Chapter Five: Descent into Darkness
4 January 486 AUC
Tiberius Postumius Varro sat upon his son, tickling his sides with all his might. Lucius squirmed under him giggling and struggling to win free. Tiberius knew the nine-year old was too old for such things, but he was making up for the years of Lucius’ childhood he had missed.
The clap of iron-shod sandals broke through even the laughing of his son, causing him to sit up in alarm. By the time the messenger, escorted by two of Tiberius’ household guards, arrived at the chamber, Tiberius was reclining serenely on a couch, his son standing beside him. The guards saluted, bringing their fists to their hearts, and were dismissed by a wave from their master.
Tiberius turned his attention to the messenger. “Speak,” he said with a small motion of his hand.
The messenger nodded nervously and handed Tiberius a sealed scroll. “A message from Arretium my lord.” Tiberius noted that the seal was of the Senate, and wondered what the message could be. Another wave rid the room of the messenger, sending him off to collect his payment from one of the house slaves.
Tiberius slid a knife through the seal, unfurling the scroll. The message was brief and concise.
Tiberius Postumius Varro, you are called before the Senate
to resume your duties as commander of the armies of Etruria.
A declaration of war was issued to our glorious Republic by the
pretender Republic of Rome. Your presence is requested at once.
Tiberius stared in shock at the message. The past five years had been relatively peaceful for Etruria. Well as peaceful as it could be with several tribes of barbarians attempting to migrate through Etruscan territory. Nonetheless, Etruria’s pool of manpower was all but gone, and the men currently enlisted in the three standing legions were, for the most part, all of the able-bodied men in Etruria.
He calculated quickly in his head: the standing legions gave him just over fourteen-thousand men. The tribesmen in the recently conquered territories were always near revolt, making them unreliable soldiers. He realized with a sinking heart that victory was nearly impossible. But he had been called by the Senate, and he would do his duty.
Ruffling Lucius’ hair, he stepped out into the courtyard, yelling orders for his slaves to ready his horse and supplies for a journey to Arretium.
17 June 486 AUC
Septimus Tullius Valus, general of Rome, rode his horse slowly across desolated battlefield. His mount stepped carefully over mangled corpses and shattered weapons. Smoke drifted lazily across the field, put out by the fires Septimus’ men had created in the town.
The battle had been fierce, but Tiberius’ men had fallen back into the outskirts of the small town near the rear of the battlefield. Using the houses as anchors for their lines, the Etruscans had held off the worst the Romans could throw at them. Septimus had ordered his archers to put fire arrows into the dry, wooden buildings.
The resulting inferno had wreaked havoc with the Etruscan ranks as the legionaries had struggled to get away from the flames. To make matters worse, the Etruscans had been sheltering their wounded in the houses. The screams of the burning men was something Septimus would remember until he took his last breath.
At first, the Etruscans had withdrawn in good order, but their lines had threatened to break with every step back they took. Septimus had seen this immediately, and ordered his cavalry into the retreating legionaries, shattering the fragile ranks, and turning the withdrawal into a rout.
Septimus had left his cavalry to harry the fleeing Etruscans, while his infantry settled to the task of cleaning up the battlefield. Even now, two days later, bodies still littered the ground and fires still smoldered among the burnt-out husks of the town’s tall buildings.
Septimus considered the coming campaign. He had a feeling that Varro would not be able to stand against him again, no matter how many casualties he had inflicted upon the Romans. Etruria simply did not have the manpower to reinforce the remnants of her standing army, much less raise a new one. That fact was one of the primary factors that had contributed to Rome’s declaration of war.
Septimus looked over the Bononian countryside, imagining the air when it wasn’t filled the stench of the dead. The city of Felsinum had been evacuated as Varro had retreated through it, leaving the entire province of Bononia in Rome’s control. Marcus Gracchus, commander of another three legions, was pressing north into the former territory of the Paleoveneti. Septimus would move northwest, cutting Varro off from Arretium, and keeping him from holing up in the great city.
Rome would be triumphant, Septimus promised himself.
An excerpt from Etruria: The Definitive History:
After his disastrous defeat at the Battle of Bononia, Varro fled to the northwest, kept from Arretium by Septimus’ legions. For the next two years, Varro led Septimus on a not-so-merry chase through Etruscan territory, eluding the larger Roman force, only fighting in small, opportunistic skirmishes. All the while, Gracchus slowly but steadily besieged Etruscan city, gradually seizing all of Etruria’s lands.
Varro’s and Septimus’ war of maneuver ended when Varro was able to slip around Septimus’ legions, making his way to the southeast. Septimus caught Varro outside of Arretium.