Struggle of the Italians against Rome

Wars between the Sabellians and Tarentines—Archidamus—Alexander the Molossian—

While the Romans were fighting on the Liris and Volturnus, other conflicts agitated the south-east of the peninsula. The wealthy merchant-republic of Tarentum, daily exposed to more serious peril from the Lucanian and Messapian bands and justly distrusting its own sword, gained by good words and better coin the help of -condottieri- from the mother-country. The Spartan king, Archidamus, who with a strong band had come to the assistance of his fellow-Dorians, succumbed to the Lucanians on the same day on which Philip conquered at Chaeronea (416); a retribution, in the belief of the pious Greeks, for the share which nineteen years previously he and his people had taken in pillaging the sanctuary of Delphi. His place was taken by an abler commander, Alexander the Molossian, brother of Olympias the mother of Alexander the Great. In addition to the troops which he had brought along with him he united under his banner the contingents of the Greek cities, especially those of the Tarentines and Metapontines; the Poediculi (around Rubi, now Ruvo), who like the Greeks found themselves in danger from the Sabellian nation; and lastly, even the Lucanian exiles themselves, whose considerable numbers point to the existence of violent internal troubles in that confederacy. Thus he soon found himself superior to the enemy. Consentia (Cosenza), which seems to have been the federal headquarters of the Sabellians settled in Magna Graecia, fell into his hands. In vain the Samnites came to the help of the Lucanians; Alexander defeated their combined forces near Paestum. He subdued the Daunians around Sipontum, and the Messapians in the south-eastern peninsula; he already commanded from sea to sea, and was on the point of arranging with the Romans a joint attack on the Samnites in their native abodes. But successes so unexpected went beyond the desires of the Tarentine merchants, and filled them with alarm. War broke out between them and their captain, who had come amongst them a hired mercenary and now appeared desirous to found a Hellenic empire in the west like his nephew in the east. Alexander had at first the advantage; he wrested Heraclea from the Tarentines, restored Thurii, and seems to have called upon the other Italian Greeks to unite under his protection against the Tarentines, while he at the same time tried to bring about a peace between them and the Sabellian tribes. But his grand projects found only feeble support among the degenerate and desponding Greeks, and the forced change of sides alienated from him his former Lucanian adherents: he fell at Pandosia by the hand of a Lucanian emigrant (422).(1) On his death matters substantially reverted to their old position. The Greek cities found themselves once more isolated and once more left to protect themselves as best they might by treaty or payment of tribute, or even by extraneous aid; Croton for instance repulsed the Bruttii about 430 with the help of the Syracusans. The Samnite tribes acquire renewed ascendency, and were able, without troubling themselves about the Greeks, once more to direct their eyes towards Campania and Latium.

But there during the brief interval a prodigious change had occurred. The Latin confederacy was broken and scattered, the last resistance of the Volsci was overcome, the province of Campania, the richest and finest in the peninsula, was in the undisputed and well-secured possession of the Romans, and the second city of Italy was a dependency of Rome. While the Greeks and Samnites were contending with each other, Rome had almost without a contest raised herself to a position of power which no single people in the peninsula possessed the means of shaking, and which threatened to render all of them subject to her yoke. A joint exertion on the part of the peoples who were not severally a match for Rome might perhaps still burst the chains, ere they became fastened completely. But the clearness of perception, the courage, the self-sacrifice required for such a coalition of numerous peoples and cities that had hitherto been for the most part foes or at any rate strangers to each other, were not to be found at all, or were found only when it was already too late.

Coalition of the Italians against Rome

After the fall of the Etruscan power and the weakening of the Greek republics, the Samnite confederacy was beyond doubt, next to Rome, the most considerable power in Italy, and at the same time that which was most closely and immediately endangered by Roman encroachments. To its lot therefore fell the foremost place and the heaviest burden in the struggle for freedom and nationality which the Italians had to wage against Rome. It might reckon upon the assistance of the small Sabellian tribes, the Vestini, Frentani, Marrucini, and other smaller cantons, who dwelt in rustic seclusion amidst their mountains, but were not deaf to the appeal of a kindred stock calling them to take up arms in defence of their common possessions. The assistance of the Campanian Greeks and those of Magna Graecia (especially the Tarentines), and of the powerful Lucanians and Bruttians would have been of greater importance; but the negligence and supineness of the demagogues ruling in Tarentum and the entanglement of that city in the affairs of Sicily, the internal distractions of the Lucanian confederacy, and above all the deep hostility that had subsisted for centuries between the Greeks of Lower Italy and their Lucanian oppressors, scarcely permitted the hope that Tarentum and Lucania would make common cause with the Samnites. From the Sabines and the Marsi, who were the nearest neighbours of the Romans and had long lived in peaceful relations with Rome, little more could be expected than lukewarm sympathy or neutrality. The Apulians, the ancient and bitter antagonists of the Sabellians, were the natural allies of the Romans. On the other hand it might be expected that the more remote Etruscans would join the league if a first success were gained; and even a revolt in Latium and the land of the Volsci and Hernici was not impossible. But the Samnites—the Aetolians of Italy, in whom national vigour still lived unimpaired—had mainly to rely on their own energies for such perseverance in the unequal struggle as would give the other peoples time for a generous sense of shame, for calm deliberation, and for the mustering of their forces; a single success might then kindle the flames of war and insurrection all around Rome. History cannot but do the noble people the justice of acknowledging that they understood and performed their duty.

