, Eth. Οὐόλσκοι
, Strab.; Οὐολοῦσκοι
, Dionys.), an ancient people of Central Italy, who bear a prominent part in early Roman history. Their territory was comprised within the limits of Latium as that name was employed at a late period, and under the Roman Empire; but there is no doubt that the Volscians were originally a distinct people from the Latins, with whom, indeed, they were almost always on terms of hostility. On the other hand they appear as constantly in alliance with the Aequi; and [p. 2.1322]
there is little doubt that these two nations were kindred races, though always distinguished from each another as two separate peoples. We have no statement in any ancient writer as to the ethnic origin or affinities of the Volscians, and are left almost wholly to conjecture on the subject.
But the remains of the language, few and scanty as they are, afford nevertheless the safest foundation on which to rest our theories; and these lead us to regard the Volscians as a branch of the same family with the Umbrians and Oscans, who formed the aboriginal population of the mountain tracts of Central Italy.
It would appear, indeed, as if they were more closely connected with the Umbrians than either the Sabines and their Sabellian offshoots, or the Oscans properly so called; it is probable, therefore, that the Volscians had separated at a still earlier period from the main stock of the Umbrian race. (Mommsen, Unter-Ital. Dialekt.
pp. 319--326; Schwegler, Röm. Gesch.
vol. i. p. 178.)
The only notice of their language that occurs in Roman authors, also points to it distinctly as different from Oscan (Titinius, ap. Fest. v. Obscum,
p. 189), though the difference was undoubtedly that of two cognate dialects, not of two radically distinct languages.
When the Volscians first appear in Roman history, it is as a powerful and warlike nation, who were already established in the possession of the greater part at least of the territory which they subsequently occupied. Their exact limits are not, indeed, to be determined with accuracy; and it is probable that they underwent considerable fluctuations during their long wars with the Latins and Romans.
But there seems no doubt that from a very early period they held the whole of the detached mountain group S. of the Tolerus (Sacco
), termed by modern geographers the Monti Lepini,
together with the valley of the Liris, and the mountain district of Arpinum, Sora, and Atina. Besides this they were certainly masters at one time of the plains extending from the Volscian Apennines to the sea, including the Pomptine Marshes and the fertile tract that borders on them.
This tract they had, according to Cato, wrested from the Aborigines, who were its earliest possessors (Cato ap. Priscian. v. p. 668).
The first mention of the Volscians in Roman history is in the reign of the second Tarquin, when they appear as a numerous and warlike people.
It is clear that it was the great extension of the Roman power under its last king (which must undoubtedly be admitted as a historical fact), and the supremacy which he had assumed over the Latin League, that first brought him into collision with the Volscians.
According to the received history he marched into their country and took their capital city, Suessa Pometia, by assault. (Liv. 1.53
; Dionys. A. R. 4.50
; Cic. de Rep. 2.24
) The tradition that it was the spoils there obtained which enabled him to build the Capitol at Rome, sufficiently proves the belief in the great power and wealth of the Volscians at this early period; and the foundation of the two colonies of Circeii and Signia, both of which are expressly ascribed to Tarquin, was doubtless intended to secure his recent conquests, and to impose a permanent check on the extension of the Volscian power.
It is evident, moreover, from the first treaty with Carthage, preserved to us by Polybius (3.22
), that the important cities of Antium and Tarracina, as well as Circeii, were at this time subject to Tarquin, and could not, therefore, have been in the hands of the Volscians.
But the dissolution of the power of Tarquin, and the loss of the supremacy of Rome over the Latins, seem to have allowed the Volscians to regain their former superiority; and though the chronology of the earliest years of the Republic is hopelessly confused, we seem to discern clearly that it was the increasing pressure of the Volscians and their allies the Aequians upon the Latins that caused the latter people to conclude the celebrated treaty with Rome under Sp. Cassius, B.C. 493, which became the foundation of the permanent relation between the two states. (Liv. 2.33
; Dionys. A. R. 6.95
According, to the received annals, the wars with the Volscians had already recommenced prior to this period; but almost immediately afterwards occurs the great and sudden development of their power which is represented in a legendary form in the history of Coriolanus. Whatever may have been the origin of that legend, and however impossible it is to receive it as historically true, there is no doubt that it has a historical foundation in the fact that many of the Latin cities at this period fell successively into the power of the Volscians and their allies the Aequians; and the two lines of advance, so singularly mixed up in the received narrative of the war, which represents all these conquests as made in a single campaign, appear to represent distinctly the two separate series of conquests by which the two nations would respectively press on towards Rome. (Niebuhr, vol. ii. pp. 95, 259; Schwegler, Röm. Gesch.
vol. ii. pp. 274, 275.)1
It is impossible here to give more than a very brief outline of the long series of wars with the Volscians which occupy so prominent a place in the early history of Rome for a period of nearly two centuries. Little historical value can be attached to the details of those wars as they were preserved by the annalists who were copied by Livy and Dionysius; and it belongs to the historian of Rome to endeavour to dispel their confusion and reconcile their discrepancies.
But in a general point of view they may be divided (as remarked by Niebuhr), into four periods.
