The Savage Interlude: War and Conquest in Southern Italy (342-327)
by Gordon Davis
Before the conclusion of the First Samnite War in 341 BC, the Roman republic and Samnite confederation found themselves seriously confronted with uprisings and wars beyond the scope of their immediate struggle for Campania. Indeed, rather than there being any sort of a real 'end' to the First Samnite War, there was in reality only a transition to an even more complex phase of anarchy. No people or state in the region was left at peace, as all were forcefully drawn into a wider war of even greater significance than its immediate predecessor. The results of this period of strife were remarkable and far-reaching: whereas Tyrrhenian Italy existed in 342 BC as a hodgepodge of smaller states and peoples, sandwiched uncomfortably between the two growing powers, by 327 BC these had been largely swept away and incorporated into the hegemonic blocks of Samnium and Rome. This evolution was anything but peaceful. There were great campaigns of manoeuvre across mountain and plain. Cities were besieged and territories plundered into waste. The smaller political entities of the region, faced with the terrible onslaught, made every effort to maintain their old ancestral freedom, forging new innovative alliances and putting large armies in the field to back them up. To the south, the ongoing conflict between the larger Sabellian diaspora, including the Samnites, Lucani and Bruttii and the Greek city-states of Maegna Graecia, continued to be waged un-remittingly. Foreign condotierri in the employ of Taras engaged in a series of fierce campaigns, taking war deep into the Apennines and eventually even up to the borders of Campania and Samnium proper. By doing so, the Greeks, Lucani and Bruttii also played an important part in Tyrrhenian affairs of this period. Rather be than kept separate, events in southern Italy must be included to gather a full understanding of the events and eventual outcomes.
There are many problems with attempting to put together a detailed and authoritative version of events for this period of Italian history. To begin with, the writings of our existing ancient sources were set down hundreds of years after the events in question. Some of the sources exist only in fragments, while others deal with Italian affairs only in passing. Compounding the problem is the fact that the ancient sources were not given over to historical analysis in the modern sense, writing their histories in a manner meant for particular audiences and sometimes with not a little bias. It must follow then that the farther modern scholars delve into the details of the ancient accounts, the more a healthy scepticism at any conclusions must come into play. The present work cannot escape suffering from this problem. The matters of opinion and the weighing of probabilities will be very easily discerned by the reader. That said, such problems cannot be a barrier to debate on the events and their historical significance. On the positive side, the extant ancient writings are of some quality and to a good extent corroborate each other on the main historical developments. The fullest account of the period that survives is that of Livy (books 8.3 – 14). Some sparse fragments of Dionysius of Halicarnassus are available and generally serve to back up Livy's account. Infrequent notices from Diodorus Siculus are helpful where they appear and focus on the most notable events. Passages from Plutarch, Polybius and from later annalistic sources such as Justin and Valerius Maximus, serve to complete the ancient commentary on the events in question. The Triumphal Fasti and archaeological work also help to round out the available evidence. For this period, modern scholarship has focused, understandably, on the Latin War of 340 – 338 BC and the immensely important Roman political innovations which followed it. Commentary on the smaller wars of the period, such as the reduction of the Volsci and Aurunci and the various expeditions against the Sidicini has been less debated, no doubt due to their relative historical obscurity. The works of various scholars, particularly Oakley, Salmon and Frederiksen, add much needed balance to the historical debate by highlighting the non-Roman history of the region, including the affairs of the Samnites and the historical tie-in with the concurrent history surrounding the various Sabellian peoples and the Greeks city-states of southern Italy. To sum up, there is general agreement as to the historicity of the most notable events of the period, such as the Latin War, the re-organization of the Roman hegemony following it and the wars of the various Greek Generals in the employ of Taras. In the various details, such as the status of the Sidicini, the critical events of 340 BC and Samnite actions following the Latin War, there remains an open and healthy debate.
The history of this period for the region of southern Italy must naturally center on the affairs of the two ascendant powers of that time: the Romans and Samnites. Both peoples faced related but differing challenges. Rome's immediate problems were three-fold: the refusal of the Latin towns in 343 BC and beyond to send their military contingents effectively nullified the treaty of 358 BC and set the stage for the coming Latin War. This setback to Roman hegemony in its proverbial back-yard was further complicated by the second of Rome's problems: a serious political crisis in the city itself. This event brought the state to the brink of civil war, effectively sidelining Rome for the balance of the critical year of 342 BC. Thirdly, the as-yet un-subdued Volscian and Auruncian realms rose to fight shoulder to shoulder with the Latins for their fading freedom and independence. A similar but unique set of problems were faced by the Samnites following 343 BC. The serious defeats to the Samnite arms on the plains of Campania that year weakened Samnite power and prestige in Tyrrhenian Italy, encouraging elements of the Capuan League and the still-undefeated Sidicines to continue the struggle against the mountain tribal confederation. To add to these setbacks in Campania, Samnium in 342 BC was faced by the resurgence of the city-state of Taras to the south, as two Hellenic Kings and their armies were invited by the Greek metropolis in succession, to make war in southern Italy against the Samnite's close neighbours and themselves.
The cumulative pressure of these various threats to both powers served to force upon them the mutual rapprochement of 341 BC and the subsequent startling cooperation of the next year; a move that was required to break apart a dangerous alliance of the smaller peoples of Tyrrhenian Italy. Military success in 340 BC removed this direct threat and led to a decade of further war to complete the subjugation of the former alliances' component states: a period that witnessed the final and permanent adherence of the Latin city-states to Roman hegemony and the end of the Auruncian and Volscian nations as separate and free powers. With this hard ground-work completed by the beginning of 328 BC and in conjunction with the defeat and death of Taras's second Greek condottieri Alexander Molossus circa 331 BC, the arena was cleared for the Second, or Great, Samnite War, in which the Romans and Samnites would once and for all decide who would be mistress of the Saturnian land.
The Strategic Setting 342 BC
Tyrrhenian Italy in 342 BC was politically and culturally a very diverse region, broken up into a number of separate states and ethnic groups. Most powerful in size and population were the Romans and Samnites, but interspersed around them were many other political entities in various stages of growth, stasis and decline. Declining in relative power were the Etruscans to the north of Rome, the Volsci of Latium and the Liris-Trerus basin, the few remaining Greek city-states of the region and the hybrid Campani of the Capuan league. Smallest in size and relative power were the Aurunci and Sidicini: mixed Osco-Sabellian and older peoples who occupied strategic areas astride Latium and the Liris and Volturnus valleys. The lands of the Sidicini and Aurunci were to become fulcrums of conflict in the years following the First Samnite War. The general region in 342 BC was in a state of anarchic upheaval, with Rome, Samnium, the Capuan League and the Sidicini just coming off a year of savage conflict up and down the length of Campania and the Volturnus valley. Within the wider geographical arena, the powers of the Italian peninsula and central Mediterranean region comprised the major Greek cities of Magna Graecia, the Carthaginians and the Gauls of the Po valley. None of these peoples had directly intervened in the Romano-Samnite conflict of 343 BC. The Carthaginians had long cultivated friendly relations with the Romans, in a treaty relationship meant to counter and contain the Greeks of the southern peninsula. The Carthaginians had long been engaged in costly wars trying to protect their western Mediterranean trade interests and to drive the Greeks from eastern Sicily. Further north in the Po Valley, the Gauls had not staged a major incursion into the south since 348 BC. Matters outside the scope of central Italy seem to have occupied them at this time; in particular a fierce war of conquest against the Etruscans of the Po valley was ongoing throughout most of the 4th century BC. The previous Gallic alliance with Dionysius II of Syracuse (Frederiksen, 1984, pg 181) seems to have lapsed with the tyrant's fall from power in his home city. The smaller, less powerful entities such as the Latin league, the Capuan league, Volsci, Aurunci and Sidicini were in 342 BC left in the thoroughly unenviable position of being caught in a cauldron of war and aggression being fought between the Roman and Samnite powers, with the Capuan league already having fallen into Roman hands the previous year. The last independent Tyrrhenian Greek city of Neapolis on the coast of southern Campania survived as such only by a policy of non-hostile detente with its Osco-Sabellian neighbours on the plain. Its neighbouring Greek towns and the Etruscan cities of Campania had been long ago defeated, having fallen to an earlier wave of Samnite aggression during the late 5th century BC.
By far the most significant conflict occurring in Tyrrhenian Italy in the mid-fourth century BC was the clashing of the Romans with the Samnite league in 343 BC. This momentous event followed on the heels of several decades of slowly coming into contact with one another and after having done so, some initial attempts at avoiding mutual hostilities. The first contact recorded between the Romans and Samnites (Livy 9.19) occurred eleven years prior to the First Samnite War, when both states reportedly signed a treaty of alliance. The details of the treaty of 354 BC are not attested in the annalistic tradition, but several important elements perhaps can be deduced. The Volsci, Gauls and Greeks loom as the main outside powers that the Romans and Samnites would have considered allying themselves against in 354 BC. The Volsci in particular, existing in the Liris-Trerus basin directly between the two states, would sensibly be considered the most notable common enemy and potential target. E.T. Salmon's conjecture (1967, pg 192-194) that the Romans and Samnites sought to divide Volscian territory between them sounds correct and has generally received support from modern scholarship. The Liris River looms as the obvious boundary between the negotiating parties and subsequent events make it very likely that this was the mutually agreed upon dividing line. The success of this agreement is evidenced by the fact that the Liris valley did not become an area of conflict until 328 BC, over twenty-five years and one war later. The bone of contention in the first war was to be the Capuan League, which inhabited northern Campania. In 354 BC, this state would likely have been recognized as a significant, independent entity lying outside of either side's zone of influence. Likely it was such a lucrative object of desire and contention to both parties that it was completely left out of the treaty of 354 BC, the matter being obviously a touchy one best left un-tackled. Eleven years later, both sides were shedding blood over it. After a sharp and violent struggle in 343 BC, the cities and territory of the Capuan league lay precariously into Roman hands.
