Key to Ancient Umbria

Polybius (ca. 203–120 BC)

Polybius was a Greek historian who worked in Rome.  He is noted for his book “The Histories”, which covered the rise of Rome in the period 264-146 BC in 40 volumes.  Only 5 of these survive in their entirety, although much of the lost content is known from excerpts.

Polybius on the Battle of Sentium 

In chapter entitled “The Gallic Wars”, Polybius records a series of engagements that involved or affected the Etruscans:

  1. In 297 BC, “the Samnites and Gauls made a league, gave the Romans battle in the neighbourhood of Camerium, and slew a large number.  Incensed at this defeat, the Romans marched out a few days afterwards, and with two consular armies engaged the enemy in the territory of Sentium; and, having killed the greater number of them, forced the survivors to retreat in hot haste each to his own land” (2:19: 1).

  2. “Again, after an interval of 10 years, the Gauls besieged Arretium (Arezzo) with a great army.  The Romans went to the assistance of the town and were beaten in an engagement under its walls.  The Praetor [Lucius Caecilius] having fallen in this battle, Manius Curius was appointed in his place.  The ambassadors that he sent to the Gauls to treat for the prisoners were treacherously murdered by them.  At this the Romans, in high wrath, sent an expedition against them, which was met by the tribe called the Senones.  In a pitched battle this army was cut to pieces, and the rest of the tribe expelled from the county, into which the Romans sent the first colony that they ever planted in Gaul, namely, the town of Sena [Sena Gallica, now Senigallia], so called from the tribe of Gauls which formerly occupied it.  This is the town which I mentioned before as lying on the coast at the extremity of the plains of the Padus [i.e. the Po valley]” (2:19: 7) 

  3. Seeing the expulsion of the Senones, and fearing the same fate for themselves, the Boii made a general levy, summoned the Etruscans to join them, and set out to war.  They mustered their forces near the lacus Vadimonis, and there gave the Romans battle; in which the Etruscans indeed suffered a loss of more than half their men, while scarcely any of the Boii escaped.  But yet, in the very next year, the same two nations joined forces once more; and arming even those of them who had only just reached manhood, gave the Romans battle again; and it was not until they had been utterly defeated in this engagement that they humbled themselves so far as to send ambassadors to Rome and make a treaty” (2:20).

Propertius (ca. 50 - 12 BC)

Sextus Propertius was probably born in Assisi, although he spent most of his life in Rome, where he was appreciated as a love poet.  His surviving works are contained in four books of autobiographical ‘Elegies’, many of which are directed to his mistress, Cynthia.

Propertius on Vertumnus and Volsinii

Propertius’ elegy on “The God Vertumnus” (IV: 2: 1-64), is framed as a monologue by of this deity that stood on the Vicus Tuscus (Tuscan Way) in Rome. 

Vertumnus’ Characteristics

The elegy begins with a question:

  1. “Why marvel at the many shapes of my one body?” 

Propertius devotes the core of the elegy is devoted to Vertumnus’ ability to change his form at will.  He plays with the idea that his name derives from ‘vertere’ (to change), associates him with the changing of the seasons, and provides a list of guises that he is able to adopt.

  1. “The Tiber once had its course here.  They say the sound of oars was heard over beaten waters but afterwards he gave so much ground to his adopted children.  I was named the god Vertumnus after the river’s windings. 

  2. Because I receive the first fruits of turning year (annus vertens),  you believe them to be a reward for your sacrifice to Vertumnus.  The first grape changes hue for me in darkening bunches, and hairy ears of corn swell with milky grains.  Here you see sweet cherries, autumn plums, and mulberries redden through summer days.  Here the grafter pays his vows with apple garlands, when the unwilling pear stock has borne fruit.

  3. Be silent echoing rumour: there is another pointer to my name: believe the god who speaks about himself.  My nature is adaptable to every form: turn me into whatever you wish, I will achieve it. 

  4. Clothe me in Coan silk and I will be no bad girl. 

  5. And when I wear the toga, who will say that I am no man? 

  6. Give me a scythe and tie twists of hay on my forehead and you can swear the grass was cut by my hand. 

  7. Once I carried weapons, I remember, and was praised. 

  8. Yet I was a reaper when burdened by the basket’s weight. 

  9. I am sober for the law.  But when the garland is put on, you will cry out that wine has gone to my head. 

  10. Circle my brow with a turban and I will impersonate Bacchus’s form. 

  11. If you give me his lyre, I will impersonate Apollo. 

  12. Loaded down with my nets I hunt. 

  13. But with limed reed, I am the patron god of wild-fowling.

  14. Vertumnus has also a charioteer’s likeness, and of him who lightly leaps from horse to horse. 

  15. Supply me with rod and I will catch fish, or go as a neat pedlar in trailing tunic. 

  16. I can bend like a shepherd over his crook, or carry baskets of roses through the dust. 

  17. What should I add; what is my greatest fame?  That the garden’s choice gifts are given into my hands?  Dark-green cucumbers, gourds with swollen bellies, and cabbages tied with light rushes mark me out.  No flower of the field grows that is not placed on my brow and fittingly droops before me.  Because my single shape becomes all, my native tongue from that gave me my name”.

Vertumnus and the early Etruscan Presence in Rome

The last two verses of the elegy deal with the history of the speaking statue:

  1. “And you, Rome, gave rewards to my Tuscans (from whom the Vicus Tuscus takes its name today) at the time when Lycomedius came with armed allies, and crushed fierce Tatius.  I saw the broken ranks, the abandoned weapons, and the enemy turn their backs in shameful flight.  Seed of the Gods, grant that the toga’d crowds of Rome may pass before my feet forever.

  2. Six lines should yet be added.  You, who hurry to answer bail, I’ll not delay you; this is the last mark on my way.  I was a maple sapling, cut by a swift sickle.  Before Numa, I was a humble god in a grateful city.  But you, Mamurius , creator of my bronze statue, may the Oscan earth never spoil your skillful hands, which were able to cast me for such adaptable use.  It is a single statue, but the honour given to it is not.’ 

In the first of this verses, the statue claims to have been an eyewitness when an Etruscan army led by “Lycomedius” helped Romulus to defeat the sabine Titus Tatius.   (The Etruscan saviour is more usually identified as Caeles Vibenna  - see, for example, Varro, above).  This was the start of the original Etruscan presence in Rome, and Vertumnus seems to be claiming that this was when his cult arrived in the city.  Originally, he had been represented by a statue made of wood.  However, in the reign of Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome (715-673 BC), the mythical Mamurius Veturius had executed the bronze statue that now addressed the crowd.

Vertumnus and Volsinii

I have taken these lines (lines 3-6) out of order, because they seem to me to be quite separate from the rest of the elegy.  The statue of Vertumnus on the Vicus Tuscus is referring, somewhat elliptically, to another representation of him that arrived in Rome from Volsinii:

  1. “Learn the native signs [i.e. the origins] of the god Vertumnus.  I am a Tuscan born of Tuscans, and do not regret abandoning Volsinii’s hearths in battle. This crowd of mine delights me, I enjoy no ivory temple: it’s enough that I can see the Roman Forum”.

These lines relate to what was probably the “evocatio” (ritual “calling”) of Vertumnus to Rome after the Romans’ destruction of Volsinii in 264 BC.  The triumphant consul, Marcus Fulvius Flaccus dedicated a new temple to him on the Aventine Hill, but the old statue on the Vicus Tuscus, while pleased with the new arrival, did not envy him this new home.

Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC)

Diodorus Siculus was a Greek-speaking historian from Sicily.  His ‘Bibliotheca Historica’ (Historical Library) consisted of 40 books, of which Books 1–5 and 11–20 survive.  The work covered the entire span from the mythical events before the Trojan War until Diodorus’ own times.  He gave it the name "Bibliotheca" to acknowledge the fact that he was assembling a composite work from many sources.

Diodorus Siculus on the Defeat of the Etruscans (310 BC)

Diodorus Siculus provided an account of the events in 310 BC, the year of the consuls Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus and Gaius Marcius Rutilus Censorinus (later described in more detail by Livy - see below):

  1. “When the Etruscans had taken the field against the city of Sutrium (Sutri), a Roman colony, the consuls, coming out to its aid with a strong army, defeated them in battle and drove them into their camp; but the Samnites at this time, when the Roman army was far distant, were plundering with impunity those Iapyges who supported the Romans.  The consuls, therefore, were forced to divide their armies;

  2. -Fabius remained in Etruria,

  3. -but Marcius, setting out against the Samnites....

  4. Fabius, however, while the Etruscans were gathering in great numbers against Sutrium, marched without the knowledge of the enemy through the country of their 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.  Thereafter, defeating the Etruscans in a second battle near the place called Perusia and destroying many of them, he overawed the nation since he was the first of the Romans to have invaded that region with an army.  He also made truces with the peoples of Arretium (Arezzo) and Cortona, and likewise with those of Perusia; and, taking by siege the city called Castola (possibly Carsulae), he forced the Etruscans to raise the siege of Sutrium” (10:35).

Diodorus Siculus on the Defeat of the Etruscans (308 BC)

In 308 BC:

  1. “... the Roman consuls, going to the aid of the Marsi, against whom the Samnites were making war, were victorious in the battle and slew many of the enemy.  Then, crossing the territory of the Umbrians, they invaded Etruria, which was hostile, and took by siege the fortress called Caere.  When the people of the region sent envoys to ask a truce, the consuls made a truce for 40 years with the Tarquinians, but with all the other Etruscans for only one year” (20:44)

Dionysius of Halicarnassus (1st century BC)

Dionysius was a Greek scholar who worked in Rome.  He was a contemporary of Livy (see below), although there is no evidence to suggest that they knew of each other's work.  His "Roman Antiquities" covered the history of Rome from its foundation to 264 BC in 20 books, although only the first 11 of these (to 443 BC) survive in tact.

Dionysius on the Umbrians as Roman Allies

In a surviving fragment of Book XX that describes the Battle of Asculum (279 BC), part of the Pyrric Wars, Dionysius describes how the Roman allies were deployed.  Among these, the Consuls divided the:

  1. “Latins, Campanians, ... Umbrians, Volscians, .... and their other subjects .... into 4 divisions and mingled them with the Roman legions, in order that no part of their lines might be weak” (XX 1:5).

This is the earliest known record of the Umbrians fighting as allies in the Roman army.

Livy (59 BC - 17 AD)

Titus Livius is the most important of the Roman historians.  His "History of Rome from its Foundations" was originally in 142 books, although only 35 survive.  Fortunately, the first 10 books, which cover the period from the foundation of Rome to the conquest of central Italy in 295 BC, survive in tact.   There are on-line English translations of Books 1-8; and of the surviving parts of Books 9-26; and of Books 27-36.  There is also an on-line translation of the  fourth-century summary known as the Periochae, which contains summaries of some of the lost books.

Books 9-10 contain a detailed account of  the Roman conquest of northern Etruria and Umbria from its start in 311 BC until the decisive Battle of Sentinum (295 BC).  However, Livy’s account of the later phase of the conquest have to be pieced together from the Periochae.

Livy on Roman Expansion into Umbria (310-8 BC)

Start of Hostilities (312 BC)

“The war with the Samnites being now nearly [over] ... a report arose of an Etrurian war; and there was not, in those times, any nation, excepting the Gauls, whose arms were more dreaded, by reason both of the vicinity of their country, and of the multitude of their men. While therefore one of the consuls prosecuted the remains of the war in Samnium, [the consul, Publius Decius Mus, who was ill] nominated Caius Junius Bubulcus dictator.  He, as the magnitude of the affair demanded [prepared for war], but prudently determined to remain quiet, unless the Etrurians should become aggressors.  The plans of the Etrurians were exactly similar ... : neither party went beyond their own frontiers” (9:29).

