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Battle of Thatis River
The Battle of Megiddo
The Third Battle of Anchialus
Second Samnite War Phase 2
The Roman Disaster at Adrianople
Second Samnite War
War in So. Italy 342-327 BC
First Samnite War
Pompey and Ancient Piracy
Brasidas - Spartan Commander
Battle of Kadesh
Battle of Plataea
King Arthur
Roman Invasion of Anglesey
Agricola - The Final Invasion

Gordon Davis Articles
Third Romano-Samnite War - Phase 1
Second Samnite War Phase 2
Second Samnite War
War in So. Italy 342-327 BC
First Samnite War

Recommended Reading

The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century A.D. to the Third

Roman Warfare (Smithsonian History of Warfare)

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The First Samnite War Phase 2
The Second Samnite War Phase 2: The Caudine Peace
by Gordon Davis

< Phase 1

Following the disaster of the Caudine Forks in 321 BC, the Roman state was forced into an unexpected and unwanted peace with the Samnites. For the balance of 321 BC and the following four years down to the end of 317 BC, there followed a cessation of direct hostilities between Rome and Samnium. Livy (9.1) calls this interlude the ‘Caudine Peace’ (“Caudina pax”) and as such the period may be viewed as a distinct phase of the Second, or Great, Samnite War of 327 – 306 BC.[1] The moniker of peace for the short five-year period, however, needs to be interpreted in a very narrow sense. The annalistic tradition clearly indicates that there was little actual peace in central Italy during these five years. The crisis caused by the military disaster, the most significant to befall Rome since defeat by the Gauls at the river Allia in 390 BC, quickly led to further misfortune and setbacks for the Latin state. Within a year, various uprisings rose up on the frontiers of city’s hegemony, which the Quirite’s were obliged to move against in force. Such was the Roman’s success in these operations that by the end of 317 BC they had effectively restored the limits of their previously gained influence. In the final year of the peace, we can also discern an intent to prepare for the resumption of direct war with Samnium, which did indeed come to pass in the following year with Rome’s move to besiege the Caudine fortress of Saticula.


The surviving accounts of the Samnite wars sadly do not lend themselves to a detailed military history. Quite often the entire campaign for a given year is disposed of in one sentence. Livy, our main source, covers the Second Samnite war in books 8 and 9 of his Ab Urbe Condita and he is by far the most detailed source available. Complimenting Livy in a less-detailed but important fashion are scattered notices by Diodorus Siculus in books 15 – 19 of his Bibliotheca Historica. Token mentions of various important episodes in the war are also made by Appian, Dionysius of Halicarnassus and other later historians, in writings that generally follow Livy’s account with little of added value. Contemporary Greek histories such as that of Timaeus of Tauromenium and Duros of Samos have sadly not survived outside of anything more than a few fragments, even though what did exist was likely used as source material by the above mentioned and other later Greek and Roman writers. The first Roman annalists, such as Fabius Pictor and Cincius Alimentius, although a generation removed from the Second Samnite War, would have potentially been able to gather firsthand accounts of the events in question and we do know that Livy and other later annalists referenced their writings when constructing their notices for the period. Cornell (2004) and others have noted in their research that most of the early annalists paid much less attention to the era in question, instead writing copiously on the mythical origins of the city and on the Second Punic War and after. Starting with Claudius Quadrigarius more attention was paid to the early republic and later annalists such as Licinius Macer are known to have written larger accounts about this period. This has led some scholars to suspect that these later Roman writers, rather than finding new factual material, instead expanded their narratives by invention. Most modern scholars, however, do see a solid kernel of facts in the surviving accounts, which are based on a solid historical tradition and deriving from a good number of plausible sources of knowledge from those times.

The ancient accounts of the Second Samnite War and the Caudine Peace in particular have been the subject of a good amount of attention and analysis by modern scholars, with some of the more recent interpretations being very skeptical of and in opposition to the annalistic version of events. Some modern scholars such as T. Mommsen, in his History of Rome (1854-56), generally follow Livy’s version closely and uncritically. Other analyses, such as those found in Salmon (1967), Adcock (1978), Huergon (1973) and Oakley (2005) convincingly point out discrepancies and likely fictions, and in their place positing an alternative course of events. For the period of the Caudine Peace, this critical analysis revolves most importantly around Livy’s account of a repudiation of the 321 BC peace negotiations and the immediate return to war between Rome and Samnium, with all its attendant Roman victories. This account has for the most part been rejected as fictitious. Over time, a reinterpretation concluding that a ‘Caudine Peace’ did indeed exist between 321 and 317 BC has come to be generally accepted. As hinted at earlier, however, the peace was of a narrow focus, between Rome and Samnium only and much fighting of great import to the wider conflict did occur throughout central Italy during this period.

The Nature of Romano-Samnite Warfare

It may be of some worth to make an attempt to provide some general insights into some tactical military concepts of the Samnite Wars and of the ancient period in general, to provide the reader with some idea of how the fighting may have looked at this period of Italian history. First off, military campaigning in the ancient world was naturally constrained by the agrarian cycle. Armies could not be mobilized until the spring planting was completed, or a population risked famine. Fighting had to cease at the end of summer or early fall, in order for the men to return home and bring in the harvest. The winter was a time to rest and to plan for the next year’s campaign season. Both the Romans and Samnites, through their respective deliberative bodies, would meet during the winter or early spring to debate and decide on the following year’s strategy and military commanders. Diplomacy was widely practiced at all times by both sides, in varyingly successful attempts to find and obtain allies - in peace to maintain a balance of power, in war to find and harness the necessary strength to defeat the enemy. Great victories and their accompanying prestige were guaranteed to earn friends, especially those who shared an enmity for the other side. As in any period of history, armies marched on their bellies. Systems of military supply in the 4th century BC were rudimentary affairs, so that an army fighting on enemy territory soon had to resort to plundering or retreat in order to hold itself together. Very often, especially among smaller entities, a campaign could be nothing more than a raid to gain plunder, while among larger belligerent such as Rome and the Samnites, campaigns took on the serious business of invasion and territorial acquisition.

