Text #9208

"Samnite Wars", in Wikipedia.

With Rome having recovered from the First Samnite War, they sought to instigate a new war. To do this, they built colonies in Samnium, which resulted in the Samnites declaring war upon them. The Samnites, however, were instead occupied with Neapolis. They had formed a treaty with the Neapolitans to aid them in expanding from the coast, and accordingly established a garrison at Neapolis. The aristocracy of the city felt threatened, and in 327 BC war broke out again between the Samnite hill people and those on the Campanian plain. Again the people of the plain sought Rome’s assistance, and again Rome went to war against the Samnites.

The Romans soon confronted the Samnites in the middle of the Liris river valley, sparking the Second, or Great, Samnite War (326–304 BC), which lasted twenty years and was not a defensive venture for Rome. During the first half of the war Rome suffered serious defeats, but the second half saw Rome’s recovery, reorganization, and ultimate victory.

At first the Roman armies were so successful that in 321 BC the Samnites sued for peace. But the terms offered were so stringent that they were rejected and the war went on.

In the same year (321 BC) the two consuls, leading an invading force into Samnium, were trapped in a mountain pass known as the Caudine Forks where they could neither advance nor retreat, and after a desperate struggle would have been annihilated if they had not submitted to the humiliating terms imposed by the Samnite victor Gaius Pontius. The troops were disarmed and compelled to pass ‘under the yoke’, man by man, as a foe vanquished and disgraced. This ancient ritual was a form of subjugation by which the defeated had to bow and pass under a yoke used for oxen. (In this case it was a yoke made from Roman spears, as it was understood to be the greatest indignity to the Roman soldier to lose his spear).

Six hundred Equites had to be handed over as hostages. Meanwhile, the captive consuls pledged themselves to a five-year treaty on the most favourable terms for the Samnites. Later Roman historians, however, tried to deny this humiliation by inventing stories of Rome’s rejection of the peace and its revenge upon the Samnites.

The war stalled for five years, and as Rome waited for the treaty to expire, it strengthened its military by increasing recruitment.

In 320 and 319, the Romans returned for revenge against the Samnites and defeated them in what the Roman historian Livy described as one of the greatest events in Roman history. In 315 BC, after the resumption of hostilities, Rome suffered a crushing defeat at Lautulae.

Until 314 BC, success seemed to flow with the Samnites. Campania was on the verge of deserting Rome. Peace was established between Rome and some Samnite towns. Then the tide turned in 311, when the Samnites were joined by Etruscan cities that had decided to join a showdown against Roman power. The intervention of the Etruscans in 311 BC came about as the forty years peace reached its end.

After the first shock the Romans continuously defeated both their enemies. The war became a contest for the dominance of much of Italy. Between 311 and 304, the Romans and their allies won a series of victories against both the Etruscans (310 at Perusia) and the Samnites. In 308 BC the Etruscans sued for peace which was granted on severe terms and in 304 BC the Samnites obtained peace on terms probably severe but not crushing. For assurance, the Romans demanded inspections, and peace was established between the Romans and Samnites that remained until 298.

Ancient sources state that Rome initially borrowed hoplite tactics (the use of the phalanx) from the Etruscans (used during the 6th or 5th century BC) but later adopted the manipular system of the Samnites, probably as a result of Samnite success at this time. The manipular formation resembled a checkerboard pattern, in which solid squares of soldiers were separated by empty square spaces. It was far more flexible than the solidly massed hoplite formation, allowing the army to maneuver better on rugged terrain. The system was retained throughout the republic and into the empire.

During these same years Rome organized a rudimentary navy, constructed its first military roads (construction of the Via Appia was begun in 312 BC and of the Via Valeria in 306), and increased the size of its annual military levy as seen from the increase of annually elected military tribunes from 6 to 16.

During the period 334–295 BC, Rome founded 13 colonies against the Samnites and created six new rustic tribes in annexed territory. During the last years of the war, the Romans also extended their power into northern Etruria and Umbria. Several successful campaigns forced the cities in these areas to become Rome’s allies.


Cornell, TJ (1995), The Beginnings of Rome — Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000–264 BC), New York: Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-01596-7
Ross Cowan, Roman Conquests: Italy. Barnsley 2009.
Forsythe, Gary (2005), A Critical History of Early Rome, Berkeley: University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-24991-7
Lukas Grossmann, Roms Samnitenkriege. Historische und historiographische Untersuchungen zu den Jahren 327 bis 290 v. Chr., Düsseldorf 2009.
Oakley, SP (1998), A Commentary on Livy Books VI–X, II: Books VII–VIII, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-815226-2
Oakley, SP (2008), A Commentary on Livy Books VI–X, IV: Book X, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-923785-2
Salmon, ET (1967), Samnium and the Samnites, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-13572-6

Please view our Legal Notice before you make use of this Database.

See also our Credits page for info on data we are building upon.