Ancient Articles
Cannae in Military History and Theory
The Third Romano-Samnite War
The Battle of Thatis River
The Battle of Megiddo
The Third Battle of Anchialus
The Second Samnite War
War in Southern Italy (342-327)

Gordon Davis Articles
The Third Romano-Samnite War
The Second Samnite War
War in Southern Italy (342-327)
The Second Samnite War
By Gordon Davis


Between 343 BC and 290 BC the Romans and Samnites engaged in a series of fierce wars throughout central Italy. The two peoples, along with the Celts of the Po Valley to the north, were ascendant powers at this time, eclipsing older power blocks such as Hellas Megale and the Etruscan city-states. The fighting of 327 – 321 BC between Rome and Samnium was the opening phase of the second war between these two states and it was far more intense in both the breadth of territory covered and the number of battles fought than the first war of 343 – 341 BC. The present article attempts to provide a detailed military history of the fighting of this seven-year period. Following the end of the fighting in 321 BC, a peace of five years came into effect between the Romans and Samnites – a fact which argues for the conflict described being considered a separate war in itself, although it has traditionally been adjoined to the Second Samnite War, whose fighting lasted down until 306 BC. There has been little in the way of detailed commentary on the military operations of the Romano-Samnite Wars, which ravaged Italy during the second half of the 4th century BC. This reticence to delve into what is certainly an interesting period in Rome’s rise, is perhaps best explained by a lack of existing ancient sources and modern scepticism towards the annalistic traditions that do describe this period. But while some parts of the ancient account should be treated with suspicion, much of the commentary is no doubt historical and a worthwhile military history is possible, at least in a larger strategic sense.

As to the war itself, it becomes evident that the alliance of 341 BC between the Samnites and Rome had simply been a marriage of convenience, masking a mutual mistrust and fear of each other. While events in the 330’s BC served to divert the attention of both sides, this situation was only temporary. A long shared border had come into being, running from the middle Liris valley to southern Campania and the underlying aggressive tendencies of both powers made further conflict all but inevitable. As in 343 BC, a major catalyst for renewed war occurred in the rich and tempting fertile plain of coastal Campania. Rome early on displayed her military might by seizing most of southern Campania. The contest then moved inland to the middle Liris valley, where over several years the Romans and Samnites clashed over the strategic colony at Fregellae. The fighting in this area ended in 322 BC, with the Romans successfully holding onto their new colony but unable to deal any knockout blow. Meanwhile, from 325 BC to 322 BC the Romans also fought their way across central Italy and managed through carrot and stick to adhere a good portion of Apulia to its hegemony. This was a strategy of encirclement and isolation, which the Romans pursued with the aim of securing an eventual capitulation from the Samnites. The one notable failure of this policy down to 321 BC was the inability to make headway with among the Lucani, who despite some early favourable indications, in the end remained firmly neutral. The last chapter in this phase of the war, the disastrous Roman invasion of central Samnium from southern Campania in 321 BC, likely should be understood at least partially as a Roman attempt to complete the encirclement of the Samnites. The endeavour, however, ended badly for Rome and resulted in a peace treaty being forced upon the Roman state by the victorious Samnites. The Romans were compelled to give up colonies on the frontier and were faced with immediate revolts of allies in Apulia and the middle Liris valley. The next several years of “peace” were witness to Roman efforts to salvage and re-affirm its hegemony outside of Latium. To sum up, the seven years of war saw the Romans leverage their military superiority by making steady and incremental advances, ending with a great disaster which saw them lose much of their gains of the preceding years. Correspondingly, the Samnites, unsuccessful in making advances against the Romans in Campania and on their frontiers, were able to secure the status quo ante bellum by a obtaining a great military success in the difficult terrain of their home mountains.

A short comparison of the belligerents is necessary before diving into the details of the war. Rome in 327 BC was a civilized city-state, deeply influenced by Greek culture, in control of a vast swath of Tyrrhenian Italy. Politically, the state was very well organized, ruling over other cities and people by way of individual treaties of alliance that provided local autonomy, but bound them to Rome’s foreign policy and obligating them to provide soldiers in time of war. Economically, the Roman state was also very robust. Its hegemony comprised many fertile districts, including Latium and northern Campania. Sea and land trade throughout its territories was significant and growing. The Roman state, most importantly to the present conflict, enjoyed abundant and ever-growing reserves of manpower for service in its legions. Militarily, the Romans were a first-rate power. They were by the mid-4th century BC in the process of developing a completely unique and very effective fighting formation: the manipular legion. On the flat plains the Romans were a formidable adversary, while in the mountains their complex formations tended to become less efficient. The quality and morale of the common soldiery was very high, due to constant yearly campaigning and their arms and weapons were of good quality. In generalship, the Romans sacrificed efficiency somewhat by opening the top command to a fairly wide group of nobility, but a good portion of Roman generals were at least competent and a few were of the highest calibre.

The Samnites were a collection of rustic sabellian mountain tribes that occupied a large tract of territory in the central Apennines. These tribes were tied together by religious and military bonds but were not possessed of any robust central organizing authority. Primary allegiance was to the tribe, or touto, which along with the constituent pagus comprised the main centers of local political life. Aggressive enterprises such as raids or migrations were mostly ad-hoc, cooperative affairs, centered around charismatic leaders, instead of being centrally-organized policies of the tribal confederacy. The Samnites were not possessed of any great cities, instead living in homesteads, villages and small towns. Living up in the mountains and far from the coastal trade, the Samnite economy was rudimentary. Agriculture and pastoralism were practiced in the upland valleys and plateaus. For the most part the country was devoid of minerals, although some small pockets did exist. Some of the mountain valleys, however, could actually be quite fertile and this gave the Samnites a significant manpower base in time of war. Militarily, the Samnites were a highland people, whose fighting formations centered around the tribe, clan and pagus. Their fighting units were small and flexible, well-tuned to the mountain country but perhaps less well suited to well-organized war of the flat plains. The Samnites were hardy warriors, but the arms and armour outside of that carried men of the nobility was probably often less robust than the average Roman soldier, giving them a disadvantage against the heavy infantry of the littoral states. In conclusion, the Romans in 327 BC enjoyed a marked superiority over the Samnites economically, politically and militarily.

