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Roman Conquest (Topic):

Leges Sacratae: Aequi and Volsci (431 BC)

and Ligurians (191 BC)


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Leges Sacratae

According to Festus:

  1. Sacratae leges sunt, quibus sanctum est, qui[c]quid adversus eas fecerit sacer alicui deorum sicut familia pecuniaque’, (‘De verborum signifcatione’, 422 Lindsay)”

  2. “Sacred laws are so-called because anyone who violates them shall become sacer (given/ forfeited/ devoted/ sacrificed) to one of the gods, along with his family and his property”, (my translation).

As Gregory Pellam (referenced below, 2012, at p. 130) observed:

  1. “In Festus’ formulation, any law is sacrata if it declares that [anyone who violates it] becomes sacer to a particular god.”

This section deals with a particular category of sacred laws: the leges sacrata militaris (sacred laws pertaining to the military sphere) used by the enemy during hostilities with Rome.  Our surviving sources record the use of a lex sacrata of this sort on four occasions:

  1. 431 BC: according to Livy, the dictator Aulus Postumius Tubertus defeated an army that the Volsci and Aequi had:

  2. “... raised in accordance with a lex sacrata, which was the most powerful means they possessed of compelling men to serve”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 26: 3-6).

  3. 310/9 BC: according to Livy, an unnamed Roman commander defeated:

  4. “... the Etruscans, [who] had assembled an army in accordance with a lex sacrata, in which each man chose his comrade”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 39:5). 

  5. 293 BC: Pliny the Elder recorded that the consul Spurius Carvilius Maximus:

  6. “... erected the statue of Jupiter that is [still] seen in the Capitol after he had conquered the Samnites, who sacrata lege pugnantibus (fought under a lex sacrata): [this statue was] ... made from their breast-plates, greaves, and helmets, and was of such large dimensions that it is visible from the statue of Jupiter Latiaris [on the Alban Mount, some some 20 km from Rome]”, (‘Natural History’, 34: 18).

  7. (Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2007, at p. 391) observed that, although Pliny did not give the date at which Carvilius captured this Samnite armour, his account:

  8. “... can hardly refer to any other year but [293 BC] ...”.)

  9. 191 BC: according to Livy, the proconsul Quintus Minucius Thermus defeated a Ligurian army that had been:

  10. “ ... assembled an army in accordance with a lex sacrata”, (‘History of Rome’, 36: 38: 1). 

This page deals with the the laws of 431 and 191 BC: the others are dealt with in my page Lege Sacratae (293 and 310/9 BC).

Armies of the Volsci and the Aequi in 431 BC


Red asterisk = mons Algidus

Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire 

As noted above, the earliest surviving record of a lex sacrata of the type under discussion here relates to the events of 431 BC, when he described the muster of armies by the Aequi and the Volsci:  according to Livy

  1. “A levy having been held in accordance with a lex sacrata, which was the most powerful means they possessed of compelling men to serve, powerful armies set out from both peoples and convened on Algidus.  Their generals showed greater care than on any previous occasion in the construction of their lines and the exercising of the troops”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 26: 3).

By ‘Algidus’, Livy meant the area around mons Algidus, some 25 km southeast of Rome, on the border of Latin and Aequan territory, which had already been the site of the victory of the Roman dictator Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus over the Aequi in 458 BC.  Thus it is unsurprising that, according to Livy:

  1. “The reports of this [development] increased the alarm in Rome and, in view of  the facts that:

  2. these two nations, after their numerous defeats [at the hands of the Romans and their Latin allies], were now renewing the war with greater energy than they had ever done before; and

  3. a considerable number of the Romans of military age had been carried off by the epidemic;

  4. the Senate decided upon the nomination of a dictator [Aulus Postumius Tubertus]”, (‘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).

Timothy Cornel (referenced below, at pp. 307-8) questioned the authenticity of the Roman victory of 458 BC , but he argued that Livy’s record:

  1. “... of a major victory over the Aequi and Volsci at the Algidus in 431 BC ... is more likely to be a genuine event. ... A particular feature of [this later battle] ... is the record of names and exploits of individual combatants on both sides.  This feature ... is not due, in the first instance, to Livy ...., but is rather a sign that the [victory] had been celebrated in popular memory ... .”

This victory lived on after Livy, not least because of his remarkable tribute to the strategy of the Volscian Vettus Messius: writing in 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli commented that, during the battle:

  1. “... the Volscian army under command of Vettius Messius suddenly found itself shut in between their own entrenchments, which were occupied by the Romans, and [another] Roman army.  Seeing that [his men] would have to perish or to cut their way out with the sword, Messius addressed [them] in the following words: ‘Follow me!  You have no walls nor ditches to encounter, but only men armed like yourselves. You are their equal in valour, and you have the advantage of necessity, which is the last and most powerful of weapons!” It is remarkable that Titus Livius styles necessity  as the last and most powerful weapon”, (‘Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius’, 3: 12: 6-7).

Michael Sage (referenced below, at p. 45) commented that:

  1. “... there is no reason to doubt either the importance of this battle or the its outcome: it ended the forward pressure of the Aequi, and they were slowly forced back into the Apennines. ... The Volsci [remained more of a threat] ... although, by 400 BC, [their] power was [also] waning ... .”

