Text #9651

"Roman-Etruscan Wars", in Wikipedia.–Etrus...

As usual Livy provides the only full narrative for this war. Parts of his account is corroborated by Diodorus and the Fasti Triumphales. Ancient narratives

Livy writes that in 358 BC, Rome declared war on Tarquinii after forces from that city had raided Roman territory. Consul Gaius Fabius Ambustus was assigned to that war. However the Tarquinienses defeated Fabius and sacrificed 307 Roman prisoners of war. The following year, 357, Rome also declared war against the Falisci. They had fought with the Tarquinienses and refused to give up the Roman deserters who had fled to Falerii after their defeat, even though the Fetials had demanded their surrender. This campaign was assigned to consul Cn. Manlius Capitolinus Imperiosus He however accomplished nothing of note except convening his army, at camp near Sutrium, in Assembly and passing a law taxing the manumission of slaves. Worrying about the precedent this could set, the tribunes of the plebs made it a capital offence to convene the Assembly outside the usual place. D.S. also records a war between the Romans and the Falisci where nothing of note took place, only raiding and pillaging.

According to Livy, in 356 consul M. Fabius Ambustus commanded the Romans against the Falisci and Tarquinienses. The Etruscan army had brought priests wielding snakes and torches, and at first this sight caused the Roman soldiers to flee in panic back to their entrenchments, but the consul shamed his men into resuming the struggle. The Etruscans were scattered and their camp captured. This caused the whole of Etruria to rise, under leadership of the Tarquinienses and Falisci they marched against the Roman salt works. In this emergency the Romans nominated C. Marcius Rutilus as dictator, this was the first time a plebeian had been dictator. Marcius transported his troops across the Tiber on rafts. After first catching a number of Etruscan raiders, he captured the Etruscan camp in a surprise attack and took 8 000 prisoners, the rest were either killed or chased out of Roman territory. The people of Rome awarded Marcius with a triumph, but this was not confirmed by the senate. This is supported by the Fasti Triumphales which records that C. Marcius Rutilus, dictator, triumphed over the Etruscans on 6 May. According to D.S. the Etruscans pillaged Roman territory, raiding as far as the Tiber before returning home.

According to some of the writers consulted by Livy, in 355 consul C. Sulpicius Peticus ravaged the territory of Tarquinii, but others held that he commanded jointly with his colleague against the Tiburtines. Then in 354 the Romans forced the Tarquinienses to surrender after killing a large number of them in battle. The prisoners taken were all put to the sword except 358 nobles who were sent to Rome where they were scourged and beheaded in the Forum as retribution for the Romans immolated by the Tarquinienses in 358. According to Diodorus only 260 were executed in the Forum.

Livy is the only source for the final years of the war. In 353 rumours reached Rome that the people of Caere had sided with Tarquinii in sympathy with their fellow Etruscans. These were confirmed when consul C. Sulpicius Peticus, who was ravaging Tarquinian territory, reported that the Roman salt-works had been raided. Part of the plunder had been sent to Caere and no doubt some of the raiders had been men of Caere. Accordingly, the Romans nominated Titus Manlius Torquatus dictator and declared war upon Caere. The Caerites now bitterly regretted their actions and sent envoys to Rome to plead for peace. In view of their old friendship the Romans granted the Caerites a hundred-year truce. The Romans then turned their attention to the Falisci, but no enemy was found in the field and the Roman army returned home after ravaging Faliscan territory, having made no attempt at any enemy city.

In 352 due to rumours, groundless as it turned out, that the twelve cities of Etruria had formed a league against Rome, the Romans decided to appoint a dictator. C. Julius Iullus was nominated by the consuls while they were still in camp, rather than in the city as usual. During 351, the final year of the war, consul T. Quinctius Pennus Capitolinus Crispinus campaigned against Falerii and his colleague C. Sulpicius Peticus against Tarquinii. There was no battle, but the Falisci and Tarquinienses were weary of war after having their territories ravaged year after year, and asked for a truce. The Romans granted each city a forty years truce.

Modern interpretation

Modern historians accept as historical the overall outline of the war, but the historicity of many individual events have been disputed. Livy, as usual, makes aggression by Rome’s enemies the cause of the war, in this case that may well be true. Rome was the time already involved in a serious war against Tibur and invading Gauls, and Tarquinii’s war goals aggressive: to wrest control of the lower Tiber from Rome. Caere here appear rather subservient to Tarquinii. Falerii may have been motivated by a desire to reclaim the territories lost to Rome some forty years earlier.

Some scholars have seen the sacrifice of 307 Roman prisoners as another version of legendary Battle of the Cremera where 306 men of the Fabii are supposed to have fallen in battle against the Etruscans. Others have made comparisons with depictions of gladiators and killing of prisoners in Etruscan art. The priests brandishing snakes and torches could be inventions, but could also reflect an Etruscan magical rite which Livy and his sources have not understood.

While Beloch rejected the dictatorship of Marcius Rutilus, Oakley (1998) believes it unlikely that the first plebeian dictatorship be invented. Roman historians appear to have invented many early casualty reports, but they also seem to have had access to authentic records of enemies killed and captured from the late 4th century, the notice of 8 000 Etruscan killed in 356 might therefore likewise date back to contemporary records. Casualty figures are in any case notoriously prone to exaggeration both by commanders and historians. Forsythe (2005) has proposed this campaign as the context for the foundation of Ostia, Rome’s port. Traditional history attributes the founding to Rome’s fourth king, Ancus Marcius (traditionally reigned 640 – 616), however the oldest archaeological finds at the site have been dated to the mid 4th century. Protecting the coast and the mouth of the Tiber from Tarquinian attacks would have provided motive for founding a colony here, later historians might then have confused the dictator Marcius Rutilus with king Ancus Marcius.

Scourging followed by beheading was common Roman practice and this detail might be just plausible invention by a later annalist. Some historians believe Caere became a civitas sine suffragio in 353, this theory is rejected by Oakley (1998) who thinks this only happened in 274/273.[55] C. Julius Iullus, the dictator of 352, is otherwise unknown, this and the constitutional peculiarities of his appointment may vouch for the historicity of this dictatorship. Time limited truces were not used by the Late Roman Republic, these are therefore unlikely to have been invented and provide a secure date for the end of this war. As usual Livy portrays Rome as victorious, but with the war dominated by raiding and no records of any towns attacked the scale of the fighting appear to have been limited. Rome was certainly not yet able at this stage to dominate Etruria.


Cornell, T. J. (1995). The Beginnings of Rome – Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000–264 BC). New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-01596-7.

Forsythe, Gary (2005). A Critical History of Early Rome. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-24991-7.

Oakley, S. P. (1997). A Commentary on Livy Books VI–X. I: Introduction and Book VI. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-815277-9.

Oakley, S. P. (1998), A Commentary on Livy Books VI–X, II: Books VII–VIII, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-815226-2

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