The first recorded contact between the Romans and Samnites occurred in 354 BC, when a treaty of equals was signed between the two peoples. An important aspect of this treaty was the setting down of spheres of influence, demarcated in all likelihood by the middle Liris River. Direct confrontation between Rome and the Samnite tribes was not so much of a worry at this early stage, as the Liris valley and indeed part of Latium was then still the domain of several smaller independent peoples, most importantly the Volsci. The first Romano-Samnite War occurred eleven years later in 343 BC, over control of the rich and verdant plain of northern Campania. The Romans won the early rounds of that contest, but quickly renewed the lapsed treaty with Samnium in the face of an uprising of smaller Tyrrhenian peoples, which threatened both powers. The ensuing contest, commonly known as the Latin War, saw the Romans and Samnites make common cause: an endeavour which was crowned with success. The ensuing decade of the 330’s BC was a period of uneasy peace between Rome and the Samnites. The remaining independent states of Tyrrhenian Italy were ground down and subjugated, mostly by the Romans, including the Latins, Aurunci, and the Volsci of Latium and the Liris valley. These conquests had the effect of creating a long, shared border between the powers: a situation which soon created frictions. For a time during the 330’s BC, the Samnites were mostly concerned with their southern border, as an Epirote King in the employ of Greek Taras, Alexander the Molossian, marched across southern Italy in an almost-successful attempt to carve out an empire for himself. Alexander’s death in battle c. 331 BC removed this threat. A democratic party at Taras, having gained power, quickly took advantage of popular discontent for unending war to reverse the city’s long-standing policy, concluding a peace with the neighbouring Lucani and the Samnites. This allowed the Samnite tribes to again turn their attention back to Tyrrhenian Italy and their border with the Romans. In only a few years time, the two great hegemonic powers of central Italy were once again at war.

327 BC – The War Begins

The second war between the Romans and Samnites began in the year 327 BC, following fourteen years of uncomfortable peace.[1] The most immediate causes of this conflagration were twofold. Firstly, the Romans brazenly planted a new colony at Fregellae in 328 BC on the left, or Samnite, bank of the middle Liris River, stirring up great indignation. Secondly, a serious crisis broke out in southern Campania over control of the rich but isolated Greek city of Neapolis. This coastal metropolis, harbouring a significant Oscan population and accepting council from its ally Taras, dug in its heals in the face of fierce accusations of it harbouring enemies of Rome. Faced with un-specified demands for redress, the Neapolitans decided to favour the Samnite cause and spurned the Roman embassies sent to the city. Efforts at securing the allegiance of the city by coercion having failed, the Romans made the decision to seize Neapolis by force of arms. The 2nd Romano-Samnite War now began.

Raised to the consulship in 327 BC were the plebeian Q. Publilius Philo and his patrician colleague L. Cornelius Lentulus. Both were advised by the senate to march south into Campania: Publilius against Neapolis and Cornelius against Samnite Campania. The strategy set upon was a repeat of the successful operations of 343 BC during the First Romano-Samnite War, when Roman armies operating on the coastal plain and farther inland along the middle Volturnus supported one another and drove the Samnites out of the coastal plain. Publilius enrolled his legion at Rome, took on allies and headed south for Campania, likely along the coastal route. Cornelius meanwhile, was able to take command of a Roman legion that had been garrisoned on Volscian territory at the south end of the Monti Lepini, probably at or nearby to the recently captured stronghold of Privernum. He was therefore able to move fast. His most direct route to Campania would have brought him through the strategic pass east of Privernum and out into the Liris valley, near to the colony at Fregellae. Seeing no serious Samnite threat against that frontier post, Cornelius continued south along the middle Liris valley and passed through the Sidicine gap to reach friendly territory at Cales. Here he would have made camp, taking on supplies and reinforcements from the colony and receiving information on enemy movements. He found out that a general mobilization had been ordered by the Samnites, but no enemy army had yet taken the field nearby. Moving quickly, Cornelius had therefore managed to catch the Samnites unprepared on the frontier. He was to make them pay for it.

Publilius, meanwhile, very likely took the coastal route, down through Latium and over the difficult mountains passes south of Tarracina. He threaded the Lautilae pass, apparently without any difficulties from the hostile Aurunci[2] and soon gained the more easily-traversable plains of northern Campania. He may have stopped at Cales to touch base with his colleague and re-supply but soon hastened on to arrive in the vicinity of Neapolis, where he fortified a camp and took stock of the situation. It was not favourable. The Roman general received the disconcerting news that a force of four thousand Samnites and two thousand Nolans had been allowed into the city, and its commander was in control there, backed by a pro-Samnite group. In addition, the Samnites and Neapolitans were clearly supported by other cities of southern Campania in opposition to Rome and were also backed by Taras and likely Syracuse[3] as well. With matters brought to the very brink of war, a last ditch embassy is reported by Livy to have been sent directly to the Samnites, but it proved unsuccessful. The solemnities of declaring war were dutifully observed and the symbolic bloodied spears were cast into enemy territory.

Since no Samnite field army menaced him and the Neapolitans refused to leave their walls to give battle, Publilius moved to envelop Neapolis in a close siege. The Romans were supported by nearby friendly cities such as Acerrae, Capua and Cales and were covered to an extent by Cornelius’ operations further east. Capturing a strong-walled city like Neapolis, however, was a daunting task for the plebeian general. Not possessed of a navy, the Romans were unable to contest the seaward side of the city against the Neapolitan fleet, possibly strengthened by a squadron of ships promised by Taras[4] . Therefore, Neapolis continued to receive a steady stream of supplies to hold out with. Naval armaments were available from Rome’s ally Carthage, but no intervention by that maritime power was made, or recorded to have been asked for. Starving out the garrison being an impossibility, Publilius could have resorted to direct assaults. If he did so, he was unsuccessful. Not since the siege of Veii, over seventy years previous, had Rome engaged in such a large and formidable siege. The undisputed masters of siege craft at this time were the Greeks and Carthaginians, who had been besieging each other across the island of Sicily for over two centuries. Engineers expert in conducting sieges were closely guarded commodities, but this does not preclude the Romans from gaining such expertise. The city, however, was not to fall by assault. Publilius ended out the year encamped before Neapolis. For his efforts thus far, he was awarded the first pro-consulship that the Romans ever bestowed on a field commander.

While Publilius struggled to overcome the walls of Neapolis, his colleague to the east was not content to remain motionless. Cornelius, apprised of Samnite mobilizations but seeing no stir from the enemy nearby, moved into Samnite Campania, which in this case most likely means he headed east across the Sidicine gap and into the middle Volturnus valley. [5] Encountering no serious opposition, the Roman consul took recourse in the old tried and true option for such situations and plundered with fire and sword the Samnite lands thereabouts. Laden with booty, the consul eventually crossed back into Roman territory to end out his campaign. While accomplishing little of note, Cornelius had fulfilled his intended role by guarding the frontier and diverting Samnite attention from the siege of Neapolis. He apparently conducted his campaign with prudence, avoiding the same trap as that sprung by the Caudines on his relative A. Cornelius Cossus. That consul had been badly routed thirteen years before while attempting to thread a pass nearby to Saticula at the south end of the same valley.

Aside from placing a strong garrison into Neapolis in 327 BC, we hear little about Samnite movements in this first year of the war. Leaders such as Gavius Pontius and Papius Brutulus do not appear in the annals and aside from throwing four thousand soldiers into Neapolis, no major Samnite military movements are recorded. What were the Samnites up to then? Firstly, it should be noted that that political apparatus of the Samnite league was far less organized than the well-oiled city-state model of Rome. Therefore, the process of gathering support for the war, deliberating strategy and affecting a general mobilization could very well have occupied the Samnites for the balance of 327 BC. What operations did occur therefore would likely have been local affairs and consisted of raids across the frontier and the covering of the Roman field armies with small forces from nearby communities. Especially at border towns like Fregellae and from the Monti Trebulani we can expect Samnite raids to have occurred in 327 BC and throughout the war, but the results were minimal and not sufficient to be noted. As far as the individual Samnite tribes are concerned, the force sent to garrison Neapolis was most likely primarily Caudine and possibly Gavius Pontius had a hand in organizing it, but this is speculation. The Pentri were concerned with Fregellae and with their towns at the north end of the middle Volturnus plain, but did not move in force. The Caraceni and Hirpini, relatively remote from the immediate hostilities, were perhaps too far away to be drawn into the war so quickly upon its inception. The Samnites, in conclusion, appear to be moving slowly and fitfully in 327 BC. Their decisive movements in southern Campania seem to clash with the lack of preparation on the inland border, highlighting the loose nature of the mountain federation. We do not see the Samnites acting with clarity and in unison in the first year of the war.

To sum up the events of 327 BC, the Samnites gained the biggest success by bringing a rich coastal city into their hegemony this year. The Romans, meanwhile were able to respond vigorously, cauterizing the wound at Neapolis and staging a limited invasion across the Samnite frontier, effecting some amount of damage on exposed enemy border lands. At this time both sides were sending out embassies to drum up allies for the severe contest only just begun. Taras and the Greeks were firmly in detente with Samnium and were to remain so for the course of the war. An initial Roman diplomatic success at this time among the Lucani was quickly quashed by efforts from the Greeks and Samnites, leaving southern Italy if not favourable to the Samnites, at least neutral. The Samnites could therefore concentrate their attention elsewhere. A significant Roman diplomatic coup was only to occur in the following year, along the east coast of Italy, where anti-Samnite sentiment was found to be significant and deep-rooted, especially among the Messapic peoples.

326 BC: The Fall of Neapolis

Clearly the Romans were not happy with the outcome in southern Campania and in 326 BC they showed their determination to achieve results by operating three armies in the field. [6] On the diplomatic front, each side continued efforts to gather allies to their side. An important development is Livy’s report of alliances being concluded by Rome in Apulia, on the east coast of Italy. The Roman strategy being pursued here was to isolate the Samnites in a cordon of enemies and the successful initiative in Apulia can be related to less fruitful efforts to pursue Lucanian alliances south of Samnium. The Samnites countered these efforts with a diplomatic success of their own in 326 BC, concluding an alliance with the Sabellic Vestini, whose territory lay astride the strategic Aternus River valley. This valley was a vital corridor for any Roman army making its way around northern Samnium to reach the eastern littoral and the treaty should be viewed specifically in this context. The allegiance of the Vestini to the Samnites greatly alarmed the Romans, over worries that other Sabellic tribes such as the Marsi, Paeligni and Marrucini might join the Samnites as well. Roman embassies were quickly rushed into the mountains to counter this threat. While such machinations occurred in central Italy and the east, it was again the shared frontier in the west and in coastal Campania that the war continued undiminished.

Raised to the Roman consulship in 326 BC were the formidable patrician L. Papirius Cursor and the plebeian C. Poetelius Libo. At least one of their legions was raised at Rome, while one of the consuls may have picked up Cornelius’s legion in the field, stationed most likely either at Cales or Fregellae. Both consuls were ordered to attack Samnium and their primary objectives were to devastate the Samnite frontier and like Cornelius the year before, draw enemy attention and resources away from Publilius while he conducted his siege. The few relevant notices in the annals indicate that their operations are to be located among the river valleys of the inland Romano-Samnite border. While it is possible that the consuls moved between the adjacent valleys independently or even worked in tandem, the sensible course of action would have been to split the valleys of the middle Liris and Volturnus between them. This would have spread the devastation over a wider area and allowed better prospects for plundering and sustaining themselves off the land. Once again, the Samnites are not heard from in this area. This is not necessarily to say that they didn’t put forces into the field. They may have decided to shadow at a distance one or either of the Roman armies and they may also have been pursuing a tactical strategy of prudently waiting for the right time and place to engage. Baiting Roman armies into more difficult and mountainous terrain was a course of action that brought martial success to more than one Samnite general in their wars with Rome. Another possibility is that a lack of organization or resolve existed among the Samnites up to this point.

At least one consular army is reported by Livy to have entered into the middle Volturnus valley. Here, Roman forces stormed and captured three Samnite communities: Callifae[7] , Rufrae[8] and Allifae[9] These were Pentrian towns strung out along the north and east valley rim. The latter two towns guarded a strategic entrant into central Samnium that wound its way around the north end of the Mons Matese. The towns, or at least their citadels, would have been located up on the mountain-sides and have been fortified by rough walls of rough polygonal masonry. If the Samnites were not content to capitulate their capture was within the abilities of a determined Roman army to carry, although the assaults would be have been bloody affairs. A second possibility is that the Romans ignored the citadels and simply captured the towns and vici lower down on the plain. Driving past these communities into the upper Volturnus valley, the consuls would next have come upon more Pentrian fortresses such as Venafrum and Aesernia, but they do not appear to have pushed so far this year. Following the capture of the afore-mentioned towns and spreading destruction along the Samnite frontier, the Romans finally re-crossed back into Roman territory to enjoy their spoils.

While such affairs were played out within the inland valleys, Q. Publilius Philo continued his siege of Neapolis along the Tyrrhenian coast, reportedly unmolested by any serious efforts to thwart him. Dionysius makes it clear that there was factional strife within the city between groups favourable to Romans and Samnites. Coupled with this situation, the horrors of a siege and the lack of any Samnite or Greek attempt to cut the cordon, are the factors that most likely led to a breakdown in resolve. Failing to capture Neapolis through blockade or assault, Publilius gained success by the only other available option: treachery. The party in the city favouring the Roman cause hatched a plot with the Romans to allow their forces into the town under cover of night. To increase the chances of success, the Samnite commander of the city was persuaded to lead a significant part of the Samnite garrison outside the city walls on the sea-ward side, under the pretext of embarking them on a coastal raid. When night came on the agreed upon day, the Samnites issued onto the shoreline to await the promised ships. While they milled about the dark shore in confusion, a Roman force was let in through a postern. Chaos ensued and the main gates were thrown open. The alarmed Nolan garrison fled out through a gate at the far end of the city, making for friendly territories to the south, while the Samnites on the shore did the same. Neapolis had fallen to the Romans: a signal success. The city was granted very favourable terms for its switching sides and remained loyal to Rome even down through the Carthaginian Wars and the time of Hannibal, before taking Roman citizenship during the Social War. For his achievement, Publilius was granted the honours of a duly-deserved Triumph[10]

The second year of the war now being complete, the Romans could now enjoy some feeling of momentum, having bested the Greeks and bottled up Samnite interests in the far south of Campania. No effort was made by the other Greek city-states to recapture Neapolis. Syracusan armies were busy fighting Bruttians in the toe of Italy, while Taras was far away and now had to contemplate a Roman presence far closer to home in Apulia. Concurrent devastations of Samnite towns and territory along the inland frontier had demonstrated the might of Rome to the mountain league. Hopes of a Samnite capitulation, however, did not materialize and the war continued. Roman frontier devastations and the fall of Neapolis were perhaps the catalyst that the pro-war party in Samnium needed to spur the league into more decisive action. The conflict now entered a new phase, shifting inland and away from the Tyrrhenian coast towards the inland valleys and the eastern littoral. In the Liris valley, the Samnites and Romans now clashed fiercely over the colony Fregellae and control of the strategic lowland terminus of the Liris and Trerus rivers. Further to the east in central Italy, the Romans matched their diplomacy with military might, as they attempted to open a route across the Apennines to the eastern coast. Sending armies to aid their new alliances in Apulia hinged on Roman success in this enterprise.

325 BC: The War Shifts Inland

Raised to the consulship in 325 BC were the patrician L. Furius Camillus and the plebeian D. Junius Brutus. [11] There was reportedly much debate among the consuls and senate over how to deal with the Vestini, with some advocating caution, but it was eventually resolved to send Junius with an army to subjugate them and these operations will be dealt with first. Junius enrolled his legion at Rome, took on allied contingents and marched up into the Apennines, only the second time a Roman general had led his army thither. [12] His route would likely have taken him up through the defiles of the Anio River behind the town of Tibur, the route of the later Via Valeria. Debouching into the upland valley of the Fucine Lake, the consul continued west through another pass into the fertile mountain valley of the Sabellic Paeligni. That he got this far without issue indicates that the Romans had concluded agreements with the Marsi, Paeligni, and perhaps the Aequi, conventions that were to hold firm for this war. Possibly they were simply updates to transit agreements concluded in 340 BC during the Latin War and the Romans probably would have paid for the right-of-way and for supplies in lieu of foraging. At the north-east border of the Paelignian vale the Vestinian territory began. Here the upper Aternus (modern Aterno-Pescara) snaked down from the north-west and entered into a narrow defile through some of the highest mountains of Italy, flowing from thence down to the Adriatic coast. Vestinian territory lay in both the mountains and in the hilly coastal country on both sides of the defile. It was this strategic pass in particular that the Romans aimed to open and it Junius’ task was to pacify its owners. It is possible that the Vestini were bolstered by Samnite forces in 325 BC, but the annals hold that the Samnites were unable to help the Vestini this year, being held down for the most part by Roman attacks in the west. Signing a treaty of alliance, the Vestini could rightfully expect Samnite intervention. The Caracini occupied the valley of the Sagrus (modern Sangro) River in strength, not far to the south. If they were given enough time to organize and march, the Vestini were not far distant.

The Aternus Defile, looking south-east towards the coastal hills of eastern Italy

The exact progress of the Roman generals’ campaign is not clear, but Livy does include some details that perhaps were derived from the family history of the Junii, or from monuments and inscriptions. Livy’s account of the campaign has Junius marching into Vestinian territory and conducting ‘operations of various kinds, which can be construed as some combination of open battle, plundering and small sieges. He apparently was able to march through and campaign on both sides of the Aternus defile, if modern placements of mentioned locales are correct. The consul had to be careful of ambushes in this terrain, and seems to have conducted his scouting in a professional manner, as no major disasters or setbacks are recorded. [13] Not finding an enemy army initially, Junius proceeded to lay fire and sword to the areas that he passed through, eventually inducing the Vestini to concentrate their forces and accept battle. The exact location is not named but apparently it was a bloody and hard-fought affair. [14] Still, the Romans had the best of it and the Vestini dispersed and did not risk another set battle-piece. Instead they retreated within the protection of their various strongholds. Junius laid siege to several of these fortifications and he managed to storm and capture two of them: Cutina[15] followed later by Cingilia[16] . These towns must have occupied defensible hill-top positions and their fortified sanctuaries would have consisted of primitive stone-walled enclosures not unlike those occupied by the Samnites and other Sabellian peoples of the mountains. Assaulting such fortifications could not have been easy and Livy indicates there was much blood spilled in attacking them. Laden with spoil from the captured towns, Junius made his way back to Rome at the end of the season. No garrisons are reported to have been left, but the campaign did apparently fulfill its objectives, as Roman armies were able traverse the Aternus defile successfully in future campaigns. It also seems to have set an example for other peoples in the area of what to expect if they attempted to hinder Roman armies trying to pass through their lands. This positive outcome may not have been so clear to the Romans at the end of the year however, as Junius was not granted the honours of a Triumph over the Vestini. Correspondingly for the Samnites, the opening of the route was a signal failure, as they had after one campaign lost a key ally and now would have to contend with Roman armies on their Apulian border in the east.