Thus, although Livy portrayed the Romans as on the defensive in 431 BC (probably to account for the appointment of a dictator), subsequent events suggest that the reverse had been the case:

  1. the Aequi had been the most immediately vulnerable of the warring parties; and

  2. the Volsci could probably sense that Rome and its Latin allies were inexorably gaining the upper hand in the struggle for territory. 

It seems to me that, therefore, unlikely that  Livy or his source(s) invented the notion that these enemy armies had been forcibly conscripted under leges sacratae: it is entirely believable that the two nations had this drastic step because correctly assesed that the Romans represented an existential threat. 

It is interesting to note that Livy placed no particular emphasis on the enemies’ use of leges sacratae: as we have seen, he recorded that they also:

  1. “... showed greater care than on any previous occasion in the construction of their lines and in the exercising of the troops.”

Gregory Pellam (referenced below, 2015, at p. 327) made another important point:

  1. “ ... there is no indication here that a lex sacrata was a military oath sworn by the soldiers [as some scholars believe].  Rather, it seems to have been [simply] a law that would compel men to [present themselves for military] service.”

In other words, Livy did not imply (at least on this occasion) that the leges sacratae had produced high levels of determination among the conscripts, and this this reflected particularly well on the victorious Roman commanders: rather, he suggests that the dictator Postumius had earned his triumph by defeating the combined armies of the Volsci and the Aequi, despite: their greater numbers; the brilliance of their commanders; and their appreciation of the dire consequences of defeat for themselves and their nations.

Ligurian Army of 191 BC


Red dots (Placentia and Cremona) = Latin colonies

Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire


Before considering the leges sacratae of 310/9 BC and 293 BC, we might usefully ‘fast forward’ to 191 BC, when, for the last time in the surviving sources, we read of an enemy army that was raised under such a law: according to Livy:

  1. “... the Ligurians had assembled an army in accordance with a lex sacrata and made a sudden attack upon the camp where the proconsul Quintus Minucius Thermus was in command”, (‘History of Rome’, 36: 38: 1).

The ‘Ligurians’ were actually a collection of notably unruly tribes that occupied the coastal strip and Alpine hills of northwestern Italy. 

Prior Events: Roman Conquest of Cisalpine Gaul (197 -4 BC)

In 197 BC, the Romans turned their attention to the Ligurians and to two neighbouring  Gallic tribes, the Boii and the Insubres: according to Livy:

  1. “[The consul] Quintus Minucius Rufus marched up [the Tyrrhenian coast] to Genoa [and] began the war with the Ligurians.  The towns of Clastidium and [the now unknown] Litubium, both belonging to the Ligurians and two [now unknown] cantons of the same people, the Celeiates and the Cerdiciates, surrendered.  And now, all the states on this side of the Po except the Gallic Boii and the Ligurian Ilvates were under his control; it was reported that 15 towns and 20,000 men had surrendered.  From there, he led his legions into the territory of the Boii”, (‘History of Rome’, 32: 29: 6-8).

This seems to be something of an overstatement, at least as far as the Insubres and the Boii were concerned,  However, it is the last time that we hear of the Ligurian Ilvates in the surviving sources, so one assumes that they did not remain independent for very long.

In 194 BC, Lucius Valerius Flaccus, who remained in Cisalpine Gaul as proconsul, defeated the Insubres and the Boii  at Mediolanum (‘History of Rome’. 34: 46: 1-2); it is likely that a treaty between Rome and the Insubres that Cicero (‘Pro Balbo’, 32) later described was agreed after the victory of 194 BC.  Meanwhile, the consul Tiberius Sempronius Longus found it impossible to defend the camp cthat he had established in Boian territory and therefore led his army to the Latin colony of Placentia”, (‘History of Rome, 34: 47: 7-8).  According to Livy:

  1. “Some say that [Sempronius’ consular colleague, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus] then  ... marched through the territory of the Boii and the Ligurians, plundering as he went ... ; although others say that he returned to Rome to hold the elections, having achieved nothing worth recording”, (‘History of Rome’, 34: 48: 1).

There is not necessarily a contradiction here: the ‘other’ sources might well have felt that raids on the Boii and the Ligurians were not worth recording.  Nevertheless, as we shall see, the Ligurians and the Boii continued in arms, and this might have been at least partly a result of the putative actions of Scipio.


Quintus Minucius Thermus  in Liguria (193-1 BC)

Minucius at Pisae (193 BC )

On his election as consul in 193 BC, Minucius was given Liguria as his province.  According to Livy:

  1. “Although the consuls did not anticipate war that year, a letter came from Marcus Cincius, the military prefect at Pisae, announcing that 20,000 Ligurians, per omnia conciliabula uniuersae gentis (from all of their villages) were in arm: they had devastated the territory of [the allied Etruscan city-state of] Luna and then entered the territory of Pisae and overrun the coastal plain”, (‘History of Rome, 34: 56: 1-2) .

Minucius was still in the process of raising an army when:

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

By the time that Minucius arrived at Arretium to join his army:

  1. “Pisae was already besieged by about 40,000 men, and many more were pouring in every day, attracted by the prospect of war hope of booty. ...  Minucius ... marched towards Pisaae ‘...  and encamped about 500 paces from the Ligurians.  ... [However], he did not dare to [engage the Ligurians in battle] with raw troops ..., [so the Ligurians were therefore able] to raid the borders of  [Etruscan] territory ...”, (‘History of Rome, 35: 3: 1-6) .

