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Roman Conquest:

Conquest of Veii (437 - 396 BC) to the

to the Sack of Rome (390 BC)


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Veii and the rest of Etruria before the Roman Conquest

From at least the 6th century BC, Veii, the most southerly of a number (traditionally twelve) of Etruscan city-states.  It seems to have been among the most prosperous of them, and had an extensive and well-developed territory that extended southwards as far as the Tiber. 

The Tiber marked the boundary between Veientine and Roman territory.  According to Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 1997, at p. 347), at this time Rome was:

  1. “... dominated by Etruscan influence and culture, and her relationship with Veii must have been particularly close.  However, because both cities wished to control the trade route up the Tiber, they clashed often in the 5th century BC.”

Timothy Cornell (referenced below, at pp. 311) observed that these wars:

  1. “... were organised conflicts between developed states ..., [in which] the two sides had long-term objectives that went beyond the acquisition of booty ... [T]he rivalry between the two cities arose from attempts to control the routes along the Tiber valley from the coast to the interior ...

Cornell grouped the clashes of the 5th century BC into three separate wars (which are discussed in turn below). 

First Veientine War (483-74 BC)

Given its early date, the historicity of this war is open to question.  As Timothy Cornell (referenced below, at p. 311) observed:

  1. “The most that we can say about [it] is that Veii had the best of it. ... the Veientines [advanced] into Roman territory and [occupied] a fortified post on the Janiculum.  It was in an attempt to counter this move that the Fabian clan ... [famously] marched out in 479 BC to occupy a small frontier post on [a tributary of the Tiber known as] the ... Cremera.  Two years later, they suffered a catastrophic defeat, [in which] the entire clan .. was wiped out, with the exception of a single youth who escaped to keep alive the name of the Fabii.”

He was Quintus Fabius Vibulanus, who became consul in 467 BC. 

According to Livy, the war  ended in 474 BC when:

  1. “...a truce for forty years was granted [to the Veientines] at their solicitation, and corn and a cah indemnity were exacted of them”, (‘History of Rome’, 2: 54: 1).

Livy made this sound like a Roman victory but, as Timothy Cornell (referenced below, at p. 311) observed, the truce:

  1. “... left the Veientines firmly in possession of [the disputed city of] Fidenae ... , [which] became the focus of [the next war between them].”

I discuss the strategic importance of Fidenae below.

Role of the Etruscan League I (480 BC)

It is worth recording one other detail of Livy’s account of this war, albeit that it is unlikely to be reliable: he recorded that, in 480 BC:

  1. “... The Roman army ... set out for a war with the Veientines, to whose help forces had rallied from every quarter of Etruria, not so much roused by goodwill towards the men of Veii as by hopes that civil discord might effect the downfall of the Roman state.   And indeed, the leading men in omnium Etruriae populorum conciliis (in the councils of all the Etruscan peoples) were wrathfully complaining that there would be no end to the power of the Romans unless factional quarrels should set them to fighting amongst themselves....  For a long time, the Romans had withstood this evil ... , ; but now the fashion of disobeying magistrates was following the Roman soldier even to his camp.  In their latest war, when the army was already drawn up for battle, and at the very instant of conflict, they had with one accord actually handed over the victory to the conquered Aequi, had deserted their standards, had left their general on the field, and had returned, against his orders, to their camp.  Assuredly if her enemies pressed forward they could vanquish Rome by means of her own soldiers: there needed nothing more than to make a declaration and a show of war; Fate and the gods would ... do the rest.  Such were the hopes which had led the Etruscans to take up arms, after many a shifting hazard of defeat and victory”, ‘History of Rome’, 2: 44: 6-12).

Robert Ogilvie (referenced below, at p. 353) argued that: 

  1. “The arguments [that Livy attributed to the Etruscans] consist of the familiar rhetorical commonplaces used by optimistic enemies of Rome.  [At] 44: 8 [see above], conciliis (plural) denotes a series of meetings of the pan-Etruscan Council, [rather than] separate conclaves of separate groups of Etruscans”, (my changed word order).

In other words, Livy placed a debate that he imagined had taken place among the Etruscans in a political  context for which he had some evidence, albeit for a later period: a pan-Etruscan council that acted (inter alia) as the locus for political discussions between the participants (see my page on the Etruscan League).  Nevertheless, he did not claim that the Etruscans had engaged with the Romans as a federal army: instead, he referred to:

  1. “... the Veientines and the Etruscan levies .... “, (‘History of Rome’, 2: 46: 1).

