The Second and Third Samnite Wars

The period from about 350 to 280 BC saw the expansion of Roman power into southern Italy, the final elimination of Samnite power, and Roman conquest and assimilation of several Greek colonial cities in Italy. Many Roman colonies were established in central and southern Italy which served the dual purpose of providing land for Rome's expanding population and forming buffer territories which would help protect Rome from enemy attack. The residents of these colonies did not enjoy full Roman citizenship but did posess the rights of commercium and connubium, described in previous articles. Two important colonies were the towns of Cales in 334 BC and Fregellae in 328 BC.

During this period, the Samnites were occupied in a war with the Greek colonial city of Tarentum and its Greek ally, King Alexander of Molossia in Epirus. After the cessation of hostilities with Tarentum in 331 BC, the Samnites were free to deal with the growing threat of Roman expansion. The Samnites considered the presence of Cales and Fregellae to be particularly offensive. A political struggle between two opposing factions gave the Samnites an excuse to take sides and send troops to garrison Neapolis (modern Naples), an old and important town in Magna Graecia. In 327 BC, the Romans drove out the Samnite garrison, beginning the Second Samnite War.

The Samnites were a loose alliance of four separate tribes occupying the mountainous regions of central Italy. By the beginning of the Second samnite War, they controlled twice as much territory as the Romans. While the Romans experienced some initial successes, the Samnites inflicted a major defeat upon the Romans when a Roman army was ambushed and trapped at the Battle of the Caudine Forks in 321 BC. The Romans were forced to sign a treaty with the Samnites in which they pledged to end hostilities and were forced to surrender territory to the Samnites which included the town of Fregellae. During the next five years, the Romans reorganized their army and gradually built up their strength. During this time, the Romans also forged alliances with other towns in Campania and southern Latium. After war resumed in 316 BC, the Romans suffered several additional defeats and a period of devastation at the hands of the Samnites in southern Latium. the Samnites also encouraged some Etruscan towns to break their alliances with Rome and attack Roman territory in Etruria. In the end, the Romans' gift for long range planning began to pay off. By the end of the conflict in 304, the Romans were in control of Apulia and Campania, and had regained control of the allies which had seen fit to rebel against her. Several additional towns also formed alliances with Rome. The Samnites retained their independence at the conclusion of the Second Samnite War, but were left in a much weaker condition than they were at the beginning of hostilities.

It was during the Second Samnite War that Roman military engineering began to play a major part in helping the Romans to prevail in long struggles against her enemies where overall strategies for eventual victory were important. In 312 BC, the censor Appius Claudius Caecus began the construction of the Via Appia, an all weather paved road that covered the 132 miles between Rome and Capua. Bridges were built across some streams while others were crossed by adding paving stones to the bottom of the stream at the point of crossing. Viaducts were used to provide a good solid road through the marshy places. The Via appia was built along the coast, where it was more or less safe from attack by the Samnites. The Via Appia was not hte first hard surfaced Roman road, but it was one of the most important early ones. It permitted large scale movement of troops in time of war and a reliable all weather thoroughfare for commerce during peacetime.

From 298 - 290 BC, the Romans fought a third war with Samnium. The Samnites joined forces with the Etruscans and the Gauls in northern Italy. In 295, the Samnites pushed north to link up with the Gauls, whose numbers had been increased due to further migrations of their countrymen from north of the Alps. The combined force, along with some Sabines who decided to take advantage of this opportunity to strike against Rome, hit the Romans at Sentinum in Umbria. The Romans were victorious. As time went on, the Romans increasingly began to attack and subdue Samnite territory. In 290, the Samnites were forced to ask for peace. The Samnites were compelled to accept the status of Roman allies. The Romans annexed territory of the Sabines, forcing them to accept the status of non voting Roman citizens.

The Samnite Wars consisted of a series of long, hard fought campaigns against a determined foe which were often fought in mountain valleys where the Samnites had the advantage. Roman advance planning, superior logistics and supply, and a unified and consistent military policy eventually enabled them to win out against these dangerous foes.

SB pp. 33 - 36
Grantpp. 62 - 66
Atlas of the Roman World pp. 37 - 39


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