The hegemony over which the Romans ruled over in 342 BC stretched from the Cimminian mountains in southern Etruria down through Latium and part of the Trerus valley. This hegemony existed in places as an incongruous patchwork. Northern Campania and Suessula farther south were new additions that were only barely connected to Latium by a thin and exposed coastal route over the Monti Aurunci. Parts of the Latin plain and Monti Lepini remained in the hands of the Volsci. But If Roman hegemony was precarious in 343 BC, it was still a significant accomplishment and representative of an amazing expansion in Roman power over the fourty years following the Gallic sack. It is clear that Rome's population was very large and increasing rapidly, especially so when considering the territorial acquisitions following 358 BC. The settlement of these new lands and the contingents from client states boosted significantly the city's military potential. It was because of this expanding recruiting pool as well as the economic stimulus that came with successful conquest which enabled the Romans to field strong armies every year, despite setbacks occasionally met with in battle. By the beginning of the 4th century BC, twin legions of roughly 5,000 spears and comprising many veterans inured to war were easily fielded every campaign season to fight abroad and protect the city's interests. Commanding the legions were the supreme magistrates of the republic, the two yearly Consuls: a primarily military position that was only given to Roman nobility who had advanced successfully through various lower grades of command. In crises years, it could be arranged that the most astute and gifted of Rome's generals would be elevated, which is why in 343 BC, for example, the experienced and talented M. Valerius Corvus led a Roman legion into Campania and on to victory. Finally, Roman military tactics and weaponry were state-of-the-art and were engaged in an ongoing state of evolution whose origins can be traced back to destruction of the legions at the Allia River in 390 BC. At this stage, a prototype of the innovative and versatile manipular legion was clearly in use and development was ongoing.
It can be fairly said that Rome in 343 BC was the single most powerful city-state in the Italian peninsula, including Sicily. Diplomatically, Rome's significant foreign friend in 342 BC was Carthage, with whom a renewed treaty had been signed sometime just prior to the first Samnite War. This mutual friendship, clearly intended by both parties to provide strategic support against the insular and untrustworthy Greek city-states of Magna Graecia, was a steady and longstanding Roman policy, even if it had never come down to the need for outright mutual military aid. Clearly the Romans were very mistrustful of the Greeks, most notably Syracuse, who under its tyrant Dionysius II had raided Roman possessions along the Latin coast in 349-348 BC (Frederiksen, 1984, pg 181). The Romans were willing to accept rather harsh terms regarding trade, a subject which most concerned the Carthaginians, in order to secure friendship with the immensely rich and powerful Phoenician state, who in turn recognized the Romans as the dominant power of central Italy.
The smaller city-states comprising the Latin league had been defeated by Rome in a series of wars following the Gallic sack of 390 BC, resulting in a resumption of the old
foedus Cassianum in 358 BC, but with Rome henceforth in a position of suzerainty rather than the old treaty of equals from the 5th century BC. Subsequent Roman actions under this new arrangement obviously were intolerable to the Latins, who saw no advantage in becoming subservient client states. The Roman colonization of fertile sections of the Pomptine plain and Trerus valley under two new tribes is rightly suggested by Frederiksen (1984, pg 180) to have caused acute Latin consternation, as it would have surrounded many of their towns within a larger
ager Romanus. The Latins were willing to cooperate with Rome in certain grave existential crises, such as the combined Greek-Gallic threat of 349-348 BC, but otherwise there existed a smouldering and unremitting hostility to Roman claims to authority. The treaty of equals of the 5th century BC was the model of choice for the Latin towns. Rome's leap into Campania in 343 BC no doubt surprised and greatly alarmed its Latin brethren, while Roman demands for contingents of soldiers under the updated Cassinian treaty served to quickly bring matters to a head. Such demands were refused by the Latins outright at the commencement of the First Samnite War, much to Rome's anger and consternation. In the subsequent Latin War, only Gabii and Laurentum of all the Latin towns and colonies sided with Rome (Toynbee, 1965, pg. 129), suggesting that the Latins in 342 BC represented a fairly solid political block, at least on this central point. Livy (8.3) reports that down to the mid-4th century the Latins were in the habit of electing two annual Praetors to execute their common affairs under the
foedus Cassianum, which shows the Latin league continued at the time as an existing separate alliance around which they could organize resistance to Roman expansionism.
Conjoined to the Latins in mutual antipathy to Rome were the Volsci. This Osco-Sabellian people, once formidable, had been warred down by Rome and the Samnites over the course of the 5th and 4th centuries BC. In 343 BC, they maintained themselves in Latium by inhabiting two almost-impregnable fortress towns: Antium on the coast and Privernum at the southern end of the Monti Lepini. Antium, standing on a coastal promontory, was strong-walled and possessed a small fleet of ships which it used for piracy and coastal raiding. Adjacent Roman settlements on the Pomptine plain established earlier in the 4th century BC served to generate constant friction. The other Volscian stronghold, Privernum, was advantageously situated on a hill-top position and by all accounts was also well fortified. The town guarded a convenient and strategic entrant from Latium into the Trerus valley, leading to other Volscian communities such as Luca and Fabrateria, allowing for the efficient concentration of Volscian forces on either side of the Monti Lepini when need arose. As with Antium on the plain, there was much friction between the Romano-Latin colonies on the Monti Lepini and Privernum and the smaller Volscian towns, as those settlements encroached on the scant fertile land thereabouts. Both parties almost certainly engaged in perpetual low-level hostilities, mostly taking the form of raid, counter-raid and cattle theft, although Latin–Volscian alliances against Rome were more and more becoming the norm, in the face of a mutual threat. The viritane land distributions made to Romans on the Pomptine plain in 358 BC (Livy 7.15), Volscian territory since the end of the 6th century, caused a break-up in the continuity of the Volsci of Latium: the old tried and tested Roman strategy of divide and conquer. These Roman settlements were guarded by nearby strongholds like Setia and Norba, perched above them on the heights of the Monti Lepini. Both Privernum and Antium stood ready in 343 BC to take advantage of any opportunity to break Roman power over southern Latium. In 358 BC after the Latins had re-instated the
foedus Cassianum with Rome, the Antiates and Privernates had been forced to lay low and submit to an enforced peace, as Toynbee (1965, pg. 128) suggests, or at the very least chose to remain quiet. Two Volscian towns farther south along the coast, Fundi and Formiae, from that period established friendly relations with the Romans, making it also apparent that the Volscians were not a solid political block in the 4th century BC, as factions both friendly and hostile to the Romans disputed policy in each community. Following the Romano-Samnite treaty of 354 BC, the Volsci east and south of the Liris River had been smashed by a tide of Samnite conquest (Salmon 1967, pg 194). The Volsci in 342 BC therefore were very much reduced in power from their zenith in the early 5th century BC, but still could put significant forces in the field and were prepared to fight for their freedom to the bitter end.
To the south of the Volsci were three smaller peoples of mixed Osco-Sabellian and older Italic race: the Sidicini, Aurunci and Campani, all occupying land as a result of the great migrations of the 5th century BC and perhaps even before. The Aurunci sat astride the littoral mountains and valleys between Latium and Campania. Two of their main towns were Suessa and Cales, occupying the more fertile tracts of their territory nigh to Campania. A large Roman expedition against the Aurunci in 345 BC under a Dictator L. Furious Camillus (Livy 7.28) showed that the Romans were beginning to take a serious interest in Auruncian affairs and their territory. To the west of the Aurunci were the Sidicini, who occupied a strategic terminus between Campania and the inland Liris and Volturnus valleys. Their capital Teanum was a significant and strongly fortified city nestled into the rising slopes of the Roccamofina massif. The relations between the Campani, Sidicini and Aurunci are unknown prior to the First Samnite War, but later events do make it clear that if necessity dictated they could work together against common foes. It was these peoples along with the Volsci and Latins who were caught in a vise of Samnite and Roman aggression of the mid-fourth century BC, which directly threatened their continuing freedom and independence. Already by 342 BC, the Capuan league of the Campani had fallen into Roman hands, while both the Sidicini and Aurunci had seen their territories invaded and ravaged by enemy armies. It was imperative that they take concerted action if they were to realize any chance for remaining free and independent peoples.
Facing off against Rome in 343 BC was the Samnite confederation, a group of militarily powerful Osco-Sabellian tribes that inhabited a good portion of the central Apennines. The four tribes of the confederation were the Pentri, Hirpini, Caudini and Caraceni. While their internal politics are for the most part unclear, there were no doubt shared religious, cultural and military bonds. The four tribes effectively cooperated in their wars with the Romans, presenting a strong and united front when their homelands were threatened. Their lands had previously been the well-spring of Osco-Sabellian migrations that had overrun much of southern Italy from roughly 500 BC. While other Sabellian or Sabellic peoples further north such as the Aequi, Sabini and Volsci emerged from separate wellsprings to overrun much of Latium and seriously threaten the Roman state in the early 5th century BC, the Samnites to the south infiltrated down into Campania and eventually tore it from the grasp of the Greeks and Etruscans, capturing Etruscan Capue (Latin Capua) in 423 BC and Greek Kyme (Latin Cumae) in 421 BC. The problem with the Samnite expansion at this earlier period, if one compares the Samnites with Roman expansion, was their failure to remain a unified block once new possessions were acquired. In southern Italy, migrating Samnites at some point broke off and formed a separate confederation: the Lucani, while even farther south in the toe of Italy the Bruttii in turn broke from the Lucani around 356 BC. Further north in Campania, the Samnites who had driven the Etruscans and Greeks from power during the 5th century BC formed themselves and the conquered populace into a separate people from their mountain brethren: the hybrid Campani. The overall effect was to turn Osco-Sabellian gains into an uncoordinated patchwork of loose tribal federations and political entities. This tendency to fragment is understandable from the viewpoint of the political backwardness of the Sabellian mountain peoples, who had remained little touched by Greek and Phoenician civilization which had such profound effects on the Romans and Etruscans for example. When overpopulation became a problem in the mountains, groups would gather under dynamic leaders and wage aggressive war to conquer new lands to settle. Durable political structures necessary to hold together vast swathes of territory and large numbers of tribes were not forthcoming. When the various tribal federations did congeal, occasional cooperation against mutual threats became possible, such as the attested cooperation between the Samnites and Lucanians against the Greeks of the coastal cities. These loose political bonds however clearly were to become a general weakness of the Osco-Sabellians in their wars with external powers, most notably Rome, who themselves during the 4th century BC made a science of centralizing effective authority over ever larger portions of Tyrrhenian Italy.
