Hannibal After Cannae I

Following Hannibal’s rapid and stunning victories at the Trebbia, Trasimene, and Cannae, the conflict entered a prolonged and inconclusive phase. For the next thirteen years, from 216 B.C. until 203 B.C., the war settled down to a long period of indecisive maneuvering and intermittent fighting in southern Italy, with each side vying for control of people and resources. It became a period characterized by innumerable assaults and sieges of cities and towns by both sides, with severe retaliatory actions against the civilian populations, whether warranted by their levels of resistance or not. Hannibal moved against any city or town that remained loyal to Rome or even neutral in the conflict. One was either with Hannibal or against him. Those that did come over to him came under intense military, economic, and political pressure from the Romans. Roman reprisals, which were frequent, widespread, and often highly punitive, forced Hannibal to divide and thereby weaken his army to protect as many of his new allies as possible. In areas where Hannibal was not present, the Romans would go on the offensive against towns and cities that had defected, putting considerable pressure on him to come to their aid. With his limited resources, Hannibal simply could not be everywhere at once and in the end, this, probably more than any other reason, may account for his failure to unite the Italians and Greeks of southern Italy and bring the war to a successful conclusion.

During this phase, Hannibal operated in an area of Italy that stretched from just north of Naples to as far south as Rhegium and the Strait of Messina. His army moved across the landscape at will as the Roman legions either followed him at a safe distance in an attempt to wear him down or retaliated against any of the city-states and towns which declared for him. After Cannae, the Romans reverted to a modified form of Fabius’s plan: they tended to minimize direct confrontations with Hannibal, recognizing that while they had the advantage in sheer numbers, they were no match for him when it came to battlefield tactics and the quality of his fighting forces. The armies of both sides ravaged southern Italy—the provinces of Campania, Samnium, Apulia, Lucania (Basilicata), and Bruttium (Calabria). While Hannibal concentrated his efforts on bringing the Greek city-states and the Italian tribes over to his side, the Romans, in response, tried to prevent their defection. Both sides used everything from promises, rewards, bribery, threats, and subterfuge to assaults, sieges, and public executions.

Hannibal needed allies because he had little hope of significant reinforcements from Spain or North Africa. His army was forced to live off the land, and he avoided, for the most part, seeking battlefield victories. He did, however, always welcome a confrontation when an impetuous and overconfident Roman commander was foolish enough to challenge him. Over the next several years, there would be several smaller battles fought in southern Italy, but Hannibal’s major effort was directed to bringing towns and cities into alliance with him through either direct assault or diplomacy.

The Greeks and Italians of southern Italy were often divided among themselves into pro-Roman and pro-Carthaginian factions. In general, the wealthier, aristocratic elements in these towns and cities were pro-Roman, and some even had limited degrees of citizenship because of their close ties with Rome through marriage and financial dealings. At the other extreme were the working classes and the peasants in the countryside, those who had no stake in the status quo and saw in Hannibal a chance for a new beginning. Hannibal promised them freedom from Roman cultural domination and economic oppression, and for those who cooperated, there were additional enticements of a new and more prosperous future. For those who refused or hesitated, punishment could be quick and severe—everything from public beheadings to steaming people to death in the public baths.

The Romans were equally harsh in retaliating against those who left the confederation to join Hannibal. Sections of the countryside between the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian Seas often became a no-man’s-land, and control depended on which army was passing through at what particular time and how long it stayed. Hannibal could not draw the Roman legions to fight him on open ground, and at the same time he could not protect all the towns and cities that had declared for him. The Romans, on the other hand, could be everywhere at once. Their manpower reserves and economic resources allowed them to go after those who defected with a vengeance. With multiple armies operating in southern Italy at the same time, they could be in more than one place, forcing Hannibal to continually divide and weaken his forces. The Romans focused on supporting their allies who remained loyal against assaults by Hannibal and punishing those who had defected. Both armies laid siege to towns and cities, burned the countryside, and executed those they suspected of collaboration with the other side. The cost in human suffering and economic loss must have been enormous.

The longer the war dragged on, the greater Rome’s chances for victory. Rome had a base of nearly three-quarters of a million men of fighting age to draw upon across Italy, even following the devastating losses in the early battles of the war. The Roman armies had several hundred thousand men under arms doing everything from garrisoning cities allied to Rome to serving in the legions posted throughout Italy, Spain, Sicily, and Sardinia. While the Roman soldiers were not trained and experienced to the level of Hannibal’s mercenaries, there were enough of them that Rome could afford to lose ten for every enemy killed and still win the war. The numbers of the Roman legions increased as the years passed, while Hannibal’s forces gradually diminished, their numbers reduced thorough death, disease, and desertions. In 215 B.C., the Romans were able to put between twelve and fifteen legions in the field; by 212 B.C., that number had increased to twenty-five—amounting to well over one hundred thousand infantry and cavalry.

In southern Italy, the Romans divided their armies and kept to higher ground on the fringes of the Apennine mountain range. They avoided engaging Hannibal on wide, level stretches of land where he could employ his cavalry and elephants to his advantage. Even with Hannibal’s tactical ability, he could not force the Romans onto level ground to fight a decisive battle on his terms. With their multiple smaller armies, the Romans became increasingly aggressive in striking his Greek and Italian allies. Cities under siege or the threat of siege demanded Hannibal come to their aid, and when he could not, confidence in his ability to defeat Rome weakened. Despite Hannibal’s tactical genius, he could not overcome the Roman advantage in manpower and resources. The Romans had the resolve to keep up the struggle against him at any cost and refused to compromise.

The Roman navy effectively blockaded large sections of the Italian coastline, preventing a steady stream of reinforcements from reaching Hannibal. Because of their manpower reserves, the Romans were eventually able to carry the war to Spain and Sicily, even while Hannibal occupied southern Italy. War made the republic stronger; its leaders, both political and military, learned from their mistakes and had plenty of replacements to fill the slots of those captured, wounded, and killed. Rome’s Italian allies in Latium, Umbria, and Etruria remained, for the most part, loyal, providing the manpower, money, and supplies needed to continue the war to a successful conclusion. Hannibal was forced to divide his army into smaller units, placing them under capable commanders and sending them out to protect his new allies. There is little reliable information in the sources on the size and composition of his army during these years in southern Italy, but the core of veterans who left Spain with him in 218 B.C. and crossed the Alps must have been considerably diminished after the battles at the Trebbia, Trasimene, and Cannae, despite the light casualties reported in the ancient sources.

Hannibal’s army was a mixture of soldiers brought together from the corners of the ancient world and fighting for the spoils of war. They spoke different languages, followed different customs, and worshipped different gods—but the common bond that held them together, at least in the beginning, must have been Hannibal’s leadership as well as money. He brought them together, trained them, paid them, and most importantly inspired them to follow him and remain loyal through trying times even when the money was slow in coming. They became unbeatable on the battlefield and remained loyal even as it must have become evident to them, especially in the last few years, that their commander was losing his war. This has come down to us as Hannibal’s most admirable quality and testimony to his ability as a leader. Certainly new recruits must have filled their ranks, coming mostly from the Gauls of northern Italy and the Italians (Brutti) and Greeks of the south. Reinforcements, including elephants, were able to reach Hannibal from North Africa on at least one occasion, arriving on the southern Adriatic coast at Locri.

Southern Italy and the eastern part of the island of Sicily were collectively known as Magna Graecia or Greater Greece. They had been colonized by Greeks looking for fertile land and economic opportunities as early as the eighth century B.C. Campania and Apulia were among the most fertile of these areas and contained some of the most prosperous cities in Italy. Campania occupied a narrow zone between the Tyrrhenian Sea on the western coast of Italy and the Apennine Mountains. According to the ancient sources, the province surpassed all others in terms of its natural resources, and even in ancient times it was a favored holiday resort for Romans because the summer heat was tempered by a brisk sea breeze. The natural wealth of the area could, in large part, be attributed to Mont Vesuvius, which over millennia had layered the land with a rich coating of phosphorus and potash. Campania became a center of olive and grape production, and its wines, including the dry and strong Falernian (sherry), were exported throughout the Mediterranean world.

Among the most important cities along the western coast of the province were Cumae, the oldest of the Greek colonies; Neapolis (Naples), a major port; and Capua, which had been founded by the Etruscans in the late sixth century B.C. and was the wealthiest of the three. While these cities were tied to Rome by treaty, each one retained its own language, form of government, and laws. There were several Greek cities on the eastern seaboard of southern Italy that were also prosperous: Crotone, Petelia, Sybaris, Heraclea, Metapontum, and Tarentum. Sybaris, like Capua, had a reputation for luxury and wealth, and Crotone had been the home of the mathematician Pythagoras and long a center of culture, medicine, and science. Tarentum (Taranto) initially had been a Spartan colony with the best natural harbor on the eastern coast of Italy. Though prosperous and culturally advanced, the cities on both coasts never joined together to form a unified political entity. They alternated between periods of cooperation and rivalry, often forming temporary political and economic networks, but all the while remaining fiercely independent as city-states, each one loosely connected by culture to its founding city on the Greek mainland. Some of these cities saw in Hannibal an opportunity to contain if not stifle the influence and control Rome was coming to establish over southern Italy and an opportunity to play one side off against the other. They would negotiate with Rome and Hannibal, looking for the best deal and then switching sides as events and changes of fortune warranted—something which proved to be a dangerous gambit and often led to the destruction of those who played it.

The interior portions of southern Italy were a world apart from the coastal regions. They were largely undeveloped and inhabited mostly by Italian tribes and clans, among them the Lucanians and the Brutti—a more primitive and considerably less prosperous people. Over the centuries, they came, to varying degrees, under the cultural influence of their Greek neighbors, and some of them adopted Greek styles of architecture, art, religion, and even language. Traveling today through southern Italy, especially along the Adriatic coast, it is easy to see why Hannibal focused on this area. The ruins of Greek towns and cities line the coast and the terrain tends to be flat, wide, and fertile. The lay of the land would have made moving and feeding an army much easier than in the mountainous areas of central and western Italy. In addition, southern Italy was much closer to North Africa by sea, and, along with Sicily, would have made a natural extension to a restored maritime empire for Carthage. At one point Hannibal apparently considered having his army dig a canal across the narrow and most southern section of the peninsula to isolate it from the mainland.

Immediately after Hannibal’s victory at Cannae, some of the Greek cities and towns in the area around the battlefield began to defect. The Apulian towns of Salapia (Manfredonia), Arpi (whose ruins are just northeast of modern Foggia), and Herdonia (just south of Foggia, off the autostrada, at the small town of Orta Nova) left the Roman confederation when Hannibal offered them treaties of friendship with Carthage and freedom from Roman taxation and cultural oppression. They were promised there would be no obligation for military service and that they could live in a prosperous new Italy with mutually beneficial economic ties to Carthage. Hannibal utilized the rhetoric of popular liberation and self-determination. He exploited the political factions within those cities to his own advantage as he cut deals and offered financial and military support to whichever factions could be of use to him in his struggle against Rome. His promises resonated with the impoverished—the working classes in the cities and the peasants in the countryside. But in general, the wealthy aristocratic elements in the cities rejected his call because they were tied to Rome through marriage alliances and economic arrangements that were more profitable and stable.

From Cannae, Hannibal moved his army west and occupied the town of Compsa (Conza della Campania), which lay on the boundary between the provinces of Lucania (Basilicata) and Campania. Its leadership was divided between two mutually hostile clans, the Hirpini and the Mopsi. The Hirpini supported Hannibal and with his help drove out the pro-Roman and aristocratic Mopsi. Hannibal garrisoned the town, using it to store his army’s baggage and the massive amount of valuables and weapons taken at Cannae. Scenarios like what occurred at Compsa began to play out in other cities and towns in southern Italy as well. In Salapia, one of the leaders, Dasius, betrayed the city to Hannibal in return for his help in driving out a pro-Roman faction led by one of his rivals.

At Compsa, Hannibal divided his army into three groups. He sent one group south into Lucania and Bruttium under the command of his younger brother Mago, his nephew Hanno, and another of his principal commanders, Himilco. The Bruttians would prove to be fertile ground for recruitment as they had long resented the Romans and at the same time were envious of the prosperous Greek city-states along the Adriatic coast. By joining Hannibal, they saw an opportunity to remove the Roman yoke and at the same time profit by plundering any Greek cities that resisted joining him as allies. Mago, Hanno, and Himilco further divided their forces and Himilco undertook to lay siege to Petelia (Strongoli), a Greek city on the coast. The Petelians were among the most loyal of Rome’s allies and they held out for nearly a year, until the siege brought them to a state of starvation, reducing them to eating leather, grass, and tree bark. The defenders managed to send a desperate plea for help to Rome, but the reply was that given their remote and isolated location in the extreme south, they were on their own. Still, the Petelians fought to the last, and when the city was taken, Himilco gave it over to the Bruttians to plunder. Most of its people were killed, and those who survived were sold into slavery.

Using Petelia as an example of what would befall those who rejected an offer of alliance with Hannibal, Mago negotiated agreements with other Greek cities along the southern Adriatic coast and assaulted those that refused or even hesitated. After a short stay in Bruttium, Mago left by ship for Carthage, probably from the port of Locri on the extreme southern tip of Italy, to carry the news of Hannibal’s victory at Cannae and ask the senate for reinforcements and money to continue the war. Hanno and Himilco remained in the area and continued to lay siege to towns and recruit new soldiers.

Hannibal left Compsa with his main force and moved once again into the province of Campania to secure a port on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The area around Neapolis constituted a defensive line of fortified cities allied with Rome; among the most prominent were Capua, Acerrae, Suessula, Cumae, Nola, Nuceria, and Casilinum. They were tied together by the Roman highway, the Via Latina, and protected for Rome what was probably her most valuable agricultural region. The area had an accessible coastline with several important ports in addition to Neapolis; the most notable being Cumae (just twelve miles west of Naples) and Puteoli (modern-day Pozzuoli, just a few miles south of Naples). This was Hannibal’s second incursion into Campania following his spectacular night-time escape out of the valley using cattle with firebrands tied to their horns.

Neapolis was the prize that Hannibal sought initially. The city had been founded by the Greeks in the sixth century B.C., and its name translates as “the new city.” A base there would make for shorter and quicker communication lines with Carthage and provide easier access to reinforcements and supplies from North Africa and Spain. Carthage to Neapolis is a distance of 313 nautical miles. With favorable winds and relatively calm seas, it could be crossed in ancient times in three or at most four days. The voyage from Neapolis would avoid a longer and more treacherous passage from the Adriatic side of Italy and around the often stormy and dangerous southeastern coast of Sicily. When Hannibal arrived and saw the massive fortifications and the sizable Roman garrison protecting the city, he abandoned any idea of a siege and turned his attention to the smaller city of Capua just a few miles to the north.

If he could not take Neapolis, then Capua was Hannibal’s second choice. It was one of the largest cities in Italy at the time and very wealthy. According to the ancient sources, its people had been corrupted by the “excesses of democracy” and they set no limit when it came to luxury. Capua, by Roman standards of morality and civic duty, was corrupt because its people had enjoyed so many decades of freedom, they had lost any sense of restraint and discipline. Their wealth was so great that they had access to more than they could possibly want and enjoy. This portrayal of Capua reflects a traditional Roman republican belief that unbridled freedom and extravagance are the ruination of a people. For the Romans of the early republic, what was most desirable was a society of people who were simple living, patriotic, civic minded, religious, and morally upright. That view would change radically following the end of the war with Hannibal, as Rome transitioned from a simple republic to a wealthy empire in the century following.

Capua willingly went over to Hannibal and in so doing provided him with an arsenal of some of the best-quality weapons available in the ancient world. The city was a prosperous manufacturing center which, in addition to making armaments and glass, excelled in the production of perfume. The perfume market or seplasia at Capua was recently excavated, and its remains support literary references to the ancient inhabitants’ love of luxury. Another indicator of Capua’s wealth are hoards of coins that have been found and dated to the period of Hannibal’s occupation, 216–211 B.C. The city also produced finished metalwares from iron and copper that were exported all over the ancient world—even as far as Scotland.

Hannibal had demonstrated to the people of Capua that he could annihilate Roman armies on the battlefield, and he promised them, in return for joining him early on in his campaign, a prominent place in the new Italy he was creating. He assured the leaders that their city would become the legal and commercial center of a new confederation of Italian and Greek city-states, and that at the end of the war he would return the Ager Falernus, the fertile river valley that had been taken from them by Rome two centuries before.

The leaders of Capua were clever businessmen and intended to play both sides against the middle to negotiate the best deal for themselves. Before coming to terms with Hannibal, they sent a delegation to the Roman consul at nearby Venusia (Venosa, not far from Compsa), indicating they were open to considering any inducements he might be inclined to offer them to remain within the confederation. In response, the consul reminded the envoys of their city’s long association with Rome, the prosperity that had come their way as a result, and the Roman expectation that Capua would honor its prior commitments by contributing men and money in the fight against Hannibal.

The delegation returned to Capua and reported the consul’s response to the senate. The senate circumvented the consul, going over his head and sending emissaries directly to Rome to seek a better deal. The emissaries demanded, as a condition of remaining an ally, that one of the two annually elected Roman consuls had to come from Capua. The consuls were the highest executive officers in Rome, and not only did they command Roman armies in time of war, but they administered the state. They were second only to the dictator in their power. Rome rejected the demand out of hand and ordered the envoys to leave the city before sundown. The senate at Capua then sent a delegation to Hannibal, who quickly agreed to everything they asked. To seal the deal, Hannibal assured them Capua would become the most powerful and prosperous city in Italy once the war ended.

Despite Hannibal’s promises, the delegation demanded carefully delineated terms as the price for their defection. First, they required that no citizen of theirs would be obliged to serve with Hannibal’s army against his will, and second, that Capua would retain its own form of government and laws free from Carthaginian interference or oversight. As a final inducement, Hannibal agreed to exchange three hundred of his most prized Roman captives for an equal number of young men from the aristocratic families of Capua who were serving with the Roman cavalry in Sicily at the time. While these young men were serving officially as Roman auxiliaries, there is some doubt that their service was entirely voluntary. They might well have been kept as hostages to insure the loyalty of their city to Rome.

Hannibal After Cannae II

Capua defected and Hannibal entered the city to a hero’s welcome. Crowds lined the streets to see the man who had brought Rome to its knees at Cannae. There is an interesting difference of opinion in the sources concerning the composition of the crowd that welcomed Hannibal that day. One source contends that Hannibal was greeted and escorted into the city by the senators and a crowd of the poor—the rabble, or turba, as the Romans called them—while the second source maintains it was the aristocrats with their wives and children who welcomed him.6 From the outset, Hannibal exerted his authority over the city. He was a tyrant and reputed to have been “naturally short-tempered,” and inclined to fits of rage. He displayed the characteristics of a self-centered autocrat from the moment he passed through the city gates. A mob, seeking to curry favor with him, rounded up all Romans in the city, permanent residents, visitors there on business or pleasure, and officials, and confined them to one of the municipal bathhouses. Then the doors were sealed and the prisoners were suffocated, dying in great agony. This story has often been regarded by modern scholars with skepticism because it was reported by Livy, who was markedly pro-Roman and critical of Capua. It was not Hannibal who ordered their deaths; they were killed by a mob. Yet Hannibal never condemned the action. A variation of the story reappears in another later source, which reports that when Hannibal captured the nearby town of Nuceria, he ordered the pro-Roman senators there locked into the baths and steamed to death. These stories might have been invented by the Roman historians for propaganda purposes, to portray Hannibal in the worst possible light, or, conversely, they may well be true.

With the most immediate sources of opposition out of the way, Hannibal’s next order of business was to address the senate. Its members prevailed upon him to postpone any serious discussions until later in his visit and spend the day sightseeing in the city. Hannibal, always inclined to get down to business first, but not wishing to offend his new allies, begrudgingly agreed. During his tour, he showed little interest in the usual sights, such as temples and marketplaces, but questioned his guides incessantly about the number of men the city had under arms; the length, height, and thickness of its walls; grain supplies; and how much money was in the treasury.

At the end of the tour, Hannibal was invited to stay in the home of two brothers, the Celeres, who were among the wealthiest and most influential senators in Capua. To honor their guest, the brothers arranged a feast “that tempted indulgence and was to be expected in a city and in a house of such wealth and luxury.”8 Banquets were held throughout the city to honor Hannibal’s soldiers. Tables were piled high with dishes of regional gastronomical splendor, and the wine that Capua was famous for flowed in unlimited quantities. At Hannibal’s insistence, the banquet at the home of the Celeres was limited to a select few: the two brothers who hosted the affair, the son of one of the brothers, and a “distinguished soldier,” Vibellius Taurea, foremost among the knights of Campania. Also present were a few of Hannibal’s most senior officers and a small contingent of his bodyguards.

During the banquet, a plot to assassinate Hannibal surfaced.9 The assassin was the son of Pacuvius, one of the Celeres who had lobbied the senators of Capua to declare for Hannibal. The young man, in opposition to his father, believed passionately that Capua should remain allied to Rome, and his views had been brought to Hannibal’s attention. Earlier that day, Pacuvius had sought pardon for his son and Hannibal had given permission for the boy to attend the banquet. That evening the boy took his father aside, showed him a dagger, and revealed his plan to stab Hannibal while he reclined at the table. The father was horrified, and implored his son not to stain the honor of his family by shedding the blood of a guest and violating the oath of fidelity to Hannibal that he had made in the senate. Then Pacuvius told his son that the dagger he would use to strike Hannibal would have to pass through him first. The father, moved by his love, embraced his son, and, with tears, implored him to recant. He warned him that Hannibal was no ordinary man but one protected by the gods and powerful bodyguards. He is too fierce a warrior to be killed by a boy, the father contended, and his armor is not made of iron or bronze, but the glory he has gained in a life of constant warfare. The boy, moved by his father’s entreaties and a strong bond of filial respect, cast aside the dagger, and the two returned, arm in arm, to the banquet.

When Hannibal entered the hall, he initially disapproved of the extravagance of the feast: it was not, he commented to his hosts, in accord with “Carthaginian military discipline.” He reposed on his dining couch and ate in silence. As the evening wore on, Hannibal began to relax, and settled back to enjoy the singers and lyre-players—slowly allowing himself to succumb to the comforts of Capuan luxury. Later, as the guests turned to pleasures of a more sensual nature, Hannibal began to show a preference for one of the young male singers. According to the sources, Hannibal preferred this young man’s company to the sexual debauchery unfolding between the other guests and the female slaves. Unbeknownst to Hannibal, death reclined only a few feet away from him. He had narrowly escaped a turn of events that could have ended his life and altered not only the course of the war, but perhaps the very course of history itself.

The next day Hannibal addressed the senate, and in a pleasant and amicable tone of voice reiterated that when the war ended Capua would be the capital of a new Italian federation and Rome would no longer be the dominant political and economic force in Italy. Following his address, Hannibal took a seat on a judicial panel known as the “tribune of the magistrates.” His tone changed from affable to stern as he ordered the arrest and immediate trial of one of Capua’s leading citizens, Decius Magius, an outspoken advocate of loyalty to Rome. This man had openly displayed his support for Rome and had been noticeably absent when the other senators assembled with their families to welcome Hannibal into the city. Magius had actively encouraged resisting Hannibal’s entry into Capua, even urging his fellow citizens to block the Carthaginian’s way with corpses if need be. He protested the murder of the Romans in the bathhouse and openly advocated killing the Carthaginians assigned to garrison Capua. Magius was brought before the tribunal in chains, and Hannibal, acting as prosecutor, exploded in a tyrannical outburst of invective against the accused. The senate sat silently. Hannibal was clearly in charge. When his guilt was announced, Magius called out to the senators, asking rhetorically if this was now what constituted justice for Capuans under their new Carthaginian master.

The plight of Magius resonated with many in the senate, and even more so among the crowd that had gathered outside at the news of his arrest and trial. Hannibal had tried and condemned a citizen in violation of the terms of the new treaty, which specified that a citizen of Capua could only be tried under the city’s own laws and by its own magistrates. Magius had not violated any law of Capua, but Hannibal brushed the legality aside and pronounced him too dangerous to be allowed to remain in the city—“a fomenter of insurrection and riots.” Hannibal preferred to execute Magius, but given the sentiments of the people, it was a politically dangerous option. Magius’s death might further inflame the people and would certainly turn him into a martyr. Anxious to avoid any civil dislocations, Hannibal ordered Magius transferred to a ship bound for Carthage. After putting to sea, the ship was caught in a storm and, blown off its course, made port in Alexandria, Egypt. Magius received political asylum from the pharaoh, Ptolemy IV, and apparently lived out the remainder of his life in Egypt.

Capua would prove to be a double-edged sword for Hannibal. While he had gained an influential and prosperous ally, there is no extant record of any Capuans serving in his army as their Italian neighbors in Bruttium and Lucania did. Hannibal incurred the costly obligation of protecting his new ally from Roman retaliation, which would be forthcoming and harsh. For Capua, the alliance with Hannibal offered some short-term prospects of increased prosperity and the long-term promise of prestige and independence in the ancient world when the war ended. But what actually came to pass was the destruction of the city during the war as Hannibal could not prevent the Romans from eventually exacting their revenge.

Leaving Capua, Hannibal moved south to Nuceria, where he surrounded the city and offered its defenders safe conduct out—if they surrendered without resistance. Then, after they agreed and left the city, Hannibal had them ambushed and slaughtered—his archers killing many of the women and children who were accompanying them as well. When asked why he had gone back on his word, Hannibal offered the same excuse Alexander the Great had when he did virtually the same thing in India over a hundred years earlier. While he had guaranteed the defenders safe conduct out of the city, he had said nothing about what would happen to them once they cleared the gates. Taking control of Nuceria, Hannibal had its senators shut in a public bath and suffocated.

Leaving Nuceria garrisoned, Hannibal moved against several nearby cities, among them Nola, Acerrae, and Casilinum. Nola was a fortress city just east of Naples, and its citizens were divided along economic lines as to which side they favored in the conflict. The prosperous and aristocratic elements in the city were strongly in favor of remaining loyal to Rome, while the common people saw in Hannibal the harbinger of change and the potential for improvement in their lot. Hannibal sent emissaries to negotiate, and the aristocracy, seeking to buy time to arrange for Roman assistance, agreed to discuss terms. The senate secretly sent their own group of emissaries to the praetor Marcellus Claudius at nearby Casilinum to ask for his help while they filibustered the terms with Hannibal. A praetor was the second-highest elected official in the Roman administrative hierarchy and often in command of an army.

Marcellus agreed to help and, avoiding Hannibal, took a shortcut through the mountains, reaching Nola without incident. He arrived at the right moment—beating Hannibal to the city and before those elements among the common people who favored an alliance with Hannibal could overthrow the government. The gates were opened to the Romans, and with the help of the pro-Roman aristocratic faction in the senate, as well as the presence of his soldiers, Marcellus managed to keep the city loyal to Rome. Yet Marcellus was apprehensive. He was suspicious of the common people, especially a young activist named Lucius Bantius, who, while he had fought on the side of the Romans at Cannae, now agitated in favor of joining Hannibal. Bantius had been wounded at Cannae and buried under a pile of the dead. Hannibal’s soldiers found him and nursed him back to health. When he had recovered, Hannibal released him to return home with gifts and honors. As a result, Bantius held him in high regard and encouraged his fellow citizens, especially the poor and working classes, to join the Carthaginian cause. Marcellus, rather than arrest Bantius, undertook to win him over by recognizing and praising his bravery at Cannae and then rewarding him with money. It worked, and while Marcellus succeeded in winning the young man over, elements hostile to Rome remained within Nola.

When Hannibal arrived, Marcellus withdrew his troops within the city walls. He was now caught between the enemy outside and a faction within which could turn on him at any time. He was able to contain the hostile forces within the city, and, at the same time, launch several successful attacks against Hannibal. While Marcellus did not win at Nola, he forced Hannibal to abandon the effort and move against an easier target. With Hannibal gone, Marcellus turned his attention toward those within the city whom he suspected of supporting Hannibal, and over seventy were beheaded.

Leaving Nola, Hannibal moved against Acerrae (Acerra, some twelve miles northeast of Naples). As was his pattern, he sent emissaries ahead to persuade the leaders of the city to come over to his side voluntarily, or at least surrender without a fight. When the people heard Hannibal was approaching, many of them, including most of those responsible for defending the city, escaped under cover of darkness. Hannibal entered the city without a struggle and turned it over to his soldiers to be looted and burned.

The fortified town of Casilinum was Hannibal’s next target because of its strategic position at the junction of two important Roman roads: the Via Appia and the Via Latina. Just three miles west of Capua, remains of the ancient city have been excavated to some twenty-five feet below the current ground level. Once again Hannibal sent emissaries to try to negotiate a voluntary surrender of the small five-hundred-man garrison composed of soldiers from the Latin town of Praeneste, just south of Rome. These soldiers had been on their way to fight at Cannae, when word of the defeat reached them and they returned to Casilinum. They garrisoned the town and massacred the residents who showed pro-Carthaginian inclinations. The garrison was subsequently reinforced by another five hundred men from the town of Perusia.

Casilinum was close to Nola, but Marcellus and his army were held in the area by the inhabitants who were terrified that if the Roman army left, the Italian tribes allied with Hannibal would descend on them. Hannibal sent an advanced detachment to negotiate the surrender of the town, or if that failed, begin the assault. The defenders at Casilinum sallied forth from the gates, driving Hannibal’s advance force back. When reinforcements arrived, led by Hannibal’s famed cavalry commander and critic Maharbal, they too were driven back. Then the main force under Hannibal arrived and launched a relentless assault against the town. According to the ancient sources, Hannibal had trouble motivating his men to fight. Utilizing a combination of sharp rebukes intended to shame them, alternating with references to their bravery at Cannae and Trasimene and promises of gold prizes for those who scaled the walls first, another assault was launched. Still the defenders, heavily outnumbered, held out. They launched counterattacks against Hannibal’s army even though his assault force now included elephants, which had arrived from North Africa at the port of Locri on the southern Adriatic coast.

Using his elephants, Hannibal pressed the attack even harder, but to no avail. Mines were dug to try to collapse sections of the defensive wall, and countermines were in turn sunk by the defenders to try to collapse the main shafts of the attackers. Even with his elephants and mines, Hannibal could not take what Livy mockingly referred to as the “little town with its little garrison.” In frustration, Hannibal abandoned the effort, leaving a smaller force to keep pressure on the town while he returned to Capua with the rest of the army for the winter. It would not be until the following spring that Casilinum surrendered and Hannibal garrisoned the town with seven hundred of his men.

The winter at Capua ruined Hannibal’s soldiers, just as, over a hundred years earlier, Babylon had ruined Alexander’s army following their victory over the Persian king at Gaugamela. Easy living was the problem in both instances. While Hannibal’s soldiers had been toughened by the hardships of the march over the Alps and in combat in Italy, the “immoderate pleasures” at Capua undid everything. Quartered in plush surroundings, the soldiers consumed too much rich food and drank copious amounts of wine in an environment of continual leisure and debauchery. If food, drink and leisure were not enough, Venus finished the task by sending in an army of harlots.

Hannibal, too, succumbed to the easy living and luxury. The inactivity and debauchery during the winter was a serious failure of leadership on his part, equal perhaps to his failure to march on Rome after Trasimene or Cannae. In the spring, Hannibal left Capua with his army and tried once more to take Neapolis. But he was commanding a different army than the one that had crossed the Alps with him and fought at the Trebbia, Trasimene, and Cannae. Drained by the harlots and the easy living, none of the old esprit de corps among the soldiers survived the winter. On the march, many would give out in both body and spirit; there was constant complaining, and they resembled raw recruits more than seasoned veterans. Desertions increased substantially, and with no place to go, many of Hannibal’s soldiers simply drifted back to Capua, seeking out their old haunts. Among those who left and went over to the Romans were some of his Numidian calvalry and Spanish soldiers. The Romans had recently brought Spaniards to Italy to fight Hannibal, and fifth-column elements apparently managed to infiltrate his army to persuade their compatriots to switch sides.

The only thing that protected Hannibal’s army from the Romans now was their reputation. Their attempt to take Neapolis failed a second time, and the sources suggest it was not just the strength of the city’s walls, but the easy living the winter before and an army that now suffered from a lack of discipline and enthusiasm for fighting. Apparently, not all of Hannibal’s army had spent the winter at Capua enjoying the good life, as units were actively engaged maintaining the siege of Casilinum, which eventually fell that spring when starvation drove the inhabitants to the point of chewing leather and boiling bark to stay alive.

In Bruttium, Hanno and Himilco continued their efforts to bring the Italian tribes and the Greek towns and cities in the area under their control and increase the size of their army. Following the fall of Petelia, Himilco led his army west into the interior against the town of Consentinus (Cosenza)—a town that had remained loyal to Rome but that fell quickly. The Greek cities of Crotone and Locri, farther to the south along the eastern seaboard, fell to Hanno and his Bruttian allies. Only Rhegium (Reggio di Calabria), at the very tip of the peninsula across from Sicily, managed to hold out.

Mago left southern Italy, probably from the port of Locri, which was now under Hanno’s control, and sailed to Carthage to announce the news of Hannibal’s victory at Cannae and pressure the senate for reinforcements and money. When Mago entered the senate chamber, he poured onto the floor golden rings pried from the fingers of Roman knights slain at Cannae. It was a dramatic gesture, as there were reputed to have been so many rings that they filled nearly four pecks. Mago recounted to the enraptured senate his brother’s victories over the Roman consuls Scipio the elder at the Ticinus, Sempronius at the Trebbia, Flaminius at Trasimene, and Paullus and Varro at Cannae. Two of the five consuls had been slain on the battlefields. Then Mago told how Hannibal had escaped the trap set by the Roman dictator Fabius Maximus in Campania and how not only Greeks, but Italians from Bruttia, Apulia, Samnia, and Lucania had deserted Rome and flocked to their standards—a slight exaggeration designed to win support in the senate. Hannibal, Mago exclaimed, was close to victory, and it was imperative he be given the resources he needed to finish the war: money, soldiers, and grain.

Hannibal After Cannae III

Members of the pro-Barca faction in the senate were ecstatic over the news and turned to their adversaries, taunting them and asking if they now regretted having initially opposed this glorious war to restore the greatness of Carthage. Hanno, the senator who had consistently argued against war with Rome, rose to speak, and the assembly, deferring to his seniority, fell silent. He explained that while he joined the others in rejoicing at Hannibal’s victories, he remained skeptical. Only when the war was over would the winner be known and, equally as important, its true cost. Hanno expressed concerned that Hannibal had sent Mago to ask for reinforcements and money to continue a war that should have already been concluded months earlier and should have paid for itself with the spoils of victory. While the golden rings of the slain Roman equites were impressive, they were not enough to cover the cost of the reinforcements and supplies Mago was asking for.

Then Hanno directed his attention to Mago and asked if after each of Hannibal’s victories the Romans had sent emissaries to ask for peace. Under forceful questioning, more like cross-examination, Mago was forced to admit they had not. Hanno asked how many Greek city-states and Italian towns, villages, and tribes had left the Roman confederation, and Mago had to admit that not as many had come over to their cause as they would have wished. Mago was forced to concede that the Romans still had considerable resources available to them and could continue the war indefinitely. Hanno agreed that Hannibal had been successful in the short run, but Carthage could not afford a long drawn out conflict against an opponent with such strong resolve and virtually unlimited manpower and resources. Hanno further warned of the vicissitudes of war, pointing out that today’s victory could just as easily be tomorrow’s defeat—as Carthage had found so painfully in the first war against Rome. Now, Hanno argued, was the moment to take advantage of Hannibal’s victories and offer Rome an end to the war on favorable terms. He concluded his speech with a warning to his fellow senators not to become overconfident, for so far, Hannibal had won only battles, not a war.

The senate, elated by Hannibal’s recent victories, was in no mood to listen to Hanno’s pessimism any longer. His long feud with the Barcid clan had made many in the senate leery of him and tired of his continual complaining. It was the consensus of the senate to give Hannibal the resources to continue the war, and they voted to send Mago back to Italy with four thousand Numidian horsemen, forty elephants, and a large quantity of silver. Then, as Mago was preparing to leave, everything changed. Couriers arrived with news that a Carthaginian army under the command of Hannibal’s brother, Hasdrubal, had been defeated by the Scipios on the banks of the Ebro River in Spain.

The Romans had crossed the river early in the spring of 215 B.C. and laid siege to a small town named Ibera. Hasdrubal responded by laying siege to a nearby town, Dertosa (modern-day Tortosa), which was allied with the Romans. The Scipios lifted their siege and moved against Hasdrubal, who met them on a plain near the river. Hasdrubal had two major problems in Spain: the Roman armies, which were pressing him, and increasingly restless and discontented native tribes. Months before, when the senate at Carthage had ordered Hasdrubal to leave Spain and reinforce Hannibal in southern Italy, he warned that if his army left, the country would fall to the Romans. In response, the senate sent another army to Spain under the command of a new general, Himilco, with orders to relieve Hasdrubal and allow him to proceed to Italy.