Outbreak of War between Samnium and Rome—Pacification of Campania

Differences had already for several years existed between Rome and Samnium in consequence of the continual aggressions in which the Romans indulged on the Liris, and of which the founding of Fregellae in 426 was the latest and most important. But it was the Greeks of Campania that gave occasion to the outbreak of the contest. After Cumae and Capua had become Roman, nothing so naturally suggested itself to the Romans as the subjugation of the Greek city Neapolis, which ruled also over the Greek islands in the bay—the only town not yet reduced to subjection within the field of the Roman power. The Tarentines and Samnites, informed of the scheme of the Romans to obtain possession of the town, resolved to anticipate them; and while the Tarentines were too remiss perhaps rather than too distant for the execution of this plan, the Samnites actually threw into it a strong garrison. The Romans immediately declared war nominally against the Neapolitans, really against the Samnites (427), and began the siege of Neapolis. After it had lasted a while, the Campanian Greeks became weary of the disturbance of their commerce and of the foreign garrison; and the Romans, whose whole efforts were directed to keep states of the second and third rank by means of separate treaties aloof from the coalition which was about to be formed, hastened, as soon as the Greeks consented to negotiate, to offer them the most favourable terms—full equality of rights and exemption from land service, equal alliance and perpetual peace. Upon these conditions, after the Neapolitans had rid themselves of the garrison by stratagem, a treaty was concluded (428).

The Sabellian towns to the south of the Volturnus, Nola, Nuceria, Herculaneum, and Pompeii, took part with Samnium in the beginning of the war; but their greatly exposed situation and the machinations of the Romans—who endeavoured to bring over to their side the optimate party in these towns by all the levers of artifice and self-interest, and found a powerful support to their endeavours in the precedent of Capua—induced these towns to declare themselves either in favour of Rome or neutral not long after the fall of Neapolis.

Alliance between the Romans and Lucanians

A still more important success befell the Romans in Lucania. There also the people with true instinct was in favour of joining the Samnites; but, as an alliance with the Samnites involved peace with Tarentum and a large portion of the governing lords of Lucania were not disposed to suspend their profitable pillaging expeditions, the Romans succeeded in concluding an alliance with Lucania—an alliance which was invaluable, because it provided employment for the Tarentines and thus left the whole power of Rome available against Samnium.

War in Samnium—The Caudine Pass and the Caudine Peace

Thus Samnium stood on all sides unsupported; excepting that some of the eastern mountain districts sent their contingents. In the year 428 the war began within the Samnite land itself: some towns on the Campanian frontier, Rufrae (between Venafrum and Teanum) and Allifae, were occupied by the Romans. In the following years the Roman armies penetrated Samnium, fighting and pillaging, as far as the territory of the Vestini, and even as far as Apulia, where they were received with open arms; everywhere they had very decidedly the advantage. The courage of the Samnites was broken; they sent back the Roman prisoners, and along with them the dead body of the leader of the war party, Brutulus Papius, who had anticipated the Roman executioners, when the Samnite national assembly determined to ask the enemy for peace and to procure for themselves more tolerable terms by the surrender of their bravest general. But when the humble, almost suppliant, request was not listened to by the Roman people (432), the Samnites, under their new general Gavius Pontius, prepared for the utmost and most desperate resistance. The Roman army, which under the two consuls of the following year (433) Spurius Postumius and Titus Veturius was encamped near Calatia (between Caserta and Maddaloni), received accounts, confirmed by the affirmation of numerous captives, that the Samnites had closely invested Luceria, and that that important town, on which depended the possession of Apulia, was in great danger. They broke up in haste. If they wished to arrive in good time, no other route could be taken than through the midst of the enemy's territory—where afterwards, in continuation of the Appian Way, the Roman road was constructed from Capua by way of Beneventum to Apulia. This route led, between the present villages of Arpaja and Montesarchio (Caudium), through a watery meadow, which was wholly enclosed by high and steep wooded hills and was only accessible through deep defiles at the entrance and outlet. Here the Samnites had posted themselves in ambush. The Romans, who had entered the valley unopposed, found its outlet obstructed by abattis and strongly occupied; on marching back they saw that the entrance was similarly closed, while at the same time the crests of the surrounding mountains were crowned by Samnite cohorts. They perceived, when it was too late, that they had suffered themselves to be misled by a stratagem, and that the Samnites awaited them, not at Luceria, but in the fatal pass of Caudium. They fought, but without hope of success and without earnest aim; the Roman army was totally unable to manoeuvre and was completely vanquished without a struggle. The Roman generals offered to capitulate. It is only a foolish rhetoric that represents the Samnite general as shut up to the simple alternatives of disbanding or of slaughtering the Roman army; he could not have done better than accept the offered capitulation and make prisoners of the hostile army—the whole force which for the moment the Roman community could bring into action—with both its commanders-in-chief. In that case the way to Campania and Latium would have stood open; and in the then existing state of feeling, when the Volsci and Hernici and the larger portion of the Latins would have received him with open arms, the political existence of Rome would have been in serious danger. But instead of taking this course and concluding a military convention, Gavius Pontius thought that he could at once terminate the whole quarrel by an equitable peace; whether it was that he shared that foolish longing of the confederates for peace, to which Brutulus Papius had fallen a victim in the previous year, or whether it was that he was unable to prevent the party which was tired of the war from spoiling his unexampled victory. The terms laid down were moderate enough; Rome was to raze the fortresses which she had constructed in defiance of the treaty—Cales and Fregellae—and to renew her equal alliance with Samnium. After the Roman generals had agreed to these terms and had given six hundred hostages chosen from the cavalry for their faithful execution—besides pledging their own word and that of all their staff-officers on oath to the same effect —the Roman army was dismissed uninjured, but disgraced; for the Samnite army, drunk with victory, could not resist the desire to subject their hated enemies to the disgraceful formality of laying down their arms and passing under the yoke.