The ebb and flow of a seasonal campaign between established tribes or city-states followed various long held practices and these established patterns would have been learned and passed on by a successful military commander to his underlings. One side would invariably kick off the campaign by invading the territory of the other. When advancing, proper scouting was always necessary to avoid enemy ambushes. If both sides were of relatively equal strength and wanted to force a decision, they encamped close by to each other, jockeyed for any immediate advantage they could obtain and then clashed in a set battle-piece. If stalemate was the outcome of the battle, both armies retired to their respective camps at the end of the day and prepared to renew the struggle. If one side had the worst of it in the clash, they would do well to pack up and march off under cover of night, leaving the field of battle and admitting a claim to victory for the foe. If in battle one side’s formation collapsed, they would be slaughtered as they fled back to the camp, their main source of succor. If the defeated army had not cleared off or made a break-out from their camp by the next morning, then they were in serious jeopardy of being blockaded and forced to surrender. A complete victory in battle could be obtained if the enemy were scattered and their camp captured along with all its booty. If such a victory was achieved, and the enemy driven within the walls of their great towns or fortresses, or if they were perhaps too weak to even attempt pitched battle, then the victorious army resorted to the tried and true practice of laying fire and sword to the enemy land, gathering plunder, destroying village and farmstead, killing and enslaving the people and in general hobbling the ability of the enemy to carry on the war. A victorious army, if sophisticated enough, might also attempt to besiege and storm cities and fortresses of the enemy, living off the surrounding land as long as they could. Success in such risky and difficult endeavors sometimes could lead to a decisive victory in the war. The ultimate goal was continue campaigning until the enemy was hurt so badly that they were forced into capitulation. While such axioms served well to assist a commander of average abilities, a general of superior capability could bend and break these rules with gifted leadership, and if one reads the existing accounts of the campaigns of Caesar and Hannibal, they can fully appreciate what a very experienced or capable commander could accomplish towards securing victory in war.

One very interesting aspect of the Samnite wars was that it pitched an organized city-state on the Greek model against a loose confederation of mountain tribes. In war, this meant that the more organized Roman state had an advantage in carrying on a war effort, setting war policy and levering economic resources. Both states were relatively closely matched in territorial size and population, but there the differences ended. Roman territory existed on the rich, civilized littoral, comprising some of the best farmland in Italy, studded with farm villages, large towns and cities. Samnite territory on the other hand was largely mountain and high plateau. Although Samnium is now understood to have also disposed of some very fertile areas supporting large populations, the territory was essentially bereft of cities and larger population centers. Settlements were small, scattered, rudimentary affairs. Populations were clustered in valleys, separated from one another by mountains and difficult paths. Dotting the landscape were a large number of crude forts (oppida) of rough polygonal masonry, which from time immemorial had served as local rallying points and places of refuge in war. These characteristics made Samnium a most difficult and dangerous place for an army to campaign in, and it is clearly one of the main reasons why it took Rome so long to subdue the Samnites.

Militarily, both the Romans and Samnites were primarily infantry armies, levying good quality fighting stock for their campaigns from their agrarian and pastoral populations. Both sides could deploy smaller cavalry contingents of good repute as well, drawing these primarily from their rich nobility and also from their Campanian possessions, whose inhabitants had learned to fight effectively with the horse from the Greeks. As far as arms and armour, the individual soldier on both sides provided their own equipment, which meant that beyond certain standards or conventions each soldier equipped themselves with what they could afford and to their taste. Traditionally, the Italian foot soldier fought with the spear (roman hasta), and in the 4th century BC this remained the primary weapon among the Samnites and Romans. The Samnites are reputed also to have made good use of the smaller throwing spear (Roman pilum); a practice that the ineditum vaticum document plausibly contends led to Roman emulation. A sword (Roman gladius) or long dagger was generally carried as a secondary weapon. Both sides carried oblong or oval shields (Roman scutari) for the most part, while some Roman soldiers still disposed of the round hoplite shield (Roman clipeus), perhaps for varied reason such as tradition, status and military distinction. For body armour, the average soldier might sport a linen, leather or even fur-skinned tunic, with a square or round pectoral plate being in broad use, while the better off might sport a full breastplate. For head protection, the bronze Montefortino-style helmet was in common use by Italian soldiers in the 4th century BC, while the more well-off might sport variants of Greek models, such as the Italo-Corinthian and Italo-Attic models. Greaves were also in common use for those who could afford them, with the forward-protruding left leg being favoured for such protection. A sturdy leather military waist-belt was in general use, and it held particular martial symbolism for the soldier. The most well-off foot soldiers (roman pedites) therefore could still resembled in many ways the standard heavy-armed Greek hoplite soldier of the previous centuries, while the most poor and rustic soldiers had to make due with a few furs, a wooden spear with a fire-hardened tip and their courage. Most combatants would have fallen somewhere in between these extremes. Given the differing economic disparity and fighting methods of the Romans and Samnites, one could expect the Romans soldiers to be generally more heavily-armed than their Samnite counterparts, especially among the foot-soldiers, but the counter-point to this Roman advantage was an advantage in mobility enjoyed by the Samnites.

A comparison between military formations and battle tactics also exposes differences in the Roman and Samnite methods of war. First off, the Romans had developed their war-fighting as a city-state on the flat plains of the Italian littoral, while Samnite tribal armies had cut their teeth in the mountains and hills of the central Apennines. The battle-formation of the Roman army of the 4th century BC was in a dynamic process of evolution from the old hoplite phalanx to the manipular legion of the later mid-republic, with the Samnite Samnite Wars no doubt being a major factor towards making this new tactical concept the formation of choice for the Romans. The genius of the manipular legion lay in its staying power and flexibility. The successive lines of the triplex acies allowed for tactical depth and built-in reserves, providing the potential for the maximum number of soldiers to reach the front of the fighting. If reinforcements were needed at one point in the battle, maniples or groups of maniples in the second or third lines could be detached, or even wheeled by an expert commander to face a threat from another quarter, something not possible in the traditional hoplite phalanx. It must be contended, however, that the manipular legion as a whole was never really meant or designed for was fighting in the mountains. This may come as a surprise to those who place critical evolutions of the Roman legion within the Samnite Wars, but a closer examination reveals the plausibility of the idea. While any good Roman commander might aspire to forming up his army on a hill or mountain-side for tactical advantage, the legion in its entirety was at all times a heavy-infantry formation organized for a relatively straight-forward advance over flat ground or rolling hills at best. Its value against the Samnites becomes obvious when we assess the Samnite method of war. Being a mountain tribal people, the Samnites practiced a loose and flexible form of war. Livy speaks of manipular-type units of 400 men at a point later in the long conflict and aside from the likelihood of Samnite tactical evolution this basic unit type may not be far from the actual fact. These large companies of between a few hundred up to perhaps several thousand men usually would have been levied from the a local parish (Roman pagus) which would have varied in size and population and might consist of one valley or a region surrounding a town, with its constituent farmsteads, villages (vici) and forts (oppida). Each led by a local chieftain or magistrate (Samnite meddix), the combining of these levied companies together produced a Samnite field army. To the Samnites, whose mountainous territory in the 4th century boasted of few towns of any size and no cities, the hoplite phalanx was completely foreign. To secure victory, Samnite strategy made use of the ambush and the volley of throwing spears followed by a massed headlong charge, preferably from above - something that a British soldier might understand when fighting the Scottish highland clans in a later epoch. Such powerful charges could and did from time to time penetrate phalanxes or legions and break them, when driven home with courage and determination. If the charge was not successful and the battle settled down to a toe-to-toe contest of attrition, the less organized and less heavily-armed Samnites generally stood at a disadvantage.

Drawing from this comparison, we can begin to understand in a general sense the nature of warfare between Romans and Samnites. For a Roman commander, the aim was to lure the Samnites down from the mountain to the flat plain where the advantages of the manipular legion could grind down the foe, break its continuity and slaughter it. The utmost caution must be undertaken when marching or foraging among the mountain strongholds of the enemy, to avoid traps and ambushes. When battle was joined, the legions must successfully absorb the initial Samnite charge at all costs and by deploying the successive lines of the triplex acies, break up the enemy mass and cut them to pieces. Following these battlefield victories, the land of the enemy must be laid waste, settlements burned and oppida stormed or captured if possible. Colonies and towns must be fortified on the frontier to protect exposed routes into home territory, and to serve as bases and supply depots for further invasions into the Samnite heartland. For the Samnite commander, only the strongest army of highest morale should hazard battle against the Romans on the plain. For the most part defending his homeland, a good commander followed the approach of the Roman army and scouted out good sites from which to spring an ambush or at least find a suitable position for accepting battle from an advantage of height. In battle, the headlong massed charge must be driven home at the right time and with great élan to secure victory. If defeated, or if too weak to hazard open battle, tactics of harassment must be resorted to, while the local population and movable produce was dispersed or gathered in local walled towns or oppida, which a Roman commander might be indisposed to hunt down or bother with. In areas along the frontier where a Roman army was not operating, hit the enemy with raids, foment insurrection among the subject peoples and seize towns if possible. Without powerful allies, outright victory over such a powerful enemy as the Romans was likely impossible, but holding out and punishing them enough might just force the Quirites to give up and turn their aggressions elsewhere.

321 BC: The Aftermath of the Caudine Forks

We may now turn to an account of the yearly campaigns of the Caudine Peace, which appropriately should begin in the fateful year of 321 BC.[2] Livy describes the events of 321 BC in chapter 9.1 – 9.12. His description of events dovetails in all but a few details with Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Appian and other later ancient sources. In that year the Consuls, Sp. Posthumius Albinus and T. Veturius Calvinus marched their armies to Campania and combined them in the vicinity to the allied town of Calatia.[3] Induced to come to the aid of the reportedly besieged Apulian town of Luceria, the Consuls decided to attempt a crossing of the central Samnite plateau, in a bid to relieve their Lucerian allies. Marching through the one of the passes to the west of Calatia, the Roman army did not scout properly and became entrapped in a high glen. After some desperate attempts to break out, the Romans were forced to surrender. The following negotiations with the Samnite commander, Gavius Pontius of Telesia, produced a solemn promise (sponsio) to abide by harsh Samnite terms of surrender. These terms are described by Livy (9.4) as follows: firstly that the war was over and the Samnites were the victors; secondly that the Romans were to withdraw their armies and colonies from Samnite territory, and thirdly, that a treaty of equals (foedus aequum) was to be renewed between the two powers. As surety against the ratification of the sponsio, 600 equite hostages were taken and held by the Samnites. The negotiations having been completed, the Roman army from Consul to milite was stripped of its arms and sent under a symbolic yoke of spears and then allowed its freedom to return home. While these events occurred in Campania, the Liris valley to the north saw Roman setbacks as well. The Volscian town of Satricum revolted from Roman hegemony and then combined with local Samnite forces for a night assault on the nearby Roman colony of Fregellae. The attack was successfully and the arx fell into Samnite hands.

This concludes Livy’s version of the military operations for 321 BC. There were no recorded major set battle-pieces or detailed tactical descriptions of the fighting that did occur. The general line of the Roman advance into Caudine territory from Calatia is very plausible and there are many reasons for this new axis of advance to have been chosen, especially the fact that the town of Caudium and in particular the strategic fortress of Saticula, place of a previous Roman defeat, beckoned as campaign objectives. Livy’s description of the Roman army being trapped in a high glen is more problematic. No such locale in the vicinity seems to relate well to his description, where an army could have been completely blockaded. The valley of the Isclero, open to the east, but whose northern and western exits might be blockaded, seems the most likely candidate. Cicero (de Off. 3.109) seems to indicate that there was indeed a military defeat followed by a surrender, as opposed to the Romans just being trapped. Marching into the Isclero valley and then finding the Samnites blocking the passes back into coastal Campania could have led to hasty decisions by Posthumous and Veturius, ordering bloody and unsuccessful assaults at a disadvantage. Weakened and demoralized, this could have led to a retreat to their camp and a subsequent blockade. Lack of supplies soon would have forced a capitulation. The following peace negotiations and agreement are another matter of much debate, and heavily influence ones interpretation of the following five years. Livy’s characterization of the Roman agreement as a sponsio, later reneged by way of religious technicalities, is at odds with at least one earlier source, Claudius Quadrigarius (Livy 9.5). It is also very unlikely that the Romans would have put the lives of its 600 hostages, young men of noble birth, at grave risk by refusing to ratify the treaty. Finally, Livy basically admits in chapters 1 and 20 of his book IX that a peace did indeed come into effect. This being the case, the result was Roman evacuations of various frontier locales and several years of cold peace between the Italian powers.

Livy’s description of fighting in the Liris valley in the same year also needs to be elaborated on. Fregellae, along with contention for Neapolis in 327 BC, was an original cassus belli for the war. Its arx, standing on a spur of the Apennines on the left, or Samnite bank of the River, had withstood attacks for the past five years, albeit with the assistance of consular armies. In 321 BC, however, with both Consuls fighting in Campania to the south, the Liris valley appears to have been denuded of Romans forces, a bad miscalculation for such an important zone. If the revolt of Satricum and the capture of Fregellae by assault occurred before the Caudine Forks disaster, which is possible, then Livy’s account makes sense, as both sides would still have been at war. However, by placing it at the very end of his narrative for 321 BC or the beginning of 320 BC, he seems to imply that the events occurred following the Caudine Forks. If this is indeed the case, then his narrative becomes less plausible for obvious reasons. In this situation, Fregellae was more likely handed over to the Samnites as part of the terms of the peace agreement, as the Samnites had a solid and public claim to it. Satricum, on the other hand, makes sense as a genuine Volscian revolt, which may have been entirely localized in nature, or wider in scope with Satricum as its focal point (as its two year survival seems to imply). In addition to Fregellae and Satricum, some scholars have posited that nearby Sora was taken or handed over to the Samnites in 321 BC, instead of in 315 BC as per Livy (9.23). Like Satricum however, Sora also lay on the right, or Roman bank for the river, and its capture several years later in 315 BC makes more sense from the perspective of being part of a decisive Samnite offensive that erupted in the region that year. Whatever the actual case, through battle or compulsion the Romans were dealt a severe blow in the Liris valley in 321 BC, losing two strategic hill-top fortresses dominating both banks of the central Liris River, while the Samnites gained a buffer of sorts for their war-ravaged communities on the left bank up to the Apennines.

To round out events in the west from a strategic point of view, we can assess the possibility of various other locales for a possible handover to the Samnite tribes. Following the Liris River south from Fregellae along the route of the later via Latina, one passed the Samnite fortress of Casilinum [4] on a spur of the Apennines and then through a pass into the Sidicine gap, a strategic terminus of entrants into both inner(Samnite) Campania and outer (Roman) Campania. It was here that the fortress of Teanum Sidicinum [5] stood, on a spur of the Roccamofina massif. This city and its people, historically no friend to either side, had been apportioned to Samnite hegemony under the treaty of 341 BC, which had concluded the First Samnite War. Because of this legitimate Samnite claim, Teanum may very well have been given over to the Samnites in 321 BC, if it was indeed held by the Romans at this time. To the west of Teanum, across the gap of the Savo River on a ridge of the Monti Trebulla, lay the arx of Cales [6]: the fortress of the Roman colony of the same name. Cornell (1995) and others have posited Cales as a candidate for evacuation, but this is not likely. Since 334 BC, Cales had been the primary Roman strong-point in Campania and it placement was a central linch-pin of the overall Roman defensive matrix, standing guard over a major entry-way into Roman Campania. It also protected Roman settlements in the ager Falernus and kept a watchful eye on the unfriendly and restive local populations of the Samnites, Campani, Sidicini and Aurunci, including nearby Capua. Finally, it acted as one of the important frontier hinges which kept Rome’s Latin and Campanian possessions relatively contiguous. It is very unlikely that the Samnites could have forced an evacuation of Cales, other than the removal of military forces, and downright impossible for the Oscan tribes to lay a legitimate claim allowing possession of it. Any Roman outposts east of Cales in Samnite Campania would have been handed over, although it is doubtful that any existed at this time, exposed as they would have been from all sides. Throughout coastal Campania, Roman hegemony managed to hold firm for the time being, especially now that the Samnites were bound to peace. It was not until a large Samnite army passed through the region in 315 BC that serious uprisings and revolts were to occur.

It is left only to mention events in the other major theatre of this period of the Second Samnite War, that of Apulia in the east. Livy reports that Roman consular armies had been operating in Apulia since 323 BC and many cities-states on the Daunian plain had been brought within the Roman hegemony, especially following a very successful campaign by Q. Fabius Maximus in 322 BC. Some cities had submitted voluntarily, such as Arpi [7] and others such as Canusium [8] had succumbed through conquest. The flat coastal plains of Apulia were an ideal operating theater for the Roman legions. The region was a mixture of older Messapic and small urbanized Greek cultural groups and more recent Oscan arrivals. Evidence suggests that there was little in the way of peaceable co-existence between the city-states of the plain – more likely there was a dynamic of shifting alliances and inter-state anarchy. In general there existed an enmity among many towards the rustic Samnite tribes of the interior, who in addition to engaging in commerce were apt on occasion to raid and plunder the rich plains of Apulia. In this rather fragmented situation, the Romans had found it easy to obtain friends and to use the blunt force of its power to cow the rest into submission. In 321 BC, with both Consuls acting in tandem in the west, it appears that no significant Roman army was stationed in Apulia and Livy (9.2) backs this up when he implies that there was no potential help available for the town of Luceria [9] aside from that of the Consuls far away to the west. This being the case, it was relatively easy for the various Daunian cities to revolt from Rome following its crushing defeat, and the cities specifically named as doing so are Canusium and Teanum Apulum [10]. Luceria, perched very strongly on hill rising above the Daunian plain on the very border with Samnium, deserves some extra attention. Although its situation on the Daunian plain makes it likely to have been a nominally independent town, it is possible that the Samnites had some claim to it and it is almost guaranteed that it harboured a significant pro-Samnite Oscan population. Its strategic location clearly made it an object of desire for both Romans and Samnites and Livy has it changing sides no less than five times throughout the war. At the beginning of 321 BC, he describes it as an ally of Rome, implying that its allegiance had been secured sometime between 323 and 322 BC, which is quite possible. In 320 BC, however, it had inexplicably fallen into Samnite hands. Therefore, sometime in 321 BC or shortly thereafter Luceria fell to the Samnites, possibly by it being handed over as part of the terms of peace, but more likely by the pro-Samnite faction among its inhabitants seizing control and declaring for their mountain brethren. If one discounts the fictitious Roman revenge expeditions of 320 BC, as most have, then the fact that Luceria was left alone by the Romans during the Caudine Peace strongly indicates their acceptance of Luceria as a Samnite possession.

320 BC

With the Caudine peace coming into effect by the end of 321 BC, the Romans were left with the task of taking stock of their situation and beginning the work of restoring its fractured prestige and hegemony. Livy’s (9.8 – 9.15) account for the year is verbose and full of military exploits, some details of which may be historical, but in the whole must be discounted as fictitious attempts to restore Roman honour. He indicates confusion in his sources as to who commanded in the field in this year, and the Fasti Capitolini support this confusion, listing no less than three dictators for the year. That there was some panic and confusion at Rome following its disaster, however, is understandable. Magistrates of high stature were needed at home and abroad to conduct affairs and supervise religious expiations, so that it stands to reason that more than the usual compliment of high offices may have occurred. The Consulship itself is reported to have fallen to L. Papirius Cursor and Q. Publilius Philo, both men of the highest military renown. Under Livy’s version of events, Publilius marched a consular army to Caudium, where he engaged and seriously defeated the Samnites. Following this victory, Publilius pursued the remnants of his enemy across Samnium to Apulia. There he found his colleague Papirius besieging Luceria and in some difficulty due to lack of provisions. After an unsuccessful attempt by a Greek embassy from Taras to broker to peace, the Consuls combined their armies and routed the Samnites in open battle. This was followed by the storming of Luceria in a bloody assault, where the 600 equite hostages from Caudium were fortuitously found and freed. Within this unbroken string of dubious Roman military glory, there may very well exist kernels of factual events. If one allows themselves to hazard some speculation, the details of the Apulian campaign, the siege of Luceria and reports of Tarentine diplomacy actually make much more sense if they are applied to 315 BC, when Papirius again is reported to have besieged the fortress. The balance of Livy’s notices for 320 BC, however, must be discounted, and so we are left to make some generalizations about what the Romans might have been occupied with in 320 BC. First of all, there was the business of securing the city, defending its approaches and attempting to conduct the complex business of administering a city-state in the wake of a serious crisis. Next, Roman forces were needed to protect the frontiers and limit the scope of the revolts and unrest that no doubt were underway in 320 BC. These were surely underway in the Liris valley and especially in Apulia, which may be conjectured as lying almost completely outside of Roman hegemony by the end of 320 BC. It seems at this time, following Rome’s setback, that many Italians saw Rome as seriously hobbled by its defeat in the war. In 320 BC, therefore, we can contend that Papirius and Publilius were operating within the Roman frontiers of western Italy, attempting to suppress rebellion and perhaps also supervising evacuations of Roman settlers from Fregellae and elsewhere, under the terms of the negotiated peace.

319 BC

In 319 BC, the Caudine peace between the Romans and Samnites remained in effect. Despite its continued peace with the Samnites, however, Rome was now ready to move aggressively against revolts and enemies in the Liris valley and Apulia. Livy and the Fasti capitolani both agree that L. Papirius Cursor and Q. Aulius Cerretanus were raised to the consulship, the former for the second year in a row. To Papirius the Roman Senate gave the Liris valley as his responsibility and it was to there that he marched his consular army. Livy (9.16) portrays Papirius’s campaign as short and rather anti-climactic. It seems hard to believe that the Volscians would not have been able to make any attempt at pitched battle having thrown down the gauntlet, but Livy’s account is all we have. Some fighting may have already occurred in the previous year, but if dissention among the revolutionaries existed or Satricum had been so reckless as to act alone, then a quick campaign may indeed have been the case. Livy reports much fear and confusion by the Satricani at the Consul’s approach and no doubt the advance of a marauding Roman army on a town would have been an terrifying spectacle at any time. Fortifying a camp close by, Papirius made plans for a siege but the night before he was to begin the assault, the instigators of the revolt apparently fled the town. The next day, the remaining Satricani opened their gates in supplication and the Romans were allowed to enter the town unmolested. Justice from the grizzled veteran was swift. Those of the anti-Roman party who had not made their escape were summarily scourged and beheaded in the town forum. A strong garrison was then installed in Satricum, never a happy circumstance for a community. The capture of Satricum represents the end of a Volscian uprising in the Liris valley – the last gasp of a once strong and proud nation, who itself had come close to extinguishing Rome in the early 400’s BC. The Roman frontier in the Liris valley was now somewhat secured. Notably, the Romans did not move against Fregellae across the Liris River, very much indicating that the peace was in effect and the fortress was now firmly in Samnite hands. Also of note, a triumph for L. Papirius is recorded in the Fasti triumphales for 319 BC, problematically over the Samnites and not the Volsci. Earning a triumph would normally have involved much harder fighting than Livy has let on and usually the honour was reserved for defeating foreigners. There are many possible explanations for this, none of them verifiable. If Papirius had campaigned with his colleague against the sabellian Frentani at some point in 319 BC, a report of a victory over ‘Samnites’ may make sense, since that people were regarded as such by many ancients. Perhaps the best solution is to accept the triumph in 319 BC, but against the Volscians instead of the Samnites. Falsification of the ancient records is something that Livy (8.40) himself knew well to have occurred.

While Papirius operated in the west, his colleague Q. Aulius was sent in a vital mission against the above-mentioned Frentani (amending Livy’s Ferentani), whose lands lay on the eastern littoral of Italy, to the north of Apulia. To get to the area of fighting, the Consul had to wait for the spring thaw, probably sometime in late May, and then thread the high passes of the Apennines which lay astride a number of sabellic tribes: the Aequi, Marsi, Peligni, Vestini and Marrucini. That he was able to do so without any reported difficulty indicates that agreements with those peoples remained in place at this time. The Frentani, apparently, were another matter. As stated earlier, this nation was closely related in language and customs with the Samnites by many ancients, including Strabo (5.4) and Pseudo-Scylax. Unlike the Samnites however, the Frentani were coastal dwellers and this may be one important factor holding them distinct from their mountain brethren, aside from being a separate tribe. Livy clearly implies that the Frentani were a separate people, calling them by a distinct name and not Samnites, whose constituent tribal names he rarely mentions. The Frentani occupied a large strip of coastal territory to the north of Apulia, from the sea to the Apennine Mountains. To the strategic point at hand, their territory lay astride the route that Roman armies needed to pass through to reach Apulia, if they were to avoid the high Apennine passes that ran through Samnium proper. The coastal land thereabouts was and remains hilly, forested and bisected by river gullies, including the important Sagrus (modern Sangro) River, about which the Samnite tribe of the Carracini lay settled upriver.

Why the Frentani chose at this time to give the Romans trouble, when their potential allies in Samnium proper could not move to help them, is unknown. Attacks against local Roman garrisons, way-stations or even just allies in the area following the Caudine Forks disaster is possible, but a full-fledged repudiation of treaties or agreements would also make sense, such as had occurred among the city-states to the south. In any case, the Roman route to Apulia had to be opened, if not by diplomacy then by force and geography simply brought the Frentani to the front of the line for subjugation. Livy (9.16) records almost no details about Aulius’s campaign. He relates that Aulius entered their territory and induced the Frentani, who had bravely fielded an army, to accept open battle. Aside perhaps from the occasional hoplite phalanx invading north from one of the major towns or cities from the south, the tribal forces of the Frentani would until that time not have seen or experienced battle with Roman legions, which may have provided a significant advantage to the consul. In the ensuing action, the Romans gained the victory and the enemy survivors reportedly fled to a nearby town, which is not named. This people are known to have occupied several major settlements, including Ortona and Histonium [11] along the coast and Anxanum [12] inland, but it is impossible to determine which one Livy may be referring to. In any case, once bottled up within their walls, the Frentani soon surrendered and offered up hostages as surety for their good behavior. It is not recorded if Aulius followed up this victory by moving on to Apulia, but on balance it makes sense that he would have, as it was only a short distance further south along the coast. Even a mere show of force in lieu of a proper campaign would have been helpful at this time. A Roman military presence was sorely needed after three years of negligence, with quite possibly only the city of Arpi and a few other satellite towns still demonstrating loyalty to Rome in 319 BC. So by the end of the campaign season Q. Aulius had opened the route to Apulia, but the heavy lifting of restoring Roman hegemony there still lay ahead.

318 BC

As winter turned to spring in 318 BC, the Caudine Peace entered into a fourth year of desultory war and unrest. Livy (9.20) begins his annual notices by mentioning the arrival at Rome of a Samnite embassy, groveling for a renewal of the treaty that he curiously dismisses only eight chapters previously. Although one may be skeptical of Livy’s characterization of the negotiations, a renewal of the peace treaty may have been undertaken for any number of reasons. By the end of 319 BC, for example, all Roman obligations under the terms of the peace would likely have been undertaken, perhaps making this point an opportune moment for a return by the Samnites of the 600 equite hostages and a solemn renewal of amity between the powers. Another possibility is that the Roman assault on the Frentani in the previous year may have unsettled the delicate balance of peace between the rival states, given that this nation was ethnically and culturally related to the Samnite tribes. In any case, Rome had never let a treaty get in the way of it going to war if it truly so desired, so in 318 BC they evidently decided that the time was not yet ripe, and for good reason if one looks at their situation. Apulia had thrown off the Roman yoke and this rich and populous region, far more lucrative than the upland moors of Samnium, was not yet brought to heel. Strategically, re-taking it was an important and advisable step to rebuilding Rome’s power and isolating the Samnites in a ring of enemies, prior to further wars of subjugation on the mountain people.

The Roman nobles who entered into the highest magistracy at Rome in 318 BC were L. Plautius Venno and M. Folius Flaccinator. The immediate task for the Romans was to regain Apulia, and to this endeavor was assigned Plautius. Following the spring thaws, the consul set off from Rome and marched his army across the mountains to the east. Upon issuing onto the flat plains of Apulia, the Roman general commenced a campaign which may have brought back bad memories of 322 BC for many unfortunate city-states. Livy and Diodorus both make mention of Plautius’ operations in harsh terms, but provide no details of his campaign. No major battles are recorded, and the fighting seems to have been characterized by the ravaging and pillaging of enemy towns into submission. Livy (9.20) and Diodorus (19.10), seemingly following the same source, both describe Canusium, a city of the Messapic people of the Peucetii, as falling to Plautius during this campaign. Livy also mentions Teanum Apulum, a Daunian city, as falling in this year. As successful as he was, later notices indicate that there were still hold-outs at the end of 318 BC when Plautius concluded his campaign.