In the mid-fourth century BC, the power of the Greeks of Magna Graecia was decidedly on the decline. The two principal city-states, Taras and Syracuse, were both struggling with external and internal problems. To say nothing of ongoing fruitless and damaging internecine war between Greek cities, there had been a long and unsuccessful struggle with the Osco-Sabellian 'barbarians', leading to many cities being torn from the Hellenic grasp. Serious ongoing struggles with the powerful Carthaginian Empire constantly drew on resources and closed off major parts of the western Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean to lucrative trade. Such pressures had led to a slow and steady decline in the relative power of Magna Graecia over time. Most recently, there had been a temporary resurgence of sorts in the 360's and 350's BC, as Taras and Syracuse worked together effectively to achieve a short period of stability, brought about by the superior statesmanship of their leaders Archytas and Dionysius I. These hard-won gains did not last long beyond the deaths of these two gifted rulers. Most tellingly, in the year 342 BC both states suffered the indignity of having to resort to outsiders, albeit fellow Hellenic ones, to conduct their affairs. At Syracuse, Timolean of Corinth was invited to lead the metropolis. War with Carthage was ongoing and was to rise to a dangerous intensity during his leadership. While trying to hold off huge Carthaginian armies, Timolean had simultaneously to deal with the tyrant Dionysius II, who stubbornly refused to relinquish a blighted claim to Syracusan leadership inherited from his father. As stated earlier, the younger Dionysius had soured relations with Rome in 349 BC, by attempting to repeat a very successful plundering expedition along the coast of Italy that his father had made years before. The unsuccessful enterprise to raid the coast of Latium was possibly also planned in conjunction with a large Gallic incursion that occurred the same year (Frederiksen, 1984, pg 181), an event which no doubt set the Romans at direct odds with the Greek tyrant and bolstered their relations with Carthage. Likely few Romans in the 340's BC would have shed a tear for the misfortunes of Syracuse.
At Taras, the inspired rule and general-ship of the Archytas had ended in 348 BC with the philosopher-king's drowning at sea. No Tarentine was found equally worthy to lead the state against the nearby Iapygians, Lucani and Messapii, who were ever at odds with the old Lacedaemonian city. Therefore, in 343 BC the first in a long string of foreign condottieri was invited into the city to direct its wars. It was a policy that was born of weakness and ultimately to prove unsuccessful for Taras, as victories by these outside generalissimos only ever seemed to cause friction and the most temporary of gains. Further west in Tyrrhenian Italy, only Neapolis and Elea (Latin Velia) remained under Greek rule. Neapolis, although sharing good relations with Taras and Syracuse, was not strong or willing enough to take forceful action during the First Samnite War. If the Neapolitans were alarmed at Samnite aggression against the more civilized Campani of the Capuan league in 343 BC, it is not attested that they delivered any aid. In short, among the Greeks of Magna Graecia, only Taras was playing any sort of significant role in the affairs of Tyrrhenian Italy in 343 BC, and only in an indirect way, as it made war on the Lucani and other Italic tribes in southern Italy, serving to draw away some portion of Samnite attention and resources otherwise used in Campania.
The Romans and Samnites had been edging toward a conflict in Campania in the 350's and early 340's BC. Following the treaty of 354 BC, Samnite armies conquered in a series of campaigns lasting ten years most if not all of their side of the Liris valley. The Volscian towns attested to have been stormed or seized include Interamna, Casinum, Arpinum and Fregellae (Salmon, 1967, pg 194). This seems to have been accomplished by the mid-340's BC. Reaching the Liris River, the Samnites next turned south against the Sidicines, attacking them in 344 or 343 BC in the run-up to the First Samnite War. The Romans meanwhile also battled the Volscians within their sphere at this time. On the Latin plain there was fighting during the 340's BC, during which a strong expedition was made against the Aurunci in 345 BC (Livy 7.28), a people whose southern frontier abutted that of the Campani. Sora, a former Volscian town at a strategic site where the Liris River exits from the Apennines onto the inland plain, was reportedly captured and occupied by the Romans the same year. A Roman occupation of Sora in 345 BC, abutting as it did Samnite territory, must have alarmed the Samnites greatly, but as it lay on the right, or Roman bank, of the Liris, it could not have been considered to be in violation of the 9-year old treaty. Events came to a head within a different area in 343 BC, when a Samnite invasion of Sidicine territory in the Volturnus valley morphed by a turn of events into an attack on the rich cities of the Capuan league in northern Campania. This bid was smashed by the Romans that same year reports Livy (7.29-37), in a violent campaign involving both Consular armies and three major battles. Samnite military potential and prestige received a hard blow as a result, while the Romans gained a rich and populous new addition to its hegemony. After the dust settled, lodged between the Capuan league and the Samnites of the Volturnus valley remained the undefeated Sidicini, now in state of high anxiety no doubt. Indeed, at the end of 343 BC, all of central Tyrrhenian Italy existed in a state of upheaval and extreme volatility.
From Enemies to Friends: 342 – 341 BC
The year of 342 BC was to become a major turning point in the fortunes of both Rome and the Samnites. The previous years fighting, ending with the Samnite expulsion from Campania, was not continued on the same scale in the next. Both Rome and Samnium were forced to respond to new problems that arose elsewhere within their respective spheres. Events and military operations are therefore able to be dealt with on separate tracks. At the initiation of the Capuan league and from Suessula, who was not a member of the league, the Romans left at least one legion, or possibly both, to garrison various cities on the plain following the campaign of 343 BC. Bringing reinforcements and taking command of this army was C. Marcius Rutilus, a tried and tested field commander and now Consul for the fourth time. When the campaign season opened, Marcius concentrated most of his army and Campanian auxiliaries and made demonstrations in the field. Livy (7.39) indicates that he entered Samnium, but a major invasion is unlikely under the circumstances. Possibly there were some raids on the Samnites of the Volturnus valley or about the Mons Taburno, but no major engagements or place-names are noted. In support of the argument for a somewhat less hostile environment on the Campanian-Samnite border in 342 BC, is the note in both Dionysius (15.3.10) and Livy (7.39) that C. Marcius felt safe enough to discharge a significant portion of his army back home to Latium. Livy reports that Rutilus removed the soldiers from Campania in order to foil a plot by a rogue element to seize Capua for them-selves. This notice sounds suspiciously like patrician cover for the political crisis to come, but in the absence of more data, the report of a plot to seize and plunder Capua should stand. In any case, a full invasion of Samnium this year would not make sense when sizable numbers of soldiers were being discharged and sent home. The ancient notices argue more for smaller raising operations between the Romans and Samnites. This however does not preclude factional political upheaval, especially at Capua and the other league cities, which were to cast off the Roman yoke the following year.
It was fortunate for the Romans that Campania remained relatively quiet in 342 BC. The soldiers returning to Rome found or instigated a grave discontent, which was to become the catalyst for a serious political crisis that hobbled the Roman state for the balance of the year. Livy (7.39-42) indicates that there was a secessio and very nearly civil war, avoided at the last minute by significant concessions from the patricians to the soldiers and commons. The timing of the crisis makes it very possible that it was in some ways derived from Rome's rush to war outside its traditional borders. The patrician senate was asking the Roman commons to campaign ever farther from Rome and for the first time to garrison remote lands, far from loved ones. The precarious financial state of many Roman's, numbers of who were falling into debt bondage, served to accelerate the crisis. The final straw: sending soldiers home and striking their names from the legion rolls may have denied them a portion of whatever spoils were seized during the campaign. Indicative of these contentions, a law against usury and removing the right of the Consuls to arbitrarily strike serving soldiers from the rolls were enacted. The crisis was of such magnitude that it forced the other Consul, Q. Servilius Ahala, to remain at Rome instead of taking the field in 342 BC (Livy 7.38).
Seeing the Roman state in such straits, both the Latins and Volsci quickly and forcefully asserted their independence and resistance to Roman hegemony. For the Latins, this meant another explicit refusal to send their contingents to aid Rome under the treaty of 358 BC, the second year Livy reports this having occurred (see Livy 7.38, 7.42). To the Romans, who had shed a great deal of blood for thirty long years down to 358 BC in forcing the Latin league to accept Roman pre-eminence, this was totally unacceptable and a grave threat to Rome's hard-won successes since the Gallic sack. In addition to this second blow to the republic, the Volsci of Privernum rose up to challenge Roman authority in southern Latium, making strong raids and 'laying waste' to the Latin colonies of Setia and Norba (Livy 7.42) on the Monti Lepini. There was no help from Rome for these colonies in 342 BC, as the political crisis precluded any action that year, leaving the Norbans and Setians to fend for themselves for many months; a state of affairs which may partially explain their joining the Latin rebellion in 340 BC. It is therefore quite clear that 342 BC was a bad year for the Romans and a serious setback to its hegemony in Latium, ironically following a great year of success in 343 BC. As these problems gained momentum, it makes good sense that the Romans were forced to consider a renewal of treaty relations with Samnium, in order to concentrate on serious new matters closer to home.
It was not known by the Roman annalists or thought by them worthy to note what happened to the Samnites in 342 BC, after their defeat at the hands of the Romans arms the previous year. Livy's notices indicate that the Samnites were on the receiving end of some kind of Roman aggression from Campania in 342 BC, so it is possible that the Volturnus valley to the east of Campania, Samnite since the 5th century BC, as well as the Mons Tifata and Mons Taburno may have experienced raid and pillage that year. No major engagements or details are attested. Such small scale attacks would have been met with counter-raids and reprisals, making 342 BC on the Samnite-Campanian frontier likely a matter of desultory, low-level border raiding. With the Romans beset by major problems at home in 342 BC, the Samnites may have been expected, like the Latins and Volsci in Latium, to have taken advantage of the situation, returning with reinforcements to once again contest for northern Campania, but this is not attested in any ancient record. We are met with silence from the Samnites, and can only make educated guesses as to their thinking and dispositions by current events elsewhere and notices for subsequent years. Most apparent in the immediate neighbourhood was that that the Sidicines and their capital of Teanum remained un-reduced and since Livy (8.2) clearly states that in 341 BC that there was war on the Sidicine territory, it makes sense that in 342 BC the Samnites were drawn into some fighting there.
