Samnite Wars

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Samnite soldiers from a grave frieze in Nola, 4th century BC

The Samnite Wars were traditionally three wars between the Roman Republic and the Samnites (tribes in Samnium ), in which it was a question of control of Campania . The fighting lasted from 343 BC. BC to 290 BC With the result that the Samnites were again restricted to their area of ​​origin and increasingly came under Roman hegemony. However, they finally lost their formal independence only after an uprising in the Italian alliance war of 82 BC. By Sulla .

First Samnite War

The First Samnite War lasted from 343 to 341 BC. And resulted in Roman control of northern Campania . In today's research, however, the First Samnite War is mostly classified as unhistorical or " legendary " ( Bleicken ).

The Samnites, an Italian tribe, joined Rome in 354 BC. An alliance of convenience in order to assert oneself against the Celts and also against the surrounding peoples. Soon afterwards, however, there were disputes between Rome and the Samnites. 345 BC The Samnites made an alliance with the Sidicins , another tribe. Rome responded by giving it in 343 BC. Concluded its own alliance treaty with the city of Capua , which was already in conflict with the Samnites. Based on this alliance treaty ( foedus aequum ), according to later sources, the first Samnite war broke out. Since neither side could gain an advantage, it came in 341 BC. BC again to the conclusion of peace, when the Samnites approved the alliance of Rome with Capua and Rome the alliance of the Samnites with the Sidicins. Shortly thereafter, both sides reunited.

Second Samnite War

The Second Samnite War took place in two phases from 326 to 321 BC. And 316 to 304 BC At the end the Samnites recognized the supremacy of Rome over Campania.

Rome and the Samnites both claimed leadership in central and southern Italy. Although both empires repeatedly concluded alliances of convenience (see first Latin war ), but these were mostly short-lived. When Rome in 328 BC BC occupied the city of Fregellae in the Samnite-Roman border area and fortified it against the Samnites, the war could be avoided again. In 326 BC However, Rome came to the aid of Neapolis, oppressed by the Samnites , whereupon the Samnites declared war on Rome.

The war initially turned out to be disastrous for Rome. 321 BC During the battle at the Kaudinian passes ( Furculae Caudinae , Kaudinische forks, probably near today's Montesárchio , between Capua and Benevento ) the Roman army got into a trap and was locked up. Rome had to accept harsh conditions (holding hostages, high ransom, subjugation), but was able to prevent the destruction of the army.

The Romans took hostilities in 316 BC. BC again, but were 315 BC. Again defeated in the battle of Lautulae . They then changed their strategy: they founded colonies and built the Via Appia to improve access to Capua. In the Battle of the Vadimonian Lake in 310 BC The Romans succeeded in defeating the Etruscans, allied with the Samnites . In addition, Rome tried to encircle the Samnites with the establishment of defensive colonies ( garrisons ). With this tactic Rome was able to push back the Samnites step by step and in 305 BC Bovianum , the capital of the Samnites, finally took over .

In the peace agreement, the Samnites had to accept Rome's rule over Campania, but were able to keep their alliances.

Third Samnite War

In the third Samnite War 298 to 290 BC The Samnites tried to regain the position of supremacy they had lost to Rome in the previous war, but finally had to commit to the Roman army.

In order to regain their old power, the Samnites had concluded an alliance with other tribes ( Umbrians , Sabines , Lucans , Senones , Etruscans). However, Rome repeatedly managed to defeat its opponents and conquered in 298 BC. BC even Bovianum , the capital of the Samnites. Although the Samnites under Gellius Egnatius were able to break through to the north, they had to break through in 295 BC. In the battle of Sentinum (today's Sassoferrato) suffered a severe defeat against the Roman troops under Publius Decius Mus (who allegedly sacrificed himself to the gods during the battle ) and Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus . The battle turned into slaughter. The historian Livy reports that 8,700 Romans out of a total of 36,000 lost their lives in this battle. Estimates speak of around 25,000 dead on the other side.

In the third Samnite War, Rome also pursued the tactic of the formation of defensive colonies ( garrisons ), which had already been tried and tested in the previous war . In the third Samnite War around 291 BC The 20,000 citizen strong colony Venusia was established in Apulia. 290 BC Because of the hopeless situation the Samnites had to make peace with Rome and were obliged to follow the army.

Celtic and Etruscan Wars, the Tarentine and Pyrrhic Wars

In modern research, the subsequent conflicts with the Celts and Etruscans (285 to 280 BC) as well as the Tarentine and Pyrrhic Wars (282 to 272 BC) are also assigned to the Samnite Wars, since Samnites and other Italian tribes are also involved here were.

283 BC The Romans defeated a united army of Etruscans and Celtic Senones , which had been in existence since the beginning of the 4th century BC. Between Aesis ( Esino ) and Utens , on the Vadimonian lake . The conflict was triggered by the Senones, who first attacked the city ​​of Arretum , which was allied with Rome, and then defeated a Roman relief army, where they wiped out almost the entire Roman army and the Roman consul was also killed. The Boier let the Romans leave unmolested, the Senones were persecuted by the Romans to their settlement area between Ancona and Ravenna . The Celts then had to fight in 282 BC. They withdrew from central Italy and settled in Dalmatia . The conflict with the Etruscans dragged on for another three years, and in the end the Etruscans had to recognize the Roman superiority.

The Tarentine War was triggered when, despite a contractual ban in 282 BC. A Roman fleet entered the Gulf of Taranto and was destroyed by the Tarentines regardless of their peaceful intentions. Rome responded by declaring war on Taranto . Almost all southern Italian tribes joined the Tarentines. In addition, the Tarentines called on the Molossian king Pyrrhus for help. But despite some successes, the Romans were victorious (see Pyrrhic War ) and have been the dominant power in Italy ever since.


Titus Livius ' Ab urbe condita is the main source of the entire conflict. He describes the course and the battles in great detail (but not always reliably) from the perspective of Rome.


  • Klaus Bringmann : History of the Roman Republic. From the beginning to Augustus. CH Beck, Munich 2002, ISBN 978-3-406-49292-1 , p. 43 ff.
  • Gary Forsythe: A Critical History of Early Rome. From Prehistory to the First Punic War. University of California Press, Berkeley et al. 2005, ISBN 0-520-22651-8 .
  • Lukas Grossmann: Rome's Samnite Wars. Historical and historiographical studies on the years 327 to 290 BC Chr. Wellem Verlag, Düsseldorf 2009, ISBN 978-3-941820-00-5 ( History series. Volume 1; also dissertation, University of Düsseldorf 2007; table of contents ; review ).
  • Karl-Heinz Schwarte: On the outbreak of the second Samnite War (326–304 BC). In: Historia . Volume 20, 1971, ISSN  0018-2311 , pp. 368-376.

Individual evidence

  1. Jochen Bleicken: History of the Roman Republic, Munich 2004, p. 32