But the Roman senate, regardless of the oath of their officers and of the fate of the hostages, cancelled the agreement, and contented themselves with surrendering to the enemy those who had concluded it as personally responsible for its fulfilment. Impartial history can attach little importance to the question whether in so doing the casuistry of Roman advocates and priests kept the letter of the law, or whether the decree of the Roman senate violated it; under a human and political point of view no blame in this matter rests upon the Romans. It was a question of comparative indifference whether, according to the formal state law of the Romans, the general in command was or was not entitled to conclude peace without reserving its ratification by the burgesses. According to the spirit and practice of the constitution it was quite an established principle that in Rome every state-agreement, not purely military, pertained to the province of the civil authorities, and a general who concluded peace without the instructions of the senate and the burgesses exceeded his powers. It was a greater error on the part of the Samnite general to give the Roman generals the choice between saving their army and exceeding their powers, than it was on the part of the latter that they had not the magnanimity absolutely to repel such a suggestion; and it was right and necessary that the Roman senate should reject such an agreement. A great nation does not surrender what it possesses except under the pressure of extreme necessity: all treaties making concessions are acknowledgments of such a necessity, not moral obligations. If every people justly reckons it a point of honour to tear to pieces by force of arms treaties that are disgraceful, how could honour enjoin a patient adherence to a convention like the Caudine to which an unfortunate general was morally compelled, while the sting of the recent disgrace was keenly felt and the vigour of the nation subsisted unimpaired?

Victory of the Romans

Thus the convention of Caudium did not produce the rest which the enthusiasts for peace in Samnium had foolishly expected from it, but only led to war after war with exasperation aggravated on either side by the opportunity forfeited, by the breach of a solemn engagement, by military honour disgraced, and by comrades that had been abandoned. The Roman officers given up were not received by the Samnites, partly because they were too magnanimous to wreak their vengeance on those unfortunates, partly because they would thereby have admitted the Roman plea that the agreement bound only those who swore to it, not the Roman state. Magnanimously they spared even the hostages whose lives had been forfeited by the rules of war, and preferred to resort at once to arms.

Luceria was occupied by them and Fregellae surprised and taken by assault (434) before the Romans had reorganized their broken army; the passing of the Satricans(2) over to the Samnites shows what they might have accomplished, had they not allowed their advantage to slip through their hands. But Rome was only momentarily paralyzed, not weakened; full of shame and indignation the Romans raised all the men and means they could, and placed the highly experienced Lucius Papirius Cursor, equally distinguished as a soldier and as a general, at the head of the newly formed army. The army divided; the one-half marched by Sabina and the Adriatic coast to appear before Luceria, the other proceeded to the same destination through Samnium itself, successfully engaging and driving before it the Samnite army. They formed a junction again under the walls of Luceria, the siege of which was prosecuted with the greater zeal, because the Roman equites lay in captivity there; the Apulians, particularly the Arpani, lent the Romans important assistance in the siege, especially by procuring supplies. After the Samnites had given battle for the relief of the town and been defeated, Luceria surrendered to the Romans (435). Papirius enjoyed the double satisfaction of liberating his comrades who had been given up for lost, and of requiting the yoke of Caudium on the Samnite garrison of Luceria. In the next years (435-437) the war was carried on(3) not so much in Samnium itself as in the adjoining districts. In the first place the Romans chastised the allies of the Samnites in the Apulian and Frentanian territories, and concluded new conventions with the Teanenses of Apulia and the Canusini. At the same time Satricum was again reduced to subjection and severely punished for its revolt. Then the war turned to Campania, where the Romans conquered the frontier town towards Samnium, Saticula (perhaps S. Agata de' Goti) (438). But now the fortune of war seemed disposed once more to turn against them. The Samnites gained over the Nucerians (438), and soon afterwards the Nolans, to their side; on the upper Liris the Sorani of themselves expelled the Roman garrison (439); the Ausonians were preparing to rise, and threatened the important Cales; even in Capua the party opposed to Rome was vigorously stirring. A Samnite army advanced into Campania and encamped before the city, in the hope that its vicinity might place the national party in the ascendant (440). But Sora was immediately attacked by the Romans and recaptured after the defeat of a Samnite relieving force (440). The movements among the Ausonians were suppressed with cruel rigour ere the insurrection fairly broke out, and at the same time a special dictator was nominated to institute and decide political processes against the leaders of the Samnite party in Capua, so that the most illustrious of them died a voluntary death to escape from the Roman executioner (440). The Samnite army before Capua was defeated and compelled to retreat from Campania; the Romans, following close at the heels of the enemy, crossed the Matese and encamped in the winter of 440 before Bovianum, the: capital of Samnium. Nola was abandoned by its allies; and the Romans had the sagacity to detach the town for ever from the Samnite party by a very favourable convention, similar to that concluded with Neapolis (441). Fregellae, which after the catastrophe of Caudium had fallen into the hands of the party adverse to Rome and had been their chief stronghold in the district on the Liris, finally fell in the eighth year after its occupation by the Samnites (441); two hundred of the citizens, the chief members of the national party, were conveyed to Rome, and there openly beheaded in the Forum as an example and a warning to the patriots who were everywhere bestirring themselves.

New Fortresses in Apulia and Campania

Apulia and Campania were thus in the hands of the Romans. In order finally to secure and permanently to command the conquered territory, several new fortresses were founded in it during the years 440-442: Luceria in Apulia, to which on account of its isolated and exposed situation half a legion was sent as a permanent garrison; Pontiae (the Ponza islands) for the securing of the Campanian waters; Saticula on the Campano-Samnite frontier, as a bulwark against Samnium; and lastly Interamna (near Monte Cassino) and Suessa Aurunca (Sessa) on the road from Rome to Capua. Garrisons moreover were sent to Caiatia (Cajazzo), Sora, and other stations of military importance. The great military road from Rome to Capua, which with the necessary embankment for it across the Pomptine marshes the censor Appius Claudius caused to be constructed in 442, completed the securing of Campania. The designs of the Romans were more and more fully developed; their object was the subjugation of Italy, which was enveloped more closely from year to year in a network of Roman fortresses and roads. The Samnites were already on both sides surrounded by the Roman meshes; already the line from Rome to Luceria severed north and south Italy from each other, as the fortresses of Norba and Signia had formerly severed the Volsci and Aequi; and Rome now rested on the Arpani, as it formerly rested on the Hernici. The Italians could not but see that the freedom of all of them was gone if Samnium succumbed, and that it was high time at length to hasten with all their might to the help of the brave mountain people which had now for fifteen years singly sustained the unequal struggle with the Romans.

