previous next


SA´MNIUM ( Σαυνῖτις, Pol., Strab.: Eth. SAMNIS, pl.eth. Samnites, Eth. Σαυνῖται, Pol., Strab., &c.; Σαμνῖται, Ptol.), one of the principal regions or districts of Central Italy. The name was sometimes used in a more extensive, sometimes in a more restricted, sense, the Samnites being a numerous and powerful people, who consisted of several distinct tribes, while they had founded other tribes in their immediate neighbourhood, who were sometimes included under the same appellation, though they did not properly form a part of the nation. But Samnium proper, according to the more usual sense of the name (exclusive of the Frentani, but including the Hirpini), was a wholly inland district. bounded on the N. by the Marsi, Peligni, and Frentani, on the E. by Apulia, on the S. by Lucania, and on the SW. and W. by Campania and Latium.


The territory thus limited was almost wholly mountainous, being filled up with the great mountain masses and ramifications of the Apennines, which in this part of their course have lost even more than elsewhere the character of a regular chain or range, and consist of an irregular and broken mass, the configuration of which it is not very easy to understand. But as the whole topography of Samnium depends upon the formation and arrangement of these mountain groups, it will be necessary to examine them somewhat in detail.

1. In the northern part of the district, adjoining the Marsi and Peligni, was a broken and irregular mass of mountains, containing the sources of the Sagrus (Sangro), and extending on both sides of the valley of that river, as far as the frontiers of the Frentani. This was the land of the CARACENI the most northerly of the Samnite tribes, whose chief city was Aufidena, in the valley of the Sagrus, about 5 miles above Castel di Sangro, now the chief town of the surrounding district.

2. The valley of the Sagrus was separated by a mountain pass of considerable elevation from the valley of the Vulturnus, a river which is commonly considered as belonging to Campania; but its sources, as well as the upper part of its course, and the valleys of all its earliest tributaries, were comprised in Samnium. Aesernia, situated on one of these tributaries, was the principal town in this part of the country; while Venafrum, about 15 miles lower down the valley, was already reckoned to belong to Campania. This portion of Samnium was one of the richest and most fertile, and least mountainous of the whole country. From its proximity to Latium and Campania, the valley of the Vulturnus was one of the quarters which was most accessible to the Roman arms, and served as one of the highroads into the enemy's country.

3. From Aesernia a pass, which was probably used from very early times, and was traversed by a road in the days of the Roman Empire, led to Bovianum in the valley of the Tifernus. This city was situated in the very heart of the Samnite country, surrounded on all sides by lofty mountains. Of these the most important is that on the SW., the Monte Matese, at the present day one of the most celebrated of the Apennines, but for which no ancient name has been preserved. The name of Mons Tifernus may indeed have been applied to the whole group; but it is more probable that it was confined, as that of Monte Biferno is at the present day, to one of the offshoots or minor summits of the Matese, in which the actual sources of the Tifernus were situated. The name of Matese is given to an extensive group or mass of mountains filling up the whole space between Bojano (Bovianum) and the valley of the Vulturnus, so that it sends down its ramifications and underfalls quite to the valley of that river, whence they sweep round by the valley of the Calor, and thence by Morcone and Sepino to the sources of the Tamarus. Its highest summit, the Monte Miletto, SW. of Bojano, rises to a height of 6744 feet. This rugged group of mountains, clothed with extensive forests, and retaining the snow on its summits for a large part of the year, must always have been inaccessible to civilisation, and offered a complete barrier to the arms of an invader. There could never have been any road or frequented pass between that which followed the valley of the Vulturnus and that which skirts the eastern base of the Matese, from the valley of the Calore to that of the Tamaro. This last is the line followed by the modern road from Naples to Campobasso.

4. N. of Bojano the mountains are less elevated, and have apparently no conspicuous (or at least no celebrated) summits; but the whole tract, from Bojano to the frontier of the Frentani, is filled up with a mass of rugged mountains, extending from Agnone and the valley of the Sangro to the neighbourhood of Campobasso. This mountainous tract is traversed by the deep and narrow valleys of the Trigno (Trinius) and Biferno (Tifernus), which carry off the waters of the central chain, but without affording any convenient means of communication. The mountain tracts extending on all sides of Bovianum constituted the country of the PENTRI the most powerful of all the Samnite tribes.

5. S. of the Matese, and separated from it by the valley of the Calor (Calore), is the group of the MONS TABURNUS, still called Monte Taburno, somewhat resembling the Matese in character, but of inferior elevation as well as extent. It formed, together with the adjoining valleys, the land of the CAUDINI apparently one of the smallest of the Samnite tribes, and the celebrated pass of the Caudine Forks was situated at its foot. Closely connected with Mount Taburnus, and in a manner dependent on it, though separated from it by the narrow valley of the Isclero, is a long ridge which extends from Arpaja to near Capua. It is of very inferior elevation, but rises boldly and steeply from the plain of Campania, of which it seems to form the natural boundary. The extremity of this ridge nearest to Capua is the MONS TIFATA, so celebrated in the campaigns of Hannibal, from which he so long looked down upon the plains of Campania.

6. At the eastern foot of Mons Taburnus was situated Beneventum, the chief town of the HIRPINI and which, from its peculiar position, was in a manner the key of the whole district inhabited by that people. It stood in a plain or broad valley formed by the junction of the Calor with its tributaries the Sabatus and Tamarus, so that considerable valleys opened up from it in all directions into the mountains. The Calor itself is not only the most considerable of the tributaries of the Vulturnus, but at the point of its junction with that river, about 20 miles below [p. 2.891]Beneventum, is little if at all inferior to it in magnitude and volume of waters. The Calor itself rises in the lofty group of mountains between S. Angelo dei Lombardi and Eboli. This group, which is sometimes designated as Monte Irpino, and is the most elevated in this part of the Apennines, sends down its waters to the N. in the Calor and its tributary the Sabatus; while on the E. it gives rise to the Aufidus, which flows into the Adriatic sea, after traversing more than two-thirds of the breadth of Italy; and on the S. the Silarus flows by a much shorter course into the Gulf of Salerno. From this point, which forms a kind of knot in the main chain of the Apennines, the mountains sweep round in a semicircle to the NE. and N. till they reach the head waters of the Tamarus, and adjoin the mountains already described in the neighbourhood of Bojano and Campobasso. In this part of its course the main chain sends down the streams of the Ufita and the Miscano on the W. to swell the waters of the Calore, while on the E. it gives rise to the Cerbalus or Cervaro, a stream flowing into the Adriatic.

7. From the Monte Irpino towards the E. the whole of the upper valley of the Aufidus was included in Samnium, though the lower part of its course lay through Apulia. The exact limit cannot be fixed,--the confines of the Hirpini towards Apulia on the one side, and Lucania on the other, being, like the boundaries of Samnium in general, almost wholly arbitrary, and not marked by any natural limit. It may be considered, indeed, that in general the mountain country belonged to Samnium, and the lower falls or hills to Apulia; but it is evident that such a distinction is itself often arbitrary and uncertain. In like manner, the rugged mountain chain which extends along the right bank of the Aufidus appears to have been included in Samnium; but the line of demarcation between this and Lucania cannot be determined with accuracy. On the other hand, the detached volcanic mass of MONS VULTUR, with the adjacent city of Venusia, was certainly not considered to belong to Samnium.


All ancient writers agree in representing the Samnites as a people of Sabine origin, and not the earliest occupants of the country they inhabited when they first appear in history, but as having migrated thither at a comparatively late period. (Varr. L. L. 7.29; Appian, Samnit., Fr. 4, 5; Strab. v. p.250; Fest. s. v. Samnites, p. 326; A. Gel. 11.1.) This account of their origin is strongly confirmed by the evidence of their name; the Greek form of which, Σαυνῖται, evidently contains the same root as that of Sabini (Sav-nitae or Saf-nitae, and Sab-ini or Saf-ini); and there is reason to believe that they themselves used a name still more closely identical. For the Oscan form “Safinim,” found on some of the denarii struck by the Italian allies during the Social War, cannot refer to the Sabines usually so called, as that people was long before incorporated with the Romans, and is, in all probability, the Oscan name of the Samnites. (Mommsen, Unter Ital. Dialekte, p. 293; Friedländer, Oskische Muünzen, p. 78.) The adjective form Sabellus was also used indifferently by the Romans as applied to the Sabines and the Samnites. [SABINI]

The Samnite emigration was, according to Strabo (v. p.250), one of those sent forth in pursuance of a vow, or what was called a “ver sacrum.” It was, as usual, under the special protection of Mars, and was supposed to have been guided by a bull. (Strab. l.c.) It is probable from this statement that the emigrants could not have been numerous, and that they established themselves in Samnium rather as conquerors than settlers. The previously existing population was apparently Oscan. Strabo tells us that they established themselves in the land of the Oscans (l.c.); and this explains the circumstance that throughout the Samnite territory the language spoken was Oscan. (Liv. 10.20.) But the Oscans themselves were undoubtedly a cognate tribe with the Sabines [ITALIA]; and whatever may have been the circumstances of the conquest (concerning which we have no information), it seems certain that at an early period both branches of the population had completely coalesced into one people under the name of the Samnites.

The period at which the first emigration of the Samnites took place is wholly unknown; but it is probable that they had not been long in possession of their mountainous and inland abodes before they began to feel the necessity of extending their dominion over the more fertile regions that surrounded them. Their first movements for this purpose were probably those by which they occupied the hilly but fertile tract of the Frentani on the shores of the Adriatic, and the land of the Hirpini on the S. Both these nations are generally admitted to be of Samnite origin. The Frentani, indeed, were sometimes reckoned to belong to the Samnite nation, though they appear to have had no political union with them [FRENTANI]: the Hirpini, on the contrary, were generally regarded as one of the component parts of the Samnite nation; but they appear to have been originally a separate colony, and the story told by Strabo and others of their deriving their name from the wolf that had been their leader, evidently points to their having been the result of a separate and subsequent migration. (Strab. v. p.250; Serv. ad Aen. 11.785.) The period of this is, however, as uncertain as that of the first settlement of the other Samnites: it is not till they began to spread themselves still further both towards the S. and W., and press upon their neighbours in Lucania and Campania, that the light of history begins to dawn upon their movements. Even then their chronology is not clearly fixed; but the conquest and occupation of Campania may be placed from about B.C. 440 to B.C. 420, and was certainly completed by the last of these dates. [CAMPANIA] That of Lucania must probably be placed somewhat later; but whatever were the causes which were at this time urging the movements of the Sabellian tribes towards the S., they seem to have continued steadily in operation; and within less than half a century (B.C. 410--360) the Samnites spread themselves through the whole of Lucania, and almost to the southern extremity of Italy. [LUCANIA] The subsequent fortunes of these conquering races, and their contests with the cities of Magna Graecia, do not belong to our present subject, for the Lucanians seem to have early broken off all political connection with their parent nation, the Samnites, just as the latter had done with their Sabine ancestors. This laxity in their political ties, and want of a common bond of union, seems to have been in great measure characteristic of the Sabellian races, and was one of the causes which undoubtedly paved the way for their final subjection under the Roman yoke. But the Samnites seem to have retained possession, down to a much later period, of [p. 2.892]the tract of country from the Silarus to the Sarnus, which was subsequently occupied by the Picentini. (Scylax, p. 3.11; Niebuhr, vol. i. p. 94.) They certainly were still in possession of this district in the Second Saimnite War; and it is probable that it was not till the close of their long struggles with Rome that it was wrested from them, when the Romans transplanted thither a colony of Picentines, and thus finally cut off the Samnites from the sea. On the side of Apulia the progress of the Samnites was less definite; and it does not appear that they established themselves in the permanent possession of any part of that country, though they were certainly pressing hard upon its frontier cities; and it was probably the sense of this and the fear of the Samnite arms that induced the Apulians early to court the alliance. of Rome. [APUTLIA.]

