Italian lightly  armed warrior (by Peter Connolly), the main type of lightly armed  Italian warriors who attacked Cumae in 524 BC. Especially for the peoples of the Apennines, the central mountain range of the Italian peninsula, this was the main combatant type. These hardy and stubborn warriors, mainly Oscan and Southern Umbrian, caused great problems in Rome in the coming centuries. The depicted warrior has a native Italian helmet with a Greek-type plume. He bears a protection plate on his neck and a pactorale – a circular disk to protect his chest. He holds two spears – one heavier and one lighter. He also has a Greek-type sword (copyright: Peter Connolly).


By  Periklis    Deligiannis


In 745 BC, the Euboean Greek settlers who had colonized years ago, the small island  Pithekousai off  coast of the  Bay  of  Naples  in  Italy, founded  Cumae  (Cyme  in  Greek,  Cumae  in  Latin) on the opposite coast. Cumae was the first ‘official’ Greek colony in the Italian peninsula. Pithekousai was actually the first, but ‘unofficial’ colony in Italy. Cumae took its name from the Euboean Cyme, rather as a neutral compromise between Chalkidean and Eretrian settlers, the most numerous among the Euboeans. Chalkis and Eretria were the most powerful city-states of the large island Euboea in the Aegean Sea.

Soon Cumae, enhanced by new colonists from Chalcis, Eretria, the Euboean Cyme, Tanagra (Boeotia), Cirinthos (Euboea) and Oropia (Boeotia), expanded in the fertile land of the Phlegraian Fields to the north. Later, further more Greek colonists arrived in Cumae from Magna Graecia, Samos etc. founding subsidiary colonies and thereby increasing the extent of the Cumaean territory. Among the Cumaean colonies, Neapolis (modern Naples) would become the most important. In other cases, the Greeks settled in existing villages o f  the  indigenous Ausones, turning them into Greek colonies, as it happened in Pompeii, Heraklion (Herculaneum), etc. Thus the boundaries of the Cumaean territory were approaching fast  the river Volturnus, but soon they were confined by a powerful enemy: the Etruscans (or  Tyrrhenians  as the Greeks used to call them), the people of Etruria (modern Tuscany), mostly of Anatolian origins (from Lydia, Asia Minor).

The competition between the Greeks and the Etruscans was older enough. The mythographer Palaifatos (“On Unbelievers”) assures that the sea monster Scylla, which Odysseus encountered on his wanderings (“Odyssey”), represented the danger facing the Greek merchant ships in the Strait of Messina, from the Etruscan pirates.

The Tyrrhenians conquered Latium which they ruled from their colony Rome (Aruma in Etruscan). Then, they spread to Campania to the south, where they clashed with the Cumaeans. About 600 BC, the Etruscans founded Capua (Campeva in Etruscan) which became quickly a powerful city. Then, with a series of Etruscan colonies (Nola, Marcina, Acherrae etc.) and the occupation of Greek colonies (Heraklion, Pompeii, Oplontis), they isolated the country of Cumae in the southwestern corner of Campania. In the Greek seafront against the Etruscans, in 580 BC the Rhodians and Cnidians colonized the Lipari islands north ofSicily. From there they were constantly attacking Etruscan ships. Another Greek-Etruscan front appeared in the 6th century BC, in the current coastal border between France, Monaco and Italy. Greeks from Phocaea (a Greek city-state in Asia Minor) had founded Massalia (modern Marseilles), which  in  turn founded several colonies, of which the westernmost were the cities of Ampelos and Limen Monoikou Herakleous (modern Monaco). In response, the Etruscans (probably of the naval city Caire, Caisra in Etruscan) founded Genoa in order to prevent the Massaliot colonization in the modern Gulf of Genoa. The maritime conflicts between the Tyrrhenians and the Massaliotes lasted about three centuries (6th-3rd centuries BC.).


Currency of Naples, the colony of Cumae, with anthropomorphic bull emblem, popular in Greeks, Etruscans and the native Ausones of Campania. The anthropomorphic bull was popular in Cumae also, and therefore appeared as an emblem on the surfaces of the shields of its hoplites.


In the mid-sixth cent., the conquest of Corsica by the Etruscans after their victory together with the Carthaginians in the sea battle of Alalia, against the Phocaeans, looped even more the noose around Cumae, which became an advanced Greek bastion among alien peoples.

Around twenty years later, the Etruscans encouraged by the conquest of Corsica, marched against Cumae. In 524 BC, an army of  Tyrrhenians, Umbrians, Daunians “and many other barbarians” (Dionysios/Dionysius of Halicarnassos) appeared suddenly in the Campanian plain. Dionysius says that they numbered  500,000 foot  and 18,000 horse, numbers generally discarded. Apparently the enemy was multiplied tenfold by the ancient Greek tradition, as usual. Possibly the Etrusco-Italian army numbered 50,000 infantrymen, mostly lightly armed, and 1,800 cavalrymen and horsemen. Moreover Dionysius and other writers wanted to imitate Herodotus and discover some “parallels” between the Persian wars in Greece and the Greco-Tyrrhenian wars in Italy. But this trend does not reduce the serious threat that came upon  Cumae  and that would incur on other Greek cities of Magna Graecia (Southern Italy), as estimated.



Considering the territories and dependents of the attackers (who left enough reserves in their homes because of the constant danger that they faced from their Piceni, Peucetian, Ligurian and Celtic enemies), low population density of non-Greek Italy because of the early period, and other factors, the Etrusco-Italian mobilization against Cumae was rather impressive.

The invaders which are mentioned specifically were the Tyrrhenians, Umbrians and Daunians. The aforementioned “many other barbarians” were the vassals and allies of those: Latin and Sabine vassals, Eneti (ancient Venetians), Ligurians and Proto-Insubres (Celts) who all were looking for valuable booty, and many Oscan mercenaries and adventurers (also seeking for spoils). Leaders of the campaign were the Etruscan colonists of the Po Valley and the metropolitan Tyrrhenians of the interior of Etruria. It has been estimated that the Etruscans of coastal Etruria were not involved in the campaign, due to trade relations with Cumae, but this is an improbable hypothesis, because their profits from the destruction of Cumae would be much greater.

The other Italiotes (Greeks of Italy) were not prepared against the extensive mobilization of the invaders. As it is estimated, they had no time to help Cumae, or done nothing of envy for the prosperous city. View of the writer is that this estimate is not entirely true. As implied by the ancient sources, the Cumaeans faced the invasion with 12,000-13,500 infantrymen and 1,800 horsemen, forces which the relatively small Cumae, could not master (although this force included certainly several Italiote and Italian mercenaries). The only explanation is that the Cumaean army included military forces that other Greek cities had sent to Cumae.


Map of Campania in the second half of the sixth century BC. The black rectangles represent the Greek colonies, while the “X” inside a circle represent the Etruscan. The dotted line shows the limits of the territory of Cumae. The map clearly denotes the geo-strategic objectives of Etruscan expansion: to keep Cumae and Greek Poseidonia (Paestum) without territorial contact with each other, and to isolate Cumae and its colonies in the southwestern part of Campania.


The Cumaeans divided their army into three parts, each of which numbered 4,000 or 4,500 infantrymen and 600 horsemen. Only one of these divisions confronted the invaders in a narrow passage. Dionysius doesn’t quote where the other Cumaean troops (9-10,000 men) were, during the battle of Cumae. Apparently they must have spread in guarding other crossings (where the enemy could penetrate the Cumaean territory), in defense of the walls of the city, towns and fortresses of the territory, and in the staffing of the Cumaean navy which protected the coast from possible Etruscan attack.

The Greeks confronted the Tyrrhenians and the Italians in a narrow passage which was located between mountains and swamps. The ancient writers did not identify it geographically. I believe that it is either the passage formed in antiquity  between the Mount Massico and the ancient marshes at the mouth of River Volturnus (most likely), or perhaps the passage between the River Sebaethus (Sebithus) and the volcano of Vesuvius. Because of the narrow space, the attackers failed to take advantage of their overwhelming numerical superiority and had to fight the Cumaeans with the same length of the front of the phalanx. Τhe Tyrrheno-Italian infantry finally retreated. The Etruscan cavalry tried to prevent the imminent defeat, with an attempt to encircle the Greeks, but failed due to shortage of space. Because of this and the large crowd, many Etruscans and Italians were unable to escape in time from the passage, thus being massacred by the Cumaeans or being trampled. Losses are not given, but the numbers of the dead and captive invaders are evidenced by the fact that they never again attacked Cumae on the land.


Etruscan hoplite helmet of Corinthian type.


During the battle of Cumae, the Cumaean Aristodemos distinguished himself. Thus he became the champion of the common people against the aristocratic rulers of the city. Later, Aristodemos became tyrant of Cumae overthrowing the aristocrats, and continued the struggle against the Etruscans, especially against Capuans which had given refuge to the exiled Cumaean aristocrats.




(1)               Dionysios of  Halicarnassos, Roman Archaeology.

(2)               Diodorus of  Sicily, Historical Library.

(3)               Livy (Titus Livius), Roman History.

(4)               Cambridge ancient History, New edition, Vol. VII-part 2, Cambridge University Press 1998.

(5)               Toynbee  Α.:  A study of History,  London 1965