Roman Republic

Roman Conquest of Italy (509 - 241 BC)

Third Veientine War (406 - 396 BC) to

the Sack of Rome (390 BC)

Prior Events

The Romans’ definitive capture of Fidenae in 426 BC had brought an end to decades of conflict with Veii and, in the following year, the two cities agreed a 20-year truce.   However, it seems that hostilities between them resumed almost as soon as this twenty-year period ended.

Conduct of the War ( 406 -

Declaration of War (406 BC)

According to Livy, in 406 BC

  1. “War broke out with Veii because of the arrogant reply of the Veientine senate, which ordered that the [Roman]  envoys who were seeking restitution [in relation to unspecified offences] received the response that, unless they immediately withdrew from Veii and its territory, they would get what Lars Tolumnius, [then the king of Veii], had given [Roman envoys who had been sent to Fidenae in 438 BC].  This angered the senators who decreed that, on the first possible day, the military tribunes should bring before the people a motion to declare war on Veii”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 58: 26-8).

However, the Romans seem to have had other priorities in the period 405-4 BC, and no significant hostilities are recorded in this period.

Roman Fears of the Etruscan League 

In 403 BC, although things at Veii remained quiet:

  1. “The Romans had news from Etruria that  ... the subject of Veii came up at every meeting [of the Etruscan league - see below].  They [therefore] constructed their earthworks [around Veii] in such a way that there were fortifications on two fronts:

  2. some were directed towards Veii, in order to oppose sorties by the townsfolk; and

  3. others faced Etruria, in order  to obstruct any help that might come from there”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 1: 8-9).

Livy then recorded that:

  1. “Soon after the siege began, a well-attended meeting of the national council of the Etruscans was held at the fanum Voltumnae,  but no decision was made as to whether the Veientines should be defended by the armed strength of the whole [Etruscan] nation”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 61: 2-3).

As the siege continued, the Veientines appealed  again for help from the league in 403 BC.  Livy’s account of this meeting is particularly illuminating (albeit that, on this occasion, Livy did not actually mention the fanum Voltumnae).  In thus year, the people of Veii:

  1. “... regem creavere (appointed/ elected a king) because they were tired of the discord that attended annual competition for office.  This [development] offended the [other] peoples of Etruria, who hated kingship in general and this [unnamed] king in particular.  He had become hated throughout Etruria ... when he had forcibly and sacrilegiously broken up sollemnes ludi (religious games): angry because the twelve peoples [of Etruria] had not elected him as sacerdos (priest), he had suddenly withdrawn the artifices (performers), most of whom were his slaves, ex medio ludicro (in the middle of the games).  As a consequence, the Etruscans (who, above all other peoples, are devoted to religious matters [and] ... excel in the art of attending to them) decided to deny help to the Veientines as long as they were subject to a king”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 1: 2-8).

Livy recorded two more meetings at the fanum Voltumnae, each discussed in its chronological context below:

  1. the first in 397 BC, just before the fall of Veii, when the other members of the league were this time unable rather than unwilling to help Veii against Rome because they feared attacks from the Gauls; and

  2. the second in 389  BC, in the aftermath of the Gallic sack of Rome, when the Etruscans apparently took advantage of Rome’s weakened state after the depredation of the Gauls by mounting an attack on Sutrium. 

Veii and the Etruscan League: Observations

I discuss the fanum Voltumnae in detail in my page Etruscan Federation and Fanum Voltumnae (431 - 389 BC).  For the moment, we should note that:

  1. Livy is our only surviving source for the existence of the fanum Voltumnae, to which he referred in only four passages, each of which was related to Veii’s wars with Rome during the period 431-389 BC);

  2. the gave no indication of the location of the shrine; 

  3. he seems to have believed that, at this time, this shrine was the locus of meetings of a league of twelve Etruscan cities, but he only identified one of them (Veii); and

  4. he also believed that ‘ in this period, Veii was consistently unsuccessful in its appeals for military assistance from tits fellow-members.

Timothy Cornell (referenced below, at p. 312) observed that:

  1. “In Livy’s account [of the events of this period], there is an underlying assumption that the other [Etruscan] cities ought to have assisted Veii and would have done so had it not been for special circumstance (such as the impious behaviour of the Veientine king at the national games).”

In what follows, we shall see examples of the Romans expecting a concerted Etruscan attack.  Cornell went on to point out that:

  1. “In fact, it is highly questionable whether the assembly that met at the [fanum Voltumnae] ever functioned as a political or military [as opposed to a purely religious] league.”

He added that:

  1. we have no secure evidence from our surviving sources for an Etruscan federal army in action; while

  2. these sources contain many clear indications of mutual hostility between individual Etruscan states.

Progress of Siege of Veii (403 - 397 BC)

Although the decision to lay siege to Veii was taken in 406 BC, the Romans seem to have had other priorities in the period 405-4 BC.  However, Livy recorded that, in 403 BC:

  1. “Although the Romans had news from Etruria that things were [still] quiet there, nevertheless, because it was reported that the subject of Veii came up at every meeting [of the Etruscan league], they constructed their earthworks in such a way that there were fortifications on two fronts:

  2. some were directed toward Veii, in order to oppose sorties by the townsfolk; and

  3. others faced Etruria, in order  to obstruct any help that might come from there”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 1: 8-9).

When the Roman soldiers realised that the siege was to continue in earnest through the winter of 403/2 BC, their support for it began to evaporate.  However, Ap. Claudius Crassus, one of the military tribunes of that year, successfully dispelled the idea of abandoning it during the winter, warning (inter alia) that this would be highly risky:

  1. “Do the frequent councils in Etruria about sending help to Veii allow us to forget [these risks]?  As the situation is now, the Etruscans are angry and resentful, saying they will not send help: as far as they are concerned, we may capture Veii.  However, who would guarantee that, if the war is postponed, they would be of the same mind thereafter?  If you grant a respite, there is bound to be greater and more frequent diplomacy [among the Etruscans].  Furthermore, what now offends the Etruscans (the revival of the monarchy at Veii) could be changed with the passage of time ... .  See how many unproductive consequences would follow [from suspending the siege]:

  2. the loss of the work that has been done [to date] with such great effort;

  3. the imminent devastation of our territory; and

  4. a war stirred up with the Etruscans over the question of Veii”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 5: 8-12). 

Falerii and Capena Enter the War (402 - 397 BC)

In 402 BC, aid for Veii arrived, not from fellow Etruscans, but from the peoples of Falerii and Capena (who were ethnically distinct from the Etruscans and spoke a dialect of Latin known as Faliscan).  Livy explained that: 

  1. “Since these two cities were located so near to Veii, they believed that the Romans would soon attack them, if Veii were defeated.  The Falisci [also] had their own reason for concern: [they feared retaliation for the fact that they had supported the Fidenates] in their earlier war with Rome.  So, there was a speedy exchange of embassies [between Falerii and Capena] and, after binding themselves by an oath, they unexpectedly approached Veii with their armies”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 8: 5-6).  

Apparently, as they approached Veii, they attacked a Roman camp outside the city:

  1. .”..  causing great terror, because the Romans believed that the whole of Etruria had been summoned from their cities and was appraoching with a massive force.  The same [mistaken] belief also aroused the Veientines ...”, (History of Rome’, 5: 8: 7).  

As a result, the Roman besiegers suffered was an ignominious (albeit not definitive) defeat.

Thereafter, internal discord hampered Romans’ progress.  Morale slumped further in 398 BC, when a number of ominous prodigies were reported:

  1. “Everyone’s concerns were focused on one [of them in particular]: the lake in the Alban Wood rose to an unprecedented height, without any rain or any other [natural cause].  Envoys were sent to Delphi to establish what the gods had portended by this prodigy.  Meanwhile, a nearer interpreter of the fates presented himself in the person of an elderly Veientine, ... [who] prophesied like an inspired seer, declaring that the Romans would never take Veii until the water was drained from the Alban lake”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 15: 1-4).  

Since the Romans were not prepared to trust the Veientine’s advice, they awaited news from Delphi.  However, as the stale-mate at Veii continued:

  1. “... the Romans had despaired of human help and were looking to the fates and the gods, when the envoys returned from Delphi [in 397 BC], bringing a response from the oracle that was consistent with the words of the [elderly Veientine]:

  2. ‘Roman, beware of keeping the Alban water contained within the lake; beware of allowing it to flow in its own channel into the sea.  You shall draw it off and irrigate the fields; you shall get rid of it by dispersing it in channels.  Then, boldly press on against the enemy’s walls, mindful that victory over the city that you have besieged for so many years has been given to you by the fates that are now revealed.  When the war is over and you are victorious:

  3. bring a magnificent gift to my temple [i.e., the temple of Apollo at Delphi]; and

  4. repeat in ancestral fashion those sacred rites of your country that you have neglected’”, (History of Rome’, 5: 16: 9-11).

According to Livy:

  1. “From this point, the [old man from Veii] began to be held in great repute, and the military tribunes ... proceeded to use him to expiate the Alban prodigy and to propitiate the gods with the appropriate rites.  At last, the reason for the gods’ charge that their rituals had been neglected or a solemn rite omitted was discovered: it was simply that the election of the [serving] magistrates had been flawed, resulting in the improper proclamation of the Latin festival and sacrificial rite on the Alban Mount.  The only expiation for this was that the military tribunes should resign from office, the auspices should be be retaken, and an interregnum should be initiated.  These things were done by decree of the Senate”, (History of Rome’, 5: 17: 1-4).

While all of this was going on at Rome:

  1. “... the national council of Etruria met at the fanum Voltumnae [as mentioned above].  The [people of Capena and Falerii] demanded that all the peoples of Etruria should unite in common action to raise the siege of Veii.  However, they were told in reply that ... unfortunate circumstances ... compelled [the other participants] to refuse: the Gauls, a strange and unknown race, had recently overrun the greatest part of Etruria, and that there was neither assured peace nor open war between them.  They would, however, do this much for those of their blood and name ... : if any of their younger men volunteered for the war, they would not prevent their going”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 17: 7-10).   

M. Furius Camillus and the Fall of Veii (396 BC) 

Preliminary Events

Despite the reassurance from Delphi, things began badly for the Romans  396 BC: two of the consular tribunes, L. Titinius and Cn. Genucius, who commanded an army that marched against the Faliscans and Capenates:

  1. “...  fell into an ambush while they were waging war with more spirit than strategy.  Genucius atoned for his rashness by an honourable death, fighting before the standards in the front line.  Titinius regrouped the soldiers after their great panic ... but did not risk an engagement on level ground.  It was more of a disgrace than a disaster, although it had serious consequences: 

  2. With difficulty, the soldiers at Veii were restrained from flight, since a rumour had spread through the camp that the generals and army had been slaughtered, and that the victorious Capenates and Falisci, together with all the manpower of Etruria, were nearby. 

  3. Even more disturbing reports were believed in Rome: already the camp at Veii was being stormed; already part of the enemy was advancing to attack the City.  There was a rush to the walls, and the married women, aroused from their homes by the general panic, were offering prayers in the temples, beseeching the gods to ward off destruction from the houses, temples, and walls of Rome and to turn the terror on Veii, if the sacred rites had been properly repeated and the prodigies expiated”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 18: 7-12). 

Thus, the scene was set for the appointment of a dictator. 

Livy did not explain the circumstances in which the dictator was appointed: instead, immediately after describing the panic at Veii and Rome, he announced that:

  1. “Now that the games and the Latin festival had been repeated and the water had been drawn from the Alban lake onto the fields, the fates began their attack on Veii.  And so, the dux  (commander) who was fated to destroy that city and save his country, M. Furius Camillus, was appointed dictator, naming P. Cornelius Scipio as his master of the horse.  The change in the command suddenly changed everything: men’s hopes were different; their spirits different; even the fortune of the City seemed different”, (‘History of Rome, 5: 19: 3). 

  1. Camillus restored the morale of the existing army and recruited a new army.  Then:

  2. “... when everything was in readiness for the campaign, [he] vowed (in pursuance of a senatorial decree) that, if he should capture Veii, he would celebrate the great games and restore and re-dedicate  the temple of Mater Matuta, which had originally been been consecrated by King Servius Tullius, (‘History of Rome, 5: 19: 3). 

Camillus duly defeated both Falerii and Capena at Nepete and then began the final assault of Veii.  As he approached Veii, he promised a tenth of the spoils from that city to Pythian Apollo and then addressed:

  1. “... Juno Regina, who now resides in Veii, to follow us in victory to Rome, which is our city and soon also to be yours, where a temple worthy of your  majesty will receive you”, (‘History of Rome, 5: 21: 3). 

His men entered the city via its sewage system and, according to Livy: 

  1. “That day was spent in the massacre of the enemy and the sack of the city with its enormous wealth”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 21: 17). 

Thereafter, the Romans:

  1. “... began to remove the offerings to the gods [of Veii] and [then] the gods themselves ... [Juno, the erstwhile patron of Veii, was ritually] conveyed to the Aventine Hill, her eternal seat, where ... Camillus had vowed [and] afterwards dedicated a temple [to Juno Regina]”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 22: 3-8).  

This formal ‘calling’ of Juno from Veii to Rome marked the end of its greatness.  Livy finally recorded that: 

  1. “[Camillus’] triumph went far beyond the usual mode of celebrating the day; himself the most conspicuous object of all, he was drawn into the City by a team of white horses, which men thought unbecoming for any mortal man, let alone a Roman citizen: they saw with superstitious alarm [Camillus] putting himself on a level ... with Jupiter and Sol, and this one circumstance made his triumph more brilliant than popular. After this, he signed a contract for building the temple of Juno Regina on the Aventine and dedicated one to Mater Matuta.  After having thus discharged his duties to gods and men, he resigned his dictatorship”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 23: 5-7).  

Aftermath of the Fall of Veii (396 - 391 BC)

Defeat of Capena and Falerii (395-4 BC)

Timothy Cornell (referenced below, at p. 313) observed that the people of Capena and Falerii had been:

  1. “... the most consistent and loyal supporters of Veii ].  These people, who lived in the region to the north of Veii ... , spoke a dialect of Latin [known as Faliscan] and were ethnically distinct from the Etruscans.  [Nevertheless, ..., they] belonged to the catchment area of Veii and [had] never failed to give her active support in the struggle against Rome.”  