Meanwhile, the other consul, Lucius Cornelius Merula, marched into the territory of the Boii in order to relieve Placentia.  He inflicted a major defeat on the Boii near Mutina (on the border between Boian and Etruscan territory) but was nevertheless denied a triumph (‘History of Rome’, 35: 4: 1 - 35: 6-9, and 35: 8: 1-8) .

Livy then moved back to Minucius, who was camped outside Pisae, presumably trying to train his raw recruits:

  1. “For a long time nothing worth recording occurred among the Ligurians; but at the end of [193 BC], situations of grave peril arose on two occasions:

  2. first, Minucius’ camp came under a Ligurian attack that was defeated only with difficulty; and

  3. a little later, [Minucius and his men were ambushed] in a narrow pass, and visions of the Caudine disaster [of 321 BC] ... appeared before their eyes”, (‘History of Rome, 35: 11: 1-3) .

Fortunately, Minucius and his men were saved by the 800 Numidian cavalrymen who were serving  with the auxiliaries. 

Minucius Victory over the Ligurians (192 BC )

Minucius’ imperium was prorogued at the end of the consular year, and he continued the Ligurian campaign as proconsul.  In 192 BC, he finally:

  1. “... engaged in a pitched battle with the Ligurians.  He killed 9,000 of them and ... drove the rest back  into their camp ... [The Ligurians abandoned their camp during the night].  Minucius then ... marched into Ligurian territory and laid waste their citadels and towns with fire and sword.   The booty of Etruria, which had been sent on by the raiders, now sated the Roman soldiers.”, (‘History of Rome, 35: 21: 7-11) .

Defeat of the Boii (192-1 BC)

Livy now turned the narrative back to Cisalpine Gaul: the consuls of 192 BC mounted a pincer attack against the Boii:

  1. Lucius Quinctius Flamininus, from Liguria in the west; and

  2. Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, from Ariminum, on the Adriatic coast in the east.

This had the effect of prompting a significant number of the Boii to abandon the fight. 

Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica, one of the consuls of 191 BC, now marched into Cisalpine Gaul, and:

  1. “...engaged with the army of the Boii with notable results ... [and secured] a great victory: the [Boian] camp was captured;  the [remaining Boian rebels] surrendered; and a thanksgiving was proclaimed [at Rome] ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 36: 38: 5-7) .

He subsequently:

  1. “... accepted hostages from the Boii and deprived them of about half of their land ... He then left for Rome, ... having disbanded his army and ordered them to be in Rome on the day of the triumph”, (‘History of Rome, 36: 39: 3-4).

Minucius and the Lex Sacrata of 191 BC

Livy recorded that, about 2 months before Scipio’s victory over the Boii, as  Minucius plodded on  as proconsul in Liguria:

  1. “... a Ligurians army that had been raised in accordance with a lex sacrata ... made a sudden attack on his camp”, (‘History of Rome’, 36: 38: 1).

His men managed to keep the Ligurians out during the night and:

  1. “As soon as it was light, they made simultaneous sorties from two of the ... gates [of the besieged camp].  But the Ligurians were not repulsed at the first attempt, as he had expected;  [indeed], they maintained the struggle for more than two hours  ... At length, as detachment after detachment issued from the camp and fresh troops relieved those who were exhausted with fighting, the Ligurians ...  fled.  Over 4,000 of the enemy were killed, while the Romans and their allies lost fewer than 300 men”, (‘History of Rome’, 36: 38: 2-5). 

Triumph (Awarded and Denied) in 191-0 BC

Scipio

As noted above, Scipio had ordered his victorious army to meet him in Rome on the day of his (confidently expected) triumph.  According to Livy, immediately after Scipio himself arrived in Rome:

  1. “ ... he convened the Senate in the temple of Bellona and, when he had reported his achievements, he demanded that he be permitted to ride into the City in triumph”, (‘History of Rome, 36: 39:5).

However, he then hit a stumbling block: according to Livy:

  1. “Publius Sempronius Blaesus, tribune of the people, declared that, while Scipio should not be refused the honour of a triumph, it should be postponed: Ligurian wars were always connected with Gallic wars, because these neighbouring tribes exchanged assistance.  If, after defeating the Boii, Scipio had crossed into Liguria with his victorious army, or [at least] sent some of his troops to Minucius, who was  detained by a war of uncertain prospects for a third year, this war with the Ligurians could have been finished ... He should be ordered to return with his legions to his province and see that the Ligurians were thoroughly subdued; unless they were brought under the dominion of Rome the Boii would be in a constant state of unrest; whether it be peace or war it must be with both of them together. [10] When he has reduced the Boii to submission P. Cornelius will enjoy his triumph a few months hence like many before him who did not celebrate their triumph during their year of office”, (‘History of Rome, 36: 39: 6-10).

Scipio argued that:

  1. “... he had not receive Liguria as his province ... He was sure that Minucius would soon subjugate the Ligurians, at which point he would ask for a triumph and it would be granted him because it would be well deserved”, (History of Rome, 36: 40: 1-3).

Scipio eventually won the argument: according to Livy:

  1. “Not only were the Senate unanimous in decreeing a triumph, but the tribune bowed to their authority and withdrew his opposition.  So the consul Scipio triumphed over the Boii”, (History of Rome, 36: 40: 10).