Etruscan Attack on Sutrium (311-10 BC)

In 311 BC, the Etruscans suddenly decided that the time was ripe for an attempt to stem the expansion of Rome: “While such was the situation of affairs in Samnium, all the states of Etruria, except the Arretians, had taken arms, and vigorously commenced hostilities, by laying siege to Sutrium [a Latin colony of Rome]; which ... served as a barrier against Etruria.  Thither came [Quintus Aemilius Barbula, consul in 311 BC] with an army to deliver the allies from the siege.  On the arrival of the Romans, the Sutrians conveyed a plentiful supply of provisions into their camp, which was pitched before the city.  [The Etruscans provoked a battle that lasted all day.]  After sunset the signal for retreat was given, and both parties retired in the night to their camps.” (9:32)

Both armies were exhausted, and the siege apparently continued for the rest of the year.  Livy returns to the conflict after dealing with some political problems in Rome. Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus, the consul for the second time in 310 BC, returned to Sutrium, where he was met by a huge enemy army prepared for battle.  He mounted an effective counter-attack, after which the only Etruscan survivors “almost without arms and debilitated with wounds, ... made their way into the Ciminian forest [on the range of mountains around Mount Ciminus that runs from the Tiber to the sea, obstructing the route from southern to northern Etruria.].  The Romans, having slain in many thousands of the Etrurians and taken 38 military standards, took also possession of their camp, together with a vast quantity of spoil.  They then began to consider of pursuing the enemy” (9:35).

Treaty with Camerinum (310 BC)

After the rout of the Etruscans, Marcus Fabius (the brother of the consul Quintus Fabius), accompanied only by a slave, followed the defeated army as it fled through fled through the impenetrable Ciminian forest.  The two men “are said to have penetrated as far as the Camertian district of the Umbrians [i.e. to Camerino]: there they ventured to own who they were, and being introduced to the senate, treated with them ... about an alliance and friendship (“de societate amicitiaque”); and after being entertained with courteous hospitality, the Camertes announced to] the Romans that if they came into their territory, there would be provisions in readiness for the troops sufficient for 30 days and that they would find the youth of the Camertian Umbrians prepared in arms to obey their commands” (9:36).

The significance of this is that the people of Camerino seem to have then negotiated a particularly favourable treaty: in an account of the events of 205 BC, Livy says that:

  1. “The Camertes, as they were joined with the Romans in a treaty on equal terms (foedus aequam), sent an armed cohort of 600 men [to fight against the Carthaginians]” (28:45).

Defeat of Perusia and the Umbrians (310 - 308 BC)

When Fabius heard of the treaty Camerinum, he marched his men across the forest and destroyed the remnants of the Etruscan army.  “In the meantime, five deputies, with two plebeian tribunes, had come hither, to charge Fabius, in the name of the senate, not to attempt to pass the Ciminian forest.  These, rejoicing that they had arrived too late to prevent the expedition, returned to Rome with the news of its success.  By this expedition of the consul, the war, instead of being brought nearer to a conclusion, was only spread to a wider extent: for all the tract adjacent to the foot of Mount Ciminius had felt his devastations; and, out of the indignation conceived thereat, had roused to arms, not only the states of Etruria, but the neighbouring parts of Umbria” (9:36-7). 

The location of the subsequent engagement is unclear:

  1. At the start of the account, Livy says that the enraged Umbrians and Etruscans “came therefore to Sutrium, with such a numerous army as they had never before brought into the field ...”

  2. Later in the account, he admits that the location of the ensuing battle is unclear: “Some affirm, that this famous battle was fought on the farther side of the Ciminian forest, at Perusia ....

His conclusion: “on whatever spot it was fought, it is certain that the Roman power prevailed; and, in consequence thereof, ambassadors from Perusia, Cortona, and Arretium, which were then among the principal states of Etruria, soliciting a peace and alliance with the Romans, obtained a truce for 30 years” (9:37).

Soon after, “a decisive battle was fought with the Umbrians, in which the enemy was routed, but lost not many men, for they did not maintain the fight with the vigour with which they began it” (9:39). 

Besides this, the Etrurians, having raised an army under the sanctions of the devoting law [the violation of which condemned the guilty man to the underworld], ..., came to an engagement at the Vadimo Lake [between the Tiber and the Ciminian hills], with more numerous forces and ... with greater spirit than they had ever shown before.  The battle was fought with such animosity ... that it appeared to the Romans as if they were disputing, not with Etrurians, whom they had so often conquered, but with a new race.  ... [However, the Etrurians’] obstinacy then began to give way: some companies left their posts ... That day first broke the strength of the Etrurians, now grown exuberant through a long course of prosperity; all the flower of their men were cut off in the field and ... their camp was seized and sacked.” (9:39).

Later that year, “the consul Fabius fought with the remnants of the Etrurians at Perusia, which city also had violated the truce, and gained an easy and decisive victory.  He would have taken the town itself (for he marched up to the walls,) had not deputies come out and capitulated.  Having placed a garrison at Perusia, and sent on before him to the Roman senate the embassies of Etruria, who solicited friendship, the consul rode into the city in triumph ...”  (9:40).

Livy takes up these events in 308 BC: “To Fabius, in consideration of his extraordinary merit in the conquest of Etruria, the consulship was continued [in 308 BC].  [Publius Decius Mus, consul for the second time] was appointed his colleague. ... Etruria fell to Decius, Samnium to Fabius ...  Decius ... through terror he compelled the Tarquinians to supply his army with corn, and to sue for a truce for 40 years.  He took several forts from the Volsinians by assault, some of which he demolished, that they might not serve as receptacles to the enemy, and by extending his operations through every quarter, diffused such a dread of his arms, that the whole Etrurian nation sued to the consul for an alliance: this they did not obtain; but a truce for one year was granted them.  The pay of the Roman army for that year was furnished by the enemy; and two tunics for each soldier were exacted from them: this was the purchase of the truce” (9:41). 