Thus, after taking Veii, the Romans unleashed an onslaught on the territories of of these two cities: according to Livy:

  1. “[In  395 BC, the Romans] broke the resistance of the Capenates: they sued for peace and it was granted them”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 24: 3). 

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 1997, at p. 424) noted that: 

  1. “... this passage [by Livy] marks [the] last significant appearance [of Capena] in Roman history.”

Livy then noted that: 

  1. “[In 394 BC, the people of Falerii] found themselves ... asking for peace.  ... [This request was granted, but they] were ordered to supply the pay of the troops for that year ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 27: 15) .

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 1997, at p. 347) observed that, although Livy’s account of the surrender of Falerii: 

  1. “... may be an exaggeration, Rome certainly [confiscated] land from Falerii upon which the Latin colonies of Nepete and Sutrium were later established [see below].  These operations gave [Rome] control of the area between the Tiber and the Ciminian Mountain ... .”

Defeat of Volsinii (392 - 391 BC)

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 1997, at p. 347) pointed out that Rome’s inroads against the peoples of Capena and Falerii had:

  1. “...brought her sphere of influence closer to that of Volsinii.  The result was a minor clash with that city and one of its [now-unknown] satellites, the Sapientes ... .”

Livy recorded that, in 392 BC: 

  1. “... a new enemy appeared in the form of the Volsinians.  Owing to famine and pestilence in the district round Rome, in consequence of excessive heat and drought, it was impossible for an army to march.  This emboldened the Volsinians, in conjunction with the Sapientes, to make inroads upon Roman territory.  Thereupon war was declared against the two states”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 31: 4-5).

In the following year, L. Lucretius and C. Aemilius, two of the six consular tribunes who were appointed during the epidemic. 

  1. “... were charged with the campaign against the Volsinians [while two of the other tribunes] were charged with the one against the Sapienates].  The first action took place against the Volsinians: an immense number of the enemy were engaged, but the fighting was by no means severe.  Their line was scattered at the first shock: 8,000 [Volsinians] who were surrounded by the [Roman] cavalry laid down their arms and surrendered.  On hearing of this battle, the Sapienates  ... sought the protection of their walls.  The Romans carried off plunder in all directions from the territory of both the Sapienates and the Volsinians without meeting any resistance.  At last the Volsinians, tired of the war, obtained a truce for twenty years on condition that they paid an indemnity for their previous raid and supplied the year's pay for the army”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 32: 2-5). 

Livy last reference to the Etruscans’ federal sanctuary related to 389 BC, when: 

  1. “... some traders brought [intelligence to Rome] that a conspiracy of the leading men of Etruria from all the states had been formed at the fanum Voltumnae”, (‘History of Rome’, 6: 2: 2).  

Gallic Sack of Rome (ca. 390 BC) 

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2004, at p. 11) asserted that:

  1. “[Only] three things are certain about this episode ... :

  2. it happened;

  3. it left Rome with a long-lasting fear of [Gauls]; and

  4. virtually everything that our sources say about it is unbelievable.”

However, we might reasonably add four other incontrovertible facts about this peculiar incident:

  1. it was regarded, even at the time, as an earth-shattering event, to the extent that Greek scholars were alluding to it within decades [see below];

  2. having said that, it was over within months, without any discernible effect on the Romans’ ability to extend their sphere of influence at the expense of their neighbours;

  3. by the 2nd century BC, when the Romans themselves began to ‘write up’ their history, no-one knew for sure what had actually happened; but

  4. the humiliating defeat on the Allia was not forgotten, as evidenced by the fact that the dies Alliensis (18th July/ Quintilis) is one of only two anniversaries that are noted on the surviving fragments of the fasti Antiates Maiores, the only known Republican calendar (the other being the anniversary foundation of Rome on 21st April).

Early Greek References (4th century BC)

Three surviving accounts accounts by Greek sources who would not normally have recorded events at Rome indicate the importance of the sack in geo-political terms:

  1. Two of these references were transmitted by Plutarch:

  2. “Heracleides Ponticus, who lived not long after that time, in his treatise ‘On the Soul’, says that, out of the West, a story prevailed that an army of Hyperboreans had come from afar and captured a Greek city called Rome, situated somewhere on the shores of the Great Sea.  Now, I am not surprised  that so fabulous and fictitious a writer as Heracleides should adorn the true story of the capture of Rome with his ‘Hyperboreans’ and his ‘Great Sea’.  However, [the broadly contemporary] Aristotle ... clearly had accurate tidings of the Gallic capture of the  City: he says that its saviour was Lucius (although the forename of Camillus, [traditionally the saviour of Rome at this point - see below] was not Lucius, but Marcus).  However, these details were matters of conjecture”, (‘Life of Camillus’, 22: 1-3).

  3. The third was transmitted by Pliny the Elder:

  4. “Theophrastus, [a disciple of Aristotle], was the first [Greek] to write at any length about the Romans: Theopompus (before whom, nobody mentioned them at all) merely recorded that Rome was taken by the Gauls ... ”, (‘Natural History’, 3: 9).

Polybius (ca. 150 BC)

Polybius, who wrote the earliest surviving narrative account these events, regarded them as marking the start of the Romans’ conquest of Italy and was able to date them quite precisely:

  1. “It was in ... the 19th year after the battle of Aegospotami and the 16th before that of Leuctra, [and thus] the year in which:

  2. the Spartans ratified the peace  ... of Antalcidas with the King of Persia; and

  3. Dionysius I [of Syracuse] was besieging Rhegium after having defeated the Italiot Greeks [of southern Italy] in the battle at the river Elleporos;

  4. ... that the Gauls, after taking Rome itself by assault, occupied the whole of that city except for the Capitol.  The Romans, after making a truce on conditions satisfactory to the Gauls and being thus (contrary to their expectation) reinstated in their home, ... now started on the road of aggrandisement, [and] continued in the following years to wage war on their neighbours”, (Histories’, 1: 6: 1-3).

Frank Walbank (referenced below, at p. 47) observed that:

  1. “... the natural interpretation [of this passage] is that the Gauls seized and held Rome in [the second year of the 98th Olympiad] = 387/6. BC.  Polybius  probably had this synchronism from Timaeus [of of Taoromenium]”;

and noted (at p. 48) that, in the so-called Varronian chronology, it was placed at 364 years after the foundation of the City = 390 BC.

Polybius gave an important account of the diverse nature of the Gauls:

  1. “The Etruscans were the oldest inhabitants of [the Po valley]. ... Those, therefore, who would know something of the dominion of the Etruscans should not look at the country that they now inhabit, but at these plains and the resources they drew from them.  The [Gauls], who were close neighbours of the Etruscans and ... coveted their beautiful country, suddenly attacked them with a large army, expelled them from the Po valley and occupied it themselves:

  2. the first settlers at the eastern extremity, near the source of the Po, were the Laevi and Lebecii;

  3. after them [came] the Insubres, the largest tribe of all; and

  4. next to these, on the banks of the river, the Cenomani.