The Samnite nation, when it first appears in Roman history, seems to have consisted of four different tribes or cantons. Of these the PENTRI and the HIRPINI were much the most powerful; so much so indeed that it is difficult to understand how such petty tribes as the CARACENI and CAUDINI could rank on terms of equality with them. The FRENTANI are frequently considered as forming a fifth canton; but though that people was certainly of Samnite race, and must have been regarded by Scylax as forming an integral part of the Samnite nation, as he describes the Samnites as occupying a considerable part of the coast of the Adriatic (Peripl. p. 5.15), they seem to have already ceased to form a part of their political body at the time when they first came into contact with Rome. [FRENTANI] We have no account of the nature and character of the political constitution that bound together these different tribes. It seems to have been a mere federal league, the bonds of which were drawn closer together in time of war, when a supreme general or commander-in-chief was chosen to preside, over the forces of the whole confederacy, with the title of Embratur, the Sabellian form corresponding to the Latin Imperator. (Liv. 9.1; Niebuhr, vol. i. p. 107.) But we find no mention, even on occasions of the greatest emergency, of any regular council or deliberative assembly to direct the policy of the nation; and the story told by Livy of the manner in which Herennius Pontius was consulted in regard to the fate of the Roman army at the Caudine Forks seems to negative the supposition that any such body could have existed. (Liv. 9.3; see also 8.39.)

The first mention of the Samnites in Roman history, is in B.C. 354, when we are told that they concluded a treaty of alliance with the republic, the progress of whose arms was already beginning to attract their attention (Liv. 7.19; Diod. 16.45). It is probable that the Samnites, who were already masters. of Aesernia and the upper valley of the Vulturnus, were at this time pushing forward their arms down the course of that valley, and across the mountain country from thence to the Liris, then occupied by the Volscians, Auruncans, and other tribes, of Ausonian or Oscan origin. It was not long before these onward movements brought them into collision with the Romans, notwithstanding their recent alliance. Among the minor tribes in this part of Italy were the Sidicini, who, though situated on the very borders of Campania, had hitherto preserved their independence, and were not included in the Campanian people [SIDICINI]. This petty people having been assailed by the Samnites, upon what cause or pretext we know not, and finding themselves unable to cope with such powerful neighbours, invoked the assistance of the Campanians. The latter, notwithstanding their connection with the Samnites, readily espoused the cause of the Sidicini, but it was only to bring the danger upon their own heads: for the Samnites now turned their arms against the Campanians, and after occupying with a strong force the ridge of Mount Tifata, which immediately overlooks Capua, they descended into the plain, defeated the Campanians in a pitched battle at the very gates of Capua, and shut them up within the walls of the city (Liv. 7.29). In this extremity the Campanians in their turn applied for assistance to Rome, and the senate, after some hesitation on account of their recent alliance with the Samnites, granted it (lb. 30, 31). Thus began the First Samnite War (B.C. 343), the commencement of that long struggle which was eventually to decide whether the supremacy of Italy was to rest with the Romans or the Samnites.

This first contest was, however, of short duration. In the first campaign the two consuls M. Valerius Corvus and A. Cornelius Cossus gained two decisive victories; the one at the foot of Mount Gaurus, the other near Saticula. The first of these, as Niebuhr observes (vol. iii. p. 119), was of especial importance; it was the first trial of arms between the two rival nations, and might be taken as a sort of omen of the ultimate issue of the contest. A third battle near Suessula, where the remains of the army that had been defeated at Mount Gaurus, after having been reinforced, again attacked Valerius, terminated in an equally decisive victory of the Romans; and both consuls triumphed over the Samnites (Liv. 7.32-38; Fast. Capit.). The next year the military operations of the Romans were checked by a mutiny of their own army, of which the commons at Rome took advantage; and the city was divided by dissensions. These causes, as well as the increasing disaffection of the Latins, naturally disposed the Romans to peace, and a treaty was concluded with the Samnites in the following year, B.C. 341. The account which represents that people as humiliated and suing for peace, is sufficiently refuted by the fact that the Romans abandoned the Sidicini to their fate, and left the Samnites free to carry out their aggressive designs against that unfortunate people (Liv. 8.1, 2).

