The Aeneid, Book XII

Overview Book I Book II Book III Book IV Book V Book VI Book VII
Book VIII Book IX Book X Book XI Book XII

Final Battle & The Death of Turnus

When Turnus saw that the Trojans had gained the upper hand he told Latinus he was ready to go and meet Aeneas. Latinus told him he had been wrong to promise Lavinia to Turnus when she was fated to marry a foreigner, and this war and many Latin casualties had happened as a result. He asked Turnus to withdraw from the fighting and he would end the war. Turnus, however, refused even when Amata begged him to, saying he would die before seeing Lavinia married to Aeneas. He sent a messenger to Aeneas challenging him to single combat on the next day.

Etruscan cincerary urn with Aeneas and Turnus. Volterra, 200-100 BC.

Turnus and Aeneas, both ferocious warriors, armed themselves for battle, Turnus with the sword Vulcan had made for Turnus’ father, Daunus, which had been dipped in the waters of the Styx, and his spear, taken as spoil from Actor, which had never failed him, Aeneas in the armour made by Vulcan. The next day the Latins and Trojans took up their place at either end of a large field. Juno, unable to protect Turnus any longer, begged his sister, Juturna, to snatch him from the fight which would kill him. Aeneas swore that, if he lost the fight, Ascanius and the Trojans would withdraw from Italy and never fight the Latins again; but if he won Trojans and Latins would live equally. Latinus, not Aeneas, would rule. The Trojans would build a city called Lavinia in which to live. Latinus swore by the gods he would not break the peace. Both sides made sacrifices.

Juturna in disguise stirred up the Rutilians not to allow a single combat fight; this was reinforced by an omen of the eagle of Jupiter seizing a swan in its talons and dropping it in the river; an augur interpreted this as the eagle representing Aeneas and the swan Turnus; they should defend Turnus. He then threw his spear at the Trojans, killing one of them, and fighting between both sides began again. Aeneas tried to stop the fighting but was wounded by an arrow and left the battlefield. His wound was bathed with water infused with a healing herb from Venus. Aeneas’ wound was immediately healed and he returned to the fighting.

Fresco with Wounded Aeneas (Illustration) - Ancient History ...
Roman fresco depicting Iapyx removing an arrowhead from Aeneas’ thigh. Venus stands over him while beside Aeneas stands his young son Ascanius, from Pompeii.

Turnus meanwhile, inspired by the sight of Aeneas leaving the battlefield, had jumped into his chariot and killed any enemy in his path. Now Aeneas was looking for him. Juturna, afraid for Turnus’ life, took the place of his charioteer, not allowing Turnus to fight Aeneas although he killed other Trojans in his path. Aeneas was in pursuit, equally killing any enemy he met. Disaster then struck the city of Latinus: it was attacked by Aeneas and the Trojans to the point where the Latins were ready to surrender; then Amata, unable to see Turnus, thought he was dead and in her grief hung herself.

Turnus heard the cries of grief, recognised his sister was keeping him away from the main fighting and having been told by a messenger what had happened in the city and that he was their last hope, he recognised that his fate was calling him and he returned to meet Aeneas in single combat, telling all soldiers on both sides to stop fighting. As they clashed Jupiter weighed the lives of the two men on scales to decide the winner. Both men threw their spears, missing their opponent, and then fought at close quarters. Turnus had inadvertently left his father’s sword made by Vulcan in his chariot and instead picked up the one belonging to his charioteer. It broke when Aeneas’ sword hit it. Turnus fled but he was hemmed in on all sides.

File:The Fight between Aeneas and King Turnus, from Virgil's Aeneid LACMA M.2000.93.jpg
The Fight between Aeneas and King Turnus by Giacomo del Po, 1652-1726.

Aeneas was close behind him threatening to destroy the city if anyone helped Turnus. Aeneas’ spear was embedded in the stump of an old olive tree. While he tried to pull it out Turnus prayed that Aeneas would be unsuccessful. Juturna gave Turnus his sword so Venus pulled out Aeneas’ spear and gave it to him. Jupiter reprimanded Juno for allowing Juturna to do this and forbade her to interfere any more. Juno agreed but requested that the Latins be allowed to keep their name, language and dress, that the Trojan name disappear and that Aeneas’ descendants be Romans. Jupiter granted her request saying the two nations would be united into one, worshipping her.

Jupiter sent one of the Furies disguised as a bird to fly and screech at Turnus’ face. Juturna recognised this as an omen of Turnus’ death and, grieving, left the battlefield. The fight between Aeneas and Turnus resumed. Turnus picked up a huge boulder and threw it at Aeneas but it did not reach him. Aeneas’ spear struck Turnus in his thigh and he fell to his knees. Turnus, acknowledging that Aeneas had won and that Lavinia was his, begged Aeneas to spare his life and return him or his body to his father, Daunus. While Aeneas was hesitating whether or not to spare Turnus, he caught sight of Pallas’ belt which Turnus had taken as spoil after he had killed him and was wearing it and in anger Aeneas drove his sword into Turnus’ chest saying Pallas was exacting his revenge. So Turnus died.

Aeneas’s defeat of Turnus by Luca Giordano, 1634–1705. The female on the left is Venus, Aeneas’ mother, who supported him during the battle. The female on the right must be Turnus’ sister, the nymph Juturna, who was forced by a Fury (transformed to a black bird sent by Jupiter) to abandon Turnus to his fate.

Previous Book Overview