The Fasti Triumphales also record that Scipio  was awarded a triumph against the Boian Gauls in 191 BC.  The award of this triumph is hardly surprising: although Scipio had acted in a high-handed manner, his demand was not unreasonable: as Stephen Dyson (referenced below, at p. 19) observed :

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

Minucius

According to Livy, at the end of the consular year of 191 BC:

  1. “Since Minucius had [reported to the Senate] that the province was completely subdued and that the whole nation of the Ligurians had surrendered, he was ordered to remove his forces out of Liguria into the country of the Boians, and to give up the command to [Scipio Nasica, who was now] proconsul”, (‘History of Rome’, 37: 2: 4).

Minucius duly returned to Rome:

  1. “... with hopes of triumphing ...””, (‘History of Rome, 37: 46: 1).

He had been awarded a triumph as proconsul in Further Spain in 195 BC, so he would have been familiar with the procedure involved.  However, on this second occasion:

  1. “... after hearing [his report of his] services, the Senate refused a triumph to Minucius ...”, (‘History of Rome, 37: 46: 1-2).

Livy gave no indication of why Minucius’ request was denied.  However, the high points of his achievements, as Livy recorded them,were:

  1. his expulsion of Ligurian raiders from the coastal plain of upper Etruria in 192 BC; and

  2. setting up a camp on Ligurian territory and successfully defending it from a Ligurian army that had been raised under a lex sacrata.

These achievement hardly matched his report to the Senate (as recorded by Livy) that:

  1. “... the province was completely subdued and that the whole nation of the Ligurians had surrendered”.

A record by Gellus might throw light on the process that led to the Senate’s decision: he noted that:

  1. “... in the speech that is entitled ‘de Falsis Pugnis’ (on Falsified Battles), Cato complained about Quintus Minucius Thermus”, (‘Attic Nights’, 10: 3: 17).

The complaint that Gellus described related to Minucius’ harsh treatment of the decemviri who served on his staff: there is nothing in his account to indicate where or when ‘de Falsis Pugnis’ was delivered or what other criticisms of Minucius (if any) it contained.  However, a number of scholars (see, for example, Jessica Clark, referenced below, at p. 115) have suggested that, given its title, Cato might have delivered it in a debate about whether Minucius’ request for a triumph should be accepted.  In other words, perhaps Minucius was accused of having attempted to mislead the Senate in his report of his services in Liguria, and that this was why his request for a triumph was denied.  A. H. McDonald went further, by suggesting the beginning of the legal battle that ultimately destroyed Scipio Africanus:

  1. “... lay, as far as we can tell, in Cato's attacks on a leading Scipionic supporter, Quintus Minucius Thermus, in 190 BC. ... Minucius had demanded the grant of a triumph over the Ligurians, and Cato delivered against him the speeches ‘de decem hominibus’ and ‘de falsis pugnis’.”

Thus, it is possible that Minucius was accused of having:

  1. invented a victory over a Ligurian army that had been raised under a lex sacrata; and 

  2. claimed that this had led to the surrender, en masse, of the Ligurians.

Was a Ligurian Army Raised Under a Lex Sacrata in 191 BC ?

Gregory Pellam (referenced below, 2015, at p. 327 and note 12) observed that, as in 431 BC, the lex sacrata of 191 BC:

  1. “ ...  seems to have been a law that would compel men to [present themselves for military] service.”

However, there is nothing in our surviving sources to suggest that the Ligurians had ever issued such a law before 191 BC, or that they ever did so again.  Indeed, I doubt that they were capable of organising forced conscription by this or any other means; as we saw above, the (alleged) 40,000 Ligurians who besieged Pisae in 193 BC had simply turned up opportunistically in the hope of booty.

It is fair to point out that nothing our surviving source suggests that either the Aequi or the Volsci used a lex sacrata before or after 431 BC.  However, as I argued above, the Aequi (and, in the longer term, the Volsci) had faced an existential threat in 431 BC.  This was hardly the case for the Ligurians in 191 BC: it is true that

  1. their Gallic allies had submitted to Rome in 194-1 BC; and

  2. Minucius had finally managed to establish a camp in Ligurian territory.

However, he was barely able to defend this camp from a surprise attack, and he certainly could not retaliate by  attacking the Ligurians in their mountain strongholds.  In short, there is nothing to suggest that the Ligurians faced imminent subjection to Rome.  Furthermore, subsequent events bear this out: as Jessica Clark (referenced below, at pp. 115-6) pointed out:

  1. “Liguria was the subject of on-going campaigns for [most of the following decade], beginning when Quintus Marcius Philippus led troops against the Ligurian Apuani in 186 BC. ... Both consuls of 185 BC led their legions against the Ligurian Apuani and Ingauni ... [and] both consuls were also sent of against the Ligurians in [each of the next five years] ...”

