Skip to content
You are here:Accueil arrow Articles arrow Petits soldats arrow Ethruscan Corsair Ship, V cent. b.C.

Ethruscan Corsair Ship, V cent. b.C.
(5 voti)
Écrit par Leonardo Torricini   

This time I tryed to recreate an ipothetic etruscan corsair ship, not an easy thing, both for modeling and for the lack of documentation available, furthermore I'm not a naval expert. I hope you enjoy this article, anyway I excuse myself in advance for eventual mistakes (unavoidable I'm afraid) and fantasy licenses.

I took inspiration from the few informations and illustrations I found on some books and with a research on internet, both for the ship and for the crew; considered the material I had I choose to make a ship of a period around the V century b.C.

The few we know about the etruscans is mostly indirect and written by greeks and latins, considered that winners rarely talk well about the defeated, and that within the few mentions there are so many appreciations, we can presume that the etruscans were quite clever, especialy in the navigation.
The etruscans, also called Tyrrenians, were good naval constructors and great sailors; within the few ones who dare to cross the "Ercules Columns" (Gibraltar), their attempt to colonise the Canaries Islands failed probably for the Carthaginian opposition. The greek legends descript them as so brave and arrogant to kidnap even the god Dionysus, that turned them in dolphins and their ship in a floating wineyard, this famous clix (drinking pot) represent this legend.

By the way "Fufluns", the tyrrenian Dionysus, was a very important god in the etruscan Pantheon; "Fufluna" (the actual town of Populonia) was a town dedicated to that divinity, a sea town with arbour.

Etruscans used to trade and kept relationships, both conflictual and pacefull, with the other peoples that sailed across the Mediterranian Sea, as Phoenicians and Carthaginians; part of the greeks considered the etruscans as pirates, in those ancient times the piracy wasn't an uncommon thing, it was an important activity included in the usual "commercial" and explorative" expeditions. In the period of real conflict with the greek towns we can talk more about privateering actions rather than piracy, or even real military naval expeditions, anyway the greek colonisation of Magna Greece (southern Italy) couldn't go further north for the presence of the tyrrenians, that nevertheless were allied of Athens against Syracuse...
Some evidences shows that already from the late villanovian period (XI/X century b.C.) there were rounded keel boats, more modern than the coeval flat keeled ones used in Grece directly evolved from the rafts.
With the etruscan development the navigation also improved, from the small boats used just on rivers and lakes, or at least only very close to the sea coast, bigger ships were developed and real naval courses trough the Mediterranian Sea were undertaken.
Some parts of the ships seem to be developed from the phoenicians ones, another people that had frequent contacts with the etruscans. It seem that the ancient etruscan ships were recognisable also from far, in some scripts they were appreciated for the elegant design, the corvus (the long mobile bridge) seem to be invented from an etruscan from Pisa.

For a long time, at least in the Tyrrhenian and in the northern Adriatic Sea, the etruscan ships kept their supremacy on the greek fleet, while they shared, even if in minority, the control of the western Mediterranian with Carthage, as traditional ally.
In the arcaic period the sailing was a rare thing and withot rules, in the classical period sure there was treaties and some sort of navigation rules, that developed in the ellenistic period and during the roman empire, the pure pyracy was a crime, even if the difference between pirates and corsairs was not so clear.
Anyway there was foreign merchants and sailors, especialy from Grece, that used to went in Etruria (normaly as in other places), to trade and bring offers to the sanctuaries, as well as the etruscans did in Grece or anywhere else.
There are evidences of etruscan visits or stable permanences in many mediterranean places.

The etruscan development reached it's top from the VII to the V century, but especialy through the VI century. In this period called "thalassocracy" (dominium on the sea) many princeps and merchants built real fleets, and the harbours and shipyards were developed.
The etruscans never become a real nation, at least just momentary alliances as the greek state towns, there was also internal conflicts, is not a rare case to hear about etruscan military or naval forces fighting as mercenaries, even for foreign or even enemy countries.
In the period of decadence, part of the etruscan towns survived, many conflicts alternated on the land, in some cases also causing a momentary further development of some cities, but also the complete distruction of some others. The sea towns and their harbours also followed this course, some disappeared, some others survived, despite the syracusan raids first and other conflicts after, they kept alive in variating phases till the integration in the roman state.
After the definitive etruscan fall, some towns remained active and kept developing under the roman power, they gave a great contribute to the carthaginian defeat, especialy on the sea during the punic wars.
Following many etruscans took part, as mercenaries first and as citizens after, in the roman legions, and with the old syracusan enemies probably contributed to the raise of the roman naval power.


The hull is made in plastic and covered with wood, it was originary an Atlantic greek ship, now unrecognisable parform for the rostrum, the lower side of the hull, and for the size.

Between my old toys survived since today I found the two Atlantic hulls, both incomplete, I wish I could restore one at least but too many pieces were lost.
To find (at reasonable price) the missing parts seem to be impossible. Even being very beautyfull toys, they can't be considered proper realistic models. So instead to restore them approxiamtely without original spare parts or copies, why don't make an elaboration to transform one in a proper model? And I decided to use one of the hulls for a convertion.

After having decided the shape of the hull, I cutted off the pars in excess, rounded it where it needed, and sanded the surface to glue easyly the wood on it, to ricerate the planking.
In this way I quickly made a rough shape of the hull, without having to make all the internal structure like for the traditional wood models.
Then for the planking I glued thin wood strips to cover all the hull, and further higher where goes the poop and the fore castles, that differntly from the original model should come higher and rounded, instead than squared.
In this way is possible to use any cheap toy ship to get quickly a good looking woodden hull, it have to be just of the right shape, and there's no need to learn the long and difficult traditional technique used for the woodden ships.

I try to reconstruct some tipical parts descripted on the etruscan ships, the shape is the classical as the "navi longae" (military long ship), but without protruding oar banks and with a more dynamic profile. Along the sides there are girders, tipical also on the phoenician ships, an extra armour on the planking to protect the hull. The keel is not flat but slightly rounded.

The planks of the decks are engraved on ply-wood profiles.
The mast was a long paintbrush and the sail is a re-shaped resin copy of the original Atlantic model.
On the main deck there are additional oar seats, as we can see on some painted potteries.
It's easy to imagine that for a pirate raid, but also during the normal sailing that was quite dangerous anyway, it could be very helpfull to have an emergency propulsion, an extra thrust to reach a prey, or to escape.
I imagine part of the fighting crew supporting the oarers to reach the ojective, also to give them a relief before the final attacking manouvre. Then, reached the enemy, they replace the extra oars under the poop deck and start to throw with arrows, slings and javellins; as the sailor crew manouvers and sets the mobile bridge in position while the oplites get ready to board.

On the mast, from a sort of maintop, a vedette throw javellins from above, other detail spotted on some paintings.
Is not surprising that they took advantage from that high position! Perhaps also to put a poor sod up there to deflect part of the incoming enemy launchs from the decks.

The elevations on the poop and broadcastles (aplustra and akrostolion) are made in wood, putty, resin and some plastic bits; as well as the mobile bridge, the sides, and the oar seats.

The bass-relief on the prow is printed in resin on a clay base where I imprinted some pieces, I used the greek woman from the Atlantic acropolis set to create a "Menrva" (the etruscan Minerva), and a 6 millimeters mounted lancer (from a wargame) for the two mounted horses up on both sides; with some thick glue I tryed to add a Chimera on the bottom and some other small decorations.

The oars represented the biggest problem, the original ones were too big and flexible, first I tryed to flatten some hard plastic sticks on one side but they came too fragile and different one from another. Then I resolved making a mould of a dozen oars (taken from another model) and printing them with resin, inserting a metal stick inside each one.
After marked the right places for the oars I drilled the hull to put the oars in their place.

Another detail that curiously is missed in the commercial models I've seen, but present on some bass-reliefs and paintings, around the oars I recreate the leather waterproof seals fixed to the rowlocks on the hull.
The "corvus" (the mobile bridge) is a fantasy azzard if referred to the V century, but I liked it aestheticaly, and being an etruscan invention I risk to ipotise a prototype, infact is very basic, short, narrow and for close sided boardings only.

THE CREW For the crew there were the Orion roman sailors, the oarers doesn't matter much as they are inside and mostly hidden, I just bended their arms in the right position to handle the oars.
I modified part of the remaining crew, this ship will go on a diorama and I want to avoid to repeat the same poses as much as I can, even on different ships.
I planned to represent the Sardinian Sea battle of 480 b.C., phocaeans greeks against carthagineins and etruscans, hopfully ready within one year, I need at least other two ships: another etruscan almost ready and a greek one just started, and perhaps one more if I find how to make a carthaginian ship. Fortunately spending some extra time I save in home made resin miniatures and converted models... the transparent base of the diorama anyway will cost me a fortune.

For the fighting crew I modified the poses and correct the armours of some Odemars oscans and some Hat italian punic alleys, and some parts of some other sets.
I try to recreate the tipical etruscans armours and weapons, whith many variations as it supposed to be a cursair crew and not regular troops... the small enterprise of a modest shipowner!

The clothes are very bright and colored, etruscans were both appreciated and criticized for the excess in luxury: "laxious and spendent in war or peace", "they dress with rich clothes and jewels also the servants" and so on... How they could go at war without their best smart and bright clothes!

The weapons (as all the rest) could be owned, brought, stolen, won... also with with dices (some etruscans were usual players) but all of etruscan tipe or compatible; the tipical negau helmets, or montefortino, italic, jonic, chalcidic kind, simple or with brims, visors and crests; shields mostly circular; simple armours just with cardiopilax (chest plate) and greaves; heavy anathomic armours with greaves and protections for thighs, arms and shoulders; a lot of bronze but also some iron from Athalia (Elba Island) just for few rich ones; javelins, bows, and slings; bipenne (double cut axes), italic swords, kopis and machairas.

I wanted that the oarers cuold be visible in the holds, and I made also too many of them, we can see the last ones only in these pics, once closed the decks goodbye wiew. (I'm excessive I know ;).
The deck sections of the main bridge supposed to be removable, parform from the mast section and from the fore and poop castles, but already just with the cordage was a trouble to take off and replace them, so I decided to glue them definitely before to glue also the crew on the decks, to avoid the dangerous temptation to open the model.
Same as for the mobile bridge, another thing that could rotate and lift up and down, I blocked it to avoid easy breackings, especialy for the toysoldiers around.

For the painting the usual black undercover with white drybrush, or metallic colour only on the right parts. Very diluited colors on the woodden parts of the ship, thicker on the rest.
Various layers, washes and drybrush for the shadowing and the highlighting of the toysoldiers.

Also this time I didn't used the original converted pieces, but copies of converted copies, actually there isn't any original palstic toysoldiers at all on the ship, only converted resin copies, even with just little changes of position as for the oarers. I made the moulds of the modified masters and printed myself the necessary resin copies.

At the moment there aren't plastic etruscans sets available, modestly I think I managed to make these ones good enough, surely I'll print further copies of these pieces for other dioramas. And if someone is interested... there's just to print some copies more.