern city-names in brackets): Aritim (Arezzo), Caisria (Cerveteri), Clevsin (Chiusi), Curtuna (Cortona), Pupluna (Populonia), Pershia (Perugia), Tarchna (Tarquinia), Vatluna (Vetulonia), Veii (Veio), Velatri (Volterra), Velca (Vulci) and Velzna (Bolsena).  There is no total consensus to this list and it should be taken into consideration that the number twelve may largely have been a symbolic, cosmic or religious number, similar to other federations based on the number twelve, such as the Samnite League, the Greek Amphictyony (“league of neighbours”), which existed before the rise of the Greek poleis, the Ionian League in western Anatolia or the twelve tribes of Israel.
Other well-known Etruscan cities that are usually not listed as part of the league are Adria, Bologna (Etr. Volsinia), Capua, Fiesole, Mantova, Marsiliana, Orvieto (Etr. Velsena), Pontecagnano, Roselle, Sovana, Spina and Alalia (on Corsica).
The Etruscan League was primarily an economic and religious league, or loose confederation, similar to that of the Greek city-states.  There is no Etruscan record referring to this league.  Livy and Dionysus of Halicarnassus refer to twelve “peoples” (populi), cities or principalities whereas Strabo just refers to a league.  According to Livy, the League met once a year at the religious festival called Fanum Voltumnae (location unknown, but probably near present Orvieto) after one of the principal Etruscan gods Voltumna (Etr. Veltha, the god of change and the seasons), according to Varro in his De lingua Latina (5.46), where a leader was chosen to represent the League. During the religious celebrations and political meetings an important market was held, attracting people from all surrounding territories.
The League was not without tensions between its member city-states.  Sources and finds document a rivalry between Cerveteri and Tarquinia for the hills of Cerveteri; Volci expanded at the expense of Marsiliana.  By the sixth century BC, however, the boundaries between most larger city-states were more or less fixed. Unfortunately, due to the lack of written sources, the day-to-day political struggles, battles and wars between the city states are almost completely unknown to us.

Etruscan Heyday (600-500 BC)
The po
litical and economic domination of the Etruscans was at its height at around 500 BC, a time in which they had consolidated the Umbrian cities and had occupied a large part of Latium.  Rome had been ruled by Etruscan kings since 616 BC. The League had established colonies on Corsica, Elba, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands and the coast of Spain.During the sixth century Veio, Cerveteri, Tarquinia, Vulci and Orvieto in the south were city-states of the first rank, rivalling the wealthiest cities in the Mediterranean.  In the north, Populonia and Chiusi were steadily growing in importance, while the Etruscans controlled both the Po valley in the north and Campania in the south.
Etruscan trading activity was largely based on mineral wealth, as well as on their talent to produce high-quality metal art, tools and weapons.  As trade and crafts became more important, more and more people did not fit into the client relationship (servitus) on which the economic and social power of the aristocracy was based.  Thus a kind of plebs arose and was soon in conflict with the aristocracy.  There is evidence of such a plebs in the huge cemeteries of Cerveteri and Orvieto.  At Orvieto the names of those buried there show that many of the owners of these “middle-class” members were of non-Etruscan origin (e.g. Kalatur Paphenas for Calator Fabius, a common Latin name).
Vast properties in the lush and fertile southern region of Campania had been controlled from early times, as this region was of strategic significance for controlling access to the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Campania was a natural point of passage on the commercial routes to Sicily and the eastern Mediterranean, as well as a point of departure for military expeditions.  Etruscan settlers colonized Campania from the seventh century BC, first of all along the coast of the Gulf of Salerno and then expanded control to the whole of the plain of Campania, at the rear of the Greek colonies of the Gulf of Naples.  Capua, which was originally an Oscan settlement, was transformed by the Etruscans of Vulci into a coveted city between the eighth and fifth centuries BC.  Under the impetus of economic growth and following commercial routes to the north, the Etruscans had crossed the Apennines in the sixth century BC and began the colonisation of the plain of the Po.  The fertile plain of the Po represented very favourable land for the advanced methods of Etruscan agriculture and a major point of passage to reach markets on the other side of the Alps.
Etruscan weapons, shoes, clothing, jewellery and pottery have been found in southern Germany (Heuneberg in Kreis Sigmaringen and Eberdingen-Hochdorf near Stuttgart) and southern France.  During the sixth century BC, the Etruscan kings tried to establish their rule over Aricia (25 km southeast of Rome) but the policies of the Latin League prevented an invasion. 
In their economic struggles with their Greek competitors, the Etruscans from Cerveteri allied with the Carthaginians against Greeks from Phocaea, who had settled in Aleria (modern Alalia) on Corsica around 562 BC. Between 540 and 535 BC they fought a fierce naval battle with the Phocaeans, who won a narrow victory. However, the Greeks had lost so many ships that they were forced to abandon the colony.