Second Veientine War (437-5 BC)

Fidenae


Adapted

Timothy Cornell (referenced below, at pp. 311)  observed that he rivalry between Rome and Veii:

  1. “... arose from attempts to control the routes along the Tiber valley from the coast to the interior ... It is not, therefore, surprising that, in the wars between them, the principal objective of the Romans should have been to gain permanent control of Fidenae ...”

This would ensure their control, not only of the Tiber valley, but also the Via Salaria, which (as its name indicated) developed primarily for the transport of salt from the marshes at Ostia to the Adriatic coast.

We have seen that the 40 year truce that was agreed between Rome and Veii in 474 BC apparently left Fidenae in Veientine hands.  According to Livy, this putative truce was violated in 347 BC, when:

  1. “... Fidenae, where a body of Romans were settled, revolted to [the cause of] Lars Tolumnius, king of Veii.  The revolt was made worse by a crime: [the Roman envoys] C. Fulcinius, Cloelius Tullus, Sp. Antius, and L. Roscius, who were sent ... to ascertain the reasons for this change of policy, were murdered by order of Tolumnius. ... The statues of the murdered envoys were set up in the Rostra”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 17: 1-6).

Marcus Geganius Macerinus and Lucius Sergius Fidenae had been elected as consuls, but:

  1. “Owing to the critical aspect of affairs, the Senate ordered Mamercus Aemilius [Mamercinus] to be proclaimed dictator, and he chose Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus as his master of the horse ...  [He also] ordered Quinctius Capitolinus and Marcus Fabius Vibulanus to accompany him as seconds-in-command”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 17: 6-10).

The armies of Veii and Fidenae had apparently crossed the Anio, but Mamercinus drove them back.  Tolumnius then:

  1. “... occupied the line of hills between Fidenae and the Anio, where he entrenched himself, and did not go down into the plains until the legions of [the Faliscan city of] Falerii had come to his support.  Then the camp of the Etruscans was formed in front of the walls of Fidenae.   [Mamercinus] chose a position not far from them at the junction of the Anio and the Tiber, and extended his lines as far as possible from the one river to the other. The next day he led his men out to battle”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 17: 11-12).

Aulus Cornelius Cossus

According to Livy, the hero of this battle was:

  1. “... a military tribune named Aulus Cornelius Cossus ... When he saw that the Roman squadrons [were being] shaken by the repeated charges of [Lars] Tolumnius, ... he exclaimed:

  2. ‘Is this the breaker of treaties between men, the violator of the law of nations?  If it is the will of Heaven that anything holy should exist on earth, I will slay this man and offer him as a sacrifice to the [souls] of the murdered envoys.’

  3. Spurring his horse, he charged with levelled spear against this single foe and, having struck and unhorsed him, leaped ...  to the ground.  ... He then despoiled the lifeless body, cut off the head and stuck it on his spear.  Carrying it in triumph, he routed the enemy, who were struck by panic at the death of the king”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 19: 1-5).

Cossus’ intervention was the decisive factor in the Romans’ subsequent victory.  Livy noted that Mamercinus:

  1. “... returned home to enjoy the honour of a triumph granted to him by decree of the Senate and resolution of the people”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 20: 1).

However, he observed that:

  1. “By far the finest sight in the procession was Cossus bearing the spolia opima [i.e. the head of Lars Tolumnius, which he had taken in single combat - see below]  ... The soldiers sang rude songs in his honour and placed him on a level with Romulus.  He solemnly dedicated the spoils to Jupiter Feretrius and hung them in his temple near those of Romulus, which were the only ones which at that time were called spolia opima prima.  All eyes were turned to him from the chariot of [the triumphant Mamercinus] ... By order of the people, a crown of gold, a pound in weight, was made at the public expense and placed by the Dictator in the Capitol as an offering to Jupiter.”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 20: 2-4).

Spolia Opima

As Catherine McPherson (referenced below, at p. 21) observed:

  1. “Dedicating the spolia opima was the highest honour a Roman commander could achieve, outstripping even the most lavish triumph.  Such a dedication occurred when a Roman commander personally killed the enemy’s king or general in battle, stripping the body of its armour, which was then brought back to Rome and dedicated at the temple of Jupiter Feretrius on the Capitol.  The extreme rarity of such an occurrence, as well as its semi-mythical history, ensured that the spolia opima remained a particularly exalted honour, more ingrained in legend than in reality.

She also noted (again at p. 21) that the tradition of the dedication of spolia opima at the temple of Jupiter Feretrius:

  1. “...  allegedly began under Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, after he killed King Acron of the Caeninenses following the abduction of the Sabine women.  [Thereafter], Romulus returned in triumph to Rome with the armour of the slain king, vowing to build a temple to Jupiter Feretrius at which future generals would dedicate [similar spolia opima]”.

In fact, according to Roman tradition, Cossus was one of only two Roman commanders who subsequently won this honour.

Cossus, Caesar Augustus and the Spolia Opima

Livy noted that, in the account above, he had:

  1. “... followed all the existing authorities in stating that Cossus placed the spolia opima secunda [i.e. the spoils from the second occasion on which a Roman commander had secured the honour] in the temple of Jupiter Feretrius when he was a military tribune”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 20: 5).

However, he noted that there there were two problems with this:

  1. ... not only is the designation of spolia opima restricted to those which a commander-in-chief has taken from a commander-in-chief (and we know of no commander-in-chief but the one under whose auspices the war is conducted, [whereas Cossus was merely a military tribune without imperium in 437 BC]; but

  2. my sources are also confuted by the actual inscription on the spoils [that Cossus had dedicated in the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius], which states that [he] took them when he was consul [in 428 BC, and thus, potentially, the commander-in-chief of a Roman army]”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 20: 6).

Livy had been alerted to these two problems by the testimony of none other than Caesar Augustus:

  1. “Augustus Caesar ... [recently] rebuilt the temple of Jupiter Feretrius, which had fallen to ruin through age.  I once heard him say that, after entering it, he read with his own eyes the inscription on the linen cuirass [that Cossus had dedicated].  After [hearing this], I felt that it would be almost a sacrilege to withhold from Cossus the evidence as to his spoils given by the Caesar who restored that very temple”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 20: 7).

Had Livy stopped there, one might have reasonably assumed that he had accepted Augustus’ view that Cossus had killed Lars Tolumnius as consul in 428 BC rather than as a mere military tribune in 437 BC.  However, he then:

  1. added to the weight of evidence against this view:

  2. “Every man must judge for himself whether the mistake, if there is one, may have arisen from the fact that the ancient annals ... have an A. Cornelius Cossus as consul ... [428 BC.  However], so famous a battle could not [have taken place at] this later date since, during the three years that preceded and followed Cossus’ consulship, war was impossible owing to pestilence and famine ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 20: 9); and

  3. offered a third scenario:

  4. “[In the surviving records], the 3rd year after Cossus’ consulship [426 BC] has the name of Cossus as a consular tribune, and in the same year he is entered as Master of the Horse, in which capacity he fought another brilliant cavalry action.  In my view, every one is at liberty to form his own conjecture; these doubtful points can be made to support any opinion”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 20: 10).

Finally (and probably wisely), Livy repeated Augustus’ testimony:

  1. “The fact remains that:

  2. the man who fought the battle [and killed Lars Tolumnius in single combat] placed the newly-won spoils in the sacred shrine with two witnesses to be dreaded by any forger:

  3. Jupiter himself, to whom they were consecrated; and

  4. Romulus [or, at least the spolia opima prima] in full view; and

  5. [according to Augustus], he described himself in the inscription [on Tolumnius’ linen cuirass] as ‘A. Cornelius Cossus, Consul”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 20: 11).

Nevertheless, when he came to describe the part that Cossus has played in the fall of Fidenae in 426 BC (see below), he observed that, in this engagement, the Romans:

  1. “... had as dictator the same Mamercus Aemilius who had defeated the combined forces of Veii and Fidenae, supported by the Faliscans, at Nomentum [in 437 BC]: his master of the horse ... [was] the same A. Cornelius who [had previously] killed Lars Tolumnius, king of Veii before the eyes of the two armies and carried the spolia opima to the temple of Jupiter Feretrius”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 32: 4-5).

It is, of course, possible that Livy had written this passage before he had heard about Augustus’ testimony and that he subsequently forgot to qualify it.  I discuss the significance of Augustus’ testimony in my page on the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius.

