Ancient Samnite Warfare

Roman's nemesis in Italy

An introduction to Samnite Warfare

Proto-Samnites of the Bronze age

The Samnites were basically the last test of the Romans for the domination of central Italy (afterwards, the Gallic threat to the north and Greek threat to the south were all that was left). Well before the samnite wars however, many peopled inhabited the valleys and mountains of Italy. Mountaineers of the appennine mountain range were hardy, unsophisticated folks, feared by their richer, softer valleys neighbours. The last were easy preys for marauding bands of mountaineers raiders. They were first mentioned in the VIIth Century BC from a region known as the "samnium", and were a federation of tribes related to a larger group, the Sabellian tribes.

They were an Oscan-speaking people, originated as an offshoot of the Sabines as most authors agrees upon. The Sabines has been early Roman enemies, at a time the city was just a glorified group of villages of unwashed peasants and hills shepherds living around a marsh, where the Tiber flows. This was a semi-legendary era for which we have mostly the works of Livy. The Sabine were Umbrians, which litteraly surrounded the Latins. The Samnites as they were known lived further south in Central Italy, but their territory has been extended northwards and they reached the adriatic coast as well.

Caudine Forks Battle

This was a large territory which flourished around the Vth Century, with the greatest extent of their civilization. As immediate neighbours of Rome and the Latins they became the next power to crush. They were an Indo-European people, settling at an ancient date, pre-bronze age, with a common language and the very name sabine and samnite shared a common etymology *se-, "oneself" (source of English 'self') and also at the origin of other Indo-European tribal names such as the Semnone, Suebi, Senones, Suiones, and in Italy, Sabelli and Sabini among others. It would be difficult to coin out any type of warfare dating back before the first encounters with the Romans, so we will focus on the first Roman writing about them.

The first written record of the Samnites was a treaty with the Romans from 354 BC. It helped set a shared border at the Liris River. It also allied the Latins and Samnites against the threat of the Gauls in the north. But the truce will no last long. The Samnites had they eyes on the rich lands of the Latium and the Latins seemed weak to them. They first successes in the first "Samnite war" confirmed this in 321 BC, and it was confirmed again later, before the grand finale in 299 BC. During all this time, the Latins only fought some of the Samnite tribes, namely the Caraceni, Caudini, Frentani, Hirpini and Pentri.

Map of ancient Italy 4th Cent. BC

The Samnite Wars

The Samnite confederation mainly comprised nations such as the Hirpini, Caudini, Caraceni, and Pentri. These Umbrians revered their fater god, Sabus since very ancient times, and their language was formed around 600 BC. They were a proud, athletic, martial culture that were arguably among the strongtest military powers in Ital y after the Etruscans. And they took the lead when the first were sidelined after the Gallic invasions. The largely Etruscan-based Romans learned a lot after their first defeats, notably about smaller units and modularity, especially to deal with rough terrain. The Romans largely relied on wide, rigid battle formations made for open terrain, plaines and valleys, while the Samnite mountaineers were used to skirmishes, ambushes and in general guerilla warfare, but perfectly capable of mustering large forces in pitch battles if needed.

1st Samnite War

According to Livy, the war started after the Samnites attacked the Sidicini, in northern Campania. A Campanian relief army arrived to help, but was soon comprehensively defeated. This bolstered the Samnites which pushd their luck and boldly seized the Tifata hills overlooking Capua and soon besieged the Campanian capital itself after marching into the plain between the hills and Capua and defeating a second Campanian army. Left without forces left the Campanians retired into Capua while a cavalryman was officially sent to seek assistance from their Latins neighbours;

This Rome became concerned, as Campanian was at that time probably their first trading partner, with strong bonds between Capua and Rome. At least for the name of balance of power in the region they could mobilize. The Ambassador pledging his case to the Senate indeed also promised Rome assistance against their arch-enemy the Volsci in future wars, in a full military alliance; But Rome did not agreed, preferring to stay loyal to their initial alliance with the Samnites.

