previous next


Sabnium qs. Sabinium). A country in the centre of Italy, bounded on the north by the Marsi, Peligni, and Marrucini, on the west by Latium and Campania, on the south by Lucania, and on the east by the Frentani and Apulia. The Samnites were an offshoot of the Sabines, who emigrated from their country between the Nar, the Tiber, and the Anio, before the foundation of Rome, and settled in the country afterwards called Samnium. This country was at the time of their migration inhabited by Opicans, whom the Samnites conquered, and whose language they adopted; for we find at a later time that the Samnites spoke Opican or Oscan. See Osci.

Samnium is a country marked by striking physical features. The greater part of it is occupied by a huge mass of mountains, called at the present day the Matese, which stands out from the central line of the Apennines. The circumference of the Matese is between seventy and eighty miles, and its greatest height is 6000 feet. The most important tribes of the Samnites were the Caudini and Pentri, of whom the former occupied the south side and the latter the north side of the Matese. To the Caudini belonged the towns of Allifae, Telesia, and Beneventum; to the Pentri, those of Aesernia, Bovianum, and Sepinum. Besides these chief tribes, we find mention of the Caraceni, who dwelt north of the Pentri, and to whom the town of Aufidena belonged; and of the Hirpini, who dwelt southeast of the Caudini, but who are sometimes mentioned as distinct from the Samnites.

The Samnites were distinguished for their bravery and love of freedom. Issuing from their mountain fastnesses, they overran a great part of Campania; and it was in consequence of Capua applying to the Romans for assistance against the Samnites that war broke out between the two peoples in B.C. 343. The Romans found the Samnites the most warlike and formidable enemies whom they had yet encountered in Italy; and the war, which commenced in B.C. 343, was continued with few interruptions for the space of fifty-three years. It was not till B.C. 290, when all their bravest troops had fallen, and their country had been repeatedly ravaged in every direction by the Roman legions, that the Samnites sued for peace and submitted to the supremacy of Rome. They never, however, lost their love of freedom; and accordingly they not only joined the other Italian allies in the war against Rome in B.C. 90, but, even after the other allies had submitted, they continued in arms. The Civil War between Marius and Sulla gave them hopes of recovering their independence; but they were defeated by Sulla before the gates of Rome (B.C. 82) the greater part of their troops fell in battle, and the remainder were put to death. Their towns were laid waste, the inhabitants sold as slaves, and their place supplied by Roman colonists. See Italia; Osci; Umbria.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: