Roman Republic

Roman Italy (1st century BC)

Social War (90 - 88 BC)


Events of 91 BC

Events at Rome

Marius, Sulla and King Boccus

To follow

M. Livius Drusus

According to Appian, in 91 BC:

  1. “... the tribune [M] Livius Drusus, a man of most illustrious birth:

  2. promised the Italians, at their urgent request, that he would bring forward a new law to give them citizenship ... ;

  3. founded several colonies [in Italy and Sicily] that had been voted some time before but not yet established, in order to conciliate the plebeians to this measure ...  ; and

  4. endeavoured to reconcile ... the Senate and the equestrian order ... in relation to the law courts.  Since:

  5. he was not able to restore the courts to the Senate openly ...; [and]

  6. the [number of] senators had been reduced by the seditions to scarcely 300;

  7. he brought forward a law that an equal number [of equites] ... should be added to their enrolment  ... , and that the courts of justice should be made up thereafter from [members of the newly-enlarged Senate]”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 35: 1).  

Catherine Steel (referenced below, at p  37) observed that, although  many of our surviving sources on Drusus link him directly to the outbreak of the Social War:

  1. “... it is extraordinarily difficult to identify the stages in which this crisis developed and the links between Drusus’ extensive legislative programme and the war [subsequent] with Italy.”

Furthermore, she pointed out that Appian and our other sources offer a confusing array of theories as to:

  1. what Drusus was trying to achieve with this programme;

  2. the order in which he executed it; and

  3. what each of its constituent laws entailed;

the last difficulty being compounded by the fact that:

  1. “... there is [no] opportunity to observe these laws in operation since, [as we shall see], they were repealed shortly before his death [during his term of office]”.

An now-lost elegiac inscription (CIL VI 1312) that might have been one of the elogia of famous Romans  in the Forum of Augustus, is known from a surviving transcription that has been translated (in the Attalus website) as follows:

  1. “M. Livius Drusus, son of Marcus and grandson of Caius; pontifex; tribune of the soldiers; decemvir for judging disputes; tribune of the plebs; decemvir for giving and assigning ownership of land under the terms of his own law; and the same year quinquevir for giving and assigning ownership of land under the terms of the lex Saufeia; he was killed while still in office [as tribune]”

This suggests the Drusus’ main concern had been related to the distribution of land facilitated by the two agrarian laws mention in the elogium:

  1. Drusus’ own law; and

  2. the contemporary lex Saufeia, which would have been promulgated by a fellow tribune of Drusus named Saufeius (presumably a relative of C. Saufeius, a quaestor  of 99 BC who was killed in office: see Robert Broughton, referenced below, at p. 2 and p. 4, note 9).

an impression strengthened by the fact he served as a commissioner in relation to both of these settlement programmes.  Fiona Tweedie (referenced below, 2011, at p. 579) observed that the evidence of the elogium:

  1. “... undercuts Appian's statement ... that Drusus was reviving old colonial legislation””

and suggested (at p. 578) that the significant settlement programme of 91 BC might have been required for the veterans of the returning proconsuls of 93/2 BC: T. Didius (cos 98 BC); P. Licinius Crasus (cos 97 BC); and L. Licinius Crasus (cos 95 BC).   According to Appian, although the plebeian citizens settlers:

  1. “... were gratified with the colonies [sic], ... the Italians ... were apprehensive about [this provision] because they thought that:

  2. the Roman ager publicus (which was still undivided and which they were [illegally] cultivating ... would be taken away from them; and

  3. in many cases, they might even [lose land that they actually owned].

  4. The Etruscans  and the Umbrians, ... [in particular]  publicly protested against the law ...”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 36).

Although his reference to the Etruscans and Umbrians comes in a contentious passage (which I have heavily edited), Fiona Tweedie (referenced below, 2011, at pp. 581-2) argued that they would have been particularly vulnerable to the loss of their land and concluded (at p. 583) that:

  1. “The Etruscans and Umbrians came to Rome, probably in the middle part of the year, to protest against the agrarian legislation, which posed an immediate threat to their societies and livelihoods.”

She also suggested (at p. 588) that they were probably objecting to the lex Saufeia, since there is ni reason to doubt Appian’s claim that Drusus’ interest lay in Italy and Sicily.

Appian suggested that it was Drusus:

  1. “... the senators were indignant that so large a number [of equites] should be added to their number, ... [while those equites who had not become senators] suspected that ... the control courts of justice would be transferred from their order to the Senate”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 35:).


  1. “... it came to pass that both the Senate and the knights, although opposed to each other, were united in hating Drusus”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 36).

