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This Week In History

The Battle of Silva Arsia. March 1, 509 BC.

The Battle of Silva Arsia was a battle that confronted the forces of the Roman Republic and the Etruscans from Tarquinii and Veii, led by the deposed Roman king Tarquinius Superbus. The battle took place in Roman territory, in the Arsian forest.

The battle was one of the several attempts of Tarquinius to recover the throne, and may also be analyzed as part of the permanent conflict between the Etruscan cities and a Roman Republic that was growing both in strength and in territorial expansion. The battle is part of the ancient history of Rome, most probably, a legend in great part.

In 509 BC, Roman monarchy was overthrown, and the Roman Republic started as the first elections of the first consuls took place. The deposed king, Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquinius “The Proud”), whose family came from Tarquinii, in Etruria (a region of Central Italy, located in an area that covered part of what now are Tuscany, Lazio, and Umbria), quickly obtained the aid of the cities Tarquinii and Veii recalling their shrinking territories and his family ties.

The armies from both cities followed Tarquinius in the battle, as the Roman consuls took their army to meet them. Publius Valerius was in charge of the Roman infantry, and Lucius Junius Brutus (who had made an oath to depose and kill the former king because one of his sons had raped Lucretia, noblewoman and wife of a consul, and drove her to suicide) took the equites (knights in modern times). Following the same organization, the former King took the command of the Etruscan infantry, as his son, Aruns Tarquinius led the cavalry.

First in battle was Aruns Tarquinius and the Etruscan cavalry, that had spotted lictors far away (lictors were Roman civil servants, attendants and bodyguards to magistrates), and so, deducted the presence of a consul. Soon enough they realized that Brutus was in charge of the Roman cavalry. Both men, cousins in fact, charged one against the other with spears, with the consequence of the death of the two men.

The infantry joined the battle and both right flanks were superior for a while. The Tarquinii army forced the Romans to back up as the Romans put the Veientes in a harmful position. Nevertheless, the Etruscan army finally fled the battlefield, so the Roman army claimed the victory.

The night after the battle, historian Titus Livy reports, the voice of Silvanus (Roman deity of woods and uncultivated lands) was heard coming from the nearby forest, proclaiming “more of the Etrurians by one had fallen in the battle; that the Roman was victorious in the war“.

Consul Valerius plundered the spoils of the defeated Etruscans and made his way back to Rome to celebrate the triumph on March 1. The funeral of consul Brutus took place with great pageantry, and his portait was featured in the denarii of the Junia gens for centuries.

 

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