In summary, Aulus Cornelius Cossus could have killed Lars Tolumnius and won the spolia opima secunda:

  1. as military tribune without imperium in 437 BC (as claimed in all of Livy’s sources except Augustus); or

  2. on one of the two later occasions on which he had imperium:

  3. as consul in 428 BC (as claimed by Augustus); or

  4. as Master of Horse and Consular Tribune in 426 BC (as suggested by Livy).

Roberta Stewart (referenced below, at pp. 80-84) set out the arguments to be made in favour of each of these possibilities and concluded (at p. 84) that the chronological problem that Livy and all other scholars have confronted:

  1. “... extended beyond Cossus’ dedication [of the spolia opima] and the Second Veientine War ... Thus, the discrepancy in the sources [for] Cossus’ stats when he dedicated his spolia opima reflects in part the chronological problems in the record [as it survived by Livy’s time].”

These problems are also obviously compounded by Augustus’ possibly unreliable and probably ‘political’ intervention.

End of the War (435 BC)

According to Livy, when the Romans were preoccupied with an epidemic in 435 BC:

  1. “The Fidenates, ... who, [until that time], had confined themselves to their mountains and walled villages, came down into the Roman territory and ravaged it.  As the Faliscans could not be induced to renew the war, ... the Fidenates sent for the Veientine army.  [Their combined forces] crossed the Anio and displayed their standards not far from the Colline gate.  The alarm was as great in Rome as in the country districts.   [One of the consuls, Caius Iullius Iullus] disposed his troops on the rampart and the walls, while [the other, Lucius Verginius Tricostus] convened the Senate in the temple of Quirinus.  They decreed that Quintus Servilius [Priscus] should be nominated dictator”, (History of Rome’, 4: 21: 7-10).  

Priscus engaged with the Etruscans near Nomentum, drove them back to Fidenae and besieged them there:

  1. “At last, the hill was tunnelled through, and the way lay open from the Roman camp up to the citadel.  ... feigned attacks diverted the Etruscans from their real danger [until] the shouts of the [Romans] above their heads showed them that the city was taken”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 22: 6-7).

Apathy of the Putative Etruscan League  

The Romans’ capture of Fidenae had brought an end to the war.  However, it seems that this was not immediately obvious: Livy recorded that the fall of Fidenae had:

  1. “... created alarm in Etruria.  Not only were the Veientines apprehensive of a similar fate, but the Faliscans [also feared reprisals for previous hostile actions].  The two states [i.e. Veii and Falerii] sent envoys to the twelve [Etruscan] cantons and, at their request, a meeting was proclaimed of the national council of Etruria, to be held at the at the fanum Voltumnae”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 23: 3-5).

This is the first time that Livy identified the national shrine of the Etruscans as the fanum Voltumnae (shrine of Voltumna).

News of this prospective meeting of the Etruscans raised concerns at Rome:

  1. “Since a great struggle seemed imminent, the Senate ordered that Mamercus Aemilius should be again nominated dictator.  Aulus Postumius Tubertus was appointed master of the horse.  Preparations for war were made with greater energy now than before since the potential danger  from the whole of Etruria was greater than from only two of its towns”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 23: 5-6).  

However, this proved to be a false alarm:

  1. “The meeting [at the fanum Voltumnae] passed off more quietly than anybody expected.  Information was brought by traders that help had been refused to the Veientines; they were told to prosecute with their own resources a war that they had begun on their own initiative, and not, now that they were in difficulties, to look for allies amongst those whom, in their prosperity, they refused to take into their confidence”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 24: 1-2).  

The Romans had clearly won the war, albeit that (as we shall see) both Veii and Fidenae survived to fight another day.

The Veientines apparently tried to incite pan-Etruscan action against Rome in 432 BC, again without success:

  1. “Projects of war were discussed ...  in Etruria at the fanum Voltumnae”.  There, the question was adjourned for a year and a decree was passed that no [subsequent] council should be held until the year had elapsed, in spite of the protests of the Veientines, who declared that the same fate which had overtaken Fidenae was threatening them”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 25: 6-9).  