“The tranquillity now established in Etruria was interrupted by a sudden insurrection of the Umbrians, a nation that had suffered no injury from the war, except what inconvenience the country had felt in the passing of the army.  These, by calling into the field all their own young men, and forcing a great part of the Etrurians to resume their arms, made up such a numerous force that ... they boasted that they would leave Decius behind in Etruria and ... besiege Rome” (9:41). 

In Rome, the Umbrian threat “excited tears among the people, who had experienced, in the calamities suffered from the Gauls, how insecure a city they inhabited.  Deputies were therefore despatched to the consul Fabius with directions, that, if he had any respite from the war of the Samnites, he should with all haste lead his army into Umbria.  The consul obeyed the order, and by forced marches proceeded to Mevania, where the forces of the Umbrians then lay.  The unexpected arrival of the consul ... so thoroughly affrighted the Umbrians that several advised retiring to their fortified towns; others, the discontinuing the war.  However, one district, called by themselves Materina [an unknown location], prevailed on the rest not only to retain their arms, but to come to an immediate engagement.  They fell upon Fabius while he was fortifying his camp.  [Fabius assembled his men and exhorted them] to finish this insignificant appendage to the Etrurian war, and take vengeance for the impious expressions in which these people had threatened to attack the city of Rome.  [Such was the effect that his army stormed to victory and] the Umbrians called on each other, with one voice, to lay down their arms.  Thus a surrender was made in the midst of action, by the first promoters of the war; and on the next and following days, the other states of the Umbrians also surrendered” (9:41).

At the end of the account above, Livy adds: “Ocriculani sponsione in amicitiam accepti”, which means that the people of Otricoli received the friendship of Rome, with a promise (“sponsio”).  This suggests that Otricoli received a promise, presumably from Fabius, along the lines that their assistance during the battle would be rewarded later by a treaty on favorable terms.

Livy on the Umbrians in the Third Samnite War (303 BC)

Livy's account of the outbreak of this war records an incident that involved the Umbrians: “However, in order that the Romans might not pass a whole year without any military operations, a small expeditionary force was sent into Umbria.  A certain cave was reported to be the rendezvous of a body of freebooters, and from this hiding-place they made armed excursions into the surrounding country.  The Roman troops entered this cave, and many of them were wounded, mostly by stones, owing to the darkness of the place.  At length they discovered another entrance, for there was a passage right through the cave, and both mouths of the cavern were filled up with wood.  This was set on fire, and, stifled by the smoke, the bandits, in trying to escape, rushed into the flames and 2000 perished” (10: 1).

The “Grotta Eolia”, a cave system accessed from Palazzo Spada-Stocchi, Cesi, is reputed to be the site upon which this massacre occurred.

Livy on the Revolt at Arretium and its Aftermath (300 BC)

“News arrived that Etruria was in rebellion; the insurrection having arisen from the dissensions of the Arretians [when a rebellious faction tried to expel the wealthy Cilnian family].  Accounts were also received that the Marsians held forcible possession of the lands to which the colony of Carseoli, consisting of 4,000 men, had been sent.  By reason, therefore, of these commotions, [Marcus Valerius Maximus Corvus] was nominated dictator ... The dictator, having set out at the head of an army, in one battle utterly defeated the Marsians, drove them into their fortified towns, and afterwards, in the course of a few days, took Milionia, Plestina, and Fresilia; and then finding Marsians in a part of their lands, granted them a renewal of the treaty. The war was then directed against the Etrurians; and when the dictator had gone to Rome, for the purpose of renewing the auspices, the master of the horse, going out to forage, was surrounded by an ambuscade, and obliged to fly shamefully into his camp, after losing several standards and many of his men. ...” (10:3).

“The news of this disaster excited at Rome an alarm greater than suited the importance of the affair; .. the dictator was ordered to join the army.  There he found every thing in a more tranquil state than he expected, and ... the troops ardently impatient for battle, that their disgrace might be the sooner obliterated.  He therefore immediately advanced his camp into the territory of Rusella.  Thither the enemy also followed ...  [After the ensuing battle], the power of the Etrurians was, a second time, effectually crushed, so that, engaging to furnish a year's pay, and corn for two months, with the dictator's permission, they sent ambassadors to Rome to treat of peace.  This was refused, but a truce for two years was granted to them.  The dictator returned into the city in triumph” (10: 4-5).

Livy on the Defeat of Narnia (300 - 299 BC)

In 300 BC, the consul Quintus Appuleius Pansa “invested the town of Nequinum in Umbria.  The ground, the same whereon Narnia now stands, was steep (on one side even perpendicular); this rendered the town impregnable either by assault or works.  That business, therefore, came unfinished into the hands of the succeeding consuls, Marcus Fulvius Paetinus and Titus Manlius Torquatus” (10:9).

“Meanwhile, after much time had been lost in the tedious siege of Nequinum, two of the townsmen, whose houses were contiguous to the wall, having formed a subterraneous passage, came by that private way to the Roman advanced guards and ... offered to give admittance to a body of armed men ... With one of these men (the other being detained as an hostage) two spies were sent through the mine, and certain information being received from them, 300 men in arms, guided by the deserter, entered the city and seized by night the nearest gate, which being broken open, the Roman consul and his army took possession of the city without any opposition.  In this manner came Nequinum under the dominion of the Roman people.  A colony was sent thither as a barrier against the Umbrians, and called Narnia, from the river Nar. The troops returned to Rome with abundance of spoil” (10:10).

Livy on the Battle of Sentinum (296-5 BC)

The Romans’ third war against the Samnite League broke out in 298 BC.  Livy describes how the Etruscans and Umbrians entered into the conflict:

  1. “While things went on thus in Samnium, ... [a] powerful combination, composed of many states, was formed in Etruria against the Romans, the chief promoter of which was Gellius Egnatius, a Samnite.  Almost all the Etrurians had united in this war.  The neighbouring states of Umbria were drawn in, as it were, by the contagion; and auxiliaries were procured from the Gauls for hire: all their several numbers assembled at the camp of the Samnites.  When intelligence of this sudden commotion was received at Rome, ... [it was] resolved that [Appius Claudius Caecus, consul in 296 BC] should, at the very earliest opportunity, go into Etruria.  Two Roman legions followed him ... and 12,000 allies; their camp was pitched at a small distance from the enemy.  However ... awe of the Roman name kept in check some states of Etruria which were disposed to war .... Several battles were fought, at times and places unfavourable, and increasing confidence rendered the enemy daily more formidable; so that matters came nearly to such a state, as that neither could the soldiers rely much on their leader, nor the leader on his soldiers” (10:18).

  2. News reached Rome “that Gellius Egnatius, the leader of the Samnites, was causing the Umbrians to join in the insurrection, and tempting the Gauls with high offers. Terrified at this news, the senate ordered the courts of justice to be shut, and a levy to be made of men of every description” (10:21).

  3. Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus, consul for the 5th time in 295 BC, took over a Roman army stationed at “the town of Aharna [probably Arna, across the Tiber from Perusia], from which the enemy were not far distant”.  He found the soldiers there to be extremely insecure: "they had a double rampart and a trench, and, notwithstanding, were in great apprehension .... Next day the camp was moved from thence ... From that time the Romans had no fixed post, the consul affirming that it was prejudicial to an army to lie in one spot ....” (10:25).

  4. Livy then describes a defeat suffered by this army: “The legion was ... attacked on the rear, and surrounded in the middle, when the enemy pressed it on all sides.  Some writers say, that the whole were cut off, so that not one survived to give an account of it, and that no information of the misfortune reached the consuls, who were, at the time, not far from Clusium, until the Gallic horsemen came within sight, carrying the heads of the slain ...: (10:26). 

  5. Livy places the defeat itself at Clusium, at the hands of the Senonian Gauls, although he says that “others affirm that the defeat was by Umbrians, not Gauls”. 

  6. In fact, the account of this event by Polybius (“Histories”, Book 2:19 - above) is probably more accurate: “the Samnites and Gauls made a league, gave the Romans battle in the neighbourhood of Camerium, and slew a large number”. 

  7. Livy then describes the subsequent decisive Battle of Sentium: “The consuls [Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus and Publius Decius Mus], having crossed the Apennines, came up with the enemy in the territory of Sentinum .... Several councils were then held by the enemy, and their plan of operations was thus settled: that  ... the Gauls were united to the Samnites, the Umbrians to the Etrurians.  The day of battle was fixed.  The part of maintaining the fight was committed to the Samnites and Gauls; and the Etrurians and Umbrians were ordered to attack the Roman camp during the heat of the engagement.  This plan was frustrated by three Clusian deserters, who came over by night to Fabius, and after disclosing the above designs, were sent back with presents, in order that they might discover, and bring intelligence of, any new scheme which should be determined on.  The consuls then wrote to Flavius and Postumius to move their armies ... towards Clusium; and to ruin the enemy's territory by every means in their power.  The news of these depredations drew the Etrurians from Sentinum to protect their own region”.  This tactic seems to have been decisive: Livy observes that: “In the first encounter [between the Romans and the remaining Samnites and Gauls], the action was supported with strength so equal on both sides that, had the Etrurians and Umbrians been present ... the Romans must have been defeated” (10:27).

In fact, when it seemed that the Romans might indeed be defeated, Decius “spurred forward his horse to where he saw the line of the Gauls thickest and, rushing upon the enemy's weapons, met his death.  Thenceforward the battle seemed to be fought with a degree of force scarcely human.  The Romans, on the loss of their general, a circumstance which, on other occasions, is wont to inspire terror, stopped their flight, and were anxious to begin the combat afresh”.  The result was a decisive victory, and the surviving consul Fabius returned to Rome in triumph. 

The outcome was equally bad for the Etruscans:

  1. When the Etruscan army arrived at Clusium “... matters were managed successfully by Cneius Fulvius, propraetor, who caused immense losses occasioned to the enemy by the devastation of their lands and fought a battle with extraordinary success, in which there were above 3,000 of the Perusians and Clusians slain, and 20 military standards taken” (10:30).

  2. “Notwithstanding these successes, peace was not yet established, either among the Samnites [see below] or the Etrurians: for the latter, at the instigation of the Perusians, resumed their arms, after the consul had withdrawn his army ... In Etruria, Fabius, on the revival of hostilities, slew 4,500 of the Perusians, and took 1,740 prisoners, who were ransomed at the rate of 310 asses each.  All the rest of the spoil was bestowed on the soldiers” (10:31). 

  3. In the following year (294 BC), the consul Lucius Postumius Megellus, “having led over his forces into Etruria, first laid waste the lands of the Volsinians; and afterwards, on their marching out to protect their country, gained a decisive victory over them, at a small distance from their own walls.  2,200 Etrurians were slain; the proximity of their city protected the rest.  ... But a peace, effected that year in Etruria, was still more important and honourable than the war had been.  Three very powerful cities, the chief ones of Etruria, (Volsinii, Perusia, and Arretium) sued for peace; and having stipulated with the consul to furnish clothing and corn for his army, on condition of being permitted to send deputies to Rome, they obtained a truce for 40 years, and a fine was imposed on each state of 500,000 asses, to be immediately paid” (10:37). This sequence of events marked the end of the independence of both the Etruscans and the Umbrians.

Livy’s account of events after the victory at Sentium have to be summarised using the Periochae:

  1. Book 11 contains two relevant entries:

  2. “When the Samnites sued for peace [in 290 BC], the treaty was renewed for the 4th time.  The consul Manius Curius Dentatus celebrated two triumphs in one year, because:

  3. -he had defeated the Samnites; and

  4. -had also subdued the rebellious Sabines and accepted their surrender.