In western Italy, no military operations are recorded for 318 BC, but there are some events of note in Livy (9.20) and Diodorus (19.10) for this theater. Although achieving nothing of historical note, it is quite possible that M. Folius fielded a legion in the west this year, if only to make demonstrations and keep watch on the frontiers. Notable for the western littoral is the creation of two new tribes in 318 BC: the Ufentina and Falerna. The Ufentina tribal district was located on former Volscian lands around the river of the same name at the bottom of the Monti Lepini, while the Falerna tribe occupied former Auruncian territory in northern Campania. These areas may have received an influx of new settlers in the previous couple of years, following Roman evacuations at Fregellae and elsewhere, building them up enough to consider them for tribal incorporation. Tribal districts, unlike colonies, represented viritane, or individual, land distributions, but like colonies represented concentrations of Roman culture and of manpower for the state, and voting and levying is known to have been conducted at least partly on a tribal level. From a military standpoint the Falernian district, close by Cales, protected Roman interests in Campania and watched over Capua and other city-states on the coastal plain. The Roman settlement concentration on the Ufentina River, meanwhile, guarded a strategic vale that linked the Liris valley with the Latin plain and also kept watch on the local Volscian population, formerly centered on Privernum. These two tribal establishments meant that the contiguity of the Roman defensive matrix between Latium and Campania remained high on the minds of leading Romans and its strengthening was continuing apace. On a final note for 318 BC, we have a hint of unrest in the important city of Campanian Capua. Here, Livy reports that laws were imposed upon Capua and Romans Prefects installed in the city to enforce them. This, he reports, was done at the request of some of its citizens due to internal discord. These citizens would no doubt have been the local pro-Roman aristocracy, who seem to have had trouble running the city themselves. Later events make it clear that northern Campania was indeed a hotbed of anti-Roman sentiment, no doubt due in good part to local land seizures and colonization, which the two new tribes constituted a stage thereof. The similar request for Prefects from the former Volscian town of Antium in the following year perhaps should be viewed in a similar light. Having a consular army present in Campania in 318 BC would seem sensible in light of these developments, even if only to enforce the peace.

317 BC

The following year, 317 BC, was the final year of peace between Rome and the Samnites, and true to the character of the peace, the Romans did not let up from sending out consular armies to make war throughout Italy. While nobody can ever fully comprehend Roman strategic thinking at this time, it is not difficult to discern in Livy’s (19.20) and Diodorus’s (19.65) notices for the year the continuation of a strategy to surround Samnium with enemies and isolate it. Aside from some hold-out states in Apulia, the final objective in such a plan lay in the remote and hilly land of Lucania, to the south of Samnium. The Lucani, who according to Pliny [13] consisted of eleven separate tribes, had been created by groups of Samnites migrating south and mixing with the older Oenotrean strata of inhabitants. They were a populous and rustic people and had been the bane of the civilized Greek city-states of Magna Graecia from the beginning of the 5th century BC. Livy’s (8.25 - 8.27) notices for 326 BC report that the Lucani along with the Apulians had approached Rome with offers of alliance and submission (deditio) and that a treaty with the Lucani had been formalized. This diplomatic coup, however, had been subsequently thwarted by Greek Taras. Alarmed at Roman encroachment so close to their territory, Tarentine counter-efforts had deftly maneuvered the Lucani away from Rome and back into amity with the Samnites, or at the very least had secured their neutrality. There is an important point to be made here. Like Apulia, where only a few and possibly only one city-state initially invited Rome onto their lands, probably only a subset and possibly as few as one or two of the Lucanian tribes actually allied with Rome in 326 BC. This view of a potentially discordant Lucania should be kept in mind when trying to understand Roman strategy and military operations there in 317 BC.

Like in the past several years, Livy covers the military operations for 317 BC in only the most cursory manner. The Consuls for the year were C. Junius Bubulcus and Q. Aemilius Barbula. According to Livy (9.20), both Consuls marched their armies to Apulia and continued the Roman offensive there, operating separately for at least part of the time. Meeting with success, Livy reports that a city or town by the name of Teate submitted to the Consuls and that Junius, swinging around the Samnite frontier town of Venusia, besieged and captured Forentum [14] a strongly fortified settlement on the border of Lucania. Diodorus supports Livy in reporting the capture of Forentum (amending Ferentum), and adding the interesting tidbit that it fell to the Romans by storm. Following upon this, Livy relates that both Consuls advanced into Lucania and that Q. Aemilius captured a Lucanian town by the name of Nerulum [15]. Rounding out events for the year, Diodorus’s reports that Nuceria [16], the chief city of the Alfaterni, abandoned friendship with Rome and declared its allegiance to the Samnites.

From the above account, we can safely say that in 317 BC the Romans successfully wrapped up the restoration of their hegemony in Apulia, after seeing it slip from their grasp four years earlier. If we follow the locations named by Livy and Diodorus on a map, we discern that the Romans, starting with the Frentani in 319 BC, gradually worked their way south down the eastern littoral of Italy over the course of three campaigns, finishing off their conquest of the region during the summer of 317 BC. Teate, it has been properly pointed out, is simply another name for Teanum Apulum, which Livy reports having fallen in the previous year. He apparently did not realize that these two towns were one in the same; the most likely explanation being that he was following two different sources, as Fronda [17] and others have suggested. As in previous campaigns, no open battles are reported, indicating weakness and dissention among Rome’s Apulian enemies. The fall of Forentum by storm, no doubt followed by a bloody sack, must have been received with great alarm by all states and peoples in the region, which must include Taras and the Samnites. Conversely, it would have been a great display of re-invigorated power and prestige by potential friends and allies, not least Lucanian tribes directly to the west.

Livy’s report of a Roman advance deep into Lucania in 317 BC, perhaps the most interesting conundrum of the Caudine Pease, has led to much skepticism and debate by modern scholarship, not least the Roman capture of Nerulum, which is generally accepted to lie in southern Lucania near the border with Bruttian territory. Some scholars have argued that Roman operations in Apulia do not properly belong to 317 BC, suggesting that notices of a Roman offensive into Lucania properly belong to other consuls and campaigns of later years. Others have posited another town called Nerulum closer to Roman operations in Apulia. Still others have accepted Livy’s account, as does the present author. First and foremost, the Lucani like the Samnites and Bruttians were a confederation of tribes and we can safely conjecture that when not faced by a grave external threat there would have been no shortage of internal disputes and conflicts. As evidenced by the later Hannibalic war (Livy 25.15), factions within the Lucanian tribal confederation could exist. As events from 326 BC also show, they could also potentially be detached from the Samnites to the north. Although not much of an economic target, strategically it was in the Roman interest to make an attempt to secure alliances in Lucania, leveraging force where diplomacy had failed in the past. All it would take was an invitation by one or several towns or tribes, and the process of building and leveraging new alliances on Samnium’s last open frontier could begin. As for the argument that Rome really had no capability or business operating in southern Lucania in 317 BC, one only needs to reflect on the earlier campaigns of Alexander the Molossian, those of Hannibal later, or even to Q. Aulius Cerretanus’ march to Apulia back in 323 BC to see that such an exploit was well within the bounds of possibility. A foray into the broken and mountainous terrain of Lucania, however, was not a military operation to be taken lightly. Cooperation with at least one or several tribes of the Lucani would seem to be a necessary prerequisite for such an endeavor, with the intention to secure more. The most direct march from Forentum to Aemilius’s reported destination, a distance of roughly 100 km as the crow flies, would most likely have followed the route of the later via Herculia, the road which ran south from Venusia through the heart of Lucania and it was in the neighbourhood if its junction with the route of the later via Popilia running south to Rhegium that Nerulum is supposed to have been located. This route of march passed through difficult territory, past several Lucanian towns including Potentia [18] and Grumentum [19], significantly of which we hear nothing. Livy reports Aemilius ‘surprised’ and captured Nerulum, which if true indicates that he was marching fast and had not been bogged down by fighting at towns and locales back along his route. The expedition can therefore indeed only really make sense with some amount of Lucanian support and assistance.