It is surely significant that none of these Roman consuls is recorded as having faced a Ligurian army that had been raised under a lex sacrata


Why then would  Livy introduced the trope of an enemy army raised under a lex sacrata into his account of the the raid on Minucius’ camp in 191 BC ?  John Patterson (referenced below, at p. 20) suggested that:

  1. “... the Romans in general, and Livy in particular, saw some similarities between the Samnites and the Ligurians, [both of whom were mountain people and] fierce opponents of Rome:

  2. in his account of [the Ligurians’ ambush of Minucius and his army in] 193 BC ... , Livy describes how the Romans were ... reminded of the disastrous defeat at the hands of the Samnites at the Caudine Forks;

  3. later, we are told of the Ligurians assembling an army using a lex sacrata [for the purpose of attacking Minucius’ camp in 191 BC: this] technique was also used by the Samnites, and described by Livy in his account of the battle of Aquilonia in 293 BC [see below]; and

  4. the disastrous defeat of Quintus Marcius by the Ligurians Apuani in the so-called Saltus Marcius [in 186 BC, ‘History of Rome’, 39: 20: 5-10] again echoes Rome’s struggle with the Samnites”

However, it seems to me that these records do not indicate that Livy was inclined to model his accounts of the Ligurians, in particular, on Samnite precedents:

  1. he often related later ambushes of Roman armies to the disaster at the Caudine forks, so there is nothing unusual in the fact that he did so in relation to the Ligurian ambush of 193 BC;

  2. he never claimed that a Ligurian army had been raised under a lex sacrata except in 191 BC (as discussed above); and

  3. while his account of the Ligurian ambush in 186 BC in the defile that was renamed saltus Marcius might be related to, for example, the Samnite ambush of 311 BC  in a saltus avius, ‘History of Rome’, 9: 31: 16), Livy himself did not comment on the similarity.

Having said that, it is certainly likely that the details on the Samnite muster 0f 293 BC (discussed below) were long-remembered: for example, Florus, who was writing in the early 2nd century AD, offered a characterisation of the Samnites that included the following passage:

  1. “ ... if you would know their rage and fury, [know that] they were driven sacratis legibus (by sacred laws) and human sacrifices to destroy our city”, (‘Epitome of Roman History’, 1: 16: 7-9).

As Patterson suggested, the trope of a group of mountain tribes conscripting men  under a lex sacrata might well have been used a century after the event in order to embellish Minucius’ record in Liguria.  However, I doubt that Livy was responsible for the embellishment.  Rather, I think that it was more probably invented by:

  1. Minucius himself, or one or more of his supporters, in order to embellish his case for the award of a triumph (which might account for Cato’s ‘de Falsis Pugnis’); or

  2. one or more annalists who had particular reasons for exaggerating the achievements of the gens Minucia.

Ligurian Army of 191 BC


Red dots (Placentia and Cremona) = Latin colonies

Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire


Before considering the leges sacratae of 310/9 BC and 293 BC, we might usefully ‘fast forward’ to 191 BC, when, for the last time in the surviving sources, we read of an enemy army that was raised under such a law: according to Livy:

  1. “... the Ligurians had assembled an army in accordance with a lex sacrata and made a sudden attack upon the camp where the proconsul Quintus Minucius Thermus was in command”, (‘History of Rome’, 36: 38: 1).

The ‘Ligurians’ were actually a collection of notably unruly tribes that occupied the coastal strip and Alpine hills of northwestern Italy. 

Prior Events: Roman Conquest of Cisalpine Gaul (197 -4 BC)

In 197 BC, the Romans turned their attention to the Ligurians and to two neighbouring  Gallic tribes, the Boii and the Insubres: according to Livy:

  1. “[The consul] Quintus Minucius Rufus marched up [the Tyrrhenian coast] to Genoa [and] began the war with the Ligurians.  The towns of Clastidium and [the now unknown] Litubium, both belonging to the Ligurians and two [now unknown] cantons of the same people, the Celeiates and the Cerdiciates, surrendered.  And now, all the states on this side of the Po except the Gallic Boii and the Ligurian Ilvates were under his control; it was reported that 15 towns and 20,000 men had surrendered.  From there, he led his legions into the territory of the Boii”, (‘History of Rome’, 32: 29: 6-8).

This seems to be something of an overstatement, at least as far as the Insubres and the Boii were concerned,  However, it is the last time that we hear of the Ligurian Ilvates in the surviving sources, so one assumes that they did not remain independent for very long.

In 194 BC, Lucius Valerius Flaccus, who remained in Cisalpine Gaul as proconsul, defeated the Insubres and the Boii  at Mediolanum (‘History of Rome’. 34: 46: 1-2); it is likely that a treaty between Rome and the Insubres that Cicero (‘Pro Balbo’, 32) later described was agreed after the victory of 194 BC.  Meanwhile, the consul Tiberius Sempronius Longus found it impossible to defend the camp cthat he had established in Boian territory and therefore led his army to the Latin colony of Placentia”, (‘History of Rome, 34: 47: 7-8).  According to Livy:

  1. “Some say that [Sempronius’ consular colleague, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus] then  ... marched through the territory of the Boii and the Ligurians, plundering as he went ... ; although others say that he returned to Rome to hold the elections, having achieved nothing worth recording”, (‘History of Rome’, 34: 48: 1).

There is not necessarily a contradiction here: the ‘other’ sources might well have felt that raids on the Boii and the Ligurians were not worth recording.  Nevertheless, as we shall see, the Ligurians and the Boii continued in arms, and this might have been at least partly a result of the putative actions of Scipio.


Quintus Minucius Thermus  in Liguria (193-1 BC)

Minucius at Pisae (193 BC )

On his election as consul in 193 BC, Minucius was given Liguria as his province.  According to Livy:

  1. “Although the consuls did not anticipate war that year, a letter came from Marcus Cincius, the military prefect at Pisae, announcing that 20,000 Ligurians, per omnia conciliabula uniuersae gentis (from all of their villages) were in arm: they had devastated the territory of [the allied Etruscan city-state of] Luna and then entered the territory of Pisae and overrun the coastal plain”, (‘History of Rome, 34: 56: 1-2) .

Minucius was still in the process of raising an army when:

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

By the time that Minucius arrived at Arretium to join his army:

  1. “Pisae was already besieged by about 40,000 men, and many more were pouring in every day, attracted by the prospect of war hope of booty. ...  Minucius ... marched towards Pisaae ‘...  and encamped about 500 paces from the Ligurians.  ... [However], he did not dare to [engage the Ligurians in battle] with raw troops ..., [so the Ligurians were therefore able] to raid the borders of  [Etruscan] territory ...”, (‘History of Rome, 35: 3: 1-6) .

Meanwhile, the other consul, Lucius Cornelius Merula, marched into the territory of the Boii in order to relieve Placentia.  He inflicted a major defeat on the Boii near Mutina (on the border between Boian and Etruscan territory) but was nevertheless denied a triumph (‘History of Rome’, 35: 4: 1 - 35: 6-9, and 35: 8: 1-8) .

Livy then moved back to Minucius, who was camped outside Pisae, presumably trying to train his raw recruits:

  1. “For a long time nothing worth recording occurred among the Ligurians; but at the end of [193 BC], situations of grave peril arose on two occasions:

  2. first, Minucius’ camp came under a Ligurian attack that was defeated only with difficulty; and

  3. a little later, [Minucius and his men were ambushed] in a narrow pass, and visions of the Caudine disaster [of 321 BC] ... appeared before their eyes”, (‘History of Rome, 35: 11: 1-3) .

Fortunately, Minucius and his men were saved by the 800 Numidian cavalrymen who were serving  with the auxiliaries. 

Minucius Victory over the Ligurians (192 BC )

Minucius’ imperium was prorogued at the end of the consular year, and he continued the Ligurian campaign as proconsul.  In 192 BC, he finally:

  1. “... engaged in a pitched battle with the Ligurians.  He killed 9,000 of them and ... drove the rest back  into their camp ... [The Ligurians abandoned their camp during the night].  Minucius then ... marched into Ligurian territory and laid waste their citadels and towns with fire and sword.   The booty of Etruria, which had been sent on by the raiders, now sated the Roman soldiers.”, (‘History of Rome, 35: 21: 7-11) .

Defeat of the Boii (192-1 BC)

Livy now turned the narrative back to Cisalpine Gaul: the consuls of 192 BC mounted a pincer attack against the Boii:

  1. Lucius Quinctius Flamininus, from Liguria in the west; and

  2. Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, from Ariminum, on the Adriatic coast in the east.

This had the effect of prompting a significant number of the Boii to abandon the fight. 

Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica, one of the consuls of 191 BC, now marched into Cisalpine Gaul, and:

  1. “...engaged with the army of the Boii with notable results ... [and secured] a great victory: the [Boian] camp was captured;  the [remaining Boian rebels] surrendered; and a thanksgiving was proclaimed [at Rome] ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 36: 38: 5-7) .

He subsequently:

  1. “... accepted hostages from the Boii and deprived them of about half of their land ... He then left for Rome, ... having disbanded his army and ordered them to be in Rome on the day of the triumph”, (‘History of Rome, 36: 39: 3-4).

Minucius and the Lex Sacrata of 191 BC

Livy recorded that, about 2 months before Scipio’s victory over the Boii, as  Minucius plodded on  as proconsul in Liguria:

  1. “... a Ligurians army that had been raised in accordance with a lex sacrata ... made a sudden attack on his camp”, (‘History of Rome’, 36: 38: 1).

His men managed to keep the Ligurians out during the night and:

  1. “As soon as it was light, they made simultaneous sorties from two of the ... gates [of the besieged camp].  But the Ligurians were not repulsed at the first attempt, as he had expected;  [indeed], they maintained the struggle for more than two hours  ... At length, as detachment after detachment issued from the camp and fresh troops relieved those who were exhausted with fighting, the Ligurians ...  fled.  Over 4,000 of the enemy were killed, while the Romans and their allies lost fewer than 300 men”, (‘History of Rome’, 36: 38: 2-5). 

Triumph (Awarded and Denied) in 191-0 BC

Scipio

As noted above, Scipio had ordered his victorious army to meet him in Rome on the day of his (confidently expected) triumph.  According to Livy, immediately after Scipio himself arrived in Rome:

  1. “ ... he convened the Senate in the temple of Bellona and, when he had reported his achievements, he demanded that he be permitted to ride into the City in triumph”, (‘History of Rome, 36: 39:5).

However, he then hit a stumbling block: according to Livy:

  1. “Publius Sempronius Blaesus, tribune of the people, declared that, while Scipio should not be refused the honour of a triumph, it should be postponed: Ligurian wars were always connected with Gallic wars, because these neighbouring tribes exchanged assistance.  If, after defeating the Boii, Scipio had crossed into Liguria with his victorious army, or [at least] sent some of his troops to Minucius, who was  detained by a war of uncertain prospects for a third year, this war with the Ligurians could have been finished ... He should be ordered to return with his legions to his province and see that the Ligurians were thoroughly subdued; unless they were brought under the dominion of Rome the Boii would be in a constant state of unrest; whether it be peace or war it must be with both of them together. [10] When he has reduced the Boii to submission P. Cornelius will enjoy his triumph a few months hence like many before him who did not celebrate their triumph during their year of office”, (‘History of Rome, 36: 39: 6-10).