For 342 BC, the Sidicines were left in the unenviable position of facing Samnite aggression alone. They likely set upon a course of low-level resistance, while Teanum held out by way of the strength of its walls and defences, which archaeology has found evidence for (see Oakley, 1992). The Roccamofina Massif on which a good part of the Sidicine territory resides is mountainous, heavily-forested and covered with crags and broken country, perfectly suited as a sanctuary for a people driven from their farmlands on the plain and for those wishing to carry on raiding against an unwelcome foe. Many small, walled enclosures of rough, polygonal masonry from the period have been found on the massif (See again Oakley, 1992), which would have served as strongholds for the Sidicines in an ongoing struggle against the invader. In assaulting Sidicine territory in the run-up to the First Samnite War and then largely exiting the territory in favour of a full invasion of Campania, it is possible that the Samnites only managed to stir up a hornets' nest, much to the discomfiture of Samnite towns and settlements only tens of miles away across the Volturnus valley, such as Rufrae and Callifae. The Romans' smashing of the Samnites in 343 BC could only have encouraged the Sidicines to fight on in 342 BC, even though for the time being they remained alone. It is therefore likely that in 342 BC the Sidicine lands remained a contested battleground, with the Samnites carrying on an inconclusive war against an elusive enemy. Such a development could only have been met with smiles by C. Marcius and the Romans, stationed thirty miles away at Capua.
Events far to the south, in the heel of Italy also may have played a part those taking place in Campania this year. In 342 BC, Archidamus III, the Eurypontid king of Sparta, arrived in Italy at the head of a small army of mercenaries left over from the Third Sacred War. Archidamus, whose career back home had been of mixed success but who bore some good military credentials, came at the request of the Tarentines, who were prosecuting an obviously unsuccessful war against the neighbouring Lucani and Messapii (Diodorus 16.62.4, Plutarch, Agis.3). Aside from the fact of his arrival and his death some years later, there are no extant details about the Spartan adventurer's operations. He at least was organizing his forces in the neighbourhood of the city and he possibly even took the field. His most likely area of operations were the relatively flat plains about the city, but it is not impossible that he staged incursions into the inland hills and mountains: the homes of the Lucani and Samnites. With war brewing or already underway in the heel of Italy, some attention and possibly the drawing off of Samnite military resources may have occurred on 342 BC. Other reasons for a lack of notices for the Samnites certainly may have existed, such as internal problems, but whatever the case it is clear that Samnite aggression towards Roman Campania was much reduced from the warfare of the previous year. Recovering from the military setbacks of 343 BC, fighting with the Sidicines and Archidamus' arrival at Taras are three possible reasons why.
The following year, 341 BC, a great rivalry was turned upside down in the face of new realities. The impetuous and cavalier way in which Rome and Samnium had rushed into war over Campania in 343 BC now produced the effect of driving together a coalition of the smaller peoples between them, as these peoples read the proverbial writing on the wall concerning their potential futures. As stated earlier, Livy reports that the Samnites made a concerted effort this year by claiming Sidicine lands as their own and besieging Teanum. With the Latins having removed themselves from Roman authority and the Volscian uprising now in full swing in 341 BC, the Romans could not have been very interested in further prosecuting a war against Samnium, but rather would have been content with maintaining their hold on Campania. The new treaty, a treaty of equals or foedus equaum (Livy 8.2) confirmed Rome's claim to northern Campania while Teanum Sidicinum and its territory was recognized as falling under Samnite hegemony. Relations and mutual borders outside the conflict zone of 343 BC were based on the status quo ante bellum. Livy's assertion that the Romans once again invaded Samnium this year, under the command of L. Aemilius Mamercinus, devastating their lands until receiving supplication and an indemnity from the Samnites, should be viewed with scepticism. This version cannot be ruled out, but it makes sense in the light of Rome's troubles in Latium that it should mutually agree with the Samnites to suspend hostilities. Much more likely is that Aemilius, like his predecessor, staged manoeuvres, raided and made demonstrations of Roman strength until the treaty was arranged.
With the treaty in place or while being negotiated, the other Consul for 341 BC, C. Plautius Venno, enrolled his legion at Rome and was sent off to put down the Volscian uprising in southern Latium (Livy 8.1). Plautius, a plebeian novus homo, had been elevated now a second time to the Consulship. He did not boast in 341 BC of a long career of military success like most of the recent Roman commanders. The results of his campaigning in 341 BC were mixed, but not without successes. Reports were received that the Volsci of Antium were calling in contingents from their satellite communities on the Pomptine plain and concentrating an army at the town Satricum, while urgent requests for succour from Setia and Norba on the Monti Lepini showed that affairs in that quarter were in a bad way. Before the Antiates were able to organize their forces, or by way of some tactical coup such as a night march, Plautius slipped past Satricum, most likely skirting the edge of the Monti Lepini until he reached Norba and Setia, each perched on hills rising above the coastal flatlands. Having placed garrisons into those communities and driven off any raiding parties, he made quickly for Privernum, several miles to the south. Surprised to find a Roman army entering their mountain vale, Livy reports the Privernates hastily put forth their forces and a battle was fought in the small valley beneath the town's walls. The Romans emerged victorious and the Privernates were driven into their fortress. Given the natural strength of Privernum and the fact that an enemy army was operating in his rear, Livy's assertion that Privernum fell to Roman assault in 341 BC can almost assuredly be dismissed. The outcome sounds very much like a doublet of the capture of Privernum in 329 BC (Livy 8.19-20), which involved another Plautius and was successful only after a two-year siege and the efforts of a very large Roman army. It is much more sensible that in 341 BC Plautius merely relieved the stress on the towns of Setia and Norba while gaining some sort of capitulation from Privernum, without actually having taken the city. He perhaps received as guarantees' hostages and an indemnity. Years later in 330 BC Privernum was somehow missing the Roman garrison that Livy suggests was installed in this year and was still independent and fighting for its freedom. A summary defeat and supplication by the Privernates from their walls would have allowed Plautius to declare victory and continue his campaign.
Affairs having been set in order on the Monti Lepini, Plautius marched out of the mountains and back onto the Pomptine plain. There he met with the main Volscian army and there was another, larger battle of great ferocity. Livy reports that the bloody affair went on for some time, with neither phalanx breaking, before being ended by a rain-storm. Both armies returned to their camps to nurse their wounds and grieve fallen comrades. Seeing Privernum neutralized and with no help that year from the Latins, who were concentrating elsewhere, the Volscians resorted to their usual custom of falling back within the strong walls of Antium, which Roman generals far superior to Plautius had never managed to reduce. The Roman General placed the customary trophy upon the site of the previous day's battle and reverted to a tried and tested military tactic: when one's enemy shut themselves within their walls, ravage their lands. The Volscian territory about the town was pillaged by a foe long experienced in the practice. Villages and homesteads were burned to the ground and any unfortunate inhabitants found within either slain or carted off in chains for the slave-markets. Crops and livestock were harvested as plunder, wells and springs poisoned with rotting carcasses and trees and vines cut down or burned. In this way, the Volscians while safe within their walls were made to drink from the bitter cup of defeat, while the Romans benefited from the distribution of the spoil. After carrying out this hard business, Plautius marched back to Rome to end the campaign. Although partially successful, notices in the following year show that Plautius's campaign did little to alleviate Rome's current problems. There was to be continued Volscian raiding and pillaging in Latium the following year. Most notably, Rome had great difficulty sending an army to Campania in 340 BC, as both Livy (8.6) and Dionysius (15.4) make clear, indicating that the traditional coastal conveyance was not advisable, it being an area of military contention itself. On a final note, the Fasti indicate that Plautius was not granted a triumph over the Volsci in 341 BC.
Farther south, the Sidicine territory was to prove to be the fulcrum of bad news for both Romans and Samnites in 341 BC. The chronology of Livy's narrative seems to indicate that the Romans and Samnites stopped their fighting early in 341 BC and time was needed to send embassies and negotiate the new treaty. Either during those negotiations or soon after, the Samnites pressed a large-scale invasion into Sidicine territory and Livy (8.2) suggests that they besieged the fortress of Teanum. A Sidicine embassy seeking to surrender to Roman hegemony is possible but in any event was rebuffed. Rome wanted only to hold onto Campania and was happy to leave the Sidicines to the Samnites in exchange for an end to external hostilities. Seeing that the Romans meant to feed them to the proverbial wolves, Livy states that the Sidicines entered into an alliance with the Latins, Aurunci and Campani. It is very likely that the Volsci also joined this alliance sometime in 341 BC, perhaps following that year's unsuccessful campaign season. We find them raiding along the Latin coast and providing reinforcements to the Latins and their allies in the following critical year and then campaigning hand-in-hand with the Latins in 339-338 BC. This was the alarming and dangerous development that quickly changed Romans and Samnites from enemies to friends in 341 BC. Most significant for the Romans was the independent action of the Campani, who despite Rome's policy to leave the Sidicines to the Samnites, rose to help their neighbour and former ally against a common foe. Due to the fact that in the following year most of the Campani were fighting against Rome, it becomes clear that this action quickly morphed into a bid by the Campani to throw off the yoke of Roman hegemony and regain their independence.
As far as military operations in Campania for 341 BC, the new alliance initially met with success. The Roman Consul assigned to the region that year, L. Aemilius Mamercinus, is reported to have invaded Samnium, but this should likely be dismissed as Roman cover for a rather embarrassing mutual rapprochement. It is more likely that Aemilius stayed put in Campania in 341 BC, trying to unsuccessfully tamp down the independent actions and growing rebellion of the Campani. Acting quickly to show their new solidarity, the Latins, Aurunci and Campani each sent military contingents and affected a junction with Sidicine forces, perhaps at Auruncian Cales nearby to the border, building up an army of considerable size says Livy (8.2). There is no major battle subsequently recorded, so it seems that in the face of this approaching armament the Samnites were forced to lift their siege of Teanum and make for their home territory across the Volturnus valley. This was reportedly followed by the allied army pressing the matter by taking the offensive and invading Samnium, a remarkable turn of events. Death and destruction were now visited upon the villages and farmsteads on the Samnite side of the Volturnus valley. Meeting no enemy, the allied formation withdrew back into Sidicine lands after growing satiated from its depredations. The reasoning for the Romano-Samnite treaty from this point becomes clear: the two powers must desist from mutual aggression to concentrate upon breaking the threatening new alliance at all costs, or risk the rise of a strong new regional federation to contest with. If this initial aim could be met, the component peoples could then be separately warred down into subjugation within each party's sphere of influence. To add to the Samnite's troubles in Campania this year, some attention and resources would have been turned south in 341 BC, with Archidamus campaigning somewhere in southern Italy and perhaps Lucania.
The year 341 was therefore pivotal in the wider regional wars of Tyrrhenian Italy. The First Samnite War was wound down by the Romans and Samnites as a strong new mutual threat appeared, in the form of a grand alliance of the smaller peoples of the region, represented by the Latins, Aurunci, Sidicini, Campani and Volsci. By the end of 341 BC, this alliance had put a large army in the field and broken the Samnite siege of Sidicine Teanum, even going so far as raiding in force into the Samnite side of the Volturnus valley. In response to this crisis, the Romans and Samnites quickly morphed from enemies into friends, concluding a treaty against the dangerous new threat and resolving on concerted action for the following year. To the south, Samnium's southern borders were concurrently being menaced by the military conflict underway between Taras and the neighbouring Italic tribes, drawing off some Samnite attention from its north-eastern borders. Indeed, if the Samnites were taking part in the war against Taras, then in 341 BC they were fighting on two fronts.
The Critical Year: 340 BC
The year 340 BC saw in an alliance of the Latins, Aurunci, Volsci, Sidicini and Campani congeal and engage in a desperate struggle to maintain their freedom and independence. Amid wider disturbances, a decisive campaign in northern Campania saw the new Romano-Samnite rapprochement crowned with success. The fate of the smaller peoples of Tyrrhenian Italy were sealed, even though there were many more years of fighting before they were all fully pacified. The Roman annalistic tradition, unsurprisingly, places the lions-share of the success in 340 BC at the feet of the Roman arms, but clearly the Samnites and a small body of loyal Campanians contributed to the victories obtained. No notices of events concerning the operations of Archidamus are extant for this year, but it can be taken for granted that the Spartan was in the field campaigning against the various Italic tribes confronting Taras. Timoleon of Corinth died at Syracuse in 340 BC and his passing was greatly mourned by his people. That city, although still powerful, was too concerned with internal affairs and Carthage to be drawn into those of Tyrrhenian Italy. The main army of the Latin alliance remained in the field or was reconstituted in 340 BC, likely posted somewhere on Sidicine or Auruncian territory. Interestingly the General of the alliance is named by Livy (8.11) as one Lucius Numisius of Circii, one of the two Praetors of the Latin League that Livy reports met with the Romans in a last-ditch effort to avoid open war. The Latins obviously refused to desist from aiding the Sidicines and it was clear that the kind of freedom envisaged by the Latins, Volsci and Campani was something that the Romans and Samnites would never agree to. War was now the only option.
Raised to the Consulship at Rome this fateful year were T. Manlius Torquatus for the third time and P. Decius Mus, the plebeian hero of the Battle of Saticula in 343 BC. Three legions were enrolled at Rome this year, one of which was stationed close to the city under the command of a Dictator, L. Papirius Crassus. A fourth legion had been left posted in Campania from the previous year. The Consul Manlius possessed many years of command experience and together with Decius decided to re-instate the strictest ancient military discipline, given the seriousness of the situation and due to the fact that the Latins were esteemed as worthy and valiant adversaries, well-schooled in the Roman method of warfare. The two Consuls decided to combine their legions into one large army, likely under the auspices of Manlius, he being much the greater in experience. Reports of Volscian raids out of Antium against Ostia and Solonium along the coast reached Rome, and to this threat Papirius and his legion were dispatched (Livy 8.12). He was able to drive off the Antiate raids and settled down for several months in a fortified camp near to the coastal fortress, from which he thoroughly scourged the land while keeping the Antiate Volscians bottled within their walls. The main effort, however, was clearly required in Campania. The first problem for the Consuls was how to reach Campania and affect a junction with now-friendly Samnite forces there. In light of their decision, it becomes apparent that the coastal route through southern Latium and the direct route down the Trerus Valley were felt to be strategically inadvisable. Latin and Volscian strongholds were perched menacingly along both routes, but likely the extreme path taken represents a fear by the Romans that the large allied army, advantageously posted, might be able to move between them and fight both enemies piecemeal if the traditional routes were taken. To circumvent this problem, the Romans commenced on a bold and dangerous march up into the Apennine Mountains, territory no Roman army had ever set foot into. The exact route is unclear, but the most direct conveyance through the mountains to Samnium would have been up the via Salaria north of hostile Praeneste to the territory of the Marsi about the Fucine Lake, then down the valley of the upper Liris to the Roman stronghold at Sora, on the very border of Samnite territory. If this way was for some reason unfeasible or threatened by enemy forces, as a disjointed notice from Livy (7.38) may indicate, then a far longer route past the Fucine Lake to the east and down through one of the high Apennine valleys to Samnite Aufedina on the Sangrus River may have been taken. This would better explain Livy's mention of the lands of the Paeligni being passed through and his above mentioned report of Latin forces moving into the mountains and fighting against the Paeligni. Whichever route was taken, it was a remarkable adventure and there seems to have been unsuccessful attempts by the Latins to circumvent the junction.
Affecting a meeting with the Samnite army in the Volturnus valley, the combined host moved into Campania proper, where they would have been joined by the Roman forces already stationed there; a force which Dionysius reports was in a poor state of efficiency due to garrison duty in the cities. A contingent of 1,600 Campanian cavalry loyal to Rome also joined the twin standards, showing that much of the nobility of the Capuan league had come down on the side of Rome. Both armies now closed with each other, initiating the immediate campaign in northern Campania. Dionysius reports that the Romans encamped about ten miles from Capua on a height and stayed there until reports of the enemy's army receiving reinforcements drove Manlius to march forth onto the plain to risk battle. There was some manoeuvring and skirmishing, during which it is reported by Livy that Manlius set a dreaded example of disciplinary punishment by having the lictors behead his own son for breaking the strict regulations put into force. Where the two armies met is the subject of some scholarly and annalistic debate. Diodorus (16.90.2) places the contest near to Suessa Auruncia, near the small gap which rests between the Roccamofina and the Monte Massicus. Livy places the battle at the foot of Mt Vesuvius far to the south, on the road to an unknown place-name called Vestries. Much more plausible under the circumstances seems Diodorus's locale: on Auruncian territory in northern Campania close to the Sidicine border and Capua.
Livy's description of the battle proper is long on detail and weighted to make it seem that most, if not all of the fighting was between the Romans and Latins, which cannot be the whole story. It is quite possible that in aligning their armies, the Romans and Latins would arrange to face off against one another, as Livy seems to indicate. The joint Samnite-Campanian cavalry, which enjoyed a good military reputation and was a living relic of the Greek period of rule in Campania, would have comprised a powerful striking arm of the army, and quite possibly could have affected the battle's outcome. This would have left the Samnites facing off against the Sidicines and Aurunci in a purely Osco-Sabellian contest. The Romans had at least two legions and possibly a third from the Campanian garrison, making for around 12,000 to 15,000 spears, along with 1,600 Campanian cavalry. The Samnites would have provided a similar contingent of cavalry but the size of their infantry force is open to question. If a proportion of 10:1 is accepted, then the Samnite infantry perhaps contributed between 10,000 and 15,000 spears, making for a total of somewhere around 25,000 to 30,000 foot and 3,000 cavalry, a large but not impossibly-sized army for the period. There is no figure extant for the size of the allied continents but the armies must have been fairly evenly matched, with the alliance of smaller states perhaps somewhat deficient in cavalry. We hear from Livy that the Romans found the allied army to be larger than theirs, so a rough figure may put it at 35,000 – 40,000 with all of the various contingents concentrated. Such large opposing armies would have made the battle quite extraordinary for the time and goes far to explain why Livy is not alone in reporting it, as he is with many other battles of the period.
When the dread hour finally came the armies of both sides sallied forth and there was a long and bloody struggle. Twenty-three centuries removed from the present, the sanguinary nature of this great battle still remains clear. Men fought and set down their lives for the very freedom of their peoples and all hung in the balance. One of the Roman Consuls, the plebeian
novus homo P. Decius Mus, was slain in the brutal maelstrom of sword and spear, his body only being found among the heaps of dead the next day. After a long and terrible struggle, Manlius, who had managed to hold back his veteran
triarii in reserve, sent them forward against a tired and failing adversary. The Latins and their allies could not hold under the fresh onslaught and finally buckled under the strain. Those that could fled for their lives. The Samnite-Campanian cavalry now would have proven very useful, slaughtering the fleeing enemy in all directions across the plain. It was a great Romano-Samnite victory. The enemy army was heavily defeated and the scattered survivors dispersed, later to coalesce at the Auruncian town of Vescia. There Numisius held a council of war. The allies were still prepared to fight on. Reinforcements of Volscians and Latins that were already on the way but late in arriving were used to fill in the depleted ranks to some extent.
But fresh new bodies could not replace a thoroughly destroyed morale. After more manoeuvring, Livy reports that a second battle was fought, at a place called Trisanum: a junction or town lying farther west near the coast between Minturnae and Sinuessa. Again the Allied army went down in shattering defeat, being cut to pieces by Roman and Samnite armies grown stronger and more confident by the all-to-recent memory of success. The immediate outcomes of this most decisive of campaigns were two-fold: firstly, Rome's hold on Campania was set on greatly firmer ground while secondly, the grand alliance of the smaller peoples of Latium and Campania was broken asunder, never again to fully re-form as a threat to Romans and Samnites. The Campani surrendered back into Roman hegemony, while those who had stayed loyal to Rome's cause were lavishly rewarded. The forces of the Aurunci and Sidicini dispersed to what sanctuaries they could, to lick their wounds and await the coming storm. Farther north in Latium, the Latins and Volsci grimly and defiantly resolved to continue the struggle, receiving home their shattered armies and forging ahead in a reduced anti-Roman alliance. The surviving Consul T. Manlius returned to Rome and for his and his fallen colleague's profound accomplishments was granted a most well-deserved and celebrated triumph (Tr. Fasti, May 18, 339 BC).
War to the Bitter End in Latium: 339 – 338 BC
In 339 BC, the Latin War moved north into Latium, as the Volsci and Latins vowed to fight on together as they had periodically in previous decades. Rome and Samnium went their separate ways, never to cooperate as allies again. There was much work to be done by both sides and with the immediate need for cooperation ended, it was not long before relations between the two powers began to sour. For 339 – 338 BC, we hear nothing from the sources about the actions of the Samnites. Presumably they continued in their struggle to reduce the Sidicini and their capital of Teanum and mop up any small pockets of Volsci that remained around their borders. In 339 BC, Archidamus was still campaigning in southern Italy, but on August 2, 338 BC, the Spartan King was killed by a projectile below the walls of the Messapian fortress of Mandonium (Diodorus, 16.63), removing for the time being the Tarentine threat to Samnium's southern borders. Therefore the threat-level to the Samnites was reduced significantly following 340 BC, until the emergence of a much more serious threat from Taras four years later.
With Campania secured and an agreement of non-hostility with the Samnite confederation in place, the Romans now chose to put all of their might into the reduction of the Volsci and Latins. Raised to the Consulship in 339 BC were T. Aemilius Mamercinus, a rather obscure figure no doubt related to L. Aemilius, Consul of 341 BC and Q. Publilius Philo, a plebeian who was entering the first of four Consulships and who was to gain prominence as a commander of note during the following Second Samnite War. Inside Latium, the Latin resistance found its main center of gravity in the Trerus Valley, as the two strongest Latin towns of Praeneste and Tiber took a leading role in continued resistance. Perhaps it was now understood by all that with Rome grown so strong, this was to be the last and only chance to secure nominal independence. Nigh to the Apennines they sharpened their swords, concentrated an army and took the field to begin the campaign of 339 BC. Livy states that the main contingents of the allied army consisted of those of Praeneste, Tiber, Pedum, Velitrae, Lanuvium and Volscian Antium. With the enemy concentrating so close to Rome itself, both Consuls led out their legions, very possibly combining them from the beginning. That one of them did not march south-west towards the Pomptine plain leads to the conclusion that Volscian efforts were concentrated in the Trerus valley this year, while southern Latium remained a relatively quiet sector of hostilities. A large action did not occur immediately but there were likely smaller engagements, as the momentum of the campaign led the Roman Consuls south, deeper into the valley. Eventually the belligerents closed for battle outside the town of Ferentinum. This town had been captured by the Romans long ago in 413 BC, who had then given it to their regional allies the Hernici. It can only be assumed that in this year it remained Hernician and therefore hostile to the Latins and Volsci. Perhaps they were besieging the town when the Roman army approached, but this is only speculation. In any case battle was offered and accepted on the plains close by to the town. The Roman army, under the auspices of Publilius, broke the enemy and gained an important victory (Livy 8.12), afterwards seizing their camp and plundering it. The results led some Latin towns to capitulate to Rome reports Livy, but he does not name which ones. It was not a knockout blow by any means, as the Latins and Volsci were able to reconstitute and manoeuvre north, fortifying a new camp under the walls of Pedum, a Latin stronghold between Praeneste and Tibur on the slopes of the Apennines. Several lesser engagements were fought in and about Pedum before the campaign ended inconclusively. Publilius was granted a triumph (Tr. Fasti, Jan. 13, 338 BC) over the Latins for leading the Romans at the Battle of Ferentinum, while his colleague was denied a similar reward because Pedum remained un-reduced at the end of the year. With the campaign season over and the Roman army having retired, the various Latin and Volscian contingents dispersed from Pedum to their various towns.
In the interval of 339-338 BC, Livy (8.13) reports that the Latins and Volsci held council. They remained resolved to fight on but were weakened and seeing their position now grown perilous, decided to keep within their walls and base their strategy on Roman moves. This policy was to do them more harm than good. The Consuls for the fateful year of 338 BC were L. Furius Camillus and C. Maenius. The Senate in no uncertain terms
“loudly urged that Pedum should be assailed with arms, men, and every kind of force, and be demolished” (Livy 8.13). Pedum, being the un-reduced nexus of the enemy resistance from the previous year, was to be made an example of. The Consuls enrolled their legions and marched east towards the Apennines. While L. Furius put the town under close siege, C. Maenius manoeuvred his legion separately to cover his colleague and make sure the town did not receive any succours from its allies. This strategy, as in 343 BC in Campania, shows clearly the genius of operating twin armies every year, where depending on the circumstances the Consuls had the flexibility to combine and separate their legions at will and in short order. It also proved that the Latin-Volscian strategy of laying low now left them divided and at a disadvantage. Contingents from the Latin towns of Aricia, Lanuvium and Velitrae, seeing C. Maenius's legion barring their way, decided to moved south to Antium and concentrate there with the Volscians, before trying to force their way through. Maenius followed them, marching south against this gathering threat. At the River Astura close by to Antium there was a major battle and Maenius gained a significant victory, scattering the enemy and removing any chance of the separate allied forces affecting a junction. At Pedum meanwhile, the Tiburtines and Praenestines concentrated and attacked L. Furius, trying to break the siege. There was a pitched battle beneath the walls of the besieged town. During the fierce action, the townsmen made a surprise sally from the walls, but the Consul was able to manoeuvre part of his formation against this threat and drive them back with loss. The Latins finally broke and the Romans were victorious. The outside threat removed, the siege of the town was afterwards pressed hard and Pedum was finally stormed and exposed to all the horrors of a bloody sack. Indeed, the fact that this town was afterwards granted the full Roman citizenship instead of a foedus like Praeneste and Tibur shows that its old inhabitants were likely killed, driven off or enslaved as a result of Roman vengeance. With the twin Roman victories this year, all resistance was broken. The holdout Latin and Volscian towns began to capitulate, including even impregnable Antium on the coast, which would never again be a thorn in Rome's side. Whether Livy is correct and it was Furius and Maenius who reduced the remaining hold-outs in 338 BC or whether it took another year or so, as seems more plausible, Rome once and for all was able to secure Latium to its hegemony, a seminal event in Roman history. Taking a hard look at previous arrangements, the Romans set about to devise a new system of governing the conquered peoples, doing away with leagues for the most part and instead binding each community with Rome through bi-lateral treaties which set down Rome as the senior and controlling party. For their hard work and great success, both Furious (Tr. Fasti, 27 Sept, 338 BC) and Maenius (Tr. Fasti, 29 Sept, 338 BC) were granted the supreme honours of a triumph. In addition, Livy states that equestrian statues of both Consuls were erected in the Forum, a compliment rarely accorded among the old Romans.
Alexander Molossus and the End of the Aurunci and Volsci: 337 – 329 BC
Following the breaking of the Latins and Volsci in 338 BC, the Romans continued their momentum, setting about on a large-scale, strategic re-organization of their lands and the reduction of the last small pockets of resistance within their hegemonic block. The Volsci, deprived of their bastion of Antium, were gravely weakened but remained to be fully finished off. The Aurunci also were about to receive the bitter fruits of their resistance to Roman hegemony back in 340 BC, as Rome set about building a defensive matrix of settlements and strongholds to protect against both internal and external threats. Of Samnium, threadbare notices in Livy are supplemented by the accounts of various Greek and later Roman annalists, allowing the construction of a basic narrative. Most notably for the mountain power, Taras continued its war with the Lucani and Messapii without benefit of a foreign champion until 334 BC, when Alexander the Molossian, King of Epirus and uncle of Alexander the Great, arrived in Italy at Taras's invitation to try his hand against the Italic barbarians. He was much more successful than Archidamus had been and his progress throughout southern Italy, including areas dangerously close to or even within Samnium, can be traced somewhat until his death circa 331 BC. His campaigns greatly disturbed the Samnites and almost fully occupied their attention during this stage of the conflict.
In the years following Trisanum and before the arrival of Alexander, the Samnites would certainly not have stood still in Tyrrhenian Italy. Whether they finally managed to reduce the Sidicines, a likely primary focus of their efforts in this theatre, is a matter of contention among modern scholarship. Salmon (1965, pg 210) concludes that Teanum and its lands did come under Samnite control. De Sanctis (Storia dei Romani, ii, 270) and Beloch (1926, pg. 370) disagree, arguing that Teanum actually came under Roman control. Cornell (1995, pg. 352) goes a third route, concluding that at least in the 330's BC, the Sidicines remained independent of both powers. He is sticking with Livy's (8.15) notices for 337 BC to 334 BC that indicate that the Sidicines indeed remained un-reduced. In the absence of any other evidence, Livy's reports must stand. Siege techniques for the reduction of powerful strongholds like Teanum were still a difficult and uncertain proposition in the 4th century BC, even among Greeks let alone rustic Samnites, so reducing Teanum may well have proven too difficult, while chasing Sidicines up into the fastnesses of the Roccamofina and Monte Aurunci would have made for a tiring and unprofitable business. Also Worthy of consideration is that the Romans too avoided the perils of a siege of Teanum when they invaded and ravaged Sidicine territory in 335 BC and 334 BC (Livy 8.17). Therefore, it can be stated that very likely any major Samnite invasions between 339 BC and 329 BC were limited in their gains and that while some territory may have been mulcted, the principal fortress of the Sidicines remained isolated but unreduced. Raid and devastation of the enemy's countryside across the Volturnus valley would have remained a major mode of warfare between Sidicini, Romans and Samnites in this period.