Warfare and Armour
Strategic locations

For their defence, th
e first Etruscan towns trusted in the difficult accessibility of their locations, with sites on high ground on rocky spurs and with an intricate maze of alleys in the inhabited areas.  During the sixth and fifth centuries BC, city walls were of very simple design.  Large square blocks were put on top of each other and the wall merely marked the limits of the city. The weakest points – the gates – were reinforced by square towers. The Etruscans remained faithful to this concept, even though the requirements of military architecture and defence changed in the fourth century BC.

A typical Etruscan town near Orvieto (Umbria)


Weaponry
Originally, Etruscan soldiers were probably armed with axes and clubs, but the composition of the army changed progressively.  Chariots gave way to cavalry and axes and clubs to spears, swords and shields.  Double-bladed axes, which were originally only used as a weapon by high-ranking people, later became symbols of military and legislative authority. 
Long (1 m.), heavy, single-bladed (40 cm) axes were abundantly used by the military up to the fifth century BC. Axes were a novel military element at the time. The double-bladed axe remained a symbol of power among the Romans. Based on the scarcity of representations of archers it may be derived that bows were probably seldom used.  Although the Etruscans used war chariots, it is not known if these were solely used as a form of transport for their leaders to reach the battlefield as in the Iliad, or if they were actually used for fighting.  Swords were usually short and curved, rather Hispanic and early Greek in style, though double-handed swords were used as well. Swords from the Villanovan period were short (around 50 cm) and straight. Later swords were 44 to 70 cm long, often straight and mostly of bronze, but iron examples have been found as well.  These were generally equipped with a so-called “antenna-hilt”

Until around 700 shields often had the shape of a figure of 8.  Later shields were round, oval or four-sided. Some shields had attachments for straps so that they could be suspended from the shoulders. An Etruscan statuette from Vetulonia shows a warrior with a round shield slung on his back, presumably to allow him to carry a mace and spear at the same time.
Helmets came in a great variety of shapes. The predominant type was the pot helmet. The earliest form is a simple round cap turned out at the brim. A not very common type was a smooth, conical and pointed helmet, rather like a Chinese hat. Others had large decorated round bosses riveted to the side, many were crested (Greek-style). All types of helmets were held on by chin straps and most of them had no cheek pieces.

Legs were often protected by bronze greaves. A fifth century fragment from the Sassi Caduti temple at Falerii Veteres shows two armoured warriors with thigh protectors.  Whereas the use of thigh, foot and arm protectors died out in Greece in the sixth century BC,
they continued to be popular in Etruria.
 

Formations and tactics
Both a
rtistic representations and archaeological evidence indicate that hoplite warfare came to Etruria in the middle of the seventh century BC.  Athenaeus (around 200 AD) states that the Romans took close battle formation from the Etruscans, who used to attack in a phalanx.  The Ineditum Vaticanum mentions that the Etruscans did not fight in maniples but made war armed with bronze shields in a phalanx.  As of the seventh and sixth centuries BC the individual city states recruited their armies from their citizens according to the census.  In the fifth century BC a new class of warriors came into existence. Types of weapons were dependent on age and rank.  Thus corps of hoplites, cavalry and lightly armed troops were formed. 

The Etruscan king Servius Tullius (578-534 AD) is said to have reformed the army in Rome along these lines.  His most important innovation was that citizenship by race was replaced by one based on residence and that the prevailing social order by gens and curia (= co-viria, i.e. “an assembly of armed men”, ten of which formed a tribus) was reformed. 

