Key to Umbria

Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

Insubres, Boii and Senones

From about the 6th century BC, Gallic tribes began crossing the Alps in a series of migrations from their heartland in modern France and settling in the plain north of the Apennines.  Gareth Sampson (referenced below, at p. 37) pointed out that, while this was happening:

  1. “... Rome had barely expanded beyond Latium, and was thus insulated from contact with them.”

The Romans came to refer to the newly-settled territory as Gallia Cisalpina (Cisalpine Gaul, or Gaul this side of the Alps), to differentiate it from Gallia Transalpina (Transalpine Gaul, or Gaul on the far side of the Alps).

As Tim Cornell (referenced below, at p. 314) pointed out, the best surviving source for the these migrations is Livy , who came from Patavium (Padua) in Cisalpine Gaul and who addressed the question at some length:

  1. “After crossing the Alps ... [the first arrivals] defeated the [Etruscans who were settled here] in battle not far from the river Ticinus.  When they learnt that the country in which they settled had belonged to the Insubres,  ... they accepted the name of the place and built a city, which they called Mediolanum [modern Milan]. ... [A number of tribes followed, including] ... the Boii and [since] all the country between the Po and the Alps was occupied, they crossed the Po on rafts and expelled not on lythe Etruscans the also the Umbrians [who had settled here].  They remained, however, north of the Apennines.  Then the Senones, the last to come, occupied the country from the river Utis to the river Aesis [i.e., the coastal strip east of the Apennines, between the modern cities of Ravenna and Ancona]”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 34:9 -35: 1-3). 

I have extracted the information on the Insubres, the Boii and the Senones from Livy’s longer list because these were the tribes that settled nearest to Rome. 

Gareth Sampson (referenced below, at p. 37) observed that:

  1. “... given that Rome was slowly pushing northwards and the Gauls southwards, contact between [them] was inevitable.  When it did occur [in ca. 390 BC], it ended disastrously for Rome.”

Tim Cornell (referenced below, at pp. 313-4) summarised these traumatic events:

“... a [Gallic] horde from the Po valley crossed the Apennines into northern Etruria.  Advancing southwards down the Tiber valley, they reached the outskirts of Rome, where they defeated a hastily assembled Roman army at the river Allia.  A few days later, they entered the defenceless city and sacked it ... [departing after the payment of] a large payment of gold. ... From the Roman point of view, the event was ... a humiliating disaster.”

Livy recorded that:

  1. “It was [the Senones], I find, that came to [Etruria] and from there to Rome ; but it is uncertain whether they came alone or were helped by contingents from all the Cisalpine peoples, (‘History of Rome, 5: 35: 3-4). 

As we shall see, it was to be a century or more before they could begin to take their revenge.


A group of Italic tribes that were known collectively as the Ligurians occupied the narrow crescent of land around Genua (Genoa) and the mountains above it: their territory might originally have extended as far as Etruscan Pisae (Pisa) in the east and the Greek colony of Massalla (Marseille) in the west.  They were famously well-adapted to their demanding environment: thus, for example, Diodorus Siculus:

  1. “The Ligurians inhabit a land that is stony and altogether wretched, and the life they live is ... a grievous one  ... For [those] ... whose task it is to prepare the ground ... mostly quarry out rocks by reason of the exceeding stoniness of the land; ... it is only by perseverance that they surmount Nature and that ... they gather scanty harvests ... [Through] spending their lives ... on snow-covered mountains, where they are used to traversing unbelievably rugged places, they become vigorous and muscular of body ... [and] possess the vigour and might of ... of wild beasts.  Indeed, they say that, often in campaigns, a quite slender Ligurian has slain the mightiest warrior among the Gauls ... They are venturesome and of noble spirit, not only in war, but in those circumstances of life that offer terrifying hardships or perils.  As traders, for instance, they sail over the Sardinian and Libyan seas, readily casting themselves into dangers for which they are ill-equipped; for, although ] their vessels are more cheaply fashioned than make-shift boats and their equipment is the minimum of that usual on ships, yet, to one's astonishment and terror, they will face the most fearful conditions that storms create”, (‘Library of History’, 5:39).

Unsurprisingly, they were equally famous for supplementing their incomes by warlike and piratical pursuits.  Thus, they first appear in recorded history in 480 BC, as mercenaries in a Carthaginian army fighting in Sicily in a campaign described by Herodotus:

  1. “... Terillus, son of Crinippus, the tyrant ..., who had been expelled from [the Greek colony of] Himera  ... , at this very time [invaded] with 300,000 Carthaginians, Libyans, Iberians, Ligurians, Elisyci, Sardinians, and Corsicans led by [King Hamilcar I of Carthage]”, (‘Histories’, 7: 165).

The Romans (as we shall see) first attempted to pacify the Ligurians in 238 BC.  However, as Gareth Sampson (referenced below, at p. 53) observed:

  1. “Unlike [that of] the Boii and the other tribes of the Po valley, their terrain was mountainous and favoured guerrilla warfare rather than set piece battles.”

Strabo captured the strategic importance of their territory alongside the difficulties it presented to the Romans, who conquered the Ligurians:

  1. “... only after carrying on war with ... [them] for a long time, because [they] had barred all the passes leading to Iberia that ran through the [Tyrrhenian] seaboard.  And, in fact, they kept making raids, both by land and sea, and were so powerful that the road was scarcely practicable even for great armies.  And it was not until the 80th year of the war that the Romans succeeded, though only with difficulty, in opening up the road for a breadth of only 12 stadia to those travelling on public business”, (‘Geography’, 4: 6: 3).

Conquest of the Senones (283 BC)

Gallic tribes seem to have started crossing the Alps in the 4th century BC: according to Gareth Sampson (referenced below, at p. 36):

  1. “The last [of these to arrive] seems to have been the Senones, who pushed deeper into Italy than [the earlier immigrants] and settled to the east of the Apennines, between the mountains and the coast.”

The Romans’ penetration of these lands started in 283 BC, when they defeated the Senones and confiscated their land, which was thereafter known as the ager Gallicus (as marked on the map above, to the lower right).  The conquest of this territory is discussed in the page ‘Prefectures: Ager Gallicus’ (see the link in the box above).