The reaction of the Italians was also not as enthusiastic as Drusus had expected:  while the plebeian citizens

  1. “... were gratified with the colonies, ... the Italians, in whose especial interest Drusus was devising these plans, were apprehensive about [this provision] because they thought that the Roman ager publicus (which was still undivided and which they were cultivating, some by force and others clandestinely) would at once be taken away from them, and that in many cases they might even [lose land that they actually owned]. The Etruscans  and the Umbrians had the same fears as the [other] Italians and, when they were summoned to the City (apparently by the consuls [L. Marcius Philipus and Sex. Julius Caesar] , for the ostensible purpose of complaining against Drusus’  law but actually to kill him), they publicly protested against  the law and waited for the day of the Comitia.  Drusus learned of the plot against him and did not go out very often, preferring to transact day to day business in the atrium of his house ... One evening, as he was sending the crowd away, he exclaimed suddenly that he was wounded, and fell down while uttering the words: a shoemaker's knife was [then] found embedded in his hip”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 36).

This wound proved to be fatal.

Q. Poppaedius Silo

As we shall see, Q. Poppaedius (or Pompaedius) Silo was probably the most important rebel commander during the Social War.  Interestingly, two anecdotes about him that relate to the period immediately prior to the outbreak of the war can be found in our surviving sources.  Christopher Dart (referenced below, 2010, at p. 114) dated the earlier of them to the period shortly before April 91 BC.  The fullest surviving version of it is in Plutarch’s  life to the younger Cato, who had been raised with his siblings by their uncle M. Livius Drusus (see below), after the death of their parents According to Plutarch:

  1. “While Cato was still a boy, the Italian allies of the Romans were making efforts to obtain Roman citizenship.  One of their number, Poppaedius Silo, a man of experience in war and of the highest position, was a friend of Drusus and lodged at his house for several days.  During this time, he became familiar with the children, and said to them once:

  2. ‘Come, beg your uncle to help us in our struggle for citizenship.’

  3. [Q. Servilius Caepio, Cato’s half brother] agreed with a smile, but Cato made no reply and stared fiercely at the strangers.  Then Poppaedius asked him:

  4. ‘... Can you not take the part of the strangers with your  uncle, like your brother?"

  5. When Cato ... refused to reply, Poppaedius held him out of a window ... and [threatened to let him fall if he would not agree].  When he [bravely] endured this treatment, ... Poppaedius relented, saying quietly to his friends:

  6. ‘What a piece of good fortune it is for Italy that he is [still] a boy; for, if he were a man, I do not think we could get a single vote among the people’”, (‘Life of the Younger Cato’, 2: 1-4).

This anecdote allows us to make a number of observations that throw light the political climate at Rome at this crucial point in its history:

  1. Plutarch’s characterisation of Poppaedius as ‘a man of experience in war and of the highest position’ suggests that he had already fought for Rome on a number of occasions as the commander of an allied army;

  2. he was on very close terms with Drusus and the purpose of his visit was to solicit his help in the Italians’ ‘struggle for citizenship’; and

  3. at the time of his visit, Drusus had yet to be persuaded to support this cause.

Christopher Dart (referenced below, 2010, at pp. 117-8) dated the second anecdote to the period after April 91 BC but before the murder of Drusus in the following September (see below).  This anecdote is found in a surviving fragment of the now-lost Book 37 of the history by Diodorus Siculus (who was alive at the time of the Social War).  It recorded that the Romans first became aware of the fact that some of their erstwhile Italian socii (allies) were taking up arms against them when:

  1. “The Marsic leader, [Poppaedius], embarked on a grandiose and fantastic venture.  Assembling 10,000 men drawn from the ranks of those who had occasion to fear judicial investigations, he led them to Rome, with swords concealed beneath their garb of peace.  It was his intention to surround the Senate with armed men and demand the citizenship or, if persuasion failed, to ravage the seat of empire with fire and sword.  Encountering C. Domitius, who asked him,:

  2. ‘Where are you going, Poppaedius, with so large a band?’,

  3. he answered:

  4. ‘To Rome, to get citizenship, at the summons of the tribunes.’

  5. Domitius retorted that he would obtain the citizenship with less risk and more honourably if he approached the Senate in an unwarlike manner; the Senate, he said, was in favour of granting this

  6. boon to the allies, not under compulsion, but by petition”, (‘Library of History”, 37: fragment 13)

Fiona Tweedie (referenced below, 2012, at pp. 137-8) observed that:

  1. “The ‘C. Domitius’ with whom [Poppaedius] speaks is usually understood to be Cn. Domitius, the censor [of 92 BC - see above].  Of particular significance to this episode is Diodorus’ statement that [Poppaedius] assembled ‘those with reason to fear [judicial investigations, which] might reasonably refer to the process by which the new censors would ensure that the lex Licinia Mucia [see above] had been obeyed; ... The threat of investigation would have caused a panic among those Latins and socii who had failed to comply with the law ... Thus, tensions around the citizenship would have been renewed as the new censors took office.  The fact that one of them had sponsored the earlier law can only have increased the fears among the allied communities that they were going to be treated harshly.”