  5. The part of the plain near the Adriatic had always been in the possession of another very ancient tribe called the Veneti, who differed slightly from the Gauls in customs and costume and spoke another language. ... On the other bank of the Po, by the Apennines:

  6. the first settlers (beginning from the west) were the Anares;

  7. next them [came] the Boii ... [and then]  the Lingones; and

  8. lastly, [on the Adriatic coast, came] the Senones”, (Histories’, 2: 17: 1-7).

Unfortunately, Polybius gave only a brief account of the sack itself (since his object was to write the history of Rome from 264 BC):

  1. “On their first invasion [of northern Italy, the Gauls] not only conquered this country but reduced to subjection many of the neighbouring peoples, striking terror into them by their audacity.  Not long afterwards, they defeated the Romans and their allies in a pitched battle and, pursuing the fugitives, occupied the whole of Rome except the Capitol three days after the battle.  However, ... when the Veneti invaded their own country, they made ... a treaty with the Romans and ... returned home.  Thereafter, they were preoccupied by domestic wars  ...  Meanwhile the Romans re-established their power and again became masters of Latium: .... [the Gauls did not trouble them again for] 30 years ...”, (Histories’, 2: 18: 1-6).

This makes the Gallic occupation of Rome sound like a relatively unimportant event.  However, in a later passage set  in ca. 225 BC, Polybius recorded that the Gauls of the Po valley remembered:

  1. “... the achievement of their ancestors, who had ...:

  2. overcome the Romans in combat;

  3. assaulted and taken Rome itself after the battle;

  4. possessed themselves of all it contained;

  5. remained masters of the City for seven months; and

  6. finally given it up of their own free will and ... returned home with their spoils, unbroken and unscathed”, (Histories’, 2: 22: 3-5).

In other words, according to Polybius, the Romans suffered a short but very sharp humiliation at the hands of the Gauls in 387/6. BC.  Oddly, Polybius seems to have skated over the significance of Camillus’ conquest of Veii: for him, it was only after the Gaul’s voluntary withdrawal from Rome that (as we have seen)the the Romans:

  1. “... started on the road of aggrandisement, [and] continued in the following years to wage war on their neighbours”, (Histories’, 1: 6: 3).

On matters of detail, Polybius is the only one of the surviving sources to suggest that:

  1. the Romans had allies when the Gauls defeated them in a pitched battle before they attacked Rome;

  2. the Gauls arrived at Rome in pursuit of the fleeing Roman soldiers; and

  3. they voluntarily withdrew from the City after making a treaty with the Romans because the Veneti had invaded their settlements in the Po valley.

His account is the earliest of our surviving sources for two elements of the later tradition:

  1. the elapse of three days between the Gauls’ victory in battle and their occupation of the rest of the City; and

  2. the assertion that the Gaul’s withdrew from the City without having taken the Capitol.

Importantly, he made no reference to:

  1. Aristotle’s Lucius or any other putative ‘saviour of Rome’; or

  2. two elements that characterised the later tradition:

  3. the location of the pitched battle (usually placed on the Allia); and

  4. the Romans’ payment of a ransom in order to achieve the Gauls’ withdrawal, which they retrieved following the subsequent intervention of M. Furius Camillus.

Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC)

River Allia (traditional site of the first battle between the Romans and the Gauls in ca. 390 BC)

Adapted from this page in Wikipedia

Diodorus is our only dissenting voice: he placed this battle on the right bank of the Tiber

The earliest full account of the Gallic sack is probably that of Diodorus Siculus.  He began by noting that:

  1. “At the time that Dionysius[I of Syracuse] was besieging Rhegium, the Gauls, who had their homes in the regions beyond the Alps, surged through the [Alpine] passes in great strength and seized the territory that lay between the Apennine mountains and the Alps, expelling the Etruscans who lived there. ... Now it happened ... that those [Gauls who were] known as the Senones received the area that lay furthest from the mountains and along the [Adriatic coast].  But, since this region was scorching hot [sic], they were ... eager to move; hence, they armed their younger men and sent them out to seek a territory where they might settle.  They [duly] invaded Etruria and, numbering some 30,000, sacked the territory of Clusium, [in Etruria]”, (‘Library of History’, 14: 113: 1-3).  

Diodorus  suggested that the Romans’ first encounter with the Gallic invaders happened by accident:

  1. “At this very time, the Romans sent ambassadors into Etruria to spy on the Gallic army. ... [When] they saw that a battle was underway, they joined the men of Clusium against their besiegers.  [They did so] with more valour than wisdom, and one of them killed a rather important [Gallic] commander”, (‘Library of History’, 14: 113: 4).

Here, we see Diodorus (or his sources) trying to explain why the Gauls had suddenly and unexpectedly descended on Rome:

  1. their original target had been Clusium;

  2. a Roman spy had foolishly joined the fray on the Clusian side and killed an important Roman commander; and

  3. when the furious Gauls had demanded that the offender should be surrendered to them, the Romans had refused.

Diodorus then recorded that, when the Senones received news of the Romans’ response to their demand, they:

  1. “... were greatly angered and, adding an army from their fellow tribesmen, they marched swiftly on  Rome itself, [now] numbering more than 70,000 men.  The Roman military tribunes ... [consequently] armed all the men of military age ... [and] marched out in full force.  Crossing the Tiber, they led their troops for 80 stades along the river and, when they received news of the approach of the [Gauls], they drew up the army for battle”, (‘Library of History’, 14: 114: 1-2).

As Robert Ogilvie (referenced below, at p. 718) pointed out, in this passage:

  1. “Diodorus, by what may be no more than a simple confusion, transferred the scene of the battle from [its traditional site on the Allia, on] the left [bank of the Tiber] to the right bank. 

Diodorus described the Gallic rout of the Romans at some length, following which:

  1. “... most of the Romans who escaped occupied the city of Veii, which had lately been razed by them, fortified the place as well as they could, and received the survivors of the rout.  A few of those who had swum the river fled without their arms to Rome and reported that the whole army had perished”, (‘Library of History’, 14: 115: 2).  

The scene now shifted to Rome, where those who had chosen not to flee to neighbouring cities:

  1. “... gathered such [provisions and] valuables as they could and fortified the ... [Capitol] during a respite of three days [before the arrival of the Gauls].   ... But, on the fourth day, ... [the Gauls] broke down the gates and pillaged the City (except for a few dwellings on the Palatine).  After this, they [laid siege to the Capitol] ...”, (‘Library of History’, 14: 115: 4-6). 

The scene now shifted briefly to Etruria, where some of the soldiers who had fled to Veii defeated an Etruscan army and took over its arms and its camp.  They then prepared to relieve the siege of the Capitol.   One of their number, Cominius Pontius, managed to climb the Capitoline cliff and alert those sheltering there that relief was on its way and then returned to his colleagues undetected.  However, the Gauls spotted his tracks, and some of them emulated his feat on the following night:

  1. “Although they escaped detection by the guards, the sacred geese of Hera, which were kept there, noticed the climbers and set up a cackling.  The guards rushed to the place and the Gauls did not dare proceed farther.  A certain Marcus Mallius, a man held in high esteem, rushed to the defence of the place, cut off the hand of the first climber with his sword and, striking him on the breast with his shield, rolled him from the cliff. In like manner the second climber met his death, whereupon the rest all quickly turned in flight.  But since the cliff was precipitous, they were all hurled headlong and perished.  As a result of this, when the Romans sent ambassadors [to the Gauls] to negotiate a peace, they agreed to withdraw from Roman territory upon receipt of 1,000 pounds of gold”, (‘Library of History’, 14: 116: 5-7).