Intervention of the Tarentines

The most natural allies of the Samnites would have been the Tarentines; but it was part of that fatality that hung over Samnium and over Italy in general, that at this moment so fraught with the destinies of the future the decision lay in the hands of these Athenians of Italy. Since the constitution of Tarentum, which was originally after the old Doric fashion strictly aristocratic, had become changed to a complete democracy, a life of singular activity had sprung up in that city, which was inhabited chiefly by mariners, fishermen, and artisans. The sentiments and conduct of the population, more wealthy than noble, discarded all earnestness amidst the giddy bustle and witty brilliance of their daily life, and oscillated between the grandest boldness of enterprise and elevation of spirit on the one hand, and a shameful frivolity and childish whim on the other. It may not be out of place, in connection with a crisis wherein the existence or destruction of nations of noble gifts and ancient renown was at stake, to mention that Plato, who came to Tarentum some sixty years before this time, according to his own statement saw the whole city drunk at the Dionysia, and that the burlesque farce, or "merry tragedy" as it was called, was created in Tarentum about the very time of the great Samnite war. This licentious life and buffoon poetry of the Tarentine fashionables and literati had a fitting counterpart in the inconstant, arrogant, and short-sighted policy of the Tarentine demagogues, who regularly meddled in matters with which they had nothing to do, and kept aloof where their immediate interests called for action. After the Caudine catastrophe, when the Romans and Samnites stood opposed in Apulia, they had sent envoys thither to enjoin both parties to lay down their arms (434). This diplomatic intervention in the decisive struggle of the Italians could not rationally have any other meaning than that of an announcement that Tarentum had at length resolved to abandon the neutrality which it had hitherto maintained. It had in fact sufficient reason to do so. It was no doubt a difficult and dangerous thing for Tarentum to be entangled in such a war; for the democratic development of the state had directed its energies entirely to the fleet, and while that fleet, resting upon the strong commercial marine of Tarentum, held the first rank among the maritime powers of Magna Graecia, the land force, on which they were in the present case dependent, consisted mainly of hired soldiers and was sadly disorganized. Under these circumstances it was no light undertaking for the Tarentine republic to take part in the conflict between Rome and Samnium, even apart from the—at least troublesome—feud in which Roman policy had contrived to involve them with the Lucanians. But these obstacles might be surmounted by an energetic will; and both the contending parties construed the summons of the Tarentine envoys that they should desist from the strife as meant in earnest. The Samnites, as the weaker, showed themselves ready to comply with it; the Romans replied by hoisting the signal for battle. Reason and honour dictated to the Tarentines the propriety of now following up the haughty injunction of their envoys by a declaration of war against Rome; but in Tarentum neither reason nor honour characterized the government, and they had simply been trifling in a very childish fashion with very serious matters. No declaration of war against Rome took place; in its stead they preferred to support the oligarchical party in the Sicilian towns against Agathocles of Syracuse who had at a former period been in the Tarentine service and had been dismissed in disgrace, and following the example of Sparta, they sent a fleet to the island—a fleet which would have rendered better service in the Campanian seas (440).

Accession of the Etruscans to the Coalition—Victory at the Vadimonian Lake

The peoples of northern and central Italy, who seem to have been roused especially by the establishment of the fortress of Luceria, acted with more energy. The Etruscans first drew the sword (443), the armistice of 403 having already expired some years before. The Roman frontier-fortress of Sutrium had to sustain a two years' siege, and in the vehement conflicts which took place under its walls the Romans as a rule were worsted, till the consul of the year 444 Quintus Fabius Rullianus, a leader who had gained experience in the Samnite wars, not only restored the ascendency of the Roman arms in Roman Etruria, but boldly penetrated into the land of the Etruscans proper, which had hitherto from diversity of language and scanty means of communication remained almost unknown to the Romans. His march through the Ciminian Forest which no Roman army had yet traversed, and his pillaging of a rich region that had long been spared the horrors of war, raised all Etruria in arms. The Roman government, which had seriously disapproved the rash expedition and had when too late forbidden the daring leader from crossing the frontier, collected in the greatest haste new legions, in order to meet the expected onslaught of the whole Etruscan power. But a seasonable and decisive victory of Rullianus, the battle at the Vadimonian lake which long lived in the memory of the people, converted an imprudent enterprise into a celebrated feat of heroism and broke the resistance of the Etruscans. Unlike the Samnites who had now for eighteen years maintained the unequal struggle, three of the most powerful Etruscan towns—Perusia, Cortona, and Arretium—consented after the first defeat to a separate peace for three hundred months (444), and after the Romans had once more beaten the other Etruscans near Perusia in the following year, the Tarquinienses also agreed to a peace of four hundred months (446); whereupon the other cities desisted from the contest, and a temporary cessation of arms took place throughout Etruria.

Last Campaigns in Samnium

While these events were passing, the war had not been suspended in Samnium. The campaign of 443 was confined like the preceding to the besieging and storming of several strongholds of the Samnites; but in the next year the war took a more vigorous turn. The dangerous position of Rullianus in Etruria, and the reports which spread as to the annihilation of the Roman army in the north, encouraged the Samnites to new exertions; the Roman consul Gaius Marcius Rutilus was vanquished by them and severely wounded in person. But the sudden change in the aspect of matters in Etruria destroyed their newly kindled hopes. Lucius Papirius Cursor again appeared at the head of the Roman troops sent against the Samnites, and again remained the victor in a great and decisive battle (445), in which the confederates had put forth their last energies. The flower of their army—the wearers of the striped tunics and golden shields, and the wearers of the white tunics and silver shields—were there extirpated, and their splendid equipments thenceforth on festal occasions decorated the rows of shops along the Roman Forum. Their distress was ever increasing; the struggle was becoming ever more hopeless. In the following year (446) the Etruscans laid down their arms; and in the same year the last town of Campania which still adhered to the Samnites, Nuceria, simultaneously assailed on the part of the Romans by water and by land, surrendered under favourable conditions. The Samnites found new allies in the Umbrians of northern, and in the Marsi and Paeligni of central, Italy, and numerous volunteers even from the Hernici joined their ranks; but movements which might have decidedly turned the scale against Rome, had the Etruscans still remained under arms, now simply augmented the results of the Roman victory without seriously adding to its difficulties. The Umbrians, who gave signs of marching on Rome, were intercepted by Rullianus with the army of Samnium on the upper Tiber—a step which the enfeebled Samnites were unable to prevent; and this sufficed to disperse the Umbrian levies. The war once more returned to central Italy. The Paeligni were conquered, as were also the Marsi; and, though the other Sabellian tribes remained nominally foes of Rome, in this quarter Samnium gradually came to stand practically alone. But unexpected assistance came to them from the district of the Tiber. The confederacy of the Hernici, called by the Romans to account for their countrymen found among the Samnite captives, now declared war against Rome (in 448)—more doubtless from despair than from calculation. Some of the more considerable Hernican communities from the first kept aloof from hostilities; but Anagnia, by far the most eminent of the Hernican cities, carried out this declaration of war. In a military point of view the position of the Romans was undoubtedly rendered for the moment highly critical by this unexpected rising in the rear of the army occupied with the siege of the strongholds of Samnium. Once more the fortune of war favoured the Samnites; Sora and Caiatia fell into their hands. But the Anagnines succumbed with unexpected rapidity before troops despatched from Rome, and these troops also gave seasonable relief to the army stationed in Samnium: all in fact was lost. The Samnites sued for peace, but in vain; they could not yet come to terms. The final decision was reserved for the campaign of 449. Two Roman consular armies penetrated—the one, under Tiberius Minucius and after his fall under Marcus Fulvius, from Campania through the mountain passes, the other, under Lucius Postumius, from the Adriatic upwards by the Biferno—into Samnium, there to unite in front of Bovianum the capital; a decisive victory was achieved, the Samnite general Statius Gellius was taken prisoner, and Bovianum was carried by storm.

Peace with Samnium

The fall of the chief stronghold of the land terminated the twenty-two years' war. The Samnites withdrew their garrisons from Sora and Arpinum, and sent envoys to Rome to sue for peace; the Sabellian tribes, the Marsi, Marrucini, Paeligni, Frentani, Vestini, and Picentes followed their example. The terms granted by Rome were tolerable; cessions of territory were required from some of them, from the Paeligni for instance, but they do not seem to have been of much importance. The equal alliance was renewed between the Sabellian tribes and the Romans (450).

And with Tarentum

Presumably about the same time, and in consequence doubtless of the Samnite peace, peace was also made between Rome and Tarentum. The two cities had not indeed directly opposed each other in the field. The Tarentines had been inactive spectators of the long contest between Rome and Samnium from its beginning to its close, and had only kept up hostilities in league with the Sallentines against the Lucanians who were allies of Rome. In the last years of the Samnite war no doubt they had shown some signs of more energetic action. The position of embarrassment to which the ceaseless attacks of the Lucanians reduced them on the one hand, and on the other hand the feeling ever obtruding itself on them more urgently that the complete subjugation of Samnium would endanger their own independence, induced them, notwithstanding their unpleasant experiences with Alexander, once more to entrust themselves to a -condottiere-. There came at their call the Spartan prince Cleonymus, accompanied by five thousand mercenaries; with whom he united a band equally numerous raised in Italy, as well as the contingents of the Messapians and of the smaller Greek towns, and above all the Tarentine civic army of twenty-two thousand men. At the head of this considerable force he compelled the Lucanians to make peace with Tarentum and to install a government of Samnite tendencies; in return for which Metapontum was abandoned to them. The Samnites were still in arms when this occurred; there was nothing to prevent the Spartan from coming to their aid and casting the weight of his numerous army and his military skill into the scale in favour of freedom for the cities and peoples of Italy. But Tarentum did not act as Rome would in similar circumstances have acted; and prince Cleonymus himself was far from being an Alexander or a Pyrrhus. He was in no hurry to undertake a war in which he might expect more blows than booty, but preferred to make common cause with the Lucanians against Metapontum, and made himself comfortable in that city, while he talked of an expedition against Agathocles of Syracuse and of liberating the Sicilian Greeks. Thereupon the Samnites made peace; and when after its conclusion Rome began to concern herself more seriously about the south-east of the peninsula—in token of which in the year 447 a Roman force levied contributions, or rather reconnoitred by order of the government, in the territory of the Sallentines—the Spartan -condottiere- embarked with his mercenaries and surprised the island of Corcyra, which was admirably situated as a basis for piratical expeditions against Greece and Italy. Thus abandoned by their general, and at the same time deprived of their allies in central Italy, the Tarentines and their Italian allies, the Lucanians and Sallentines, had now no course left but to solicit an accommodation with Rome, which appears to have been granted on tolerable terms. Soon afterwards (451) even an incursion of Cleonymus, who had landed in the Sallentine territory and laid siege to Uria, was repulsed by the inhabitants with Roman aid.