When the Scipios learned that Hasdrubal would attempt to reach his brother in Italy, they made every effort to stop him—realizing full well that if he succeeded, Rome could lose the war. The brothers concentrated their forces at the Ebro River to stop Hasdrubal from reaching the Pyrenees—the first milestone on his march. They told their soldiers that their families at home were counting on them to prevent Hasdrubal from reaching Italy. Hasdrubal’s Spanish soldiers apparently did not have the same level of commitment. Most of them, especially the infantry, preferred remaining home, even under Roman rule, rather than marching to Italy to fight a war for Carthage. When the two armies clashed, the Spanish center gave way, while on the flanks the Carthaginian mercenaries and the Africans made a much more determined effort to hold the line. Still, their efforts were not enough to counter the Roman push through the center. Casualties among the Spaniards were heavy, and once their lines were breached, discipline broke down and desertions increased quickly. The Carthaginian cavalry, seeing their center collapse under Roman pressure, retreated, leaving the crucial flanks exposed. Hasdrubal suffered a crushing defeat and with a small contingent escaped south to Cartagena. That battle turned the tide of the war in Spain. The Spanish tribes that had been undecided now went over to the Roman side, and Hasdrubal had no hope of leading an army to Italy to relieve his brother. In fact, it would be nine years (207 B.C.) before he would be able to leave Spain and lead a relief column over the Alps to reach Hannibal.

In response to the defeat at the Ebro, the Carthaginian senate ordered Mago and his army to Spain and sent a similar-size force to the island of Sardinia to foment a revolt against the Romans there. Had Hasdrubal won at Ibera and subsequently been able to reach his brother, there would have been four Carthaginian armies in Italy by 214 B.C.—those of Hannibal, Hasdrubal, Mago, and Hanno—and the war may well have taken a different course. The defeat at Ibera meant that Hannibal had effectively lost the resources he needed from Spain, and it devalued most of the political capital he had won in Carthage by his victory at Cannae. The Scipio brothers now divided their forces, with Gnaeus taking charge of the ground troops while Publius commanded the navy. They followed a conservative policy of not directly confronting the Carthaginians, but concentrated on winning over or subjugating the Iberian tribes while raiding Carthaginian strongholds and blockading the coast.

Philip V, the king of Macedon, was pleased when he learned that Hannibal had crossed the Alps, and he was even more so when he received subsequent reports of Hannibal’s triumphs at the Trebbia and Lake Trasimene. Philip had acceded to the throne in 221 B.C. at the age of seventeen, a young monarch with an aggressive disposition. He was eager to drive the Romans from his northern borders—the area called Illyricum (modern-day Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Croatia) and expand his kingdom south into Greece. Philip saw in Hannibal an ally to help him realize his ambitions, but he was careful to remain outwardly neutral so as not to provoke the Romans who were just to his north or those on the Italian mainland just a short sail from his kingdom across the Ionian Sea. Watching the struggle between Carthage and Rome unfold, Philip waited until after Hannibal’s victory at Cannae before he sent envoys to southern Italy to approach him about a formal alliance.

Philip’s envoys set sail from Macedon in the early summer of 215 B.C. They avoided the Italian ports of Brundisium and Tarentum because they were heavily patrolled by the Roman fleet, and landed farther south along the coast, just below Crotone, at the Temple of Lacinian Juno. From there, they made their way overland north into Apulia, and, while looking for Hannibal, were captured by a Roman foraging party. Taken to the praetor Valerius Laevinus near Luceria (slightly northwest of Foggia) for questioning, the most senior ambassador among the Macedonians, one Xenophanes, managed to deceive the praetor by convincing him that the group was on a mission to negotiate an alliance of friendship and mutual assistance between Rome and Macedon. Taken in by the story and impressed with the importance of the mission, Laevinus provided Xenophanes with detailed information on the safest route to Rome and marked which roads and passes his group should follow to avoid falling into Hannibal’s hands. The Macedonians made their way through the Roman lines with a safe conduct, and then into Campania to find Hannibal.

The delegation met with Hannibal and reached agreement on a treaty by which Philip pledged to send a large fleet of two hundred ships to ravage the Adriatic coastline of Italy. The army on board that fleet would then march inland to help Hannibal in subjugating the rest of Italy. At the war’s end, Italy, and all its wealth, would belong to Hannibal who in return pledged to wage war against the enemies of Philip in Greece. By the terms of the treaty the city-states conquered on the Greek mainland and the islands that line the Macedonian coast would become a part of Philip’s new kingdom. The terms are interesting because they reveal Hannibal’s intentions regarding Rome at the end of the war. Indications are that he did not intend to destroy the city, only to reduce its power to a par with the other city-states in Italy.

Three representatives from Carthage were present when Hannibal negotiated the treaty with Philip’s envoys, an indication that Hannibal might not have had unilateral authority to bind Carthage. They might have been part of a permanent political delegation attached to Hannibal’s army or sent to Italy specifically for the purpose of negotiating or approving this particular treaty. But if the latter were the case, why not send them directly from Carthage to Macedon, a much safer venue for the negotiations than Italy? In any case, the bargain having been struck, the delegation set out to return to Macedon, accompanied by the representatives from Carthage. The group made its way south undetected as far as Cape Lacinia, where they boarded a ship that awaited them in a hidden anchorage. While making for the open sea, they were intercepted by Roman ships and, unable to outrun their pursuers, were captured and taken to the consul at Tarentum.

Xenophanes tried once more to bluff his way out of the situation by explaining that his group had been unsuccessful in reaching Rome and were returning to Macedon when they were captured. When the Carthaginian ambassadors were questioned, their speech raised suspicions. Their slaves were tortured to extract confessions about the identity of their masters and the real purpose of their mission. Then the group, Macedonians and Carthaginians alike, were chained and placed on a ship bound for Rome. After clearing the Straits of Massena, the ship put in at Cumae, and the prisoners were sent overland to Rome. When the senators at Rome learned what had transpired between Hannibal and Philip, they voted funds to raise a fleet of fifty ships and send them with an army to keep Philip occupied in Illyricum and out of Italy. Philip had no idea his envoys had been captured, and after several weeks passed and they failed to appear, he sent a new group. While this group succeeded in reaching Hannibal and confirming the terms of the treaty, Philip was now distracted by Roman movements on his northern borders and their attempts to form an anti-Macedonian league among the Greek states to his south. The moment had passed, and now Philip was too preoccupied to support Hannibal. From 214 B.C. until 207 B.C., Philip had plenty of his own problems in Macedon and Greece to worry about and was little help to Hannibal.

Hannibal still needed a major port, and, frustrated in his attempts on the western coast around Neapolis, he turned to the southern Adriatic coast, where there were two possibilities: Tarentum (Taranto) and Brundisium (Brindisi). Brundisium was directly on the Adriatic, across from Illyricum, and provided quick and relatively easy access to Greece—but it was garrisoned by the Romans and heavily patrolled by their ships. Tarentum was located some fifty miles farther inland, on the Gulf of Taranto—an inlet of the Ionian Sea. The port had one of the largest and most protected harbors along the entire eastern coast of Italy and had become an indispensable stop for ships moving between Greece and the western Mediterranean. The city had been founded by the Spartans centuries earlier as a place of exile for their women who had consorted with slaves while their men were at war and who were pregnant or had given birth. The city was built on a peninsula that was separated from the mainland by a waterway, the entry to which was guarded by a citadel, as it still is today. With its double harbors for commercial and military shipping, Tarentum was remarkably like Carthage in appearance. The bay was bountiful in fish and hosted one of the richest purple beds in the Mediterranean waters. These beds contained shellfish and snails that excreted a substance from which a precious purple dye could be made. The color was long associated with royalty, and clothes with purple in them conveyed high status in the ancient world. Wool, brought in from the countryside and dyed with the purple from those beds, transformed the city into the main seat of the ancient textile industry in Italy. Even today, as polluted as the waters are, the bay is still bountiful and the city has spread onto the adjacent mainland.

The port’s only shortcoming was its distance from Carthage. It was considerably longer than the distance from Neapolis and required sailing around the often treacherous and stormy southeastern coast of Sicily. On the positive side, the port was close to Macedon and the king who Hannibal thought would be his new ally—Philip.

In the spring of 214 B.C., Hannibal moved from Arpi, where he had wintered, to Campania. There he probed the fortifications at Neapolis once more, gave up, and then ravaged the small towns and villages along the coast. During that summer, a small delegation of noblemen from Tarentum made their way to his camp at Lake Avernus, just south of Naples, with a plan to hand over their city. All these young men had fought Hannibal as allies of Rome, some at Trasimene and others at Cannae. They survived, were captured, and were later released under Hannibal’s policy of mercy toward Roman allies. As a result, they held him in high esteem. They explained that Tarentum was garrisoned by the Romans, who were supported by many of the aristocrats with ties to Rome, but the common people hated them both and would rise in revolt as soon as he approached the city walls. Trusting in their assurances, Hannibal moved his army east—some 180 miles across Italy from the Lake to Tarentum. But when he arrived at the walls of the city, no revolt took place. After a few days, Hannibal gave up the idea of taking the port and moved back across central Italy for another attempt at taking Neapolis. Frustrated once more in his attempt to take that port city, he ravaged the countryside and returned to Apulia, where he wintered on the Adriatic coast at Salapia (Manfredonia).

Hanno, with an army of twelve hundred Numidians and seventeen thousand recently recruited Italian allies (Bruttians and Lucanians), made his way north to coordinate with Hannibal, who was moving from Salapia across central Italy, back into Campania. As Hanno and his army passed Beneventum, the Roman praetor Tiberius Gracchus approached the city from the other side with a hastily recruited army of slaves. Gracchus had promised any slave who brought him the head of Hanno his freedom and a monetary reward. During the battle, which was fought just outside the city, the slaves began decapitating every dead body they could find and then running with the severed heads to find their commander and claim their freedom. Most of Hanno’s army was killed or captured, or deserted. Hanno managed to escape and reach Hannibal, who now without reinforcements, was forced to return to the safety of Salapia.

Even though Rome had reserves of manpower to draw on, the demands to meet the threat from Hannibal began to stress the free Italian labor market. So many free men, mostly small farmers and laborers, were being conscripted that this resulted in a greater dependence on slaves, especially on the large plantations. There was a constant supply of slave labor to meet the demand, owing to the sale of prisoners of war. The widespread use of slaves began to supplant the use of free hired labor. Thus, small farmers and laborers in Italy, unable to recover from the destruction of their land as a result of the ravages of war and compete with the influx of cheap slave labor, simply went under. This radical altering of the labor pool was one of the lasting effects of the war with Hannibal and would lead to a revolution in the next century. By the end of the war, there were so many slaves in Italy that violent revolts began to occur with increasing frequency. While those revolts were suppressed, an era of enslavement began in Italy on a scale never before seen in the western part of the Mediterranean world and which would become a defining feature of the Roman Empire.

For Hannibal’s soldiers, the winter in Salapia was like the one they had enjoyed in Capua. Even the usually stoic and Spartan Hannibal apparently succumbed when he fell under the spell of a local prostitute. According to one ancient source, Hannibal remained faithful to his wife Imilce and, “in spite of his African birth,” treated women, especially female captives, humanely. Unlike Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, with whom Hannibal is often compared, there are few references to his relationships with women beyond these two. Both Alexander and Caesar, at the other extreme, had as many liaisons with other men and women as they had battles.

From Salapia, Hannibal moved his army south, spending most of the summer of 213 B.C. in an area just west and south of Tarentum, where unforeseen circumstances changed his plans. A group of prominent young nobles from Tarentum were being held under a loose form of house arrest at Rome—probably to insure the allegiance of their city. They managed to escape but were quickly recaptured. The senate ordered them scourged, the usual first step in Roman punishment, and then hurled to their deaths from the infamous Tarpeian Rock—a steep cliff on the southern summit of the Capitoline Hill used for the execution of murderers, traitors, captured runaway slaves, and those who had perjured themselves in court. When news of the execution of these young men reached Tarentum, there was general outrage among the people and a conspiracy formed against the Roman garrison there. A group of young men left the city under the guise of a hunting party to find Hannibal. They offered to help him take the city by subterfuge, and in return he pledged that the people of Tarentum would remain free to live under their own laws and would be ruled by their own elected officials. None of Tarentum’s citizens would be compelled to serve in the Carthaginian army against their will, nor would the city be required to pay tribute to Carthage or accept a Carthaginian garrison. The Romans living in the city would be imprisoned and held for ransom, sold as slaves, or executed as Hannibal saw fit.

The young men had a simple plan for handing over their city. They would return to Tarentum with cattle and explain to the Roman garrison that they had found them while hunting for game. Then over the next several weeks they would establish a pattern of leaving the city at night, through the same gate, on similar hunting expeditions and returning just before dawn with their kills. They set the plan in motion and, when they returned, each time made it a practice to share a portion of their game with the guards on duty and their officers. After several weeks, their hunting expeditions became so routine that the Roman sentries on duty opened the gate at their approach without question or concern for security.

Hannibal assembled a force of some ten thousand men and hid them in a gorge a few miles from the city. On a night agreed upon, the Roman garrison commander was invited to a dinner party at the home of some prominent Tarentines, where he was plied with wine. The young men, returning from their hunting party, approached the gate before dawn carrying a boar. Just as they passed through the gate, a small Carthaginian force behind them pushed its way in, killing the guards and then opening the main gate to the city. Hannibal’s soldiers quickly entered and took control of the streets. Those Roman soldiers who managed to avoid being killed in the initial attack retreated to the safety of the citadel. Once Hannibal was inside, the Tarentines surrendered the city, but the citadel was another matter. Its walls were thick and high, and manned by a garrison that numbered about five thousand. Because the citadel commanded the entrance to the city’s harbor, the garrison could be supplied indefinitely by Roman ships, making a long siege out of the question. Hannibal left the problem in the hands of the Tarentines and returned to Campania where the Romans had begun a siege of Capua. Although the loss of Tarentum was a major setback for the Romans, they eventually retook the city in 209 B.C.

The Romans reacted to the fall of Tarentum by laying siege to Capua (212 B.C.). Capua in turn asked Hannibal for help, and he responded by leading his forces once more across central Italy to the walls of the city. There an indecisive struggle took place between Hannibal’s forces and the two consular armies that had laid siege to the city. When a third Roman army arrived on the scene, Hannibal withdrew, moving his army back to the Adriatic coast around Brundisium, nearly 250 miles away. There, either unable or unwilling to besiege Brundisium, he returned to Capua the following year (211 B.C.) and made another unsuccessful attempt to relieve the siege. It is difficult to understand what was going through Hannibal’s mind as he moved his army, seemingly in haphazard fashion, from one coast to the other, and then back again—failing each time to accomplish his objective.

The country around Capua was open, which would have given Hannibal, with his cavalry and elephants, a tactical advantage over the Romans. But the Romans had constructed double walls, a circumvallation, around Capua and remained securely behind them, ignoring Hannibal’s repeated challenges to come out and fight on the open ground. In frustration, Hannibal launched an assault against the outer walls of the Roman encampment, coordinated with an attack from within the city by the Capuans. Both failed, and, in frustration, Hannibal broke off the assault and moved his army north against Rome. While the move might have been intended to draw the legions surrounding Capua away to defend Rome, it failed as the Romans remained within their defensive walls and continued the siege.

With Hannibal gone, Capua was left on its own. With a double wall and three Roman legions surrounding the city, the Carthaginian garrison inside and the Capuans who supported them felt abandoned. The garrison complained that “the Roman as an enemy is more steadfast and trustworthy than the Carthaginian as a friend.” Couriers were able to make their way out of the city, carrying messages begging Hannibal for help. Most were captured by the Romans, had their hands cut off, and then were sent back to the city. With supplies running dangerously low and no prospect of help from the outside, Capua faced slow but inevitable starvation.

When Hannibal arrived outside Rome, he took one look at the city’s formidable defenses and left. He had neither the numbers nor the siege machinery necessary to breach those walls, and if his intent was to draw off the forces besieging Capua, it failed. When the Romans learned Hannibal was near, initially they feared that he must have destroyed their armies at Capua; otherwise, they thought, he never would have been bold enough to attack them. But Hannibal had played his gambit, and it failed. His decision to march on Rome appears to have been impulsive or born of frustration. Later Roman writers maintained that Rome was saved in 211 B.C. because the gods favored the city and sent a hailstorm to drive Hannibal away.

The prospect of starvation finally drove the Capuans to surrender. The most strident of the anti-Roman senators in the doomed city committed suicide. One group attended a lavish dinner party the night before the Romans entered, and after a sumptuous feast with copious amounts of wine, the host served poison to his guests in little dessert dishes—of which all willingly partook. Others died by their own hands the next day. The Romans occupied the city and set about arresting those senators they suspected of having sided with Hannibal and agitated for Capua to leave the confederation. Fifty-three senators were tried, convicted, scourged, and beheaded, all within the same day. The inhabitants of the city who survived were sold on the slave markets, while their property was confiscated in the name of the people and senate of Rome. The senate at Rome ordered the city-state politically dissolved, and Capua was quickly overrun by a horde of Roman speculators, all looking to profit from its misfortune. Capua fell because the Romans were persistent in maintaining and pressing their siege—something that proved greater than Hannibal’s ability to rescue the city. The city was severely punished because in Roman eyes, its people had been cowardly and duplicitous. They simply had bet on the wrong horse and lost. Over time, a century or two later, the Roman attitude toward the city moderated. Capua recovered and prospered, even becoming a principal center for the training of gladiators. In 73 B.C., it was the site of the largest slave revolt in Roman history, led by the Thracian gladiator Spartacus.

Tota Italia I


When hostilities with the Samnites ceased in 304 BC, Rome’s grip on peninsular Italy was already becoming tight. Roman arms had been carried into the Sallentine Peninsula (the heel of Italy), and a Roman garrison had been installed, if temporarily, as far north as Perusia in Etruria. New Latin colonies dominated northern Campania, the Liris Valley, western Samnium and the Samnite-Apulian frontier. Old enemies had been bullied into accepting further long periods of truce or scared into requesting treaties of alliance. For example, in 308 BC Decius Mus coerced Tarquinii into provisioning his consular army and accepting a new truce of forty years’ duration. He also cowed Volsinii by storming some of her outlying fortresses and she was forced to seek annual truces to avoid further incursions. It is notable however, that Mus and subsequent Roman generals were unable or unwilling to capture major fortified cities like Volsinii. Fabius Rullianus’ incursion into Umbria in 310/9 BC had stirred up considerable resentment. A further victory over the Umbrians is ascribed to Rullianus in 308 BC, but it seems more probable that it was Mus who soundly defeated the Umbrian army that had mustered at Mevania. More Umbrians were taken captive than were killed in the battle and that level of resistance only prompted the Romans to think of further conquests in the region. A treaty of friendship was promptly negotiated with Ocriculum, which was strategically located in the very south of Umbria at the confluence of the rivers Tiber and Nar. In 303 BC both consular armies were sent into southern Umbria to deal with ‘bandits’ and scored a victory in, of all places, a complex of caves. Ocriculum was clearly on side when, in 300 BC, the Romans embarked on the siege of nearby Nequinum, located in the lower valley of the Nar. Eventually captured in 299 BC through a combination of tunnelling and treachery by Fulvius Paetinus (it is uncertain if he is the same man as the suffect consul of 305 BC), the town was promptly colonized and renamed Narnia, after the river. Nequinum, reminiscent of Latin nequam, meaning ‘worthless’, ‘bad’ and so forth, sounded ill-omened to Roman ears. With a strong ally in Camerinum to the north, and a major ‘bridgehead’ at Narnia in the south, the Umbrian states rightly feared further Roman expansion. The Romans were also busy fighting the Sabines, whose territory lay between northeast Latium, the Aequan country and Umbria. It was becoming clear that Rome would not be satisfied until tota Italia, all Italy, was under her control.

Rome’s behaviour immediately following the Samnite peace in 304 BC was a clear indicator of her intentions. War was declared on the Aequi, now located in the upper valley of the Anio and to the north of the Fucine Lake. Bands of Aequan warriors had fought for the Hernici and Samnites, probably on a mercenary basis, but the Aequi as a whole had not been allied to the enemy. In fact, the Aequi as a nation had probably not fought in any major war since their ejection from Latium, but the Senate had found the necessary excuse to continue the work of extermination that had been carried out so ruthlessly in 388 BC. In 307/6 BC work began on Rome’s second great strategic highway, the Via Valeria, running east from Rome it would eventually terminate at lofty Alba Fucens, above the Fucine Lake, at the eastern edge of the Aequan country. This was the perfect location for a colony to dominate the very centre of Italy. Having not fought on any great scale for almost a century, the Aequi dared not meet the Roman invaders in open battle and instead took to their hill-top forts, but the legions were unstoppable: forty hill forts fell in fifty days and no mercy was shown to the defenders. The neighbouring tribes – Marsi, Paeligni, Marrucini and Frentani – were shocked at the speed of the conquest and quickly patched up new treaties with Rome. The Vestini followed suit in 302/1 BC.

Alba Fucens was duly colonized in 303 BC with no fewer than 6,000 adult males, the most powerful yet of Rome’s new Latin foundations, and with a huge territory that included country confiscated from the Marsi. The Marsi duly revolted but were soon forced into submission by Valerius Corvus (302/1 BC). The desperate Aequi continued to resist the Roman occupation, providing old generals such as the Ploughman (in 302/1 BC) and the Raven again (300 BC) with easy victories; Bubulcus took less than week to complete his campaign. By 299 BC the resistance of the Aequi had come to an end, and a swathe of their territory in the upper Anio region was reorganized as ager Romanus and assigned to the appropriately named voting tribe Aniensis. In c. 298 BC a remnant of the Aequi, known by the disparaging diminutive Aequicoli, were ousted from the town of Carseoli. Lying on the new Via Valeria half way between Latium and Alba Fucens, it was re-established as a Latin colony with 4,000 adult male settlers.

Consolidation of the middle Liris was achieved by re-establishing Sora as a Latin colony (with 4,000 adult male colonists), and Arpinum was incorporated into the ager Romanus, its inhabitants becoming citizens without the vote. As we have seen, Anagnia was annexed in 306 BC, and the territory of Frusino was added to the ager Romanus either in that year or in 303 BC. Along with the annexations in the Aequan country (to which should be added Trebula Suffenas) and the establishment of the voting tribe Terentia on former Auruncan land, directly-ruled Roman territory dominated west-central Italy. By 290 BC ager Romanus would run in an unbroken belt across the peninsula, but before that was achieved Rome had to defeat a grand coalition of Italian peoples led by the resilient Samnites.

The Early Years of the Third Samnite War

As readers will have noticed, ancient Italy was a frighteningly violent land. Just as the Romans fought to drive the Volsci and Aequi from Latium, those peoples now threatened with Roman domination would not give up without a fight. For example, in 302/1 BC the aged but agile Valerius Corvus slaughtered rebellious Etruscans from Arretium and Rusellae as well as Marsian malcontents. Various Etruscan city-states were to prove troublesome for the next forty years, either individually or in alliance. The Samnites sought to exploit this resistance and cement new alliances.

The Etruscans and Umbrians were threatened not only by the Romans, but also by the Gauls. The Gallic peoples of the Po Valley and Adriatic coast found themselves under pressure from a new wave of Gauls crossing the Alps. Gallic incursions into the peninsula were now as much concerned with conquering new lands for settlement as with the acquisition of plunder. In 299 BC Gauls, probably Senones, invaded northern Etruria, but through negotiations and bribes they were actually persuaded (perhaps in part by the Samnites) to ally themselves with the Etruscans, and instead of pillaging Etruria they marched further south and raided the ager Romanus. This caused the Romans to look for allies in the north. The Picentes, whose territory lay between Umbria and the Adriatic Sea, had long been subject to the violent attentions of the Senones who occupied the northern marches of Picenum, and readily entered into alliance with the city well known for her hatred of the Gauls. The Picentes informed the Romans that the Samnites had also been courting them. Between 297 and 296 BC the full extent of the new Samnite alliance became clear: the League had won over Apulians, Umbrians, Etruscans, Senones, Sabines and perhaps part of the Marsi. One suspects that the Picentes chose Rome over the Samnites in 299 BC because the latter had already entered into negotiations with the despised Gauls.

The Third Samnite War broke out in 298 BC, but not because of the Samnites’ machinations in the north of the peninsula. In order to bolster its military strength the Samnite League first attempted to persuade the Lucanians to join it. The Lucanians, briefly allied to Rome at the start of the Second Samnite War, were quickly persuaded by Tarentum to renounce that alliance, but appear to have played little if any part in the long conflict. As we have seen, Lucania was subject to a punitive Roman incursion in 317 BC and it has been suggested that a contingent from Posidonia helped the Samnites to defeat Iunius Bubulcus near Bovianum in 311 BC. However, the Lucani appear to have taken advantage of the Samnites’ preoccupation with Rome to extend their power into the deep south of Italy and threatened the Greek cities of Magna Graecia. The rapprochement with Tarentum did not last, and in 303 BC the Tarentines called on the aid of their mother city, Sparta. However, the Spartan prince Cleonymous was more concerned with establishing his own kingdom than with defending the lands and interests of Tarentum, and the Tarentines turned against him. Prior to the split with Tarentum, Cleonymous had defeated the Lucanians and it may have been then that the Samnite League first made its approach. The ambassadors were rebuffed and the Samnites decided to bring the Lucani over by force. The Lucani then remembered their old friendship with Rome and appealed to the Senate for aid. The consuls of 298 BC, Gnaeus Fulvius Centumalus (meaning ‘a Hundred Misfortunes’) and Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus drove the Samnites from Lucania and raided the south of Samnium. Interestingly, Centumalus inflicted two defeats on the Samnites by means of ambush:

When Fulvius Nobilior was leading his army from Samnium against the Lucanians, and had learned from deserters that the enemy intended to attack his rearguard, he ordered his bravest legion to go in advance, and the baggage train to follow in the rear. The enemy, regarding this circumstance as a favourable opportunity, began to plunder the baggage. Fulvius then marshalled five cohorts of the legion I have mentioned above on the right side of the road, and five on the left. Then, when the enemy were intent on plundering, Fulvius, deploying his troops on both flanks, enveloped the foe and cut them to pieces.

The same Nobilior on one occasion was hard pressed from the rear by the enemy, as he was on the march. Across his route ran a stream, not so large as to prevent passage, but large enough to cause delay by the swiftness of the current. On the nearer side of this, Nobilior placed one legion in hiding, in order that the enemy, despising his small numbers, might follow more boldly. When this expectation was realized, the legion which had been posted for the purpose attacked the enemy from ambush and destroyed them.

Nobilior (‘the Most Noble’ or ‘Oustanding’) was an additional cognomen of Marcus Fulvius Paetinus, the consul of 255 BC who was famous for his role in the sea battles of the First Punic War, but he did not fight the Samnites and the cognomen has been erroneously retrojected onto his relative, the consul of 298 BC. The detail about the legionary cohorts is erroneous; Frontinus, a Roman general of the first century AD, imagined that the legions of the Samnite wars were organized like his own, in cohorts rather than maniples. Note also the misunderstanding concerning the identity of the enemy, here Lucanians, but the passages are of great interest in demonstrating a Roman consul using classically Samnite tactics against the Samnites, and probably also indicative that he preferred not to meet them in formal battle. That impression is strengthened by another anecdote in Frontinus concerning ‘Nobilior’ = Centumalus:

Fulvius Nobilior, deeming it necessary to fight with a small force against a large army of the Samnites who were flushed with success, pretended that one legion of the enemy had been bribed by him to turn traitor; and to strengthen belief in this story, he commanded the tribunes, the primi ordines [senior centurions] and the centurions to contribute all the ready money they had, or any gold and silver, in order that the price might be paid the traitors at once. He promised that, when victory was achieved, he would give generous presents besides to those who contributed for this purpose. This assurance brought such ardour and confidence to the Romans that they straightway opened battle and won a glorious victory.

That the Samnites were in high morale and the consul needed to motivate the legionaries in such a dubious manner, suggest that the Romans were not immediately successful in the first year of the Third Samnite War. The battle accounts of Livy often suggest that the Romans had to do little more than to turn up to win a battle, but that is far from the reality. Frontinus, like Livy, imagines the Samnites having legions. Considering that the Samnites fought in maniples with similar armament to the Romans and other Italian peoples, it is not impossible that the largest regiments of the armies of the Samnite League were organized in a manner similar to the Roman legions. In fact, we know from an inscription of the late fourth or early third century BC that the Marsi used the Latin word legio to describe their military units.

At least one of the consuls of 298 BC also saw service in the on-going and rather desultory Etruscan War, perhaps defeating the army of Volaterra in the field but unable to take the strongly fortified city. News of fresh Etruscan musters reached Rome during the consular elections for 297 BC, but come the opening of the campaigning season, reports from Nepet, Sutrium and Falerii suggested that the Etruscans would not, after all, take to the field and the new consuls attacked Samnium. The patrician Fabius Rullianus and plebeian Decius Mus were consular colleagues for the second time, a sure sign of political alliance. Rullianus began his campaign at Sora and pillaged his way towards Tifernum (in the Montagne del Matese) but his route of advance is uncertain. Rullianus’ scouts detected a Samnite ambush in the area of Tifernum. According to Livy, the Samnites ‘had drawn their forces up in a secluded valley and were preparing to assail the Romans from above once they had entered it.’ Rullianus put his army into a defensive hollow square formation (agmen quadratum) and halted short of the ambush site. Realizing that they had been discovered, the Samnites came down to fight a regular pitched battle. Rullianus’ son Gurges (‘the Glutton’ or ‘Insatiable’) and Valerius Maximus, son of the Raven, opened the fighting with a cavalry charge, perhaps hoping to scatter the Samnites while they were still forming their battle line, but the Roman squadrons were repulsed and they withdrew in shame and played no further part in the battle. Prior to engaging with the infantry, Rullianus ordered his legate Scipio Barbatus to take the hastati from the First Legion (the first time Livy identifies a legion by its numeral) and to find a way around the enemy army’s position and attack it from the rear. This tactic won the battle. The Samnites stubbornly resisted Rullianus’ main body of infantry and the consul had to bring up his second battle line to prevent the first from being overwhelmed, but when Barbatus’ hastati suddenly appeared behind them the Samnites panicked and attempted to escape. They were under the impression that a second full Roman army was bearing down on them. Livy reports with some disappointment that relatively few Samnites were killed or taken prisoner. The 3,400 dead and 830 captured are a fraction of his usual casualty figures and have the ring of authenticity; records of numbers killed and captured were certainly made and sent to the Senate in dispatches. Commanders would also be keen to discover if they had killed enough to earn a triumph (5,000 enemy dead was the requirement in later centuries). However, the figures may derive from the plausible invention of one of Livy’s sources. As we are not told of their release or execution, it is most likely that the captives were sold or kept by the Romans as slaves. The vastly expanded ager Romanus and colonial territories required slave labour to work in the fields while the peasant soldiers were on campaign.

Meanwhile, Decius Mus boldly advanced from the territory of the Sidicini to the vicinity of Malventum, the capital of the Hirpini. Mus did not, however, fight the Samnites. He instead intercepted an Apulian army before it linked up with Samnite forces. Once again, Livy’s casualty figure is low; he reports only 2,000 Apulians killed.

Mus and Rullianus spent the next four months devastating parts of Samnium, although where exactly is not revealed, concentrating on terrorizing the rural population and destroying farms and crops and herds, but the extent of their devastations is probably exaggerated. Rullianus captured the only notable town. The garrison of Cimetra (its location is uncertain) proved insufficient to save it from the consular army. Of the almost 3,000 defenders, 930 were killed and the rest were added to Rullianus’ haul of captives. Rullianus returned to Rome to oversee the election of the consuls for 296 BC, but Mus wintered with his army in Samnium. The imperium of Rullianus and Decius was prorogued for six months, allowing the latter to continue his work of devastation in 296 BC. Livy asserts that this activity forced a Samnite army, which had apparently refused to engage in battle, to withdraw completely from Samnium. Livy creates the impression that the Samnites had to go elsewhere to find food supplies, but in reality the main Samnite field army led by Gellius Egnatius had no interest in Mus: it was marching to link up with the new allies in Etruria. It is conceivable that Mus was mostly confined to his winter camp and that he, rather than the Samnites, refused to engage in open battle. One wonders if Mus’ winter camp was even in Samnium; perhaps it was located in Apulia or Lucania. Tellingly, once Egnatius had departed, Mus took the opportunity to lead his army on a plundering expedition. Three towns were stormed – Murgantia, Romulea and Ferentinum. They were stripped of valuables, including people. The latter town was clearly not the Hernican settlement and it is conceivably an error for Forentum in Apulia. Maybe it had sided with, or been occupied by the Samnites. If Livy’s Ferentinum is in fact Forentum, the otherwise unknown Murgantia and Romulea should also be located in the same general area. However, it may be that there was a Ferentinum located elsewhere in Samnium. Duplicate place names were not uncommon. For example, towns called Ausculum were to be found in Picenum and in Apulia, and there was a Teanum in the Sidicine country and another in Apulia.

Proconsul Rullianus did not return to Samnium in 296 BC. He was called instead to settle disputes among the new Lucanian allies, who were not a unified nation; some might have preferred to side with their Samnite kin, but the presence of Rullianus’ army persuaded them to stay loyal to Rome.

The consuls of 296 BC were Appius Claudius and Volumnius Flamma Violens. They had a mutual dislike of each other but were forced to co-operate to combat the worrying presence of Gellius Egnatius in Etruria. The Samnite general’s route to Etruria is uncertain. He may have passed through the Marsian country, but in order to rendezvous with his allies in the north (Egnatius is identified by Livy as the mastermind of the grand coalition), he had could not avoid crossing Rome’s territory or that of her allies, which stretched from coast to coast. He must have then crossed Sabine and Umbrian territory and entered Etruria from the Upper Tiber Valley, perhaps in the vicinity of Perusia.

The consuls advanced into Etruria and established a camp close to where Egnatius was ensconced, probably Perusia. Livy tells us that Appius’ consular legions were numbered I and IV, and were accompanied by 12,000 allies. Flamma’s legions bore the numerals II and III and were supported by 15,000 allies; it is uncertain why he had 3,000 more allied troops than his colleague. This is the first time Livy identifies the numerals of all four consular legions and is a rare occurrence of him admitting to the presence of the allies (socii). The allies outnumbered the legionaries (18,000 in total), but many of the socii could have been drawn from the new Latin colonies. In later centuries the ratio of allied to Roman citizen troops varied from one-to-one to two-to-one.

The size of Egatius’ Samnite force is not revealed. He was initially joined by Etruscan contingents (reported by Livy) and probably also by Sabine levies (suggested by the elogium of Appius). There were daily skirmishes between the camps but neither side emerged en masse to offer formal battle. Eventually, a general engagement did develop when some foragers being led by Egnatius were intercepted. Livy reports a Roman victory, but he admits Egnatius held his ground, and the situation for the Romans became so desperate that Appius dramatically vowed a temple to Bellona, the goddess of war, if she would grant the Romans victory. According to Livy, 7,800 of the enemy were killed and 2,120 taken captive. These were substantial losses (almost 10,000 in total), but despite their ‘victory’ the consuls were unable to oust Egnatius from Etruria and more Etruscans soon joined him. The Romans too must have suffered very significant casualties and the outcome of the battle was probably indecisive.

When the prorogations of Fabius Rullianus and Decius Mus came to an end, possibly in mid-summer, they had to return to Rome and disband their armies. They appear to have achieved little in the course of their extended campaigns; neither was awarded a triumph. Volumnius Flamma was assigned the Samnite theatre, leaving Appius Claudius with the unenviable task of containing Egnatius’ ever-growing army of anti-Roman confederates.

With the proconsular armies disbanded and Flamma still in the north, Samnium was temporarily unattended and Campania exposed. The Samnite general Staius Minatius took full advantage, leading a major incursion down the valley of the Volturnus. The ager Falernus and the Auruncan country were pillaged. Thousands of captives were taken, crops and vines destroyed and herds driven off. There was panic in Rome; Egnatius was still undefeated and Minatius’ incursion, almost to the Auruncan border with Greater Latium, recalled the catastrophic situation in 315 BC, when the Samnites charged through the pass of Lautulae and seized Tarracina. However, Minatius’ army was concerned with plundering and not with occupation. The Samnites made no attempt on Cales or any other Roman strongholds. Virtually unopposed in the countryside, Minatius became careless. Unaware that Flamma had rushed south, the Samnite raiders were intercepted as they left their camp on the Volturnus and headed for home. Almost 7,500 captives were freed, a mass of plunder recovered and Minatius himself was captured along with his warhorse, but despite reports of significant Samnite losses (6,000 killed, 2,500 captured), one suspects that a substantial part of the army made good its escape simply by abandoning the slaves, cattle and less portable plunder, and the Romans may have been forced to abandon their pursuit when the Samnite vanguard returned to support the main body of the army. A period of thanksgiving was declared in Rome. It is notable that, despite this success and the apparent victory in Etruria, no triumphs were awarded in 296 BC; the Senate and consuls realized that their successes were little more than holding actions. The real battle was yet to be fought.