Samnite warriors attacking the Roman line
Battle of Sentinium

Following instruction, the ambassador then told they accepted to surrender the people of Campania and the city of Capua unconditionally into the power of Rome, entering their political sphere. This was too good to refuse, and the Senate accepted, based on honor and the subsequent pledge to defend Capua and campania as if they were their own lands; This lend to send envoys to the Sanites with this new information and the consequence of more depredation on Campania.

These envoys were brutally rebuffed and when Rome sent fetials to demand redress, rebuffed again, Rome declared war on the samnites. Modern interpretation of Livy's acconts is that the Samnites takeover of Teanum, not really in Campania and at the crossroads was a tempting target, as they would have thought its position near the Liri was still compatible with their treaty with Rome. Also the Samnites could not have foreseen the implicaton and support of the Campanians and certainly not afterwards the displomatic turnover of the Senate. Whatever the case, in 343 Marcus Valerius Corvus and Aulus Cornelius Cossus, both Consuls of this year turned generals and led their armies on two directions in Campania, defeating the Samnites in detail in three battles.

If the first, at Mount Gaurus, was a pitch battle, hard-fought, but won, the Romans escaped disaster by a thread at the Battle of Saticula where they were ambushed in great style. The massive blunder of consul Aulus Cornelius Cossus did not turned to disaster thanks to Publius Decius Mus, that bravely took a hilltop and focused the Samnite's attention while Cossus's armies escape just when darkness fell. After the army was reunited the next day at dawn, they engaged th Samnites and won. The third battle, at Suessula resembled a "consolation prize", with Corvus's Romans setting up a small camp as a ruse to draw the overconfident Samnites in pitch battle and eventually besiege the camp instead, sending foragers.

Samnite warriors
Samnite warriors - IVth cent. BC

When Corvus saw these forces weakened and scaterred he attacked the Samnite camp, rounding up and slaughtering the foraging troops piece-meal. This was a clear-cut victory. Both Consuls went home in triumph while the Carthaginian allies sent as massive tribute as a gesture of congratulation. They too, traded with the Campanians and felt the Samnites as a threat. In all three battle, little is known about Samnite warfare yet, but their discipline, flexibility and good equipments as testified by the 40,000 shields captured. However modern Historians are weary of Livy's description of all three battles, often embelished and modified, with sometimes pure invention or use of dubious sources.

After the war ended, the Campani asked Rome for winter garrisons to protect them against the Samnites. However as Livy noted, the luxurious lifestyle of the Campanians led to an alleged coup, to seize for themsleves these lands, coup which was discovered by the consuls, and later turned to a mutiny of Roman troops willing to escape punishment. This event motivated back in Rome the 342 Leges Genuciae. Eventually peace was negociated. The war has been contested in its historicity and even very existence, but the next one could not be considered that way and is even considered the "great Samnite war".

2nd Samnite War

The 1st Samnite war ended around 341 BC. Therefore peace was secured until 326 BC, a good 15 years. In between Roman influence on Campania grew to such a point that it was considered almost like Roman territory. It started by Roman colony at Fregellae in 328 BC. This territoey has been previously raided by the Samnites and belonged to the Volsci. But the big step was the seizure of Naples (Neapolis) or Paleopolis, and the Campanians sent from Nola 2000 troops while the Samnites sent nearby 4000 and were soon accused of encouraging rebellions. Tensions broke in 337 BC between the Aurunci and the Sidicini. The Romans intervened in support of the former and won the battle.

In 334 BC, Roman citizens were sent in mass to the colony of Cales, reinforcing Roman presence in a strategic location. They started raising and devastating the Sidicini territory, and troops and camps were settled there. Meanwhile on the River Liris, in the Volscian territory, cities seeked the protection of Rome against the Samnites in 330 BC. Envoys were sent to the Samnites which agreed not to invade these territories. Privernum and Fundi later raided nearby cities under Rome Protection and were later subdued by Rome, their reingleaders executed in Rome. This only met more defiance from the Samnium.

At last another factor destabilized southern Italy and bring the Samnites to war: The Lucanians (Samnites southern neighbours ans allies) and the Greek city of Taras. The latter was found under threat and asked for Help Alexander of Epirus. He landed in 332 BC at Paestum, nearbey both Campania and Samnium. Soon the Lucanians and Samnites went to war with Alexander and were defeated. To have them in check for the future, the latter sent envoys to seek an alliance with Rome, but he died in battle around 330-331 BC. By 327 BC tensions were at their zenith for the Samnites.

The Romans stroke first, sending Quintus Publilius Philo between Paleopolis and Neapolis, and with a new procolsul power, soon took the Samnite cities of Allifae, Callifae, and Rufrium. This truck fear in the Lucanians and Apulians which soon swapped alliances to Rome and further infuriated the Samnites which though themselves as threatened. After the latter allied with the Vestini, Decimus Junius Brutus Scaeva ravaged their territory and took Cutina and Cingilia.

He was replaced by the dictator Lucius Papirius Cursor, which engaged the Samnites again in an unspecified location in 324 BC and won. The latter sued for peace; But thios only last for one year. The next, the Apulians seemengly swapped alliances again, notably the Daunian city-states.In 323 BC the two consuls fought on two fronts; The next year Aulus Cornelius Cossus Arvina's camp was attacked and sacked by the Samnites, but their army was later routed (or retired). They offered to surrender, but this was refused by Rome.

Samnite warrior - Johnny shumate Strangely though, little is known about the events that followed until 316 BC. Both powers were at war, yet the year 321 BC saw Titus Veturius Calvinus and Spurius Postumius Albinus, the two consuls for this year, stationed at Calatia, nearby Capua. The new Samnite leader seemed to be a shrewed politician and giften general. Rather than engaging the Romans in pitch battle he devised a ruse, which will saw the most humiliating defeat the Romans ever knew, marking them like a scar for centuries. They used paid locals to spread the news the Samnites were about to attack the city of Lucera in Apulia. Both consuls decided to rush there, but their only route was through mountain passes, through the Caudine Forks, two narrow and wooded defiles on the Apennine Mountains. The Samnites waited for the two legions to engage fully before blocking both ends, soon the entire Samnite army appeared on both sides, with boulders and felled trunks ready to be dropped on the Romans. The latter hastily created a fortified camp. Gaius Pontius summoned them to surrended, and they had to pass unarmed under the yoke before going back to Rome, still alive but in a total humiliation.

The truce lasted until 316 BC, with dictator Lucius Aemilius besieging Saticula on the frontier between Campania and Samnium. He briefly duelled with the Samnites that fled only to besiege the nearby Plistica later, an ally of Rome. The siege of Baecula was taken over by Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus the next year. Later they besieged Sora, a Roman colony which swapped sides, and still in 315 BC they engaged the Samnites in adiversionary attack, the battle of Lautulae, a disaster for the Romans. Quintus Aulius died and was replaced by Gaius Fabius, and later Quintus Fabius took command of a new army. Operations resumed the next year around Sora, under Marcus Poetelius and Gaius Sulpicius. In 314 BC they had the news that the city-states of Ausona, Minturnae in Latium and Vescia in Campanian had swapped sides for the Samnites after their victory. At the fall of 314 BC the consuls started to besiege Bovianum, the largest capital of the four Samnite tribes, took over on 313 BC by the dictator Gaius Poetelius Libo Visolus while the Samnites retook Fregellae and were chased off by the Romans which attacked Nola next ans created new colonies.

In 312 BC the Samnite war was the great event which keep Italy on edge. This year the Etruscans seemed to choose a side, the Samnites. They needed to settle an old score with the Romans, which "stole" their city and chased off their Etruscan monarch long ago. In 311 BC, the Samnites took the Roman garrison of Cluviae, retook later by the Romans Gaius Junius Bubulcus, which later sacked Bovianum. They were ambushed in a sloped forest but won. In 310 BC, the consul Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus went up to Sutrium to face the Etruscans, and won. They felt bold enough to cross the Ciminian forest, a seemingly gloomy, dark, impassable place to raid ad pillage the area around the Cimian Mountains. The Etruscans in revenge mustered their largest army to march on Sutrium. The Romans however attacked their camp at dawn and routed them. Three majot city-states sued for peace and signed a thirty-year truce.