M. Furius Camillus had played no part in Diodorus’ account these events.  However, when the Volsci and Aequi attempted to take advantage of the Romans’ weakness after the sack, he was appointed dictator and defeated both of their armies, and then expelled the Etruscans who had taken the Roman colony of Sutrium.  Meanwhile:

  1. “The Gauls on their way from Rome laid siege to the [now-unknown] city of Veascium which was an ally of the Romans.  [Camillus] attacked them, killed many of them, and ... [recovered] the gold that they had received for Rome ... Despite the accomplishment of such great deeds, envy on the part of the tribunes prevented his celebrating a triumph.  (There are some, however, who state that he celebrated a triumph for his victory over the Etruscans in a chariot drawn by four white horses, for which the people, two years later, fined him a large sum of money)”, (‘Library of History’, 14: 117: 5-6). 

Livy (ca. 25 BC)

In the sections below, I set out the main ways in which the traditions surrounding the Gallic sack of Rome developed in the decades between Diodorus and Livy.   That certainly d

Preliminaries to the Sack

Livy had ended his account of the previous year with a report that:

“...  M. Caedicius, a plebeian, reported to the tribunes that, on via Nova, where a shrine above the temple of Vesta now stands, he had heard in the silence of the night a voice, louder than that of a human, ordering him to tell the magistrates that the Gauls were advancing.  His warning went unheeded because of hiss low birth,  ... and also because [Gauls] came from far away and were consequently quite unknown.  Furthermore, not only did [the magistrates reject the warnings of the gods as Fate began her assault [on Rome]: they [also] removed [Camillus], Rome’s only human help, from the City [following an indictment that related to the distribution of the booty that had been taken from Veii]. ‘’’ He went into exile, praying to the immortal gods that, if he were innocent of this injustice, they would cause his ungrateful compatriots to feel the need for him as soon as possible”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 32: 5-9). 

He began  his account of the sack in similar vein, lamenting the fact that the Romans had exiled Camillus:

  1. “... whose presence (if there is anything certain in human affairs) would have made the capture of Rome impossible.  [Therefore, when] ambassadors came from Clusium, begging for help against the Gauls, ... disaster approached the fated city”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 33: 1).

In Livy’s eyes, everything that followed Camillus’ exile was written in the stars.

Livy then speculated on the reason for the Gallic invasion of Clusium.  Diodorus had implied that a number of Gallic tribes had recently surged through the Alpine passes and that the Senones, who had received land on the Adriatic coast that (he claimed) was too hot to be cultivated, following which they had sent an army to take land in Etruria (although he did not explain why they picked on Clusium).  Livy recounted and rejected a tradition in which the Gauls:

  1. “... had crossed the Alps, allured by the fruits and especially the vine, which at that time was a novel pleasure.  Then, they had seized the territory that the Etruscans had previously cultivated.  Arruns of Clusium had imported the vine into Gaul to entice them, because he was angry at the seduction of his wife by Lucumo: this young man, whose guardian Arruns had been, was so powerful that it was impossible to punish him without seeking help from outside.  Arruns is said to have led the Gauls across the Alps and suggested that they should attack Clusium.  I myself would not deny that the Gauls were brought to Clusium by Arruns or some other inhabitant of Clusium.  However, it is well established that [the Gauls] who attacked Clusium [in ca. 390 BC] were not the first to cross the Alps: for Gauls had [crossed the Alps] into Italy 200 years before they attacked Clusium and took Rome”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 33: 2-5)

It is likely that the tradition of Arruns and Lucomo was known to Cato (150s BC), although, as Timothy Cornell (in T. J. Cornell (editor), at Vol. II, pp. 174-5 and Vol. III, pp. 177-8) pointed out, he did not necessarily associate it with the events of ca. 390 BC.  Livy described his own opinion of the phases in which the Gallic tribes had settled in the Po valley, ending with: 

  1. “..  the Senones, the most recent arrivals, [who] held the territory [on the Adriatic coast], between the river Utens and the [river] Aesis.  I find that this was the tribe that came to Clusium, and from there to Rome, albeit that it is uncertain whether they came alone or had the assistance of all the peoples of Cisalpine Gaul.  The people of Clusium were terrified by this strange warfare when they:

  2. saw the numbers and the unusual appearance of these men, and the kind of weapons they used; and heard that they had often routed the Etruscan legions on this side of the Po and beyond it”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 35: 1-4).

Like Diodorus, Livy did not, in the end, explain why the Senones (with or without the help of other Gallic tribes) decided to attack Clusium. 

Diodorus claimed that the Romans first encountered the marauding Gallic army when the three spies that they had sent to investigate its activities in Etruria came had come across it as it was attacking Clusium.  However, as we have seen, Livy recorded that this first fateful  encounter began with a formal approach from Clusium.  He observed that, although the people of Clusium:

  1. “... had no rights of alliance or friendship with the Romans (except that they had not defended the Veientines, their [fellow Etruscans], against the Romans), they sent envoys to Rome to ask the Senate for help.  Their request ... was not granted, but they sent three sons of M.Fabius Ambustus to urge the Gauls, in the name of the Senate and Roman people, not to attack the allies and friends of the Roman people, who had done them no wrong.  The Romans, they said, were obliged to protect them, even by war, should the situation force them to do so, but it seemed better [to them] that war should be averted if possible, and that they should get to know the Gauls ... in peace rather than in war.”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 35: 4-6).

Livy thus identified the ambassadors whom Diodorus had left anonymous: they were the three sons of M. Fabius Ambustus, (whose praenomina were Cnaeus, Caeso and Quintus - see Valerie  Warrior, referenced below, at p. 412).  He then essentially followed Diodorus in recording that:

  1. the Gauls responded that they would only agree to peace with Clusium in return for territory;

  2. passions were aroused by this haughty response and fighting broke out;

  3. the Roman ambassadors entered the fray or, as Livy put it:

  4. “... as the fates were now pressing upon the City, the ambassadors took up arms, contrary to the law of nations””, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 36: 9-11); and

  5. one of them (whom Livy named as Q. Fabius) killed a a Gaulish chieftain.

Both authors recorded that the Gauls now diverted their attention from Clusium to Rome, and demanded the surrender of the offending ambassador.  Livy then gave a detailed account of the putative machinations at Rome:

  1. “Although the Senate disapproved of the action of the Fabii and thought that the barbarians’ demands were just, their partisanship in the case of men of such nobility prevented them from decreeing what they really felt.  They therefore referred the consideration of the Gauls’ demands to the people to avoid any blame attaching to the Senate, should a Gallic war lead to disaster.  Political influence and wealth had so much more weight with the people that the men whose punishment was under discussion were [actually] elected as military tribunes with consular power for the following year.  When this happened, the Gauls were enraged, as they had every right to be, and returned to their own people, openly uttering threats.  (Elected as military tribunes with the three Fabii were Q. Sulpicius Longus, Q.  Servilius (for the 4th time) and P.Cornelius Maluginensis”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 36: 9-11).

Battle on the Allia

Livy, like Diodorus, recorded that, on hearing of the Romans’ response, the Gauls  immediately sent an army against them.  However, unlike Diodorus, Livy located the ensuing battle on the left bank of the Tiber:

  1. “Although rumour and reports from the people of Clusium had preceded [the Gaulss], ... it was their speed that created the most terror to Rome.  The [Roman] army that had been hastily mustered ... barely reached the 11th milestone before it encountered the [Gauls at the point] where the river Allia flows down from the Crustuminian mountains in a very deep channel, mingling with the Tiber, not far from the main road”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 37: 6-7).

Livy observed bleakly that:

  1. “... the military tribunes drew up the battle line without having established a place for a camp or fortified a rampart to provide for retreat.  They were unmindful of the gods, not to mention men; nor did they take the auspices or obtain favourable omens”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 38: 1).

His description of the ensuing rout again essentially followed that of Diodorus:

  1. “[The Roman soldiers] fled ... almost before they could [even] see the unknown enemy. ... They were not killed as they fought; rather, they were cut down from behind as they struggled among themselves:

  2. There was great slaughter around the Tiber bank where the entire left wing had fled after throwing down their arms.  Many were drowned in the swirling waters ... The greatest number,however, escaped unharmed to Veii. ...

  3. From the right wing, which had taken its stand far from the river and closer to the foot of the mountain, all the men made for Rome and fled into the citadel without even closing the city gates”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 38: 6-10). 

Invasion of Rome

While Diodorus (and Polybius) recorded that the Gauls invaded Rome three days after their victory outside the City, Livy recorded that, as soon as they realised the extent of their victory, they:

  1. “...  set out on the road, reaching the City not much before sunset.  ... [The] cavalry, which had gone ahead, reported that the gates were not closed, there were no guards in front of the gates, and no armed men on the walls, ... Fearing [to fight at night, [given] the unknown layout of the city, they camped between Rome and the Anio.  ... [The Romans within the walls spent the night in terror].   Finally the approaching dawn increased the panic, and [their worst fears  ere confirmed] when the [Gallic] standards were brought to the city gates”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 39: 2-8).

Although Livy had been highly critical of the magistrates lack of foresight and army’s failure to protect the city, he characterised the Romans’ decision to fall back on the Capitol as an indication of their outstanding piety:

  1. “ Since there was no hope of  defending the City with the small force that was left to them, they decided that the men of military age and the able-bodied senators should withdraw to the citadel and Capitol with their wives and children. They were to take arms and grain and o defend gods, men, and the Roman name from that fortified position.

  2. The flamen and Vesta’s priestesses were to remove the State’s sacred objects far from the slaughter and flames, and this cult was not to be abandoned until there was no-one left to tend it.

  3. If at least:

  4. the citadel and the Capitol, the homes of the gods;

  5. the Senate, the source of the State’s counsel; and

  6. the men of military age;

  7. survived the impending destruction of the City, ... the loss of crowd of old men who were left [there] could be borne ... In order that the majority of plebeians would be [better prepared to accept their fate], the old men who had celebrated triumphs and held consulships proclaimed publicly that they would die alongside them, declaring that bodies that could not bear arms or protect the fatherland should not be a burden on the needs of fighting men”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 39: 9-13). 

Livy then returned to the task that had been assigned to the flamen (now identified as the flamen Quirinalis) and the Vestal Virgins, who:

  1. “... without concern for their own possessions, were ... [deciding] which of the sacred objects they should take with them (since they could not carry them all), which they should leave behind, and what place would serve to keep them safe.   They thought it best to hide them in jars and bury them in the shrine near the house of the flamen Quirinalis (where it is now forbidden to spit).  They carried the rest of the things ... [along] the road that leads to the Janiculum by the Sublician Bridge.  A plebeian, L. Albinius, saw them as they were beginning to climb the hill: he was taking his wife and children in a wagon among the others who were leaving the City because they were unfit for war.  Thinking it sacrilegious that the state priestesses and sacred objects of the Roman people should be on foot while he and his family were seen in a vehicle, ... he ordered his wife and children to get down.  Then, placing the virgins and their sacred objects in the wagon, he brought them to Caere, which was the priestesses’ [chosen] destination”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 40: 7-10). 

Appointment of Camillus as Dictator for the Second Time  

While things had been going so badly in Rome, Camillus was still in exile.   However, according to Livy:

  1. “...  Fortune herself brought [part of the Gallic army] to Ardea to experience Roman valour: [unfortunately for them], Camillus was living there in exile, ... Suddenly he heard that the [Gallic band] was approaching and that the panic-stricken Ardeates were debating what to do.   Up to this point, he had kept away from such councils, but now, touched by nothing less than divine inspiration, he pushed into the middle of the assembly (‘History of Rome’, 5: 43: 6-8).

Camillus took control of the situation: he persuaded the Ardeans to join him in a night-time raid on the unsuspecting Gauls:

  1. “ With a mighty war cry, [the Ardeans] rushed upon them.  Nowhere was there any fighting.  Slaughter was everywhere.  Relaxed in sleep, the unarmed [Gauls] were butchered.”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 45: 3).

Meanwhile, at Rome:

  1. “... there was [now] quiet on both sides. T he Gauls were merely intent on seeing that none of the enemy could get through their guard posts, when suddenly, a young Roman attracted the admiration of citizens and enemy: since the Fabii had to make a regular sacrifice on the Quirinal hill, [the otherwise unknown] C. Fabius Dorsuo came down from the Capitol with the sacred vessels in his hands, his toga arranged in the [so-called] Gabinian mode , [as the ritual required].  He went through the enemy guard posts and reached the Quirinal hill, unmoved by any words or threats.  There, he duly performed all the rites and returned the same way, with a similar composure and step, having sufficient trust in the goodwill of the gods, whose worship he would not abandon, even in fear of death.  He [succeeded in reaching] his people on the Capitol, because either the Gauls were dumbfounded by his miraculous audacity or because even they were moved by religious awe (a feeling to which that race is by no means indifferent)”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 46: 1-3).

  2. It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that this anecdote represented an attempt on the part of the Fabii to off-set the opprobrium that arose because of the tradition of the sacrilege of three sons of M. Fabius Ambustus.

  3. More importantly, morale was improving at  Veii:

  4. “Not only were [more] Romans coming in from the countryside ... but volunteers were also appearing from Latium to share in the spoils. ... [to the extent that] it now seemed the time to recover  ... [the City].  But this strong body lacked a head.  [Veii] itself reminded the men there of Camillus, and ... a large number of [them] ... had fought successfully under his leadership and auspices.  Moreover, Caedicius, [whom they had chosed as their commander], had said that he would give neither gods nor men a reason to terminate his power: rather, mindful of his status, he himself would demand the appointment of a commander-in-chief.  They unanimously decided to summon Camillus from Ardea, but only after first consulting the Senate at Rome (to such an extent did respect for [legitimate] procedure guide [their actions ... However, a messenger sent to the Senate would have to take] a great risk ... [in order] to get through the enemy guards”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 46: 3-7).