The first of these would comprise the wars down to B.C. 459, a few years preceding the Decemvirate, including the conquests ascribed to Coriolanus, and would seem to have been the period when the Volscians were at the height of their power.
The second extends from B.C. 459 to 431, when the dictator A. Postumius Tubertus is. represented as gaining a victory over the allied forces of the Volscians and Aequians (Liv. 4.26
), which appears to have been really an important success, and proved in a manner the turning point in the long struggle between the two nations. From this time till the capture of Rome by the Gauls (B.C. 390) the wars with the Volscians and Aequians assume a new character; the tide had turned, and we find the Romans and their allies recovering one after another the towns which had fallen into the hands of their enemies. Thus Labicum and Bola were regained in B.C. 418 and 414, and Ferentinum, a Hernican city, but which had been taken by the Volscians, was again wrested from them in B.C. 413. (Liv. 4.47
The frontier fortresses of Verrugo and Carventum were indeed taken and retaken; but the capture of Anxur or Tarracina in B.C. 399, which from that period [p. 2.1323]
continued constantly in the hands of the Romans must have been a severe blow to the power of the Volscians, and may be considered as marking an era in their decline. Throughout this period it is remarkable that Antium, one of the most powerful cities of the Volscians, continued to be on peaceful terms with Rome; the war was carried on almost exclusively upon the NE. frontier of the Volscians, where they were supported by the Aequians, and Ecetra was the city which appears to have taken the lead in it.
The capture of Rome by the Gauls marks the commencement of the fourth period of the Volscian Wars.
It is probable that their Aequian allies suffered severely from the same invasion of the barbarians that had so nearly proved the destruction of Rome [AEQUI
], and the Volscians who adjoined their frontier, may have shared in the same disaster.
But on the other hand, Antium, which was evidently at this period a powerful city, suddenly broke off its friendly relations with Rome; and during a period of nearly 13 years (B.C. 386--374), we find the Volscians engaged in almost perpetual hostilities with Rome, in which the Antiates uniformly took the lead.
The seat of war was now transferred from the Aequian frontier to the southern foot of the Alban hills: and the towns of Velitrae and Satricum were taken and retaken by the Volscians and Romans. Soon after the conclusion of peace with the Antiates we hear for the first time of Privernum, as engaging in hostilities with Rome, B.C. 358, and it is remarkable that it comes forward single-handed. Indeed, if there had ever been any political league or bond of union among the Volscian cities, it would seem to have been by this time completely broken up. The Antiates again appear repeatedly in arms; and when at length the general defection of the Latins and Campanians broke out in B.C. 340, they were among the first to join the enemies of Rome, and laid waste the whole sea-coast of Latium, almost to the walls of Ostia.
But they shared in the defeat of the Latin armies, both at Pedum and on the Astura: Antium itself was taken, and received a colony of Romans within its walls, but at the same time the citizens themselves were admitted to the Roman franchise. (Liv. 8.14
The people of Fundi and Formiae, both of them probably Volscian cities, received the Roman franchise at the same time, and Tarracina was soon after occupied with a Roman colony. The Privernates alone ventured once more to provoke the hostility of the Romans in B.C. 327, but were severely punished, and their city was taken by the consul C. Plautius. Nevertheless, the inhabitants were admitted to the Roman Civitas; at first, indeed, without the right of suffrage, but they soon afterwards obtained the full franchise, and were enrolled in the Ufentine tribe.
The greater part of the Volscians, however, was included in the Pomptine tribe.
Of the fate of the cities that were situated on the borders of the valley of the Trerus, or in that of the Liris, we have scarcely any information; but there is reason to suppose that while the Antiates and their neighbours were engaged in hostilities with Rome, the Volscians of the interior were on their side fully occupied with opposing the advance of the Samnites. Nor were their efforts in all cases successful. We know that both Arpinum and Fregellae had been wrested from the Volscians by the Samnites, before the Romans made their appearance in the contest (Liv. 8.23
), and it is probable that the other cities of the Volscians readily took shelter under the protection of Rome, for security against their common enemy.
It seems certain, at all events, that before the close of the Second Samnite War (B.C. 304), the whole of the Volscian people had submitted to the authority of Rome, and been admitted to the privileges of Roman citizens.
From this time their name disappears from history. Their territory was comprised under the general appellation of Latium, and the Volscian people were merged in the great mass of the Roman citizens. (Strab. v. pp. 228, 231; Plin. Nat. 3.5. s. 9
; Cic. pro Balb. 13
) But a rude and simple mountainpeople would be naturally tenacious of their customs and traditions; and it is clear, from the manner in which Juvenal incidentally alludes to it, that even under the Roman Empire, the name of the Volscians was by no means extinct or forgotten in the portion of Central Italy which was still occupied by their descendants. (Juv. Sat.
The physical geography of the land of the Volscians will be found described in the article LATIUM
Of the peculiar characters of the people themselves, or of any national customs or institutions that distinguished them from their Latin neighbours, we know absolutely nothing. Their history is a record only of the long struggle which they maintained against the Roman power, and of the steps which led to their ultimate subjugation.
This is the only memory that has been transmitted to us, of a people that was for so long a period the most formidable rival of the Roman Republic.