Tota Italia II

Appius Claudius was hard-pressed in Etruria. He sent increasingly gloomy dispatches to the Senate in Rome reporting that Egnatius continued to receive reinforcements, most notably from the Umbrians and the Gauls. The existing confederate camp was too small to contain the Four Nations, as Appius dubbed them, and a second had to be established. This news, coupled with the scare in northern Campania, prompted the Senate to enforce an emergency levy. This went far beyond the usual conscription of iuniores. Seniores and even freedmen (that is slaves who had bought their freedom or been released by their masters) were formed into cohorts, each of three maniples, to act as reserves and for the defence of the city. The decision was also taken to guard the Via Appia and approaches to Latium from future raids by the establishment of colonies at Minturnae, where the road crossed the mouth of the Liris, and at Sinuessa (founded in 295 BC). However, these were not large-scale Latin colonies, but small Roman citizen colonies. Despite the fact that a citizen colony required only 300 adult male settlers who would retain their superior Roman status, volunteers were in short supply:

The tribunes of the plebs were assigned the task of obtaining a plebiscite directing Publius Sempronius [Sophus] the praetor to appoint three commissioners (triumviri) to conduct the colonists to these places. Yet it was not easy to find men who would enrol, since they regarded themselves as sent, not to settle on the land, but to serve almost as a perpetual outpost in hostile territory.

Despite the gloomy mood in Rome, life went on as before. The aediles (junior magistrates) were busy prosecuting moneylenders and fining those who were exploiting public land for grazing (indicative of the scale of recent conquests). The curule aediles, the brothers Gnaeus and Quintus Ogulnius, used the possessions seized from the convicted to fund lavish adornments to the shrines on the Capitol. These included a bronze statue group of Jupiter being carried in a chariot drawn by four horses, but more notably they commissioned a statue of Romulus and Remus being suckled by the she-wolf to be set up by the sacred fig tree (ficus Ruminalus) associated with Romulus on the Palatine. This demonstrates the belief in the well-known, but probably only fairly recently developed, foundation myth that Rome was established by Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of the war god Mars. The tale has the essential elements of the Sacred Spring – Mars’ sacred wolf is elsewhere found as a pathfinder animal, for example of the Hirpini, and the Twins go on to form a war band and carve out a territory in Latium. The Romans were probably aware of the Samnites’ belief that they had been led out of the Sabine country by a bull sent by Mamers/Mars, but the Romans could better that boast by asserting they were in fact, through Romulus, the children of Mars and therefore divinely favoured.

The Battle of the Nations

The consuls elected for 295 BC were the old partners Fabius Rullianus and Decius Mus. Both consuls were to take their armies into Etruria and attempt to defeat Egnatius but, to Mus’ annoyance, overall responsibility for the command was assigned to the more experienced Rullianus and this made for friction. Volumnius Flamma’s imperium was prorogued for a full year and he would continue the war in Samnium. He retained the command of two legions. Appius Claudius, who was still in the field, was elected praetor and recalled to Rome to oversee the administration of the city in the absence of the consuls. He might also be called on to organize its defence.

The seriousness of the military situation facing Rome is indicated by the number of experienced military men who were made propraetors and given imperium, thus allowing them to command armies, despite them having held no magistracy in the previous year. Postumius Megellus and Fulvius Centumalus were charged with guarding the northern approaches to Rome. Megellus’ army was positioned not far from Rome in the ager Vaticanus, that is, the land on the far bank of the Tiber including the Janiculum. Centumalus was sent into the Faliscan territory where his army could straddle the important routes into Etruria and Umbria. Scipio Barbatus was also propraetor in 295 BC, but it is uncertain if, like Megellus and Centumalus, he was given imperium by the Senate and People of Rome. It is possible that he was originally attached to Rullianus’ army as a legate and subsequently imbued with imperium by the consul to enable him to command a legion independently of the consular army. If so, this would be the first example of a consul using his powers to invest a private citizen (admittedly a consular) with imperium.

There were nine legions in service in 295 BC. As noted above, Flamma continued to command two legions, possibly his consular legions but we cannot be certain. Megellus and Centumalus had at least one legion apiece. Rullianus could have raised two new legions but he chose to enrol only one with an unusual double complement of cavalry; Livy reports this legion had 4,000 infantry, probably rounded down from the standard 4,200, and 600 equites. The consul also took over the legions of Appius Claudius, which had wintered on the Umbrian frontier. Mus’ consular army had the usual complement of two, presumably newly levied, legions.

Appius Claudius established his winter camp at Aharna in Umbria, just across the Tiber from Perusia. The camps of Gellius Egnatius and his allies were close by and Appius’ outnumbered army was confined to its camp. Early in 295 BC Rullianus and Mus arrived with their three legions and 1,000 select Campanian cavalry; it is uncertain if these were Roman citizens from the north of the region, allies from farther south, or a mixture of both. The 12,000 allies attached to Appius’ consular army may have spent the winter of 296/5 BC at Aharna, but it is possible that they were dismissed in the autumn of 296 BC. In the precarious military situation Rome needed more troops than ever before, but she could not risk alienating the allies by keeping them away from their homes for too long. Fresh contingents of Latins and other socii probably accompanied the consuls. At the subsequent Battle of Sentinum there were more allied troops than Romans but we remain ignorant of the exact number.

If at full strength, the nine legions would have contained 40,800 men, including Rullianus’ 300 extra equites. The total contributions of the allies, including those in the armies of the proconsul and propraetors, would have at least equalled, and probably exceeded, the number of legionaries. Thus in this critical year Rome had 80,000 to 100,000 men in the field, and more in reserve.

In 296 BC Appius’ legions bore the numerals I and IV, but when Rullianus assumed command they were renumbered. At Sentinum, Rullianus’ legions had the numerals I and III but we cannot be certain that both were the regiments originally enrolled by Appius, as one may be the legion with extra cavalry that Rullianus recruited from volunteers in Rome. Scipio Barbatus’ imperium allowed him to assume command of one of Rullianus’ three legions and take it over the Apennines to defend Camerinum, Rome’s key Umbrian ally. This legion had the numeral II.

The circumstances that took Barbatus and the Second Legion to Camerinum are uncertain. Egnatius certainly moved his army into Umbria, maybe with the intention of forcing Camerinum to join him, or simply to let his plunder-hungry troops sack it, but Barbatus got there before him. A possible scenario is that the consuls received intelligence of Egnatius’ intention, but for some reason their armies were unable to march, so Rullianus made Barbatus propraetor and invested him with imperium. Barbatus then made a rapid march over the Apennines with legio II and established a camp in the vicinity of Camerinum. The consuls followed up when they able to do so.

The propraetor was probably the first of his branch of the Cornelii clan to bear the famous cognomen Scipio. It is conceivable that he took the name when elected consul; a scipio was a staff that signified magisterial rank. His other cognomen tells us that he was bearded (barbatus). The elogium inscribed on his sarcophagus declares that the bearded propraetor was as handsome as he was brave, but caution was the better part of valour when Egnatius’ host loomed into sight. We do not know if Barbatus’ small army included allies, but it was clearly no match for the great forces arrayed against it. Fearing his camp would be overrun, Barbatus abandoned the position and made for a hill sited between it and Camerinum. The hill would be easier to defend, but the wily Egnatius anticipated the Roman general and had already sent troops to occupy the summit of the hill. Barbatus failed to send scouts (exploratores) ahead to reconnoitre the position. His troops ascended the hill and found themselves face-to-face with Samnite and Gallic warriors. The rest of the confederate army swarmed up behind the Romans. Barbatus, the Second Legion, and any allied cohorts he had, were trapped.

Meanwhile, Rullianus and Mus were following up with their consular forces. As they neared Camerinum, Gallic horsemen rode up to taunt and harass the Roman marching column. The Senonian troopers had freshly severed heads impaled on their spears or hanging from their horses’ tack. It is uncertain how long Barbatus and his small army were trapped on the hill, but when the consuls appeared the legion was almost destroyed and the propraetor was surely anticipating death or ignominious capture. Luckily for Barbatus, Egnatius withdrew his troops before they were in turn trapped by the new Roman army. The Samnite general then marched to Sentinum, some 50 miles to the north and made ready to give battle. The Four Nations were again divided between two camps, the Samnites and Senones in one, and the Etruscans and Umbrans in the other. Egnatius planned to engage one consular army with his Samnites, and the Senones would fight the second. While the Romans were fully occupied, the Etruscans and Umbrians would emerge from their entrenchments, skirt around the embattled armies and capture the lightly defended Roman camp located 4 miles away, thus leaving the legions and allied cohorts with nowhere safe to retreat to and vulnerable to attack from the rear. Egnatius may have hoped that this would be enough to cause the Roman army to surrender or flee. Livy informs us that deserters from Egnatius’ army brought news of this plan to Rullianus and the consul therefore sent orders to Megellus and Centumalus to leave their positions above Rome and invade the territory of Clusium in Etruria. This diversionary attack has the effect of persuading the Etruscans to hurry back home. They do not feature in Livy’s account of the Battle of Sentinum (the principle account), nor do the Umbrians, some of whom may have opted to aid the Etruscans (more natural allies than Samnites or predatory Gauls), while other Umbrian contingents, seeing the coalition weakened, chose to depart to their home towns.

Livy makes it very clear that the consuls were concerned about the great size of Egnatius’ army. Unfortunately its actual strength is not reported by Livy or any other source, but it was probably the largest army yet assembled in Italy. One wonders, therefore, if Rullianus’ (and perhaps also his colleague’s) plan to draw off the Etruscans was actually underway before deserters apparently brought news of Egnatius’ dastardly plan. Fulvius Centumalus was especially well placed to march up the valley of the Tiber, or through the Ciminus, to threaten Clusium, once the stronghold of Lars Porsenna. Centumalus’ time in the Faliscan country had not been without incident. Even with the propraetor’s army on their territory, Rome’s perceived weakness encouraged some Faliscans to take up arms and they made an incursion into neighbouring ager Romanus, but Centumalus caused the enemy force to disperse by a simple ruse:

When a force of Faliscans far superior to ours [an exaggeration] had encamped in our territory, Gnaeus Fulvius [Centumalus] had his soldiers set fire to certain buildings at a distance from the camp in order that the Faliscans, thinking that their own men had done this, might scatter in hope of plunder.

Centumalus must have reached the territory of Clusium before Megellus and began the work of devastation. It seems that Megellus arrived to take over this task, allowing Centumalus to march on Perusia and intercept the Perusine and Clusian forces that had returned from Sentinum. The Etruscans were defeated, losing 3,000 men and 20 of their sacred military standards.

The consuls were keen to bring the Samnites and Senones to battle. It was not certain that the propraetors would defeat the Etruscans or that the Umbrians, or even more Gauls, would rejoin Egnatius. Even in its reduced state, the consuls wondered if they had enough men to defeat the army of the Samnite general. For two days the consuls sent troops to harass the enemy. The troops involved would have been cavalry and light infantry, that is, soldiers suited to skirmishing and hit and run tactics. The Samnites and Senones responded in kind, neither side winning any real advantage but, as the consuls intended, Gellius Egnatius was suitably provoked and on the third day he led all of his troops from his camp and offered battle. The Battle of the Nations, as it became known, was at hand; Romans, Latins and Campanians facing Samnites and Gauls.

The actual location of the battle in the territory of Sentinum is uncertain. There is a suitable plain immediately to the north of the town. A small river, now called the Sanguerone, cuts through the centre of the plain. Egnatius’ army fought in two divisions. If the battle was fought on this plain, the river might have separated the divisions and the opposing consular armies.

Gellius Egnatius drew up his Samnites on the left wing of the confederate army. Samnite cavalry, although not mentioned by Livy, presumably covered the left flank of their infantry. The Senones formed up on the right, with a very substantial cavalry force protecting their right flank; the infantry on the right flank of any army were vulnerable because this was their unshielded side. Assuming that the Sanguerone separated the Gauls and Samnites, the watercourse protected the unshielded side of the Samnite infantry.

On the Roman side, Rullianus took up position on the right opposite the Samnites with his First and Third Legions. Decius drew up the Fifth and Sixth Legions on the left against the Senones. The Campanian cavalry are reported only on the right flank with Rullianus, but it may be that the 1,000 troopers were shared by the consuls and divided into two alae (wings). Unless the legion annihilated at Camerinum was the regiment raised in Rome with the double complement of cavalry, Rullianus should have had 300 more equites than his colleague. However, mountainous Samnium was not cavalry country and it is probable that more Gallic cavalry confronted Mus, and Rullianus could have transferred some of his horsemen to Mus.

The positions of the Latin and allied forces at Sentinum is unclear. In Livy’s account all of the fighting is carried out by the legionaries and Roman and Campanian equites. Livy does refer to subsidia, that is, reserves, being brought into action at a critical stage of the battle. These reserves may be the allied cohorts, drawn up behind the legionary battle lines, but the allied cohorts were organized into maniples and interchangeable lines of hastati, principes and triarii, and so could have formed up on the flanks of the legions. Livy’s reserves would then be legionary and allied triarii, and the allied cavalry turmae would have reinforced the Roman and Campanian troopers on the wings.

If the four legions at Sentinum were up to strength, Rullianus and Mus had 16,800 legionary infantry and 1,200 or 1,500 equites (18,000 – 18,300 in total). The force of Latins and allies, perhaps including the 1,000 Campanians, is said to have been greater than the number of Roman troops. We should recall that Appius Claudius and Volumnius Flamma had a total of 27,000 allied soldiers with them in Etruria. It would not be unreasonable to assume that a similar number joined Rullianus and Mus and this would bring the size of the Roman army up to c. 45,000, but the situation was different to that of 296 BC. There were three other Roman armies in the field, all requiring allied contingents, and it may be that the number of allies at Sentinum was only slightly greater than the number of Roman troops, and a total figure of less than 40,000 may be appropriate.

As noted above, Livy does not report or estimate the size of Egnatius’ army at Sentinum. He does relate, with considerable disdain, that some of the sources he consulted put forward a grossly exaggerated total for the enemy army:

Great as the glory of the day on which the Battle of Sentinum was fought must appear to any writer who adheres to the truth, it has by some writers been exaggerated beyond all belief. They assert that the enemy’s army amounted to 330,000 infantry and 46,000 cavalry, together with 1,000 war chariots. That, of course, includes the Umbrians and Tuscans who are represented as taking part in the battle. And by way of increasing the Roman strength they tell us that Lucius Volumnius commanded in the action as well as the consuls, and that their legions were supplemented by his army.

An army of this size would be impossible to provision or manoeuvre. However, if the number of enemy casualties, prisoners and fugitives that Livy records is accepted as reasonably accurate, the combined total suggests that Egnatius had at least 38,000 soldiers and the consuls’ concerns about the size of his army, even without Etruscans and Umbrians, probably indicates that he had considerably more warriors at his disposal. The total number of troops at Sentinum was probably in excess of 80,000 and may have been as great as 100,000. According to Diodorus, Duris of Samos put the number of enemy casualties at 100,000, perhaps another gross exaggeration but possibly a reflection of the total size of the forces engaged.

The pivotal engagement in Rome’s conquest of Italy was probably fought in April 295 BC. It was usual for generals to lead their armies out of their camps at dawn and, considering the vast numbers present, it must have taken some time to arrange the soldiers into battle lines. Something extraordinary happened as the Italian armies faced off:

As they stood arrayed for battle, a deer, pursued by a wolf that had chased it down from the mountains, fled across the plain and between the two battle lines. The animals then turned in opposite directions, the deer towards the Gauls and the wolf towards the Romans. For the wolf a space was opened between the ordines, but the Gauls killed the deer. Then one of the Roman front rankers (antesignanus) called out, ‘Where you see the animal sacred to Diana lying slain, that way flight and slaughter have shaped their course. On this side the wolf of Mars, unhurt and sound, has reminded us of the race of Mars and of our founder Romulus.’

This was clearly a sign from Mars, progenitor of the Roman race, and Mus’ legionaries were elated by the portent of the Gauls’ demise. It is, of course, extremely doubtful that a wolf chased a deer between the armies, but it is likely that the Romans saw a wolf that day and it was taken as a good omen. It is also possible that the Gauls, immediately prior to engaging the Romans, sacrificed a deer. Such battlefield sacrifices, carried out before the front rank, were not unusual in the Ancient World. If something went wrong with the ceremony, the opponent observing it would take heart knowing that the gods did not favour their enemy.

Rullianus’ strategy was to stand firm and absorb the charges of the enemy. When the Samnites inevitably tired he would launch a decisive counter-charge. He believed that the same tactic would defeat the Gauls: ‘They are more than men at the start of a fight, but by the end they are less than women!’ He had presumably attempted to convince Mus to adhere to this strategy, yet the other consul was desirous of accomplishing victory more quickly and gloriously and, inspired by the omen of the wolf and the deer, led his maniples forward in an impetuous attack.

The maniples of hastati would have closed with the Gauls at the run (impetus), pausing only momentarily to hurl their pila, roar their war cry (clamor), and draw their swords. The centurions and soldiers in the front would have surged ahead, aiming to batter down Gallic warriors with the bosses of their shields, force their way into the ranks and set to work with their cut-and-thrust swords. The soldiers in the rearmost ranks of the maniples would follow up more steadily in good order, drumming weapons against their shields, shouting encouragement to their comrades and perhaps lobbing pila over their heads and into the ranks of the enemy.

But the Senones resisted fiercely. They too were armed with pila-like missiles, which must have thinned the ranks of the attacking Romans, and their long swords could hack through shields and armour. The two sides were evenly matched in fury and prowess and the infantry action gradually waned. We may presume that Mus called up the principes to relieve or reinforce the hastati, but when they too failed to break the Senones, the consul looked to his cavalry to hasten victory. Riding from turma to turma he exhorted the mostly rich and aristocratic troopers: ‘Yours will be a double share of glory if victory comes first to the left wing and to the cavalry!’

The cavalry on the left wing would have moved forward to protect the flank of the advancing infantry, but until now, there was no all-out cavalry assault. Mus attached himself to the bravest turma (perhaps actually his mounted bodyguard) and led two charges against the Gallic horse. The first charge drove the Gauls back and the second scattered them, exposing the unshielded right flank and rear of their infantry, but the Romans were unable to exploit the opportunity. The war chariots of the Senones had been held in reserve behind the battle line. The sudden and unexpected counter-charge panicked both horses and riders, and the Roman cavalry fled in disorder as the clattering chariots pursued them. Mus was unable to halt their flight, and the fugitives appear to have swept past the flank of their own infantry. The charioteers broke off their pursuit and turned instead on the vulnerable infantry, driving into the intervals between maniples and ordines. Many of the antesignani, that is the hastati or principes in the leading battle line, were trampled down. The Gallic infantry took advantage of the chaos and attacked.

With the cavalry in flight and the leading battle line of infantry almost overrun, it seemed that the Roman left might collapse. If the left fell, Rullianus’ wing would surely also succumb and with it Rome’s hard won conquests in Italy. Decius Mus decided that the time had come for him to follow the example of his illustrious father: he would ride to his death as a devotus and through his own sacrifice bring about the destruction of the enemy. Livy has him utter: ‘Now I will offer up the legions of the enemy, to be slaughtered along with me, as victims to Tellus [Mother Earth] and the divine Manes [gods of the Underworld].’

Livy informs us that throughout the battle Mus kept the pontifex, Marcus Livius Denter, close. Such a senior state priest was necessary to lead a devotus through the correct ritual. That Mus had Denter by his side at all times suggests that his decision to perform devotio was not spontaneous. The consul’s heritage must have led to expectations that he too would perform devotio if the situation facing Rome became desperate and Sentinum was such an occasion. It is likely that he informed Rullianus of his intention to devote himself if his initial tactics failed. The legionaries and allies would have been told as well. If they were not prepared, they would most likely panic at the sight of the consul being cut down.

Tota Italia III

South Italic warriors, c. 400BCE, art by Giuseppe Rava

A spear sacred to Mars was laid upon the ground and Mus stood upon it. Denter helped the consul recite the terrible prayer of devotio, the same with which the original Decius Mus had devoted himself at Battle of the Veseris. It is possible that Livy or his sources invented this, but it seems likely that it derives from pontifical or other priestly records of religious formulae:

Janus, Jupiter, Father Mars, Quirinus, Bellona, Lares, divine Novensiles, divine Indigites, you gods in whose power are both we and the enemy, and you, divine Manes, I invoke and worship you, I beg and crave your favour, that you prosper the might and victory of the Roman people and visit on their enemies fear, shuddering and death. As I have pronounced these words on behalf of the Republic of the Roman people, and of the army and the legions and auxiliaries . . . I devote the legions and auxiliaries of the enemy, along with myself, to the divine Manes and Tellus.

The younger Mus added some grim imprecations to this vow of death:

I will drive before me fear and panic, blood and carnage. The wrath of the heavenly gods and the infernal gods will curse the standards, weapons and armour of the enemy, and in the same place as I die witness the destruction of the Gauls and Samnites!

Denter helped Mus don the ritualistic garb of the devotus. This was the cinctus Gabinius, a toga hitched in such a way that a man could ride a horse and wield a weapon. The consul was ready to meet his destiny, but first proclaimed Denter propraetor (he had been consul in 302 BC). Thus invested with imperium, Denter assumed command of the consular army.

Brandishing the spear of Mars, Mus spurred his way through the broken antesignani, charged into the ranks of the advancing Senones and impaled himself on their weapons. The death of a general, the focus of command and authority and leadership, usually triggered the collapse of an army, but the news of Mus’ glorious demise, transmitted by Denter, rallied the hard-pressed Roman infantry and they turned on their opponents with renewed vigour. According to Livy, Mus’ heroic death had the effect of instantly paralyzing the seemingly victorious Gauls:

From that moment the battle seemed scarce to depend on human efforts. The Romans, after losing a general – an occurrence that is wont to inspire terror – fled no longer, but sought to redeem the field. The Gauls, especially those in the press around the body of the consul, as though deprived of reason, were darting their javelins at random and without effect, while some were in a daze, and could neither fight nor run away.

The Senones’ reaction seems entirely fantastic but is it entirely fictitious? Is it merely the over-egged reconstruction of a patriotic Roman historian or does it have some basis in reality? Livy was keen to describe how the self-sacrifice of Mus brought on the aid of Tellus and Manes and the form that aid took, but were the Senones aware they had killed a devotus? It is possible that they did, and their reaction, although exaggerated, was one of shock and caused their advance to halt.

It was suggested above that the Picentes chose alliance with Rome rather than with the Samnite-led coalition because of their hatred of the Senones. The Senones had encroached on the lands of the proud Picentes for more than a century. The Picentes famously took their name from the sacred picus of Mamers that had led them to the east of the Appenines. The association with Mamers/Mars is underlined by considerable archaeological finds of arms and armour that demonstrate the martial nature of ancient Picenum. They were talented smiths, developing elaborate ‘pot’ helmets and the original Negau-type which were adopted throughout Italy in the sixth and fifth centuries BC and employed by Italic mercenaries serving abroad, for example in Sicily. The ‘Woodpeckers’ did lose a portion of their northern territory to the Senones, but their success in halting the Gallic advance and holding the remaining country testifies to their military prowess. There is also evidence to suggest that the Picentes knew of the ritual of devotio and employed it in battle.

In an excursus about devotio following his account of the Veseris, Livy notes that a Roman commander could nominate an ordinary legionary to take his place and die among the enemy. This substitution would eliminate the possibility of the Roman army panicking at the death of its commander, and volunteers were probably not difficult to find. The honour falling on the family of a successful devotus would be immense. The use of substitutes should lead us to suspect that devotiones were more common occurrences than the sources suggest, but only the successful devotiones of great men entered the written record.

Devotio or devotio-like practices were not unique to the Romans and Latins, and if the enemy realized that a devotus was seeking death, every effort would be made to capture the man alive (cf. the orders of Pyrrhus at Ausculum, below). If the devotus, whether a general or a common soldier, failed to die, an expiatory offering had to be made to the gods cheated of the promised sacrifice of the devotus and the enemy soldiers. A 7 feet tall statue of the failed devotus was buried in the ground and a victim sacrificed over it. Likewise, if the devotus was unsuccessful and lost to the enemy the spear sacred to Mars, a pig, sheep or an ox was sacrificed to placate the god.

In 1934 the limestone statue of an Italic warrior was discovered buried in a vineyard near Capestrano. It had not toppled to the ground and gradually been covered over with soil, but was deliberately buried, like a body in a grave. The back of the statue remained in perfect condition, suggesting that it was buried immediately after its production, around 500 BC. The statue is 7 feet tall. The figure wears typical central Italian body armour, the details of which are emphasized with paint: a bronze gorget and disc cuirass, a broad bronze belt and an apron to protect his vulnerable abdomen. His arms are crossed over his chest and he clutches a short sword and a small axe, while javelins with throwing thongs are carved on the vertical supports that hold up the figure. Capestrano is located in what was the territory of the Vestini, but the warrior wears a broad-brimmed Picene helmet with a great crest and the inscription on the statue, not yet deciphered, is in a southern Picene dialect. It has been suggested that the Capestrano Warrior represents a very high status – his rich panoply was far beyond the means of a common soldier – but failed devotus.

If the Capestrano Warrior does represent a devotus, it would demonstrate that the Picentes employed devotio. We can postulate that a Picene devotio was essentially similar to a Roman devotio: the king, general or lower-ranking substitute invoking the gods, vowing to sacrifice himself and the forces of the enemy, followed by the donning of ritual costume or armour and the lone charge to the death. The opponents against whom the Picentes were most likely to employ this ritual tactic were the Senonian Gauls.

If the Senones were familiar with devotio or similar practices from warfare against the Picentes and other Italian peoples, the warriors at Sentinum would have recognized the features of devotio in Mus’ suicidal charge. The realization that they had unwittingly carried out a sacrifice that would set the gods against them could well have caused their advance to falter. The impact of the divine on ancient Italian warfare should not be underestimated. This was an intensely religious and superstitious age, and even if the Senones were unsure about which gods were being called on to aid the Romans (by this time the Gauls had probably adopted a considerable number of native Italian deities), they recognized ritual practice, knew the powers and whims of the gods and they would have known fear and panic.

That Mus’ antesignani rallied on witnessing his death demonstrates they had been forewarned that their general might devote himself and, if so, not to panic but rejoice, for the enemy would be doomed. The situation was reversed: Romans turned to pursue Senones, but the Gallic warriors had recovered some of their composure and did not flee pell-mell as the Roman cavalry had. They halted and organized themselves into a strong testudo formation. Like the Romans, the Gauls protected themselves with tall shields, well-suited to form the walls and roof of the testudo (‘tortoise’). The testudo is famous from later Roman warfare. If it remained unbroken, it provided excellent protection against missiles and cavalry. Marc Antony’s extraordinary retreat from Parthia in 36 BC was facilitated by use of the marching testudo. The chieftains of the Senones were experienced enough as commanders to realize the dangers of flight from battle – most casualties occurred during the pursuit of broken troops by cavalry. If they could last out the day in the testudo, they should be able to retreat safely under the cover of night. Of course, they may still have hoped for victory. The Samnites continued to fight on the left and if Rullianus was defeated, they would come to the relief of their Gallic allies.

The battle on the Roman right went as Rullianus had predicted. Gellius Egnatius launched his warriors in furious charges at the hastati, but the Romans and allies held firm. The classic Roman infantry formation, that is, the three ordines of maniples (triplex acies), was designed for mobility and attack, the maniples separated by considerable intervals and acting like miniature attack columns. However, one wonders how suitable this open battle formation was to Rullianus’ defensive, and presumably static, tactics.

The intervals between the maniples of ‘heavy’ infantry (not really an appropriate description but nonetheless useful) were protected by bands of ‘light’ troops called rorarii. Known by the end of the third century BC as velites (‘swift ones’), these were the poorest and usually youngest troops. There were even poorer Roman and Latin citizens, proletarii, who were generally exempt from military service, but the rorarii had at least the means to afford a bundle of light javelins, a sword, shield and helmet. They could not afford body armour. The rorarii fought in swarms, they were not led by centurions and signiferi (standard-bearers), but relied on their own initiative. Before the main battle lines enagaged, they would skirmish in front of the army, using hit-and-run tactics to thin the leading ranks of the enemy or to provoke him into a rash and disorderly attack. The later velites, and perhaps the earlier rorarii as well, wore wolf skins over their helmets to make them conspicuous to senior officers who would take note of acts of valour. Having considerable freedom of movement, these light troops were encouraged to engage in single combat and were eligible for particular military awards (dona militaria). When the main battle lines came up, the rorarii would retreat to the intervals between the maniples: any enemies advancing into the tempting gap would be stung by their light javelins. It is conceivable that attackers also risked being caught in a ‘crossfire’ of pila from the legionaries in the outside files of the maniples to either side, and that the maniple in the following line, positioned to cover the gap, would charge forward. Samnites were notable for the speed of their charges. Lightly equipped – most Samnite warriors were protected by only a scutum (a shield) a helmet, and armed with a couple of dual-purpose thrusting and throwing spears or pila – they could rush the intervals and force their way into the flanks and rears of the maniples. Rullianus, who knew too well the devastating effect of the swift Samnite onslaught from Lautulae, may have arranged his maniples of hastati without the usual intervals, allowing them to form a continuous wall of shields on which the Samnites could exhaust their missiles, energy and resolve.

The hastati would not break and at length the war cries, javelin volleys and charges of Gellius Egnatius’ warriors waned. Rullianus judged the time was ripe to attack. He ordered the prefects commanding the cavalry turmae to work their way forward and be ready to attack the left flank of Egnatius’ army. This suggests that whatever cavalry the Samnite general had was sufficiently weakened or had already retired from the action. The consul then gave the order for the infantry to advance, but this was not yet an all-out charge, only a probe; he was still wary and needed to confirm that the enemy were indeed exhausted. The Samnite maniples were pushed back easily. Rullianus called up reserves he had deliberately held back for this moment. It is uncertain if these were combined legionary and allied principes and/or triarii, or just allied cohorts, nor is it made clear where he positioned them, but in combination with the legionaries they delivered the hammer blow that caused Egnatius’ army to break. Rullianus gave the signal, by trumpet, and the infantry drove forward. Simultaneously the Roman cavalry charged at the Samnites’ left flank. The physically exhausted and demoralized Samnites cracked and they fled back to the confederate camp, easy prey for the swift Roman cavalry. The flight of the Samnites meant that the Senones, still holding out in their testudo, were completely exposed and the Romans hastened to encircle them.

Meanwhile, Livius Denter was busy riding along the ranks of Mus’ army shouting out that the consul had devoted himself, thus making victory certain:

The Gauls and the Samnites, he said, were made over to Tellus and to the Manes. Decius was haling after him with their devoted host and calling it to join him, and with the enemy all was madness and despair.

The arrival of Scipio Barbatus and Marcius Rutilus with reinforcements from Rullianus’ ‘rearmost battle line’, presumably triarii, also helped to rally Mus’ army. On learning of Mus’ sacrifice the former consuls resolved to ‘dare all for the republic’ and destroy the Senones’ testudo. Orders were given to collect up all the pila, javelins and spears littering the battlefield, and to bombard the enemy. Initially, the volleys of missiles had little effect, but gradually javelins found their way through small gaps in the wall and roof of shields. Injured warriors dropped their shields and the front of the testudo was gradually opened up.

Rullianus, now aware of Mus’ death, broke off his pursuit of Egnatius’ men and crossed the river to attack the Gallic tortoise. He sent 500 of his picked Campanian horsemen, followed by the principes of the Third Legion, to circle around the testudo and to make a surprise assault on its rear. ‘Make havoc of them in their panic,’ he told his men. The unexpected charge of the Campanian turmae succeeded in opening gaps in the enemy formation. The 1,200 principes forced their way through the openings and split the tortoise apart. Rullianus then returned to the pursuit of Egnatius. Such was the crush at the gates of the camp that many warriors were unable to enter. Gellius Egnatius rallied these men and formed a battle line to meet Rullianus.

On approaching the camp the consul called on the great god Jupiter, in his guise as the Victor. Victory was now certain, but the Roman general knew how dangerous Egnatius and his men would be as they made their last stand. We may also assume that it was late in the day and Rullianus feared that a considerable portion of the enemy would escape under the cover of night, so he vowed to the god a temple and the spoils of battle in return for a complete victory. It seemed to the Romans that Jupiter heard Rullianus, for Egnatius was cut down and his men were quickly swept aside. The Romans and allies then surrounded the enemy camp. The Senones, assailed from front and rear, were annihilated. The Battle of the Nations was over.

The Samnites and Senones lost 25,000 men that day – less than Livy’s favourite and exaggerated casualty figure of 30,000 and therefore probably reasonably accurate. Another 8,000 were taken captive, probably mostly those Samnites who had made it into the apparent safety of the camp. At least 5,000 Samnites did escape, but as they headed for home via the territory of the Paeligni, they were attacked. The Paeligni, now of course allies of Rome, killed 1,000 of the Samnite fugitives. Some Gallic infantry might have made good their escape from Sentinum, but most of the warriors in the testudo must have been either killed or enslaved – supposing that they were given the opportunity to surrender. It is uncertain what happened to the Senonian cavalry and chariots. Did the former rally when Mus’ squadrons were panicked by the unexpected attack of the charioteers, or did they continue their flight? Likewise, what happened to the charioteers? Some presumably continued the pursuit of the broken Roman cavalry, but did those that forced their way into the infantry retire before the Romans rallied?

As we have seen, Livy was usually reticent about listing Roman casualties but for Sentinum he made an exception. This was, after all, the greatest battle yet fought by Rome and her losses served to underline the scale and importance of the struggle. Rullianus’ casualties were relatively light, 1,700 killed, but Mus’ army was severely mauled with 7,000 killed. Sentinum was no easy victory and it was not even the decisive battle of the Third Samnite War. The Samnites would continue the struggle for five more years, and the Etruscans and other peoples remained troublesome, but never again would Rome be faced with such a dangerous coalition of Italian peoples. It also served to bring Rome to the notice of the wider Mediterranean world. The city-states and kingdoms of the Greek East, focussed on the titanic struggles of the Successors of Alexander the Great had, with the exceptions of Magna Graecia and Carthage, paid little attention to events in the West, but now they took note of the new and powerful player on the scene.

Rullianus sent soldiers to search for the body of Decius Mus, but it was not found until the following day. Like his father at the Veseris, Mus was finally discovered under a heap of enemy dead. His corpse was carried to the Roman camp and there was great lamentation. Rullianus immediately oversaw the funeral of his colleague, ‘with every show of honour and well-deserved eulogisms,’ says Livy. Zonaras, whose account derives from Dio, adds that Mus was cremated but this seems to be based on the assumption that the consul’s body was burned with the spoils. In fulfilment of his vow Rullianus had the spoils gathered from the enemy, piled up and burned in offering to Jupiter the Victor. However, only a proportion was given over to the god; the rest was reserved for his legionaries. Rullinaus would have carried Mus’ remains back to Rome to be handed over to the Decii for deposit in the family tomb, but it has been suggested that a grave discovered under the altar of the temple of Victoria in Rome belongs to Mus, and that he was honoured with burial there when Postumius Megellus dedicated the temple in 294 BC. The year in which Rullianus dedicated his temple to Jupiter the Victor is not known, but the day and month on which the event occurred is recorded: 13 April, perhaps the anniversary of the day on which the vow was made.


Rullianus crossed back over the Apennines, leaving Decius Mus’ army to keep watch in Etruria (we do not know whom he left in command), and returned to Rome with his legions. On 4 September he celebrated a triumph over Samnites, Gauls and Etruscans. The inclusion of the latter people may be an error. Following his triumph Rullianus was recalled to Etruria to put down the rebellion of Perusia and later historians may have coupled this victory together with the Sentinum campaign. Another explantion is that Rullianus did triumph over Etruscans as well as Gauls and Samnites because he was able to take the credit for Fulvius Centumalus’ victory over the Perusini and Clusini. Centumalus was, after all, following Rullianus’ orders and fighting under his auspices. The triumphing legionaries were each rewarded eighty-two bronze asses (either ingots or rudimentary coins) and a tunic and sagum (military cloak) from the spoils not dedicated to Jupiter the Victor. The garments would have been those stripped from the enemy and we can imagine that the finely-made, colourful and embroidered garments of Senone and Samnite nobles were highly prized.

While Rullianus and Mus were campaigning in Etruria and Umbria, Volumnius Flamma was operating in Samnium. Livy reports that the proconsul drove a Samnite army up Mount Tifernus and, despite the difficulties of the terrain he defeated this army and caused its troops to scatter. The circumstances of this victory are uncertain. Did the proconsul defeat a Samnite force that was about to invade Campania, or did he invade Samnium in order to prevent reinforcements from being sent to Gellius Egnatius? Late in the year, seemingly after Rullianus’ triumph, Samnite legions attacked the territory of Aesernia in the upper valley of the Volturnus, while others marched down the Liris, simply ignored the new small citizen colony at Minturnae and ravaged the country around Formiae and Vescia. Aesernia was located a little to the north of Mount Tifernus, but we do not know when the Romans captured it. The strategically positioned stronghold probably changed hands many times, and Volumnius Flamma may have captured it following his recent victory on Mount Tifernus. By this time the Decian army, as the survivors of Decius Mus’ force were known, had left Etruria and returned to Rome probably to be formally disbanded. The withdrawal of the army encouraged Perusia to take up arms, but Rullianus hastened to the north (with his Sentinum legions?) and inflicted a sound defeat on the Etruscans. Livy reports 4,500 of the enemy killed and, most interestingly, that the 1,740 taken captive were not sold as slaves but ransomed back to their families and clans for 310 asses each. This was presumably conceived of as a swifter way to make a profit from the spoils and perhaps also to deliberately empty the coffers of Perusia and hamper the city’s future war efforts.

The praetor Appius Claudius assumed command of the Decian army and marched south along the road he had built to drive the Samnite raiders from the Auruncan country. The Samnites withdrew before him and combined forces with their comrades who had advanced down the Volturnus from Aesernia to Caiatia. Flamma, probably based around Capua, joined his legions with those of Appius at Caiatia and together they defeated the Samnites. It was a typically bitter engagement but Livy’s casualty figures may be exaggerated – 16,300 Samnites killed and 2,700 taken captive. The number of Roman dead also amounted to 2,700. Appius lost a few more men during the course of the campaign but not to enemy action; these unfortunates were struck by lightning.

Livy ends his account of the year 295 BC with a stirring tribute, but not to the devotus Mus or the triumphator Rullianus; Livy praises the courage and tenacity of the Samnites, the greatest of Rome’s opponents:

The Samnite wars are still with us, those wars which I have been occupied with through these last four books, and which have gone on continuously for 46 years, in fact ever since the consuls, Marcus Valerius [Corvus] and Aulus Cornelius [Cossus Arvina], carried the arms of Rome for the first time into Samnium. It is unnecessary now to recount the numberless defeats which overtook both nations, and the toils which they endured through all those years, and yet these things were powerless to break down the resolution or crush the spirit of that people; I will only allude to the events of the past year. During that period the Samnites, fighting sometimes alone, sometimes in conjunction with other nations, had been defeated by Roman armies under Roman generals on four several occasions, at Sentinum, amongst the Paeligni, at Tifernum, and in the Stellate plains [= Caiatia]; they had lost the most brilliant general they ever possessed; they now saw their allies – Etruscans, Umbrians, Gauls – overtaken by the same fortune that they had suffered; they were unable any longer to stand either in their own strength or in that afforded by foreign arms. And yet they would not abstain from war; so far were they from being weary of defending their liberty, even though unsuccessfully, that they would rather be worsted than give up trying for victory. What sort of a man must he be who would find the long story of those wars tedious, though he is only narrating or reading it, when they failed to wear out those who were actually engaged in them?

The Samnites had suffered painful defeats but as Livy emphasizes, they would not give up the fight. Rumours reached Rome that the Samnites had levied three new armies: one to continue the work of Gellius Egnatius and link up with allies in Etruria, another to devastate Campania, while the last would guard Samnium. The rumours were only partly correct. Rather than return to Etruria, early in 294 BC the Samnites seized part of the Marsian territory and installed a powerful garrison in Milionia. This stronghold, the precise location of which is unknown, probably straddled part of the Romans’ usual route to the Adriatic coast. The consuls of 294 BC, Postumius Megellus and Marcus Atilius Regulus (probably the son of the consul of 335 BC), were both assigned Samnium as their ‘province’, that is their sphere of operations, but Megellus fell seriously ill and remained in Rome until August. Regulus invaded northwest Samnium but his route of advance was blocked by a Samnite army. Unable even to forage he was contained in his camp and early one morning, taking advantage of thick fog, the Samnites made a daring raid. Dispatching unsuspecting sentries, they entered the camp by its rear gate, killed Regulus’ quaestor Opimius Pansa and more than 700 legionary and allied troops (Livy reports the presence of a Lucanian cohort and Latin colonists from Suessa Aurunca). Regulus was forced to retreat back to the territory of Sora. The Samnites followed, but dispersed when Megellus finally joined his colleague at Sora sometime after 1 August (on that day the consul is recorded as dedicating his temple to Victoria in Rome). Megellus proceeded to besiege Milionia, while Regulus marched to relieve Luceria. Regulus’ luck did not improve in Apulia. The Samnite army met him at the frontier of Luceria’s territory, defeated him in battle and his legions and cohorts retreated into their fortified camp. The following day, only after much cajoling by the consul, senior officers and centurions, was the army persuaded to resume the fight. It seemed that the Romans would again be defeated, but Regulus’ loud declarations that he had vowed a temple to Jupiter Stator (‘the Stayer’) in exchange for victory, and the exemplary leadership of the centurions, encouraged the Romans, who enveloped the Samnites and finally won the fight. The surviving Samnites, 7,800 in number, were not enslaved but stripped and forced under the yoke. They were defeated and humiliated but free to return to Samnium. Regulus was now keen to return to Rome and claim the right to triumph. On route, he intercepted and slaughtered Samnite raiders in the territory of Intermna Lirenas (the Samnites were perhaps making their way down to northern Campania), but when the Senate learned that he had lost almost 8,000 men in the two-day battle near Luceria and, even worse, that he had let the enemy go free, his request for a triumph was rejected.

The Senate and some of the plebeian tribunes who represented the People also denied Postumius Megellus’ request for a triumph, but the arrogant and unconventional patrician held one anyway on 27 March 293 BC, perhaps suggesting that he campaigned through the winter months. He had, after all, stormed Milionia, killed 3,200 Samnites and enslaved another 4,700; he captured another Marsian (or Samnite) town called Feritrum and enriched his troops with booty; advancing into Etruria he defeated the army of Volsinii and then he captured Rusellae, no mere hill fort or town like the strongholds of the Aequi or Samnites, but a great fortress city. It had been more than a century since the Romans last captured such a city (Veii). The Etruscans had believed their cities impregnable and the war in Etruria lasted so long simply because the Etruscans could retreat behind their strong walls, just as the army of Volsinii did in 294 BC when defeated in the field by Megellus. It is to be regretted that no details of how exactly Megellus captured Rusellae survive; we know far, far more about the capture of obscure Milionia. However, such was the shock and surprise at his conquest of Rusellae that Volsinii, Perusia and Arretium sued for peace. On supplying the consul’s soldiers with clothing and grain, the Etruscans were permitted to seek terms from the Senate. They were granted truces of forty years’ duration, but each state was forced to immediately pay an indemnity of 500,000 asses. Readers will recall that Fabius Rullianus had extracted 539,400 asses from Perusia in ransoms in the previous year.

Tota Italia IV

All Italy

In 293 BC the Samnite League enforced a levy by means of lex sacrata: the lives of those men who ignored the summons, or later deserted, were forfeit to Jupiter. The Samnite army mustered at Aquilonia, the location of which is uncertain, but probably lay somewhere in the north of Samnium, not far distant from Bovianum. Despite heavy losses in recent years, we are told that 40,000 men of military age gathered at Aquilonia. From this great host, 16,000 warriors were formed into an elite corps called the Linen Legion (legio linteata), on account of them wearing fine white linen tunics. Like the Etruscan sacrati at Lake Vadimon, each warrior of the Linen Legion chose another according to his courage and nobility, and the corps was gradually assembled.

The consuls of 293 BC were Lucius Papirius Cursor, son of the hero of the Second Samnite War, and Spurius Carvilius Maximus. The latter consul took over the legions of Atilius Regulus, which had wintered at Interamna Lirenas. Considering Regulus’ losses at Luceria, they must have been substantially reconstituted. While Cursor was levying new legions Maximus advanced against the enemy. Livy reports that the consul captured Amiternum in Samnium. However, no town or stronghold of this name is known in Samnium. It is not impossible that there was an Amiternum in Samnite territory, but it seems that Maximus had in fact captured the well-known Amiternum in the Sabine country. The Sabines had, of course, fought with the Samnites in 296 BC and the Romans had unfinished business with them. Maximus boasted of his success at Amiternum – 2,800 killed and 4,270 enslaved. Cursor could not allow his colleague to hog the glory and led his newly levied army to the otherwise unknown Samnite town of Duronia, which was duly stormed. Cursor did not take as many captives, but killed more of the enemy, and so evened the score with his plebeian colleague. The consuls then joined forces and marched on Aquilonia. They passed through the territory of Atina and devastated it. This former Volscian town had been pillaged by the elder Cursor in 313 BC but was now clearly back in Samnite hands.

Cursor established camp near Aquilonia, but Maximus took his army to nearby Cominium and placed it under siege. The Samnites detached twenty cohorts, perhaps c. 8,000 men, to reinforce the garrison of Cominium. With the Samnite army now substantially reduced in size, Cursor whipped his troops up into a frenzy, formed the army into battle line and attacked. The Linen Legion and the other corps of the Samnite army absorbed the shock of the initial Roman charge, but Cursor had a surprise in store for the enemy. Prior to advancing, the consul had detached three allied cohorts and all the baggage mules from the army. While Cursor engaged the Samnites, the cohorts and mules were to form a column and, raising as much dust as possible, march towards the Samnites’ flank. The ruse was highly effective: the Samnites mistook the allies and mules for the consular army of Maximus, arriving victorious from Cominium and about to assail their flank; they panicked and started to break ranks. Cursor had held most of his cavalry behind the infantry, rather than on the flanks, and lanes were opened up between the maniples allowing the Roman and allied equites to charge the enemy head on, a rare occurrence in ancient warfare (Valerius Corvus is is reported as employing a similar tactic at Rusellae in 302/1 BC). The right and left divisions of the Roman infantry, respectively commanded by Volumnius Flamma and Scipio Barbatus, followed up the cavalry charge. This was too much for the Samnites. The Linen Legion held out for longer than the other Samnite regiments, but ultimately it too broke. Flamma’s division captured the Samnites’ camp, while Barbatus led the assault on Aquilonia. With four centurions and a maniple of hastati, the handsome and bearded legate formed a testudo and captured one of its gates; the Samnites fled out of another. The number of Samnites killed at Aquilonia – in the battle, at the camp, the town and in the pursuit by Roman cavalry – is reported as 23,040. Some did escape to Bovianum, but these were mostly cavalrymen and nobles. The twenty cohorts sent to reinforce Cominium did not arrive in time, nor were they quick enough to return to Aquilonia, where they could have stemmed the rout. The bulk of this force managed to retreat to Bovianum as well, but only because one of the cohorts fought a courageous rearguard action against the rampant Roman cavalry.

As Cursor was victorious at Aquilonia, so too was Maximus at Cominium. The Samnites defended the town with vigour, but when the Romans gained the battlements and forced the Samnites into the marketplace, they threw down their arms and surrendered. Livy reports 4,800 killed and 11,400 made captive. Maximus’ army went on to capture three other Samnite towns, Velia and Herculaneum (not to be confused with the more famous cities on the coast of Campania) and Palumbinum. At Herculaneum the Samnites fought a pitched battle before the town and inflicted substantial casualties on the consul’s force, but they were ultimately forced inside the town and it was stormed. Around 5,000 Samnites were killed in these engagements, and a slightly greater number were enslaved.

Cursor crowned his success at Aquilonia with the capture of Saepinum, a major hill fortress where the Samnites had deposited the wealth of the surrounding townships and farms. The capture of Saepinum was not easy. The Samnites made frequent sorties from the town to fight in the open, and it was sometime before Cursor could establish an effective cordon and reduce the fortress by siege. Of the defenders 7,400 are reported killed and less than 3,000 taken captive. Cursor had allowed his men to sack Aquilonia, but following his triumph on 13 January 292 BC, all the profits from the capture of Saepinum, and probably also of Duronia, and from the sale of captives were handed over to the Roman state treasury, much to the disgust of the legionaries and their families, who hoped that a donative from the spoils would offset the special tax they paid to sustain the Roman war effort. Carvilius Maximus took note and at his triumph (13 February 292 BC) granted each of his legionaries a donative of 102 bronze asses. Centurions and equites received double that amount. Maximus still had enough left from the spoils to make a healthy donation to the state treasury and to pay for a temple dedicated to Fors Fortuna. He also had the bronze helmets and other armour stripped from the enemy melted down and used in the production of an immense statue of Jupiter that dominated the Capitol in Rome. This famous statue was so tall that it could be seen from the sanctuary of Jupiter of the Latins (Latiaris) on the Alban Mount, 12 miles away.

The numbers of Samnite dead and captives reported for 293 BC may have the ring of authenticity, but the total seems much too great for a nation that had already suffered very heavy losses, and so the figures are probably erroneous or exaggerated. It is true that the Samnites did not sue for peace until 290 BC and in 292 BC even inflicted a notable defeat on the inept consul Fabius the Glutton (Gurges). However, after Aquilonia the Romans were able to traverse Samnium with relatively little opposition, indicating that the Samnites, as a League or as the four individual tribes, no longer had the manpower to adequately defend their territory.

In the winter of 293/2 BC Papirius Cursor wintered with his army in the territory of Vescia, which had been targeted by Samnite raiders. It may have been in this area or northern Campania that a Samnite force defeated Fabius Gurges: 3,000 of his men were killed and many more wounded. Fabius Rullianus exerted all of his influence to prevent Gurges from being recalled to Rome and disgraced, and joined his son’s army as a legate. In the 291 BC proconsul Gurges, under the guidance of his father, defeated the Samnites near Caudium, and is even said to have captured the aged Gavius Pontius, though this latter detail is probably a fiction invented to enhance the reputation of the Fabii. Gurges is found next besieging Cominium. Rullianus seems to have left the army by this point, for there was no-one to defend Gurges from the bullying of Postumius Megellus.

Megellus had avoided prosecution for his illegal triumph by serving under Carvilius Maximus as a legate in 293/2 BC. This emboldened him to add to his list of misdemeanours. When the consuls left office early in 291 BC Megellus was appointed interrex (‘interim king’, clearly a relic of the monarchical period) to oversee the election of new consuls: he made sure that he was one of them! Assigned the Samnite War (his colleague fought Etruscans and Faliscans), he cut his way through Samnium, starting in the north at the recently rebuilt Cominium, where he dismissed the unfortunate Gurges, and took the town, apparently killing 10,000 in the process and receiving the surrender of 6,200. He ended his campaign at Venusia on Samnium’s southern frontier with Apulia and Lucania. This highly strategic town was conquered and its territory earmarked for distribution to 20,000 colonists. It was a triumphant campaign, but Megellus could not give up his unconventional habits. It was discovered that he was using 2,000 legionaries to clear land on his estate near Gabii in Latium. The use of the legionaries – paid stipendia to fight for the state, not to labour for a noble – was illegal, and, even worse, sacrilegious, because the area they cleared included a grove sacred to Juno Gabina. What is more, many of the soldiers died, perhaps of a pestilence that was affecting Rome. This act led to Megellus’ prosecution and he was duly found guilty and forced to pay a heavy fine, but one wonders if the disgrace bothered Megellus overmuch. The trial cost the state more than it did him. He deliberately gave all of the booty from his campaign to his legionaries and then dismissed them, forcing the incoming consuls to conduct time-consuming levies.

The section of Livy’s great history covering the last years of the Third Samnite War and the completion of the conquest of peninsular Italy in the 260s BC does not survive. We do possess the so-called Periochae, epitomes of his lost books, and with other sources we can piece together an outline of events.

The consuls Manius Curius Dentatus and Publius Cornelius Rufinus (‘the Red’) administered the final blow in 290 BC causing the Samnites to sue for peace. Both consuls earned triumphs but we possess not details of their campaign in Samnium. The ‘old treaty’ between Rome and the Samnites was renewed, but doubtless the terms were adapted heavily in favour of the victors. The Samnites may also have been required to pay an indemnity; after having had their country stripped bare by Roman pillagers, they would have found it difficult to pay. As well as the great chunk of southern Samnium conquered by Postumius Megellus and organized as the territory of the colony of Venusia, the Romans also stripped from the Samnites the territory between the Liris and the middle and upper Volturnus, the country the Samnites had conquered from the Volscians. Thus Sora and Intermna Lirenas were no longer on the frontier but deep within the ager Romanus.

The cognomen Dentatus means ‘having teeth’ and is perhaps indicative of the consul’s forceful character, though it may be a typically abusive Roman nickname, highlighting prominent or buck teeth. He was a novus homo, that is a new man, meaning the first of his eminent plebeian family to reach the consulship, but he was already of considerable military renown and this attracted a following of 800 young men – a forerunner of the political gangs that were a feature of the later Republic. After subduing Samnium he turned on the Sabines, still unpunished for their role in the Gellius Egnatius’ grand alliance. Rather cviently, Sabine raiders provided Dentatus with the opportunity to attack:

When the Sabines levied a large army, left their own territory, and invaded ours, Manius Curius by secret routes sent against them a force which ravaged their lands and villages and set fire to them in divers places. In order to avert this destruction of their country, the Sabines thereupon withdrew. But Curius succeeded in devastating their country while it was unguarded, in repelling their army without an engagement, and then in slaughtering it piecemeal.

Dentatus’ victory was as total as it was rapid. He did not merely overrun the Sabine country and the adjoining territory of the Praetuttii (separating the Picentes from the Vestini) on the Adriatic coast, he conquered it. With the exception of territory set aside for the establishment of a Latin colony at Hadria (probably with 4,000 adult male settlers), it was annexed to the ager Romanus. Dentatus had almost doubled the size of the ager Romanus in a single campaign, an extraordinary achievement. Part of the land was retained directly by the state as ager publicus (public land) to be leased out, and the rest distributed in allotments of 7 iugera to Roman citizens, but there were complaints that the size of the farm plots was too small. Dentatus dismissed the critics: ‘he prayed there might be no Roman who would think too small that estate which was enough to maintain him.’ The consul famously refused to receive more than 50 iugera for himself – one doubts that Postumius Megellus would have been so modest. There were no objections from the Senate or People to Dentatus being awarded a second triumph in the space of a year. He could justifiably boast that he was uncertain about which was greater, the extent of the land conquered, or the numbers of people subdued.

The Sabines and Praetuttii were enrolled as Roman citizens without the vote. This surge of conquest suddenly carried Roman territory from the Tyrrhenian seaboard to the Adriatic coast. Admittedly, this belt of citizen territory narrowed considerably at the Adriatic, but nonetheless it was unbroken, dividing Rome’s northern and southern enemies, who would never again unite. Dentatus is to be numbered among the most important Roman conquerors, for it was through his actions that the conquest of central and upper peninsular Italy was rapidly achieved. His next great conquest would be the country of the Senones.

Dentatus’ campaign in the ager Gallicus was the result of the on-going war in Etruria. Postumius Megellus’ capture of Rusellae did not mark the ceasation of hostilies. In 293 – 291 BC Rome fought Etruscans (Troilum, otherwise unknown, is the only town identified) and a rebellious Falerii. Troilum was easily subdued by Carvilius Maximus, but the defeat of Falerii was completed by his consular successor, Iunius Britus Scaeva. Brutus also ravaged the territories of Etruscan states, suggesting that treaties had been broken and troops sent to aid the Faliscans. Discontent simmered but it was not until 284 BC that the Romans fought again in Etruria. A Senonian army appeared at Arretium and the consul Lucius Caecilius Metellus rushed north to defend the city, the leading families of which were now firmly allied to Rome. It is uncertain if the Gauls were on a plundering mission, seeking to conquer new land, or if they were employed as mercenaries by other Etruscan states hostile to Rome. Recalling the shame of the defeat at Sentinum, the Senones utterly routed the army of Metellus. The consul and seven of his military tribunes were among the 13,000 Roman and allied casualties. Curius Dentatus was promptly installed as suffect consul. He sent an embassy into the ager Gallicus to treat for the return of Roman captives, but a Senonian chief called Britomaris executed the envoys. Dentatus was incensed, invaded the ager Gallicus, defeated the Senones in battle and, according to Polybius, drove the tribe out of the region completely. That is an exaggeration, but like his conquest of the Sabines, the reduction of the Senones was achieved with amazing swiftness. The ager Gallicus was annexed, but only a small citizen colony was planted on the coast, around 100 miles north of Hadria and called Sena Gallica, after the former inhabitants. It was not until 268 BC and the establishment of a strong Latium colony at Ariminum that the ager Gallicus was truly consolidated. The conquest of the Senones meant that the Picentes, nominally allies of Rome, were sandwiched between the Roman-controlled ager Gallicus to the north, and ager Romanus and Latin territory (Hadria) to the south, while the Sabine country and Roman-dominated Umbria lay to the west. In 269 BC the Picentes ‘rebelled’. The war continued into 268 BC but the Picentes were unable to resist both consular armies indefinetly. A battle at Ausculum is highlighted as the decisive engagement. When the fighting was interrupted by an earth tremor (a frequent occurrence in Italy), the consul Publius Sempronius Sophus vowed a temple to Tellus, the earth goddess. This calmed the Roman troops, who promptly took advantage of the Picentes’ disarray. The defeated Picentes lost much of their territory to the ager Romanus and the inhabitants of those parts became citizens without the vote, clearly a second-class status. Portions of Picenum did remain allied territory, most notable the regions around Ausculum and Ancona (colonized in 387 BC by Dionysius I of Syracuse as a staging post for his Gallic and Italian mercenaries), but to prevent future rebellions a very considerable number of Picentes were also deported west to a new ‘Picenum’, the ager Picentinus, sandwiched between Campania and Lucania. The lowland Sabines were promoted to full Roman citizenship in 268 BC, indicating rapid Romanization, while the Sassinates were conquered in 266 BC, securing northernmost Umbria. Control of the new eastern territories and Adriatic seaboard was further enhanced by the foundation of a Latin colony at Firmum in Picenum in 264 BC.

The completeness of the defeat of the once-great Senones is emphasized by the reaction of the Boii. Fearing that they would be next on the Romans’ hit list, they allied themsleves with Etruscans (no particular states are identified) and in a forerunner of the Gallic invasion of 225 BC, decided on a pre-emptive strike against Rome. However, in 283 BC at Lake Vadimon and in the following year at Vetulonia they, and their Etruscan allies, were defeated. Volsinii and Vulci continued the fight against Rome until 280 BC. Caere rose up in 273 BC, but was easily beaten, her territory annexed and her people incorporated as Roman citizens without the vote. In that year the Latin colony of Cosa was planted on the Etruscan coast. In 264 BC a second coastal colony, but of Roman citizens, was established between Ostia and Cosa and named Castrum Novum (New Fortress). The destruction of Volsinii, also in 264 BC, triggered by the rebellion of its large population of slaves and serfs against a minority of pro-Roman ruling families, is to be regarded as the completion of the conquest of Etruria and, indeed, of the conquest of peninsular Italy. But what of the south of Italy? The subjection of Sabellian and Greek southern Italy resulted from the war against Tarentum and the celebrated Pyrrhus of Epirus.


BATTLE OF THE FRIGIDUS Field of Glory II Field of Glory II is a turn-based tactical game set during the Rise of Rome from 280 BC to 25 BC. Take command of a huge variety of armies employing vastly different tactical doctrines. Lead your chosen army and its generals to victory in set-piece historical battles.

The Fatal Blow to the Western Roman Armies

Date 5-6 September 394

Location Near the River Frigidus, modern River Vipava, western Slovenia


Why Frigidus and not Adrianople? Surely a `barbarian’ victory over the Roman army in Thrace should have been considered important (or decisive) enough for this study? The situation after the Battle of Adrianople (378) was, undoubtedly, disastrous for the empire: a Roman emperor had been killed in battle for the first time in over a century; there was a power vacuum in the East; and the Persian frontier was left largely bereft of troops, while the Goths were left roaming around Thrace, free to pillage and destroy. But the latter were inexperienced in besieging fortified cities, something which prevented them from taking advantage of the situation in order to establish themselves firmly in the eastern Balkans; they just had to contend with raiding the Thracian countryside.

The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus (died c. 391-400) compared Adrianople with Cannae (216bc), Hannibal’s great defeat of the Romans. However, the point about Cannae was that, horrific disaster that it was, Rome revived and won the war. That was the case for the period that followed Adrianople: Emperor Theodosius moved the Goths into the empire and enrolled them in the army as foederati (allies), following the treaty signed with them on 3 October 382. The `Gothic Crisis’ ended with a Roman victory over the remaining semi-independent Goths of the Balkans in 383.

Theodosius was appointed augustus in the East by Gratian, the augustus of the West, in January 379, after the political vacuum that followed the disastrous outcome of the Battle of Adrianople in August 378. In the Balkans, Theodosius was given the command of Dacia, Macedonia in eastern Illyricum. In 381, an army sent by Gratian and led by the `barbarian’ (Romanized Franks) generals Bauto and Arbogast drove the Goths out of Macedonia and Thessaly and back to Thrace. Gratian, however, was soon toppled and killed by the Spanish commander of Britain, Magnus Maximus, in August 383; the former had shown extensive favouritism to `barbarian’ soldiers, at the expense of his Roman troops. Gratian’s younger brother Valentinian, despite having been declared an heir to the throne of the West in 375, was only thirteen years old, and too young to exercise any independent power.

Following Maximus’ usurpation of the throne in the West, and by negotiation with Emperor Theodosius, Maximus was made emperor in Britannia and Gaul, with his base in the German city of Trier, while the young Valentinian retained Italy, Pannonia, Hispania and Africa, with his capital in Milan. However, Maximus’ ambitions led him to invade Italy in 387, displacing Valentinian who sought refuge in the eastern city of Thessaloniki; but Maximus was eventually defeated by Theodosius at the Battle of the Save in 388. The main reason behind Theodosius’ change of mind in supporting young Valentinian and his mother Justina was the fact that Justina offered Theodosius the prospect of marriage to her beautiful daughter Galla, hence achieving dynastic relations between East and West.

Valentinian II was dispatched to Trier in 388, where he remained under the control of Arbogast, the Frankish magister militum appointed by Theodosius. Contemporary primary sources portray the role played by Valentinian in Trier as that of a figurehead under the absolute control of Arbogast, who was the real power broker in the West. Both parties attempted to assert their power from each other; however, the (Romanized) Frankish general could not be crowned augustus, so he found a more `co-operative’ Roman aristocrat named Eugenius, a well-educated professor of rhetoric, who made a common cause with him.

But when Valentinian also attempted to break his bonds, he was soon found hanged, and Arbogast quickly proclaimed Eugenius as emperor. Arbogast’s action showed how political power in the West had fallen into the hands of Germans. But this was also a challenge to the augustus in the East who went too far, and Theodosius had to march west once more to re-establish order.


Preparations for the armed clash between Theodosius and Arbogast went on for a year and a half after Theodosius proclaimed his second son, Honorius, as augustus in the West, in January 393. The religious character of the conflict was pronounced when the eunuch Eutropius, one of Theodosius’ closest advisers, was dispatched from Constantinople with instructions to seek the wisdom of John of Lycopolis, an aged Christian monk living in the Egyptian town of Thebais. According to the account of the meeting given by Sozomen (c. 400-c. 450), the old monk prophesied that Theodosius would achieve a costly but decisive victory over the pagan Eugenius and Arbogast.

Theodosius’ expeditionary army departed from Constantinople sometime in May 394. The Eastern emperor himself led the army, having chosen renowned leaders to be among his commanders, namely Stilicho – the Vandal who later became the guardian of the under-age Honorius in the West – and Timasius, the Visigoth chieftains Gainas and Alaric, and a Caucasian Iberian (modern Georgian) named Bacurius Hiberius.

Theodosius’ advance through Pannonia until the Julian Alps was unopposed, and the troops took over a number of key mountain passages that led to the ancient Roman city of Aquileia, at the head of the Adriatic Sea. Based on his experience in fighting the usurper Magnus Maximus in Gaul, Arbogast had thought best to abandon Pannonia and concentrate his forces in northern Italy instead.

At the beginning of September, Theodosius’ army descended from the Alps unopposed, heading towards the valley of the Frigidus river to the east of Aquileia. It was in this narrow, mountainous region that they came upon the Western Roman army’s encampment on the banks of the Frigidus. Arbogast was careful to dispatch detachments of his army to hold every high point in the river valley, to hinder the Eastern army’s ability to manoeuvre freely.

We should bear in mind that the Battle of the Frigidus river took place between Castra and Ad Pirum, two of a series of interconnected Roman fortifications in southern Pannonia that defended the hilly and mountainous eastern approaches to the Italian peninsula; this system of fortifications was called Claustra Alpium Iuliarum (Latin for `Barrier of the Julian Alps’).


Deducing any numbers for the two armies that clashed on the banks of the Frigidus is a futile exercise. Nevertheless, perhaps as many as 20,000 Gothic foederati would have been raised by the Gothic leaders Gainas and Alaric, and these would have suffered the highest casualties among the troops from the Eastern armies during the two-day clash. There may even have been some Georgian troops in the ranks of Theodosius’ army, for a Georgian officer named Bacurius the Iberian is mentioned in chronicles of the time.

With Arbogast in charge of the Western army, he is very likely to have recruited large numbers of his fellow Gallo-Romans. But the bulk of the troops on both sides would have been Roman, although this is the period when legionaries were beginning to be outnumbered by auxiliaries. As in the Eastern army, cavalry was becoming a larger percentage of the overall number of the Western forces – but not quite in the numbers as in the East. Historians estimate that the Eastern and Western armies that faced each other at Frigidus would have been, more or less, of the same importance and size, in the range of 40,000-50,000 each.

The ‘Barrier of the Julian Alps’ was the mountainous and hilly region from the Julian Alps to the Kvarner Gulf, in modern Slovenia, a defensive system within the Roman Empire that protected Italy from possible invasions from the East.


The Roman soldiers who faced the `barbarian invasions’ of the fourth and fifth centuries carried weapons that varied little from those of the first-century legionnaires. However, the strategic emphasis that the Romans put on their cavalry forces in the fourth century brought about the gradual replacement of the short gladius, the traditional sword of the Roman legionary of the Antonine period (AD96 to AD192), by the spatha, a longer sword (up to 75cm long) traditionally used by the Roman cavalry to strike at enemy warriors on the ground. The spear or lance was the primary offensive weapon of the warriors of Antiquity, both cavalry and infantry, and while there is remarkably little evidence regarding the length of Roman spears, their size would have remained relatively consistent, between 2.4 and 2.7m.

There were three types of javelin: the shafted weapon identified as the speculum, consisting of a shaft 5.5 Roman feet long (1.63m) and a metal head 9 Roman inches long (200mm); the so-called verutum, consisting of a shaft some 3.5 Roman feet long (1.03m), which had a head of 9 Roman inches (200mm); and a third type, more like a throwing dart, called the plumbata or mattiobarbuli, less than one metre long and with a head averaging between 100 and 200mm.

The spear was also the primary weapon of the fourth- and fifth-century `barbarians’; it was called a frameae, and according to the first-century Roman author Tacitus, `had short and narrow blades, but so sharp and easy to handle that they can be used either at close quarters or in long-range fighting’. The only thing we can be sure about the `barbarian’ spears is the lack of uniformity in size or shape, with each smith probably creating their own design. Swords were equally important for the `barbarians’ as they were for the Romans, and findings from burial sites point to a variety of types, from longer ones (up to 100cm), to shorter ones (around 40-50cm).

Finally the axe was used by the early `barbarians’, both as a smashing weapon and a projectile. It remained largely in use until the early seventh century, and was adopted by the Romans already from the fourth century; a weapon such as the Frankish francisca weighed some 1.2kg, and it could drop an enemy at distances of between 4 to 15 metres.


While the average `barbarian’ warrior wore little, if no body armour, it was not unusual for chieftains to be in the possession of their own helmets and sophisticatedly decorated armour. They did, however, carry convex wooden shields made of strips of wood covered with leather, measuring between 80 to 90cm in diameter. Roman armour was, of course, much more elaborately designed and manufactured, although the sources of the period complain of many legionaries losing their armour and helmets and relying only on their shields for protection. How widespread this practice was, however, is impossible to determine.

Fourth-century Roman body armour was of two distinct types: the lorica squamata, a type of scale armour made of small scales made of iron, bronze, bone, wood, horn or leather sewn to a fabric backing; the other the lorica hamata, made of metal rings that were sewn in interlocking rows to a fabric backing. Roman round (or oval) shields had replaced the popular curved rectangular ones of the Antonine period around the turn of the third century, and were largely made of wood.

Finally, the simplest type of Roman helmet was the ridge one, composed of two pieces of metal joined together by a central metallic strip running from the brow to the back of the neck, usually rounded but often having a slightly raised top. It was fitted with neck guards and cheek fittings directly attached to the leather lining of the helmet. But even this ridge helmet would often have been discarded in favour of the `Pannonian helmet’, a leather cap, as Vegetius (c. AD400, author of the famous military treatise Epitoma Rei Militaris) informs us, worn by the legionaries under their iron helmet.


Regrettably, our sources do not mention anything about the formations of the opposing armies that lined up for battle in the evening of the 5 September. Hostilities commenced when Theodosius ordered his Visigoth foederati under Gainas and Alaric, who were deployed in the first line preceding the main division of the Romans, to launch a frontal attack against the enemy infantry across the battlefield. These Gothic troops were therefore sent into the battle more or less as `cannon fodder’, suffering some 10,000 casualties. The rest of the Eastern army then followed in a headlong attack that resulted in heavy casualties on both sides but little gain, with the Iberian commander Bacurius being killed in action.

We are left in the dark about which units followed up the Visigoth attack, but bearing in mind the late Roman army’s typical battlefield deployment, according to Vegetius, this would have included the deployment of the main units of Roman infantry in three lines in the centre of the formation, with skirmish troops placed in front of them to `soften up’ an enemy attack. The cavalry units would have been placed on the flanks, first to offer protection against any encircling manoeuvres, and to launch an attack against the enemy at the right moment. Therefore we can only assume that both the cavalry and the infantry units of the first lines would have clashed with Arbogast’s units on the first evening of the battle.

While Theodosius spent a sleepless night (5/6 September) praying to God, Western emperor Eugenius ordered a victory celebration in the army camp, sure that the next day the East Romans would be swept from the field. Arbogast was more cautious, however, and dispatched a detachment of élite troops – probably locals who knew the area – to march secretly through a footpath that led to the mountain passes behind the Eastern army’s camp, in order to block their retreat and attack them from the rear the following day. However, the commander of this detachment made contact with the Eastern Roman force, and defected to Theodosius after agreeing to a considerable monetary inducement.

This act of defection was viewed by the Eastern emperor as God’s answer to his prayers, prompting him to open the second day of hostilities with an all-out attack. The final `miracle’ came in the form of a weather phenomenon called a bora – a strong north to north-eastern wind that blows from the mountains to the sea, and an integral feature of Slovenia’s Vipava Valley. According to tradition, the storm blew directly into the eyes of the Western army, and was said to be so strong that it caused the javelins and arrows fired to be blown back towards them. At the least it disrupted the movements of Arbogast’s army, and when the East Romans charged, the Western Roman units rapidly disintegrated.


The Battle of the Frigidus has been represented as the triumph of Christianity over the last vestiges of paganism in the Western part of the Roman Empire. Contemporary sources attributed equal importance and glory to the outcome of the Battle of the Frigidus as had been given to the Battle of the Milvian Bridge eighty-two years earlier. Influential Christian writers of the period – such as Sozomen (c. 400-c. 450), Theodoret of Cyrrhus (c. 393-c. 458/466), and especially Rufinus, in his continuation of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History published in 402/3, paint a lavish portrait of Theodosius’ campaign against Eugenius and Arbogast, more or less as some sort of a proto-`Holy War’ to suppress the pagani.

Recently, however, Alan Cameron cast doubt on the truthfulness and the historical value of the contemporary Christian accounts with regard to the eye-witness reports of the battle, and how these were remembered. Rather, he asserted that these historical accounts have been distorted, based on political and theological considerations, to justify Theodosius’ campaign against Eugenius and Arbogast, who were falsely branded as pagans after their defeat. Eugenius was further painted as a `usurper’ (tyrannus), a term which after the reign of Constantine the Great in the fourth century had taken the additional meaning of persecutor of Christians, and – on top of that – as a person who was `by no means sincere in his profession of Christianity’: this was undoubtedly false, and gives us an idea of the blatant propaganda that emerges from the Christian accounts of the Battle of Frigidus!

This is further confirmed by the historical manipulation of the bora, the storm that blew in the second day of the battle. According to the same study, the earliest source to mention the decisive bora was Ambrose of Milan (c. 340-397), but he reports about the storm on the day before any fighting had begun. This could have been picked up by another contemporary source, the poet Claudian (c. 370-c. 404), who, in his propagandistic poetry, moved the wind to the decisive moment of the battle as a sign of godly approval of the emperor’s strategy. Therefore we should put the emphasis of Theodosius’ victory at Frigidus on the asserting of control over the Western parts of the empire and the slaughtering of the Western army, rather than on the overthrow of paganism. Considered in sequence with the earlier Battle of the Save (388), where the usurper Maximus was heavily defeated, the units that had been withdrawn from the north-western provinces of the Roman Empire to be used in the gamble for power between the Eastern and the Western augusti, lost heavily in the battles with Theodosius’ Eastern troops. Large parts of Gaul and the Rhine frontier were left on their own, as there was hardly any time for governmental structures to be reorganized after Maximus’ usurpation before troops were again withdrawn for Eugenius and Arbogast’s rebellion.

Thereafter the northern regions were seemingly left in a political limbo, while the Roman empire was contracting closer to the Mediterranean Sea.