Fall of Fidenae (428-6 BC)

Livy recorded that the consuls of 428 BC were:

  1. “... Aulus Cornelius Cossus, [the military tribune of 437 BC], and Titus Quinctius Poenus for the second time.  [In this year], the Veientines made incursions into the Roman territory and it was rumoured that some of the Fidenates had taken part in them.  Lucius Sergius, Quintus Servilius and Mamercus Aemilius [Mamercinus, the dictator of 437 BC], were commissioned to investigate the affair. ... [When they found evidence against Fidenae], the number of colonists [there] was increased, and the lands of those who had perished in the war were assigned to them”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 30: 5-6).  

However, the Romans now faced two years of drought and disease.  In 426 BC:

  1. “Four consular tribunes were elected: Titus Quinctius Poenus, [consul of 428 BC], Caius Furius, Marcus Postumius and Aulus Cornelius Cossus [the other consul of 428 BC, who had also been appointed as Pontifex Maximus in 427 BC].  Cossus was designated warden of Rome, while the other three  ... advanced against Veii ... [While the three commanders argued among themselves], the Veientines seized the opportunity for an attack.  Breaking into a disorderly flight, the Romans sought refuge in their camp which was close by; they incurred more disgrace than loss”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 31: 1-4).  

After a period of political wrangling, Cossus nominated Mamercinus as dictator, and Mamercinus then appointed Cossus as his master of horse.

Continuing Apathy of the Putative Etruscan League

According to Livy, the Veientines, who were:

  1. “... elated by their success, ... sent envoys round to the peoples of Etruria, boasting that they had defeated three Roman generals in a single battle.  Although they could not induce the national council to join them, they attracted volunteers from all quarters by [holding out] the prospect of booty”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 31: 6-7). 

Repeated Perfidy of the Fidenates

According to Livy:

  1. “The Fidenates alone [among the Etruscans formally] decided to take part in the war and, as though they thought it impious to begin war otherwise than with a crime, they stained their weapons with the blood of the new colonists, as they had previously with the blood of the Roman ambassadors before joining  the Veientines.  The leaders of the two peoples discussed whether they should make Veii or Fidenae the base of operations.  [When they concluded that] Fidenae was the more suitable, the Veientines crossed the Tiber and transferred the war to Fidenae”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 31: 8-9).  

At Rome, Mamercinus restored morale by reminding the Romans that he was:

  1. “... the same Mamercus Aemilius who had defeated the combined forces of Veii and Fidenae, supported by the Faliscans, at Nomentum: his master of the horse ... [was] the same Aulus Cornelius who [had previously] killed Lars Tolumnius, king of Veii before the eyes of the two armies and carried the spolia opima to the temple of Jupiter Feretrius”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 32: 4-5).

Livy seems to have made an error here: he had previously noted that Mamercinus and Cossus had triumphed at Fidenae in 437 BC, but he had mentioned neither in the context of the subsequent victory at Nomentum in 435 BC].

Fall of Fidenae

Mamercinus once more emerged victorious, taking first the Etruscan camp and then the city and citadel of Fidenae:

  1. “The slaughter in the city was not less than there had been in the battle, until, throwing down their arms, the Fidenates surrendered ... The city and camp were plundered. ... [Mamercinus] led back his victorious army in triumph to Rome, laden with spoil. After ordering [Cossus] to resign his office [as master of horse], he resigned [as dictator] 16 days after his nomination, surrendering amidst peace the sovereign power which he had assumed at a time of war and danger”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 34: 3-6).

Livy then recorded that the Veientines were granted a 20-year truce. 

Robert Ogilvie (referenced below, at pp. 584-5) observed that the year 426 BC had been:

  1. “... decisive for the history of Rome's expansion north and east and of her mastery of the Tiber. After an unsuccessful attempt to exercise control over Fidenae by a colony ... , Roman strategy [had] turned  to a blunt offensive against [the city], with the intention of destroying it for ever.  Half-measures were not enough.  Its dominating position sealed its fate.  Only Romans could be trusted to guard the gateway to central Italy.”