The fighting conducted by the other consular army in 325 BC is not specifically located by the annalists, but logically it should be placed in the Liris valley. [17] Three issues with the ancient account should be brought forward at this point. Firstly, the following year 324 BC is a fictitious dictator year in the annals, making a proper chronology difficult to set down. Secondly, perhaps related to the first point, is that the annals are confused about who actually commanded the Roman army in the west in 325 BC. Livy states that L. Furius Camillus took sick and gave up his command to a dictator L. Papirius Cursor and his master of horse Q. Fabius Rullianus (hence the ‘dictator’ year). Thirdly, Livy has Q. Fabius in command for the first battle, not his superior. The present author intends to follow Livy as much as possible in this situation. Another notable point about 325 BC is that the Samnites, under an aggressive but un-named commander[18] , finally took the field with large army in the Liris valley. The score to settle, as Appian states, was the Roman colony at Fregellae on the Samnite side of the Liris river, and from a wider perspective, control of the Liris-Trerus valley, only fourty miles from Rome itself.

The Romans, in order to protect Fregellae, would have moved across to the left bank of the Liris River to start off the campaign. Q. Fabius, in command of the army or perhaps a large sub-contingent, advanced up from the river and in the hilly country beyond came upon the Samnite army. Battle was quickly joined near an otherwise unattested locale named Inbrinium. Livy, possibly drawing from the Fabian family history, provides a few details of this action. The battle was equally contested between the foot in the opening stages. At some point, the Roman cavalry made a powerful charge against the Samnite line, apparently removing their bridles so that no slowing down was possible once at full gallop. The charge was driven home with force and in the resulting confusion, the Roman infantry renewed their assault[19] and the Samnite army broke and fled. The carnage and spoils were reportedly significant, but it was not enough to drive the Samnites to fully withdraw from the valley floor. The campaign continued, with the Romans and Samnites manoeuvring for advantage and occasionally skirmishing. At one point, the Samnites enjoyed a local success by ambushing and slaughtering a large Roman foraging party that had strayed too far from the main host. The two sides again soon clashed in a major engagement, now with Papirius reported as the Roman commander. The Samnites fought determinedly and dealt the consul a significant defeat. The Romans were bruised both morally and physically by this encounter, but not badly enough to drive them off from defending Fregellae. Continuing the ferocious campaign, the Samnites and Romans manoeuvred some more and then met in one final battle somewhere on the river plain. This time the Romans fought hard and gained a victory. Following this final clash of 325 BC, the Samnites withdrew into the towns and mountain fastnesses on their side of the River. Fregellae had been successfully defended and the Romans had established their superiority in the valley. For his hard fighting in 325 BC, Papirius was granted the honours of a triumph[20] . The swirling funnels of black smoke rising from the funeral pyres littering the Liris plain perhaps were another symbol of victory for the famous consul.

The year 325 BC was by all measurements an incremental success for the Roman state. A serious attempt by the Samnites to crush the colony of Fregellae and drive the Romans from the Liris frontier had been met and repulsed. Further east, a route through the central Apennines had been opened up to allow Roman armies to march onto the eastern littoral and reach Rome’s new friends in Apulia. Despite setbacks in the field which showed the martial qualities of the Samnite arms, the larger and better organized Roman military apparatus had the ability to operate armies on three fronts and now the Samnite tribes, particularly the Caraceni and Hirpini, would have to concentrate resources in both east and west to combat their enemy. Livy indicates that following the campaign of 325 BC, the Samnites made peace overtures, which were taken seriously by the Romans. A covenant, however, could not be reached, due to a disagreement over terms. [21] Instead, a truce for one year was arranged.

323 BC: The Romans Reach Apulia

Although Livy states that the Samnites broke the one-year truce in 323 BC, there is little to indicate that this actually was the case[22] . The new consul assigned to watch the western frontier, the patrician C. Sulpicius Longus, is mentioned to have ‘laid waste’ to Samnium, but this report is so devoid of content as to be meaningless. Likely the truce held in 323 BC, with Sulpicius merely watching the frontier with his legion somewhere in the vicinity of Fregellae. The truce allowed the Samnites time to lick their wounds and plan a new strategy, following the hard battles of the previous year. It also benefited the Romans in that it allowed them a season to march an army across Italy and into Apulia uncontested. The consul who made the journey was the plebeian Q. Aulius Cerretanus. It was the longest march a Roman army had ever taken and the effort must have engendered some hardship. The Romans could not exactly go plundering across the territories of peoples along the way, as to do so would have threatened the agreements that made the route viable. Nevertheless, the Romans arrived safely were able to restore themselves with supplies from their new allies.

The fortress-town of Luceria dominated the Apulian plain only 10 miles west of Arpi

Apulia at this period was not a state, but rather a large and fertile coastal plain occupied by many independent and frequently warring city states. The region was an ethnic mixture of sabellians moving in from the north and west, an older stratum of messapic peoples and a few Greeks. The northern-most portion of Apulia, roughly between the Frento (modern Fortore) and Aufidus Rivers was the sub-region of Daunia. Certain adjacent areas and peoples can also be added to the area of operations on the Adriatic coast, including the lands of the sabellian Frentani and Marrucini to the north, even though no fighting is attested in those areas during this war. These two peoples must have decided to remain neutral or even signed agreements with Roman embassies, especially after the example made by Junius on the Vestini. It was within the confines of Daunia that the Romans carried on their operations during the war down to 321 BC. The flat plains thereabouts were good fighting country for the well-organized Roman legions, and raiding and incursions into Apulia by the mountain Samnites had served to make the area a fertile source of alliances for the Romans. The region did not, however, immediately fall into Roman hands. There was actually some significant sympathy for the Samnites in Apulia. The fact that the region was inhabited by many sabellians partly helps to explain this situation[23] and the Samnites used diplomacy[24] and later military forces to back up friends there. This state of affairs served to make the eastern littoral a rather fluid zone of varying fortunes for both sides as the larger contest between Rome and Samnium progressed.

The cities within Daunia that are reported to have signed treaties of alliance with the Romans at this stage were Arpi and Teanum Apulum and possibly there were others. The status of Luceria, a strategic fortress-town that stood on the Samnite frontier is not clear at this early stage, although Livy implies that is was favourable to the Romans by 321 BC. Of the specific operations undertook by Aulius in this year, there are few details, other than that he was fighting a war with some of the Apulians. The consul may have conducted some operations, conjoining his legion to local forces and moving against towns and city-states that were hold-outs or in control of Samnite-friendly factions. Canusium in Daunia may have been one of them, as it is reported to have gone over to the Romans twice by the following year. There were no large engagements or sieges noted and apparently nothing worthy of a Triumph for the plebeian general. Some towns may have simply been cowed into submission by the appearance of a large Roman and allied army at their doorstep. At the end of the campaign, it is very likely that Aulius left all or part of his legion to winter in Apulia, likely in the vicinity of Arpi, which seemed to be a nucleus of pro-Roman sentiment in the region. New drafts of soldiers could be brought out by incoming consuls, allowing for rotations of veterans out of this distant theatre. Likely no more than one legion would have been campaigning in Apulia during the war, but a Roman legion combined with local armies could be a significant force. As for the Samnites, in 323 BC there is no report of them taking the field in Apulia, and this can be attributed to the truce. No doubt both the Samnites and Greek Taras to the south looked upon the appearance of Roman forces in Apulia with alarm and indignation. The war indeed had become much wider in scope.