Boii and Insubres (268- 36 BC)

Apart from the Senones, the most important tribes of Cisalpine Gaul for our purposes were the Boii and the Insubres, who had settled the valley of the Padus (Po). 

Foundation of the Colony of Ariminum (268 BC)

The Romans founded the Latin colony of Ariminum (Rimini) in 268 BC on land, at the northern extreme of the ager Gallicus that (as we shall see) was claimed by the Boii.  It is probably significant that this was the year in which they conquered the people of Picenum.  Stephen Dyson (referenced below, at p. 27) characterised the foundation of this colony as:

  1. “... a turning point in Romano-Gallic relations: previously, the Romans and the largest Gallic tribes had had only indirect frontier contacts, but now the Romans had moved several thousand settlers into territory that the Gauls had considered as their own for [at least] a century.”

Nevertheless, it was to be another 30 years before this Roman initiative led to war.

Rome’s War with the Boii (238-236 BC)

According to Zonaras (‘Epitome of Cassius Dio’, 8:18), this war extended over three consular years:

  1. In 238 BC:

  2. “... the Romans again waged war upon the Boii and upon the Gauls who were [their] neighbours ... [The consul Publius Valerius Falto] was at first defeated, but later, learning that troops had come from Rome to his assistance, he renewed the struggle with the enemy, determined either to conquer by his own exertions or to die ...  and, by some good fortune or other, he gained the victory.

  3. In 237 BC:

  4. [The consuls Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Caudinus and Quintus Fulvius Flaccus] made a campaign against the Gauls; and as long as they remained together, they were invincible, but when they began to pillage districts separately, with the purpose of securing greater booty, the army of Flaccus became imperilled, being surrounded by night.   For the time the barbarians were beaten back but, after gaining accessions of allies, they proceeded anew with a huge force against the Romans.

  5. In 236 BC:

  6. When confronted by [the consuls Publius Cornelius Lentulus Caudinus and Caius Licinius Varus, the Boii] hoped to terrify them by their numbers and prevail without a battle.  So they sent [envoys to them, who] demanded back the land surrounding Ariminum and commanded the Romans to vacate the city, since it belonged to them  The consuls, because of the small number [of their soldiers], did not dare to risk a battle: [however,] neither would they undertake to abandon any territory.  Accordingly, they arranged an armistice that enabled the Gauls to send envoys to Rome.  These [envoys] came before the Senate with the same demands, but obtained no satisfaction, and returned to their camp.  There, they found their cause was lost: some of their allies had repented and, regarding the Romans with fear, had turned upon the Boii, so that  many were killed on both sides.  Thereupon the remainder went home, and the Boii obtained peace [from Rome only] at the price of a large portion of their land” (‘Epitome’, 8:18).

It seems that the net result of these engagements was that the Romans acquired further territory from the Boii, at least some of which presumably created a buffer zone around Ariminum.

Rome’s War with the Ligurians (238-233 BC)

According to Zonaras (‘Epitome of Cassius Dio’, 8:18), while Publius Valerius Falto campaigned against the Boii in 238 BC (above), his consular colleague, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus harried the Ligurians.  A portentous remark in the ‘Periochae’ (summary) of Book 20 of Livy’s ‘History of Rome’, relates to this engagement:

  1. “For the first time, a [Roman] army was sent out against the Ligurians.” 

Stephen Dyson (referenced below, at pp. 94) asserted that this war was a direct consequence of Rome’s victory in the First Punic War, when:

“Rome had not only established

Gallic War (225-2 BC)

Movement of the Roman and Gallic armies in 225 BC

Red = Romans; Blue = Gauls

Adapted from the map in this webpage by Karwansaray Publishers 

Battle of Telamon (225 BC)

Tensions seem to have come to a head again in 231 BC, when, according to Polybius:

  1. “... the two most extensive [Gallic tribes in northern Italy], the Insubres and Boii, joined in the despatch of messengers to the [Gallic] tribes living across the Alps and on the Rhone, who ... are called Gaesatae.  To their kings, ... they offered a large sum of gold on the spot; and, for the future, pointed out to them the greatness of the wealth ... that they would possess if they took Rome.  These attempts to ... induce [the Gaesatae] to join the expedition ... succeeded ..., [to the extent] that a larger host had never before [threatened Rome] from that part of Gaul ...  Meanwhile, the Romans, informed of what was coming, ... were in such a state of constant alarm ... that they hurriedly enrolled legions, collected supplies, and sent out their forces to the frontier, as though the enemy were already in their territory, even before the Gauls had stirred from their own lands”, (‘Histories’, 2:22).

In fact, the dreaded invasion came only in 225 AD: one of the consuls, Gaius Atilius Regulus, was campaigning in Sardinia when hostilities began, but his colleague, Lucius Aemilius Papus was stationed at Ariminum. presumably because this was the route that the Gauls were expected to take.  However, they instead crossed the Apennines towards Etruria, and reached Clusium before the small Roman contingent that was supposed to have defended against this possibility could catch up with them.  Aemilius managed to reach Clusium in time to avert defeat, and the Gauls fell back on the coastal centre of Telamon, with Aemilius in pursuit.  Atilius, who had by then landed at Pisae, marched south along the coast to join the fray.  (These troop movements are marked on the map above).

The Gauls were comprehensively defeated in the ensuinng battle: unfortunately, Atilius was killed in the battle, so the Fasti Triumphales record that only Aemilius was awarded a triumph agianst the Gauls.  According to Polybius:

  1. “Lucius Aemilius, the surviving consul, collected the spoils of the slain [at Telamon] and sent them to Rome ... Then, taking command of the legions, he marched along the frontier of [the territory of the Italic tribe of the Ligurians], and made a raid upon the territory of the Boii; and having satisfied the desires of the legions with plunder, he returned with his forces to Rome ... There he adorned the Capitol with the captured standards and necklaces, which are gold chains worn by the Gauls round their necks; but the rest of the spoils, and the captives, he converted to the benefit of his own estate and to the adornment of his triumph.  Thus was the most formidable [Gallic] invasion repelled ...”, (‘Histories’, 2:31: 3-4).