  5. [This book] also contains an account of wars against the Volsinians and Lucanians, when the Romans decided to support the inhabitants of Thurii against them”.  This revolt by Volsinii probably occurred in 282 BC.

  6. Book 12 contains the following summary of the events of 284-80 BC:

  7. When Roman envoys were killed by Gallic Senones [in 284 BC], war was declared against the Gauls.  The Praetor Lucius Caecilius and his legions [sic] were killed by them.

  8. When the Tarentines looted a Roman fleet [in 282 BC] and killed its commander, the Senate sent them envoys to complain about this injustice, but they were maltreated. Therefore, war was declared.

  9. The Samnites revolted [in 282 BC].  In several battles, many [Roman] commanders successfully fought against them, and against the Lucanians, Bruttians and Etruscans.

  10. King Pyrrhus of the Epirotes came to Italy to support the Tarentines [in 280 BC].

  11. Book 15 records that: “After the Umbrians and Sallentines had been defeated [in 267 BC], their surrender was accepted”.  The “Umbrians” in question here seem to have been the outlying tribe or people of the Sarsinates: the consuls Decimus Iunius Pera and Numerius Fabius Pictor were awarded triumphs in 266 BC:

  12. -first over the Sassinates (Umbrians, from Sarsina, in the Apennines); and then

  13. -over the Sallentini and Messapii (from two towns in Calabria).

  14. Book 16 records: “[This book] also contains accounts of successful wars against the Carthaginians and Volsinians” in 264 BC. 

Marcus Velleius Paterculus (ca. 19 BC - 31 AD)

Velleius was a career soldier who was rewarded with the quaetorship in 8 AD and again in 15 AD.   His early death in ca. 30 AD might have been associated with the fall from grace of Sejanus.  His “Roman History” is a compendium covering the period from the fall of Troy to  his own time, which he dedicated to his friend Marcus Vinicius, the consul of 30 AD.

Velleius on the Sabines

“The citizenship without the right of suffrage was given to the Sabines in the consulship of Manius Curius [Dentatus] and Rufinus Cornelius [290 BC].  .... in the consulship of Sempronius Sophus and Appius ... [268 BC], ... the right of suffrage was granted to the Sabines”.  [The latter date could be incorrect:  Polybius has the Sabines as allies in 225 BC and Livy has “the people of Nursia, Reate, and Amiternum, and all those of the Sabine territory” as allies in 205 BC: for both references, see Sources for the Period before the Social Wars.]

Valerius Maximus (ca. 20 BC - 50 AD)

The Roman historian Valerius Maximus wrote his “Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX” (“Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings) in ca. 30 AD, during the reign of the Emperior Tiberius.   It contains about 1,000 short stories, mostly illustrating how the ancient Romans lived.

Valerius Maximus on Volsinii

At the end of Book IX, in a series of examples of the damage done to various cities by vice, Valerius Maximus includes the following cautionary tale from Volsinii:

  1. “[Vices] also brought the city of Volsinii to calamity.  It had been rich, with well-established customs and laws, and was regarded as the capital of Etruria.   But, after its descent into luxury, it was buried in injustice and baseness, which led to the insolent rule of slaves.  Initially, very few slaves dared to enter the senatorial order, but later they came to control the entire state.  [For example, they routinely]: had wills drawn up at their own discretion; forbad free-born men to assemble at banquets and elsewhere; and married their masters’ daughters.  Finally, they enacted a law that allowed them to rape wives and widows with impunity, and that specified that no virgin could marry a free-born man before being deflowered by one of their number” (Book IX:1, ext2).

This is my translation: for the original Latin, use the link above and search on “Volsiniensium”.  The alleged decadence described here preceded the Romans’ destruction of the city in 264 BC.

Pliny the Elder (23 - 79 AD)

Caius Plinius Secondus was a noted antiquarian in Rome, but his encyclopaedic "Natural History" is his only surviving work.   In it, he drew together (in 37 books) an amazing variety of facts relating primarily to geography, anthropology and botany.   Pliny died during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Pliny the Elder on the Statues of Volsinii

Book 34, Chapter 16 reports: “There are also Etruscan statues dispersed in various parts of the world, which beyond a doubt were originally made in Etruria.  I should have supposed that these had been the statues only of divinities, had not Metrodorus of Scepsis ... reproached us with having pillaged the city of Volsinii for the sake of the two thousand statues which it contained”.

Frontinus (ca. 40 – 103 AD)

Sextus Julius Frontinus was a distinguished senator and governor of Britain in 75-8 AD.  He is best known for a technical treatise “De aquaeductu” (On aqueducts), which reported on the state of the aqueducts of Rome.  He also wrote a book on military science, which is lost, as well as a surviving work on military matters, “Strategemata” (Strategies).  This is a collection of examples of military strategies taken from Greek and Roman history and intended for the instruction of the officers of the Roman army of his day.

Frontinus on the Battle of Sentium (295 BC)

In Section VIII, “On Distracting the Attention of the Enemy”, Frontinus summaries the diversionary tactics employed in the Battle of Sentinum:

  1. “In the fifth consulship of Fabius Maximus, the Gauls, Umbrians, Etruscans, and Samnites had formed an alliance against the Roman people.  Against these tribes Fabius first constructed a fortified camp beyond the Apennines in the region of Sentium.  Then. he wrote to Fulvius and Postumius, who were guarding [Rome], directing them to move on Clusium with their forces.  When these commanders complied, the Etruscans and Umbrians withdrew to defend their own possessions, while Fabius and his colleague Decius attacked and defeated the remaining forces of Samnites and Gauls” (I: VIII:3).

Florus (ca. 70-140 AD)

Publius Annius Florus is known under several names:

  1. his first name is sometimes given as Lucius rather than Publius; and

  2. his family name is sometimes given as Anneus rather than Annius.