Where Aemilius and his colleague moved following the capture Nerulum to end out the campaign is again anyone’s guess, but Diodorus’s mention of Nuceria in the same year raises intriguing possibilities. Indeed, it is very difficult in this case to accept that that the Roman offensive in Lucania is completely disassociated with Nuceria’s reported turnaround and alliance with the Samnites. The most direct route home to Roman territory from Nerulum would have taken the Consul northwards along the valley of the Tanagro River to the Tyrrhenian coast and then on through the coastal territory of the Sabellian Alfaterni. A Roman march through or nearby to the territory of the Alfaterni combined with general upheaval, competing diplomacy and the pressure to choose sides as war approached could very well have led to a treaty between Nuceria and closely-related Samnite neighbours.[20] Actually, it would not have been surprising for Aemilius to have used this route even on his outward journey, locating his campaign in the west only this year, while his colleague operated in the east. This, however, would go against plausible notices by Livy and is totally conjectural. Taken altogether, 317 BC proved to be mostly successful for the Romans. Apulia was now fully returned to Rome’s hegemony and Roman armies had moved on to demonstrate their power within the mountains valleys of Lucania. With a few more campaigns the Romans might have established themselves more thoroughly in Lucania as they had in Apulia and Campania. As for economic potential, Lucania like Samnium was nothing like the rich and verdant plains of Campania or Apulia. We hear nothing of agreements or treaties, evidence of which often existed for Roman annalists to discover and report on in later times, so it seems that nothing of real lasting value or opportunity was achieved and the enterprise was either considered as having been taken as far as it could be hoped, or perhaps simply shelved in favour of a return to open war with Samnium.

In 316 BC, the Romans decided to put an end to the Caudine peace and re-commenced open war with Samnium, setting off hostilities by returning to the area of their great defeat in 321 BC and laying siege to the Caudine fortress of Saticula. One should really not be surprised by this turn of events. It was a peace that the Romans had not wanted and a humiliating one at that, being caused by arguably the last war that the republic actually lost. Ultimately though, it was to prove useful, allowing Rome to recover and prepare, effectively using the peace as only a truce and terminating it when it was deemed no longer useful. The insurrections that had arisen within Rome’s hegemony during the peace indeed had been serious, but undiminished Roman manpower and determination soon brought them to heel. As a consequence, Rome managed to restore the Liris valley frontier and bring the fertile coastal plain of Apulia and its city-states back within its hegemony once and for all – a success perhaps on par with it seizure of coastal Campania almost thirty years previously, in terms of economic gain and military manpower. In addition to this success, the Romans by 317 BC had managed to march armies around most, if not all, of Samnium, including Lucania in the south. While one campaign’s results could did not bring Lucania into the Roman sphere and could not constitute any kind of cordon or barrier around Samnium in any military sense, a point had been made to Italy by such an endeavor. The Roman arms had fully recovered, its resolve was intact and it was now ready to carry war into the rough and mountainous districts of Italy to further its strategic aims.

On the other side of the proverbial coin, the interlude of cold peace had provided some frontier territory for the Samnites, allowed them to accrue significant prestige and had purchased several years respite from the assaults and depredations of the Roman arms. This consequently allowed them several years to physically and morally prepare for the storm to come. The dark side of the peace for Samnium was that by agreeing to a cessation of hostilities, they were left unable to take advantage of their victory and of Rome’s setbacks. It would not at all be surprising to have seen some Samnites wringing their hands at their impotence as they watched potential allies ground down and hitched to the yoke. By 316 BC, in view of the might that faced them, any past Samnite aspirations towards gaining territory beyond their immediate borders should have been now realized as beyond their grasp. Further wars would be fights for survival and freedom. No doubt the Samnite’s continued to meet, strategize and dispatch diplomatic missions, but their lack of action in the face of the warfare carried on by Rome in years between 321 and 316 BC perhaps offer a glimpse into their own measure of Samnite strength vis-a-vis Rome’s. When war did come, it was to be met with the full might that the Samnite tribes could muster, but such strength was apparently never considered by the mountain people to be enough to wage an offensive war against their foe.

As a useful study of military history and tactics, the Caudine Peace, like the Samnite wars in general, is sadly lacking. When reading the sparse notices of Livy and the even more abrupt passages and fragments of other surviving sources, one has to come to the conclusion that there was simply not enough material available to the annalists to provide for a proper account of military campaigns. For the most part, one has to wait until the time of Pyrrhus and the Punic wars before they can read detailed tactical accounts of battles and campaigns. That said, the period certainly can be discussed from the general strategic point of view, and if there has been any value in the preceding analysis at all, it has been concerned with wars at such a level. In conclusion, the Caudine peace representative of the Samnite wars in general, is a profoundly interesting period of Italian history, displaying an Italy in the throes of an advance in civilization; a unique, dynamic and diverse multi-state and multi-ethnic environment, full of politics, diplomacy and inter-state rivalry.

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Show Footnotes and Bibliography

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Copyright © 2012 Gordon Davis.

Written by Gordon Davis. The author retains the copyright to this piece bearing his name. No reproduction, copying or other forms of retrieval without permission. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Gordon Davis at:

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: 08/05/2012.

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