Third Veientine War (406 - 396 BC)

Continuing Apathy of the Putative Etruscan League

The Veientines’ 20-year truce withe Rome ended in 407 BC and was not renewed.  According to Livy, the Romans besieged Veii in 406 BC.  Yet again, the putative Etruscan league decided not to intervene:

  1. “Immediately after the siege had commenced, a largely-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 tried again in 403 BC.  Livy’s account of this meeting is particularly illuminating:

  1. “The Veientines, ... tired of the annual canvassing for office, elected a king.  This gave great offence to the Etruscan cantons, owing to their hatred of monarchy and also to their  aversion to the particular individual who was elected.  He was already obnoxious to the nation through his pride of wealth and overbearing temper, for he had put a violent stop to the festival of the games, the interruption of which is an act of  impiety.  When his candidature for the priesthood had been unsuccessful and another was preferred by the vote of the twelve cantons,  in revenge he suddenly withdrew the performers, most of whom were his own slaves, in the middle of the games.  The Etruscans as a nation were distinguished above all others by their devotion to religious observances, because they excelled in the knowledge and conduct of them, so they decided that no [military] assistance should be given to the Veientines as long as they were under a king.  The report of this decision was suppressed at Veii through fear of the king; he treated those who mentioned anything of the kind ... as ringleaders of sedition”, (History of Rome’, 5: 1: 2-8).

From this, we learn that:

  1. by this time, most of the Etruscans had eschewed rule by kings, presumably in favour of rule by annually-elected magistrates;

  2. although there was (apparently) no longer an overall king, the 12 cities now elected a sacerdos (priest) from among their respective magistrates during their annual assemblies;

  3. these annual meetings also involved games and theatrical performances, over which the newly-elected priest presumably presided; and

  4. these games and theatrical performances were held to be sacred (since the disruption by the king of Veii was considered to have been impious).  

Roman support for the siege dwindled when the Romans realised that it was to be continued through another winter.  However, Appius Claudius Crassus, one of the military tribunes of that year,  successfully dispelled it, warning (inter alia) that:

  1. “... there are frequent meetings of the national council of Etruria to discuss the question of sending succours to Veii.  Do these allow us to forget the danger we incur by prolonging the war [by abandoning the siege] ?  As matters now stand, [the majority of the Etruscan peoples] are angry [with Veii] ... and say that ... , as far as they are concerned, [it] may be captured.  But, who will guarantee that, if the war is prolonged, they will continue in the same mind ? For, if you give the Veientines a respite, they will send a more numerous and influential embassy, and what now gives such displeasure to the Etruscans, namely, the election of a king, may after a time be annulled, either by the unanimous act of the citizens in order to win the sympathies of Etruria, or by voluntary abdication on the part of the king himself, through his unwillingness to allow his  crown to endanger the safety of his people. See how many disastrous consequences follow from the policy you recommend: the sacrifice of [siege] works constructed with so much trouble; the threatening devastation of our borders; and a war with the whole of Etruria instead of one with Veii alone”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 5: 8-12).

Henk Versnel (referenced below at pp. 275-6) drew together the information from this passage and from the other sources on the federation (many of which are set out above).  He concluded that the cities of the federation:

  1. “... met annually, on a date unknown to us.  ... The object of the annual meeting was the election of what in the republican period is called a sacerdos ...  Since, according to Livy, it was a king of Veii who once competed for this office, the ambiguous nature of this function is at once clear.  Here we see in one person two spheres overlapping: the religious and the political.  During the royal period, the twelve cities ... elected one supreme king who, by having twelve lictors carrying fasces, one on behalf of each city, united the authority in one hand.  The sacerdos was the religious successor of this supreme king.”

Marco Ricci (referenced below, at pp. 16-7) summarised Livy’s accounts as follows:

  1. “The picture that emerges is ... that of a confederation of city-states, born above all out of military necessity, essentially defensive but also sustained by deeper cultural values than those of a purely military alliance” (my translation).

Falerii and Capena Enter the War (402 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, since:

  1. “... these two states were nearest to [the theatre of war], they believed that, if Veii fell, they would be the next on whom Rome would make war.  (The Faliscans had their own reasons for fearing hostilities, since they had been involved in the previous war against Fidenae.)  So, [Falerii and Capena] ...  swore alliance with each other, and their two armies arrived unexpectedly at Veii.

  2. He recorded that their sudden arrival

  3. “... created great alarm, for the Romans were convinced that all Etruria had risen and was present in great force.  The same conviction roused the Veientines in the city to action ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 8: 4-7). 

The result for the Romans was an ignominious (albeit not definitive) defeat.

Continuing Apathy of the Putative Etruscan League (397 BC)

The Romans maintained siege of Veii despite the continuing internal tensions at home.  Finally, in 397 BC:

  1. “... the national council of Etruria met at the fanum Voltumnae.  The [people of Capena and Falerii] demanded that all the peoples of Etruria should unite in common action to raise the siege of Veii; 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 they were not on terms of either assured peace or open war with 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). 



