The History of Etruria

   Introduction   |    Origins   |    Orientalizing Period   |    Early Rome   |    Etruscan Decline   |    Burning of the books   |    Home   |

The Decline of the Etruscans

In 524 BCE, Etruscan ships attacked Cumae, the major Greek city of Campania and were defeated. 18 years later in 506 BCE this decision backfired on the Etruscans when an alliance of Cumae Greeks and Latins defeated Lars Porsenna at Aricia. The Romans themselves had been disarmed by Lars Porsenna's forces following his occupation of the city, These defeats severely weakened Etruscan control over land and sea routes.

The writings of Livy and Diodorus Siculus reflect an alternative history with Rome bravely resisting Lars Porsenna (Mucius Scaevola, Horatius Cocles, etc).

The 5th Century was a dark time for the Etruscan states. Whilst the Etruscan cities had reached the peak of their economic development, the Greek colonies were undergoing a period of overwhelming cultural and political growth.

On the border between Etruria and Latium, a new danger had also appeared: the city of Rome which, once dominated and ruled by an Etruscan dynasty, had gained its independence, and gone on the attack. The decline of the Etruscans also worsened at sea in 474 BC, when the Greeks of Italy, led by the city of Syracuse in league with Latium, defeated them at Cumae in a decisive defeat.(Livy Hist. II,14 & Dionysius of Halicarnassas VII, 5&6).

The overall effect of this was to accelerate the collapse of the Etruscan hegemony over Latium.This was a also the beginning of the wars between Rome and Veii. After the defeat at Cumae, the Etruscans effectively lost control over the Tyrrhenian Sea.

On land as well, the situation rapidly deteriorated, The restriction of Land and sea links to Campania, together with an invading wave of Samnites in Southern Italy (Diodorus Siculus XII,31,1) resulted in the loss of Campania in about 430 BCE. To the North, the Umbrians advanced and occupied Rimini and Ravenna (Strabo V,1,7 & 10-11) but the main cause of the Etruscan demise in the plain of the Po was an invasion by the Celts (Cenomani and Boii- who gave their name to Bologna, as well as the Insubres and Senones). These Celtic tribes, crossed from the northern side of the Alps to reach Picenum and Etruria in the late 5th century, and virtually destroyed Rome in 386 BCE according to M.Sordi (traditionally 391 BCE).

From the mid 4th century BC, the once flourishing commercial and military power of the Etruscans was thus reduced to city-states which retreated into their original territories in central Italy.

In the end, they also participated in the final struggle against the newly born Roman power during the 3rd century BC. The proud city-states, lacking a strong national identity, were not able to co-ordinate any real resistance and were thus defeated one by one.

With the loss of political independence, the cycle of an ancient people who for centuries had been the cultural and economic leaders of the western Mediterranean came to an end.

Article by Velthur Valerius on Etruria and Carthage (from the Ancient Sites Etruria Board)

The first Italic peoples to endure Roman expansionism outside of Latium were the Etruscans, just as the Carthaginians were the first people outside of the italian peninsula to face the imperialism of Rome.

Rome began its attacks on Etruria in approximately 498 BCE and concluded in 264 BCE with the complete conquest of Etruria. They endured a total of 234 years varying between conflicts, counter attacks, reprisals and truces - an extremely long period of time.

United Etruria was militarily more powerful and and more populous than Rome but the religious alliance of the twelve did not extend to mutual political or military support.

The Etruscan league cities of this period faced their Roman adversary either on their own or in partial groupings, but never all united. Secondly, in these 234 years Etruscan politics were in damage control mode, and were preoccupied with the politics of aggression. The Etruscans felt that they were too strong to succumb to Rome which for that moment was engaged with the Samnites of Southern Italy.

Nothing that happened subsequently was to change their attitude- neither the death throes of their naval supremacy (The beginning of the end was their defeat at Cumae in 474 BCE) nor the loss of the Po Valley League to the Celts.

Inexplicably, the two other thalassocratic Queens of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the western Mediterranean, namely the Greeks of Syracuse and the Punic peoples of Carthage were to stand by and watch the systematic defeat of Etruria. They saw in this the elimination of an old military adversary, and above all the demise of a commercial seafaring contender. They failed to comprehend that their own territories would be the next conquest for the invincible Roman legions.

The Roman campaign against Carthage began in 264 BCE and would take 3 wars and 118 years of bloody conflict to finally gain victory over the City of Dido in 146 BCE. Carthage had less of a population to draw on than Etruria and hired the military service of mercenaries (Celts) and troops from subjugated populations (the Iberians, the Balearics, Libyans and Numidians), but Carthage was united and politically focussed, it was rich, and technologically advanced from the remnants of its own past expansionism, analagous to that of Rome.

All that did not save it from its eventual ruin and departure from the scene of the ancient world. The attitude of Rome against Etruria is worthy of consideration It is true that by romanisation the language and religion of Etruria were slowly eroded away- but this was a gradual and continuous process.

Indeed in a way it could be said that Rome had a regard for the Etruscans - a regard that they did not have for Syracuse or Carthage, both of which were destroyed by Rome. In my humble opinion, Rome knew that its civilization owed a great deal to Etruria : The Servian walls, the Cloaca Maxima , the arts of divinatation and haruspicy, the Sibylline books, Lictors rods, Education and the cultural training in Caere of Roman youth. It could not destroy the genius of the Etruscans that dwelt within themselves and this inevitably delayed their final end, until the time that according to Tagetes would end in 54 CE, (the death of the Emperor Claudius) with the end of the 10th saeculum granted by the gods to the life of the Etruscan nation:


   Introduction   |    Origins   |    Orientalizing Period   |    Early Rome   |    Etruscan Decline   |    Burning of the books   |    Home   |

You are Visitor No: