Text #9647"Roman-Etruscan Wars", in .
Tarquinius, having failed to regain the throne using his allies of Tarquinii and Veii, next sought the aid of Lars Porsena, king of Clusium in 508 BC. Clusium was at that time a powerful Etruscan city.
The Roman senate heard of the approach of Porsena’s army, and were afraid lest the people of Rome should out of fear let the enemy into the city. Accordingly, the senate took a number of measures to strengthen the resolve of the populace, including purchasing grain from the Volsci and from Cumae, nationalising licences for the sale of salt (which was at the time costly), exempting the lower classes from taxes and port customs duties. The measures were successful, and the mood of the populace turned against the enemy.
Porsena, with his army, attacked Rome. As his troops were surging towards the Pons Sublicius, one of the bridges over the Tiber leading into the city, Publius Horatius Cocles leapt across the bridge to hold off the enemy, giving the Romans time to destroy the bridge. He was joined by Titus Herminius Aquilinus and Spurius Lartius. Herminius and Lartius retreated as the bridge was almost destroyed. Horatius waited until the bridge had fallen, then swam back across the river under enemy fire. A statue was erected to Horatius in the comitium, along with land at the public expense, and also private awards.
As the attack had been unsuccessful, Porsena next determined to blockade the city. He established a garrison on the Janiculum, blocked river transport, and sent raiding parties into the surrounding countryside.
During the siege, the consul Valerius baited a group of the Clusian army with a herd of cattle driven out through the Esquiline Gate. Titus Herminius was ordered to lay in wait along the Via Gabina, two miles from Rome. Spurius Lartius was posted with troops inside the Colline Gate; consul Titus Lucretius Tricipitinus waited with troops at the Naevian Gate; whilst Valerius himself led troops down from the Coelian Hill. The trap was successful, and the band of Clusians were killed.
The siege continued. Next, with the approval of the senate a Roman youth named Gaius Mucius stealthily entered the Etruscan camp with the intent of assassinating Porsena. However, when Mucius came close to the king, he could not tell apart the king from his secretary, and killed the king’s secretary in error. Mucius was captured by the Etruscans, and brought before Porsena. He openly declared his identity and what had been his intent. He threatened that he was but merely the first of three hundred Roman youths who would attempt such a deed. To prove his valour, Mucius thrust his hand into one of the Etruscan camp fires, thereby earning for himself and his descendants the cognomen Scaevola. Mucius was also granted farming land on the right hand back of the Tiber, which later became known as the Mucia Prata (Mucian Meadows). Porsena, shocked at the youth’s bravery, dismissed him from the Etruscan camp, free to return to Rome.
Most historical sources say the siege ended with a peace treaty.
At this point, according to Livy, Porsena sent ambassadors to Rome to offer peace. Terms were negotiated. Porsena requested the throne be restored to Tarquinius, but the Romans refused. However the Romans did agree to return to the Veientes lands taken from them in previous wars, and Roman hostages were agreed to be given in exchange for the withdrawal from the Janiculum of the Etruscan garrison.
The peace was agreed, and hostages taken by Porsena. One of the hostages, a young woman named Cloelia, fled the Etruscan camp, leading away a group of Roman virgins. Porsena demanded she be returned, and the Romans consented. Upon her return, however, Porsena being impressed by her bravery allowed her to choose half the remaining hostages to be freed. She selected from amongst the hostages the young Roman boys to be freed. The Romans honoured Cloelia with the unusual honour of a statue at the top of the Via Sacra, showing Cloelia mounted on a horse, that is as an eques.
Livy recounts that during his own time, public auctions of goods at Rome were by tradition referred to as “selling the goods of king Porsena”, and that this somehow relates to the war with Clusium. Livy concludes most likely it is because, when Porsena departed Rome, he left behind as a gift for the Romans his stores of provisions.
Livy also records that, after the war, a number of the Eruscan soldiers returned to Rome to seek shelter following the War between Clusium and Aricia, and that a number of the Etruscans remained to live in Rome, and were granted an area to live which thereby became known as the Vicus Tuscus.
In 507 BC Porsena once again sent ambassadors to the Roman senate, requesting the restoration of Tarquinius to the throne. Legates were sent back to Porsena, to advise him that the Romans would never re-admit Tarquinius, and that Porsena should out of respect for the Romans cease requesting Tarquinius’ readmittance. Porsena agreed, telling Tarquinius to continue his exile elsewhere than Clusium. Porsena also restored to the Romans their hostages, and also the lands of Veii that had been taken from Rome by treaty.
Although the ancient Romans believed the siege was a historical event that had taken place, many modern historians think the war was at least partly mythical.