403 BC: the fasti Capitolini record that the censors M. Furius [Camillus] and M. Postumius Albinus Regillensis completed the 16th lustrum

401 BC: the fasti Capitolini record Camillus as one of the six Military Tribunes.  He stormed Falerii and Capena, which were both allies of [the still undefeated] Veii, but was unable to take either of them. 

398 BC: Consular Tribune I (5: 14: 5)

396 BC:

  1. -Interrex (5: 17: 4)

  2. -Dictator I (5: 19: 2)

  3. -Triumph I: de Veientibus


Meetings of 406, 403 and 397 BC

The Veientines’ 20-year truce withe Rome ended in 407 BC and, according to Livy, the Romans besieged Veii in the following year.  Yet again, the putative Etruscan league decided not to intervene:

  1. “Immediately after the start of the siege, 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 tried again in 403 BC.  Livy’s account of this meeting is particularly illuminating:

  1. “The Veientines, ... [who had become] tired of the annual canvassing for office, [had] elected a king.  This gave great offence to the Etruscan cantons, owing to their hatred of monarchy and also to their  aversion to the particular individual who was elected.  He was already obnoxious to the nation through his pride of wealth and overbearing temper, for he had put a violent stop to the festival of the games, the interruption of which was an act of  impiety.  When his candidature for the priesthood had been unsuccessful and another was preferred by the vote of the twelve cantons, ... he suddenly withdrew the performers, most of whom were his own slaves, in the middle of the games.  The Etruscans as a nation were distinguished above all others by their devotion to religious observances, because they excelled in the knowledge and conduct of them, so they decided that no [military] assistance should be given to the Veientines as long as they were under a king.  The report of this decision was suppressed at Veii through fear of the king; he treated those who mentioned anything of the kind ... as ringleaders of sedition”, (History of Rome’, 5: 1: 2-8).

From this, we learn that:

  1. by this time, most of the Etruscans had eschewed rule by kings, presumably in favour of rule by annually-elected magistrates;

  2. although there was (apparently) no longer an overall king of the Etruscans, the 12 cities now elected a sacerdos (priest) from among their respective magistrates during their annual assemblies;

  3. these annual meetings also involved games and theatrical performances, over which the newly-elected priest presumably presided; and

  4. these games and theatrical performances were held to be sacred (since the disruption by the king of Veii was considered to have been impious).  

Veii continued its lone resistance, and Roman support for the siege dwindled when it was realised that it was to be continued through another winter.  However, Appius Claudius Crassus, one of the military tribunes of 403 BC,  successfully dispelled dissent, warning (inter alia) that:

  1. “... there are frequent meetings of the national council of Etruria to discuss the question of sending succours to Veii.  Do these allow us to forget the danger we incur by prolonging the war [by abandoning the siege] ?  As matters now stand, [the majority of the Etruscan peoples] are angry [with Veii] ... and say that ... , as far as they are concerned, [it] may be captured.  But, who will guarantee that, if the war is prolonged, they will continue in the same mind ? For, if you give the Veientines a respite, they will send a more numerous and influential embassy, and what now gives such displeasure to the Etruscans, namely, the election of a king, may after a time be annulled, either by the unanimous act of the citizens in order to win the sympathies of Etruria, or by voluntary abdication on the part of the king himself, through his unwillingness to allow his  crown to endanger the safety of his people. See how many disastrous consequences follow from the policy you recommend: the sacrifice of [siege] works constructed with so much trouble; the threatening devastation of our borders; and a war with the whole of Etruria instead of one with Veii alone”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 5: 8-12).

In 402 BC, aid for Veii arrived, not from fellow Etruscans, but from the peoples of Falerii and Capena.  Livy explained that, since:

  1. “... these two states were nearest to [the theatre of war], they believed that, if Veii fell, they would be the next on whom Rome would make war.   ... So, they ...  swore alliance with each other, and their two armies arrived unexpectedly at Veii.

  2. It seems that their sudden arrival:

  3. “... created great alarm, for the Romans were convinced that all Etruria had risen and was present in great force.  The same conviction roused the Veientines in the city to action ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 5: 8: 4-7). 

The result for the Romans was an ignominious (albeit not definitive) defeat.