Samnite Linen Legion

Meanwhile Gaius Marcius Rutilus captured the Samnite city of Allifae, while a Roman fleet was sent to Pompeii. Later the consul confronted the Samnites, marching to Etruria to make their junction and a bloody but indecisive battle took place; He was replaced by Lucius Papirius Cursor, which later attacked Longula and a new pitch battle was to take place, but apparently the armies set camp in front of each other and did not moved. Meanwhile in Etruria, the Battle of Lake Vadimo took place, with the Romans winning a pyrrhic victory by engaging in last resort their cavalty dismounted as infantry to turn the tide. Eventually by 309 BC Lucius Papirius Cursor provoked the Samnites after a log stalemate and won a massive victory. He earned the triumph in Rome.

Samnite skirmishers

In 307-304 BC took place the last campaigns in Apulia and the Samnium itself. Consul Lucius Volumnius Flamma Violens led his legion against the Salentini of southern Apulia, seizing several hostile towns while Quintus Flavius led the bulk of the Roman army on Samnium itself, for the coup de grace. He comprehensively defeated the Samnites in a pitched battle, near Allifae. He then besieged their camp, leading the survivors to surrender and pass under the Yoke as a huiliation, repaying the Caudine Forks pass 14 years prior. Nearby Hernici declared war on Rome. By 306 BC the consul Publius Cornelius Arvina took over operations in the area. Meanwhile consul Quintus Marcius Tremulus took on the Hernici. They eventually surrendered and signed a 33 years truce. The Samnites were later surrounded by both Conuls armies and defeated. The campaign ceased in 304 BC with the siege of Bovianum. The Samnites sent a peace delegation to Rome and the ancient peace treaty was restored.

3rd Samnite War

Ceremonial Samnite attic helmet At a time the Etruscans were ready to wage war on Rome, settling old scores, they were invaded by the Gauls. Instead of fighting them they proposed an alliance, but they eventually only paid them to set off the territory. Meanwhile the Romans allied with the Picentes on the adriatic, offering them protection against northern Senone Gauls. The latter would warn the Romans that the Samnites were prepared to march against Rome, whereas Titus Manlius Torquatus (which died during the campaign) failed to engage the Etruscans, which declined any pitch battle and stayed behind walls.

Indeed in 298 BC a Lucanian delegation went to Rome to ask for their protection against the Samnites, that just invaded their territory. The Romans then sent Fetials to Samnium, which were chased and threatened. This was enough to declare war. The Roman Army was split into two, one under Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus marching against the Etruscans and another under Gnaeus Fulvius Maximus Centumalus aganst the Samnites. The Faliscan country was devastated. Taurasia and Cisauna fell. Bovianum, the capital of the Pentri was captured the same year.

Rome II Samnites

In 297 BC Rome sent Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus in the North and southern Etruria sued for peace. A battle took place in the Samnium, in the Sidicini territory, which saw the Samnites defeated. While Samnium was ravaged, it seemed the Apulian swapped sides against Rome. Athir's conflict aside, about these events, not triumph was granted this year. However 296 BC was marked by an Etruscan intervention. Both elected consuls raised the army and prepared for war, Appius Claudius Caecus and Lucius Volumnius Flamma Violens. They faced Gellius Egnatus which successfully unified all tribes and created an elite force bound by a sacred death oath, at the 'linen camp'. He had the support of the Etruscans in the north but also now the Apulians as well. Against them, Rome assembled two legions, about 15,000 allied troops bound to Etruria while Lucius Volumnius had already departed with thow other legions in the Samnium.

Ceremonial Samnite attic helmet Appius Claudius suffered a number of setbacks. He was soon replaced by Lucius Volumnius, which took two cities and left command to Appius Claudius. Two battles took place, two Roman victories. However the next year, the Samnites raised new troops and attacked Campania. In 295 BC took place the decisve Etrurian Campaign and the Battle of Sentinum. The different factions has banded together (Samnites & Lucanians, Etrurians and Gauls (paid)). Both attacked in concert. Apparently Senones fell over the Roman garrison of Clusium and wiped it out. A combined Etruscan, Samnite and Umbrian force crossed the Apennine Mountains and advanced near Sentinum. The battle was a slaughter and close victory for the Romans, whereas the Samnite-Gallic army lacing Etruscans and Umbrians support failed to win the day. Both consuls were present aking each a wing, each fighting differently. Victory was soon won, but another battle in vicinity of Caiatia, near Capua saw the Samnite forces in Campania defeated and driven off.