She also argued (at p. 138) that the fact that Poppaedius:

  1. “.. claims that he has been summoned to Rome ‘by the tribunes’ in order to claim the citizenship ... places the incident at any time after the tribunician election for 91 BC, when [M. Livius] Drusus was either in office or tribune-elect and moving on the rogatio de sociis.  Although ... Diodorus makes it seem that [Poppaedius] just happened to bump into Domitius on his way to Rome,  ... [it is arguably more likely that], on receiving word that [Poppaedius] was on his way to Rome with a large group of followers, ... the Senate sent one of its leading members out to meet him and negotiate.  Domitius spoke with the immense auctoritas of the pontifex maximus and censor.  Critically, he was not the sponsor of the offending law, so was better placed to address the allies’ fears.  Spoken by a censor, Domitius’ assurances that the allies’ concerns were going to be taken seriously [would] have carried considerable weight with [Poppaedius, which could explain why] he agreed to turn aside from his march and wait peacefully.”

According to Appian:

  1. “When the Italians learned of the murder of Drusus and of the reasons alleged for banishing [his] supporters, they lost any hope of negotiation and thus] decided to revolt from the Romans altogether, and to make war against them ... They sent envoys secretly to each other, and formed a league, and exchanged hostages as a pledge of good faith.  The Romans were in ignorance of these facts for a long time, being busy with the trials and the seditions in the city.  When they heard what was going on, they sent men round to the towns, choosing those who were best acquainted with each, to collect information quietly.  One of these agents saw a young man who was being taken as a hostage from the town of Asculum [in Picenum] to another town, and informed Servilius, the praetor, who was in those parts.  (It appears that there were praetors with consular power at that time governing the various parts of Italy ... )”, (‘Civil Wars’ 1: 38).

A surviving fragment from the now-lost Book 72 of Livy’s ‘History of Rome’ similarly recorded that:

  1. “The first act of war was by the Piceni, who killed that proconsul Q. Servilius in the town of Asculum, with all Roman citizens who were in this town”, (‘Periochae’, 72: 2).

Corey Brennan (referenced below, at p. 372) suggested that Servilius held the unprecedented position of praetor pro consule in Italy in his year of office because the serving consuls, L. Marcius Philippus and Sex. Julius Caesar, were detained in Rome because of the tumultuous situation there.  Appian then recorded that:

  1. “Servilius hastened to Asculum and used menacing language to the people, who were celebrating a festival.  They, supposing that the plot was discovered, put him to death.  They also killed Fonteius, his legate ... [and] none of the other Romans in Asculum were spared”, (‘Civil Wars’ 1: 38).

It seems that the revolt quickly spread across central Italy: another surviving fragment from the now-lost Book 72 of Livy’s ‘History of Rome’ recorded that:

“The following Italian nations revolted: the Piceni; the Vestini; the Marsi; the Peligni, the Marrucini; the Samnites; and the Lucani”, (‘Periochae’, 72: 2). 

Marsic Confederation (90 BC) 

Rome and the Marsic Confederation (Marsi, Peligni, Piceni, Vestini, Samnites, Frentani, Marrucini, and Lucani)

Adapted from the website 

The Greek geographer Strabo (who was in Rome in ca. 44-30 BC) described the territories of most of the  Italian allies that rebelled in the initial phase of the war:

  1. “Beyond the country of the Piceni are:

  2. the Vestini;

  3. the Marsi;

  4. the Peligni;

  5. the Marrucini; and

  6. the Frentani (a Samnitic tribe) ... .

  7. It is true thatthese tribes are small, but they are [also] very brave and have often exhibited this virtue to the Romans:

  8. when they went to war against them [in the late 4th and early 3rd centuries BC];

  9. when they subsequently took the field with them as allies [in the period up to the early 1st century BC];  and

  10. when, having unsuccessfully begged for freedom and political rights, they revolted and kindled what is called the Marsic War.

  11. [It was on this third occasion that] they proclaimed that Corfinium (the metropolis of the Peligni) rather than Rome was the common city for all the [Italian rebels] and made it their base of operations for the war, changing its name to [Italica].  It was here that they mustered all their followers and elected consuls and praetors [see below].  And they persisted in the war for two years, until they achieved the partnership for which they went to war.  This war was named ‘Marsic’ after the people who began the revolt, Poppaedius [see below] in particular”, (‘Geography’, 5: 4: 2). 

Rebel Imperatores

Silver denarius (Campana 3) possibly issued at Corfinium in 90 BC


Silver denarius (C 340A.11, Campana 5) possibly issued by a mint travelling with C. Papius Mutilus in 90 BC

Obverse: MVTIL EMBRATVR: Bust of Italia (helmeted)

Reverse: C.PAAPI.C : A bearded man holds a piglet: to each side, a standing warrior holds a lance  in his left hand:

the one on the left points his sword to the throat of the bearded man and

the other one points his sword towards the throat of the piglet

A surviving fragment from Diodorus’ Book 37 indicates that, at the time of the formation of the Marsic Federation and the designation of Corfinium/ Italica as its capital:

  1. “... [two men] were chosen consuls:

  2. Q. Poppaedius Silo, a Marsian, a person of the highest repute in his country; and

  3. C. Aponius Motylus [usually identified as C. Papius Mutilus], a Samnite who was similarly famous for his noble acts above the rest of his own nation.  

  4. They divided all Italy [sic] into two equal parts, and they each took one of these parts for the execution of his consular authority”, (‘Library of History”, 37: fragments 2: 6).

However, as we shall see, while these two men certainly shared overall command at the start of the war, there is no surviving evidence that the Italians referred to them as consuls for that they were elected annually (as was the case for Roman consuls).  As we shall see, they are each named on the coins issued by the rebels:

  1. Poppaedius appears as Q. SILO on a single surviving coin [see below]; and

  2. Mutilius appears on several surviving coins and, when his rank is given, he is designated as Embratur, the Oscan equivalent of Imperator (see Carl Buck, referenced below, at p. 259 : he also pointed out, at p. at 128) that this is equivalent to the Umbrian uhtur, which is known from pre-Roman inscriptions such as the Iguvian Tables).  He is identified in the coin illustrated above as  MVTIL EMBRATVR/ C.PAAPI.C.

Livy probably mentioned all of the most important rebel commanders in the now-lost Books 73-6 of his  ‘History of Rome’, but only three of them are named in the surviving summary of their contents:

  1. “... Hierius Asinius, the praetor of the Marrucini”, (‘Periochae’, 73: 9, 90 BC);

  2. “... Marius Egnatius, the most noble of the enemy duces (nobilissimum hostium ducem)”, (‘Periochae’, 75: 6, 89 BC); and

  3. “... Poppaedius Silo, dux of the Marsi and originator of the whole thing (auctor eius rei)”, (‘Periochae’, 76: 6, 89 BC).

Florus mentioned five of them in the following interesting passage:

  1. “The flower of our bravest and most trusted [Italian] allies each had under their own standards (sub suis quisque signis haberent) these municipal prodigies (municipalia illa prodigia):

  2. the Marsi and Peligni had Poppaedius;

  3. the Latins [sic]  had Afranius;

  4. the Umbrians had Plotius [sic];

  5. the Etruscans had  Egnatius [sic]; and

  6. the Samnites and the Lucanians had Telesinus.

  7. The [Romans], who had [long] decided the fates of kings and nations, failed to rule themselves, so that Rome, the conqueror of Asia and Europe, was attacked from Corfinium”, (‘Epitome of Roman History’, 2: 18: 6).

Christopher Dart (referenced below, 2009, at p. 220, note 57) observed that Florus’ list of prodigious commanders seems to represent the situation in 89 BC, when many of the original ones had been killed (see below), since:

  1. “... Poppaedius is given as the leader of both the Marsi and Peligni ... and Telesinus of the Samnites ...”

The fullest list of the original commanders seems to be that given by Appian:

  1. “The Italians had generals for their united forces, as well as those of the separate towns.  The chief commanders were:

  2. T. Lafrenius (Florus’ Afranius);

  3. C. Pontilius*;

  4. Marius Egnatius*;

  5. Q. Poppaedius [Silo]*;

  6. C. Papius [Mutilus]*;

  7. M. Lamponius;

  8. C. Vidacilius;

  9. Herius Asinius*; and

  10. [P./T.] Vettius Scato (Velleius’ Insteius Cato)*.

  11. They divided their army in equal parts, took their positions against the Roman generals, performed many notable exploits and suffered many disasters”, (‘Civil Wars’ 1: 40).

The names above with asterisks lso appear in Velleius Paterculus’ list of Italian ‘duces’) at ‘Roman History’, 2: 16: 1).  Appian clearly made no distinction between the status of P, Diodorus’ Italian consuls (Poppaedius and Mutilius) and the other commanders.  Christopher Dart (referenced below, 2009, at p. 22o) observed that:

  1. “In accordance with Appian, [Velleius gave] no indication of differing offices amongst the commanders. [Furthermore], Florus asserts that the Italians served under a number of individual standards,  ... again implying that there was no distinguishing office for [Poppaedius] and [thus, presumably, none for] Mutilus.   ... His account, like that of Livy, [Velleius] and Appian, describes the Italians' forces as [routinely engaging] separately with the Roman commanders and divided according to ethnic distinctions.”

On the basis of his analysis of the surviving data, Christopher Dart (referenced below, at p. 224) argued that the rebel Italians’:

  1. “... use of a predominantly military title, imperator [or its Oscan equivalent] to describe their commanders seems to indicate that [the Marsic Confederation] was chiefly a military organisation.”

He then described how its command structure evolved as the war progressed:

  1. “[Initially], each of the peoples that participated in the confederacy appointed an imperator, typically referred to as dux in the Latin source material. From these:

  2. [Poppaedius] (in command of a Marsic contingent); and

  3. Mutilus (in command of a Samnite contingent);

  4. were most likely designated with the summum imperium (supreme command) ... [There] is no indication that there were annual appointments or elections of Italian commanders; rather imperatores were replaced [only] when killed in battle.  This discredits any modern claims that  ... elections [were held fro the Italian imperators].  ... [As the war took its course]:

  5. [when] many imperatores [had been killed and their peoples had] surrendered; and

  6. Mutilus had also been killed [although many of his immediate colleagues fought on];

  7. it was agreed that Poppaedius should hold the sole summum imperium, [and this arrangement was apparently] left unchanged until his death in 88 BC ... .”

From this analysis, he drew an important conclusion: the flexible command structure adopted by the rebels:

  1. “... Italica was not a rival state but rather primarily a military organisation, aimed at the acquisition of citizenship and integration into the Roman state. The Italians put the name of their homeland, Italia on their coinage rather the name of their central command, Italica. The Italian council was probably intended to act solely as a war-council for the duration of the war.”


Silver denarius (C 340A.1) issued by the Marsic Confederation, probably at Corfinium in 90 BC

Obverse: ITALIA: Laureate bust of a goddess (probably a ‘rebranded’ Roma, now named Italia)

Reverse: A  priest sacrifices a piglet in front of a military standard:

four warriors stand to each side, each of whom points a sword towards the sacrificial victim

As Alberto Campana (referenced below, at p. 12) pointed out, the small and easily-defended town of Corfinium/ Italia was strategically placed between the two leading Italian belligerents, the Marsi and the Samnites, and controlled the Via Tiburtina Valeria, the shortest major road between Rome and the Adriatic.

[Campana] observed (at p. 31) that the coins that the Italians now began to mint, initially at Corfinium:

  1. “... constitute the only exception to the absolute and jealous monopoly of the silver coinage that the Romans had exercised  throughout the peninsula since 2nd century BC.  There are numerous emissions of Italic denarii, [albeit that] it is difficult to establish a reliable chronological succession, due to the considerable scarcity of known hoards”, (my translation).

This coinage was catalogued by Alberto Campana (referenced below, at p. 34 and pp. 74-8), and this database formed the basis of the more recent catalogue published by Luis Amela Valverde (referenced below, at pp. 22-42).  The scarcity of the surviving Italic denarii, probably arose because they were so easily re-minted as Roman denarii after the war.  The denarius illustrated above formed part of Campana’s Group 3: this was a very large group, which he suggested was issued from Corfinium early in the war.  Both Campana (at p. 75) and Amela Valverde (at p. 34) characterised the reverse as an oath-taking scene involving the sacrifice of a piglet by a fetial priest, with the participation of the four warriors to each side indicating that context here was associated with the formation of the Marsic Confederation. 

The iconography of the entire group (and of many other groups from this early period) is entirely Roman: in this group:

  1. the obverse is based on Roman denarii that represented the goddess Roma, and she is re-named here with the Latin name ‘Italia’; and 

  2. Rome precursors of the reverse design (albeit with fewer soldiers) include:

  3. RRC 28/1, which was issued during the Second Punic War, in which the Italians were Roman allies; and

  4. RRC 234/1 (137 BC), which referred to an oath that the issuer’s ancestor, Ti. Veturius Calvinus, who was believed to have agreed a treaty with the Samnites after they had defeated his army at the Caudine Forks in 321 BC: the story goes that, when the Senate refused to ratify this treaty, he had offered to return to the Samnites, an offer that they gallantly had refused.

ACampana (at p. 74) catalogued the only known example of one of these coins with  the reverse inscription ‘Q. SILO’ as 3g, and Luis Amela Valverde (referenced above, at p. 36) reproduced this entry with an illustration: the inscription indicated that it was issued by Q. Poppaedius Silo, who (as we have seen) was the leader of the (Latin-speaking) Marsi.

Victory of C. Papius Mutilus and Agamemnon in Picenum (91 BC ?)