The year 323 BC was therefore a quiet year of truce between the Romans and Samnites, with no direct fighting between the powers. The Samnites took the opportunity to replenish their ranks and take council for a strategy to move forward on. Pentrian military power had likely taken something of a hit during the Liris valley battles of 325 BC. A general defensive posture seems to have been set upon at this point, using the natural barrier of difficult mountain terrain as a ‘force multiplier’, if a modern military phrase can be applied. The Romans meanwhile, executed with success their strategy of getting forces into Apulia and thereby moving towards surrounding and isolating their enemy. If Apulia could be secured, the only friendly frontier left to the Samnites would be Lucania to the south. Diplomatic efforts by the Romans towards Lucania had been foiled by the Samnites and Tarantines in 326 BC, but subsequent events show that Rome was not ready to write off Lucania quite yet. For now, during the war of 327 – 321 BC, the subjugation of Daunia was enough to occupy the Romans in this region.

322 BC: Into the Mountains

In 322 BC the truce ended and war between Rome and Samnium was renewed in all its ferocity. [25] Reports reached Rome that the Samnites had again raised a large army in the west, even to the extent of hiring mercenaries to augment their ranks. [26] Raised to the consulship in 322 BC were the patrician Q. Fabius Rullianus and the plebeian M. Fulvius Curvus. To Fabius was given the task of subjugating Apulia, while Fulvius was granted the honour of renewing the war against the Samnites in the west.[27] Given the seriousness with which the Romans viewed the situation, it is quite possible that two legions were placed at the disposal of the consul, with at least one legion being enrolled at Rome, while another was picked up on the frontier at Fregellae. With his army concentrated on the border, the consul crossed the Liris and moved into enemy territory. The exact location for this campaign is not mentioned in the annals. The middle Volturnus valley is a possibility but the present author inclines toward the Liris valley once again, with the Romans moving up into the rough hill-country around the Monti della Meta and Monte Cairo. This sensitive area was a metal-bearing region and was studded with Samnite towns such as Arpinum, Cominium, Casinum and Atina. It was an area that the Romans would do well to neutralize at this stage, but the farther the Romans pushed, the more hilly and mountainous the terrain became. This was good fighting country for the Samnites and Fulvius soon got into trouble.

Whether by accident or by faulty scouting, the Roman army was surprised in camp by the arrival of a large Samnite host, which confidently took up positions very near to the Roman outposts. According to Livy, Fulvius, judging his position to be precarious, decided to retreat from his position under cover of night. Possibly this is the case, but the episode sounds very much like Roman cover for a defeat in the field. Only vanquished armies abandon their camps in the dead of night in the Roman annals. In any case, the dictator made his escape but was doggedly pursued by the Samnite cavalry. The Roman march was over difficult terrain and threatened to dissolve into disarray, but Fulvius managed to keep the army intact. When light came the Samnite horse began to charge the rear of the Roman column and the situation became desperate, as places difficult to traverse were met with along the route. Fulvius decided he must stand and fight. He found the best available spot under the circumstances and was able to hurriedly array his forces before the main Samnite army arrived.

When he was ready, the Samnite general wasted no time and gave the dreaded signal. Romans and Samnites gave their blood-curdling war-cries and advanced their standards to battle. The fighting was vicious and unrelenting, with the Romans fighting for their lives and the Samnites sensing a great victory. Neither side would break and the serried ranks of the soldiery surged back and forth in a bloody slaughter, while the cavalry of both sides whirled about the flanks, skirmishing, charging and looking for opportunities to turn the battles’ tide. Livy, perhaps deriving his account from oral traditions or family histories, poignantly describes the epic battle:

“Indeed it is said that on that day from the third hour to the eighth the outcome was so much in doubt, that there was never a second cheer after that which was once given when the armies rushed together; nor were standards either moved forward or withdrawn; nor did the combatants anywhere give ground. Facing each other with every man squarely in his place, they pressed forward with their shields and fought without stopping to breathe or to look behind. The monotonous din and changeless tenor of the battle made it seem probable that sheer exhaustion or the night would put an end to it. And now men's strength was ebbing, and the sword was forgetting its keenness and the generals their strategy...” [28]

The tide of battle was finally turned late in the day, when Livy reports the Samnite cavalry left the field, foolishly lured away by the undefended baggage of the Roman army. Laden with spoil, they were set upon by their Roman counterparts and put to flight. Reforming, the Roman cavalry now charged the open flanks of the Samnite foot. The onslaught was too much for the tired mountain men and their formation bent, wavered and then broke. The ensuing slaughter was reportedly great and the Samnite general was cut down in flight, but the day was late and the armies tired, so damage to the fleeing Samnites was not as complete as it might have been. Nevertheless, the Romans had secured another important victory in a set battle piece over the Samnites, seemingly pulling success from disaster. No further operations are recorded, so it can be concluded that Fulvius decided not to push his luck and retired back into the flatter country nearby to the Liris river, before crossing over once again to end out the campaign.

While Roman and Samnite blood was being spilled in the foothills above the Liris River, Q. Fabius Rullianus, one of the outstanding Roman generals of the period, conducted operations in Apulia and apparently with success. He presumably made his way to the region with new levies, allowing some portion of the legion wintering there to head home. The objective for the Romans, as stated earlier, was to secure Apulia and Daunia so as to tighten the vise about the mountain league. The Samnites, however, had by 322 BC gained some allies of their own in Apulia and in this year forces were sent to bolster those city-states on the plain that remained opposed to the Romans. Livy is silent as to specifics of the campaign in Apulia and Daunia this year, but Appian relates that no less than eighty-one towns were captured by Fabius during the campaign.[29] No large battles are attested, so manoeuvring, skirmishing, plundering and perhaps some small sieges seem to have been the order of the day. Towns and villages across the plain saw their lands burned and people put to the sword, while Diodorus[30] , indicates that the city state of Canusium was brought over to the Roman cause, perhaps both by Aulius the year before and Fabius in 322 BC, as he states that the city changed sides to the Samnites at least once. Hostages from the city were taken as surety, and the consul was able to carry off an abundance of spoil.[31] For this achievement Fabius was honoured with a triumph over Samnites and Apulians this year, one of three he was to be awarded during his distinguished career.[32]

One must note at this point the lack of any military response from Taras to Rome’s offensive in Apulia, either at this early stage or indeed throughout the Romano-Samnite wars. Certainly they must have been concerned about Roman encroachment in the east, but apparently not enough to take any action beyond diplomacy. Daunia, far to the north or Taras, certainly was beyond the city’s traditional sphere of influence the region, which may partly explain this reticence. The lack of determined action perhaps also indicates concern for more pressing matters closer to home, such as Syracusan warring across the gulf in the toe of Italy, or distrust of the local Messapii, the Lucani, or even their erstwhile Samnite friends. Unfortunately for the Tarantines, the Samnite nation that they allied with fourty years later against Rome was much less powerful than it was at this time. Surely the Samnites in 322 BC would have welcomed a strong Tarentine hoplite army fighting with them on their eastern border. The lack of any detailed ancient surviving history for the region makes it hard to move beyond speculation as to the true state of affairs in the heel of Italy at this time.

The year 322 BC can therefore be summed up as another year of incremental successes for the Romans, with at least a good part of Apulia subjected by Fabius and victory in battle achieved in the west by Fulvius. Once again, we hear from Livy of Samnite peace offerings, even to the extent of sacrificing the chief of their pro-war party, one Papius Brutulus. Again, the resulting negotiations came to nothing, probably due to the continued unwillingness of the Samnites to accept harsh Roman terms. Indeed, the Romans, perhaps exasperated at Samnite resolve, reportedly vowed to turn away any future Samnite embassies and to fight on until the enemy were fully defeated. They had cause to reflect, for despite the many successes accrued to them thus far: the capture of Neapolis, the defence of Fregellae, several significant battlefield victories in the Liris valley and some success in pacifying Apulia, the Samnites remained unbowed and unbroken. In point of fact, the Romans had really only been nipping around the edges of the Samnite league for the past six years, while the immense territory of the central Samnite plateau remained intact and unmolested. If left so, the Samnites were likely to remain determined, even if their enthusiasm for the contest had ebbed. At this point they seemingly dared the Romans to come up from the plains into the mountains. Fulvius’ abortive attempt in 322 BC was the first tentative Roman step in this direction and its final battle had been a close-run affair. The following year was to see another, much greater Roman effort, but this time it was to end in disaster.

321 BC: The Caudine Forks

Upon the break-down of peace negotiations for a second time, the Romans took stock of the situation and decided to again stage a major invasion of Samnium. [33] Elected to the consulship in this fateful year were the patrician Sp. Postumius Albinus and the plebeian T. Veturius Calvinus. The consuls decided to maximize the power of the thrust by combining their legions and allies into one large host. Instead of the Liris valley, the consuls resolved to attack farther south in Campania and there are some cogent reasons to make sense of this decision. Firstly, the hills and mountains behind the Liris river did not offer a convenient entrant into Samnium, aside from a few easily defended high passes. The easiest entrants into central Samnium: the upper Volturnus valley, the Calor gap and the Isclero valley, beckoned instead from Campania. Secondly, attacking in the south of Campania served the containment and isolation strategy being pursued by Rome up to this point. The southern-most portion of Campania still friendly to the Samnites would itself be isolated and neutralized and the Samnites cut-off from the sea. More tribes of the nearby Lucani might be expected to cross over and favour Rome if the enterprise were to meet with success. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, a powerful thrust might take the Caudini out of the war. Their chief town of Caudium lay in the valley of the Isclero and behind it lay the open plateau of central Samnium, beckoning to be ravaged and plundered.

The Roman generals enrolled their legions at Rome or picked them up from the frontier along the way. They both made their way to Campania and encamped nearby to the allied city of Calatia. Some local Campanian contingents may have been added on at this point. The Samnites, seeing the Romans concentrate such a large force in southern Campania, responded accordingly by themselves gathering a field army, no doubt the largest contingent being formed of Caudini, whose tribal territory the Romans were directly threatening. The Samnite meddix tuticus for 321 BC is named in the annals as Gavius Pontius. He was a Caudinian noble whose home town was Telesia, a community which stood post over the nearby Calor gap. Livy’s assertion that Pontius sent spies to lure the Romans into a trap, by letting on that the Samnites were besieging Luceria in the east, may or may not be true. It has been suggested that this notice was to provide a mea culpa for the haste which caused the subsequent blunder. Certainly the Samnite commander saw the likely avenues of invasion of an army based at Calatia and set a close watch upon the enemy’s movements. From the moment that the Roman army began to issue into the long and narrow pass which runs from Suessula into the Isclero valley, the Samnites could move their forces accordingly.[34] They had savaged a Roman army trying to enter the same basin from the other Caudine ‘Fork’ twenty-two years before during the First Samnite War. This time, Pontius decided on a slightly different strategy. Instead of attacking the Roman army while it issued through the defile, the Samnites this time waited for the Romans to completely pass through it, before springing their trap. Once the Romans, meeting no opposition, began to move on confidently towards the town of Caudium on the other side of the small valley, the Samnites who had been lying in wait upon the heights moved down and occupied both Forks in strength, hastily building rough fortifications across them.

Postumius and Veturius were therefore guilty of a lack of prudence and proper scouting. They had not learned from the defeat of A. Cornelius Cossus in 343 BC, whose army had been smashed only several miles away, at the other Caudine Fork. On a larger level, their predicament is a good example of the difficulties faced by the Romans in trying to thread their way up into the Apennines, which were often a maze of entrants, re-entrants and cul-de-sacs, often blanketed by heavy forests and cut through by fast-running rivers. This type of geography was very different from the flat plains of Latium and Campania, where the phalanx and legion worked best. Over time, the Romans would learn the required lessons, adjust their formations and tactics and become experienced at fighting in the mountains, but the learning process would involve many setbacks large and small.