Scipio argued that:

  1. “... he had not receive Liguria as his province ... He was sure that Minucius would soon subjugate the Ligurians, at which point he would ask for a triumph and it would be granted him because it would be well deserved”, (History of Rome, 36: 40: 1-3).

Scipio eventually won the argument: according to Livy:

  1. “Not only were the Senate unanimous in decreeing a triumph, but the tribune bowed to their authority and withdrew his opposition.  So the consul Scipio triumphed over the Boii”, (History of Rome, 36: 40: 10).

The Fasti Triumphales also record that Scipio  was awarded a triumph against the Boian Gauls in 191 BC.  The award of this triumph is hardly surprising: although Scipio had acted in a high-handed manner, his demand was not unreasonable: as Stephen Dyson (referenced below, at p. 19) observed :

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

Minucius

According to Livy, at the end of the consular year of 191 BC:

  1. “Since Minucius had [reported to the Senate] that the province was completely subdued and that the whole nation of the Ligurians had surrendered, he was ordered to remove his forces out of Liguria into the country of the Boians, and to give up the command to [Scipio Nasica, who was now] proconsul”, (‘History of Rome’, 37: 2: 4).

Minucius duly returned to Rome:

  1. “... with hopes of triumphing ...””, (‘History of Rome, 37: 46: 1).

He had been awarded a triumph as proconsul in Further Spain in 195 BC, so he would have been familiar with the procedure involved.  However, on this second occasion:

  1. “... after hearing [his report of his] services, the Senate refused a triumph to Minucius ...”, (‘History of Rome, 37: 46: 1-2).

Livy gave no indication of why Minucius’ request was denied.  However, the high points of his achievements, as Livy recorded them,were:

  1. his expulsion of Ligurian raiders from the coastal plain of upper Etruria in 192 BC; and

  2. setting up a camp on Ligurian territory and successfully defending it from a Ligurian army that had been raised under a lex sacrata.

These achievement hardly matched his report to the Senate (as recorded by Livy) that:

  1. “... the province was completely subdued and that the whole nation of the Ligurians had surrendered”.

A record by Gellus might throw light on the process that led to the Senate’s decision: he noted that:

  1. “... in the speech that is entitled ‘de Falsis Pugnis’ (on Falsified Battles), Cato complained about Quintus Minucius Thermus”, (‘Attic Nights’, 10: 3: 17).

The complaint that Gellus described related to Minucius’ harsh treatment of the decemviri who served on his staff: there is nothing in his account to indicate where or when ‘de Falsis Pugnis’ was delivered or what other criticisms of Minucius (if any) it contained.  However, a number of scholars (see, for example, Jessica Clark, referenced below, at p. 115) have suggested that, given its title, Cato might have delivered it in a debate about whether Minucius’ request for a triumph should be accepted.  In other words, perhaps Minucius was accused of having attempted to mislead the Senate in his report of his services in Liguria, and that this was why his request for a triumph was denied.  A. H. McDonald went further, by suggesting the beginning of the legal battle that ultimately destroyed Scipio Africanus:

  1. “... lay, as far as we can tell, in Cato's attacks on a leading Scipionic supporter, Quintus Minucius Thermus, in 190 BC. ... Minucius had demanded the grant of a triumph over the Ligurians, and Cato delivered against him the speeches ‘de decem hominibus’ and ‘de falsis pugnis’.”

Thus, it is possible that Minucius was accused of having:

  1. invented a victory over a Ligurian army that had been raised under a lex sacrata; and 

  2. claimed that this had led to the surrender, en masse, of the Ligurians.

Was a Ligurian Army Raised Under a Lex Sacrata in 191 BC ?

Gregory Pellam (referenced below, 2015, at p. 327 and note 12) observed that, as in 431 BC, the lex sacrata of 191 BC:

  1. “ ...  seems to have been a law that would compel men to [present themselves for military] service.”

However, there is nothing in our surviving sources to suggest that the Ligurians had ever issued such a law before 191 BC, or that they ever did so again.  Indeed, I doubt that they were capable of organising forced conscription by this or any other means; as we saw above, the (alleged) 40,000 Ligurians who besieged Pisae in 193 BC had simply turned up opportunistically in the hope of booty.

It is fair to point out that nothing our surviving source suggests that either the Aequi or the Volsci used a lex sacrata before or after 431 BC.  However, as I argued above, the Aequi (and, in the longer term, the Volsci) had faced an existential threat in 431 BC.  This was hardly the case for the Ligurians in 191 BC: it is true that

  1. their Gallic allies had submitted to Rome in 194-1 BC; and

  2. Minucius had finally managed to establish a camp in Ligurian territory.

However, he was barely able to defend this camp from a surprise attack, and he certainly could not retaliate by  attacking the Ligurians in their mountain strongholds.  In short, there is nothing to suggest that the Ligurians faced imminent subjection to Rome.  Furthermore, subsequent events bear this out: as Jessica Clark (referenced below, at pp. 115-6) pointed out:

  1. “Liguria was the subject of on-going campaigns for [most of the following decade], beginning when Quintus Marcius Philippus led troops against the Ligurian Apuani in 186 BC. ... Both consuls of 185 BC led their legions against the Ligurian Apuani and Ingauni ... [and] both consuls were also sent of against the Ligurians in [each of the next five years] ...”