Diodorus had identified Cominius Pontius as the volunteer from Veii who had scaled the Capitoline cliff in order to alert the Romans besieged there that plans were afoot for their relief.  Livy now assigned the same feat to the same volunteer (whom he called Pontius Cominius), but Pontius now had a different objective: having climbed the cliff:

  1. “He was brought before the magistrates and delivered the army’s message [regarding the army’s desire that Camillus should be appointed as their commander-in-chief].  Then, after receiving the Senate’s decree that the Curiate Assembly should recall Camillus from exile and that he be immediately appointed dictator by order of the people, the messenger descended by the same route and hastened to Veii.  Envoys were sent to Ardea who [perhaps] brought Camillus to Veii: alternatively, as is more credible, he did not set out from Ardea until he had learned that the law had been passed, since he could neither change his residence without the people’s order nor take auspices in the army until he had been named dictator.  A curiate law was duly passed, and Camillus was appointe  dictator in his absence”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 46: 9-11).

Juno’s Sacred Geese

Livy told essentially the same story as Diodorus about the Gauls’ subsequent attempt on the Capitol, except that:

  1. he was unsure whether the Gauls had followed the footprints of Pontius Cominius or had simply:

  2. “... discovered a comparatively easy ascent up the cliff to the temple of Carmentis”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 47: 2);

  3. Diodorus’ Marcus Mallius (a man held in high esteem) was now:

  4. “... M. Manlius, the distinguished soldier, who had been consul three years before”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 47: 4); and

  5. as we shall see, this episode did not immediately lead to negotiations between the besieged Romans and the Gauls.

Payment of the Ransom and Camillus’ Subsequent Intervention

According to Livy, soon after the Gaul’s unsuccessful assault on the Capitol, the Romans there, Camillus:

  1. “... who was conducting his own levy at Ardea, ... ordered his master of the horse, L. Valerius, to bring the army from Veii ... [However], , the army on the Capitol was [by this time] exhausted by guard duty and their constant watch. ... Day after day, they looked out to see whether any help from [Camillus] was apparent.  Finally, when both hope and food were failing , ... [they] ordered the authorities to negotiate either surrender or ransom, since the Gauls had let it be known that they could be induced to raise the siege for no great price.  The Senate duly met and gave the military tribunes the task of arranging the terms.  At a conference between the military tribune Q.Sulpicius and the chieftain Brennus, a deal was made: 1,000 pounds of gold was agreed as the price for [the survival of] the race that was soon to rule the people of the world.  This  appalling disgrace ... [was compounded when] the weights brought by the Gauls were dishonest.  When [Sulpicius] objected, [Brennus] added his sword to the scale, and words intolerable to the Romans were heard,: ‘Vae victis’ (woe to the vanquished)”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 48: 5-9).

It was at this point that Camillus made his first appearance at Rome since his exile:

  1. “ But both gods and men prevented the Romans from living as a ransomed people. By some chance, before the unspeakable payment could be completed, ...  [Camillus] intervened, ordering the gold to be taken away and the Gauls removed.  They argued that they had made an agreement, Camillus denied its validity, since it had been made:

  2. after his appointment as dictator; and

  3. without his sanction, by a magistrate of inferior status.

  4. He then gave the Gauls notice to prepare for battle.   He ordered his own men to ... prepare... to recover their fatherland by the sword rather than by gold. ... The Gauls, alarmed at this new development, took up arms, attacking the Romans more in anger than with good judgment.  But now fortune had turned; now the gods’ help and men’s wisdom were aiding the Roman cause. And so, at the first onset, the Gauls were routed with no greater effort than that with which they had [defeated the Romans]  at the Allia.  Then there was a second, more regular engagement near the 8th milestone on the Gabinian Way ... . Here they were defeated again as a result of the generalship and auspices of the same Camillus.  Everywhere the slaughter was total: their camp was captured and not even a single [Gaul] was left to tell of the disaster. ... [Camillus] returned in triumph to the City and, amid the rough jests of his soldiers, was hailed with sincere praise as a Romulus and as father of

  5. his country and second founder of Rome”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 49: 1-7).

Suet. Tib. 3.2; Iustin. 28.2.4; 38.4.8; 43.5.9


At the lowest point in Roman  fortunes, the Senate resolved that: 

  1. “... the curiate comitia should recall Camillus from exile [at Ardea], and that, as the people commanded, he should immediately be appointed dictator ... envoys were despatched to Camillus at Ardea and ... as I prefer to believe, he did not quit Ardea until he had learnt that the law was passed, since he could not change his residence without the People's command, nor take the auspices in the army till he had been appointed dictator.  [If so, then] the curiate law was passed and Camillus declared dictator, in his absence”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 46: 10-11). 

Meanwhile, according to Livy: 

  1. “... the citadel of Rome and the Capitol were in very great danger [because the Gauls had discovered a path that offered a way that they could ascent without being seen.  However, fortunately for the Romans] they could not elude the vigilance of the geese that, being sacred to Juno, had not been killed [for food].  This was the salvation of them all; for the geese with their gabbling and clapping of their wings woke Marcus Manlius, ... who, catching up his weapons and at the same time calling the rest to arms, strode past his bewildered comrades to a Gaul who had already got a foothold on the crest and dislodged him with a blow from the boss of his shield.  As he slipped and fell, he overturned those who were next to him, and the others in alarm let go their weapons and grasping the rocks to which they had been clinging, were slain by Manlius. And by now the rest had come together and were assailing the invaders with javelins and stones, and presently the whole company lost their footing and were flung down headlong to destruction. ... At dawn the trumpet summoned the soldiers to assemble before the tribunes. Both good conduct and bad had  to be requited. 

  2. First Manlius was praised for his courage and presented with gifts, not only by  the tribunes of the soldiers, but by agreement amongst the troops, who brought each half a pound of spelt and a gill of wine to his house, which stood in the Citadel.  It is a little thing to tell, but the scarcity made it a great token of affection, since everyone robbed himself of his own sustenance and bestowed what he had subtracted from his physical necessities to do honour to one man. 

  3. Then, the watchmen of the cliff that the enemy had scaled without being discovered were called up. Q. Sulpicius, the tribune, announced his intention to punish them all in the military fashion; but deterred by the cries of the soldiers, who united in throwing the blame upon a single sentry, he spared the others.  This man was guilty beyond a doubt, and was flung from the rock with the approval of all. 

  4. From that time the guards on both sides were more alert: the Gauls, because it had been put about that messengers were passing between Veii and Rome, the Romans, from their recollection of the peril of the night”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 47: 1-11). 

While Camillus set about raising an army at Ardea and ordered the master of the horse, L. Valerius, to join him with his army from Veii, the Romans who were still under siege on the Capitol was suffering exhaustion and starvation:

  1. “Day after day, they looked out to see if any relief from the dictator was at hand; but at last even hope, as well as food, beginning to fail them, ... and they declared that they must either surrender or ransom themselves on whatever terms they could make ... Thereupon the Senate met and instructed the tribunes of the soldiers to arrange the terms.  Then, at a conference between Q. Sulpicius the tribune and the Gallic chieftain Brennus, the affair was settled, and 1,000 pounds of gold was agreed on as the price ... The transaction was a foul disgrace in itself, but an insult was added thereto: the weights brought by the Gauls were dishonest and, when the tribune objected, the insolent Gaul added his sword to the weight, ... saying ‘Woe to the conquered’”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 48: 5-9). 

