Key to Umbria
 

The consuls of 310/9 BC were:

  1. Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus (for the second time), who campaigned in Etruria; and

  2. Caius Marcius Rutilus who campaigned in Samnium. 

According to Livy, just before Fabius’ victory over the Etruscans at Perusia, Marcius suffered a military setback in Samnium, in which:

  1. “... Marcius himself was wounded.  These reverses ... were further exaggerated in the telling, and the Senate...  determined on the appointment of a  dictator”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 38: 4-10).

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at pp. 460-1) argued that Marcius’ setback should be accepted, since:

  1. “... the annalistic tradition is unlikely to have invented a Roman defeat ... .”

In this page, I discuss Livy’s account of the latter part of 310/9 BC, when Lucius Papirius Cursor served as dictator as dictator while Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus continued as consul.



Papirius’ Appointment as Dictator

According to Livy, once the Senate had decided to appoint a dictator:

  1. “Nobody could doubt that Papirius Cursor, who was regarded as the foremost soldier of his time, would be designated.  However, [he would have to be appointed by one of the consuls].  The senators were uncertain:

  2. whether a messenger could be safely sent to Samnium, where hostilities continued; and

  3. [even if a messenger should reach the Roman camp there, whether he would find] Marcius ... alive.

  4. [They therefore decided to ask] the other consul, Fabius, [to make the appointment.  However, since he] had a private grudge against Papirius, ... the Senate decided to send a deputation of former consuls to him [presumably at his camp in Etruria, ... in order to] induce him to forget those quarrels in the national interest.  The ambassadors [duly] went to Fabius  and delivered the resolution of the Senate, with a discourse that suited their instructions”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 38: 10-13). 

Fabius, who had recently defeated the Etruscans in upper Etruria and agreed truces with Arretium, Cortona and Perusia, was presumably still at his camp in this region.  His initial response to the ambassadors’ request were unsettling:

  1. “Fabius, his eyes fixed on the ground, retired without a word ... Then, in the silence of the night, as custom dictates, he appointed Papirius dictator.  When the envoys thanked him ... , he continued obstinately silent, ... so that it was clearly seen what agony his great heart was suppressing”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 38: 13-15).

Cassius Dio, gave a shorter account of these events:

  1. “The men of the city put forward Papirius as dictator and, fearing that Fabius might be unwilling to name him on account of [their mutual hostility], they sent to him and begged him to place the national interest before his private grudge.  Initially, he gave the envoys no response, but when night had come (according to ancient custom it was absolutely necessary that the dictator be appointed at night), he named Papirius, and by this act gained the greatest renown. (‘Roman History’, 8: 36: 26).

It seems likely that these accounts had a common source, albeit that Livy accepted or invented some elaborations relating to Fabius’ strange behaviour.

Papirius’ First Engagement with the Samnites at Longula

Livy recorded that, immediately upon his appointment as dictator, Papirius:

  1. “ ... took command of the legions that had been raised [at Rome] during the scare connected with [Fabius’ earlier campaign in Etruria], and led them to Longula [an unknown location, presumably in Samnium.  There, having also taken] over Marcius’ troops, he marched out and offered battle, which the enemy on their part seemed willing to accept”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 39: 1-2). 

Livy’s account of the subsequent engagement ended abruptly (at least in the surviving manuscripts):

  1. “... while the two armies stood armed and ready for the conflict, ... night overtook them.  [They retired to their respective camps], which were within a short distance of each other, and remained [there] for some days: they did not doubt their own strength, but neither did they underestimate that of the enemy”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 39: 3-4). 

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 499) pointed out that:

  1. “It is quite likely that [this] was not originally the end of Livy’s description of this part of Papirius’ campaign, but was [instead] leading up to an account of a battle that was about to take place.”

He hardened this conclusion at p. 500:

  1. “The arguments in favour of a lacuna after [“they remained quiet for some days, not through any distrust of their own strength or any feeling of contempt for the enemy’] ... are ... overwhelming.”   

Livy then returned to events in Samnium.

Papirius’ Victory the Samnites (perhaps at Longula)

Livy recorded that the war in Samnium that followed this Roman victory over an Etruscan army that had been raised under a lex sacrata:

  1. “... ...involved as much danger, and reached an equally glorious conclusion”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 40: 1).    

However, he does not say where this ‘second glorious conclusion’ took place: Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 461) observed that the putative lacuna at 39: 4 (above):

  1. “... does not allow us to determine whether [it] ... should also be placed at Longula.”

I discuss Livy’s account of this second glorious battle in my page ...  However, a number of scholars have raised doubts about its authenticity.  For example:

  1. Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 461) observed that:

  2. “Even though Diodorus ignores Papirius’ campaign against the Samnites, it would probably be an excess of scepticism to reject it out of hand; ...  although it is possible that [it] is an annalistic or Livian invention, no certain arguments for rejecting it have yet been adduced.  Nevertheless, the details of the fighting offered by Livy are unlikely to be sound: many recur in a very similar guise in his account of the victory of [Papirius’ homonymous] son at Aquilonia in 293 BC, and it is therefore possible that those [recorded for 310/9 BC] are all unauthentic ...”

  3. Edward Salmon (referenced below, at pp. 245-6 and note 1) similarly considered that:

  4. “The crushing victory that [the elder Papirius] is said to have scored in [310/9 BC)] ... is recognised, even by Livy, to contain features borrowed from his son’s victory ... in the Third Samnite War.  ... The victory [of the elder Papirius], if not entirely fictitious, was, at most, merely a local success that helped maintain Roman diversionary pressure on the western borders of Samnium.”

In other words, it is likely that much of Livy’s exuberant description of the elder Papirius’ victory over a consecrated Samnite army that was sworn to fight to the death can be safely discounted.

Diodorus and Livy each mentioned another engagement in Etruria thereafter:

  1. As noted above, Diodorus recorded that, after his victory at Perusia, Fabius finally raised the siege of Sutrium by drawing the besieging army to ‘a city called Castola’, where he defeated it.  He did not refer to Papirius’ putative dictatorship, but, if this engagement is accepted, it would have taken place during this period.

  2. Livy referred to a major Roman victory over an Etruscan army during Papirius’ putative dictatorship but (at least in the surviving manuscripts) he did not name the Roman who was in command.

I discuss both of these records below.


Papirius at Longula

Livy recorded that, immediately upon his appointment as dictator, Papirius:

  1. “ ... took command of the legions that had been raised [at Rome] during the scare connected with [Fabius’ earlier campaign in Etruria], and led them to Longula [an unknown location, presumably in Samnium].  There, having also taken] over Marcius’ troops, he marched out and offered battle, which the enemy ... seemed willing to accept”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 39: 1-2). 

However, this engagement did not last very long:

  1. “... while the two armies stood armed and ready for the conflict, ... night overtook them.  [They retired to their respective camps], which were within a short distance of each other, and remained [there] for some days: they did not doubt their own strength, but neither did they underestimate the enemy”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 39: 3). 

As discussed in my section below on ‘Papirius’ Victory in Samnium’, this abrupt ending might be explained by hypothesising that:

  1. the narrative that described the subsequent engagement of the Roman and Samnite army is missing in the surviving manuscripts; or

  2. the narrative continued at 9: 40: 1-14 (where Papirius’ victory is described).

Manuscript Corruption

At this point, Livy’s narrative of events in Samnium comes to an abrupt end (at least in the surviving manuscripts).  The narrative then continues:

  1. “For (nam), a battle was fought with the Umbrians: they were unable to maintain the fury with which they began it, and they fled before they had suffered any great loss.  And, at the lacus Vadimonis, the Etruscans had concentrated an army raised under a lex sacrata ...” (‘‘History of Rome’, 9: 39: 4-5, my translation).

The fact that the introductory word ‘nam’ (for) has no connection with the preceding paragraph  indicates that these manuscripts are deficient at this point.  In some cases, the scribes were obviously aware of this: as Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 497) pointed out:

  1. a small number of them placed obeli  († ... †) around the words †nam et cum Umbrorum  ... et ad Vadimonis lacum in order to flag that this passage seemed to them to be to be corrupt;

  2. one of them inserted ‘et rurae’ as an introductory supplement before ‘nam’ (presumably to suggest ‘in Etruria’); and

  3. a small number of them inserted ‘interea res in etruria gestae‘ (meanwhile, achievements in Etruria) either before et cum Umbrorum or before et ad Vadimonis lacum.

This passage has been treated in various ways in ‘modern’ editions of the Latin text.  For example:

  1. Martin Hertz and Wilhelm Weissenborn (both referenced below) used asterisks to indicate a lacuna between 39: 3 and 39:4.

  2. Hermann Müller ( in his revision in 1890 of Weissenborn’s edition (above), which was reproduced in 1919, together with a translation by Benjamin Foster, referenced below):

  3. omitted ‘nam et cum Umbrorum  ... et ad Vadimonis lacum’ completely; and

  4. inserted ‘Interea’ (Meanwhile) before ‘the Etruscans had concentrated an army raised under a lex sacrata.   (The manuscript problem is covered in the 1919 version at p. 316, note 1).

  5. Charles Walters and  Robert Conway (referenced below) placed obeli  around the words †nam et cum Umbrorum  ... et ad Vadimonis lacum†, in order to flag the uncertainty surrounding it.  (However, John Yardley, in his translation based on this edition (referenced below), followed Müller and Foster here: he flagged the existence of the obelised passage as † ...† but omitted the content, which he reproduced in Latin in a note at p. 289).

I return to the potential impact of this apparent deficiency below, after first describing the sequence of events in the narrative as it stands. 

The links to Livy’s ‘History of Rome’ in the paragraphs above are to the online version of Benjamin Foster’s English translation (which I usually use in this website).   However, in the remaining sections of this page, the links for the events of 310/9 BC are to are to the translation of Canon William Roberts (referenced below), because includes the passage under discussion here, which (as noted above) Foster omitted.  

Engagements with the Umbrians

As we have seen, all of the surviving manuscripts (before any intervention in transcription) begin abruptly:

  1. “For, in an engagement with the Umbrians, the enemy were unable to keep up the fight with the spirit with which they began it, and, [without having suffered] any great loss, were completely routed.  And, at the lacus Vadimonis ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 39: 4).

Charles Walters and  Robert Conway (referenced below), in their influential edition of the Latin text,  place obeli around this passage in order to flag the uncertainty surrounding it. 

Problems With 39: 4 in the Surviving Manuscripts

As it stands, the narrative does not reveal:

  1. the identity of the Roman commander who defeated the Umbrians;

  2. the location in Etruria of the place at which this defeat took place;

  3. who ‘the Umbrians’ were (or even whether they were recognisably an army, as opposed to an unorganised band of some sort); and

  4. why they happened to be in Etruria.

Furthermore, Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at pp. 298-9) identified two other problems with this passage:

  1. In his paragraph (a), he noted that it clearly contradicts a later passage in which Livy claimed that:

  2. “The tranquillity that ... obtained in Etruria [in 308 BC] was disturbed by a sudden revolt of the Umbrians, [who had, up to that point] escaped all the distress of war, except that a [Roman] army had [previously] passed through their territory”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 41: 8).

  3. In his paragraph (c), he noted that the battles itself:

  4. “... is recounted with extraordinary brevity: this might be expected at the end of the narrative of a year or of a long campaign, but it is something of a surprise in the middle of the account of the campaigns of 310/9 BC.  Sandwiched between ...  a campaign against the Samnites and then one against the Etruscans, the Umbrians make a most odd appearance.”

As we shall see, a number of scholars have suggested means by which some or all of these difficulties might be resolved.

Missing Introduction to 9: 39: 4 ?

Canon William Roberts, in a translation into English published in 1905 (referenced below) included an introductory phrase (which I have italicised) to 9: 39: 4:

  1. “Meanwhile, [i.e. while the Roman and Samnite armies facing each other at Longula]  the Romans were meeting with success in Etruria: for, in an engagement with the Umbrians ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 39: 4). 

I have not been able to discover the basis for this insertion, but a similar suggestion was made (apparently independently) by Robert Ogilvie (referenced below, at p. 167): in a note on his suggested amendments to the edition of Walters and Conway (above), he argued that supplements such as ‘interea res in etruria gestae’, which appear in a small number of the surviving manuscripts (as noted above): 

  1. “... represent independent transcriptions from the fragmentary archetype (where, for instance, a line was damaged or omitted and restored in the margin) and must be judged to have ancient authority.  ... [However, since] Livy did not use ‘res gestae’ without qualification [anywhere else in the books that survive], it is probable that he wrote ‘interea res in Etruria prospere gestae’ [(Meanwhile, undertakings in Etruria were meeting with success)]” (my bold italics).

However, Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 498) objected that there is only weak manuscript support for this insertion and, rather than having ‘ancient authority’, the insert  ‘interea res in etruria gestae’:

  1. “... reads like a desperate attempt to restore sense to a corrupt text.”

He also argued that, even with the addition of this introductory phrase, the text would still suffer from a number of problems , including all of those discussed above.

Opening Lacuna ?

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 499, paragraph d) pointed out that:

  1. “It is quite likely that [line 9: 39: 3] was not originally the end of Livy’s description of this part of Papirius’ campaign, but was [instead] leading up to an account of a battle that was about to take place.”

He hardened this conclusion at p. 500:

  1. “The arguments in favour of a lacuna after [this passage] ... are ... overwhelming.” 

It is certainly true that this would provide an alternative to Ogilvie’s suggestion (above) of a specific introductory phrase crafted from scribal annotations to some of the surviving manuscripts.  Furthermore, it might have:

  1. included an account of a battle that was about to take place at Longula, as Oakley suggested; and/ or

  2. revealed some of the missing details relating to the subsequent Roman engagement with the Umbrians:

  3. the identity of the Roman commander who routed the Umbrians;

  4. the location in Etruria of the place at which this defeat took place;

  5. who ‘the Umbrians’ were (or even whether they were recognisably an army, as opposed to an unorganised band of some sort); and

  6. why they happened to be in Etruria.

However:

  1. the content of the lost narrative has to be purely a matter of speculation;

  2. it is possible (as Oakley recognised) that Livy described the battle that took place at Longula at 9: 40: 1-11, as discussed below; and

  3. even if it included all of the above details relating to the engagement with the Umbrians, this would not resolve the problems that Oakley identified at pp. 298-9, paragraphs (a) and (c), both of which are discussed above.

Obelised  Passage Should be Omitted ?

As noted above, Hermann Müller ( in his revision in 1890 of Wilhelm Weissenborn’s edition of 1869):

  1. omitted the obelised passage completely; and

  2. inserted ‘Interea’ (Meanwhile) before the passage that had followed it.

Benjamin Foster (referenced below) followed this practice in his translation of the 5th edition of the Weissenborn-Müller text: after their first inconclusive engagement at Longula, the Roman and Samnite armies:

  1. “ ... remained quietly in the camps that they had established near one another, neither lacking confidence in themselves nor yet making light of their adversaries.   Meanwhile, the Etruscans, employing a lex sacrata, had raised an army in which each man had chosen his comrade, and joined battle ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 39: 3-4)

John Yardley (referenced below), in his translation of the Walters and Conway edition:

  1. followed Walters and Conway by flagging the existence of the obelised passage as † ...†, and reproduced it in Latin at p. 289; but

  2. omitted the obelised passage from their English narrative. 

This change had the benefit of solving both

  1. the problems identified above; and

  2. the problems  that some scholars have with the notion of locating a subsequent major engagement with the Etruscans at the lacus Vadimonis (discussed below). 

However, as Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 500) observed:

  1. “... it is hard to see why this insertion would be made [if the obelised words had not been used, either here or elsewhere, in Livy’s original].”

Obelised Passage Should be Moved ?

William Anderson (referenced below, at p. 102)  argued that  the obelised passage should be inserted into 9: 39: 11:

  1. Without this change, the passage in question reads:

  2. “That day [in 310/9 BC] broke, for the first time, the power of the Etruscans after their long-continued and abundant prosperity.  The main strength of their army was left on the field, and their camp was taken and plundered”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 39: 11)

  3. With this change, it would read:

  4. “That day [in 310/9 BC] broke, for the first time, the power of the Etruscans after their long-continued and abundant prosperity:

  5. For, a battle was fought with the Umbrians: they were unable to maintain the fury with which they began it, and they fled before they had suffered any great loss. 

  6. A battle was also fought at the lacus Vadimonis, [where] the main strength of [the Etruscan] army was left on the field, and their camp was taken and plundered.”

Anderson argued that, in this context, the obelised passage would refer to two later occasions on which the power of the Etruscans was broken:

  1. The reference to an engagement with the Umbrians would be to:

  2. “ ... the battle [of 308 BC described by Livy at 9: 41: 8 - see above], in which the Umbrians, with the aid of a very large contingent of Etruscans, fought with Fabius and were very easily routed.  The [description of the battle in 9: 39: 4 is] fully borne out by the description of the battle in 9: 41]”  (my bold italics).

  3. The reference to an engagement at the lacus Vadimonis would be to:

  4. “ ... the famous battle of 283 BC, the so-called 'second battle of Lake Vadimo’, [when, according to Polybius, (‘Histories’, 2:20), the Romans routed the allied forces of the Etruscans and Gauls on its shores.  If so, then] there is no authority in Livy for placing the great [victory of 310/9 BC against an Etruscan army raised under a lex sacrata] at the lacus Vadimonis, and this need not surprise us, as no authority [other than Livy] ... places it there.  Thus,  the so-called 'first battle of Lake Vadimo' seems to be a myth, based on a textual corruption in Livy.” 

By moving these two engagements forward to 308 BC and 283 BC respectively, Anderson resolved the difficulties mentioned above, while accounting for the presence of the text in all of the surviving manuscripts (which, in this scenario, would have been based on a single archetype in which the passage had been misplaced). 

Stephen Oakley observed (referenced below. 2005, at p. 500) observed that Anderson’s suggestion:

  1. “... makes reasonable sense, ... [although] it is extremely bold, especially as there appears to be nothing missing at this point from [Livy’s] account of the fighting on the northern front.”