The peace which terminated the First Samnite War renewed the alliance previously existing between the Romans and the Samnites. In consequence of this the latter took part in the great war with the Latins and Campanians, which almost immediately followed, not as the enemies, but as the allies, of Rome; and the Roman armies were thus enabled to reach Campania by the circuitous route through the country of the Marsi and Peligni, and down the valley of the Vulturnus (Liv. 8.6). During the fifteen years that followed, down to the renewal of the contest between Rome and Samnium, the course of events was almost uniformly favourable to the former power. The successful termination of the war with the Latins and Campanians, and the consolidation of the Roman power in both those countries had added greatly to the strength of the republic; and the latter had followed up this advantage by the reduction of several of the smaller independent tribes in the same neighbourhood--the Ausones, Sidicini, and the Privernates, who appear on this occasion as independent of, and separate from, the [p. 2.893]other Volscians [PRIVERNUM]. But the power of the Volscians seems to have been by this time very much broken up; and it was apparently during this interval that the Samnites on their side carried on successful hostilities against that people, and wrested from them or destroyed the cities of Sora and Fregellae in the valley of the Liris, while they threatened Fabrateria with the same fate (Liv. 8.19, 23, 10.1). This movement, however, gave umbrage to the Romans, while the Samnites on their side could not view with indifference the reduction of the Sidicini, and it was evident that a fresh rupture between the two nations could not be long deplayed (Id. 8.17, 19). The attention of the Samnites was, however, drawn off for a time by the danger that threatened them from another quarter, and they joined with their kinsmen the Lucanians to oppose the arms of Alexander, king of Epirus, who was advancing from Paestum into the heart of the country. Both Samnites and Lucanians were defeated by him in a pitched battle; but he subsequently of turned his arms towards the south, and his death in B.C. 326 relieved the Samnites from all apprehension in that quarter. (Liv. 8.17, 24.)

The same year (B.C. 326) witnessed the outbreak of the Second Samnite War. The immediate occasion of this was the assistance furnished by the Samnites to the Greek cities of Palaepolis and Neapolis, against which the Romans had declared war, when the Samnites and Nolans (who were at this time in alliance with Samnium) threw into their cities a strong body of auxiliaries as a garrison. They did not, however, avert the fall of Palaepolis; while Neapolis escaped a similar fate, only by espousing the alliance of Rome, to which it ever after steadily adhered (Liv. 8.22-26). The Romans had about the same time secured a more important alliance in another quarter; the Lucanians and Apulians, with whom, as Livy remarks, the republic had previously had no relations, either friendly or hostile, now concluded an alliance with Rome (Ib. 25). The Lucanians indeed were soon persuaded by the Tarentines to abandon it again (Ib. 27), but the Apulians continued steadfast; and though it is evident that the whole nation was not united, and that many of the chief towns took part with the Samnites, while others continued to side with Rome, yet such a diversion must have been of the greatest consequence. Hence throughout the war we find the contest divided into two portions, the Romans on the one side being engaged with the Samnites on the frontiers of Campania, and in the valley of the Vulturnus, from whence they gradually pushed on into the heart of Samnium; and on the other carrying on the war in Apulia, in support of their allies in that country, against the hostile cities supported by the Samnites. It is evident that the Frentani must have at this time already separated themselves from the Samnite alliance, otherwise it would have been impossible for the Romans to march their armies, as we find them repeatedly doing, along the coast of the Adriatic into Apulia. (Liv. 9.2, 13.)

The first operations of the war were unimportant; the Romans conquered some small towns in the valley of the Vulturnus (Liv. 8.25); and we are told that Q. Fabius and L. Papirius gained repeated victories over the Samnites, so that they even sued for peace, but obtained only a truce for a year, and, without observing even this, resumed the contest with increased forces. (Ib. 30, 36, 37.) It is evident therefore that no real impression had been made upon their power. Nor did the victory of A. Cornelius Arvina in the following year (B.C. 322), though it again induced them to sue for peace without success, produce any permanent effect; for the very next year (B.C. 321) the Samnites under the command of C. Pontius were not only able to take the field with a large army, but inflicted on the Romans one of the severest blows they had ever sustained in the celebrated pass of the Caudine Forks. [CAUDIUM] There can be little doubt that the circumstances and character of that disaster are greatly disguised in the accounts transmitted to us; but, whatever may have been its true nature, it is certain that it caused no material interruption of the Roman arms, and that, after repudiating the treaty or capitulation concluded by the consuls, the Romans renewed the contest with undiminished vigour. It is impossible here to follow in detail the operations of the succeeding campaigns, which were continued for seventeen years with many fluctuations of fortune. The disaster at Caudium shook the faith of many of the Roman allies, and was followed by the defection even of their own colonies of Satricum, Fregellae, and Sora. Some years later (B.C. 315) the capture of Saticula by the Romans and of Plistia by the Samnites shows that both armies were still engaged on the very frontiers of Samnium; while the advance of the Samnites to the pass of Lautulae, and the victory which they there a second time obtained over the Romans (Liv. 9.22, 23; Diod. 19.72), once more gave a shock to the power of the latter, and for a moment endangered their supremacy in Campania. But they speedly recovered the advantage, and the victory gained by them at a place called Cinna (of uncertain site) decided the submission of the revolted Campanians. (Liv. 9.27; Diod. 19.76.) Their arms had meanwhile been successful in Apulia, and had ultimately effected the reduction of the whole province, so that in B.C. 316 the consul Q. Aemilius Barbula was able to carry the war into Lucania, where he took the town of Nerulum. (Liv. 9.20.) The decisive victory of the consuls of B.C. 314 had also for the first time opened the way into the heart of Samnium, and they laid siege to Bovianum, the capital of the Pentri. The next year was marked by the fall of Nola, followed by that of Atina and Calatia (Cajazzo); and it seemed probable that the war was at length drawing to a close in favour of the Romans, when the outbreak of a fresh war with the Etruscans in B.C. 311 divided the attention of that people, and, by occupying a large part of their forces in another quarter, operated a powerful diversion in favour of the Samnites. To these additional enemies were added the Umbrians as well as the Marsi and Peligni; yet the Romans not only made head against all these nations, but at the same time carried their victorious arms into the heart of Samnium. Bovianum, the capital city of the Pentri, was twice taken and plundered, once in 311 by C. Junius, and again in 305 by T. Minucius. At the same time Sora and Arpinum were finally added to the Roman dominion. These successive defeats at length compelled the Samnites to sue for peace, which was granted them in B.C. 304; but on what terms is very uncertain. It seems impossible to believe that the Romans, as asserted by Livy, should have restored them their ancient treaty of alliance, and it is probable that they in some form consented to acknowledge the supremacy of Rome (liv. ix, 45; Dionys. Exc. p. 2331; Niebuhr, vol. iii.p. 269.) [p. 2.894]

But the peace thus concluded was of short duration. Little more than five years elapsed between the close of the Second Samnite War and the commencement of the Third. It might well have been thought that, after a struggle of more than twenty years' duration, the resources of the Samnites, if not their spirit, would have been exhausted; but they seem to have been actively engaged, even before the actual outbreak of hostilities, in organising a fresh coalition against Rome. A new and formidable auxiliary had appeared in a large body of Gauls, which had recently crossed the Alps, and, uniting with their countrymen the Senones, threatened the Romans from the N. Rome was at this time engaged in war with the Etruscans and Umbrians, and the Etruscans hastened to secure the services of the Gauls. Meanwhile the Samnites, deeming the attention of the Romans sufficiently engaged elsewhere, attacked their neighbours the Lucanians, probably with the view of restoring the power in that country of the party favourable to the Samnite alliance. The opposite party, however, called in the Romans to their assistance, who declared war against the Samnites, and thus began the Third Samnite War, B.C. 298. (Liv. 10.11.) The contest had now assumed larger dimensions; the Samnites concluded a league with the Etruscans, Umbrians, and Gauls, and for several successive campaigns the operations in Samnium were subordinate to those in the valley of the Tiber. But the territory of Samnium itself was at the same time ravaged by the Roman generals in so systematic a manner, that it is clear they had obtained a decided superiority in the field; and though the Samnites on one occasion retaliated by laying waste the Campanian and Falernian plains, they were soon again driven back to their mountain fastnesses. (Liv. 10.15, 17, 20.) At length, in B.C. 295, the great battle of Sentinum, in which the united forces of the Gauls and Samnites were totally defeated by the Roman consul Q. Fabius, decided the fortune of the war. Gellius Egnatius, the Samnite general, who had been the main organiser of the confederacy, was slain, and the league itself virtually broken up. (Liv. 10.27-30.) Nevertheless the Samnites continued to carry on the war with unabated energy; and in B.C. 293 they raised a fresh army of 40,000 men, levied with solemn sacred rites, and arrayed in a peculiar garb. These circumstances sufficiently prove the importance which they attached to this campaign, yet its result was not more successful than those which had preceded it, and the Samnite armies were again defeated by the consuls L. Papirius Cursor and Sp. Carvilius in two successive battles near Aquilonia and Cominium. (Liv. 10.38-45.) The operations of the subsequent campaigns are imperfectly known to us, from the loss of the books of Livy in which they were related: but the next year (B.C. 292) C. Pontius, the victor of the Caudine Forks, reappears, after a long interval, at the head of the Samnite armies; he defeated Q. Fabius, but was in his turn defeated in a far more decisive engagement, in which it is said that 20,000 Samnites were slain, and 4000 taken prisoners, including C. Pontius himself, who was led in triumph by Fabius, and then put to death. (Oros. 3.22; Liv. Epit. xi.) It is probable that this battle gave the final blow to the Samnite power, yet their resistance was still prolonged for two years more; and it was not till B.C. 290 that they consented to lay down their arms and sue for peace. Even in that year the consul M‘. Curius Dentatus could still earn the honour of a triumph, and the fame of having put an end to the Samnite wars after they had lasted for more than fifty years. (Liv. Epit. xi.; Eutrop. 2.9.)

The conclusion of the Third Samnite War is regarded by some of the Roman historians as the close of the struggle between Rome and Samnium, and not without reason, for though the name of the Fourth Samnite War is given by modern writers to the war that broke out afresh in B.C. 282, the Samnites on that occasion certainly figure rather as auxiliaries than as principals. They, however, joined the league which was formed at the instigation of the Tarentines against Rome; and bore a part in all the subsequent operations of the war. They seem indeed to have at first looked with jealousy or suspicion upon the proceedings of Pyrrhus; and it was not till after the battle of Heraclea that they sent their contingent to his support. (Plut. Pyrrh. 17.) But in the great battle at Asculum the following year (B.C. 278) the Samnites bore an important part, and seem to have sustained their ancient reputation for valour. (Dionys. xx. Fr. Didot.) The departure of Pyrrhus for Sicily shortly after, and his final defeat by M‘. Curius at Beneventum after his return (B.C. 274), left the Samnites and their allies to bear the whole brunt of the war, and they were wholly unable to contend with the power of Rome. We know nothing in detail of these last campaigns: we learn only that in B.C. 272, just before the fall of Tarentum, the Samnites, as well as their allies the Lucanians and Bruttians, made their final and absolute submission; and the consul Sp. Carvilius celebrated the last of the long series of triumphs over the Samnites. (Zonar. 8.6; Liv. Epit.xiv.; Fast. Capit.) A fresh revolt indeed broke out in the N. of Samnium three years afterwards, among the petty tribe of the Caraceni, but was speedily suppressed, before it had attained any more formidable character. (Zonar. 8.7; Dionys. A. R. 20.9, Fr. Mai.

