Villanovan Helmet Urns

(1000-650 BC)
DBA I/33

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Villanovan Italian is generally used as a reference for the Iron Age inhabitants of northern and central Italy, whose practice of cremation and urn burial differentiated them from the indigenous peoples of early Italy (Picentines, Umbrians, Apulians and Sicels) who inhumed their dead.  The Villanovans derive their name from the archaeological excavations that occurred at Villanova, near Bologna in 1853-1855.  They are believed to have migrated into Italy from Central Europe, the third in a wave of migrations that occurred circa 1100-1000 BC.  Archaeological finds suggest a close cultural connection to the Hallstatt culture of the eastern Alps.

The Villanovans spread through the Po Valley southward into Etruria and Latinium.  Villanovan burial pits have been discovered on the eastern Adriatic Coast and on the western coast as far south as Capua (Campania) suggesting later migrations.  Archaelogists trace their development in two distinct periods, the proto-Villanovan culture (1100-900 BC) and Villanovan culture proper (900-700 BC). The later period corresponds with increasing contact with coastal Greek/Hellenistic traders and the rise of the first Etruscan city-states, which correspond with Villanovan settlement areas.  Although Herodotus and Strabo record that the Etruscans derived from the Tyrrhenians, a Hellenistic tribe that purportedly migrated by sea to Italy from Lydia (or the Isle of Lemnos) circa 800 BC, most modern scholars suggest that the earlier Villanovan culture gave rise to the Etruscans.  In creating this DBA army list, Phil Barker seems to reflect this modern interpretation, since the Villanovan list ends in 650 AD, transitioning cleanly to the Early Etruscan list (I/55a), which begins in that same year.

Villanovan tribal armies were comprised of a well-to-do class of spearmen who fought as individuals in the heroic style much like their contemporaries, the early Celts and pre-Hoplite Greeks. By the 8th Century, Greek influences resulted in denser formations and the lower classes were pressed into service, fighting without armor and using more basic weaponry.

Army Composition

Before 800 BC After
800 BC


1x 3Cv or LCh/Gen 1x 3Cv or LCh/Gen Tribal King/Chieftain and his followers
11x 3Wb 5x 4Wb Well-heeled spearmen with characteristic Villanovan helmets, bronze pectoral, and shield.  Later period shows more Greek influence including bronze-faced round shield. Small proportion fight with axes.
  1x 3Cv Mounted nobles.
  4x 3Ax Poorer warriors with scutum, fire-hardened javelins and handweapons (light axe or knife).
  1x 2Ps Mixed archers and slingers.

Enemies and Allies

The early Villanovans are enemies of themselves (I/33a), the Early Northern European Barbarians (I/14d), and the Italian Hill Tribes (I/36). The later Villanovans fight the later counterparts of the above and add the coastal Greeks (I/30bc) as enemies.


As a low aggression, arable army, the early Villanovan Warband are an intimidating match for the Blades and Spears of the Early Northern European and later Geometric Greek armies, if they can come to grips.  In bad going against earlier Greek Auxilia, the Villanovan Warband lose many of their advantages.  The later Villanovan list offers significant improvements both in mobility, with that extra element of Cavalry plus Auxilia that can work in concert with the Villanovan Warband to more effectively contest the bad going.  A contest with the Italian Hill tribes will require creative tactics to avoid what is otherwise a pretty even shoving match of Warband vs. Warband/Auxilia.

Camps and BUAS

The early Villanovans lived in small villages of wattle-and-daub huts, clustered on hills and in other easily defensible locations. Over time, "nucleated settlements" evolved into small walled cities, generally at sites associated with Etruscan city-states (e.g. Clusium/Chiusi) in the later period.


At present, M.Y. Miniatures offers the only 15mm Villanovan range, and provides DBA army packs for each sublist. A compatible range is expected from Donnington in April 2007. Mirliton’s Etruscan and Early Roman ranges also provide many useful figures, especially for the poorer warriors and skirmishers.

For the better armed warriors, look for the crested helmet of Northern European origin (recreation at right) or the knobbed bell helmet of eastern central European origin. Several Gallic/Celtic ranges often include a few suitably helmeted figures; just avoid those with chainmail and substitute round (hoplon-style) shields.


What we know of the Villanovan Italians is known primarily through pottery, burial urns, bronze implements, and other archeological finds, and not from written sources. As a consequence, there are no popular histories of Villanovan culture in print and no helpful Osprey or other references that I can point you to.  Early Etruscan sources may provide some guidance.

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Last Updated:  11 Oct. 2007

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