Battle of the Colline Gate (82 BC)

(82 BC, November 1) – First Civil War

Carrinas, Censorinus and Damasippus made a last effort to relieve Praeneste from the north, in conjunction with the Samnites who were trying once more to break through from the south. This attempt too failed, and so it was decided to try a diversion by marching on Rome itself, which now lay almost empty of both men and supplies, in the hope of drawing Sulla out of his impregnable position. By the early morning of 1 November the Italian force had reached a point just over a Roman mile from the Colline Gate. But although Telesinus may have made a speech urging his men to destroy the wolf in its lair, he made no attempt to take the city. No doubt, whatever his ultimate intentions may have been, he realized that it would be not only pointless but dangerous to allow his men to be distracted by the delights of sacking Rome while Sulla was still in the field. So the Samnites and their allies waited for Sulla to appear.

Sulla had sent a squadron of cavalry ahead while he himself hurried in full force down the Via Praenestina. About noon he encamped near the temple of Venus Erycina. The battle began in late afternoon, against the advice of some of Sulla’s officers, who thought that the men were too tired. The right wing, commanded by Crassus, won an easy victory, but the left, under Sulla’s own command, broke. Sulla risked his life in trying to rally his forces but they fled, despite his despairing prayers to Apollo, towards the city. Sulla was forced to take refuge in his camp, and some of his men rode for Praeneste to tell Afella to abandon the siege, though Afella refused to panic. But when Sulla’s fleeing troops reached the gates of Rome the veterans dropped the portcullis, compelling them to stand and fight. The battle continued well into the night, as slowly but surely Sulla’s men gained the upper hand, until finally they captured the Samnite camp. Telesinus himself was found among the dead, but Lamponius, Censorinus and Carrinas escaped. Later still messengers came from Crassus, who had pursued the enemy as far as Antemnae, and Sulla learned for the first time of his success.

The generals of Carbo’s faction fled after their army had been destroyed. It was estimated that in all about 50,000 men were slain. In the aftermath of Sulla’s narrow victory his enemies were rooted out one by one and eliminated, leaving him with the absolute power of a dictator.

Its aftermath was marked by yet more bloodshed. The Samnites who fought with the Marians were systematically massacred. A full attack was launched against Praeneste; Marius committed suicide, and all his associates who happened to be in the city were massacred. It was the opening act of the organised massacre known as the first `proscription’, which was accompanied by a law (the lex Cornelia de proscriptione) that legalised the confiscation of the patrimonies of the victims and gave impunity to their killer. Proscriptions were to become a trademark of late Republican history.

The success of Sulla’s campaign, with major efforts being concentrated on two fronts-Campania and Praeneste-was made possible only by the contemporaneous parallel victories of the Sullan generals on other fronts. In northern Etruria and in Aemilia Metellus countered the attacks of Carbo, while Pompey and Crassus obtained crucial victories against Carbo himself and C. Carrinas. Sulla’s direct involvement on this front appears to be limited to a single military confrontation with Carbo, near Clusium.

This city was certainly loyal to the Marians, who used it as a pivotal point for the movements of their troops. The allegiance of the Etruscan cities to the anti-Sullan coalition is widely accepted, and con? rmed by the available evidence, which however fails to be satisfactory in many respects. It has been argued that Cinna managed to obtain the support of the elites, while the lower classes had wholeheartedly supported Marius, perhaps being attracted by the prospect of serving in his army. The evidence, however, is almost non-existent, and we also lack any information about the dissensions that may have arisen within the Etruscan elites about their attitude towards Sulla. It is beyond dispute, nonetheless, that some groups of the aristocracy managed to reach an agreement with the winner as soon as the outcome of the war became clear.

What was left of the army of the Mariani after the Colline Gate battle was disbanded in Etruria. The war, however, continued on several fronts, as the literary sources on one hand, and the archaeological evidence from a number of sites on the other show. From the literary accounts of the war, it is apparent that Clusium and Arretium had an important role in the development of the operations. Populonia was besieged and sacked, almost certainly by Sulla. The Acropolis, which had gone through an impressive renovation in the last decades of the second century BC, was abandoned from then on. The site still looked almost depopulated in the early fifth century. Telamon, although not a municipium, was ravaged, and traces of a sack, followed by a prompt reconstruction, have been recently detected at Saturnia. The extent of violence and human losses finds further confirmation in the four coin hoards datable to the late 80s that have been discovered in Etruria.

Volaterrae came into play at a late stage of the war, as the last stronghold of the diehard enemies of Sulla, both Etruscans and Roman victims of the proscriptions. It was, along with Nola, one of the last fronts Sulla had to deal with before concentrating all his energies on the institutional reforms. From a passage of the pro Roscio Amerino we know that he was still besieging the city in the first months of 81BC, soon after the beginning of the proscriptions. A passage of Licinianus, whose importance was rightly stressed by A. Krawczuk, dates the final conquest to 79BC, during the consulship of Appius Claudius Pulcher and Servilius Vatia. A number of proscribed were still in the city, and left just before the besiegers arrived. However, they were promptly caught and eliminated. The siege of Volaterrae is therefore a significant exception in Italy, which was mostly pacified after 82BC. For three years, possibly until Sulla’s abdication from dictatorship, an important Etruscan city was still held by a contingent of rebels; there is no reason to disbelieve Licinianus.  That the situation at Volaterrae was unparalleled in Italy is apparent from several pieces of evidence. Nola, the other main anti-Sullan city, was conquered about two years before, in 81, and its ager was promptly assigned to the Sullan veterans. On the contrary Volaterrae attracted all sorts of anti-Sullan partisans because of its strategically invaluable position, and it remained a critical front for a longer period.

Battle of Colline Gate 82 BC – Command & Colors Ancients

1 thought on “Battle of the Colline Gate (82 BC)

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Most Famous Roman Generals

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