We have no account of the terms on which the Samnites were received to submission by the Romans, or of their condition as subjects of the republic. But there can be no doubt that the policy of the dominant people was to break up as much as possible their national organisation and all bonds of union between them. At the same time two colonies were established as fortresses to keep them in check: one at Beneventum, in the country of the Hirpini (B.C. 268), and the other at Aesernia, in the valley of the Vulturnus (B.C. 264). All these precautions, however, did not suffice to secure the fidelity of the Samnites during the Second Punic War. After the battle of Cannae (B.C. 216), the Hirpini were among the first to declare themselves in favour of Hannibal, and their example is said to have been followed by all the Samnites, except the Pentrians. (Liv. 22.61.) It is singular that this tribe, long the most powerful and warlike of all, should have thus held aloof; but the statement of Livy is confirmed by the subsequent course of the war, during which the Pentrians never seem to have taken any part, while the land of the Hirpini, and the southern portions of Samnium bordering on Lucania, were frequently the scene of hostilities. But the Roman colonies Aesernia and Beneventum never fell into the hands of the Carthaginians; and the latter was through a great part of the war held by one of the Roman generals, as a post of the utmost military importance. In B.C. 214 and again in B.C. 212, [p. 2.895]the land of the Hirpini was still in the hands of the Carthaginians, and became the scene of the operations of Hannibal's lieutenant Hanno against Sempronius Gracchus. It was not till B.C. 209 that, Hannibal having been finally compelled to relinquish his hold upon Central Italy, the Hirpini (and apparently the other revolted Samnites also) renewed their submission to Rome. (Liv. 27.15.)

From this time we hear no more of the Samnites in history till the great outbreak of the Italian nations, commonly known as the Social War, B.C. 90, in which they once more took a prominent part. They were not indeed among the first to take up arms, but quickly followed the example of the Picentes and Marsi; and so important an element did they constitute of the confederation, that of the two consuls chosen as the leaders of the allies, one was a Samnite, Caius Papius Mutilus. (Diod. 37.2. p. 539.) Besides Papius, several of the most distinguished of the Italian generals, Marius Egnatius, Pontius Telesinus, and Trebatius, were also of Samnite origin: and after the fall of Corfinium, the seat of government and head-quarters of the allies was transferred to the Samnnite town of Bovianum, and from thence subsequently to Aesernia. The Samnites indeed suffered severely in the second campaign of the war, being attacked by Sulla, who defeated Papius Mutilus, took Aeculanum and Bovianum by assault, and reduced the Hirpini to submission. The other Samnites, however, still held out, and an army which had thrown itself into Nola was able to prolong its resistance against all the efforts of Sulla. Hence at the end of the second year of the war (B.C. 89), when all the other nations of Italy had successively submitted and been admitted to the Roman franchise, the Samnites and Lucanians were still unsubdued, and maintained a kind of guerilla warfare in their mountains, while the strong fortress of Nola enabled them still to maintain their footing in Campania. (Vell. 2.17; Liv. Epit. lxxx; Diod. 37.2. p. 540; Appian, App. BC 1.53.) In this state of things the civil war which broke out between Sulla and Marius altered the nature of the contest. The Samnites warmly espoused the Marian cause, from a natural feeling of enmity towards Sulla, from whose arms they had recently suffered so severely; and so important was the share they took in the struggle that ensued after the return of Sulla to Italy (B.C. 83), that they in some measure imparted to what was otherwise a mere civil war, the character of a national contest. A large number of them served in the army of the younger Marius, which was defeated by Sulla at Sacriportus (Appian, App. BC 1.87); and shortly afterwards an army, composed principally of Samnites and Lucanians, under the command of C. Pontius Telesinus, made a desperate attempt to relieve Praeneste by marching suddenly upon Rome. They were met by the army of Sulla at the very gates of the city, and the battle at the Colline gate (Nov. 1, B.C. 82), though it terminated in the complete victory of Sulla, was long remembered as one of the greatest dangers to which Rome had ever been exposed. (Vell. 2.27; Appian, App. BC 1.93; Plut. Sull. 28; Lucan 2.135-138.) Pontius Telesinus fell in the field, and Sulla displayed his implacable hatred towards the Samnites by putting to the sword, without mercy, 8000 prisoners who had been taken in the battle. (Appian, l.c.; Strab. 5.249; Plut. Sull. 30.) He had already put to death all the Samnites whom he had taken prisoners at the battle of Sacriportus, alleging that they were the eternal enemies of the Roman name; and he now followed up this declaration by a systematic devastation of their country, carried on with the express purpose of extirpating the whole nation. (Strab. l.c.) It can hardly be believed that he fully carried out this sanguinary resolution, but we learn from Strabo that more than a century afterwards the province was still in a state of the utmost desolation,--many of what had once been flourishing cities being reduced to the condition of mere villages, while others had altogether ceased to exist. (Strab. l.c.

Nor is it probable that the province ever really recovered from this state of depression. The rhetorical expressions of Florus point to its being in his day still in a state of almost complete desolation. (Flor. 1.16.8.) Some attempts seem indeed to have been made under the Roman Empire to recruit its population with fresh colonists, especially by Nero, who founded colonies at Saepinum, Telesia, and Aesernia (Lib. Colon. pp. 259, 260, &c.); but none of these attained to any great prosperity, and the whole region seems to have been very thinly populated and given up chiefly to pasturage. Beneventum alone retained its importance, and continued to be a flourishing city throughout the period of the Roman Empire. In the division of Italy under Augustus the land of the Hirpini was separated from the rest of Samnium, and was placed in the Second Region with Apulia and Calabria, while the rest of the Samnites were included in the Fourth Region, together with the Sabines, Frentani, Peligni, &c. (Plin. Nat. 3.11. s. 16, 12. s. 17.) At a later period this district was broken up, and Samnium with the land of the Frentani constituted a separate province. This is the arrangement which we find in the Notitia, and it was probably introduced at an earlier period, as the Liber Coloniarum in one part gives under a separate head the “Civitates Regionis Samnii,” including under that name the towns of the Peligni, as well as the Frentani. (Notit. Dign. ii. pp. 9, 10; Lib. Colon. p. 259.) In another part of the same document, which is undoubtedly derived from different sources, the Samnite towns are classed under the head of Campania; but this union, if it ever really subsisted, could have been but of very brief duration. The “Provincia Samnii” is repeatedly mentioned in inscriptions of the 4th century, and was governed by an officer styled “Praeses.” (Mommsen, Die Lib. Col. p. 206.) The same appellation continued in use after the fall of the Roman Empire, and the name of Samnium as a separate province is found both in Cassiodorus and Paulus Diaconus. (Cassiod. Var. 11.36; P. Diac. Hist. Lang. 2.20.) The only towns in it that retained any consideration in the time of the last writer were Aufidena, Aesernia, and Beneventum. The last of these cities became under the Lombards the capital of an independent and powerful duchy, which long survived the fall of the Lombard kingdom in the N. of Italy. But in the revolutions of the middle ages all trace of the name and ancient limits of Samnium was lost. At the present day the name of Sannio is indeed given to a province of the kingdom of Naples; but this is merely an official designation, recently restored, to the district, which had previously been called the Contado di Molise. This and the adjoining province of the Principato Ultra comprise the greater part of the ancient Samnium; but the modern boundaries have no reference to the ancient divisions, and a; considerable portion [p. 2.896]of the Samnite territory is included in the Terra di Lavoro, while a corner in the NW. is assigned to the Abruzzi.

Of the national character of the Samnites we learn little more than that they were extremely brave and warlike, and had inherited to a great degree the frugal and simple habits of their ancestors the Sabines. We find also indications that they retained the strong religious or superstitious feelings of the Sabines, of which a striking instance is given by Livy in the rites and ceremonies with which they consecrated the troops that they levied in B.C. 293. (Liv. 10.38.) But they had almost ceased to exist as a nation in the days of the Latin poets and writers that are preserved to us; and hence we cannot wonder that their name is seldom alluded to. They are said to have dwelt for the most part, like the Sabines, in open villages; but it is evident, from the accounts of their earliest wars with the Romans, that they possessed towns, and some of them, at least, strongly fortified. This is confirmed by the remains of walls of a very ancient style of construction, which are still preserved at Aesernia and Bovianum, and still more remarkably at Aufidena. (Abeken, Mittel Italien, pp. 142, 148.) But from the very nature of their country the Samnites must always have been, to a great extent, a rude and pastoral people, and had probably received only a faint tinge of civilisation, through their intercourse with the Campanians and Apulians.


The rivers of the Samnite territory have been already noticed in connection with the mountain chains and groups in which they take their rise. From the purely inland character of the region, none of these rivers, with the exception of the Calor and its tributaries, belong wholly to Samnium, but traverse the territories of other nations before they reach the sea. Thus the Sagrus and Trinius, after quitting the mountains of Samnium, flow through the land of the Frentani to the Adriatic; the Tifernus separates the territory of that people from Apulia, while the Frento and the Aufidus traverse the plains of Apulia. On the other side of the central chain the Vulturnus, with its affluent the Calor, and the tributaries of the latter, the Sabatus and Tamarus, carry down the whole of the waters of the Apennines of Samnium, which flow to the Tyrrhenian sea.

The topography of Samnium is the most obscure and confused of any part of Italy. The reason of this is obvious. From the continued wars which had devastated the country; and the state of desolation to which it was reduced in the time of the geographers, only a few towns had survived, at least in such a state as deemed worthy of notice by them; and many of the names mentioned by Livy and other authors during the early wars of the Romans with the Samnites never reappear at a later period. It is indeed probable that some of these were scarcely towns in the stricter sense of the term, but merely fortified villages or strongholds, in which the inhabitants collected their cattle and property in time of war. Those which are mentioned by the geographers as still existing under the Roman Empire, or the site of which is clearly indicated, may be briefly enumerated. AUFIDENA in the upper valley of the Sagrus, is the only town that can be assigned with any certainty to the Caraceni. In the upper valley,of the Vulturnus was AESERNIA the teritory of which bordered on that of Venafrum in Campania. At the northern foot of the Monte Matese was BOVIANUM; and in the mountain tract between it and the Frentani was TREVENTUM or TEREVENTUM (Trivento). SE. of Bovianum lay SAEPINUM the ruins of which are still visible near Sepino; and at the southern foot of the Monte Matese, in the valley of the Calor, was TELESIA. ALLIFAE lay to the NW. of this, in the valley of the Vulturnus, and at the foot of the Matese in that direction. In the country of the Hirpini were BENEVENTUM the capital of the whole district; AECULANUM near Mirabella, about 15 miles to the SW.; EQUUS TUTICUS near the frontiers of Apulia; AQUILONIA at Lacedogna, on the same frontier; ABELLINUM, near the frontiers of Campania; and COMPSA near the sources of the Aufidus, bordering on Lucania, so that it is assigned by Ptolemy to that country. On the borders of Campania, between Beneventum and the plains, were Caudium, apparently once the capital of the Caudine tribe; and SATICULA the precise site of which has not been determined, but which must have been situated in the neighbourhood of Mount Tifata. The Samnite CALATIA on the other hand, was situated N. of the Vulturnus, at Cajazzo; and COMPULTERIA also a Samnite city, was in the same neighbourhood. The group of hills on the right bank of the Vulturnus, extending from that river towards the Via Latina, must therefore have been included in Samnium; but Teanum and Cales, situated on that highroad, were certainly both of them Campanian towns. It is probable, however, that in early times the limits between Campania and Samnium were subject to many fluctuations; and Strabo seems to regard them as imperfectly fixed even in his day. (Strab. v. p.249.)