Reprisals against the Boii and Insubres (224-2 BC)

Polybius continued:

  1. “The victory [at Telamon and the successful reprisals against the Boii] inspired the Romans with a hope that they might be able to entirely expel the [Insubres] from the valley of the Padus [Po].  Accordingly the consuls of the next year, Quintus Fulvius Flaccus and Titus Manlius Torquatus, were both sent out with their legions ... against them.  By a rapid attack they terrified the Boii into making submission to Rome; but the campaign had no other practical effect, because ... there was [then] a season of excessive rains and an outbreak of pestilence in the army”, (‘Histories’, 2:31: 4).

According to Arthur Eckstein (referenced below, at p. 15):

  1. “Few details of the Boian submission to Rome [in 224C] are available to us.  Apparently, the consuls exacted an ... absolute surrender and demanded hostages as assurances for future good behaviour.  [It was probably at this point that the Boii were] forced to give the Romans certain territory in the northwest corner of their lands for the Latin colony of Placentia [founded in 218 BC, see below].  ... Especially when one considers the leading role of the Boii in the invasion of 225 BC, ... this seems a moderate settlement ... : their freedom of action was somewhat hindered by Roman possession of Boian hostages, but they were still left ... in possession of most of their land.”

The consuls of 223 BC, Caius Flaminius and Publius Furius Philus, inflicted a serious defeat on the Insubres in the Po valley: the Fasti Triumphales record that both consuls were awarded triumphs (Flaminius against the Gauls and Furius against both the Gauls and the Ligurians).  The Insubrians’ seem to have sought peace, but the Romans refused and the consuls for the following year, Marcus Claudius Marcellus and Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus, pressed on to total victory.  Thus Zonarus:

  1. “At first the consuls carried on the war together and were mostly victorious; but soon, learning that the allied territory was being plundered, they separated their forces.

  2. Marcellus made a quick march against those plundering the land of the allies, but found them no longer there; he then pursued them as they fled, and when they made a stand, overcame them.

  3. Scipio remained where he was and proceeded to besiege Acerrae; upon taking it, he made it a base for the war, since it was favourably placed and well walled. 

  4. And setting out from that point, they subdued Mediolanum [Milan] and another [unnamed] town.  After these had been captured, the rest of the Insubres also made terms with [the consuls], giving them money and a portion of their land”, (‘Epitome’, 8: 20).

Plutarch recorded that, after the consuls separated, Marcellus’ victory took place at Clastidium (modern Casteggio, some 55 km south of Milan), where he killed “Britomartus, king of the Gauls”.  He then rejoined Scipio, who was apparently hard pressed outside Mediolanum:

  1. “But when Marcellus came up, and when the [Insubres], on learning of the defeat and death of their king, withdrew and Mediolanum was taken.  The [Insubres then] surrendered the rest of their cities and put themselves entirely at the disposition of the Romans.  They obtained peace on equitable terms”, (‘Life of Marcellus’), 7). 

Arthur Eckstein (referenced below, at p. 15, note 46) suggested that it was at this point that the Romans acquired the land for the Latin colony of Cremona, founded (like Placentia) in 218 BC.  He noted (at p. 18) that, more generally, this was a relatively modest settlement, which left the Insubres in possession of most of their land. 

Plutarch finished his account as follows:

  1. “The Senate decreed a triumph to Marcellus alone, his triumphal procession was seldom equalled in its splendour, wealth and spoils, and captives of gigantic size; but besides this, the most agreeable and the rarest spectacle of all was afforded when Marcellus himself carried to the god the armour of the barbarian king [whom he had killed in combat]”, (‘Life of Marcellus’), 8). 

The Fasti Triumphales record Marcellus’ triumph over the Insubrian Gauls and the ‘Germans’, adding that he brought back the spolia opima after killing the enemy leader, Virdumarus, at Clastidium.

Immediate Aftermath

Latin colonies: Ariminum (268 BC); Placentia and Cremona (218 BC)

Start of Via Flaminia (22o BC) shown in blue

Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

Rachel Feig Vishnia (reference below, 1996, at pp. 23-4) commented:

  1. “In 222 BC, after  a decisive victory at Clastidium and the capture of Mediolanum ... [as described above], the task [of pacifying the Boii and Insubres] was [apparently] completed.  Soon after, the Romans installed the symbols of Roman rule in the region:

  2. in 220-19 BC, the Via Flaminia connecting Rome with Ariminum was constructed [by the censor Caius Flaminius]; and

  3. in 219-8 BC, two Latin colonies were founded on land confiscated from the Boii [and the Insubres ?]: Placentia and Cremona, both important river ports situated on strategic sites on the Po. 

  4. On the eve of the Second Punic War, Rome had just barely begun to consolidate her newly acquired domains.  Hannibal’s impressive advance in Spain during 221-20 BC ... [does]  not seem to have concerned Rome significantly.”

It seems that the Romans thought that their ability to support Ariminum directly from Rome, together with their foundation of the two new colonies to the west, would easily allow them to defend their new northern border.  As we shall see, the flaws in this assessment were soon to be revealed.

Second Punic War (218 - 201 BC) 

Boian Revolt (218 BC)

Polybius described a change in mood at Rome in 218 BC as Hannibal’s intentions became manifest:

  1. “And while the consuls were engaged in  ... the enrolment of their legions and other military preparations [against Hannibal’s expected march across the Alps], the people were active in bringing to completion the colonies that they had already voted to send into [Cisalpine] Gaul.  They accordingly caused the fortification of these towns to be energetically pushed on, and ordered the colonists (6,000 having been assigned to each colony) to be in residence within 30 days:

  2. one of these colonies was on the south bank of the Padus, and was called Placentia;

  3. the other, on the north bank, was called Cremona.

  4. But, no sooner had these colonies been formed than the Boii, ... [who were] encouraged by the news that reached them of Hannibal's approach, revolted, thus abandoning the hostages that they had given [to the Romans] at the end of the war [of 224 BC].  The ill-feeling still remaining towards Rome enabled them to induce the Insubres to join in the revolt, and the united tribes swept over the territory recently allotted by the Romans:  following close upon the track of the flying colonists, [they] laid siege to ... Mutina [modern Modena], in which the fugitives had taken refuge.  Among them were the ... three commissioners who had been sent out to allot the [colonial] lands; of whom one, Gaius Lutatius, was an ex-consul [while] the other two [were]  ex-praetors.  [When] these men ... demanded a parley ... , the Boii consented, but treacherously seized them upon their leaving the town, hoping [to exchange them for] their own hostages.  The praetor Lucius Manlius was on guard in the district with an army; and as soon as he heard what had happened, he advanced with all speed to the relief of Mutina.  But the Boii, having received intelligence of his approach, prepared an ambush and ... killed a large number of his men.  The survivors at first fled ... : but having gained some higher ground, they rallied sufficiently to enable them with much difficulty to effect an honourable retreat.  Even so, the Boii followed close upon their heels, and besieged them in a ... village called [Tannetum].  When the news arrived at Rome that the 4th legion was surrounded and closely besieged by the Boii, the people, in all haste, despatched the legions that had been voted to the consul [Publius Cornelius Scipio should instead be sent to its relief] under the command of a praetor:  they ordered [Scipio] to enrol two more legions for himself from the allies”, (‘Histories’. 3:40). 

Polybius (above) had designated Mutina as a Roman colony, but Edward Salmon (referenced below, at p, 177, note 94) pointed out that it must have been simply a Roman garrison at early date.  According to Livy:

  1. “When the news of this sudden insurrection was brought to Rome, [the Senate] commanded Gaius Atilius, the praetor, to take one Roman legion and 5,000 of the allies (a force that [Scipio] had just levied) and proceed to the relief of Manlius [and the 7th legion].  Atilius reached Tannetum without any fighting, for the enemy had retired in alarm”, (‘History of Rome’, 21: 26: 1-2)

Arthur Eckstein (referenced below, at p. 27) suggested that Atilius was probably able to end the siege of Mutina, allowing the scattered colonists to return home.  

Thus, on the eve of the Second Punic War, the Romans’ vulnerability in Cisalpine Gaul was laid bare: we find them in tenuous control of only a narrow strip of territory that had once belonged to the Boii, which extended along the northern slopes of the Apennines from Ariminum, via Mutina to Placentia, as well as Cremona on the other side of the Padus, which had recently been confiscated from the Insubres.

Hannibal’s March into Italy (218 -7 BC)

Romans defeated on the Ticinus and on the Trebbia (218 BC)

Adapted from a map in the website ‘Indian Defence

The consuls of 218 BC, Publius Cornelius Scipio (the father of Scipio Africanus) and Tiberius Sempronius Longus were given the provinces of Spain and Africa respectively.  Scipio, who was en route for his province when news of Hannibal’s intentions became clear, hurriedly returned to Pisae and marched towards Placentia to take command of the Roman armies in this theatre.  Hannibal duly crossed the Alps into Italy in the winter of 218 BC and secured the allegiance of the Insubres:

  1. In November, he  confronted the Romans under Scipio on the Ticinus river.  He had the best of the fighting, but the Romans were able to retreat to Placentia, taking the wounded Scipio with them.

  2. Sempronius, who had also been called back to Italy, landed at Ariminum and joined forces with Scipio.  The local Gallic people seem to have been subject to Carthaginian looting, and Sempronius engaged with the raiders in order to win their support, but Hannibal drew this  army into an ambush between the Trebbia and the Po.  Hannibal had the best of things, but Sempronius was able to fall back on Placentia.

Thus the Romans hard-won control of  the Po valley had yielded only disappointing results.

Red line: probable route of Hannibal’s march to Lake Trasimene (217 BC)

Blue line: Via Flaminia

Adapted from a map in the website ‘Indian Defence

This was the position when the consuls of 217 BC, Caius Flaminius (the builder of Via Flaminia) and Gnaeus Servilius Geminus, took office.  The task now was to defend Hannibal’s likely routes towards Rome.  Like the Gallic army of 225 BC, he had essentially two possible routes across the Apennines:

  1. through the pass that led to Etruria (as in 225 BC); or

  2. along the Adriatic coast. 

Thus the Romans planned a two-centred defence:

  1. Flaminius took control of the army at Placentia and established a base at Arretium (modern Arezzo, in Etruria); and

  2. Servilius established his base at Ariminum.

Hannibal, who  chose to march into Etruria rather than to take the Adriatic route south, marched past Arretium and Clusium before Flaminius even realised what was happening.  When Flaminius belatedly marched after him, Hannibal ambushed him on the shores of Lake Trasimene.  Within a matter of a few hours, Flaminius and most of his army were dead.  Worse still, an army that Servilius had sent to his aid was destroyed soon thereafter, following which Servilius himself was recalled to Rome.  The theatre of war was now to the south, but so too was the Roman army, and the non-serving colonists at Placentia and Mutina were now on their own.

Ambush at Mutina (215 BC)

Stephen Dyson (referenced below, at p. 14) observed that, after these stunning victories, Hannibal:

  1. “... marched south, leaving the Romans an uneasy peace in the ager Gallicus [and the Po valley].  This shaky truce was shattered by [Hannibal’s victory] at Cannae [in Apulia in southern Italy, in 216 BC].  In 215 BC, the consul designate, Lucius Postumius Albinus, was ambushed and slain at Mutina and his army was largely destroyed.”

Livy recorded that, soon after the defeat at Cannae:

  1. “... a fresh disaster was announced, for Fortune was heaping one disaster upon another this year.  It was reported that L. Postumius, the consul elect, and his army had been annihilated in Gaul. ... Hardly ten men escaped ...:  ... Postumius fell whilst fighting most desperately to avoid capture.  The Boii stripped the body of its spoils, cut off the head, and bore them in triumph to the most sacred of their temples.  According to their custom, they cleaned out the skull and covered the scalp with beaten gold; it was then used as a vessel for libations and also as a drinking cup for the priest and ministers of the temple.  The plunder, too, which the Gauls secured was as great as their victory ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 23: 24: 6-13).