The next year in 294 BC, the Samnite forces split in three, between commanders Marcus Atilius (defeated the Samnutes in Apulia and later on another occasion), and Lucius Postumius Megellus waged war in Samnium, capturing Volsinii, Perusia and Arretium which sued for peace. Lucius Postumius was later defeated and injured. In 293 BC at last the last battle took place off Aquilonia, and was decisive, in the hands of Spurius Carvilius Maximus and Lucius Papirius. The conquest extended soon to Samnium, and Velia, Palumbinum and Herculaneum plus Saepinum fell. To secure peace for ever, in 291 BC Quintus Fabius Maximus Gurges campaigned against the Pentri, the largest Samnite tribe. Defeated, they soon also lost their last stronghold of Cominium Ocritum. Peace was assorted by Romn colonists settling in Samnium, in the wake of Publius Cornelius Rufinus which dealt with the last pockets of resistance throughout Samnium. From then on the latter were colonized.

Nola frise
The very well known Nola Fise, most precious iconographic document we have about the Samnites. We see a heavy cavalryman with an attic helmet, and breastplate. He carries a decorated lance. In the middle what seemed to be an ensiferin armed with two long javelins and protected by an aspis-like shield, but wearing no other protection but his helmet, of the same type, Attic and feathered. However he and the first infantryman wears greaves. The first Samnite looks like a flagbearer, itis difficult to assess his armament. However his Apulian helmet is interestingly decorated with horns and he is protected by a bronze breastplate.

Influence of Samnite Warfare on the Romans

It is difficult to find precise indications in Livy about the composition and tactics of the Samnites. Only the study of the campaigns shows the Samnites were very mobile, counted small flexible units, mostly infantry (there are few mentions of Samnite cavalry, if any). During the early Samnite war, mountain has been used for great effect in some memorable ambushes. However towards the 3rd Samnite war, we see a pattern of pitch battle, hard-fought. Rather than saying the Romans compied some aspects of the Samnites (like the small scale manipular units) and became more mobile (perhaps discarding their hoplite-like heavy infantry), we don't know for sure if the Romans had a fully functional triplex acies as in Polybian times. There are no mention of Velites, nor the composition of the legion, but its size, about 6,000 to 7,500 men each. These forces were restricted, contrary to those that will met Hannibal 150 years later. They could be bolstered by Campanian levies and the aristocratic cavalrymen of Capua and other allied city-states would have been a great addition to the rather limited and borderline mediocre Roman cavalry, but there was no such thing as "extraordinarii" at that time. A typical consular army was bout 4,200 infantry plus 300 cavalry, facing sometimes less troops. This made for short and limited engagements with perhaps 10% attrition, casulaties included, not counting desertions. Battles of the 3rd Samnite war were certaninly much larger and deadly affairs, prolongated no-quarter given brawls leaving possibly 5,000 corpses on the battlefield.

Other deductions about the Samnites are related to Livy's account to the "linen camp", sworn warriors, which were later decribed as having brightly decorated tunic and silver-ish helmets and breastplates, or profuciously decorated gear. This was a particularly profitable loot to the more sober Romans. In later sources, the Samnite Gladiator called provocator shows an equipent allegedly "Samnite", a short sword combined with a squarish shield. If the second is probably true to form, the first is contested. Samnites at that time would have been equipped with a longer sword or Spatha, if not Greek-style Kopis. The Roman short sword was a later Iberian adoption.

One interesting aspect in the decisive battle of Sentinum was the rare use by the Romans of war chariots, the essedarius, but in very limited numbers. Far more numerous were the Esseda of the Senone Gauls mentioned. The 295 BC battle was one of the very last to see a ritual suicide take place when Publius Decius Mus made a devotio in front of the enemy and charged the first lines, being killed in the process. The Roman armies by that time adapted to Samnite warfare after nearly two centuries and reformed itself to the triplex acies we know, with the bulk of the troops made with loosely placed squared shield javelineers-swordsmen, able to be subdivided in smaller formations, 4,200 men divided into small subunits of 120, the maniples. The whole legion was made into a checkerboard, with the veterans at the back, the famous triarii, a remnant of the hoplitic formations of the IVth century. These units were suited for mobile, offensive warfare, quick to deploy, and manoeuver, including on rough terrain. The mountainous nature of Samnium, made for ambushes and skirmishes helped this move.

On the contrary it seems the Roman way of warfare in open terrain and pitch battle grew on the Samnites, which definitely adopted the fashion when armies grew larger, and especially as a way to use allied troops and cavalry. This growing confidence however offered opportunities to the Romans on a silver plate at a time the Roman legions started to be more efficient than ever in these kind of fight. This did not prevented some Roman commanders some bold moves either, Like Decius 'Mus' (‘rat’) which attacked the Saticula Samnite camp at night and ravaged it. At sentinum, whereas Mus offered himself as a sacrifice, Fabius ably sent a reinforcement from his left and attacked to the right to stop the Roman route provoked by the Gauls. Eventually only the Gallic shield-wall remained, surrounded, a bit like the old guard at Waterloo, but it broke and fled instead. Losses for Egnatus alliance were enormous, about 25,000, most being hunted down and killed by the chasing cavalry during their rout. The Romans lost around 9,000 which was still considerable at the time, committing around 35,000 at the beginning; The scale of the battle indeed reached ten to twenty times the scale of the battles bith sides were used to in the IVth Century.

Samnites resurgences

After the last Samnite war ended, the Romans moved against the Sabines and crushed them east of Rome, and redistributed lands to Roman citizens. They started colonizing the area. The justification was the part played by the Sabines with the Samnites. The Romans next pushed in Praetutii territory near the adriatic coast, east of the Sabines. This was also a demonstration of power to their local allies, the Picentes. Foedus amicitiae was proposed to the Samnites Tribes that has not been vanquished and settled an important garrison in Venusia (SE Samnium). The end result impressed the Campanians which renewed their alliance. Rome at that stage became the great power of Italy. This "thucydides trap" was seen by weary Greeks of Magna Grecia as a future threat.

Alliance with Pyrrhus (280 BC)

The Samnites were one of the Italian peoples that allied with King Pyrrhus of Epirus during the Pyrrhic War. They saw this as a perfect opportunity to take their revenge. But when Pyrrhus landed in Magna Grecia, they only observed him, not taking part in any alliance. Only when Pyrrhus won decisively at Heraclea in 280 BC, they rose up against Rome, siding with Pyrrhus. Even if at Asculum Pyrrhos losses were appealing, the Samnites maintained their alliance. An again when Pyrrhos left the peninsulat for his fatal Sicilian adventure. After his death, the Romans considered once again the Samnites as hostiles as the latter did not approached Rome for peace. They launched an expedition which will end in the decisive battle of the Cranita hills in 277BC. During this time, Samnite general Oblacus, of the Frentani tribe, distinguished himself at the battle of Heracleia.

The consuls Publius Cornelius Rufinus and Caius Junius Bubulcus invaded Samnium and devastating the country, taking forts to house garrisons. The Samnites had mustered all their forces but avoided pitch battle until they retreated to a range of hills called Cranita (wooded by cornel trees) along with their treasures. This did not dissuaded the Romans, which ascended the hills, but their difficult climb made them easy meat fodder for Samnite javelinmen. Both Consuls lost, blaming each other for the debacle. Both went on rampaging on separate routes before returning home. The Samnites would also participate later in the Battle of Beneventum in 275 BC. This year, the consul Manius Curius Dentatus ravaged the Samnium again. The battle was mainly a draw, where Epirus forces were thrown in disarray and panic by their own elephants, rebuffed by the Romans. Contingent of Samnites were present.