Of the minor towns of Samnium, or those which are mentioned only in history, may be noticed: DURONIA (Liv. 10.39), identified, but on very slight grounds, with Civita Vecchia, N. of Bojano; MURGANTIA (Liv. 10.17), supposed to be Baselice, on the frontiers of Apulia, near the sources of the Frento (Fortore); ROMULEA on the frontiers of Apulia, between Aeculanum and Aquilonia; TRIVICUM in the same neighbourhood, still called Trievico; PLISTIA near Sta Agata dei Goti, on the frontiers of Campania; CALLIFAE and RUFRIUM both of them mentioned by Livy (8.25) in connection with Allifae, and probably situated in the neighbourhood of that city; COMINIUM (Liv. 10.39, 44), of very uncertain site; AQUILONLIA (Liv. l.c.), also of uncertain site, but which must be distinguished from the city of the same name in the country of the Hirpini; Maronea, noticed by Livy in the Second Punic War, when it was recovered by Marcellus, in B.C. 210 (Liv. 27.1); MELAE Fulfulae, and Orbitanium, all of which are noticed on only one occasion (Liv. 24.20), and the sites of which are wholly undetermined.1 To these must be added Cluvia, Cimetra, Volana, Palumbinum, and Herculaneum, all of them mentioned as towns taken from the Samnites (Liv. 9.31, 10.15, 45), but of which nothing more is known; Imbrinium (Liv. 8.30), where Fabius gained a victory over the Samnites in B.C. 325; Cinna, which is represented [p. 2.897]by Diodorus as the scene of the decisive victory in B.C. 314 (Diod. 19.76); and several places of which the names are found only in Virgil and Silius Italicus,--MUCRAE, RUFRAE, BATULUM, and CELENNA (Verg. A. 7.739; Sil. Ital. 8.564), which seem to have been situated on the borders of Campania, so that it is doubtful to which country they are to be assigned. The minor towns of the Hirpini have been already discussed in that article; Pauna, or Panna, a name found in Strabo (v. p.250) as that of a place still existing in his time, is probably corrupt, but we are wholly at a loss what to substitute. On the other hand, inscriptions attest the existence under the Roman Empire of a town called Juvavium, or Juvanum, of municipal rank, which is not mentioned by any of the geographers, but is probably the one meant by the Liber Coloniarum, which notices the “Iobanus ager” among the “civitates Samnii.” (Lib. Col. p. 260.) It was probably situated in the neighbourhood of Sta Maria di Palazzo, a few miles N. of the Sagrus, and on the very frontiers of the Marrucini. (Mommsen, Inscr. R. N. p. 271.) The existence of a town named Tifernum is very doubtful [TIFERNUS]; and that of a city of the name of Samnium, though adopted by many local writers (Romanelli, vol. ii. p. 490), certainly rests on no adequate authority.

Samnium was traversed in ancient times by several lines of highway. One of these, following nearly the same line with the modern road from Naples to Aquila, proceeded up the valley of the Vulturnus from Venafrum to Aesernia, thence crossed the mountain ridge to Aufidena in the valley of the Sagrus, and from thence again over another mountain pass to Sulmo in the land of the Peligni. Another branch led from Aesernia to Bovianum, and from thence to Equus Tuticus, where it joined the Via Appia or Trajana. A third followed the valley of the Vulturnus from Aesernia to Allifae, and thence by Telesia to Beneventum. There seems also to have been a cross line from the latter place by Saepinum to Bovianum. (Itin. Ant. p. 102; Tab. Peut.) But these different lines are very confusedly laid down in the Tabula, and the distances given are often either corrupt or erroneous. The course of the Via Appia, and its branch called the Via Trajana, through the land of the Hirpini, has been already noticed in that article. [See also VIA APPIA] [E.H.B]

1 It has been thought unnecessary to repeat in these and other similar cases the modern sites assigned by Italian or German topographers, where these rest on no other foundation than mere conjecture.

hide References (52 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (52):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 16.45
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.10.87
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.10.93
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.6.53
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 1
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 15
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 39
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 2
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 1
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 13
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 23
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 27
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 7.739
    • Lucan, Civil War, 2.135
    • Lucan, Civil War, 2.138
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.11
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 19
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 30
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 2
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 32
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 38
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 1
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 17
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 22
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 23
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 20
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 45
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 25
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 20
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 22
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 3
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 9, 31
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 27, 15
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 19
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 29
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 26
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 6
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 11
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 17
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 27
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 30
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 44
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 24
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 22, 61
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 20
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 27, 1
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 11.1
    • Plutarch, Pyrrhus, 17
    • Plutarch, Sulla, 28
    • Plutarch, Sulla, 30
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 19.72
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 19.76
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: