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I am part of an ancient history study group and want to do apresentation on the etruscans. i am interested in military organisation. from the armour and weapons they probally fought as hoplites but does anyone no anyhting more?
Hey John!

I can only tell you what I have found in some books, but there are probably others in this forum who can give you more detailed information on it.

So as the etruscans, in their later phase, were heavily influenced by the greeks they also took over their weapons and armors, but the typical hoplite was, as in ancient greece, restricted to the higher classes of population.

Concerning the body armor, as said it depended from what you could afford. There was a great variety from metal breastplates as the kardiophylax to simple leather harnesses.

Helmets; Greek forms as well as italic, such as the negau type, but also depends on the time frame.

Its also mentioned in one of my books that the etruscans probably used more open formations than the phalanx.

An interesting book for you might be the "Early Roman Warrior 753-321BC by Nic Fields.

I know its not much but I hope I could give you a bit of information.



I wrote this over 10 years ago and haven’t revisited it till now. Maybe it will help maybe not.

The time has come to talk about the Tyrrhenians, who were famous in former times for their valour, becoming masters of many countries and founders of many great cities. (Diodorus Siculus)

The ancient writers took no interest in distinguishing between each Etruscan city-state but simply described them as “the Etruscans,” giving the impression of a unified race or nation. The Etruscans history should not be interpreted as “the history of the Etruscans”, but as “the history of each city-state”, with each city-state being a separate entity with the ruling class in each city state sometimes forming independent networks of collaboration with other city-states. The Etruscan chronological is divided into three periods:

900-750 BC: Villanovan period
750-580 BC: The Orientalising period
580-400 BC: Archaic/Classical period

The origin of the Etruscans was a matter of controversy to the ancient writers as they are to today’s historians and archaeologist. Livy and Virgil believed that the Etruscans migrated to central Italy after the fall of Troy with Aeneas as their leader. Herodotus wrote that the Etruscans were of Lydian descent and migrated from Turkey to Italy with Tyrrhenos as their leader, from whom they adopted the name the Tyrrhenians. The Roman writers Seneca and Tacitus follow Herodotus view. Dionysius of Halicarnassus believed the origins of the Etruscans were autochthonous (indigenous). Modern theory believes the Etruscans (Tyrrhenians) or Rasenna, as they called themselves were autochthonous and descendants of people who flourished in central Italy (Etruria) in the ninth to eighth centuries BC (known as the Villanovans) but were subjected to cultural influences and immigrants at various stages (neo-autochthonous).

The Etruscans were an agrarian people with a strong military, and during the seventh and sixth centuries, Etruscan expansion (more economic than military and undertaken on an haphazard basis), was conducted by individual city-states or private mercenary armies, and eventually extended from the Po valley in the north (including Rome) to Campania in the south and the ports of eastern Corsica. With this demographic expansion, those Etruscan aristocrats involved in these expeditions increased in power, authority and wealth.

Etruscan expansion (both land and sea) eventually bought them into conflict with the Greek colonies of southern Italy. In 540 BC, a combined Carthago-Etruscan fleet defeated the Greek Phocaeans at Alalia off Corsica. This gave the Etruscans control of the shipping routes north of the strait of Messina. In 524 BC, an Etruscan army was defeated by the Greek colony of Cumae. In 506 BC, an Etruscan army under the command of King Porsena’s son Arrun was defeated by a contingent of Cumaeans at the battle of Aricia. This loss resulted in the Latins being able to cut communications between Etruria and Campania. Etruscan southern expansion finally ended when at the naval battle of Cumae in 474 BC they were decisively defeated by the combined fleet of the Cumaean Greeks and the Syracusans.

In its many wars with Rome, the first Etruscan city to fall to Rome was the city of Veii in 396 BC and the final stage of the conquest of Etruria was the capture of the city of Volsinii in 264 BC. In 386 B.C. the Etruscans were overcome by the Gallic invasion and had to abandon the Po valley and with it, the severing of their northern trading routes across the Alps. With each defeat at the hands of the Romans, the Etruscan cities, customs, religion and language were slowly lost or assimilated into the Roman state.

The political structure of the Etruscans rested mainly on a system of small regional states, each having at its head a large city. Throughout its history, Etruscan society remained archaic and almost feudal and monarchy (lucumones) was the standard form of government in the fifth century but later in the fourth century, after violent social conflicts, the lower orders were given political responsibility and eventually the monarchy was superseded by an oligarchic society with each magistrate annually elected as the head. The details of the Etruscan republican government are not clear but it is believed the three main magistrates were known as the zilath, the maru and the purthne. The zilath is believed to have represented the chief magistracy who administered the city, convoked the senate and submitted matters to the popular assembly.

The Etruscan social structure was divided into a powerful aristocracy (domini) with an immense body of clients (etera), serfs and slaves (servi) with no middle class. Although this seems unique for a Mediterranean society, epigraphic evidence does support a two class society, the wealthy aristocrats and the serfs and slaves. Dionysius called the country people penastes, a name used in Thessaly for the indigenous people who had been reduced to serfdom by the conquering Thessalians. The clients (etera) of the aristocrats were not completely free and were attached to their patron’s house and helped them in politics and commerce. The etera also included the agrestes, the land-workers who cultivated the land of their patrons as possessores. After the social conflicts in the various city-states of the fourth century, the aristocracy became supplanted by a new economic class but the political and social power still remained in the hands of the old gentilicial structure.

But the Tyrrhenians…passed a vote that all the Tyrrhenian cities should carry on the war jointly against the Romans and that any city refusing to take part in the expedition should be excluded from their league. Dionysius III. 57

In the sixth century BC, the Etruscans formed a federation of twelve peoples (consilium Etruriae). The League is a modern term and Livy never describes it as a league but more vaguely a council (consilium) or treaty (foedus). The alliance between the cities was basically predominantly religious and rarely political. Although Livy identifies the consilium Etruriae as twelve in number archaeologist have identified over 15 main city centres. The twelve main cities believed to belong to the League, and using their Etruscans names are:

Caere, Tarquinii, Vulci, Vetluna, Rusellae, Pupulonia, Velathrii, Camars, (named Clusium by the Romans), the birthplace of king Porsena, Volsinii, later to be the meeting place of the Etruscan League, Veii, Arretium, Curtun, Perusia and Orvieto.

Historical documents and archaeological evidence show the cities of Adria and Capua, although on the fringes of Etruscan territory, in the Po River valley and in Campania were Etruscan settlements. Strabo (V 4) and Livy (V 33) have the Etruscans organised into 12 cities in each of the three districts. Each city had three consecrated gates and three temples to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. (Servius Aeneas 1 422) Mantua, till late an Etruscan city, had three tribes. (Servius Aeneas 10 202)

Although the Etruscans were united by the league, they mainly remained autonomous in their wars although some cities did combine on a particular expedition. Like the Greek city states, they fought amongst each other and many cities often had hostile policies towards one another. The Roman historian Dionysius (III. 57) cites the Etruscan were obligated to joint military alliances, but also makes it clear that this was often ignored if the loyalty of the League clashed with the common interests of a city, the city’s interest would take precedence and a classic example is the failure of the Etruscan cities to save Veii in its fatal war with Rome, and also no Etruscan city sent any aid to Clusium when it was attacked by the Gauls. Some cities like Caere on many occasions gave alliance to the Romans, while others remained neutral.

The failure of the Etruscan city-states to establish united action was ultimately to prove fatal in their wars with Rome. Had the Etruscan city-states been able to overcome their differences and conduct joint operations, the result could have been catastrophic for Rome. In conclusion the Etruscan ‘league’ was an ineffective body that remained insignificant and inoperative as a political and military force.

The Etruscans evolved from a warrior aristocracy of the eighth century BC into an oligarchic society of extended families (gentilician) who retained aristocratic control of all political and religious functions, including the possession of weapons, armour and horses. The Etruscan soldier was therefore closely bound to the ruling class rather than as independent persons as their counterparts in Rome or Greece. For this reason it could be better termed a “gentilicial” army made up of bands (sodales).

Epigraphic studies of Etruria conclude that a city and its surrounding area were in the possession of no more than twenty families. In the event of war, Etruscan aristocrats traveled around their estates mobilizing their clients. By the fifth century, client sizes could be considerable but the Etruscan social structure of confining military equipment and mobilization to kinsmen, clients and retainers, and their social backwardness and imbalance made Etruria ill prepared to meet the challenge of Rome.

According to Thucydides (VI. 88, 103: VII. 53, 57), the Etruscans fought as mercenaries against the Athenians in the Sicilian expedition of 414-413 BC, but the evidence is ambiguous and it could be that Thucydides means Etruscan officers fought as mercenaries. Diodorus Siculus (V. 40. 1), cites in the seventh century BC, the Etruscans invented the war trumpet or horn (the Tyrrhenian trumpet, or named by the Romans the tuba) to give acoustic signals in battle. For the acoustic signals to be heard, the Etruscan Corinthian helmet was modified with cut away sections over the ears and flexible cheek pieces added. The Etruscan standards consisted of the eagle, wolf, Minotaur, horse and boar. The boar motif is claimed to be the symbol of the city of Tarquinii. The Etruscans built their military camps on a North/South grid, as specified by the Etruscan sacred books.

The Ineditum Vaticanum claims the Etruscans did not fight in maniples. Like many of the ancient peoples, Etruscan mathematics was based on the decimal system (albeit an awkward one), as was the early Roman calendar (the Romulean calendar) containing 10 months which covered the vegetation year, and a vegetation year represented 100, the basis of the century organization.

Each Etruscan city state was under the command of important representatives of the city oligarchy. As each city sent delegates once a year to Fanum Voltumna to elect a common leader, this could indicate in times of war when joint operations with other Etruscan cities was planned, a supreme commander (imperium) was elected, but the literary evidence seems to suggest the election of a common leader at Fanum Voltumna was more likely a religious function as Voltumna was the Etruscan chief god. The title of the president of the League is not known and there is no recorded instant of a federal Etruscan army. From the literary evidence it appears an Etruscan army consisting of various city-states did not have an overall unified hierarchical command structure.

Etruria, being an important connecting point between the East Mediterranean, Greece and Central Europe cultures meant the Etruscans were armed with a variety of foreign weapons. Besides outside influences, the Etruscans also developed their own unique weapons such as the iron socketed axe with square blades and the one edge sword. Main weapons were the thrusting-spear, javelin, the one-edged sword; the two-handed axe, the large knife with curved blade (machaira), the Argive shield, the figure eight shield and the scutum shield. For helmets, the most common archaeological finds are the bell-shaped Villanovan helmet, and the shrapnel helmet of the seventh century (and still being used well into the fifth century BC). Archaeology evidence confirms the Etruscans preferred their own helmet designs, although during its wars with the Celts in the fourth century BC, the Etruscans adopted some Celtic equipment and the knob helmet.

The Benvenuti situla (600 BC), shows warriors with round shields; the La Certosa situla (early fifth century) has infantry equipped with two types of oval shield; and the Arnaldi situla, shows most of the soldiers with a rectangular shield, and one that could be an officer with a round clipeus. This could indication that the Greek hoplite panoply was never universally accepted in Etruria and Latium, and started to disappear at an early date.

Size of the Armies
The number of troops able to be mobilized for each city-state is unknown. Each major city had a number of small settlements and these settlements had an inconsistency in population density with some city settlements having 210 inhabitants per ha (50-55 per acre) while others had 100 inhabitants per ha (50-55 per acre) or 4,000 to 7000 people on a 32 ha (79 acre site). The settlement of Acquarossa covered a maximum of 23 ha, with a population estimate of 5000 people. From this archaeological analysis, it is estimated the largest urban centres had a maximum population of about 35,000 people, and using this data, each major city could mobilize somewhere between 4000 to 6000 men. Polybius (II. 24) and Strabo (V. 4) in 225 BC give the total number of Etruscans and Sabines that could be mobilized as 54,000 men.

Unlike the level of organization of the Greek polis, or the Roman state, the social structure of the Etruscans with its sharp distinction between nobles and clients would make it difficult to develop a hoplite ethos based on the premise that everyone has the same political standing of each man risking his life for his own land. Although some battle accounts describe the Etruscans as brave, a courageous or fierce fighter, their major drawback was their poor cohesion which is a reflection of their political and social structure.

The Etruscan Phalanx
When the barbarians (Etruscans) learned that they (Cumeans) were ready to fight, they uttered their war-cry and came to close quarters, in the barbarian fashion, without any order, the horse and the foot intermingled.Dionysius (VII. 4)

The Etruscan phalanx was mainly made up of clients serving under the command of their aristocrats. One tradition amongst scholars is that after their encounter with the Greeks during the early seventh century (650 BC or a little later), the Etruscans had supplanted their military system with Greek hoplite tactics. A number of archaeologist and historian’s state there is not enough evidence, archaeological or literary to support this view.

Using evidence from graves to verify the Etruscans fought in hoplite phalanx is misleading. The grave finds that contained hoplite panoplies such as the Corinthian-style helmet does not authenticate hoplite warfare but the evidence suggests hoplite equipment was restricted to high ranking aristocrats or princes. Archaeological evidence shows that in the sixth century Etruscan farmers could not equip themselves in hoplite panoply. The common Etruscan soldier did not provide his own armour; it was supplied to him by the gens. Many of the hoplite arms and armour found in graves are for ritual purposes to designate rank and status and some items found are impractical for combat purposes. One example of a bronze corselet is so thin that its function in battle is less useful than a hide of thick leather. Another of a shield shows the sheet of bronze is so thin that it has been penetrated by the embossing of the decoration.

Dionysius (VII. 4) description of the battle between the Etruscans and their allies against the Cumeans in 524 BC, has the Etruscan cavalry intermingled with the infantry and suggests the Etruscan phalanx was in an open formation that allowed individual mobility and the choice of weapons. An open formation would allow the cavalry to make their way through the gaps between the combatants. Later descriptions of battles indicate the Etruscans fought in a massed phalanx with no true rank and file organization and the nature of some Etruscan weapons such as the axe and the double-bladed axe support the fact they would not be suitable for fighting in a close arrayed phalanx formation, but would be well suited to the mass array phalanx (no rank and file organization). For further information; see “the phalanx” in the archaic warfare chapter.

Infantry Reserves
The Etruscans had no reserves to support their first line, and all fell in front of their standards or around them.” Livy (IX. 32)

Although the above statement by Livy is not conclusive evidence, the literary sources describing Etruscan battles would indicate the Etruscans did not use infantry reserve tactics. The Etruscans are mentioned using reserves (cavalry) to capture a Roman camp and as the Romans claim they copied the phalanx from the Etruscans, this would strongly indicate the Etruscans, like the Romans had a second line of infantry made up of older troops.

Battlefield Orientation
The Etruscans considered the left to be a good omen or lucky and the position of honour.

Mounted Archers
Although an Etruscan Black Figure ‘Pontic’ vase depicts a mounted archer wearing a high-pointed cap, battle descriptions do not detail such horsemen or tactics being used by the Etruscans.

Selected Bibliography
Etruscan Armies, I. Fossati, Serie De Bello 02, (1987).
Etruscan Magistracies R. Lambrechts, Institur Historique Belge de Rome, Palais des Académies, (1959) Paper B.
Power, politics and territory in Etruria. The Archaeology of Power 2; 173-184. Accordia Research Centre.
Foreign Elements in Etruscan Armour from the 8th century to the 3rd century, P. Stary. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 45; 179-206
The Armed Dance on Etruscan Vases, Proceedings of the Third Symposium on Ancient Greek and Related Pottery: 592-603.
Military Organization and Social Structure in Archaic Etruria, Bruno D’ Agostino. The Greek City from Homer to Alexander: (1990) 59-82. Oxford Clarendon Press
Etruscan Italy: An Archaeological History. N. Spivey and S. Stoddart, (1990) London, Batsford
Chariot Racing in Etruria, R. C. Bronson. In Studi in onore di L. Banti: 89-106. Rome
The Muscle Cuirass in Etruria and Southern Italy. E. Richardson. AJA, Vol. 100 No. 1 (1996) 91-120
The Double Axe in Etruria. J. A. Spranger. Man, Vol. 27 (1927) pp. 201-207
Fittings from an Etruscan Chariot, G. M. A. Richter. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 34, No. 2 (1939) 41-44
The Etruscans and the Sicilian Expedition of 414-413 BC. M. Caspari. The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 2 (1911), 113-115
Rome in Etruria and Umbria. W. V. Harris, Oxford University Press. 1971
The Arms, Equipment, and Ceremonial Vessels of the Early Etruscan Warriors. C. Hopkins. The Classical Journal 60 (1964-65), 214
The Military Indebtedness of Early Rome to Etruria. E. S. McCartney, MAAR I (1917) 121-167
L’Armee et la Guerre Dans Le Monde Etrusco-Romain, C. Saulnier, Diffusion de Boccard, Paris 1980
The Etruscans, M. Grant. (1980), London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson
Thanks for your responses it was very informative just one little piece of info. Studies of the DNA of goats[I am not kidding this is serious science] in the eturian heartland has linked their descent from goats in the lydian area of turkey so some of the greek writers may have been right