Second Punic war (218-201 BC)

The result of this war was for the Romans to test alliances and punish rebel cities and this included the Samnites that allied with Pyrrhus. Each time the Roman extension worked because they supported the ruling elites of the allied peoples and shared the spoils of war with their allies to boost even more their commitment to Rome's cause. The Romans next took on the Vulsci and Volsinii in 280 BC and Caere in 273 BC, destruction of the Volsinii as an independent people in 264 BC. This alliance network was seriously tested when seeking a cementing war, on which all allies would agree on: The northern Gallic threat.

The Battle of Telamon against the Gauls in 225 BC was indeed a gigantic clash which opposed to the Gallic tribes 41,000 Roman troops and 210,000 allied troops. Samnite manpower at that time was limited according to Polybius given the shrunken territories controlled, to the possibility of a levy of 70,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry. Polybius also estimated Roman recruiting pool to be at least 700,000. So in theory the Samnites had little hope to defeat such coalition.

Possible appearance of a late Samnite warrior of the Carthaginian wars (From Pinterest).

This would explain alone the measured, modest participation of Samnites to Hannibal's rampage in Italy. It only started when the latter, after inflicting three crushing defeats to the Romans, was marching in southern Italy, after failing to even attempt to capture Rome, waiting for hypothetical reinforcements from Carthage that never came. Indeed even with a unique opportunity tp defeat Rome once and for all, most tribes stayed loyal to Rome. The entire southern Oscan peoples and Magna Grecia as a whole (Greeks from Bruttium) also stayed out of Hannibal's attmpt to reconstruct his hugely depleted army. Instead, the majority of Samnites tribes joined the Romans as Socii (allies). These were tribed submitted early to Rome's rule such as the Caraceni and Caudini, and Hirpini.

Indeed, having ravaged Apulia without reaction from the Romans, Hannibal decided to march through Samnium to Campania. The latter was one of the richest and most fertile provinces of Italy. He hoped this devastation would draw Fabius into battle, but he declined to do so, while the Samnites were few to join in. It seems however some participated as mercenaries in the night battle of Ager Falernus, a skirmish in 217 where the Carthaginians had the upper hand. Soon a vivid critic of Fabian's strategy, Minucius, the magister equitum, won a minor success against the Carthaginians near Geronium, and was appointed by the Senate as the new commander in chief. His splitted army was lured into a trap by Hannibal and nearly crushed in the Battle of Geronium. But he was saved by a last-minute decision of Fabius to send 8,000 foot and 500 horse under Lucius Decimus the Samnite in the rear of the Carthaginians. This ended in victory and Fabius gained full authority over the Roman Army and Minucius.

However the tide would turn again in 216 with the election of the Consuls Varro and Paulus. They raised new legions, which added to thos already deployed and marched towards the last known positions of the Carthaginians in central Italy. Meanwhile the latter desperatly tried to gain support from local Samnites. In the subsequent legendary Battle of Cannae, the Samnites were noted by Roman chroniclers, but on the sides of the Roman consuls, as Socii, just like the Iapyges and Etruscans which participated in the battle. In all, the Romans had about 86,400 men, among which 40,000 Socii infantry and 4,000 cavalry. Given the shrunken nature of the Samnites at that time, about 20,000 Samnites could have been deployed, Cavalry was more limited and more probably on the Etruscan/Iapyge side. We known what happened in anycase. Draw into a classic envelopment, the Romans and their allies were slaughtered for long hours, in an archetypal battle of annihilation.

Despite this new spectacular victory, Samnites stuck to their alliance with Rome, most notably the Frentani tribe. In fact they expressed their support after the battle. Meanwhile, the Hirpini seems to stay independent, acting apart from the rest of the Samnites. Livy himself seems to distinguish them outside of Samnium. Throughout this period, the Hirpini seemd to have been more closely connected in their political relations with the Marrucini, Peligni, and Vestini, than other Samnites. Polybius indeed associated as socii the Frentani with the Marsi, Marrucini, and Vestini, separating the the Samnites. They were the only ones it seems, that declared in favour of Hannibal immediately after the battle of Cannae. However Beneventum never fell into the hands of the Hannibal. In 215 BC, three of the smaller towns of the Hirpini were recovered by the Roman praetor M. Valerius and the year after in 214 BC, Hanno fought Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus inside their territory, and in 212 BC, with limited support of the Hirpini. In 209 BC at least, when Hannibal lost all footing in the center of Italy, the Hirpini swapped to Rome's loyalty, gaining favourable terms. This was obtained by betraying Carthaginian garrisons in their towns.