Consolidation of the Roman Rule in Central Italy

The victory of Rome was complete; and she turned it to full account. It was not from magnanimity in the conquerors—for the Romans knew nothing of the sort—but from shrewd and far-seeing calculation that terms so moderate were granted to the Samnites, the Tarentines, and the more distant peoples generally. The first and main object was not so much to compel southern Italy as quickly as possible to recognize formally the Roman supremacy, as to supplement and complete the subjugation of central Italy, for which the way had been prepared by the military roads and fortresses already established in Campania and Apulia during the last war, and by that means to separate the northern and southern Italians into two masses cut off in a military point of view from direct contact with each other. To this object accordingly the next undertakings of the Romans were with consistent energy directed. Above all they used, or made, the opportunity for getting rid of the confederacies of the Aequi and the Hernici which had once been rivals of the Roman single power in the region of the Tiber and were not yet quite set aside. In the same year, in which the peace with Samnium took place (450), the consul Publius Sempronius Sophus waged war on the Aequi; forty townships surrendered in fifty days; the whole territory with the exception of the narrow and rugged mountain valley, which still in the present day bears the old name of the people (Cicolano), passed into the possession of the Romans, and here on the northern border of the Fucine lake was founded the fortress Alba with a garrison of 6000 men, thenceforth forming a bulwark against the valiant Marsi and a curb for central Italy; as was also two years afterwards on the upper Turano, nearer to Rome, Carsioli —both as allied communities with Latin rights.

The fact that in the case of the Hernici at least Anagnia had taken part in the last stage of the Samnite war, furnished the desired reason for dissolving the old relation of alliance. The fate of the Anagnines was, as might be expected, far harder than that which had under similar circumstances been meted out to the Latin communities in the previous generation. They not merely had, like these, to acquiesce in the Roman citizenship without suffrage, but they also like the Caerites lost self-administration; out of a portion of their territory on the upper Trerus (Sacco), moreover, a new tribe was instituted, and another was formed at the same time on the lower Anio (455). The only regret was that the three Hernican communities next in importance to Anagnia, Aletrium, Verulae, and Ferentinum, had not also revolted; for, as they courteously declined the suggestion that they should voluntarily enter into the bond of Roman citizenship and there existed no pretext for compelling them to do so, the Romans were obliged not only to respect their autonomy, but also to allow to them even the right of assembly and of intermarriage, and in this way still to leave a shadow of the old Hernican confederacy. No such considerations fettered their action in that portion of the Volscian country which had hitherto been held by the Samnites. There Arpinum and Frusino became subject, the latter town was deprived of a third of its domain, and on the upper Liris in addition to Fregellae the Volscian town of Sora, which had previously been garrisoned, was now permanently converted into a Roman fortress and occupied by a legion of 4000 men. In this way the old Volscian territory was completely subdued, and became rapidly Romanized. The region which separated Samnium from Etruria was penetrated by two military roads, both of which were secured by new fortresses. The northern road, which afterwards became the Flaminian, covered the line of the Tiber; it led through Ocriculum, which was in alliance with Rome, to Narnia, the name which the Romans gave to the old Umbrian fortress Nequinum when they settled a military colony there (455). The southern, afterwards the Valerian, ran along the Fucine lake by way of the just mentioned fortresses of Carsioli and Alba. The small tribes within whose bounds these colonies were instituted, the Umbrians who obstinately defended Nequinum, the Aequians who once more assailed Alba, and the Marsians who attacked Carsioli, could not arrest the course of Rome: the two strong curb-fortresses were inserted almost without hindrance between Samnium and Etruria. We have already mentioned the great roads and fortresses instituted for permanently securing Apulia and above all Campania: by their means Samnium was further surrounded on the east and west with the net of Roman strongholds. It is a significant token of the comparative weakness of Etruria that it was not deemed necessary to secure the passes through the Ciminian Forest in a similar mode—by a highway and corresponding fortresses. The former frontier fortress of Sutrium continued to be in this quarter the terminus of the Roman military line, and the Romans contented themselves with having the road leading thence to Arretium kept in a serviceable state for military purposes by the communities through whose territories it passed.(4)

Renewed Outbreak of the Samnite-Etruscan War—Junction of the Troops of the Coalition in Etruria

The high-spirited Samnite nation perceived that such a peace was more ruinous than the most destructive war; and, what was more, it acted accordingly. The Celts in northern Italy were just beginning to bestir themselves again after a long suspension of warfare; moreover several Etruscan communities there were still in arms against the Romans, and brief armistices alternated in that quarter with vehement but indecisive conflicts. All central Italy was still in ferment and partly in open insurrection; the fortresses were still only in course of construction; the way between Etruria and Samnium was not yet completely closed. Perhaps it was not yet too late to save freedom; but, if so, there must be no delay; the difficulty of attack increased, the power of the assailants diminished with every year by which the peace was prolonged. Five years had scarce elapsed since the contest ended, and all the wounds must still have been bleeding which the twenty-two years' war had inflicted on the peasantry of Samnium, when in the year 456 the Samnite confederacy renewed the struggle. The last war had been decided in favour of Rome mainly through the alliance of Lucania with the Romans and the consequent standing aloof of Tarentum. The Samnites, profiting by that lesson, now threw themselves in the first instance with all their might on the Lucanians, and succeeded in bringing their party in that quarter to the helm of affairs, and in concluding an alliance between Samnium and Lucania. Of course the Romans immediately declared war; the Samnites had expected no other issue. It is a significant indication of the state of feeling, that the Samnite government informed the Roman envoys that it was not able to guarantee their inviolability, if they should set foot on Samnite ground.

