Mortal Gods: The Etruscans (Part 2) — Playing Etruscans and Early Republican Romans in Mortal Gods

Hi everyone!

Phatis here again! This is Part 2 of a multi-part blog series on the Etruscans. Go back and read Part 1 here [Mortal Gods: The Etruscans (Part 1) – Mystery, History, and Culture]. I will wait.

Doo be doo be doo. Dum de dum. Oh, you’re back? Good! It’s was a great read, am I right? Of course I am.

So I realize that I promised you all lots of blood and gore in my next Etruscan blogpost, but it was decided (based upon community feedback) that we would instead use Part 2 of the Etruscan blog series to talk about how we plan to introduce Etruscans and Romans into Mortal Gods in the near future! I did however sneak in some details about a few Etruscan wars and such just to satiate you all. You’re welcome.

It’s exciting, right? So exciting. So in this blog post we’re going to break down the Etrusco-Latin Centuriae (Latin cognate of the Greek Lochoi)  and their use in Mortal Gods. I am stoked to bring this all to you after months of sitting on it. As you gathered, undead shades are not particularly well-known for our patience. Which probably bodes well for Footsore, you know, letting me be the guy who is responsible for letting you all know what’s the what with the game. Ah well.

A lot of you, I’m sure, have questions about the other societies living in 5th century BCE Italy; trust me, we will get to them later in another blog post. Tacking them on to this blog would be short-changing them and (while we touch on them briefly here) it would just feel wrong. Sorry! There is so much to discuss with them that they need their own dedicated blog. But there is something coming about them, I promise! Maybe in Part 3…

Many of you reading this may not know just how diverse Italy was during this period. Well, have no fear! Phatis is here to bring you that #facts! That’s how the kids say it these days, right? I’m totally fresh for a 2500 year old semi-dead guy. … No, you shut up.

A serious and friendly reminder that only a handful of Etruscan literature remains; of them, only a few words have been translated confidently. Most of our sources for the Etruscans come from contemporary or late outsiders who often did not care to ask the Etruscans about their own opinions. Thankfully, archaeologists and Etruscologists have done a lot to highlight the Etruscan culture, giving them a chance to explain themselves in a way that ancient authors did not.

Of course I was there, so most of this all comes from memory. And the memory of a shade is as good as…. er, it’s as good as… that… thing… with the ears… and the trunk.

Well, let’s get to it. First let’s quickly look at the situation the Etruscans found themselves in around the time of the Peloponnesian Wars.

1. Etruscan Neighbors

Unlike Greece, which was predominantly made up of…well, obviously Greeks, Italy was not made up of “Italians,” at least in an ethnic sense. By which I mean there did not exist a unified ‘Italian’ group which inhabited all of Italy with the same ancestry, linguistic heritage, physical characteristics, and kinship. Instead, the Italian peninsula was divided between at least five (perhaps more) regionally-specific ethnic peoples–the Etruscans (northern and eastern Italy), the Latins [including Rome] (central-eastern Italy), the invading Celts (north and north-western Italy), the Umbro-Sabellians (south and central Italy along the Apennines), and the Greek colonists (southern Italy).

This is by far the best map I could find of the Italian peninsula in the 5th Century BCE. It’s amazing work by the creator (Cyowari over at Deviant Art).

These groups could be broken down into several subgroups, though it is especially easy to see this breakdown when viewed linguistically. In fact, looking at a map will really help one to see how these groups interacted with their neighbors. I know you didn’t come here for maps either, but just one more:

Linguistic map of Italy in the 5th Century BCE. Also put together by a skilled artist (isoletta38) over at Deviant Art.

Now the Peloponnesian Wars in the 5th Century BCE were occurring at a time in Etruscan history known as the ‘Etruscan Twilight’, marking the start of a multi-century period of their political, military, social, and economic decline. But they were not down for the count yet. They were still a strong Mediterranean power, and they wielded it over all of their neighboring societies (not always successfully). A lot of this was due to their geographically-beneficial position. The Tyrrhenian Sea abutted their western shores. The Alps stood tall to their north. To their west were the Umbrians which were generally allied with the Etruscans (though not always) and to the south was Rome and the Latins–not yet powerful enough to thwart them (we will get to them farther down).