He also recorded the hysterical reaction in Rome, which was only calmed when the surviving consul:

  1. “... Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus ... convened the Senate and addressed them in a consolatory and encouraging tone, [saying]: ‘We, who were not crushed by the overthrow at Cannae, must not lose heart at smaller calamities [like that at Mutina].  If we are successful  in our operations against Hannibal and the Carthaginians, as I trust we shall be, we can safely leave the war with the Gauls out of account for the present; the gods and the Roman people will have it in their power to avenge that act of treachery [after Hannibal is defeated]’”, (‘History of Rome’, 23: 25: 2-3).

It is unlikely that this sentiment brought reassurance to the Romans to the settlers in the Po valley: as Stephen Dyson observed (at p. 14):

  1. “The Romans, their resources strained by recent disasters, were [manifestly] unable to respond to this defeat.  The level of [their] control in the area during this crucial phase of the Second Punic War must have been minimal.”

Hasdrubal’s Invasion (207 BC)

By 208 BC, Hannibal’s Italian campaign was running out of steam, and he was essentially confined to Bruttium and Lucania in southernmost Italy.  However, his fortunes temporarily improved in that year, when both consuls, Marcus Claudius Marcellus and  Titus Quinctius Crispinus, were killed in a Carthaginian ambush near the Roman colony of Venusia.  Furthermore, the Romans became aware that Hannibal’s brother, Hasdural, was planning to invade Italy and come to his aid.  Thus, according to Livy:

  1. “Inasmuch as a very dangerous year seemed impending, and the state had no consuls, everyone turned to the consuls-elect [Gaius Claudius Nero and Marcus Livius Drusus Salinator] and wished that as soon as possible they should cast lots for their provinces ... The provinces assigned to them were not locally indistinguishable, as in the preceding years, but separated by the whole length of Italy:

  2. to [Claudius Nero] was assigned the land of the Bruttii and Lucania facing Hannibal; and

  3. to [Livius Salinator, Cisalpine] Gaul, facing Hasdrubal, who was reported to be already nearing the Alps”, (‘History of Rome’, 27: 35: 5-10).

The aim of the consuls was to prevent Hannibal and Hasdrubal from joining forces at any cost.

Hasdrubal duly arrived in the Po valley and attempted the siege of Placentia, from whence he sent letters to Hannibal proposing that they should meet in Umbria.  This might have been a diversionary action: the letters were intercepted, as perhaps was the intention,  and Hasdrubal did not cross the Apennines but headed directly for the Adriatic.  Livy recorded that:

  1. “[Livius Salinator’s] camp was near Sena [Gallica], and about 500 paces away was Hasdrubal”, (‘History of Rome’, 27: 46: 4).

Moreover, Claudius Nero assembled a detachment that he led in secret on a forced march of some 250 miles, in order to secretly reinforce the army at Sena Gallica.  Hasdrubal saw through the ruse and marched north during darkness as far as the Metaurus river, before turning inland in search of a ford.  However, the Roman army caught up with him before he could find a crossing.  The site of the subsequent battle is uncertain, although the result is not: with his cause lost, Hasdrubal decided to die fighting, and most of his men met the same fate.  According to Livy:

  1. “... when word was brought to Livius, ... that the Cisalpine Gauls and Ligurians, who either had not been present in the battle or had escaped in the midst of the carnage, were moving away [in disarray] ... , so that they would all be wiped out if a single regiment of cavalry should be sent [against them], he replied: ‘No! let there be some survivors, to carry the news both of the enemy's disaster and of our valour’”, (‘History of Rome’, 27: 49: 4-9).

An indication of the result of  events since Hannibal’s arrival in Italy came in 206 BC, when, according to Livy, the Senate received:

  1. “ ... deputations from Placentia and Cremona, who came to complain of the invasion and wasting of their country by their neighbours, the Gauls.   They reported that a large proportion of their settlers had disappeared, their cities were almost without inhabitants, and the countryside was a deserted wilderness.  The praetor Mamilius was charged with the defence of these colonies; the consuls, acting on a resolution of the Senate, published an edict requiring all those who were citizens of Cremona and Placentia to return to their homes before a certain day”, (‘History of Rome’, 28: 11: 8-12).

We have no record of the results of this action, but the security situation in the Po valley was about to deteriorate further.

Mago’s Invasion (205 -3 BC)

Livy recorded that, in 205 BC, as Scipio Africanus prepared the base on Sicily for an invasion of Carthage, Mago, another of Hannibal’s brothers, arrived with an army in a fleet of 30 warships that managed to land, unopposed, at the Roman base at Genua (modern Genoa, on the Ligurian coast).  According to Livy:

  1. “His army grew in numbers every day; the Gauls, drawn by the spell of his name, flocked to him from all parts [and]... the Senate was filled with the gravest apprehensions.  It seemed as though the joy with which they had heard of the destruction of Hasdrubal and his army two years before would be completely stultified by the outbreak of a fresh war in the same quarter, quite as serious as the former one, the only difference being in the commander.   They sent orders to the proconsul M. Livius to move the army of Etruria up to Ariminum ... [and] M. Valerius Laevinus led [another army] to Arretium”, (‘History of Rome’, 28: 46: 6-9).

Mago remained in Liguria until 203 BC, when he marched into the Po valley to confront four Roman legions from Ariminum.  In the battle that followed (in an unknown location), the Romans gained an advantage.  Livy recorded that:

  1. “As long as Mago kept his station in front, his men retreated slowly and in good order.  However, when they saw him fall, seriously wounded and carried almost fainting from the field, there was a general flight.  The losses of the enemy amounted to 5,000 men, and 22 standards were taken.  The victory was a far from bloodless one for the Romans: they lost 2,300 men, ...  The battle would have lasted longer had not Mago's wound given the Romans the victory”, (‘History of Rome’, 30: 18: 13-5).

Mago and the remnants of his armymanaged to retreat to the coast.  By that time, Mago (like Hannibal, who was still in southern Italy) had received orders to return to Carthage in anticipation of Scipio’s invasion, but he died of his wounds while still at sea. 

The war in Italy was over, and total victory followed with Scipio’s victory at Carthage itself in 201 BC.

Hamilcar in Cisalpine Gaul (200 - 197 (?) BC)

Hamilcar was a Carthaginian general, who had served under Hasdrubal and/or Mago [above] and had remained in Italy, apparently as a free-lance thorn in the Roman side. As we shall see, Livy’s sources had him alternatively killed in 200 BC or captured and taken to Rome in 197 BC. 

Livy recorded that, in 200 BC:

  1. “... rumours suddenly arose of an outbreak of the Gauls, the last thing that was expected.  The Insubres and Cenomani, in conjunction with the Boii, ... had taken up arms under Hamilcar ... They had stormed and sacked Placentia and ... destroyed most of the city by fire, leaving hardly 2,000 men  amid the smoking ruins.  Thence, crossing the Po, they advanced with the intention of sacking Cremona [apparently taking the 2,000 survivors from Placentia with them as prisoners].  Hearing of the disaster that had overtaken their neighbours, the townsmen [at Cremona] had time to close their gates and man their walls ... Lucius Furius Purpurio, the governor of the province, had discharged [most] of his army by order of the Senate, retaining only 5,000 [men]; with these troops he was encamped in the vicinity of Ariminum, in the part of the province nearest Rome.  He thereupon sent a message to the Senate [requesting reinforcement]”, (‘History of Rome, 31: 10: 2-18).

When these reinforcements arrived:

  1. “... Lucius Furius proceeded by forced march from Ariminum against the Gauls who were still besieging Cremona ... [After a hard-fought battle,] the Gauls, suffering heavy losses in every quarter, suddenly broke and in complete rout fled to their camp [which the Romans attacked]. ... Less than 6,000 Gauls escaped; more than 35,000 were killed or captured ... Hamilcar, the Carthaginian general, and three noble Gallic commanders fell in the battle. About 2,000 captives from Placentia were recovered and restored to the colonists”, (‘History of Rome, 31: 21: 1-6).

Despite the outrage of the consul, Gaius Aurelius Cotta, who argued that Furius had acted without his authority:

  1. “Lucius Furius, the praetor, triumphed over the Gauls while still in office and deposited in the treasury 320,000 asses of bronze, and 100, 500 pieces of silver.  There were [however] no captives led before his chariot, no spoils displayed, no soldiers in his train: everything but the victory was in possession of the consul”, (‘History of Rome’, 31: 49: 2-4).

There was further fighting in the area in 199 BC, but Livy noted that the consul of 198 BC Sextus Aelius Paetus Catus, who was responsible for this theatre:

  1. “... accomplished nothing worth remark. ... he spent almost the whole year in compelling the people of Cremona and Placentia to return to the colonies, whence they had been driven by the mishaps of war. ... Gaul was unexpectedly quiet that year ...”, (‘History of Rome, 32: 26: 1-4).

When Gaius Cornelius Cethegus and Quintus Minucius Rufus were elected as consuls for that year, it was at first assumed that one would be given the province of Macedonia and the other Italy.  However, probably because Titus Quinctius Flamininus, one of the out-going consuls, wanted to retain the Macedonian command, the Senate:

  1. “...  voted that both [incoming] consuls should have Italy as province, and prolonged the term of Titus Quinctius until a successor, authorised by decree of the Senate, should have arrived.  To the consuls, two legions each were assigned, and the task of prosecuting the war with the Cisalpine Gauls who had revolted against the Roman people”, (‘History of Rome’, 32: 28: 8-9).

Livy then recorded (32: 29: 5) that Cornelius took the direct road (presumably Via Flaminia)  towards the Insubres while Mincius marched on Liguria, and having taken surrenders there, moved on to the territory of the Boii.  Each claimed success in his respective theatre: 

  1. The Fasti Triumphales record that, in 197 BC, Minucius celebrated a triumph

  2. “ ... over the G[auls and the Ligurians, on the] Alban [Mount, ...]

  3. Livy explained the reason for the form of this celebration:

  4. “Quintus Minucius, simply offering a motion when he saw the whole Senate opposed to him, declared that he would celebrate his triumph on the Alban Mount, both by virtue of his consular imperium and with the precedent of many distinguished men. ... [He] triumphed over the Ligures and Gallic Boi on the Alban Mount.  This triumph was of lesser note because of the place where it was held, the gossip about his exploits, and because all knew that the cost of it was taken, not duly requisitioned, from the treasury, ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 33: 23: 3-8) .

  5. Unfortunately, the entry in the Fasti Triumphales  prior to that of Minucius is lost, and the only surviving account of a triumph in the same year awarded to Cornelius is that of Livy:

  6. “Gaius Cornelius was granted a triumph with the consent of all.  The people of Placentia and Cremona contributed to the applause given the consul, expressing their gratitude to him and testifying that they had been freed by him from the peril of siege, and many even that they had been rescued from slavery after they had been prisoners in the hands of the enemy. ... while still in office, [he had] triumphed over the Insubres and Cenomani.  In the procession, many standards were displayed, much Gallic spoil was carried in captured carts, many noble Gauls were led before his chariot.  Some say that Hamilcar, the Carthaginian general was among them;  but what especially attracted attention was the throng of colonists of Cremona and Placentia, following his car with caps of liberty upon their heads.  He carried in the triumph 237,000 asses of bronze, and 79,000 pieces of silver; his gifts to the soldiers were 70 asses of bronze each, twice that amount to each centurion and thrice to each cavalryman”, (‘History of Rome, 33: 23: 1-7) . 

  7. This record is problematic, not least because it records that the people of Placentia and Cremona attributed the raising of the siege at Cremona and the capture of Hamilcar to Cornelius in 197 BC rather than to Furius in 200 BC.   Livy was obviously reluctant to accept the second of these assertions.  Nevertheless, as T. James Luce (referenced below, at p. 130) pointed out, it seems that similar details had been reproduced in an elogium to Cornelius in the Forum Augustum.  He observed that:

  8. “[Cornelius’ career] was a creditable [one], to be sure, but it is difficult to believe that Livy’s brief account prompted Augustus to [include him among the men commemorated in the Forum Augustum].”

  9. It seems to me to be more likely that both Livy and Augustus were misled by an embellished account of these events  that had been put into circulation by Cornelius’ descendants. 

In short, it seems to me that the raising of the siege of Cremona and the death of Hamilcar took place in 200 BC.  It is, however, likely that Cornelius was awarded a triumph over the Insubres and Cenomani in 197 BC. 

As Stephen Dyson (referenced below, at p. 36) observed:

  1. “The defeat of Hamilcar ... did not solve the Gallic problem ...; [nor did it] restore frontier stability.  In many ways, the work of the 220s had been undone [in the period 218-197 BC].  ... It would take six more years to reverse this situation and once more make [the Romans’]   hold on the Po secure.”

Conquest of Cisalpine Gaul (196-1 BC) 

Lucius Furius Purpureo, the triumphant praetor of 200 BC (above), was elected consul in 196 BC, together with Marcus Claudius Marcellus, the eponymous son of the consul who had triumphed in Gaul in 222 BC.  Both consuls were sent into Gaul.  Marcellus defeated the Insubres, but faced some sort of setback against the Boii.  The consuls then united their forces and:

  1. “... penetrated first the Boian territory as far as Felsina, plundering as they went.  This city and all the forts in the neighbourhood and all the Boi surrendered, except the men of military age, who were in arms in the hope of plunder: they had at this time retired into the pathless forests.  The[Roman] army was then led against the Ligures, and the Boi [i.e those that  had not surrendered] followed [them] by secret paths ... they encountered the Roman column along the edges of the Ligurian territory.  A battle began ... the Romans fought with so much greater desire for slaughter than for victory that they left the enemy hardly a messenger to tell of the defeat  By reason of these achievements, when the letters of the consuls were received in Rome, the Senate decreed a thanksgiving of three days.  A little later the consul Marcellus arrived in Rome, and was voted a triumph with the complete agreement of the senators: still in office, he triumphed over the Ligures and Comenses.  He left the hope of a triumph over the Boii to his colleague, because he personally had suffered defeat at the hands of that people, but had been victorious when associated with his colleague”, (‘History of Rome, 33: 37: 3-10) .   

In fact, the Fasti Triumphales record that Marcellus was awarded a triumph over the Insubrian Gauls, but no mention is made of a triumph awarded to Furius.

Although the Boii had lost their centre of operations at Felsina (later Bononia, modern Bologna), they remained in the fight.  Thus, neither the consul Lucius Valerius Flaccus (in 195 BC), nor his successor, Tiberius Sempronius Longus (in 194 BC), was able to make decisive progress in pacifying them.  Indeed, the latter found himself defending his camp against a sustained Boian attack.  According to Livy:

  1. “... there were varied fortunes on both sides, now defeat and now victory; yet about 11,000 of the Gauls fell and 5,000 of the Romans. The Gauls [then] retired into the interior of their country, while [Sempronius] led his legions to Placentia”, (‘History of Rome, 34: 47: 7-8). 

However, Valerius Flaccus, who remained in Cisalpine Gaul as proconsul, had more success against the Insubres: according to Livy:

  1. “ ...  in the vicinity of Mediolanum, [he] fought a pitched battle with the Insubrian Gauls and the Boii, who, led by Dorulatus, had crossed the Padus   to rouse the Insubres to arms, and defeated them.  10,000 of the enemy fell” (‘History of Rome’. 34: 46: 2).

They seem to have entered into a formal alliance with Rome at this time, to which Cicero probably refereed in this passage:

  1. “But some treaties are in existence, as for instance those with ... the Insubres, ..., in which there is a special exception made that no one of them is to be received by us as a citizen of Rome” (‘Pro Balbo’, 32) .

The situation deteriorated in 193 BC when the Ligurians also entered the fray.  The Romans were hurriedly assembling a large force to quell this disturbance under the command of the consul Quintus Minucius Thermus when:

  1. “... dispatches from[the ex-consul] Tiberius Sempronius Longus [who seems to have settled in Placentia at the end of his consulship, were received].  In these, he wrote that 10,000 of the Ligures had entered the territory of Placentia and had laid it waste with slaughter and fire up to the very walls of the colony and the banks of the Po; the nation of the Boii was also considering a rebellion. For these reasons the Senate decreed that a state of emergency existed ...”, (‘History of Rome, 34: 56: 10-11) .

They also directed the other consul, Lucius Cornelius Merula, to proceed to Cisalpine Gaul, and arranged for all available forces, to be put the his disposal including the soldiers that had been recently discharged by their  predecessors.  Merula thus found himself in command of an army that included Marcus Claudius Marcellus, the consul of 196 BC, and Tiberius Sempronius Longus.  He inflicted a major defeat on the Boii near Mutina but was denied a triumph, apparently because of criticism of his conduct reported to the Senate by Claudius Marcellus.

The consuls of 192 BC, Lucius Quinctius Flamininus and Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, mounted a pincer attack against the Boii (from Liguria and from Ariminum respectively), which had the effect of prompting significant Boian defections.  Then, in 191 BC, Livy reported that:

  1. “... Publius Cornelius [Scipio Nasica], the consul, fought in pitched battle with the army of the Boii with notable results.  [Although the surviving reports are exaggerated,] it is clear that this was a great victory, first, because the [Boian] camp was captured, second, because the Boii [completely] surrendered immediately after the battle, and third, because a thanksgiving was proclaimed [at Rome] and full-grown victims sacrificed”, (‘History of Rome’, 36: 38: 5-7) .

Livy then recorded that Cornelius:

  1. “... accepted hostages from the nation of the Boii and deprived them of about one-half their land, to which, if it chose, the Roman people could send colonies. Then, departing to Rome to the certain expectation of a triumph, he disbanded his army and ordered them to be in Rome on the day of the triumph; on the day after his arrival he himself convened the senate in the temple of Bellona, and when he had discoursed about his achievements he demanded that he be permitted to ride into the City in triumph”, (‘History of Rome, 36: 39: 3-5) .

This demand met resistance but was eventually granted: the Fasti Triumphales record that Cornelius was awarded a triumph against the Boian Gauls.  Stephen Dyson (referenced below, at p. 19) observed that:

  1. “A long and bitter war had come to an end. ... Their long resistance and the richness of their land had sealed the fate of the Boii as a political entity.  The Romans [now] renewed their aim of turning most of the land up to the Po into an extension of Roman Italy.”

