Key to Umbria

Roman Conquest:

Livy’s Account: Roman Victory at Mevania  (308 BC)

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Livy is our only surviving source for this battle.  He began his account of it as follows:

  1. “The tranquillity that now obtained in Etruria [after the agreement of the one-year truces mentioned above] was disturbed by a sudden defectio (insurrection) of the Umbrians, who had escaped all the distress of war, except that [a Roman] army had passed through their territory ”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 41: 8).

Earlier Incursions of Umbrian Territory

These incursions into Umbrian territory were presumably those that Livy and/or Diodorus had recorded in 310/9 BC:

  1. According to Diodorus, early in Fabius’ consulship, Fabius drove the Etruscan army that was then besieging Sutrium back into its camp and then outflanked the Etruscan reinforcements that were sent to reinforce  them by slipping away into Umbrian territory in order to mount a surprise attack in upper Etruria:

  2. “While the Etruscans were gathering in great numbers against Sutrium, Fabius marched without their knowledge through the country of their [Umbrian] neighbours into upper Etruria, which had not been plundered for a long time.  Falling upon it unexpectedly, he ravaged a large part of the country; and, in a victory over those of the inhabitants who came against him, he slew many of them and took no small number of them alive as prisoners”, (‘Library of History’, 20: 35: 2-3). 

  3. According to Livy, Fabius’ covert departure involved crossing the Ciminian Forest and climbing to the top of mons Ciminius (the Ciminian Mountain), from whence he looked down:

  4. “ ... over the rich ploughed fields of Etruria, [which] he sent his soldiers to plunder.  After the Romans had [accumulated] enormous booty, they were confronted by certain improvised bands of Etruscan peasants ... Having slain or driven off these men and wasted the country far and wide, the Romans returned to their camp, victorious and enriched with all manner of supplies”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 36: 11-13).

  5. This expedition was apparently initially counter-productive, since:

  6. “... instead of putting an end to the war, it only gave it a wider range.  For the district lying about the base of [the mountain] had felt the devastation, and this had aroused not only Etruria to resentment but also the neighbouring parts of Umbria”,  (History of Rome’, 9: 37: 1).

  7. As discussed above, if we take these two accounts together, we might reasonably assume that, having descended from the Ciminian Mountain, Fabius crossed the Tiber and marched north through Umbrian territory (perhaps along the proto-Amerina), before recrossing the river into upper Etruria.

  8. We then come to Livy’s ‘famous battle’: although he placed it at Sutrium, he conceded that some of his sources claimed that it was:

  9. “... fought on the [north] side of the Ciminian Forest, near Perusia, and that Rome was in a panic lest the army should be surrounded and cut off ... by the Etruscans and Umbrians rising up on every hand”, (History of Rome’, 9: 37: 11).

  10. Diodorus (like some of Livy’s sources) located this battle near Perusia, and this would account for the fact that, after the victory, Fabius agreed truces with Arretium, Cortona and Perusia.  It would certainly be unsurprising if the Umbrians, across whose territory the Romans had marched to reach the site of the battle, had indeed sent men to support their Etruscan neighbours.

Muster of an Umbrian and Etruscan Army ?

According to Livy, after Decius’ campaign in Etruria in 308 BC, the Umbrians (for whatever reason) decided to take on the might of Rome:

  1. “Calling up all their fighting men, and magna parte Etruscorum ad rebellionem compulsa (pushing the great part of the Etruscans to rebel), they mustered so large an army that they boasted ... that they would leave Decius behind them in Etruria and march off to the assault of Rome”, (‘Roman History’, 9: 41: 9). 

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 528) suggested that Livy had inserted this passage in order explain why he had described this Umbrian revolt at greater length than any other event of 308 BC: 

  1. “[Livy’s] justification for this elaboration is provided by:

  2. the Umbrians’ encouraging [of] the Etruscans to rebel;

  3. ... their [intention of] outflanking Decius; and

  4. ... [their threat] to march on Rome itself.” 

It is interesting that, in the first of these bullets, Oakley had the Umbrians ‘encouraging’ rather than ‘driving’ the Etruscans to rebel.  John Yardley (in Yardley and Hoyos, referenced below, at p. 350) went further, characterising any Etruscan involvement in this revolt as:

  1. “... very dubious: the Etruscans had just come to terms [with the Romans], and Livy treats the ensuing hostilities as purely with the Umbrians.”

Thus, if the sequence of events was as Livy described it, then we should probably discount any meaningful involvement of the newly-pacified Etruscans in this Umbrian revolt. 

An Umbrian Plan to Invade Rome ?

Livy placed the threat of an Umbrian invasion of Rome at the heart of his narrative:

  1. “When this purpose of [the Umbrians] was reported to ... Decius, he hastened by forced marches from Etruria towards [Rome], and encamped in the ager Pupiniensis (territory of the Pupinia), eagerly waiting for word of their approach”, (‘Roman History’, 9: 41: 9-10). 

According to Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at pp. 541-2), the ager Pupiniensis was northeast of Rome, on the northern bank of the the river Anio/Aniene (as indicated on the map above).  John Yardley (in Yardley and Hoyos, referenced below, at p. 350) described it as:

  1. “... a small tract of land outside [Rome’s] eastern gate, on the road [that ran eastwards] to Gabii”.

Livy continued:

  1. “At Rome no-one made light of [a possible] Umbrian invasion.  Their very threats had excited fear in those who had learnt from the Gallic disaster [of ca. 390 BC ] how unsafe was the city that they inhabited”, (‘Roman History’, 9: 41: 11).

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 542) commented that:

  1. “Since Rome was now protected by her massive ‘Servian’ walls, such fears are likely to be no more than annalistic reconstruction.”

It is certainly true that the Romans are unlikely to have feared an Umbrian invasion, even if the Umbrians had issued explicit threats to this effect: after all, Livy never claimed that the Etruscans had managed to excite such fear in Roman hearts in 310/9 BC, when they had laid siege to Sutrium, one of the two ‘gates and barriers’ protecting Rome (see above).  However, the fact that (at least in Livy’s sources) Decius fell back on the ager Pupiniensis to the east of Rome suggests that the Romans feared an invasion from Samnium, probably because:

  1. “... envoys were dispatched to carry word to Fabius ... , that, if there were any slackening in the Samnite war, he should lead his army into Umbria with all speed”, (‘Roman History’, 9: 41: 12).

In other words, it is possible that, for whatever reason, the Romans decided that Fabius would deal with the Umbrians while Decius would be deployed east of the city in case the Samnites attempted to exploit Fabius’ absence by marching on Rome.

However, if the Umbrians were not intent upon invading Rome, why did they decide to raise an army after Decius had pacified Etruria ?  It seems to me that the most likely explanation is that Decius’ success in Etruria had not been as complete as Livy suggested, and that the Umbrians were planning to reinforce their still-hostile Etruscan neighbours.  If so, then the Romans might have lost confidence in Decius at that point and turned instead to Fabius, who had recently campaigned in upper Etruria with great success. 

Roles of Decius and Fabius ?

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 532) observed that, in 308 BC:

  1. “Livy makes Fabius ... fight victoriously: first at [Nuceria Alfaterna, in Campania]; then against the Samnites and the Marsi; next against the Paeligni; and finally in Umbria.  This may be correct, but it is surprising to have [him] fighting in three different areas, and Livy or his sources may have assigned to him campaigns fought by others.  For instance, one may speculate that credit for the Umbrian victory should go to Decius alone.”

However, as noted above, Livy had Decius falling back on the ager Pupiniensis as Fabius marched from Samnium to Mevania, presumably to guard against the possibility that, in Fabius’ absence, the Samnites might march on Rome.  I find it hard to see why this specific location found its way into the narrative in circumstances other than those described by Livy.

I suggested above that Decius’ success in Etruria in the period before the Umbrian insurrection had not been as complete as Livy suggested, and that the Umbrians mustered at Mevania in 308 BC in order to reinforce their still-hostile Etruscan neighbours (rather than, as Livy claimed, to march on Rome).  If so, then the one-year truces agreed with some Etruscan cities in 308 BC would have post-dated Fabius’ victory at Mevania, when any residual hostilities in Etruria may well have fallen away.  If this is correct, then it is likely that the credit for at least some of these one-year truces should go, at least in part, to Fabius.   This would be broadly consistent with Diodorus’ recorded that:

  1. “... crossing the territory of the Umbrians, [a Roman army] invaded Etruria, which was hostile, and took by siege the fortress called Caerium.  When the people of the region sent envoys to request a truce, the consuls made truces:

  2. for 40 years [in the case of] the Tarquinians; but

  3. for only one year with all of the other Etruscans”, (‘Library of History’, 20: 44: 8).

Umbrian Defeat at Mevania

According to Livy, as Decius fell back towards Rome, Fabius:

  1. “... advanced by long marches to Mevania [modern Bevagna], where the forces of the Umbrians lay at that time... [His unexpected arrival] so dismayed [them] that:

  2. some were in favour of falling back on their fortified cities; and

  3. others [urged] giving up the war [altogether].

  4. But one plaga (district), which its inhabitants called Materina, not only [dissuaded its more faint-hearted allies] but also brought them to an immediate engagement.  Fabius was [still] entrenching his camp when they attacked him.  As soon as he saw them rushing madly upon his ramparts, he recalled his soldiers from their work and drew them up [into battle formation], as time and the nature of the ground permitted.  [Reminding them of] of the honours that they had [already] won, some in Etruria and some in Samnium, he bade them:

  5. to end this trivial sequel to the Etruscan War; and

  6. to take revenge upon the [Umbrians] for their impious threat that they would assault the city of Rome.

  7. The soldiers received these words with such alacrity that, ... before the command could be given, they hurled themselves ...  against the enemy. ... Wherever they met with resistance, they attacked with shields rather than with swords, swinging them from the shoulder and knocking down their enemies with the bosses.  The slain were outnumbered by the prisoners, and a single cry was heard all along the [Umbrian] battle line: that they should lay down their arms.  And so, while the battle was still going on, facta deditio est a primis auctoribus belli (the men who had first advocated war surrendered”, (‘Roman History’, 9: 41: 13-20).

Aftermath of Fabius’ Victory at Mevania

As noted above, Livy ended his account of Fabius’ victory at Mevania as follows:

  1. “The slain were outnumbered by the prisoners, and a single cry was heard all along the [Umbrian] battle line: that they should lay down their arms.  And so, while the battle was still going on, facta deditio est a primis auctoribus belli (the men who had first advocated war surrendered”, (‘Roman History’, 9: 41: 19-20).

Since Livy said in consecutive sentences that:

  1. the surviving Umbrian combatants (who outnumbered the dead) laid down their arms during the battle; and

  2. the men who had first advocated war surrendered during the battle;

we might reasonably assume that he equated these two categories.   In other words, he held all of the tribes who fought at Mevania responsible for starting the war.  I think that he was returning here to his opening observation that:

  1. “The tranquillity that [had] obtained in Etruria was disturbed by a sudden insurrection of the Umbrians, who had escaped all the distress of war, except that [a Roman] army had passed through their territory ”, (‘Roman History’, 9: 41: 8).

In other words, the Umbrian combatants had started the war without just cause, and Fabius had now taught them the error of their ways.

Livy then gave an enigmatic account of what followed:

  1. “On the next day and those that followed, the other peoples of Umbria also surrendered; the Ocriculani [the people of Ocriculum] were received into friendship by sponsio (with a promise of ratification by the Senate)”, (‘Roman History’, 9: 41: 20).

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 546), in his gloss on the phrase ceteri Umbrorum populi (the other peoples of Umbria), observed that:

  1. “We cannot be certain to which people Livy is referring.”

However, it seems to me that, in the light of the discussion above,  these ‘other peoples’ cannot have participated in the battle at Mevania.  If this is correct, then they would have each fallen into one of two categories:

  1. those that had initially sent men but, on Fabius’ unexpected arrival, had ignored the leaders of the people of Materina by withdrawing them before the Umbrian attack on his camp; or

  2. those that had not sent men to Mevania in the first place.

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 546), observed that:

  1. “The contrast made in this passage between Ocriculum and the other Umbrian towns suggests that its agreement with Rome is likely to have been favourable.”

This suggests (at least to me) that the Ocriculani belonged in the second of these two categories and that, like the ‘Camertes Umbros’ in 310/9 BC, they had offered (and perhaps extended) their help to the Romans in their war with the Etruscans.  The Romans would presumably have welcomed any such offer: Ocriculum (modern Otricoli) was the Umbrian settlement closest to Rome, and its strategic position on the Tiber,on the borders of Umbrian, Faliscan and Sabine territory, would have made it an obvious candidate for a favourable treaty with Rome.