Two relatively enigmatic passages in our surviving sources seem to point to an early rebel victory very soon after the outrage at Asculum:

  1. According to a surviving summary of a now-lost passage by Diodorus Siculus:

  2. “The Romans imprisoned Agamemnon, a Cilician at Asculum on account of his wicked deeds and murder of allies.  The Picentes released him and, in gratitude for the kindness shown to him, he [subsequently] fought resolutely on their side.  Being inured to robberies from a boy, he joined with others of a similar nature and ravaged the enemy's country”, (‘Library of History”, 37: fragments 16-7).

  3. Agamemnon turns up again in a record by Paulus Orosius (early 5th century AD): apparently, soon after the outrage:

  4. “The Samnites placed [C.] Papius Mutilus in command of their forces, and the Marsi for their part chose as leader the arch-pirate Agamemnon.  The praetor Cn. Pompey [Strabo], under orders from the Senate, waged war with the Picentes and was defeated”, (‘History Against the Pagans’, 5; 18; 10).

The chronology suggested by these accounts is as follows:

  1. the Romans imprisoned the Cilician pirate Agamemnon at Asculum, presumably shortly  before the outrage there;

  2. the Picentes released him after the outrage, and he then played a leading role in the insurgency in Picenum, acting (for whatever reason) on behalf of the Marsi; and

  3. the Senate ordered the praetor Cn. Pompeius Strabo to quell the insurgency, but he was defeated.

Cn. Pompeius Strabo

Unfortunately, although we know that Pompeius served as quaestor in Sardinia in ca. 105 BC and was elected as a plebeian tribune in 104 BC, nothing is known about his career between his tribuneshp and his defeat by Mutilus and Agamemnon in 91 BC.  In particular, as Corey Brennan (referenced below, at p. 373) observed:

  1. “The title ‘praetor’ ... in Orosius is puzzling: [since he was elected as consul for 89 BC - se below], we would expect [him] to have reached the praetorship by 92 BC [at the latest].”

He suggested two possibilities for his status in 91 BC:

  1. “... we might assume either that:

  2. he [had already served as praetor and] had received a special grant of of imperium when news of the Asculum massacre had reached Rome; or ...

  3. [he] was, in fact, praetor in 91 BC and that [his success in the war after this initial setback - see below] prompted the Senate to grant him a waiver from the leges annales, so that he could run for [the consulship of] 89 BC.”

Corey Bennan also referred to this command (at p. 374) as a:

  1. “... an important semi-independent command in Picenum ...”

It seems to me that this probably explains why the Senate had chosen him for the task of quelling the insurrection there: he had his own personal army in the area.  I discuss the basis of this hypothesis below: for the moment, we might simply note that, according to Velleius Peterculus recorded that, in 83 BC, Pompeus’ son, the future Pompey the Great:

  1. “... raised a strong army from the district of Picenum, which was filled with the retainers of his [then deceased] father”, (‘Roman history’, 2: 29: 1)

Asculum Bronze:


Social War (90 - 89 BC)

Roman Command  (90 - 89 BC)

Cicero (in his speech of ca. 70 BC in defence of M. Fonteius, whose father had served as a legatus in the Social War and been killed at Asculum) provided a useful description of the Roman command structure in the first two years of the war:

  1. “Recollect the legati  recently employed in war in the service of:

  2. L. Julius [Caesar and P.] Publius Rutilius, [the consuls of 90 BC]; and

  3. L. [Porcius] Cato and Cn. Pompeius [Strabo, the consuls of 89 BC].

  4. You will learn that among the past masters of warfare holding praetorian rank at that time were:

  5. M. [Caecilius] Cornutus;

  6. L. [Cornelius] Cinna, and

  7. L. [Cornelius] Sulla, [Pr 97 BC];

  8. not to mention:

  9. C. Marius, [who had already served as consul on six occasions];

  10. P. Didius, [cos 98 BC];

  11. Q. [Lutatius] Catulus, [cos 102 BC]; and

  12. P. [Licinius] Crassus, [cos 97 BC];

  13. men who gained their military knowledge not from text-books but from their operations and their victories”, (‘Pro Fonteius’, 43, translated by Neville Watts, referenced below, at p. 351).

Northern Theatre in 90 BC

According to Appian (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 43), Rutilius and Marius engaged with T. Vettius Scato, the leader of the Marsi on the Liris river. 

Velleius Paterculus recorded the most prominent generals who fought in the war:

  1. “On the Roman side in this war, the most illustrious commanders (imperatores) were:

  2. Cn. Pompeius, father of [the future Pompey the Great];

  3. C, Marius, already mentioned [in the context of the Jugurthine War];

  4. L. Sulla, who had served as praetor in the previous year; and

  5. Q. [Caecilius] Metellus, son of Metellus Numidicus, who had deservedly received the cognomen ‘Pius’ [when he had achieved the return from exile of his father].