Centuriae
Citizens were divided into 193 centuriae, which were further divided into 5 subgroups or classes based on wealth. The division of citizens according to age clearly reveals the military character of the system.  Within each class there were iuniores (age 17 to 45) and seniores (age 46-60).  Class I consisted of 80 centuriae of heavily armed men, Class II to IV had 20 centuriae each.  The centuriaeof Class II and III were less heavily armed than those of Class I.  Class IV was only equipped with spears and javelins.  Class V consisted of 30 centuries which carried slings with stones for missiles. Livy (1.42.5-43.8) mentions that in Class V there were also 2 centuries of trumpeters and horn-blowers, whereas Dionysius adds the centuries of musicians to Class IV.  While Livy ranks two centuries of engineers with class I, Dionysius adds these to Class II.  Class VI consisted of the poorest civilians and performed no military duties.  Apart from these 5 classes of heavy infantry, there were also 18 centuriae of cavalry, 2 of craftsmen, 2 of musicians and one of men without any means (proletarii).


Detail of the Certosa situla, Bologna

The Certosa situla of Bologna (a bronze vessel from the fifth century BC, which was used as an urn) shows an army on the march, consisting of cavalry in column, armed with axes and wearing heavy garments, followed by infantry consisting of four types of warriors.  Sekunda refers to the warriors on the Certosa situla as Veneti, whereas Lancelotti and Peragine class them as Etruscans.  Connolly includes the helmets shown on the Certosa situla in a series of sixth century Italian pot helmets, most of which were found in northern Italy, Slovenia and Illyria.
The depicted Negau type helmet found in Negova, Slovenia, however, is generally accepted as a typical Etruscan helmet from Vetulonia (Etr. Vatluna).  Interestingly, in the bottom-row of this vessel, various animals are depicted, amongst which a number of sphinx-like creatures, reminiscent of Hittite art.

Decline and Fall (500-200 BC)
The Etruscan League flourished as long as it did not meet with coordinated aggressive resistance. Without any perceived common Etruscan interest, there were no joint military or commercial activities and plenty of internal conflicts between small, autonomous city-states.  This posed no problem, as long as the Etruscans were competing with the Greek city-states in southern Italy, which were organized in a similar way.  Unlike the Greeks and Carthaginians, however, the Etruscan did not concentrate on founding overseas colonies.  This helped their economic competitors to quickly gain the commercial upper hand in the markets in which the Etruscans were active as well.
Problems started to arise when a mutual agreement with Carthage, with whom Etruria had allied itself against the Phocaean Greeks in 535 BC, restricted Etruscan trade.  Under the generals Asdrubal and Hamilkar the Carthaginians established themselves on Sardinia around 510 BC.  Moreover, in the second half of the fifth century BC the Greek colonies, in Italy as well as abroad, were undergoing a period of overwhelming cultural and political growth.  This would radically change the position of the Etruscans in a matter of decades.  The commercial and military confrontation with the Greek colonies of the south of Italy, which had lasted for a long time without any serious consequences for either side, ended when the Syracusan fleet inflicted a decisive defeat on the Etruscans in 474 BC near Cape Miseno (Bay of Naples).
This confrontation came to be known as the battle of Cumae.  The immediate result was that the Etruscan cities in Campania lost control of the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Furthermore, any further Etruscan expansion in southern Italy was successfully blocked and this marked the beginning of territorial loss in southern Italy.  As a result, Etruscan-Greek trade with Campania lapsed between 475 and 450 BC and was redirected toward Spina in the Po valley.  Etruscan economic wealth in Campania rapidly collapsed.
In 453 BC Syracuse, Etruria’s most powerful rival, devastated all the commercial ports of Etruria, without meeting with any opposition.  Etruscan power was now in full decline.  Shortly afterwards, Etruscan Campania was invaded by Samnite tribes.  Finally, when the Samnites overran Capua in 428 BC, Etruscan domination of the region came to an end.  Ironically enough, Capua’s eternal enemy Cumae, suffered the same fate only a few years later in 423 BC. In less than a century Etruscan the Samnites had completely conquered Campania, whilst the plain of the Po was invaded by the Celts. Embattled on all sides and with trade disrupted, the southern Etruscan cities experienced a recession.
The Etruscan cities of the centre and the north remained almost untouched by the expansion of Greek sea trade and were perhaps less torn apart by internal social pressures and therefore less vulnerable to economic distress.

In the meantime, a new and even greater danger had appeared on the border between Etruria and Latium in 509 BC: led by Lucius Junius Brutus the city of Rome had chased away Tarquinius Superbus (“the arrogant one”) and had gained its independence.  The Roman revolt was only a part of the general rejection of Etruscan authority by the Latins. A counter-attack on Rome after the fall of the Tarquins by Lars Porsenna (Etr. Pursna), king of Chiusi, failed.
In 505 BC the other towns of Latium, together with the Greeks of Cumae under Aristodemos, defeated the Etruscans led by Aruns, the son of Lars Porsenna, at Aricia.  Veio and her allies Capena, Fidenae and Falerii waged wars against Rome during the periods between 483-474 BC and 438-425 BC.  Veio eventually succumbed to Rome after a conflict that lasted from 406 to 396 BC.  The city was destroyed and her territory seized.
Only a few years later, Celtic populations started to arrive from north of the Alps under the leadership of Brennus looking for fertile lands to settle.  They gradually destroyed the Etruscan cities and put an end to Etruscan control of the plain of the Po.  The period of 358 to 351 BC was marked by slave revolts at Arezzo, which resulted from a number political actions by the League that now had acquired a very aristocratic and conservative character. This character also marks the wars that Tarquinia fought against Rome in the same period, which took place at the stage in which Rome was working out an alliance between patricians and plebeans.
Around 311 BC the Etruscan city-states united their forces against Rome, something that they had rarely done before, and laid siege to Sutrium (Etr. Suthri), a former satellite town of Veio, 70 km northwest of Rome.

However, they were defeated.  Two decades later, in 295 and 293 BC, a combined army of Etruscans, Samnites, Umbrians and transalpine Gauls challenged Rome at Sentinum (near Ancona) and Apulonia, but were crushed. A decade later Etruscans and Gauls (Boii) battled Romans again near Lake Vadimo (in the territory of Orvieto) in 283 BC, but they were defeated again.
By 280 BC the Etruscans had become subject-allies of the Roman Republic and would support Rome in its wars against the Carthaginians and Gauls at the end of the century.
The political death sentence of the Etruscan League was pronounced when the statue of one of the principal Etruscan gods Voltumna (Etr. Veltha), in whose temple the League used to congregate during the annual Fanum Voltumnae, was carried to Rome, and Orvieto was destroyed in 264 BC.  In 260 BC the Etruscans suffered another defeat against the Gauls in the plain of the river Po.  In 89 BC Rome granted citizenship to the Etruscans, which was the final step towards complete Romanisation.

Etruscan terracotta sarcophagus in the shape of a woman, first century BC

The Emergence of Rome 
The beginnings of Rome were insignificant and obscure.  Apparently the early Romans, who were indistinguishable among their Latin neighbours, did not provoke the curiosity of Greek contemporary historians. Its people were farmers and herders who settled on the hills around the future Forum Romanum.  The original site of the Forum Romanum was a boggy area hardly fit for inhabitation.  Traces of inhabitation during the Bronze Age have been found on some of the Roman hills and in the plain on the right bank of the Tiber, near the place where the river could be forded.
The earliest, very fragmentary picture of Rome as a permanent settlement is from the early Iron Age, between 900 and 600 BC.  At that time there were separate villages on the Palatine, Quirinal and Viminal hills, on the left bank of the Tiber.  Though the villages were still individual political units, their inhabitants joined together in religious rites, which were perpetuated in the Festival of the Septimontium (Seven Mounts), apparently dating from the seventh century BC. While Rome experienced a considerable development under its Etruscan rulers in the sixth century BC, the agricultural villages seem to have coalesced into a city before that time.  Around 600 BC Roman territory probably also included the right bank of the Tiber, present Trastevere.  It is likely that the name Roma was applied to the community at the time.  Roma comes from Ruma, which derives from the Etruscan gens Rumelna, whose members originally inhabited Orvieto.

Archeological evidence shows that at the time Rome contained workers, traders and farmers, and was a flourishing town.  In 590 BC, under the first Etruscan king Tarquinius Priscus, a large temple on the Etruscan model was built on the Capitoline Hill for Jupiter Capitolinus and various Etruscan religious rites and customs were introduced.  Priscus had the Cloaca Maxima constructed which was used to drain the swampy area of the Forum Romanum.  He then proceeded to develop the Forum Romanum itself, and built the Circus Maximus.  A defensive wall of stone and earth was built in 565 BC, enclosing an area of more than 1000 acres, which was not completely settled yet.  The Capitoline Hill was separately fortified to serve as a citadel.
Once they had learned to write the Romans themselves only kept official records: their religious calendars, list of magistrates and some laws and treaties. Rome’s first history (in Greek) written by the Roman historian Quintus Fabius Pictor did not see the light until the third century BC.  He and his successors collected legends and stories that had been passed down orally from generation to generation. 
Based on this material, as well as partly invented and inflated accounts concocted by Greek and Roman writers, the origins of Rome were neatly connected to the Heroic Age of Greece by the story of Aeneas and his descendants, which became the theme of Vergil’s epic poem the Aeneid.  Vergil’s full name was Publius Vergilius Maro (70-19 BC).  His cognomen Maro was Etruscan.  Maru means ”official” or “magistrate”.  Vergil was commissioned to write the Aeneid by the Emperor Augustus, after the latter had won the battle of Actium.