It is surely significant that none of these Roman consuls is recorded as having faced a Ligurian army that had been raised under a lex sacrata


Why then would  Livy introduced the trope of an enemy army raised under a lex sacrata into his account of the the raid on Minucius’ camp in 191 BC ?  John Patterson (referenced below, at p. 20) suggested that:

  1. “... the Romans in general, and Livy in particular, saw some similarities between the Samnites and the Ligurians, [both of whom were mountain people and] fierce opponents of Rome:

  2. in his account of [the Ligurians’ ambush of Minucius and his army in] 193 BC ... , Livy describes how the Romans were ... reminded of the disastrous defeat at the hands of the Samnites at the Caudine Forks;

  3. later, we are told of the Ligurians assembling an army using a lex sacrata [for the purpose of attacking Minucius’ camp in 191 BC: this] technique was also used by the Samnites, and described by Livy in his account of the battle of Aquilonia in 293 BC [see below]; and

  4. the disastrous defeat of Quintus Marcius by the Ligurians Apuani in the so-called Saltus Marcius [in 186 BC, ‘History of Rome’, 39: 20: 5-10] again echoes Rome’s struggle with the Samnites”

However, it seems to me that these records do not indicate that Livy was inclined to model his accounts of the Ligurians, in particular, on Samnite precedents:

  1. he often related later ambushes of Roman armies to the disaster at the Caudine forks, so there is nothing unusual in the fact that he did so in relation to the Ligurian ambush of 193 BC;

  2. he never claimed that a Ligurian army had been raised under a lex sacrata except in 191 BC (as discussed above); and

  3. while his account of the Ligurian ambush in 186 BC in the defile that was renamed saltus Marcius might be related to, for example, the Samnite ambush of 311 BC  in a saltus avius, ‘History of Rome’, 9: 31: 16), Livy himself did not comment on the similarity.

Having said that, it is certainly likely that the details on the Samnite muster 0f 293 BC (discussed below) were long-remembered: for example, Florus, who was writing in the early 2nd century AD, offered a characterisation of the Samnites that included the following passage:

  1. “ ... if you would know their rage and fury, [know that] they were driven sacratis legibus (by sacred laws) and human sacrifices to destroy our city”, (‘Epitome of Roman History’, 1: 16: 7-9).

As Patterson suggested, the trope of a group of mountain tribes conscripting men  under a lex sacrata might well have been used a century after the event in order to embellish Minucius’ record in Liguria.  However, I doubt that Livy was responsible for the embellishment.  Rather, I think that it was more probably invented by:

  1. Minucius himself, or one or more of his supporters, in order to embellish his case for the award of a triumph (which might account for Cato’s ‘de Falsis Pugnis’); or

  2. one or more annalists who had particular reasons for exaggerating the achievements of the gens Minucia.



Read more:

A. Koptev, “Early Legislative Practice and the Leges Sacratae in Livy”:

presented at the colloquium, “Relire Tite-Live, 2000 Ans Après”, held at the Université Paris Nanterre (2017) and published online

G. Pellam, “Sacer, Sacrosanctus and Leges Sacratae”, Classical Antiquity, 34:2 ( 2015) 322-34

J. Clark, “Triumph in Defeat: Military Loss and the Roman Republic”, (2014) Oxford and New York

A. La Regina, “Pietrabbondante e il Sannio Antico”, Almanacco del Molise (2014) Campobasso

J. Patterson, “Samnites, Ligurians and Romans Revisited”, (2013), online

W. Doberstein, “The Samnite Legacy : an Examination of the Samnitic Influences upon the Roman State”, (2012) thesis of the University of Lethbridge

G. Pellam, “The Belly and the Limbs: Reconsidering the Idea of a Plebeian ‘State Within the State’ in the Early Roman Republic ”, (2012) thesis of the Ohio State University

E. Brousseau, “Politics and Policy: Rome and Liguria (200-172 BC)”,  (2010) thesis of McGill University, Montreal

G. Tagliamonte , “Arma Samnitium”, Mélanges de l'Ecole Française de Rome: Antiquité, 121:2 (2009) 381-94

T. Stek, “Cult Places and Cultural Change in Republican Italy”, (2009) Amsterdam

M. Sage, “The Republican Roman Army: A Sourcebook”, (2008) New Yprk

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

F. Coarelli, “Legio Linteata: L’ Iniziazione Militare nel Sannio”, in

  1. L. Del Tutto Palma (Ed.), “La Tavola di Agnone nel Contesto Italico: Atti del Convegno di Studio (Agnone, 13-15  Aprile 1994)”, (1996) Florence, at pp. 3-16

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

A. La Regina, “I Sanniti”, in

  1. G. Pugliese Carratelli, (Ed.), “Italia: Omnium Terrarum Parens” (1989) Milan, at pp. 301-432

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

J. Briscoe, “A Commentary on Livy: Books  34-37”, (1981) Oxford

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

E. T. Salmon, “Samnium and the Samnites’, (1967) Cambridge

S. Tondo, “'Il ‘Sacramentum Militiae’ nell' Ambiente Culturale Romano-Italico', Studia et Documenta Historiae et Iuris, 29 (1963) 1–123

A. H. McDonald, “Scipio Africanus and Roman Politics in the Second Century BC”, Journal of Roman Studies, 28:2 (1938) 153-64


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