The consuls were soon made aware that their communications and line of retreat into Campania were blocked. They fortified a camp in the well-watered valley, likely close to the Isclero river, and held council to consider their options. The possibilities were to continue east past the nearby town of Caudium into the heart of Samnium, which would allow them to make for Apulia or to the north around the Mons Taburno and through the Calor gap to the frontier. This route was roundabout and led past several enemy fortresses, but was worthy of consideration. It is not inconceivable that the consuls were only barely knowledgeable about these potential routes, as no Roman commander had yet set eyes upon this part of Samnium. Their other option was to try to break out through either of the Caudine Forks. The Romans obviously were in great danger and the pressure on the consuls was not alleviated by the complete lack of communication with Campania.

Livy indicates that the consuls eventually decided to try to break out through either of the two forks, instead of moving deeper into the hill-country of central Samnium to the east. The legions issued from the camp, formed up and advanced their standards against the Samnite fortifications. In undoubtedly some hard and desperate fighting, they were nowhere successful. Each assault, however determined and ferocious, was bloodily repulsed. Fighting through a fortified defile is an incredibly difficult endeavour, as the Persians had found out at Thermopylae in 480 BC. Soundly defeated and weakened by this course of action, the fate of the Roman army was now all but sealed. The victorious Samnites, likely being reinforced from all quarters as news spread of the enemies’ predicament, moved now to hem the Romans into their camp. Such a large army, likely between 10,000 and 15,000 spears, required great quantities of sustenance to survive, and supplies would have run out within days. No relieving force would be forthcoming either, as communications were fully severed.[35] In the besieged camp, councils of war held by Postumius and Veturius were apparently bitter and contentious affairs, while the soldiers tore at their beards and hunger gnawed at their bellies. In such situations an army must soon give away to dissolution or mutiny. The last sensible course of action inevitably became clear. The consuls sent messengers to ask for terms.

The resulting negotiations must have been an angering and humiliating experience for the Romans, who until now had been confident in their superiority and in ultimate victory over the mountain league. Now they were to be force-fed terms handed down to them from a hated foe, a situation not endured since Brennus had cast his sword into the scales almost seventy years before. Although there is some scholarly dispute over the exact details of the terms imposed, the main outcome of the negotiations seem to have been, firstly, that the Roman must acknowledge that the Samnite were the victors in the war; secondly, that all Roman armies would depart from Samnite territory and the colonies of Fregellae and Cales be evacuated, and thirdly, that a foedus aequum, a treaty of equals, was to be signed between both parties and that the Romans and Samnites were henceforth to live in peace, each according to their own laws.[36]

In order to enforce these terms, the Samnites demanded and received as surety six-hundred equite hostages from the Romans – men of noble birth whose welfare the Roman state was bound to protect. This being the case, the consuls and senate had no choice but to accept the Samnite terms and modern scholarship has concluded that this is exactly what occurred. All references in the annals to a subsequent repudiation of the treaty are rejected. In a final humiliation, the entire Roman army in the Isclero valley was stripped of its arms and with tunic only forced to pass under a symbolic yoke of spears, then through the massed ranks of the Samnite soldiery. Starving, broken, taunted and with some even killed for a hostile glance, the ragged host was driven in a massive herd out of the defile. It then slowly made its way past nearby Calatia and Capua and through the intervening lands back to Rome. Stunned at the wretched sight of their once-proud army, the Romans immediately went into mourning.

The peace having come into effect and with the sword of Damocles hanging over the captive sons of the nobilitas, the Romans reluctantly moved to honour their commitments. The colonies at Fregellae and Cales were evacuated and the territory of Fregellae and Teanum Sidicinum was handed over to the Samnites. Luceria is also conjectured by some as being given to the Samnites in 321 BC. Livy does mention it being in Samnite hands in the following year, but his notices for 320 BC are largely rejected by modern scholars.[37] Conquests in southern Campania and Apulia lay outside of the treaty and remained within the Roman hegemony. Any other Roman occupation existing on Samnite territory was given up. The new treaty would have been set down on bronze tablets and oaths made in the presence of the gods. Seeing the Romans dutifully honour their commitments and after a judicious interval, the Samnites would then have handed back the Roman hostages. The ‘Caudine Peace’ as some call it, was to remain in effect until a new began in 316 BC.


The Caudine Forks can truly be adjudged a grand setback of the Romans and a great military and strategic coup for the Samnites. The drop in Roman prestige and commensurate rise of the Samnites was to result in more Roman difficulties, as peoples in Apulia and some Volscian communities in the Liris valley withdrew their allegiance to Rome and either sided with the victorious mountain league or made a bid for independence. Still other peoples, who before may have rode the proverbial fence, now inclined towards the Samnite sphere. The Romans were to struggle with uprisings for the next five years and indeed such efforts were a necessary pre-condition if hostilities were eventually to be renewed: quite likely the Roman aim even as the terms were chiselled into the bronze. The unwanted treaty flew fully in the face of their comprehension of the true state of affairs: the Roman army had been humbled, but the state was not hobbled. The Romans remained more powerful, in terms of organization and outright military and economic power, than the Samnites. To move on from this debacle and to preserve the lives of the six-hundred equites, Roman pride had to be swallowed and by slow revolutions the crumbled base for prosecuting further war must be laid anew, including a thorough analysis of what had gone wrong and adjustments made. The Samnites, meanwhile, could for the time being bask in their victory and the positive tide of new opportunities and alliances that came with it. They had to use the peace to prepare for further war, which any sensible party could see was almost an inevitability.

Indeed, war continued on in some quarters, even though this did not comprise direct hostilities, as both sides moved to shore up their strategic situation. A serious uprising among the Volsci, no doubt with Samnite encouragement, needed to be quelled by the Romans. Daunia, not part of Samnium, remained beset by war and both Diodorus and Livy make clear that Roman armies continued to operate there. Hostilities even spread eventually to Lucania during the peace, as the Romans attempted by force what diplomacy had been unable to secure: the complete surrounding of Samnium in a vise of enemies. So, although some regions might have seen an end to the slaughter of war and ravages of marauding armies, it was only a passing relief and for many there was no relief at all. For these unfortunates the storm continued in all its fury, even “..while the ashes of the slain were still warm.” as the saying went.[38]

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.[39] 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.[40] 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.[41] 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 [42] 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 [43] 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 [44]: 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 [45] and others such as Canusium [46] 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 [47] 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 [48]. 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 [49] along the coast and Anxanum [50] 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 [51] 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 [52] 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 [53]. Rounding out events for the year, Diodorus’s reports that Nuceria [54], 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 [55] 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 [56] and Grumentum [57], 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.[58] 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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© 2021 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.

About the author:
Gordon Davis is an amateur military historian, residing in Toronto, Canada. He is especially interested in the Early Roman Republic and Napoleonic History.

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