While these violent and unproductive affairs took place in the north-west of Samnium, another looming threat close to the Samnite borders to the south-east took shape in the form of a resurgent Taras and its new war-chieftain Alexander Molossus. Alexander without doubt proved more successful in Italy than any Greek who came before him, arguably rivalling even Pyrrhus in the scope of his victories. Arriving with an army and fleet in 334 BC (Justin, 12.2) he campaigned against the Messapii and Iapygians close to Taras, apparently with some success, but an attempt on the Messapian coastal town of Brention (Latin Brundusium) proved unsuccessful and was broken off. Turning north, the Epirote King marched along the Adriatic coast and made an alliance with the tribe of the Pedulani before continuing on, apparently getting as far north as Arpi and Seponto in the territory of the Daunii (CAH, 1970, vol. 10, pg 300) before turning west against the Lucani and Bruttii. If his route of march followed a direct path from Arpi to the Tyrrhenian coast where he next made an appearance, he would have marched through the upland plateau of southern Samnium, but unfortunately his exact route is unknown. Livy's (8.17) notice for 334 BC that the Samnites were arming for war therefore is certainly true, but not against the Romans as the annalist seem to indicate. They were mobilizing to send an army to aid their Lucanian brethren and to protect their southern reaches against a very real and dangerous threat. The next year, 332 BC (333 BC is a Dictator year and therefore non-existent) Livy (8.17) again reports 'disturbances' in Samnium. No doubt the Samnites were disturbed this year, because as Justin (12.2) notes, Alexander gained a great victory over a combined Samnite-Lucanian army at Poseidenia (Roman Paestum), a Lucanian city at the extreme southern end of Campania. This not only would have horrified the Samnites but it reportedly gained the particular attention of the Romans as well, whose Campanian possessions were only a few days march to the north. The Romans sent an embassy and subsequently concluded a treaty with Alexander. The details of the treaty are not extant but some educated guesses can be attempted. In addition to the Romans wanting to safeguard their interests in Tyrrhenian Italy, the Samnites and Lucani stand out as the obvious common foe, although no explicit obligations necessarily would have been stipulated. Alexander, negotiating for Taras, would have attempted to set out some boundaries for Taras's sphere in influence, and it is quite possible that this treaty contained the clause that the Romans were not to sail beyond the Licinian promontory. The Romans treaty with Alexander would certainly have strained relations with the Samnites in 332 BC and indeed at that point war was not far off, but with Alexander threatening Samnite and Lucanian interests in the south and the Romans remaining quiet and pre-occupied, this was not yet the time for the Samnites to seek a conflict with Rome. In any case, Livy (8.17) points out that the Romans viewed the foreign mercenary with deep suspicion and placed little confidence in their treaty with him.
Alexander's successes continued after this victory at Poseidonia. He next marched south, deep into Bruttian territory and lifted formerly Greek Terina from the Osco-Sabellian yoke. Following this Alexander marched north and captured Consentia, the Bruttian capital. He next concluded alliances with Thurii and Metapontum and gained control of the Tarentine satellite town of Heraclea. By this time his relations with Taras had become very strained, so much so that they eventually were totally severed and he henceforth operated independently (for details, see CAH 1970, vol. 6, ch. 10, pg 301). While Alexander was feuding with Taras, Justin reports that the Lucani and Brutii gathered reinforcements from their 'neighbours' to continue the war against the Epirote juggernaut. No doubt these neighbours included a large contingent of Samnites, eager to help extinguish the condottieri before he carved out an empire in southern Italy. While manoeuvring his army across the Acheron River nearby to Pandosia, he was transfixed by a javelin thrown by a Lucanian exile in his employ (Livy 8.24). News of his death was almost surely an immense relief to all concerned, including Tarentines, Romans and Sabellians, given the potential results of his continued success. Most pertinent to the affairs of Tyrrhenian Italy, Alexander's death removed a great threat to the Samnites. In subsequent years Taras was to become decidedly less hostile to its neighbours, even to the point where the city evidently suffered internal political turmoil, resulting in a new democratic order, whose policy espoused a more friendly tone in relations with the Lucani and Samnites. This positive turn of events for the Samnites would have allowed more attention to again be turned to Tyrrhenian affairs.
To the north in Latium, the Romans were busy in 337 BC formulating their new political arrangements for their growing domains and mopping up the last vestiges of Latin and Volscian resistance on the coastal plain. Livy's only remarks for the year bring attention to a Sidicine invasion of their neighbours the Aurunci. These reports should be taken with a grain of salt. In the face of manifest Roman and Samnite aggression, the likelihood of the Aurunci and Sidicini deciding to war on each other doesn't make sense. Much more likely is that these notices are an effort by the Roman annalists to provide a cover for Roman aggression in this region in the following years, as they grabbed towns and territory for settlements and strongholds as part of their new defensive arrangements. In the following year of 336 BC, the Romans acted towards these goals, sending both Consuls south against the Aurunci. The Consuls for the year were K. Dullius and L. Papirius Crassus, the scourge of the Antiates back in 340 BC. To combat the Roman invasion, the Aurunci (Livy calls them Ausoni but this is parsing to make it seem as if the Romans were coming to the rescue of the Aurunci) and Sidicini combined and met the Romans in battle, likely not far from the Auruncian town of Cales: the object of Roman desire at this time. The Roman arms were victorious and the Aurunci and Sidicines retreated east into Sidicine territory. Cales was exposed and possibly besieged but did not fall this year according to Livy. Like the Samnites further east, the Romans may now have began to experience raids from Sidicines and Aurunci operating from the forested mountains about, which would help to explain the otherwise pointless Roman invasion of Sidicine territory in the coming year.
In 335 BC, the Romans renewed their assaults on the Aurunci and Sidicini. Raised to the Consulship were A. Atilius and for the fourth time M. Valerius Corvus, none other than the hero of 343 BC against the Samnites. Both Consuls enrolled their legions and marched into northern Campania, where they found an Auruncian-Sidicine army concentrated at Cales. Battle was joined and the Romans were gained the victory, driving off the enemy and setting upon a close siege of the town. Before the season was out, the stronghold fell, not by storm but through treachery during a festival, Livy (8.16) reports. The reason for Roman interest in the Aurunci and specifically Cales, as Salmon (1967, pg 209n) points out, now becomes apparent. Livy reports that the Romans in the very next year installed a colony in the town and its vicinity. Cales was to serve as a strategic Roman bastion for the districts on Auruncian and Campanian territory that were allotted for viritane distributions to the Roman commons, while guarding the gap of the Savone River into the hostile Sidicine and Samnite territories of the Volturnus valley. The unfortunate inhabitants of Cales and the lands nearby were forcefully carted off to Suessa further north, henceforth called Suessa Aurunca. For seizing Cales, Valerius was granted another Triumph (Tr. Fasti, 15 March, 334 BC). Before the year was out, his colleague Atilius is reported making an incursion across the new frontier into the adjacent Sidicine lands. It becomes almost a certainty then that the discomfited Aurunci and their Sidicine friends were raiding into Roman Campania in response to the Roman clearances. Atilius ended his campaign after the usual pillaging of enemy territory but without having achieved much else. Both legions were left to garrison Campania at the end of the year.
In the next year, 334 BC, Polybius (2.18.9) reports that the Romans concluded a treaty with the Gauls, supposedly looking to secure their northern border while they continued to concentrate on affairs at home and in Campania. As noted earlier, this was the year that Alexander Molossus arrived in Taras, forcing the Samnites to turn their full attention south for the next several years. Likely this is why they appear so complacent while Roman armies raided in force into Sidicine territory in 335 – 334 BC, which were nominally Samnite lands under the treaty of 343 BC. The two new Consuls were none other than T. Veturius Calvinus and Sp. Posthumius Albinus, the unfortunate generals who were to command together over the later Roman disaster of the Caudine Forks. This year, however, the Consuls did not get into any such notable troubles. Bringing with them a contingent of soldiers from Rome, they brought up to strength and took command of the two legions stationed in Campania and proceeded into the field. At least one Consul or both once again drove into Sidicine territory, laying waste to the very walls of Teanum, reports Livy (8.17). Unwilling to attempt a siege of the fortress town and perhaps mindful of their treaty with Samnium, the Romans could do little else but retreat back into Campania after committing their depredations. The punitive expeditions of the past two years may have eased somewhat any raiding going on from Sidicine territory: the sensible object of any Roman manoeuvres short of outright invasion and occupation. The Sidicine people now enjoyed the dubious honour of being the only one of the grand alliance of 340 BC to remain un-conquered by either of the two dominant Tyrrhenian powers. The fact that their farms, villages and fields had been laid waste many times over and their harassed people chased into remote hiding places perhaps served to dampen any cause for celebration at this notable accomplishment. Freedom, while it still lasted, had been purchased at a great price. Down to 327 BC, nothing more is heard from this front, but sure enough it remained a source of hostility and friction for all sides.
In 332 BC (as stated earlier, 333 BC is a non-existent 'dictator' year), the Romans concluded a treaty of alliance with Alexander Molossus, following his victory at Poseidonia in southern Campania. They also gained possession of Acerrae, a city on the Campanian plain, which like Suessula was not part of the now-defunct Capuan league. Possibly a surrender by a pro-Roman party along the lines of Capua were in the offing. Tensions in southern Campania were clearly beginning to grow as both Samnites and Romans wished to expand their influences there and to deny the other what still remained nominally independent. In the following year a severe plague at Rome hobbled the city and no military expeditions of note were undertaken. The death of Alexander Molossus would likely have been met with mixed feelings at Rome. As Livy (8.17) seems to suggest, the Romans felt that if the grinding down of the Samnites and their Osco-Sabellian brethren meant the rise of a new and powerful Greek dominion in southern Italy, than one powerful adversary of Rome would only have been replaced by another, treaty or no treaty.