The war thus began anew (456), and while a second army was fighting in Etruria, the main Roman army traversed Samnium and compelled the Lucanians to make peace and send hostages to Rome. The following year both consuls were able to proceed to Samnium; Rullianus conquered at Tifernum, his faithful comrade in arms, Publius Decius Mus, at Maleventum, and for five months two Roman armies encamped in the land of the enemy. They were enabled to do so, because the Tuscan states had on their own behalf entered into negotiations for peace with Rome. The Samnites, who from the beginning could not but see that their only chance of victory lay in the combination of all Italy against Rome, exerted themselves to the utmost to prevent the threatened separate peace between Etruria and Rome; and when at last their general, Gellius Egnatius, offered to bring aid to the Etruscans in their own country, the Etruscan federal council in reality agreed to hold out and once more to appeal to the decision of arms. Samnium made the most energetic efforts to place three armies simultaneously in the field, the first destined for the defence of its own territory, the second for an invasion of Campania, the third and most numerous for Etruria; and in the year 458 the last, led by Egnatius himself, actually reached Etruria in safety through the Marsian and Umbrian territories, with whose inhabitants there was an understanding. Meanwhile the Romans were capturing some strong places in Samnium and breaking the influence of the Samnite party in Lucania; they were not in a position to prevent the departure of the army led by Egnatius. When information reached Rome that the Samnites had succeeded in frustrating all the enormous efforts made to sever the southern from the northern Italians, that the arrival of the Samnite bands in Etruria had become the signal for an almost universal rising against Rome, and that the Etruscan communities were labouring with the utmost zeal to get their own forces ready for war and to take into their pay Gallic bands, every nerve was strained also in Rome; the freedmen and the married were formed into cohorts—it was felt on all hands that the decisive crisis was near. The year 458 however passed away, apparently, in armings and marchings. For the following year (459) the Romans placed their two best generals, Publius Decius Mus and the aged Quintus Fabius Rullianus, at the head of their army in Etruria, which was reinforced with all the troops that could be spared from Campania, and amounted to at least 60,000 men, of whom more than a third were full burgesses of Rome. Besides this, two reserves were formed, the first at Falerii, the second under the walls of the capital. The rendezvous of the Italians was Umbria, towards which the roads from the Gallic, Etruscan, and Sabellian territories converged; towards Umbria the consuls also moved off their main force, partly along the left, partly along the right bank of the Tiber, while at the same time the first reserve made a movement towards Etruria, in order if possible to recall the Etruscan troops from the main scene of action for the defence of their homes. The first engagement did not prove fortunate for the Romans; their advanced guard was defeated by the combined Gauls and Samnites in the district of Chiusi. But that diversion accomplished its object. Less magnanimous than the Samnites, who had marched through the ruins of their towns that they might not be absent from the chosen field of battle, a great part of the Etruscan contingents withdrew from the federal army on the news of the advance of the Roman reserve into Etruria, and its ranks were greatly thinned when the decisive battle came to be fought on the eastern declivity of the Apennines near Sentinum.

Battle of Sentinum—Peace with Etruria

Nevertheless it was a hotly contested day. On the right wing of the Romans, where Rullianus with his two legions fought against the Samnite army, the conflict remained long undecided. On the left, which Publius Decius commanded, the Roman cavalry was thrown into confusion by the Gallic war chariots, and the legions also already began to give way. Then the consul called to him Marcus Livius the priest, and bade him devote to the infernal gods both the head of the Roman general and the army of the enemy; and plunging into the thickest throng of the Gauls he sought death and found it. This heroic deed of despair on the part of one so eminent as a man and so beloved as a general was not in vain. The fugitive soldiers rallied; the bravest threw themselves after their leader into the hostile ranks, to avenge him or to die with him; and just at the right moment the consular Lucius Scipio, despatched by Rullianus, appeared with the Roman reserve on the imperilled left wing. The excellent Campanian cavalry, which fell on the flank and rear of the Gauls, turned the scale; the Gauls fled, and at length the Samnites also gave way, their general Egnatius falling at the gate of the camp. Nine thousand Romans strewed the field of battle; but dearly as the victory was purchased, it was worthy of such a sacrifice. The army of the coalition was dissolved, and with it the coalition itself; Umbria remained in the power of the Romans, the Gauls dispersed, the remnant of the Samnites still in compact order retreated homeward through the Abruzzi. Campania, which the Samnites had overrun during the Etruscan war, was after its close re-occupied with little difficulty by the Romans. Etruria sued for peace in the following year (460); Volsinii, Perusia, Arretium, and in general all the towns that had joined the league against Rome, promised a cessation of hostilities for four hundred months.