The Romans nevertheless managed to continue the siege of Veii despite the continuing internal tensions at home.  Finally, in 397 BC:

  1. “... the national council of Etruria met at the fanum Voltumnae.  The [people of Capena and Falerii] demanded that all the peoples of Etruria should unite in common action to raise the siege of Veii; 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 they were not on terms of either assured peace or open war with 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). 



Fall of Veii (396 BC)

Camillus  was appointed as dictator for the first time in 396 BC, the tenth year of the siege of Veii.  He defeated both Falerii and Capena at Nepete, and then began the final assault of Veii.  His men entered the city via its sewage system.  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.

According to Livy:

  1. “His 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 Matuta the Mother.  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)

Fate of Veii

Veii survived as an insignificant albeit independent centre under Roman hegemony (and was eventually enfranchised as the municipium Augustum Veiens in the Augustan period).  However, as described in my page Political Settlement  I (396 - 358  BC), the whole of its territory was confiscated.

Defeat of Capena and Falerii (395-4 BC)

Timothy Cornell (referenced below, 1995, at p. 313) observed that:

  1. “...  the most consistent and loyal supporters of Veii [had been the people of Capena and Falerii].  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 ... .”

In a sad postscript to these events, Camillus found himself accused of misappropriation of some of the spoils of war and went into exile at Ardea in Latium.

394 BC: Consular Tribune II (5: 26: 1)

  1. Rome was able to take Veii, Capena and Falerii in successive years in 396-4 BC. Livy last reference to this federal sanctuary related to 389 BC, when:

  2. “... 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).



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”, (‘Roman History’, 5: 31: 4-5).

In the following year, Lucius Lucretius and Caius 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).




391 BC: Interrex (5: 31: 2)


Gallic Sack of Rome (ca. 390 BC)

[In construction]

Camillus’ Second Dictatorship

390 BC:

  1. -Dictator II, (5: 46: 8-11)

  2. -Triumph II: de Gallis


The people of Veii appealed unsuccessfully to the Etruscan Federation on four occasions during the Romans’ 10 year siege of their city, before finally succumbing to Rome in 396 BC.  Livy’s account of one of these meetings, that of 403 BC, is particularly illuminating:

  1. “The Veientines, ... tired of the annual canvassing for office, elected a king.  This gave great offence to the Etruscan cantons, owing to their hatred of monarchy and also to their  aversion to the particular individual who was elected.  He was already obnoxious to the nation through his pride of wealth and overbearing temper, for he had put a violent stop to the festival of the games, the interruption of which is an act of  impiety.  When his candidature for the priesthood had been unsuccessful and another was preferred by the vote of the twelve cantons,  in revenge he suddenly withdrew the performers, most of whom were his own slaves, in the middle of the games.  The Etruscans as a nation were distinguished above all others by their devotion to religious observances, because they excelled in the knowledge and conduct of them, so they decided that no [military] assistance should be given to the Veientines as long as they were under a king. T he report of this decision was suppressed at Veii through fear of the king; he treated those who mentioned anything of the kind ... as ringleaders of sedition”, (History of Rome’, 5: 1: 2-8).


  1. Livy last reference to this federal sanctuary related to 389 BC, when:

  2. “... 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).


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. Quintus 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 an army at Ardea and ordered the master of the horse, Lucius 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 Quintus 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).

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 Aulus 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, 1995, 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.”


Read more: 

M. Ricci, “Praetores Etruriae XV Populorum: Revisione e Aggiunte all’ Opera di Bernard Liou”, Bollettino della Deputazione di Storia Patria per l’Umbria, 111:1 (2014) 5-30

G. Forsythe, “The Beginnings of the Republic from 509 to 390 BC”, in:

  1. B. Mineo (Ed.), “A Companion to Livy”, (2014) Chichester, at pp. 314-26

C. McPherson, “Fact and Fiction: Crassus, Augustus, and the Spolia Opima”, Hirundo, 8 (2009/10) 21-34

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

R. Stewart, “Public Office in Early Rome: Ritual Procedure and Political Practice”, (1998) Ann Arbor, Michigan

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

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

H. S. Versnel , “Triumphus: An Inquiry Into the Origin, Development and Meaning of the Roman Triumph”, (1970) Leiden

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

J. D. Bishop , “Augustus and A. Cornelius Cossus Cos”, Latomus, 7:3/4 (1948) 187-191 


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