Ports from their coastal poleis brought them wealth and trade (as discussed in Part 1), but also put them at risk of raids by sea-faring pirates. Etruscan port cities were therefore usually well defended and the Etruscans themselves had a massive navy–one that would rival Korinth and even Athens (depending on the year). And for a time they dominated the Mediterranean seas. They would ally themselves with Carthage against the Greek fleet from Phokaia in the 6th Century BCE and would win a strategic victory against them at the Battle of Alalia. Carthage and Etruscan naval forces numbered 120 ships to the 60 Greek ships and though the Greek forces would drive back the Etruscan and Carthaginian ships, they would lose 2/3 of their fleet, they would have to evacuate their lands in Corsica (which the Etruscans then captured), the Etruscans stoned the prisoners they took to death, and Carthage kept their lands in Sardinia that were contested. The alliance between Etruria and Carthage would endure for centuries.

Etruscan Marines fighting off boarding Greek Marines.

Nevertheless, their command over the seas would lead to constant challenges. Their victory after Alalia was short-lived as Syrakousia (modern day Syracuse)–a colony of Greeks from Korinth who settled in Sicily in the 8th Century BCE and who were strong enemies of Carthage–formed an alliance with Kumai (Greek settlers in Italy from Euboia) against the Etruscans. They managed to convince all the Greek poleis in the southern Italian colonies to round up enough ships to attack the Etruscan fleet. It did not end well for the Etruscans. So grand was this victory for the Greeks that Etruscan armor and helmets have been found at the Sanctuary of Delphi, dedicated to Zeus for the win.

To their northern borders, the Alps provided some protection from invasion and the Etruscans thought themselves relatively safe enough that they established settlements in the Po River Valley. The Alps definitely hindered the Celts for centuries, but it wouldn’t stop them completely. At the end of the 5th century BCE, the La Tène would sweep over the mountains and into the Po River Valley; they seized the settlements and uprooted the Etruscans living there. The Etruscans would never again gain control over that region (instead they traded with them and Etruscan warriors in the 5th and 4th Centuries BCE were occasionally found fighting while equipped with Celtic armor and weapons).

Etruscans trying to push back the invading Celts in the Po Valley.

This was not the only time the Etruscans had captured, held, and then lost a region of land in Italy. The eastern coast of Southern Italy was subdued by the Etruscans by the end of the 7th Century  BCE and into the 6th–including the former Greek settlement of Campania (modern day Naples). However the Samnites (either a dedicated military force from Samnium or possibly a separate political entity from the Samnium region of the Apennines–the jury is still out) would sneak in around the late 5th Century BCE and steal it away by essentially assassinating the Greco-Etruscan leadership. Brutal affairs these were. To that point…

2. Etruria, Rome, and the Etruscan Military System in the 5th Century BCE

The relationship between the Etruscan League and Rome was one of volatility. Rome needed Etruria and Etruria needed Rome, but neither seemed to be very happy about it. And most times the tensions between the two would break down into all out war. We can discuss this in more detail in Part 3, but let’s quickly cover a few details that are necessary for understanding how these factions play in Mortal Gods.

Perhaps the most famous thing Etruscans are known for (and also, incidentally, what they are least known for–crazy, right?) is that they had ruled over Rome for a little more than 100 years. I will let that sink in a minute while I hum to myself.

Doo de doo, bum bum. Doooo doo do. Lalalala hmmm. Oh, are you back with me again? Okay, let’s continue.

The first Etruscan King, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, was elected in 616 BCE while the last Etruscan king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, was expelled around 509 BCE. During this period, the Romans and Etruscans were not even unified. The Etruscans were technically at war with Rome even while one of their own stood as king. This is because Etruscan city-states could (and did) act independently from each other, despite being in a League.

You see, each City-State was governed by a lauchume (‘king’ in Etruscan) and had their own armies, led by a zilath (an officer of rank, equivalent to a Roman magistrate). The large size of Etruscan cities meant they could field large armies–and they sure did. In the 6th-4th Centuries BCE, they could gather League armies of upwards of 25,000 warriors (supplemented at times with warriors from allied neighbors).