Last Struggles of Samnium

But the Samnites were of a different mind; they prepared for their hopeless resistance with the courage of free men, which cannot compel success but may put it to shame. When the two consular armies advanced into Samnium, in the year 460, they encountered everywhere the most desperate resistance; in fact Marcus Atilius was discomfited near Luceria, and the Samnites were able to penetrate into Campania and to lay waste the territory of the Roman colony Interamna on the Liris. In the ensuing year Lucius Papirius Cursor, the son of the hero of the first Samnite war, and Spurius Carvilius, gave battle on a great scale near Aquilonia to the Samnite army, the flower of which —the 16,000 in white tunics—had sworn a sacred oath to prefer death to flight. Inexorable destiny, however, heeds neither the oaths nor the supplications of despair; the Roman conquered and stormed the strongholds where the Samnites had sought refuge for themselves and their property. Even after this great defeat the confederates still for years resisted the ever-increasing superiority of the enemy with unparalleled perseverance in their fastnesses and mountains, and still achieved various isolated advantages. The experienced arm of the old Rullianus was once more called into the field against them (462), and Gavius Pontius, a son perhaps of the victor of Caudium, even gained for his nation a last victory, which the Romans meanly enough avenged by causing him when subsequently taken to be executed in prison (463). But there was no further symptom of movement in Italy; for the war, which Falerii began in 461, scarcely deserves such a name. The Samnites doubtless turned with longing eyes towards Tarentum, which alone was still in a position to grant them aid; but it held aloof. The same causes as before occasioned its inaction—internal misgovernment, and the passing over of the Lucanians once more to the Roman party in the year 456; to which fell to be added a not unfounded dread of Agathocles of Syracuse, who just at that time had reached the height of his power and began to turn his views towards Italy. About 455 the latter established himself in Corcyra whence Cleonymus had been expelled by Demetrius Poliorcetes, and now threatened the Tarentines from the Adriatic as well as from the Ionian sea. The cession of the island to king Pyrrhus of Epirus in 459 certainly removed to a great extent the apprehensions which they had cherished; but the affairs of Corcyra continued to occupy the Tarentines—in the year 464, for instance, they helped to protect Pyrrhus in possession of the island against Demetrius—and in like manner Agathocles did not cease to give the Tarentines uneasiness by his Italian policy. When he died (465) and with him the power of the Syracusans in Italy went to wreck, it was too late; Samnium, weary of the thirty-seven years' struggle, had concluded peace in the previous year (464) with the Roman consul Manius Curius Dentatus, and had in form renewed its league with Rome. On this occasion, as in the peace of 450, no disgraceful or destructive conditions were imposed on the brave people by the Romans; no cessions even of territory seem to have taken place. The political sagacity of Rome preferred to follow the path which it had hitherto pursued, and to attach in the first place the Campanian and Adriatic coast more and more securely to Rome before proceeding to the direct conquest of the interior. Campania, indeed, had been long in subjection; but the far-seeing policy of Rome found it needful, in order to secure the Campanian coast, to establish two coast-fortresses there, Minturnae and Sinuessa (459), the new burgesses of which were admitted according to the settled rule in the case of maritime colonies to the full citizenship of Rome. With still greater energy the extension of the Roman rule was prosecuted in central Italy. As the subjugation of the Aequi and Hernici was the immediate sequel of the first Samnite war, so that of the Sabines followed on the end of the second. The same general, who ultimately subdued the Samnites, Manius Curius broke down in the same year (464) the brief and feeble resistance of the Sabines and forced them to unconditional surrender. A great portion of the subjugated territory was immediately taken into possession of the victors and distributed to Roman burgesses, and Roman subject-rights (-civitas sine suffragio-) were imposed on the communities that were left—Cures, Reate, Amiternum, Nursia. Allied towns with equal rights were not established here; on the contrary the country came under the immediate rule of Rome, which thus extended as far as the Apennines and the Umbrian mountains. Nor was it even now restricted to the territory on Rome's side of the mountains; the last war had shown but too clearly that the Roman rule over central Italy was only secured, if it reached from sea to sea. The establishment of the Romans beyond the Apennines begins with the laying out of the strong fortress of Atria (Atri) in the year 465, on the northern slope of the Abruzzi towards the Picenian plain, not immediately on the coast and hence with Latin rights, but still near to the sea, and the keystone of the mighty wedge separating northern and southern Italy. Of a similar nature and of still greater importance was the founding of Venusia (463), whither the unprecedented number of 20,000 colonists was conducted. That city, founded at the boundary of Samnium, Apulia, and Lucania, on the great road between Tarentum and Samnium, in an uncommonly strong position, was destined as a curb to keep in check the surrounding tribes, and above all to interrupt the communications between the two most powerful enemies of Rome in southern Italy. Beyond doubt at the same time the southern highway, which Appius Claudius had carried as far as Capua, was prolonged thence to Venusia. Thus, at the close of the Samnite wars, the Roman domain closely compact—that is, consisting almost exclusively of communities with Roman or Latin rights—extended on the north to the Ciminian Forest, on the east to the Abruzzi and to the Adriatic, on the south as far as Capua, while the two advanced posts, Luceria and Venusia, established towards the east and south on the lines of communication of their opponents, isolated them on every side. Rome was no longer merely the first, but was already the ruling power in the peninsula, when towards the end of the fifth century of the city those nations, which had been raised to supremacy in their respective lands by the favour of the gods and by their own capacity, began to come into contact in council and on the battle-field; and, as at Olympia the preliminary victors girt themselves for a second and more serious struggle, so on the larger arena of the nations, Carthage, Macedonia, and Rome now prepared for the final and decisive contest.

Notes for Book II Chapter VI

1. It may not be superfluous to mention that our knowledge Archidamus and Alexander is derived from Greek annals, and that the synchronism between these and the Roman is in reference to the present epoch only approximately established. We must beware, therefore, of pursuing too far into detail the unmistakable general connection between the events in the west and those in the east of Italy.

2. These were not the inhabitants of Satricum near Antium (II. V. League with The Hernici), but those of another Volscian town constituted at that time as a Roman burgess-community without right of voting, near Arpinum.

3. That a formal armistice for two years subsisted between the Romans and Samnites in 436-437 is more than improbable.

4. The operations in the campaign of 537, and still more plainly the formation of the highway from Arretium to Bononia in 567, show that the road from Rome to Arretium had already been rendered serviceable before that time. But it cannot at that period have been a Roman military road, because, judging from its later appellation of the "Cassian way," it cannot have been constructed as a -via consularis- earlier than 583; for no Cassian appears in the lists of Roman consuls and censors between Spurius Cassius, consul in 252, 261, and 268—who of course is out of the question—and Gaius Cassius Longinus, consul in 583.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!