  6. On the Italian side the most celebrated generals (duces) were:

  7. Silo Poppaedius, [Q. Poppaedius Silo, commander of the Marsi, mentioned above];

  8. Herius Asinius, [commander of the Marrucini];

  9. Insteius Cato [probably a corruption of T. Vettius Scato, commander of the Peligini];

  10. C. Pontidius, [probably commander of the Vestini; and

  11. [three commanders of the Samnites]:

  12. Telesinus Pontius;

  13. Marius Ignatius; and

  14. [C.] Papius Mutilus. 

  15. Nor should I, through an excess of modesty, deprive my own kin of glory, especially since that which I record is the truth; for much credit is due to the memory of my great-grandfather Minatius Magius of [the Samnite town of] Aeculanum, grandson of Decius Magius, leader of the Campanians, of proven loyalty and distinction”, (‘Roman History’, 2: 15:3 - 16:2)

According to Diodorus Siculus, the Italians:

  1. “... divided all Italy into two parts, and took each an equal share for the execution of their consular authority.  They allotted:

  2. the region or tract from the Cercoli (so called) to the Adriatic sea, which lies to the north and west, to Poppaedius and six of the generals; [and]

  3. the rest, which lay to the south and east, ... to Motylus [Velleius’ Papius Mutilus], with the same number of generals.

Mantis database: Italia

The Italians also began to strike their own coinage, which carried a mixture of Roman and non-Roman elements. The coins were denarii, and circulated alongside Roman issues (at least, we find them buried alongside Roman denarii in hoards). Alongside Latin, Oscan was used. Some types derived from Roman coinage; one in particular demonstrates how imagery can shift and change meaning according to context, an idea explored in several other posts on this blog. In c. 96 BC the moneyers at Rome released a type showing the wreathed head of Apollo on the obverse and Roma seated on a pile of shields on the reverse, holding a sword and shield and being crowned by Victory (RRC 335/1-2).

This imagery was then adopted by the Italians during the Social War, but the head of Apollo and the figure of Roma were given a very different meaning. On one type (HN Italy 412a) the laureate head is given a necklace and accompanied by the legend ITALIA: the head has now become the personification of Italia herself. On the other issue (HN Italy 412b), the legend ITALIA is found on the reverse, suggesting that the image of Roma being crowned by Victory has transformed into a triumphant image of Italia.

Denarius of the Italians from the Social War (HN Italy 412a). © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Denarius of the Italians from the Social War (HN Italy 412b). © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Thus during their rebellion from Roman control the Italians took existing imagery and converted it to support their cause, communciating these new meanings through the clever use and placement of legends. That the Italians felt the need to strike their own coinage demonstrates the role of money in the formulation and expression of identity. These coins and others struck by the Italians represent one of the few pieces of evidence that suggest dissatisfaction with Roman Republican control. The Romans did not take too kindly to this material manifestation of opposition: at the end of the war, it is clear that the coinage of the Italian allies was melted down and converted into Roman denarii. What is left to us today are those coins which were lost before the conclusion of the war, or those which somehow were overlooked during this process.

Events of 90 BC

The ‘fasti Capitolini’ record that the bellum Marsicum (war against the Marsii) began at the start of 90 BC, when the consuls were Lucius Julius  Caesar  and Publius Rutilius Lupus (who was killed was in battle during his consular year).

Restoration of the Temple of Juno Sospita (90 BC)

Cicero recorded that

  1. “... within my own memory, after a vote of the Senate, Lucius Julius [Caesar], who was consul with Publius Rutilius, rebuilt the temple of Juno Sospita in accordance with a dream of Caecilia, the daughter of [Quintus Caecilius Metellus [Balearicus], [the consul of 123 BC]”, (‘On Divination’, 1: 4).

He referred to this dream again later in this book:

  1. “In recent times, during the Marsian war, the temple of Juno Sospita was restored because of a dream of Caecilia, the daughter of Quintus Caecilius Metellus.  This is the same dream that [Lucius Cornelius] Sisenna discussed as marvellous, in that its prophecies were fulfilled to the letter: and yet later (influenced no doubt by some petty Epicurean) [Sisenna] inconsistently maintained that dreams are not worthy of belief.  However, he has nothing to say against prodigies; in fact he relates that, at the outbreak of the Marsian War, the statues of the gods dripped with sweat, rivers ran with blood, the heavens opened, voices from unknown sources were heard predicting dangerous wars, and finally (the sign considered by the soothsayers the most ominous of all) the shields at Lanuvium were gnawed by mice”, (‘On Divination’, 1: 99).