When the League was at war in union against an opponent, one of the lauchume was elected to represent the whole. Each city-state would then send a Lictor as a sign of respect and submission (by the 5th and 4th Centuries BCE, it was a zilath rather than a lauchume who was chosen). Lictores were themselves authority figures (especially as representatives of their own city-state) who both served as the attendant of the lauchume and also held the power to distribute justice at will. Their status was symbolized by a fasces (an axe surrounded by a bundle of sticks), which implied their right to beat or behead anyone who stood against them and their lauchume.

This is all very important because these military and political entities would eventually find their way into Roman culture in a dominant way. This primary occurred under the 6th Etruscan King of Rome, Servius Tullius. Servius would revolutionize the Roman military based upon Etruscan models of which he knew well. He established a census which organized the Roman population into economic groups.

1st Class Etruscan Hoplite with aspis shield and two 2nd Class Etruscan warriors with scutum shields.

The wealthiest group, the 1st Class citizens, respectively made up the 1st Class of the military. The Etruscans–highly orientalized by this period–had adopted the Greek phalanx as a primary style of fighting (with some modifications), and as such the 1st Class would fall out as Hoplites. They would be armed and equipped the same way as their Greek counterparts with the exception of headgear. At least during the 5th Century BCE, Greek-style helmets do not appear to have become popular in Etruria (some have been found) with most Etruscans sticking to their Nagau helmets or Picenian pot-style and brimmed helmets. This is still true today; Italians do love their fedoras (which, not so incidentally, is just Italian for ‘hat’).

The remaining four classes were organized in the following way:

  • The 2nd Class is similarly armored, but rather than an aspis shield, they bore a large scutum shield. They typically would be armored with a bronze cuirass, smaller pectoral armor, or disk armor. Regardless, the large scutum shields are clearly depicted in Classical era art, even during the Peloponnesian War period.
  • The 3rd Class was similarly outfitted to the 2nd Class, but acted as either skirmishers and reserve melee warriors.
  • The 4th Class–carrying only a scutum and some javelins (and lacking all armor)–acted only as skirmishers.
  • The 5th Class made up of the poorest class and mercenaries, armed mainly with stones and slings. One would find the musicians of the army, the horn players–the cornicines and tubicines–in this class as well.

According to the historian Dionysios of Halicarnassos, all of these Classes were organized into Centuriae and were commanded by Centurions (another Etruscan invention that the Romans adopted). These were called up when needed, and were accompanied by artisans (posted to the 2nd Class), blacksmiths and workers (5th Class), and other folk needed to successfully raise and manage an army.

Arrayed in battle formation, the center would be made up of the 1st Class Hoplites in a Phalanx, while the 2nd and 3rd Class troops would either be directly behind the 1st Class or would flank the Phalanx and guard against any breaks in the line. Whichever manner they were deployed, when the time was right, they would rush the enemy, breaking them. The 4th and 5th Classes would act as skirmish troops and pick away at oncoming enemies. At the head would be the lauchume, followed by the lictores, and, of course, an augur or two to ensure that the Gods were working their magic for the Etruscan victory. This formation was usually highly successful against Greek forces, and was one of the major contributors to the Etruscan dominance of western Italy prior to the 3rd Century.

Now in the year 508, not so long after the Romans had expelled Lucius Tarquinius Superbus from the kingship, the Etruscans launched a large scale assault under the leadership of the lauchume Lars Pursenas (or Porsena) from Clevsin (large and powerful Etruscan polis) on the new Roman Republic. Tarquinius appealed to Pursenas shortly after his expulsion; it was a wise decision. Pursenas raised an army and moved on to Rome.

Lars Pursenas (depicted right and center, standing in full Hoplite armor, pointing towards Rome) commands his Etruscan army departing from their camp on the opposite side of the Tibre River to Rome.

Lars Pursenas (depicted right and center, standing in full Hoplite armor, pointing towards Rome) commands his Etruscan army departing from their camp on the opposite side of the Tibre River to Rome. A lictor stands behind him while a Centurion listens to his orders.

 

To Battle! Pursenas here shown upon his gilded chariot led by brilliant white horses, fasces in hand, leading his Etruscan army against the Romans. Note the mixture of Class warriors in the pictures above. We even see a few Etruscan axemen!

Tacitus implies that Rome was taken during this conflict, while Livy indicates that the Etruscans were stopped at the bridge after the Roman route by the heroic deeds of Publius Horatius Cocles. Most depictions say that Pursenas then laid siege to the city and, following heroic accolades of the Romans that greatly impressed Pursenas, a peace treaty was signed between Rome and Clevsin.

Again, each Etruscan City could act on their own. So when the Etruscan city-state of Veii when to war with Rome in 483, it is unclear if any of Clevsin’s military participated. The war between the Veientes and Rome would last until 474 when a 40-year truce was signed between them. Several battles and even smaller skirmishes would occur between Etruscan City-States and Rome throughout the Classical and Hellenistic era until the Etruscans were eventually defeated and assimilated into Rome by the 3rd Century BCE.

3. A Brief look at the Etruscans in the Peloponnesian War

Now we get to the fun part where I explain why the Etruscans are relevant to the core game of Mortal Gods. You see, towards the end of the Peloponnesian Wars, the Athenians launched a campaign to Sicily with the hopes of taking Syrakousia and establishing a military and economic port in the Mediterranean. Syrakousia was settled by Dorian Greeks–ancestrally related to the Spartans who were also Dorians–while a large part of Sicily was settled by Ionian Greeks, related to the Athenians. The politics of this strife are too complex for this blog post, but suffice it to say that tensions between the Ionian and Dorian settlers on the island prompted Athens to send emissaries to see if their Ionian brethren needed their assistance.

They answered back with a loud ‘yes!’. That was all Athens needed to send out a large expedition to capture Syrakousia. This conflict lasted a few years and is too much of an endeavor to properly outline here. But the Etruscans–still fuming after their loss to Syrakousia at Kumai, allied themselves with the Athenians and joined them during their campaign in Sicily. They even assisted in saving the Athenians from total annihilation by the Spartan general Gylippos during the Second Battle of Syrakousia.

This really deserves an entire blog post on its own. I cover it briefly in my Athenian and Spartan booklets that you all received (and I am sure you all read…right?) in your faction starter boxes, but it is such an important and definitive campaign that it needs a full treatment. So let’s get on with the important part of this blog; how to wield these forces in Mortal Gods!

4. Etruscans and Romans in Mortal Gods

Now all of this builds into how this will play in a game of Mortal Gods on the tabletop. Well, I hope you’re as excited as I am after all that history!

Now since Roman and Etruscan military systems were exactly the same during this period, we have decided to release a single set of cards for both factions. The Etrusco-Latin set can therefore be used to create a fully Roman or fully Etruscan Centuria, or even a combined Etrusco-Latin force containing Etruscan and Roman leaders! This choice is up to you.

Here are some of the unit types you can expect to field. Note that we are still playtesting these units, so they are subject to change.

Maris Larcena (Etruscan Centurion)
Lucius Siccius Dentatus (Roman Centurion)
Generic Armored Centurion (Leader)
Generic Unarmored Centurion (Leader)
Armored Veteran (Champion Hero)
Unarmored Veteran (Champion Hero)
Lictor
Etrusco-Latin Cornicine
Augur
Etrusco-Latin Axemen (Group and Single cards)
Etrusco-Latin Hoplites (Group and Single cards)
2nd Class Warriors (Group and Single cards)
3rd Class Warriors (Javelins; Group and Single cards)
Leves (Javelinmen; Group and Single cards)
Etruscan Chariot
Etruscan Cavalry

Maris Larcena, our named Etruscan Centurion, is a bit of a fictional stand-in for Lars Pursenas; as a homage to the latter, the former can take the gift ‘Fasces of Lars Pursenas’ for free. Maris Larcena is a king of kings, a veteran of many battles and able to command with a stern authority none would challenge. He is often requested to lead Etruscan League armies when he is available. As a result, he also receives the special rule “Lauchume”, which allows players of Maris Larcena the option to take two Lictores instead of one, but they cannot take any Veterans.