Muster of an Umbrian League ?

According to Simone Sisani (referenced below, 2002, p. 493):

  1. “The words ‘concitata omni iuventute sua’ [calling up all their men of fighting age, which Livy, at 9: 41: 9,] used to describe the calling up of the armies of the Umbrians, do not leave room for doubt: we must be dealing with the dilectus [recruitment levy] of the entire nomen umbro [tribes of the Umbrian name] working within a league, as is also suggested by the use of the simple ethnic [‘Umbrian’] to describe the force opposing Fabius ...” (my translation).

Taking Sisani’s second point first, I doubt that Livy’s use of the ethnic description ‘Umbrian’ is of any particular significance: after all, he often referred to ‘the Etruscans’ (for example) when he probably meant only those Etruscan city states that were engaged in hostilities against Rome at a particular point in time.  Thus, as Stephen Oakley observed:

  1. “... the Romans may not have fought all the Umbrians [in 308 BC] and perhaps clashed only with the more southerly states.”

As noted above, the unnamed Umbrian centres that surrendered in the days following the battle are unlikely to have participated  in it.  It is possible to identify some specific centres that might well not have taken part:

  1. the ‘Camertes Umbros’, given their recent treaty obligations;

  2. the Ocriculani, who would surely not have been singled out for favourable treatment had they done so; and

  3. the people of Nequinum (modern Narni), whom the Romans attacked in 300-299 BC (see the following page).

Moving on then to Sisani’s substantive point, it seems to me that, although the passage he cited us that some Umbrian tribes called up all of their fighting men on this occasion, what it does not tell us (pace Sisani) is that the entire nomen umbro did so.  It seems to me that the Umbrian centres that are most likely to have sent men to Mevania would have been those like Mevania that were relatively close to the Tiber and upper Etruria.

Having said that, Livy claimed that:

  1. “[The Umbrians] mustered so large an army, that they boasted ... that they would leave Decius behind them in Etruria and march off to the assault of Rome”, (‘Roman History’, 9: 41: 9). 

If this is taken at face value, then a large number of Umbrian tribes must have sent all their fighting men to Mevania.  However, as we have seen, Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 528) suggested that Livy probably invented a number of other details  in line 9 in order to exaggerate  the importance of this revolt:

  1. “... the Umbrians’ encouraging [of] the Etruscans to rebel; ... their [intention of] outflanking Decius; and ...  [their threat] to march on Rome itself.” 

If so, then he or his source(s) might also have invented:

  1. the muster of a particularly large Umbrian army on this occasion; and

  2. the fact that it was drawn from what must have been a relatively large number of Umbrian tribes, each of which demonstrated its commitment and determination by contributing all of their men of fighting age.

In other words, Livy probably needed to exaggerate the size of this Umbrian army in order to justify one of his main claims (which is repeated three times in his narrative): that it could credibly threaten an invasion of Rome.

Looking more widely, Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2007, at pp. 27-8) listed all eight occasions recorded in our surviving sources on which the Umbrians engaged with the Romans in the period of the conquest (from 310/9 to 266 BC).  He concluded (at p. 28) that:

  1. “... from [this evidence], it is a reasonable deduction that the Umbrian peoples were not united by any strong, central government and that they did not present a strong united force to counter the menace of Rome: witness the manner in which Rome had separate dealings with [at least]: Camerinum [in 310/9 BC]; Ocriculum [in 308 BC]; Nequinum [modern Narni, in 299 BC]; and Sassina [modern Sarsina, in 266 BC].”

It is also surely significant that, while the ‘fasti Triumphales’ recorded two Roman triumphs that were won in Umbrian territory (over ‘the Nequinates’  in 299 BC and over ‘the  Sassinates’ in 266 BC), they contain no record of  a Roman triumph over ‘the Umbrians’ collectively (while several triumphs were awarded for victories over, for example, ‘the Etruscans’ and the ‘Samnites’).  Thus, William Harris (referenced below, at p. 101), for example, concluded that:

  1. “Although the Umbrian peoples naturally allied themselves for military purposes [in the pre-Roman period, as they had, for example in 308 BC], there is no evidence worthy of the name that there was an Umbrian League of any importance [that was placed politically] above the individual states.”