The only other surviving reference to Caecilia’s dream is in a work that Julius Obsequens extracted in the 4th century AD from  a summary of Livy’s ‘History of Rome’: 

  1. “Caecilia Metella dreamt that she had seen Juno Sospita fleeing because her precincts had been defiled and that she [Caecilia] had, by her prayers and with some difficulty, persuaded [the goddess] to return: the temple had been fouled by the filthy and vile bodily ministrations of matrons, and a bitch and her litter had made their home under the statue of the goddess.  Caecilia restored the temple to its former lustre and supplications were held”, (‘Book of Prodigies’, 55, my translation)

Celia Schultz (referenced below, at p. 210) observed that we do not know whether it was the original temple at Lanuvium (in Latium) or the later temple at Rome that was restored.  She suggested (at pp. 220-1) that Obsequens’ account of the femininity of those who had defiled the temple and his failure to mention any senatorial involvement in its restoration should be discounted on the basis of Cicero’s stress on the public nature of the restoration that followed Caecilia’s dream and (at p. 221) that the dream should be seen in the context of the unusual number of prodigies that were reported during the Social War.  She also observed (at p. 223) that:

  1. “... the Romans immediately understood the importance of Caecilia’s dream: the Senate ... [therefore] treated [it] with all seriousness.  The close relationship between military and religious concerns is further underlined by the fact that the man charged with the restoration of Juno’s temple, the consul Lucius Julius Caesar, was actively involved in the prosecution of the war in the area south of Rome.”

She concluded (at pp 226-7) that:

  1. “By acting on Caecilia’s dream, the Senate sought:

  2. to ensure Juno Sospita’s continued support for the Roman cause; [and]

  3. to underline and reinforce its own authority over the political and religious fortunes of those towns [primarily Lanuvium and Rome] where Juno Sospita had been worshipped for centuries. 

  4. It is clear that the goddess never lost her association with her original home, [Lanuvium], despite her ... [additional] residence in Rome [from 194 BC].  Drawing on this, the Senate’s action was intended as a forceful reminder to the Romans of their earlier victory in the Latin War [of 338 BC], which had brought Juno Sospita’s cult [at Lanuvium] under their control.  The Latin War had been fought over the same matter that stood at the heart of the Social War: that is, the integration versus the sovereignty of the various Italic peoples,  This must have been on everyone’s mind when Caecilia  ... cam forward to report what she had dreamed.”

Events at Rome

Lex Varia (90 BC)

This law, which was introduced by the plebeian tribune Q.  Varius Severus, created a special tribunal for prosecuting Romans who were held to have encouraged the Italians’ rebellion.  The punishment for those found guilty was exile.  [Publius Sulpicius, a plebeian tribune in 88 BC]  tried to have the sentences rescinded ].  [Varius was prosecuted under his own law.]

Read more:

Sagarna Urzelai I., "The Marsi: The Construction of an Identity", (2021). thesis of Boise State University

Amela Valverde L., “La Amonedación Itálica de la Guerra de los Aliados”, Gacéta Numismática, 198 (2019) 15-43 (link opens as a pdf)

Campana A. “An Unpublished Denarius from the ‘Bellum Sociale’”, OMNI, 8 (2014) 33-40

Dart C., “The Social War (91 to 88 BC): A History of the Italian Insurgency against the Roman Republic”, (2014) London and New York

Steel C., “The End of the Roman Republic 146 to 44 BC: Conquest and Crisis”, (2013) Edinburgh

Tweedie F. J., “The Lex Licinia Mucia and the Bellum Italicum”, in:

  1. Roselaar S. T., “Processes of Integration and Identity Formation in the Roman Republic”, (2012) Leiden and Boston, at pp. 123-39

Tweedie F., “Caenum aut caelum: M. Livius Drusus and the Land”, Mnemosyne, 64:4 (2011) 573-90

Dart C., “Quintus Poppaedius Silo: Dux et Auctor of the Social War”, Athenaeum, 98:1 (2010) 111-26

Dart C., “The 'Italian Constitution' in the Social War: A Reassessment (91 to 88 BC)”, Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 58:2 (2009) 215-24

Schultz C., “Juno Sospita and Roman Insecurity in the Social War”, in:

  1. Schultz C. and Harvey  P. (editors), “Religion in Republican Italy”, (2006) Cambridge, at pp. 207-77)

Brennan T. C., “The Praetorship in the Roman Republic: Volume 1: Origins to 122 BC”, (2000) Oxford

Campana A., “La Monetazione degli Insorti Italici Durante la Guerra Sociale (91-87 a.C)”, (1987) Soliera

Seager R., “Pompey the Great: a Political Biography”, (1979) Malden MA, Oxford, Melbourne and Berlin

Broughton T. R. S., “The Magistrates of the Roman Republic,Volume II (99 - 31 BC)”, (1952) New York

Watts N. H. (translator), “Cicero: Pro Milone; In Pisonem; Pro Scauro; Pro Fonteio; Pro Rabirio Postumo; Pro Marcello. Pro Ligario; Pro Rege Deiotaro”, (1931) Cambridge, MA

Buck C. D., “A Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian”, (1904) Boston

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