They both deprived the latter of support and troops. But between 216 and 209 BC, five solid years, they supplied Hannibal's shrunken armies with fresh troops and supplies, participating in many minor skirmishes. The Hirpini's fate was different from the Pentri tribe, which also declared in favour of Hannibal after the battle of Cannae, and did the same, but not changing loyalty apparently in 209 BC. Their fate is obscure but it's likely they were defeated comprehensively and sold to slavery, their cities razed or colonized. Indeed as a people they are no longer mentioned by any Chronicler afterwards by Strabo or Pliny. At the Battle of the Metaurus on 22 June 207 BC, the relieving force of Hasdrubal comong through the Alps to Italy was crushed by a massive combined Roman army, and survivors were scattered while Hannibal's brother was killed. The outcome confirmed Roman dominance and compelled Hannibal to evacuate allied towns in Italy and withdraw to Bruttium altogether. Further losses in Spain and invasion of North Africa made him recalled to take command of this theater and defend Carthage in 204 BC.

Social War (91–88 BC)

during these troubled times, the Samnites and several other Italic people rebelled against Rome over Roman citizenship (to gain it, basically). They in effect started the Social War, which lasted almost three years, resulting in a Roman victory but the Samnites and other Italic tribes were granted Roman citizenship anyway.

Notwithstanding their vaunted fidelity, the Frentani joined the Italian allies in the great Social War but seemed to not have taken any significant part and received the Roman franchise like other tribes. Cicero noted that they sent after the war some chieftains and troops to support the cause of Cluentius of Larinum. The Hirpini also participated in the Social War, and among the first to take up arms against Rome. In 89 BC however Sulla took Aeclanum, one of their strongest cities, which such terror to the point they offered submission, given favourable terms.

The party favorable to Rome was led by Minatius Magius (ancestor of the historian Velleius) from Aeclanum. Her would push his loyalty to raise an auxiliary legion among his countrymen for the Roman campaign in Campania. The Hirpini were given also the Roman franchise after the war, thus, their national existence ended. Considerable portions of their territory were confiscated, ending in wealthy Roman nobles properties.

Possible appearance of a Samnite legionnaire during the Social (From Pinterest, unknown origin).

Civil War and assimilation (82-31 BC)

The Samnites supported the Marian party in the civil war against Lucius Cornelius Sulla. In 82 BC, Sulla conducted an "ethnic cleansing" war against the Samnium, taking cities and forcing the remnants of their armies to scatter. Destruction and devastation brought upon these lands were total. To such a point according to some chroniclers, that cities dwindled into villages or were totally deserted. Assimilated into the Roman society was total afterwards. Frentani's territory was crossed by J.Caesae without resistance in 49 BC, and it seems the last time their name appears in history.

With the division of Italy under Augustus, the Hirpini were separated, placed in the second Region along with Apulia and Calabria. Samnium was included in the fourth Region. In the later divisions of Italy (Roman Empire), Samnium formed a small separate province. Beneventum and most towns of the Hirpini were "annexed" by the province of Campania. Liber Coloniarum precised Samnium urban centers and Hirpini's among the "Civitates Campaniae". The Frentani's territory was formed into the fourth region of Augustus, together with that of the Marrucini, Peligni, Marsi, and others but they were later reunited with Samnium, placed under the authority of the Samnium governor. During the Empire, their assimilation was now total as their tribes are no longer named in any report.

Sources/Read More

About the Samnite wars 1st samnite war Battle of Sentinum
About the Samnites (general) (about the linen legion)
Samnite Legacy (pdf)
The Samnite Wars - Cornell U.
On osprey Publishing
Google Books - Samnium and the Samnites
'The Samnite Wars' by Peter Connolly

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