It seems to me that there are at least two more significant problems with Anderson’s suggestion:

  1. Although Livy claimed that, in 308 BC, the Umbrians had:

  2. “.... pushed the great part of the Etruscans to rebel ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 41: 8);

  3. he did not claim that any Etruscans shared in the Umbrian defeat. Thus, there is no basis for Anderson’s claim that ‘a very large contingent of Etruscans’ was destroyed on this occasion.

  4. In any case, surely a list of occasions on which the power of the Etruscans had been broken would have included their defeat in the aftermath of the Battle of Sentinum in 295 BC.


My Suggestion

I agree with William Anderson (above) that, in some important respects, there is a close similarity between the battles described in 9: 39: 4 and in 9: 41:

  1. In  the former, which took place in Etruria in 310/9 BC, a now-unnamed Roman commander engaged with:

  2. “... the Umbrians ... , [who] were unable to keep up the fight with the spirit with which they began it, and, [without having suffered] any great loss, were completely routed.”

  3. In  the latter, which took place near the Umbrian city of Mevania in 308 BC:

  4. An Umbrian army began the engagement by threatening to:

  5. “... [leave the consul] Decius in their rear and [march]... on Rome”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 41: 9)

  6. but, on realising that Decius had outflanked them and that the other consul Fabius (again) had arrived to engage with them, it quickly lost heart.  Thus, in the battle that followed:

  7. “More [Umbrians] were captured than were killed, and only one cry was heard throughout their ranks: ‘Lay down your arms!’  So, on the field of battle, the prime authors of the war surrendered”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 41: 19)


However, in my view, the most obvious reason for this is that these descriptions relate to the same battle, but that Livy had failed to recognise the this because his sources for it contained conflicting information on (inter alia):

  1. the year in which it was fought (310/BC or 308 BC ??);

  2. the place at which it was fought (Etruria or Mevania ??);

  3. the character of the enemy (an unorganised rabble or a large and properly mustered army);  

  4. the identity of the victorious Roman commander (Fabius, in his second consulship of in 310/9 BC; Papirius, in his second term as dictator in 310/9 BC; Fabius, in his third consulship of 308 BC; or Publius Decius Mus, the other consul of 308 BC ????); and

  5. the importance of this engagement (a minor skirmish in Etruria or the defeat of an army that had been assembled at Mevania and represented a credible threat to Rome itself ??).

Engagement with the Etruscans at the Lacus Vadimonis


Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

According to the surviving manuscripts:

  1. “An engagement also took place at the lacus Vadimonis, where the Etruscans, using a lex sacrata (sacred law), had raised an army cum vir virum legisset (in which each man had chosen another).  This army fought with more men and with greater courage than ever before.  So savage was the feeling on both sides that ... [the outcome] long hung in the balance.  [It seemed to the Romans that they were engaging] with some new, unknown people, rather than with the Etruscans (whom they had  so often defeated).  ...  [However, an unexpected Roman tactic - see below] threw the Etruscan standards into confusion  ...  and [the Romans] at last broke through their ranks.  Their determined resistance was now overcome and  ...  they soon took flight.  That day, for the first time, broke the power of the Etruscans after their long-continued and abundant prosperity.  The main strength of their army was left [dead] on the field, and their camp was taken and plundered”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 39: 5-11).

Lacus Vadimonis

As Simon Stoddart and Caroline Malone (referenced below, at p. 3) pointed out:

  1. “Most ancient lakes [in Umbria], such as the  ... Vadimone lake, near [Ameria, modern] Amelia ... , have now disappeared.”

The only useful indication in our surviving sources of its location and appearance comes in a letter that Pliny the Younger wrote in the late 1st century AD:

  1. “My [father-in-law, Calpurnius Fabatus] desired that I should look over Amerina praedia sua (his estate near Ameria).  As I was walking over his grounds, I was shown a lake that lies below them, called Vadimonis, about which several very extraordinary things are told. ... It is perfectly circular in form, ... just as if it had been ... cut out by the hand of art.  The water is of a clear sky-blue, though with somewhat of a greenish tinge; its smell is sulphurous, ... Though it is of only moderate extent, the winds have a great effect upon it, throwing it into violent agitation.  No vessels are allowed to sail here, as its waters are held sacred; but several floating islands swim about it ... This lake empties itself into a river, which, after running a little way, sinks underground, and, if anything is thrown in, it brings it up again where the stream emerges”, (Letter 93: to Gallus).

In his book about his travels in Etruria in the 1840s, the redoubtable George Dennis (referenced below) believed that he had found the remnants of this lake:

  1. “If you follow the banks of the Tiber [westwards] for about 4 miles [from Horta, modern] Orte, you will reach the ‘Laghetto/ Lagherello/ Lago di Bassano’, which [takes its name from] a village in the neighbourhood.  [This was] the Vadimonian Lake of antiquity ...”

This site is on a bend in the Tiber, some 4 km northeast of modern Bassano in Teverina, where a sink hole of some 40 meters in diameter survives.  However, Ardelio Loppi (referenced below) pointed out, Pliny would not have described the Tiber as simply ‘a river’.  He suggested that it was more probably at Poggio del Lago, near modern Vasanello (or Bassanello), some 10 km to the south of of Castellum Amerinum, where the later via Amerina crossed the Tiber.  I have marked both locations on the map above.  Thus, the general location of the ancient lake is clear enough: it was about:

  1. 40 km north of Roman territory (which ended at the Latin colonies of Sutrium and Nepete);

  2. 25 km north of Falerii, which was allied to Rome;

  3. 50 km  southeast of the Etruscan city-state of Volsinii; and

  4. 70 km east of the Etruscan city-state of Tarquinii.

Some scholars reject the existence of an engagement of any kind between the Romans and the Etruscans at the lacus Vadimonis in 310/9 BC: as Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 498, paragraph (b)) observed:

  1. “It is quite certain that there was a [Roman victory over a coalition of Gauls and Etruscans] at this lake in 283 BC, but [Livy is our only surviving source for] a previous battle against the Etruscans at this site in 310/9 BC.”

