The Struggle With Veii

Although the Etruscan monarchy had been pulled down late in the Sixth Century B. C., traditionally in 509, many Etruscan city - states remained powerful for another two centuries and a threat to Rome for at least one hundred twenty years until the defeat of Veii in 390. Veii was situated only 12 miles from Rome, north on the other side of the Tiber which was spanned at that time by the Pons Sublicius, an early bridge constructed of wood.

Veii was the only city - state in Rome's immediate vicinity considered powerful enough to be a serious threat to Rome's continued growth and expansion, and even Rome's very survival. was at stake. Rome and Veii were physically too close to one another and too well matched in strength for any treaty between the two to adequately guarantee the safety of one from the other.

Veii was located on the Tiber north of Rome. This river was a major transportation artery of great commercial as well as military importance. The city who controlled access to the Tiber controlled access to central Western Italy, Latium, Samnium, Etruria, and to a great degree, northern Campania. In addition, the salt works at Ostia were becoming a vital economic asset and the city who controlled access to Ostian salt would be in a highly favourable economic position. Clashes between Latin Rome and Etruscan Veii had taken place in pre - Republican times and would continue to escalate over the years until one city totally vanquished the other. Whereas treaties of alliance were a valuable political and diplomatic tool of Rome for use with her weaker Latin neighbors, they were all but useless in dealing with a powerful and dangerous rival such as Veii.

In the 480's B. C., the Fabian Gens was one of the most powerful familial groups in Rome. The Fabii had major Etruscan connections and owned a considerable tract of land between Rome and Veii. A major strategic point on the Via Salaria, or Salt Road between Rome and Veii was where the stream Cremora joined the Tiber. The Fabii and the Veians came into conflict with each other during this period, mainly through mutual cattle raiding. Then, the Fabii built a defensive blockhouse at the Cremora which the Veians considered a challenge thrown in their teeth. Now the Fabii had raised a large semi - private army who owed their allegiance not to the Roman state but to the Fabian Gens. Thre hundred of the Fabii and their clients occupied the blockhouse with intentions of holding this strongpoint against Veii in 476. This led to the Battle of the Cremora in which three hundred Fabii were killed and the area was abandoned to the Veiians. Another strategic town occupied at this time by the Veiians was Fidemae, also at the confluence of the Cremora and the Tiber. The Veiians now controlled the entire west bank of the Tiber which included the Janiculum Hill which overlooked Rome. The stage was now set for a decisive showdown between the two cities.

The Romans had seen this coming for many years in advance. The new Republican government had been established under the leadership of two civilian magistrates, the Consuls for each year. In 444 B. C., they replaced the two civilian consuls with three military officers with consular powers -- the tribuni militum consularii potestate. Two other magistrates, the Censors, were instituted whose term of office lasted eighteen months. The responsibility of the censors was to examine the property rolls of the citizend of Rome and determine who had the privelege and responsibility of military service, and whether his property qualified him as an equestrian or infantry warrior. Military service was not an option to men of little or no property, a situation which Rome later found necessary to change during periods of crisis.

Less than a year after Cremora came the crushing defeat of the Etruscan navy by Hieron of Syracuse off Cumae. This weakened all Etruscan cities, including Veii and pointed up the fact that the Etruscans had not cooperated a great deal with each other in their own self - defense. Veii was forced to make a treaty with Rome in spite of the recent victory at Cremora.

At about this time, the legendary Roman hero Camillus came to Rome's aid. Fidemae was first retaken from Veii, and then the city of Veii itself came under siege. According to tradition, the Siege of Veii lasted 10 years, from 400 to 390 B. C. This heroic legend was invented in order to draw a parallel with the ten year Siege of Troy of Homeric legend. The actual siege of Veii lasted probably 6 years and was broken when the Romans diverted the drainage channel that supplied water to the city. Roman soldiers sneaked under the wall through the now diverted stream bed and let their comrades in through the locked gates. The celebrated Roman hero Camillus was credited with saving Rome from her most dangerous enemy heretofore encountered.

The Romans destroyed much of the city of Veii, driving off the inhabitants and parceling out the captured land to their own citizens. This is in contrast to the way Rome's former rivals were treated upon their defeat, which was to incorporate the defeated city into the growing state of Rome. Veii was such a dangerous enemy that, evidently, the Romans wanted there to be no chance of their eventual recovery and renewal of their position as a threat to Rome. It set a new and more sinister precedent in Rome's treatment of vanquished enemies.

Sinnigen and Boak Page 47
Grant PP. 47 - 49


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