With the organization of northern Campania in hand, it was now decided by the Romans to extinguish once and for all the last remaining pocket of free Volscian towns about the Monti Lepini. These comprised notably of the strongholds of Luca and Fabrateria in the Trerus valley and ever-defiant Privernum at the southern end of the Monti Lepini. Since the end of the Latin War in 338 BC, these Volscian towns had remained quiet, but their nominal independence was not sufficient to appease Rome, who wished to once and for all put an end to the Volscian 'problem'. The crisis was set off, reports Livy (8.19), when a contingent of Volscian Fundians under a leader by the name of Vitruvius Vaccus joined the Privernates and raided into the colonies of Norba, Setia and Cora. This notice may be true or it may possibly be an annalistic fabrication to justify the Roman offensive to come. L. Papirius Crassus and L. Plautius Venno were elevated to the Consulship this year. Fitting out their legions, they both marched south against the Volsci. While Papirius set off for Privernum, Plautius manoeuvred down through the Pomptine plain, moving south over the coastal route until he arrived at Fundi, whose territory he devastated in retribution. The Fundians capitulated without a major battle. Papirius meanwhile marched into the vale of Privernum, where he met Vaccus and the Volscian army in battle. The Romans gained the victory, driving the Volscians into the town, which Papirius placed under close siege. In the Trerus valley, the towns of Fabrateria and Luca seem to have surrendered to the Romans without a fight, making the entire valley down to the Liris River and Sora fully Roman. Plautius, returning from Fundi, joined the blockade of the town. If any assaults were attempted this year, they were beaten off and 330 BC ended with Privernum remaining un-reduced, the last surviving pocket of resistance to Rome between the Monti Auruncii and the Tiber River.
The following year, Livy reports that a tumultus Gallicus occurred at Rome: a city-wide panic where public business was suspended and all available resources mobilized for defence. One of the new Consuls, L. Aemilius Mamercinus, the same man who had commanded in Campania at the end of the First Samnite war, was sent to take post north of the city with a large army of at least two legions. His colleague, C. Plautius Decianus headed south to take command of the siege at Privernum. Finding reports of a Gallic invasion merely rumours, or diverted in some other direction, Aemilius took his large army south and joined the siege at Privernum. Before the year was out, the town fell for good into the hands of the Romans. Livy (8.20) provides two alternate accounts of the conclusion of the siege: one where the town is stormed and another where the Privernates surrender. The latter of the two accounts is by far the more likely and it is very possible that starvation was the
modus operendi, as the town had been closely blockaded for over a year. Aemilius was granted a Triumph (Tr. Fasti, 1 March, 328 BC) at Rome for the capture of Privernum under his auspices. With Privernum's fall, the final nail was driven into the proverbial coffin for the Volscian people. The heady days and great victories of the early 5th century BC, the routing of the Romans to the very walls of their city under Corolianus, were now a distant and faded memory. Henceforth the Volsci all but disappear from history as a free and separate people. For the Romans this was a most signal victory and it would not be surprising if there were great celebrations in the city to honour the final defeat of such a longstanding and inveterate foe. With the coming reorganization, lands were further mulcted for Roman settlement, while the Volscians and Latins would be assimilated and made to supply man-power for further Roman conquests. During the coming Second Samnite War, some small Volscian towns in the Trerus valley would join the Samnite side, quickly coming to regret their decisions, but Privernum and Antium were henceforth Roman possessions.
The Sky Darkens: Prelude to the Great War: 328 – 327 BC
The nature of the treaty of 343 BC becomes apparent in the early 320's BC, as Rome and Samnium, having solved the various internal and external issues which drove them to peace at the end of their first war, now quickly resumed hostilities. Moves by both adversaries served to undermine any small amount of good-will which may have been left over from 340 BC. On Samnium's part, Livy (8.23) reports on Samnite diplomatic efforts in 327 BC to turn the Volsci of Privernum, Fundi and Formiae against Rome. Reports by Livy (8.19) of the Samnites also eyeing Volscian towns on the Roman side of the Liris River make it quite possible that the Samnites were attempting to forge a pact of some sort with the Volsci, by stirring up the anti-Roman factions in those cities. If this was their intention, it was a largely unsuccessful gambit, especially after many years of smashing Volscian communities in the Liris valley.
Campania at this time becomes the main object of Samnite attention during this period. A pro-Samnite faction appeared at Greek Neapolis, which dominated the city in 328 BC. There were raids on Roman settlements in northern Campania which the Romans attributed to Samnite instigation. Farther south, Nola and Nuceria stood firmly with the Samnites, possibly even signing a treaty with them, giving them access to the coast and cutting off Roman expansion southwards. The Tarentines, with the unpleasant experience of Alexander firm in their minds, had suffered through some instability at the turn of the decade before making a change to democratic government, whose new policy seems for the time being to have been one of detente with the city's Osco-Sabellian neighbours (Frederiksen, 1984, pg. 181). The Greeks were now obviously very alarmed at Rome's southward expansion into Campania and the dominant factions in both Neapolis and Taras clearly saw it better to ally with the Samnites and Lucani rather than with the growing Latin power.
Equally, the Romans made moves which certainly did nothing to alleviate the growing tension with Samnium. A new Roman colony was planted at Tarracina in 329 BC (Livy 8.21) to protect the coastal route to Campania. In 328 BC, the Romans established another colony at Fregellae (Livy 8.22), a deserted town laid waste by the Samnites sometime after the treaty of 354 BC. The occupation of Fregellae was an outright provocative move, as the settlement was located on the left bank of the River: nominally Samnite territory if the river was indeed the line of demarcation. Like Cales covering Campania, the colony at Fregellae covered a strategic entrant into Latium through the Monti Lepini, while also blocking a potential Samnite invasion route north through the Trerus valley. It also formed a link with the rather exposed Roman strongholds of Satricum (in the Trerus valley) and Sora on the edge of the Apennines further west. Still, a colony with all of the same benefits could surely have been established on the Roman side of the River. The Romans and Samnites were clearly making moves during 329-328 BC in anticipation of renewing their war. They had not long to wait.
The final showdown came at Neapolis in 327 BC, when an embassy sent by the Roman Senate to demand that the Neapolitans desist from making raids on Roman settlements in northern Campania was rebuffed by the pro-Samnite faction now in power at the city (Livy 8.22, Dion. 15.5-10). Not only did the Samnites and their close friends the Nolan's persuade the Neapolitans to go against the Romans, but so did also an embassy of Tarentines who happened to be visiting, firming up the alliance of both Greek city-states with the Samnites against Rome. Indicative of their new entente with the Samnites and Lucani, the Tarentines promised hold-out Neapolitans a fleet if they should make common cause with the Samnites (Dion. 15.5). The Consuls for 327 BC, Q. Publilius Philo, who had smashed the Latins before Ferentinum in 339 BC, and L. Cornelius Lentulus, were sent south to reduce Neapolis and deliver it into Roman hegemony. Countering this move, the Samnites garrisoned Neapolis, fortifying the city with 4,000 of their warriors and 2,000 Nolan allies. Both Consuls marched their legions into Campania, likely joining a third legion now permanently on station there. Publilius took post near to Neapolis, while Lentulus covered his colleague by encamping further east, somewhere on the border of Samnium. Reports reached Cornelius that the Samnites were arming for war nearby in the Volturnus valley. With both powers on the edge of a precipice, diplomatic negotiations seem to have taken the form of an airing of complaints rather than an attempt to avoid war. Finally, the Samnites haughtily suggested that the Romans should wait in Campania, until they arrived in with an army to tear the land from their grasp. The Romans countered that their armies would go where their Consuls ordered them. The Second, or Great, Samnite War was about to begin.
Rome and Samnium, despite their treaties of 354 and 343 BC, were at some point bound to trade further to blows. Their nature as expanding and dynamic powers propelled them to fill the vacuum created in the Italian peninsula by the receding of other fading powers, such as the Etruscans and Greeks. The period of 342-327 BC was an interlude to a struggle already begun, where the smaller but still fiercely independent peoples of Tyrrhenian Italy made it clear that they would not be put under the yoke without a vigorous fight. The Latin War and succeeding wars to reduce the Aurunci and Volsci were hard but necessary digressions that Rome and the Samnites were forced to undertake before they could vie once again for supremacy of central and southern Italy. By 327 BC, the Romans had created out of Tyrrhenian Italy a relatively solid block of contiguous territory, whose various peoples henceforth bowed to the will of the Roman state. The Samnites meanwhile, if unable to fully reduce the indefatigable Sidicini of the Volturnus valley, were by 327 BC able to weather the wars of two Greek condottieri in the employ of Taras. With their brethren, the Lucani and Bruttii, they were successful in concluding an advantageous peace and entente with both Taras and Neapolis. Concurrent diplomatic moves towards the Volsci were decidedly less successful, but are indicative of hostile intentions. The hard-won settling of the various internal and external crises was to now allow the Samnites and Romans to once again renew their epic struggle, which in 327 BC portended roughly twenty-five years of all-out, unforgiving war for the mastery of Italy.
Show Footnotes and
Beloch, K. J. Romische Geschichte bis zum Beginn der punischen Kriege. Liepzig and Berlin, 1926.
Cambridge Ancient History, Volumes 6 and 7. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1970.
Cornell, T. J. The Beginnings of Rome. London: Routledge, 1995
De Sanctis, G. Storia Dei Romani, Volume 2. Florence, 1956-69)
Frederikson, Martin. Campania. Rome: British School at Rome, 1980.
Oackley, S. P. The Hill-forts of the Samnites. Rome: British School at Rome, 1995.
Salmon, E.T. Samnium and the Samnites. Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 1967
Toynbee, A. J. Hannibal's Legacy, Volume 1. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1965.
Copyright © 2009 Gordon Davis.
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About the author:
Gordon Davis is an amatuer military historian, residing in Toronto, Canada. He is especially
interested in the Early Roman Republic and Napoleonic History.
Published online: 10/18/2009.
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