Although this could be because there were several authors with almost identical names, most scholars agree that there was only one, Publius Annius Florus.  He is best known for the “Epitome of Roman History”, which concentrates on the military exploits of the Romans.  It is largely based on the work of Livy, and is particularly useful because it covers parts of Livy’s work that no longer survive.

Florus on the Sabine War

In Book 1: 10: “During the consulship of Manius Curius Dentatus [290 BC], the Romans laid waste with fire and sword all the tract of country which is enclosed by the Nar, the Anio and the sources of the Velinus, and bounded by the Adriatic Sea.  By this conquest, so large a population and so vast a territory was reduced, that even he who had won the victory could not tell which was of the greater importance.”

De Mirabilibus Auscultationibus

         (3rd century BC - 2nd century AD)

De Mirabilibus Auscultationibus” (On Marvellous Things Heard) survives as a strange list of some 178 “marvels” of the ancient Mediterranean world.  It circulated from late antiquity as a minor work by Aristotle, but this attribution is no longer accepted, and the term Pseudo-Aristotle is usually given to its authors.  Although the core of the work might well date to the 3rd century BC, much of the rest seems to have been added in the period up to the 2nd century AD.

De Mirabilibus Auscultationibus on Volsinii (?)

Paragraph 94 translates:

  1. “In Tyrrhenia also there is a city called Oenaria, which they say is remarkably strong: for in the middle of it is a wide hill, stretching up to a height of 30 stades, and below wood of all kinds and water.  They say that the inhabitants, fearing lest there should be a tyrant, set over themselves those of the household slaves who were freed, and these rule over them, and every year they set up others of the same kind”.

There are a number of candidates for “Oenaria”, although it is usually accepted that the description of a strong Etruscan city on a high, wide hill in which manumitted slaves exercised political power over their masters is redolent of classical descriptions of Volsinii (see below).

Festus (late 2nd century AD)

Sextus Pompeius Festus is known today only from his edited version (epitome) of the  "De verborum significatu", an encyclopaedic lexicon by Marcus Verrius Flaccus from the time of the Emperor Augustus

Festus on the Temple of Vertumnus, Rome

Picta quae nunc toga dicitur purpurea ante vocitata est, caq. evat sine pictura : ejus rei argumentum est pictura in aede Vertumni, et Consi, quarum in altera M. Fulvius Flaccus, in altera T. Papirius Cursor triumphantes ita picti sunt” (Epitome 228, search on “aede Vertumni”).

“The toga that is now called ‘picta’ [the painted, i.e. the version worn by triumphators]) was previously called ‘the purple’ ... It is depicted in the temples of Vertumnus and Consus, where:

  1. -Marcus Fulvius Flaccus in the former; and

  2. -Lucius Papirius Cursor in the latter;

are depicted wearing it during their triumphs” 

The first of these triumphs is relevant here: Marcus Fulvius Flaccus probably built the temple to Vertumnus on the Aventine hill following his triumph over Volsinii in 264 BC, at which point he had probably “called” the god Vertumnus (known to the Etruscans as Vertune) from that city to Rome.

Cassius Dio (died after 229 AD)

Lucius Cassius Dio Cocceianus wrote the “Roman History”, in 80 books, after 22 years’ research.  It contains a summary of the history of Rome from its foundation until the 1st century BC and a detailed account of the subsequent period, ending in 229 AD.  About a third of the original work survives.  Some other parts that have been lost are known from other sources, notably the epitomes of two Byzantine historians: the “Epitome of Dio” by John Xiphilinus (11th century); and the “Epitome ton istorion” of John Zonaras (12th century).

Cassius Dio on the Rebellion by the Etruscans and Umbrians

An entry in the “Epitome of Dio” (Book 9: 39) for ca. 282 BC records that: “The Romans had learned that the Tarentines [from Tarentum, a Greek city in southern Italy] and some others were making ready to war against them ... and by sending men to the Etruscans, Umbrians, and Gauls [had] caused a number of them also to secede, some immediately and some a little later”.

Cassius Dio on the Razing of Volsinii

John Zonaras, drawing on Book 10 (search on “Volsinii”) records: “In the consulship of Quintus Fabius [Quintus Fabius Maximus Gurges, 265 BC] and Aemilius [Lucius Mamilius Vitulus], they made an expedition to Volsinii to secure the freedom of its citizens; for [the Romans] were under treaty obligations to them.  These people were the most ancient of the Etruscans; they had acquired power and had erected an extremely strong citadel, and they had a well-governed state.  Hence, on a certain occasion, when they were involved in war with the Romans, they resisted for a very long time.  Upon being subdued, however, they drifted into indolent ease, left the management of the city to their servants, and used those servants also, as a rule, to carry on their campaigns.  Finally they encouraged them to such an extent that the servants gained both power and spirit, and felt that they had a right to freedom; and, indeed, in the course of time they actually obtained this through their own efforts.  After that they were accustomed to wed their mistresses, to succeed their masters, to be enrolled in the senate, to secure the offices, and to the entire authority themselves.  Furthermore, they were not at all slow to requite their masters for any insults and the like that were offered them. 

Hence the old-time citizens, not being able to endure them, and yet possessing no power of their own to punish them, despatched envoys by stealth to Rome.  The envoys urged the senate to convene secretly by night in a private house, so that no report might get abroad, and they obtained their request.  The senators, accordingly, deliberated under the impression that no one was listening; but a certain Samnite, who was being entertained by the master of the house and was sick, kept his bed unnoticed, and learning what was voted, gave information to those against whom charges were preferred.  These seized and tortured the envoys on their return; and when they found out what was afoot, they put to death the envoys and the other more prominent men as well. 

This, then, was the occasion that led the Romans to send Fabius against them [in 265 BC].  He routed those who came to meet him, destroyed many in their flight, shut up the remainder within the wall, and made an assault upon the city.  In that action he was wounded and killed, whereupon the enemy gained confidence and made a sortie.  Upon being again defeated, they retired and underwent a siege; and when they were reduced to famine, they surrendered.  The consul scourged to death the men who had seized upon the honours of the ruling class, and he razed the city to the ground; the native-born citizens, however, and any servants who had been loyal to their masters, were settled by him on another site”.

