The Etruscans were a unique and strange peoples; they lived north and north-east of Rome in the Po valley and Etruria. They spoke a foreign tongue and yet were so close to her dear Rome; they fought with an army consisting of Latins and their own, able-bodied Etruscan men. We have heard stories of them battling and fending off the barbarian Celts to the north of Italia’s peninsula, but we have yet to see it first-hand.
I recall my first battle with the Etruscans, and I was disappointed at their lack of ferocity and valor. Our legion was under the command of Legatus Aurelius Spartonius, and we marched north from Rome into the heart of the Po valley to encounter an Etruscan force of ca. 4,000 Italian spearmen, 400 citizen cavalry, and a ghastly sight of disorganized Italian militias who numbered around 1,000 men. Legatus Spartonius had asked the Senate for a command of 10,000, but received just shy of 3,000 hastati, 1,000 principes, and the famed Legion of Mars, which was a veteran regiment of 1,000 triarii. We also had the usual assortment of the baggage train and the flanking regiments of velites and equites¸ and I cannot forgot my own incorporation into the army: I was part of the speculatores regiment. My job was to screen and explore ahead of the main body to attain the enemy’s positions, find useful flanking and attack paths, and warn the body of any natural and unfortunate obstacles that would hamper our ability to attain victory.
We equaled the Etruscans in strength, but the fortitude and discipline of the hastati was enough to break through their front lines. We had marched onto the field just before dawn. The crop was a pale yellow, and the sun in its wee hours illuminated the sky in a pink-violet tinge. There were young ripples of clouds sprawled out in the air, and it looked as the eyes of the Gods smiled upon the sons of Rome to attain victory against the Etruscans. The night prior to the battle me and three compatriots had rode, silently, ahead of the camped legion to discover the Etruscans foolishly lying on a gorge of small hills. Their fires were easily visible to us, and we could discover their numbers and order of battle without much difficulty; they had the militias and spearmen on the immediate right flank, and the citizen cavalry on the left, for we could hear the rearing of the horses and the banter of the militias in the nighttime atmosphere.
The rising of the sun occurred just as we had finished our battle deployment. I stood to the far left of the line behind the triarii, and inspected our force; it was a terrifying and superior sight to see. The glazing of the bronze and iron on the bodies of the soldiers, and the firmness and fearless pose in which they stood, would have scared the Gods themselves. The hastati stood as the first line in the order of battle; they are young, strong and able-bodied men equipped with the gladius, two pila, and a large, rectangular shield that came to represent their rank. Behind them stood the majestic principes, who were the more seasoned and mature of the legion. And at last stood the famed and feared triarii, the heaviest infantry in the Roman realm and a force that could crash and fight against death itself. It is not often that Rome, or a legatus, fights a battle to the triarii, but certainly a battle would end in decisive victory.