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Samnite Wars

Rome Expands Its Territory From Coast to Coast

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Principal Theater of War During the Samnite Wars

Principal Theater of War During the Samnite Wars

"An Historical Atlas," by Robert H. Labberton (1885)
The Samnite Wars helped establish Rome as the supreme power in Italy. There were 3 Samnite wars, from 343-290, and an intervening Latin War.

Samnite War I (343-341)

In 354, Rome and the Oscan-speaking Samnites entered into an alliance, probably to deal with the Gauls. The Samnites, a confederation of 4 tribal groups:

  • Hirpini
  • Caudini
  • Caraceni and
  • Pentri,

lived in small villages with hill-top forts. They grew crops, raised stock, and raided their neighbors -- the real reason behind some battles in the Samnite War.

In 343, Samnites raided another Oscan-speaking group, the Sidicini, who lived between the Liris* and Volturnus rivers [see map section aD]. After Campania went to the aid of the Sidicini, the Samnites went after Capua, a Campanian city-state. Capua appealed to Rome, who decided to switch allies and help them. After the Romans drove out the Samnites, they faced a mutiny among their own troops. Fortunately for Rome, simultaneously the Samnites faced trouble in Tarentum. So both Rome and the Samnites agreed to renew the treaty of 354.

Latin War (340-338)

Renewal of the alliance between the Samnites and Rome meant the Romans turned their back on their newest allies, the Campanians. Since the Samnites hadn't stopped raiding Campanian territory, Campania looked elsewhere for help. They found it in an alliance with the Latin League and the Volsci.

Romans and Samnites marched into Campania, around Suessa Aurunca, where they defeated a group of Latins and Campanians. They followed up their victory with an offer to Campania designed to break up its coalition with the Latins.

It was accepted. In the next 2 campaigns, the Romans and allies defeated the Latins.

Origin of the Speaker's Platform: The Rostra

They also wrested from the Volscians the seaside town of Antium. Prows of ships taken from Antium thereafter adorned the speaker's platform in Rome. Since the Latin for "prows" is "rostra" the speaker's platform was called the rostra.

The war ended with a treaty in 338 giving Rome control of central Italy and breaking up the Latin League. Each Latin city entered into a separate agreement with Rome. Rome gave complete citizenship rights to Nomentum, Aricia, Lanuvium, and Pedum, partial to others, and allied status to others. Those Latin cities were bound to Rome as allies, but not to each other, including the colonies of Signia, Norba, Ardea, Circeii, Sutrium, Nepete, and Setia, were still obliged to send troops to Rome. Rome gave Roman settlers territory in Antium and gave the Antines Roman citizenship. Rome razed the walls of Velitrae and expelled its ruling class to provide more land for Roman settlers. The rest of the people of Velitrae were given Roman citizenship. In 332, Rome created 2 new Roman tribes in Latium, Maecia and Scaptia, for the people of Lanuvium and Velitrae.

Samnite War II (326-304)

The Romans had ignored their treaty with the Samnites before, and didn't consider them when they were setting up the statuses of their allies; then Rome directly offended the Samnites in 334 by making a treaty with Tarentum, which was at war with the Samnites.

In 328, Rome founded a colony at Fregellae on the Liris, in Samnite territory. The next event was "the Naples Affair," which isn't entirely clear. Cornell says when Rome declared war on Naples, the Samnites went to their assistance and put in a garrison (327 B.C.). The people of Neapolis (Naples) were divided into those who supported Rome (the propertied), and those who supported the Samnites (the people). The propertied prevailed and got rid of the Samnites.

Caudine Fork: Passing Under the Yoke

In the next stage in the 2 decades-long Second Samnite War, Rome and her allies invaded western Samnium and then attacked Samnite allies, the Vestini. After Roman victories in 325 and 322, Rome suffered one of its most memorable disasters, at the Caudine Forks, in 321. Rome had invaded Samnite territory, but was ambushed, forced to surrender the cities of Fregellae and Cales, and then made to go naked under the yoke.

From the Caudine Forks defeat in 321 until 316 there was a period of peace. Rome made 2 more tribes, Oufentina and Falerna, campaigned in Apulia and Lucania, and forced other communities to become Roman allies. In 315, Rome launched an assault on Samnian territory. The Samnites, in turn, marched across the Liris river and defeated the Romans in a battle at Lautulae. They also entered Latium and destroyed part of the coast. The next year, the tide changed and Rome defeated them. When the Campanian Aurunci revolted from Rome, the Romans massacred them. In 313, Rome recovered Fregellae, and established more colonies circling the Samnite territory. Rome started its major road, the Appian Way leading from Capua to Rome in 312.

The last years of the Second Samnite War consisted of unclear annual campaigns which the Romans were no longer in real danger of losing. In 304, the Samnites sued for peace and the old treaties were renewed.

Samnite War III (298-290)

The Samnites wanted an alliance with the Lucanians, but when they were thwarted, they tried to win them by force. The Lucanians turned to Rome for help, which it provided, and drove out the Samnites. The Samnites began increasing their own alliances, adding Gauls (Senones) and Etruscans. The main Samnite army was under the command of Gellius Egnatius; that of Rome under L. Scipio Barbatus. Scipio was overwhelmed, in 295, at Cemerinum. Rome responded by raising its largest force to date and bringing it to face rebels in northern Umbria. Although the approach of the Gauls in chariots almost devastated the Roman forces, the Romans won the battle and destroyed the alliance. Rome received the surrender of the Umbrian rebels, over-ran the Senones' territory, and made peace with the Etruscans. Campaigns against the Samnites (now without their allies) continued until they sued for peace in 290 and received citizenship without the vote. As a result of the conclusion of the third Samnite War, Rome's territory extended from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Adriatic.

*Mouth of the Liris: long. 38*20; lat. 41°15. Source Ptolemy Geography

Roman History - Roman Republic

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