Interestingly, the Aeneid also claims Anatolian roots for the Romans.  The Aeneid describes how Prince Aeneas, son of the last King of Troy, flees his destroyed city and lands in Italy, where he settles in Lavinium near Rome. According to Roman mythology and recounted in the Origo gentis Romana, by Fabius Pictor and by Cato the Elder, Aeneas’ son Ascanius founded Alba Longa, the site of the Alban festival of Jupiter.  Thanks to his cognomen Iulus, Ascanius could conveniently be designated as the forefather of the gens Iulia, to which also Augustus belonged.
Between Ascanius and Romulus, the founding father of Rome, there is an interval of lesser descendants.  This myth is of value in understanding the Roman pride of race, but the content is clearly not factual, nor is the “founding date” of Rome in 753 BC.  When Rome had chased away its last Etruscan king in 509 BC, a system based on annually elected magistrates and various representative assemblies was established.  A constitution set a series of checks and balances, and a separation of powers.  The most important magistrates were the two consuls, who together exercised executive authority in the form of imperium, or military command.  The consuls had to work with the Senate, which was initially an advisory council of the ranking nobility, or patricians, but which grew in size and power over time.
Once a republic, Rome’s real strength lay in its centralized political institutions, its talent for organisation and its ruthless determination to get what it wanted.  As its magistrates and the Senate were appointed by and from the ruling patrician families, whose hunger for power and possessions would appear to be insatiable, there was no option for Rome but to systematically conquer steadily greater parts of the Italian peninsula. As we know, Rome’s drive for expansion did not stop there.

Contemporary Sources


  • Aigner-Foresti, Luciana: Die Etrusker und das frühe Rom, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt, 2009
  • Beecham, Paul, Return of the Sabellians, Slingshot, issue 212 magazine of the Society of Ancients
  • Connolly, Peter, Hannibal and the Enemies of Rome, Macdonald Educational, London 1978
  • Etruscan News, Issue 6, May 2006, Editor-in-Chief Jane Whitehead, Modern and Classical Languages, Valdosta State University, Valdosta GA, USA
  • Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, International Dictionary of Historic Places, Volume 3, Southern Europe, Chicago 1995
  • Lancelotti, L. and G. Peragine, Etruscan Weapons, Slingshot issue 108, magazine of the Society of Ancients 1983
  • Malitz, Prof. Dr. Jürgen, Claudius (FgrHist 276) - der Prinzeps als Gelehrter,http://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/propylaeumdok/volltexte/2009/389/ 
  • Pooley, Rob, Arms of the Etruscans, Slingshot issue 84 and 85, magazine of the Society of Ancients 1979
  • Sekunda, Nick & Northwood, Simon, Early Roman Armies, Men-at-Arms Series 283, Osprey Publishing, Oxford 1999
  • Roebuck, Carl, The World of Ancient Times: The Etruscans and Early Rome,Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York,1966
  • Thompson de Grummond, Nancy and Erika Simon: The Religion of the Etruscans, University of Texas Press, 2006
  • Torelli, Mario: History: Land and People in “Etruscan Life and Afterlife”, A Handbook of Etruscan Studies, Ed. by Larissa Bonfante, Wayne State University Press, USA, 1986
  • Wood, Michael, In Search of the Trojan War, BBC, London 1985
  • Woudhuizen, Frederik: The Ethnicity of the Sea Peoples, dissertation for the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, 2006

Ancient Sources

  • Herodotus, The Histories, Penguin Classics, London, 1972
  • Ineditum Vaticanum, published in 1892 by H. von Arnim; a collection of historical excerpts relating to Roman history.
  • Origo Gentis Romanae, Translated Texts, Number 3, Canisius College, Buffalo, New York, 2004
  • Vergilius, Aeneis, ed. M.J.Patist, J.B. Wolters, Groningen, 1965






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