Our Roman Centurion, Lucius Siccius Dentatus, is based on a historical person (or, at least, a fictional person found in our histories of early Rome). He was known as ‘the Roman Achilles’ and said to have been invincible. Stories tell of him capturing enemy strongholds on his own, fighting over 120 battles, receiving dozens of wounds, scars laced his body, but he was never defeated in battle. He was, however, assassinated. As such he is given the special rule ‘The Roman Achilles’; Once per turn, if an injury is received, instead of drawing an injury card from the deck, may roll two Mortal Gods dice. If either or both results yield a shield, he may ignore that injury. That’s pretty awesome.

Etruscan leaders get the ‘Etruscan Inspire’ special rule, which allows any unit with the ‘Form Up’ special rule to form up as a free action as long as they are within 6″ of said leader! This is a very useful special rule that I am sure will be used to great affect by our gaming community! Lictors play a great role in the Etruscan roster; they have relatively low attack and defense stats, but they have the ‘Lictorian Authority’ special rule granting them 3 Actions. Wise players can transfer these actions to issue orders to units around the Lictor within 6″!

We are also introducing scutum shields for 2nd and 3rd Class Warriors which grant them defense bonuses! 3rd Class Warriors are particular unique and get the ‘Servian Reforms’ special rule, which allows them to use triangle bases and form up into a Phalanx formation, despite the fact that they are skirmishers!

Axemen are fairly unique to the Etruscans during this period; they will use round group bases and cannot form up, but they pack a heavy punch! They have the special rule ‘Armor Rend’; every Pegasus rolled on an Attack roll cancels one shield result from the target’s Defence roll! Ouch!

The way this will work is if you want to take a Roman Centuria, you will need to take a Roman Centurion. If you want an Etruscan Centuria, you will likewise need to take an Etruscan Centurion. For a joint force of Etruscans and Romans, you will need to take both Centurions, but you will have to designate which one is your leader at the start of the game.

You can include an Etruscan force in your Athenian roster, but you must take a Centurion (generic is fine) along with your Athenian lochagos in order to add them. Isn’t this fun? I’m having tons of fun.

So now you might be asking, “Phatis! How can I get in on this fun right away?” Well, you might have seen that Footsore has already commissioned a selection of Etruscan heads in resin. These will be available at some point soon.

We will also be looking into having a range of Etruscans made by our favorite Mortal Gods sculptor, Stavros Zouliatis, sometime in the future. In the meantime, do not be afraid to kitbash some Victrix kits! One of our community members (his Facebook page and YouTube Channel is ‘An Extrovert Paints!’) has already had a go at this. Here are some of the Victrix units he created for his Etrusco-Latin Centuria!

Etruso-Latin Hoplites:


Etrusco-Latin 2nd Class Warriors:

 

Etrusco-Latin 3rd Class Warriors

 

This community member has already indicated that the Greek Hoplite sprues, Unarmored Hoplite sprues, and the sprues from the Rome’s Italian Allied Legions box (comes with early weapons and Punic Wars era weapons, just have to choose the older ones) all work for Etrusco-Latin bodies for this period. And I agree! For heads, he recommended the Etruscan heads found in the Republican Roman Cavalry Victrix set (there are three Etruscan heads per sprue).

So my Friends, Etrusco-Latins, Countrymen! Go forth and create your Etrusco-Latin forces! And good news!

This has been Phatis, writing to you from the cellar under Footsore Miniatures and Games in Nottingham, signing off. At least for now….Dun dun DUN!

And don’t forget to like, share and subscribe to stay informed about all forthcoming Mortal Gods goodness!

 

 

 

About the Author

Phatis
Hi there! I'm Phatis. So there I was, minding my own business in Hades, when the Footsore blokes summoned me by some ritual or another and bound me to this thankless Fate--writing about Mortal Gods. But fear not, mortals! I do enjoy my profession, even if I am only compensated by way of caffeinated drinks.

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