History and Fiction: Weaving both into a Tapestry of Storytelling

Part ONE

The year is 537 BC.  In Rome, Lucius Tarquinius has overthrown his father-in-law King Servius Tullius and taken the throne.  The city of Carthage has taken control of the island of Sardinia from the Phoenicians. Greeks from Asia Minor live on Corsica.  The Etruscan city of Caere, 30 miles from Rome, has a new ruler named Tefarie Velianas.

For at least a century, the indigenous Sardinian cities and Carthage had enjoyed a friendly trading relationship with Caere and many other Etruscan cities along Italy’s western coast.

The Phocaean Greeks were not so fortunate. Instead of allies, they were seen by both the Etruscans and Carthage as rivals for control of trade in the Mediterranean.

In 535 BC that rivalry will end.

Three fleets of warships meet in battle in the seas between Sardinia, and the Italian peninsula. On one side are the allied fleets of Carthage and Caere. On the other side are the ships of Phocaean Greeks from Corsica.

While ships are lost to all three combatants, the Greeks leave Corsica for a new colony on the Italian peninsula. Greek prisoners are taken to Caere, but not to be enslaved. Instead they are stoned to death on the beach.  When plague breaks out soon thereafter, the Delphi Oracle tells Caere it must hold games and make sacrifices to the dead, to cleanse and purify the city and its people.

Thus far these events are history, recorded by the Greek historian Herodotus and the Roman historian Livy.

Tefarie Velianas may have become ruler in Caere, Fiction can claim, with help from Carthage, no doubt eager to expand its presence in the peninsula as well as Sardinia. Sixteen years later, in 509 BC, Velianas built and dedicated a temple to Carthage’s gods at the port of Pyrgi in Caere. This much is known through archaeology.

Fiction also claims that mercenaries from Sardinia and other Etruscan cities may have also helped Lucius Tarquinius take the throne in Rome.

That same year of 509 BC, emissaries from Carthage journeyed to Rome to discuss a trade treaty with Tarquinius Superbus. In the 18 years since the Battle of Alalia in the Sardinian Sea, Carthage had successfully signed such treaties with many Etruscan cities like Caere. What they arrived in Rome however, they were met with chaos.

As the Carthaginians sat quietly and watched, relatives of King Tarquinius found an excuse to overthrow him, sending him into exile rather than kill him. Claiming proudly only that they had ended the monarchy, they called their new two-man rule a consulship. Eager for validation of their new government, the consuls then signed the trade treaty with the Carthaginian emissaries. This treaty is recorded in history, not however by the historian Livy, but by another Greek historian named Polybius.

Tarquinius meanwhile fled to Caere and sent out calls for aid to other cities. Livy records that aid was given by Lars Porsenna, King in the Etruscan city of Clusium, who marched his army to Rome. The consuls-bickering over the organization of their government-were unprepared to meet an invader.  Porsenna did not return Tarquinius to the Roman throne. Instead he ruled over Rome as its conqueror, even demanding sons and daughters of the consuls and other leading nobles as hostages to demonstrate his authority and control.

The Roman historian Tacitus described Porsenna as a conqueror. Livy only recorded that Rome fought against him. Livy and the Greek historical biographer Plutarch both agree however that Porsenna’s conquest is ended only when the hostages and other brave young Romans take matters into their own hands.


Fictional History: Two Novels set during the birth of the Roman Republic.