Orosius (died ca. 418 AD)

Paulus Orosius was a Spanish Christian.  St Augustine, who was concerned that the sack of Rome (410) was being blamed on the city’s adherence to Christianity, asked Orosius to write a historical account that would demonstrate that similar disasters had afflicted mankind since the earliest times.  (St Augustine himself wrote his “City of God” for the same purpose).  The result of the request to Orosius was his “Historiae adversum Paganos” (ca. 417), which he dedicated to St Augustine.

Orosius on the Slave Revolt at Volsinii (ca. 264 BC)

“At that time, too, the Volsinians, the most flourishing of the Etruscan peoples, almost perished as a result of their wantonness.  After making license a habit, they indiscriminately freed their slaves, invited them to banquets, and honored them with marriage.  The liberated slaves, admitted to a share of power, criminally plotted to usurp complete rule of the state, and, relieved of the yoke of slavery, were consumed with the desire for revolution.  Once free, they cursed those masters whom they as slaves had devotedly loved, because they remembered that these men had once been their masters.  The liberated slaves then conspired to commit a crime and claimed the captured city for their class alone.  So great were their numbers that they accomplished their rash purpose without real resistance.  They criminally appropriated the property and wives of their masters, and forced the latter to go into distant exile.  These wretched and destitute exiles betook themselves to Rome.  Here they displayed their misery and tearfully pleaded their cause.  They were avenged and restored to their former positions through the stern rule of the Romans” (4:5).

Procopius of Caesarea  (died ca. 565 AD)

Procopius, who accompanied the Roman general Belisarius on many of his campaigns, is probably the outstanding historian of the 6th century.  His works include the “Wars of Justinian” (ca. 550-3 AD).  The last four of these eight books deal with Justinians’ wars against the Goths.

Procopius on “Urviventus”

In his History of the Gothic War (Book VI:20, search on ‘Urviventus’), Procopius writes of Belsarius’ siege and capture of Οὐρβιβεντὸς  (Urviventus), an apparent corruption of Urbs Vetus.  This is usually identified as the old city of Volsinii, which was destroyed by the Romans in 264 BC.  The quote below is included here because it is one of very few early references that seem to relate to this city.

The scholars who  identify Urviventus’ as Orvieto, include Thomas Hodgkin, in  his seminal “Italy and her Invaders” (1880-9).  The following is his annotated translation of the relevant passage by Procopius (search of “Note C” in the link here):

  1. “Procopius's account of the capture of Orvieto is more allusive and less clear than is usual with him.  It is only in a parenthesis  that we are informed of the surrender of the city, and we are left to infer that it was the result of famine.  For the sake of travellers to this city, now so desolate, yet so noble in its desolation, I translate the description given by Procopius:

  2. ‘Belisarius went round the city to see if he could spy out any place suitable for an assault, but came to the conclusion that it was impregnable by open attack, though it might perhaps be taken by some well-contrived stratagem.  For it rises, a solitary hill out of a hollow country, evenly sloping and level above, but precipitous below [a very accurate description].  But round this hill other cliffs of the same height range themselves in a circle, not in the immediate neighbourhood, but about a stone's throw distant.  [The nearest hill, that on the east of the city, is quite half a mile distant, further assuredly than any catapult could throw.] On this hill, the men of old founded a city, but did not surround it with walls or any other kind of fortification, thinking that Nature had herself made it impregnable.  For there is only one way of access to it from the [neighbouring] heights and, if this is guarded, the defenders need fear attack from no other quarter.  For round all the rest of the city, except this one point, runs a broad and unfordable stream filling up the chasm between the city and the surrounding eminences.  A little fortress was accordingly erected by the Romans of old at this point of access, and in it is a postern gate that was guarded by the Goths.   Belisarius therefore ranged all his army round the city, on the chance of effecting something against it by the way of the river, but having also some hope that the enemy would be compelled to surrender by hunger’ [which apparently is what actually occurred]”.

Hodgkin goes on to address the problem of the “broad and unfordable stream” around the city attacked by Belisarius:

  1. ‘The assertion of Procopius as to the course of the river encircling the whole city except at one point is not true now.  Orvieto is situated near the confluence of the Paglia and the Chiana (Clanis).  The former stream flows diagonally past the northern and eastern sides of the city, but its southern and western sides have no river below them.  The course of the Paglia, however, has been a good deal changed even in recent times (so I was assured by the canons of the cathedral): and all the land about the railway station (in the fork between the two rivers) is ‘made ground’.  It is therefore possible that the river may in former times have wound more than half round the city, and afterwards joined the Clanis at a lower point than it does now.  The one side by which it could be approached would probably be from the hills to the west, between it and Bolsena’.

Paul the Deacon (died 799 AD)

Paul, who probably of Lombard origin, was probably educated at the court of King Ratchis in Pavia.  He subsequently gained recognition at the Carolingian court.  Late in life, he became a Benedictine monk at Monte Cassino, where he died.  He is best known for his “Historia Langobardorum” an incomplete history of the Lombards in 6 books, which was written shortly before his death, possibly at Monte Cassino.

Paul the Deacon on Urbs Vetus

In his account of the events of ca. 605-10 AD, Paul notes that:

  1. “Afterwards ... king Agilulf made peace with Smaragdus the patrician for one year, receiving from the Romans 12,000 solidi.  Cities of Tuscany too, i.e. Balneus Regis and Urbs Vetus, were seized by the Langobards. ... Afterwards king Agilulf again made peace with the Romans for 3 years” (Book IV, Chapter 32).

As noted above, “Urbs Vetus”  is usually identified as the old city of Volsinii, which was destroyed by the Romans in 264 BC.  The quote above is included here because it is one of very few early references that seem to relate to this city.


Literary Sources for the Roman Conquest of

Umbria, Etruria and the Alta Sabina