Romanisation of the Po Valley

Reinforcement of Placentia and Cremona (190 BC)

Livy’s record of the reinforcement of the colonies of Placentia and Cremona in 190 BC well-illustrates the toll taken by the events in the recent past:

  1. “Lucius Aurunculeius, the praetor, introduced to the Senate the deputies of Placentia and Cremona, in Cisalpine Gaul.  When they complained of the want of colonists, some having been carried off by the casualties of war, others by sickness, and several having left the colonies because of their disgust at the vicinity of the Gauls.  [In response,] the Senate decreed, that Caius Laelius, the consul,... should enrol 6,000 families, to be distributed among these colonies, and that Lucius Aurunculeius, the praetor, should appoint commissioners to conduct the colonists.  Accordingly, Marcus Atilius Serranus, Lucius Valerius Flaccus, son of Publius, and Lucius Valerius Tappo, son of Caius, were nominated to that office”, (‘History of Rome’, 37: 46: 9-11).

The process was completed soon after:

  1. Not long after, as the time of the consular elections drew nigh, the consul, Caius Laelius, came home to Rome from Gaul.  He:

  2. enrolled the colonists as a supplement to Cremona and Placentia, according to a decree of the Senate that had been passed in his absence; and

  3. proposed (and, on his recommendation, the Senate voted) that two new colonies should be established in the lands which had belonged to the Boians, (see below)” (‘History of Rome’, 37: 47: 1-2).

Foundation of Bononia  (189 BC)

Livy recorded that, in 189 BC:

  1. “... Lucius Valerius Flaccus, Marcus Atilius Serranus, and Lucius Valerius Tappo, triumvirs, settled a Latin colony at Bononia, according to a decree of the Senate.   3,000 men were led to that place.  70 iugera were given to each horseman, 50 to each of the other colonists.  The land had been taken from the Boian Gauls, who had formerly expelled the Tuscans” (‘History of Rome’, 37: 57: 12-15).

Edward Salmon (referenced below, at p. 101) observed that this was one of the two new Latin colonies planned in 190 BC (above).  However, he observed that original plan for two colonies had been:

  1. “... over-optimistic: 

  2. By offering very large allotments of 50 iugera each, [the Roman authorities] attracted 3,000 colonists for one new foundation on the site of the Etruscan settlement of Felsina at the northern end of the principal pass over the Apennines  They planted this colony in 189 BC, giving it the optimistic name of Bononia (modern Bologna).

  3. However, not even the prospect of 50 iugera of free land could attract  sufficient settlers for the second Latin colony, and it accordingly was never founded.”

Via Aemilia (187 BC)

In 187 BC, the consuls Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Caius Flaminius (the son of the consul of 223 and 217 BC) were given joint command against a threatened attack on Rome by the Ligurians, whose territory was centred around modern Genoa.  Aemilius had his camp at Placenta, while Flaminius had his at Pisae.  Their pincer action succeeded and, thereafter:
  1. “... because [Flaminius] had brought it to pass that the province was free from war, [and so] that he might not leave his army idle, he built a road from Bologna to Arretium”,  (‘History of Rome’, 39: 2: 6)

  2. “Leaving the Ligurians pacified, [Aemilius] led his army into Gallic territory, and built a road from Placentia to Ariminum, in order to make a junction with the [original] Via Flaminia”, (‘History of Rome’, 39: 2: 10).

While thesecond Via Flaminia  never again appears in recorded history, the Via Aemilia became central to the Romanisation of the Po valley.

Foundation of Parma and Mutina (183 BC)

Latin colonies: Ariminum (268 BC); Placentia & Cremona (218 BC, reinforced 190 BC); Bononia (189 BC)

Citizen colonies: Parma & Mutina (183 BC)

Map from this page in the website L’Eco di Parma

Livy recorded that:

  1. “ ... Mutina and Parma, colonies of Roman citizens, were established [in 183 BC].  2,000 men in each case were settled on the land that had recently belonged to the Boii and previously to the Etruscans,: the allotments at Parma were 8 iugera each, at Mutina 5.  The board of three that founded them consisted of: Marcus Aemilius Lepidus; Titus Aebutius Parrus; and Lucius Quinctius Crispinus”, (‘History of Rome’, 39: 5: 6-8).

Both colonies were located between Bononia and Placentia on the Via Aemilia.  As Edward Salmon pointed out, the head of the founding commission, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, was the consul of 187 BC who had built this road during his consulship.

Epigraphic evidence suggests that the citizen settlers at both colonies were assigned to the Pollia, as discussed below.

Po Valley: Centres assigned to the Pollia underlined in blue

Latin colonies: Ariminum (268 BC); Placentia & Cremona (218 BC, reinforced 190 BC); Bononia (189 BC)

Citizen colonies: Parma & Mutina (183 BC)

Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

Liguria: Centres assigned to the Pollia underlined in blue

Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

Livy recorded that, in 173 BC:

  1. “There was a quantity of land taken in the wars with the Ligurians and the Gauls which was lying unappropriated, and the Senate passed a resolution that it should be distributed amongst individual holders. In pursuance of this resolution the City praetor appointed ten commissioners to supervise the allotment: M. Aemilius Lepidus; C. Cassius; T. Aebutus Carus; C. Tremellius; P. Cornelius Cethegus; Quintus and Lucius Apuleius; M. Caecilius; C. Salonius; and C. Menatius.  Each Roman citizen received ten iugera, each of the Latin [settlers], three”, (‘History of Rome’, 42: 4: 3-4).

    Read more:

    G. Sampson, “Rome Spreads Her Wings: Territorial Expansion Between the Punic Wars”, (2016) Barnsley

    R. Feig Vishnia, “State, Society and Popular Leaders in Mid-Republican Rome (241-167 BC”,  (1996) Oxford and New York

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

    T. J. Luce, “Livy, Augustus and the Forum Augustum”, in:

    1. K. A. Raaflaub and M. Toher (Eds.), “Between Republic and Empire: Interpretations of Augustus and His Principate”, (1990) Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, at pp. 123-38

    A. Eckstein, “Senate and General: Individual Decision-making and Roman Foreign Relations (264-194 BC)”, (1987) Berkeley, Los Angeles and London

    S. Dyson, “The Creation of the Roman Frontier”, (1985), Princeton, New Jersey

    E. Salmon, “Roman Colonisation under the Republic”, (1970) New York

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