In note 3, he cited (inter alia) William Harris (referenced below, at p. 56), who argued that the earlier engagement is:

  1. “... generally regarded as a doublet of ... [that of] 283 BC, which is described by Polybius [see below].  The site of the battle is so specific that it is [indeed] necessary to reject one or the other and, in spite of the difficulties [with  the surviving sources for the battle] of 283 BC, it clearly belongs to that year.”

Oakley (as above) similarly cautioned that:

  1. “... although the notion of [Livy’s putative battle of 310/9 BC] is not ... absolutely incredible, the unreliability of Livy’s general account of events in this year (and, in particular, of 9: 39: 4) means that one should be very cautious indeed about accepting it.”

However, it seems to me that, pace William Harris, it is entirely possible that the Romans engaged with an Etruscan army at the lacus Vadimonis on more that one occasion: as George Dennis (referenced below) observed:

  1. “Whoever visits the [likely site of the] Vadimon will comprehend how it was that decisive battles were fought upon its shores.  The valley here forms the natural pass into the inner or central plain of Etruria.  It ... [occupies] a low, level tract, about a mile wide, hemmed in between the heights [of the mons Ciminius] and the Tiber ... ; ... these heights ... are, even now, densely covered with wood, as no doubt they were in ancient times, this being part of the celebrated Ciminian forest.”

Furthermore, as we have seen, the lacus Vadimonis was only 40 km north of the Latin colonies of Sutrium and Nepete, which defended the road to Rome. 

Did the Romans Win Two Major Battles Against the Etruscans in 310/9 BC ?

Although there is no basis for dismissing Livy’s account of this second major battle against the Etruscans in 310/9 BC simply on the basis of its putative location, we still need to consider whether it should be rejected on other grounds.  For example, could yet another significant Roman victory over the Etruscans really have featured among what Simone Sisani (referenced below, 2007, at pp. 35-6), for example, described as:

  1. “... the events of the [apparently] interminable 310/9 BC” (my translation).

In order to consider this question, we need to go back to the time just  before Papirius’ appointment as dictator, when, according to Livy (‘History of Rome’, 9: 37), Fabius had:

  1. defeated the largest army that the Etruscans and Umbrians had ever sent against the Romans; and

  2. imposed 30-year truces on Arretium, Cortona and Perusia, three of the leading city-states of upper Etruria.

Although Livy thought that this ‘famous battle’ had taken place near Sutrium, he acknowledged that some historians located it near Perusia.  Diodorus Siculus, who also recorded this victory and the truces with Arretium, Cortona and Perusia that followed it, also placed it at Perusia.

However, Livy and Diodorus gave what, at first site, seem to be different accounts of what happened next in Etruria:

  1. As we have seen, Livy recorded that a now-unnamed Roman commander defeated an even larger Etruscan army at the lacus Vadimonis, and that the power of the Etruscans was broken for the first time in this second battle.

  2. According to Diodorus, Fabius marched south from Perusia and:

  3. “... taking by siege the city called Castola, ... forced the Etruscans to raise the siege of Sutrium”, (‘Library of History’, 20: 35: 5).   

Modern scholars have taken different positions on whether either or both of these records should be accepted.  For example:

  1. Simone Sisani (referenced below, 2007, at pp. 35-6) argued that:

  2. “The last clash [in Etruria in 310/9 BC], which must have seen the the Etruscans and Umbrians deployed against the Romans, took place on the route of Fabius’ return towards Sutrium, near the lacus Vadimonis [Livy], not far from the possible location of the otherwise unknown city called Castola, which Fabius had seized [Diodorus].  It is here that the Romans defeated the troops that were still besieging Sutrium, thereby liberating that city and earning Fabius a triumph” (my translation).

  3. Sisani:

  4. suggested (at p. 36, note 37) that ‘Castola’ might have been located at the ancient fortified site that has been excavated at Monte Casoli, near modern Bomarzo, some 15 km west of the lacus Vadimonis, and

  5. marked battles at each of these locations in his reconstruction of Fabius route from Perusia towards Sutrium (in Figure 1, at p. 34).

  6. Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 456) considered twhether the victory at the lacus Vadimonis:

  7. “... is a doublet of that recorded at [near Perusia, mentioned above ... This hypothesis] cannot be proved beyond doubt, but it] involves no historical difficulties and allows a coherent reconstruction of events.”

  8. He elaborated (at p. 498, note 3):

  9. “If the reference to Vadimo really does belong in the text, then either Livy or his ... sources may have either accidentally produced a doublet or deliberately invented another [campaign here].”

  10. However,  Oakley (at p. 457), like Sisani, was inclined to accept Diodorus’ account, arguing that:

  11. “...a reference to so obscure a site is most unlikely to have been invented.”

We can take this discussion forward by considering another observation by Stephen Oakley. who pointed out (at p. 499, paragraph (g)) that, in the original Latin, the link between 39: 4 and 39: 5 is structured as follows:

  1. nam et cum Umbrorum  ... et ad Vadimonis lacum ...”.

He observed that:

  1. “One does not expect a trivial campaign against the Umbrians to be linked ... [by the stylistic device] ‘et ...et ...’ with the opening of [the great battle against the Etruscans]” (my changed order of clauses).

He suggested (at p. 500) that there might originally have been text after ‘ad Vadimonis lacum’ that has been lost.  In other words, the ‘trivial engagement with the Umbrians’ might originally have been followed by now-lost text that:

  1. described a relatively trivial engagement with the Etruscans at the lacus Vadimonis; and then

  2. introduced a the battle in which the Romans broke the power of the Etruscans for the first time.

It seems to me that a more likely explanation for this grammatical construct is that Livy had subsequently embellished what had been a relatively unimportant engagement with the Etruscans in an earlier version of his narrative.  Diodorus’ record of Fabius success at Castola would be an obvious candidate for this relatively trivial engagement with the Etruscans, and it is entirely possible (as Sisani suggested) that this Etruscan city was near the lacus Vadimonis.  In other words, it is at least possible that, at 9: 39: 5-11, Livy provided an embellished account of the Roman engagement at Castola (which Diodorus attributed, not necessarily correctly, to Fabius).

Which Etruscans Were Defeated at the Lacus Vadimonis ?

Livy gave no indication of which Etruscan city-states had sent men to the muster at the lacus Vadimonis.  However, we might make some deductions:

  1. Livy did not suggest that any of Perusia, Cortona or Arretium had violated its recently-agreed 30-year truce. 

  2. Furthermore, the 40-year truce that the Romans had agreed with Tarquinii in 351 BC was not due to expire until 308 BC (allowing for 3 dictator years in the intervening period),.  Since (as we shall see) it was duly renewed for another 40 years at that point., it seems unlikely that Tarquinii had played a significant role in the hostilities of 310/9 BC.

It seems to me that the most obvious candidate would be Volsinii, which might well have assumed responsibility for the continuing the siege of Sutrium after Arretium, Cortona and Perusia submitted to Rome:

  1. both Castola and the lacus Vadimonis might well have been in its territory; and

  2. (as we shall see) it again suffered the hostile attention of the Romans in 308 BC. 

This hypothesis does not exclude the possibility that Etruscans from other city-states had been drawn to Castola from the siege of Sutrium.  However, it seems likely that any Etruscans from cities that had truces with Rome participated in the hostilities without the overt sanction of their city states.

Which Roman Commander Secured this Putative Second Victory ?

As we have seen, the Roman commander who was responsible for this victory:

  1. “... broke the power of the Etruscans for the first time ... The main strength of their army was left [dead] on the field ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 39: 5-11).

In view of the glory that would have attended such an achievement, it is  extremely surprising that, at least in the surviving manuscripts, Livy did not identify him. 

This conundrum had apparently occurred to at least one of the scribes responsible for one of the surviving surviving manuscripts: Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 499, paragraph (e)) noted that he inserted the phrase ‘interim ab fabio consule in Etruria res feliciter gestae’ (Meanwhile, the consul Fabius was meeting with success in Etruria) before ‘et ad Vadimonis lacum’.  Oakley agreed that:

  1. “One would rather have expected Fabius to have been in charge on the Etruscan front; but  he is nowhere mentioned ... ”.

Instead, as Oakley pointed out:

  1. “Scholars tend to assume that Papirius was in command ...”

However, in Oakley’s view, this hypothesis:

  1. “... is absurd, [since it has Papirius]  moving from [Longula] to Lake Vadimo and then back to Samnium [see below].”   

He added (at paragraph (f)) that, even if one accepts this hypothesis:

  1. “... there remains the difficulty that there ought to be  some [indication] of how he moved from Longula to Lake Vadimo.”

In order to take this further, we need to consider why Livy apparently omitted to name the Roman who secured this magnificent victory.  In my view, its omission is unlikely to be simply the result of missing text: Livy’s account of the battle implies that the men on both sides fought spontaneously, without needing direction from above:

  1. “So savage was the feeling on both sides that, without discharging a single missile, the soldiers began the fight with swords from the start.  ... There was not the slightest sign of yielding anywhere: as the men in the first line fell, those in the second took their places to defend the standards.  At length, the last reserves had to be brought up, and matters had come to such an extremity of exhaustion and danger that the Roman cavalry dismounted and ... made their way ... to the front ranks of the infantry.  They appeared [there] like a fresh army amongst the exhausted combatants, and immediately threw the Etruscan standards into confusion.  The [Roman infantry], worn out as they were, nevertheless followed up the cavalry attack, and at last broke through the Etruscan ranks ...  They soon took to  flight ... , [leaving] the main strength of their army [dead] on the field, and their camp was taken and plundered”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 39: 6-10).

It is possible that Livy  gave no discernible role to the Roman who commanded this battle because he had no information as to his identity.  However, it seems to me that he we more probably struggling to reconcile too many discordant sources:

  1. those sources that favoured Papirius might well have credited him with an excursion from Longula to Lake Vadimo and back to Samnium (however absurd this might have been); while. 

  2. those that favoured Fabius might well have :

  3. named him as the victorious commander;

  4. described the battle as a trivial mopping-up operation; or

  5. denied that it happened at all.

There is, in fact, another indication that much of Livy’s account came from sources who favoured Papirius: as discussed below, his record that:

  1. “The Etruscans, using a lex sacrata (sacred law), had raised an army cum vir virum legisset (in which each man had chosen another).”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 39: 5);

had probably been taken from an account of the more reliably authentic victory that Papirius’ homonymous son secured against the Samnites.

Papirius’ Victory in Samnium

Livy’s Transitions from Samnium to Etruria and Back Again

As noted above, soon after his appointment as dictator, Papirius had engaged with the Samnites at Longula.  However, this part of Livy’s account ended abruptly:

  1. “... while the two armies stood armed and ready for the conflict, ... night overtook them.  [They retired to their respective camps], which were within a short distance of each other, and remained [there] for some days: they did not doubt their own strength, but neither did they underestimate the enemy”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 39: 3). 

It seems likely that the text that followed has been lost, since all of the surviving manuscripts continue with:

  1. a potentially corrupt passage:

  2. “For, in an engagement with the Umbrians, the enemy were unable to keep up the fight with the spirit with which they began it, and, [without having suffered] any great loss, were completely routed.  And, at the lacus Vadimonis ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 39: 4);

  3. followed by an account of a major Roman victory over an Etruscan army that had been raised using a lex sacrata (‘History of Rome’, 9: 39: 5-11).

Livy then effected a smooth transition from Etruria hack to Samnium:

  1. “Equally hard fighting and an equally brilliant success characterised the campaign which immediately followed against the Samnites”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 40: 1).

However, he did not say where this brilliant campaign took place.  Instead, he embarked on a long description of the splendid armour worn by the Samnites, before referring to Papirius at the head of the Roman army only at  9: 40: 8.


Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 461) observed that the putative lacuna at 39: 4 (above):

  1. “... does not allow us to determine whether [it] ... should also be placed at Longula.”

In other words, it is possible that:

  1. a now-lost passage after 9: 39: 3 completed Livy’s account of Papirius’ engagement at Longula; and

  2. Papirius now engaged with a splendidly-attired Samnite army at another unnamed location in Samnium.

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 499, paragraph (d)) observed that:

  1. “Line 40:1 ... does not pick up [line] 39: 3 at all well: [in particular], the mention of the new preparations of the Samnites seems very sudden.”

This certainly suggests that Livy was speaking about two different occasions at 9: 39: 1-3 and at  9: 40: 1-14.  However, if this is correct, then Livy seems to have launched into the second engagement without having described where and in what circumstances it took place.

According to Livy, while this now-unknown Roman commander was breaking the power of the Etruscans:

  1. “The war in Samnium ...  was attended with equal danger and an equally glorious conclusion.”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 40: 1).    

However, Livy does not say where this ‘glorious conclusion’ took place: Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 461) observed that the putative lacunae at 39: 4 (above):

  1. “... does not allow us to determine whether [or not it] ... should also be placed at Longula.”

As noted above, Livy began his account of  this battle by describing the Samnites’ opulent armour, drawing on material that probably belonged to the victory of his homonymous son over the Samnites in 293 BC.  During the battle, the elder Papirius was supported by:

  1. his master of the horse, Caius Junius Bubulcus Brutus; and

  2. two legates:

  3. Marcus Valerius Maxiumus Corvus; and

  4. Publius Decius Mus.

His description of the battle contains the important fact (which I discuss further below) that Junius faced a Samnite corp that was made up of men who had ‘consecrated themselves’ to victory.  However, at this point, I want to focus on another aspect of Livy’s description:

  1. “From the first moment, there was a mighty struggle with the enemy, and a struggle no less sharp between Papirius and Junius to decide which wing [of the Roman army] would inaugurate the victory”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 40: 2-9).

When Junius’ charge broke the enemy right, Papirius:

  1. “... cried:

  2. ‘Shall ... the dictator's division follow the attack of others [rather than] carry off the honours of the victory ?’ 

  3. This fired the [rest of the Roman] soldiers with new energy; nor did ... the [legates display] less enthusiasm than the generals: Valerius on the right and Publius Decius on the left, both men of consular rank, ... charged obliquely against the enemy's flanks.  [The Samnites took flight and] the fields were soon heaped with both dead soldiers and glittering [enemy] armour”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 40: 10-14).

In other words, there was significant tension between Papirius and his senior colleagues, and only they are recorded as making any significant contribution to the victory.  I return to this Livian theme of Papirius‘ difficult relations with  colleagues below.

Nevertheless, as we saw above, whatever his actual contribution, Papirius:

  1. “... as decreed by the Senate, ... celebrated a triumph, in which by far the finest show was afforded by the captured [Samnite] armour”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 40: 15).  

The ‘fasti Triumphales’ also recorded that Papirius, as dictator, was awarded a triumph over the Samnites in 310/9 BC/




Splendid Samnite Armour



Exhortation to the Troops by Unnamed Roman Officers

Livy then imagined how the unnamed Roman commanders had represented this Samnite behaviour to their men:

  1. “The Roman soldiers knew that [their opponents] had been provided with this splendid armour.  [However], they had been taught a ducibus (by their officers) that:

  2. soldiers ought to inspire dread, not by being decked out in gold and silver, but by trusting to their courage and their swords; and

  3. the Samnite armour [constituted booty for the Romans] rather than a defence for the wearer, resplendent enough before a battle but soon stained and fouled by wounds and bloodshed. 

  4. They [therefore] knew that courage was ornament of the soldier: all that [Samnite] finery would belong to the victor, however poor he might be”, (History of Rome’, 9: 40: 5-7). 

This oddly impersonal account is similar to that used by Livy in his description of the battle against the Etruscans at the lacus Vadimonis (above).

Start of the Battle

Only at this point did Livy identify the Roman officers in command:

  1. the dictator Papirius;

  2. his master of horse, Caius Junius Bubulcus Brutus; and

  3. two military tribunes or legates, both of whom were of consular rank:

  4. Marcus Valerius Corvus (see Stephen Oakley, (referenced below, 2005, at p. 520) for his identity); and

  5. Publius Decius Mus.

With the teaching of the so-far unnamed officer ringing in the ears of his men:

  1. “Papirius led [them] into battle  He took up his own post on the [Roman] right, and committed the left to [Junius].  As soon as the two lines clashed, a contest [also] began between the [Papirius and Junius] (which was quite as keen as the struggle against the enemy) as to whose division should be the first to win the victor”, (History of Rome’, 9: 40: 8-9).

Men of the Samnite ‘Silver and Linen’ Division had Consecrated Themselves

Livy then provided an important detail of the Samnite ‘silver’ division, which confronted Junius:

  1. “Junius happened to be the first to dislodge the enemy.  [He brought] his left wing against the enemy's right, [which was made up of the soldiers] who sacratos more Samnitium (had devoted or consecrated themselves to a particular deity, after the Samnite custom) and, for that reason, were conspicuous in their white tunics and glittering armour”, (History of Rome’, 9: 40: 9).

For this reason, as Junius led the charge against them, he declared: 

  1. “... that he would sacrifice them to Orcus [a god of the underworld] ...”, (History of Rome’, 9: 40: 10).

Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2007, at p. 397) observed that, in this passage:

  1. “Junius, in a grim jest, pronounces that he will do the sacrificing [of the consecrated men], but on behalf of Rome” (my italics).

Roman Victory

Livy now described the course of the battle: Junius assault on the consecrated men on the Samnyite right wing:

  1. “... shook their ranks and made them give way.  On seeing this, Papirius exclaimed: ‘Shall the victory begin on the left wing?  Is the right wing, the dictator's own division, going to follow where another had led the way in battle, and not win for itself the greatest share of the victory?’  This roused the men; the cavalry behaved with quite as much gallantry as the infantry, and the legates [see above] displayed no less energy than the generals.  Valerius on the right wing and Decius on the left, both men of consular rank, rode up to the cavalry who were covering the flanks and urged them to snatch some of the glory for themselves.  They charged the enemy on both flanks, and the double attack increased the consternation of the enemy.  To complete their discomfiture, the Roman legions again raised their battle-shout and charged home.  Now the Samnites took to flight, and soon the plain was filled with shining armour and heaps of bodies.  At first the terrified Samnites found shelter in their camp, but they were not able to hold that; it was captured, plundered, and burnt before nightfall.”, (History of Rome’, 9: 40: 10-14).








In order to explore this further, we might look again at Livy’s account of the circumstances in which Papirius had been appointed dictator just before this battle.  According to Livy:

  1. “... great the alarm [was] created in Rome by Fabius' expedition through the Ciminian forest.  This was matched by] the pleasure felt by the Samnites when they heard of it ..., [until] they reflected that fortune might transfer the glory of [winning] the Roman war from the Samnites to the Etruscans.  So. they concentrated their whole strength:

  2. on crushing Marcius; or,

  3. if he did not give them a chance of fighting, to march through the country of the Marsi and Sabines into Etruria.

  4. [In the event], Marcius met them [at an unspecified location], and the battle was fiercely contested on both sides, but without a decision being reached.  However, ... , the report gained ground that the Romans had been worsted ... and, .... [that] Marcius himself was wounded. These reverses ... were further exaggerated in the telling, and the Senate...  determined on the appointment of a  dictator (‘History of Rome’, 9: 38: 4-10).

In short, Papirius was appointed as dictator at a moment when (at least according to Livy or his sources) the Romans feared a simultaneous attack by the Samnites and the Etruscans.  There are interesting parallels here with Livy’s account of the appointment of Postumius as dictator in 431 BC:

  1. “After a levy had been raised under the lex sacrata ,... the armies of the Aequi and the Volsci]  advanced and joined forces joined forces on the mons Algidus,  ... The reports of this increased the alarm in Rome.  In view of the fact that these two nations, after their numerous defeats. were now renewing the war with greater energy than they had ever done before and that a considerable number of the Romans of military age had been carried off by the epidemic, the Senate decided upon the nomination of a dictator”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 26: 4-6).

Postumius orchestrated what proved to be the Romans’ definitive victory over the the Aequi and the Volsci and:

  1. “After placing the consul [Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus] in command of the camp, he entered Rome in triumph and then laid down his dictatorship”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 29: 4).

It seems to me that later admirers of Papirius might well have developed their account of Papirius’ dictatorship of 310/9 BC on that of Postumius in 431 BC: if so, then they might well have had him rescuing Rome from two armies that had been raised under leges sacratae:

  1. the Etruscan army mustered at (?) the lacus Vadimonis; and

  2. as we shall see, a Samnite army mustered at (?) Longula.

Preliminary Conclusion: Engagement with the Etruscans

There is no reason to doubt that Livy located this Roman victory over the Etruscans in 310/9 BC on the shores of the lacus Vadimonis

  1. It might have been a doublet of Fabius earlier victory in the ‘famous battle’ which had probably been fought near Perusia and which culminated in 30-year truces with Arretium, Cortona and Perusia.

  2. Alternatively, it might have been a mopping-up operation that finally ended the Etruscan threat to Sutrium, in which case it might well have been found in an embellished form in those of Livy’s sources that were intent on lionising the dictator Papirius.  Among these embellishments would have been the trope of an enemy army raised under a lex sacrata, which would have been based on more reliable accounts of the victory of that Papirius’ homonymous son secured in 293 BC.


Read more:

S. Stoddart and C.  Malone, introduction to the catalogue:

  1. F. Fulminante (Ed), “Cambridge in Umbria. Umbria in Cambridge: Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, September 2013”, online

J. C. Yardley and D. Hoyos, “Livy: Rome's Italian Wars: Books 6-10”, (2013), Oxford World's Classics

A. Loppi, “Il Lago Vadimone: si Trovava a Vasanello”, Cronos (October 2009)

S. Oakley, “A Commentary on Livy, Books VI-X:Volume IV: Book X”, (2007) Oxford

S. Oakley, “A Commentary on Livy, Books VI-X:Volume III: Book IX”, 2005 (Oxford)

A. Baker, “The Gladiator: The Secret History of Rome's Warrior Slaves”, (2000) London

T. Cornell, “Notes on the Sources for Campanian History in the 5th Century BC”, Museum Helveticum, 31:4 (1974) 193-208

R. Ogilvie, “Notes on Livy IX”, Yale Classical Studies, 23 (1973) 159-68

W. Harris, “Rome in Etruria and Umbria”, (1971) Oxford

W. Walters and R. Conway (Eds), “T. Livi: Ab Urb Condita, (1919) London

W. E. Heitland “The Roman Republic, Volume 1”, (1909) Cambridge

W. B. Anderson, “Contributions to the Study of the Ninth Book of Livy”, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 39 (1908) 89-103

H. Müller, revision of the edition by W. Weissenborn (below), “T. Livi: Ab Urb Condita: Libri VIII-IX”,  (1890), reproduced, together with with an English translation by B.O. Foster, in

  1. Livy” (1919) London

W. Weissenborn (Ed.), “T. Livi: Ab Urb Condita: Buch VI-X”,  (1869), Berlin

M. Hertz (Ed.), “T. Livi: Ab Urb Condita: Vol. I”,  (1857), Leipzig

G. Dennis, Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria”, (1848) London


Roman Conquest: Conquest of Veii - Renewal of Latin Peace (406 - 358 BC)

Renewed Latin Peace to 1st Samnite War (358 - 341 BC)

Between First Two Samnite Wars I (341 - 338 BC)    Between First Two Samnite Wars II (337 - 328 BC) Second Samnite War I (328 - 316 BC)


Second Samnite War II (315 - 304 BC):     Main Page

Livy: Fabius‘ 2nd Consulship (310/9 BC)     Dictator Years (334/3; 325/4; 310/9; and 302/1 BC)

Livy: Papirius‘ 2nd Dictatorship (310/9 BC)     Livy: Roman Victory at Mevania (308 BC)


Between 2nd and 3rd Samnite Wars (304 -298 BC)

Third Samnite War (298 - 290 BC)     

Conquest of the Sabines (290 BC)     Wars with Gauls and Etruscans (285 - 280 BC)

End Game (280-241 BC)


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