If Livy is to be believed (which is unlikely), Camillus arrived just before the ransom was paid and drove the Gauls down from the Capitol: 

  1. “They afterwards fought a second, more regular engagement, 8 miles out [from Rome] on the Via Gabia, where they had rallied from their flight.  Again the generalship and auspices of Camillus overcame them ...; their camp was taken; and not a man survived to tell of the disaster”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 49: 6). 

According to Livy, Camillus:

  1. “... having recovered his country from her [Gallic] enemies, returned in triumph to the city, ... [where he was hailed] as a Romulus and Father of his Country and a second Founder of the Rome.  He had saved the City in war and then indubitably saved it a second time ... by preventing the [proposed] migration to Veil.  However, the tribunes were more zealous for the plan than ever, now that the City lay in ashes, and the plebs were of themselves more inclined to favour it.  This was the reason of his not resigning the dictatorship after his triumph, for the Senate besought him not to desert the state in its hour of uncertainty”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 49: 7-9). 

Interestingly, it seems that the Augustan grammarian, M. Verrius Flaccus followed a slightly elaborated version of this tradition; according to Aulus Gllius:

  1. “Verrius Flaccus, in the 4th book of his [now-lost] work ‘On the Meaning of Words’, writes that the days immediately following the Kalends, Nones and Ides ... are properly called and considered to be nefasti (ill-omened), for [the following] reason:

  2. ‘When the City had been recovered from the Senonian Gauls, L. Atilius stated in the Senate that, on the eve of fighting against the Gauls at the [river] Allia, Q. Sulpicius, a tribune of the soldiers, offered sacrifice in anticipation of that battle on the day after the Ides.  ... The Roman army was cut to pieces [in the ensuing battle] and, three days later, the whole City, except the Capitol, was taken.  Also many other senators said that they remembered that whenever, while waging war, a magistrate of the Roman people had sacrificed on the day after the Kalends, Nones or Ides, the State had suffered disaster in the very next battle of that war.  Then, the Senate referred the matter to the pontiffs ... , [who] decreed that no offering would properly be made on those days’”, (Attic Nights’, 5: 17: 1-2).

In a passage on the same subject, Macrobius named the month in question:

  1. “... when the military tribune Q.  Sulpicius was preparing to fight the Gauls at the river Allia, he offered sacrifice to insure victory on the day after the Ides of Quintilis [i.e. on 16th July]”, (‘Saturnalia’, 1: 16: 23, translated by Robert Kaster, referenced below, at p. 197).

Rome and Caere 

Among his first acts after his triumph, Camillus secured a decree from the Senate that mandated (inter alia):

  1. “... that the people of Caere should be granted hospitium publicum (a covenant of hospitality) because they had received the holy things of the Roman People and its priests and, thanks to their good offices, worship of the immortal gods had not been interrupted”, (‘History of Rome, 5: 50: 3). 

However, the other surviving sources do not mention Livy’s ‘covenant of hospitality’, but instead record the granting of civitas sine suffragio (citizenship without voting rights): 

  1. According to Strabo (Livy’s contemporary), the Romans:

  2. “... do not seem to have remembered the favour of the Caeretani with sufficient gratitude [after the Gallic sack]: although they gave them the right of citizenship, they did not enrol them among the citizens”, (‘The Geography’, 5: 2: 3). 

  3. According to A. Gellus, who was writing in the 2nd century AD:

  4. “... the people of Caere were the first municipes without the right of suffrage” (‘Attic Nights’, 16: 13: 7). 

Timothy Cornell (referenced below, at pp. 320-1) noted that some scholars privilege Strabo and Gellus over Livy here.  However, he argued that:

  1. “... the case [for doing so] rests on antiquarian and legalistic arguments that make sense only in abstract terms. ... The truth is evidently the other way round: Livy’s version is the correct one ...”

The key here is that, as we shall see, when Caere rebelled against Rome in 353 BC and then relented when the Romans declared war against them, the Romans:

  1. “... chose to forget [a recent] injury [choosing instead to remember  a previous] kindness.  So, peace was granted to the people of Caere, and it was resolved that a truce of 100 years should be made with them and recorded on a tablet of bronze”, (‘History of Rome’, 7: 20: 8).

I find it hard to see how the Romans could have negotiated a truce with a centre that was incorporated into the Roman state.  If this is correct, then Livy’s account of her reward in 389 BC  (i.e. that Rome simply entered into a reciprocal “covenant of hospitality” with Caere) is probably correct (as Cornell argued on other grounds).  Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 1998, at p. 202) suggested that the conflict between Rome and Caere in 274 or 273 BC:

  1. “... provides the most plausible context for the imposition of civitas sine suffragio.”


  1. “While [most of the Romans gave way to panic], the Flamen of Quirinus and the Vestal virgins, without giving a thought to their own property, were deliberating as to which of the sacred things they  [should save] ... They divided amongst themselves [as many of them as they could carry] ... Whilst ascending the Janiculum, they were seen by L. Albinius, a Roman plebeian who ... was leaving the City.  ... He ordered his wife and children to get down, put the virgins and their sacred burden in the wagon, and drove them to Caere, their destination”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 40: 6-10).

Livy also recorded that, when the emergency was over:

  1. “The Romans gave the people of Caere hospitium publicum (public hospitality), because they had sheltered the sacred treasures of Rome and her priests and, by this act of kindness, had prevented any interruption to the divine worship, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 50: 3).

It is possible that Caere had played a greater role in these events:


Diodorus followed his account of the sack of Rome by recording that:

  1. “Those Gauls who had passed into Iapygia [later Apulia] turned back through the territory of the Romans; but, soon thereafter, the Cerii [army of Caere] made a crafty attack on them by night and cut all of them to pieces in the [now-unknown] Trausian Plain”, (‘Library of History’, 14: 117: 7).

Some decades later, Strabo recorded what seems to have been a variant account of this engagement, in which:

  1. “... the Caeretani ... defeated ... those [Gauls] who had captured Rome, having attacked them when they were in the country of the Sabines on their way back [to their settlements in the Po valley].  They also ... [retrieved] what the Romans had willingly given [ the Gauls. ... Furthermore,], they saved all who fled to them for refuge from Rome, as well as the immortal fire and the priestesses of Vesta”, (‘Geography’, 5: 2: 3).

Read more:

Kaster R. A. (translator), “Macrobius: Saturnalia, Vol. I: Books 1-2”, (2011) Cambridge MA

Warrior V. M., “Livy: History of Rome, Books 1–5 (Translated, with Introduction and Notes)”, (2006) Indianapolis IN

Oakley S., “The Early Republic”, in:

  1. Flower H. S., “The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic”, (2004) Cambridge, at pp. 15-30

Oakley S., “A Commentary on Livy, Books VI-X:Volume II: Books VII and VIII”, (1998) Oxford

Oakley S., “A Commentary on Livy, Books VI-X:Volume I: Introduction and Book VI”, 1997 (Oxford)

Cornell T. J., “The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (ca. 1000-264 BC)”, (1995) London and New York

Ogilvie R., “A Commentary on Livy: Books 1-5”, (1965) Oxford

Walbank F., “A Historical Commentary on Polybius: Vol. I, Commentary on Books I-VII”, (1957) Oxford

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