The Conquest Of Italy

Hitherto, the Romans, after the expulsion of the kings, were involved in

wars with their immediate neighbors, and exposed to great calamities. All

they could do for one hundred and fifty years was to recover the

possessions they had lost. During this period great prodigies of valor

were performed, and great virtues were generated. It was the heroic period

of their history, when adversity taught them patience, endurance, and
r /> public virtue.

But a new period opens, when the plebeians had obtained political

power, and the immediate enemies were subdued. This was a period of

conquest over the various Italian States. The period is still heroic, but

historical. Great men arose, of talent and patriotism. The ambition of the

Romans now prominently appears. They had been struggling for

existence--they now fought for conquest. "The great achievement of the

regal period was the establishment," says Mommsen, "of the sovereignty of

Rome over Latium." That was shaken by the expulsion of Tarquin, but was

re-established in the wars which subsequently followed. After the fall of

Veii, all the Latin cities became subject to the Romans. On the overthrow

of the Volscians, the Roman armies reached the Samnite territory.

The next memorable struggle of Rome was with Samnium, for the

supremacy of Italy. Samnium was a hilly country on the east of the

Volscians, and its people were brave and hardy. The Samnites had, at the

fall of Veii, an ascendency over Lower Italy, with the exception of the

Grecian colonies. Tarentum, Croton, Metapontum, Heraclea, Neapolis, and

other Grecian cities, maintained a precarious independence, but were

weakened by the successes of the Samnites. Capua, the capital of Campania,

where the Etruscan influence predominated, was taken by them, and Cumae was

wrested from the Greeks.

But in the year B.C. 343, the Samnites came in collision with Rome, from

an application of Capua to Rome for assistance against them. The victories

of Valerius Corvus, and Cornelius Cossus gave Campania to the Romans.

In the mean time the Latins had recovered strength, and determined

to shake off the Roman yoke, and the Romans made peace with the Samnites

and formed a close alliance, B.C. 341. The Romans and Samnites were ranged

against the Latins and Campanians. The hostile forces came in sight of

each other before Capua, and the first great battle was fought at the foot

of Mount Vesuvius. It was here that Titus Manlius, the son of the consul,

was beheaded by him for disobedience of orders, for the consuls issued

strict injunctions against all skirmishing, and Manlius, disregarding

them, slew an enemy in single combat. "The consul's cruelty was execrated,

but the discipline of the army was saved."

This engagement furnishes another legend of the heroic and

patriotic self-devotion of those early Romans. The consuls, before the

battle, dreamed that the general on the one side should fall, and the army

on the other side should be beaten. Decius, the plebeian consul, when he

found his troops wavering, called the chief pontiff, and after invoking

the gods to assist his cause, rushed into the thickest of the Latin

armies, and was slain. The other consul, Torquatus, by a masterly use of

his reserve, gained the battle. Three-fourths of the Latin army were

slain. The Latin cities, after this decisive victory, lost their

independence, and the Latin confederacy was dissolved, and Latin

nationality was fused into one powerful State, and all Latium became

Roman. Roman citizens settled on the forfeited lands of the conquered


The subjugation of Latium and the progress of Rome in Campania

filled the Samnites with jealousy, and it is surprising that they should

have formed an alliance with Rome, when Rome was conquering Campania. They

were the most considerable power in Italy, next to Rome, and to them fell

the burden of maintaining the independence of the Italian States against

the encroachments of the Romans.

The Greek cities of Palaeapolis and Neapolis, the only communities

in Campania not yet reduced by the Romans, gave occasion to the outbreak

of the inevitable war between the Samnites and Romans. The Tarentines and

Samnites, informed of the intention of the Romans to seize these cities,

anticipated the seizure, upon which the Romans declared war, and commenced

the siege of Palaeapolis, which soon submitted, on the offer of favorable

terms. An alliance of the Romans with the Lucanians, left the Samnites

unsupported, except by tribes on the eastern mountain district. The Romans

invaded the Samnite territories, pillaging and destroying as far as

Apulia, on which the Samnites sent back the Roman prisoners and sought for

peace. But peace was refused by the inexorable enemy, and the Samnites

prepared for desperate resistance. They posted themselves in ambush at an

important pass in the mountains, and shut up the Romans, who offered to

capitulate. Instead of accepting the capitulation and making prisoners of

the whole army, the Samnite general, Gaius Pontius, granted an equitable

peace. But the Roman Senate, regardless of the oaths of their generals,

and regardless of the six hundred equites who were left as hostages,

canceled the agreement, and the war was renewed with increased

exasperation on the part of the Samnites, who, however, were sufficiently

magnanimous not to sacrifice the hostages they held. Rome sent a new army,

under Lucius Papirius Cursor, and laid siege to Lucania, where the Roman

equites lay in captivity. The city surrendered, and Papirius liberated his

comrades, and retaliated on the Samnite garrison. The war continued, like

all wars at that period between people of equal courage and resources,

with various success--sometimes gained by one party and sometimes by

another, until, in the fifteenth year of the war, the Romans established

themselves in Apulia, on one sea, and Campania, on the other.

The people of Northern and Central Italy, perceiving that the Romans aimed

at the complete subjugation of the whole peninsula, now turned to the

assistance of the Samnites. The Etruscans joined their coalition, but were

at length subdued by Papirius Cursor. The Samnites found allies in the

Umbrians of Northern, and the Marsi and Pieligni of Central Italy, But

these people were easily subdued, and a peace was made with Samnium, after

twenty-two years' war, when Bovianum, its strongest city, was taken by

storm, B.C. 298.

The defeated nations would not, however, submit to Rome without one

more final struggle, and the third Samnite war was renewed the following

year, for which the Samnites called to their aid the Gauls. This war

lasted nine years, and was virtually closed by the great victory of

Seutinum--a fiercely contested battle, where the Romans, though victorious,

lost nine thousand men. Umbria submitted, the Gauls dispersed, and the

Etruscans made a truce for four hundred months. The Samnites still made

desperate resistance, but were finally subdued in a decisive battle, where

twenty thousand were slain, and their great general, Pontius, was taken

prisoner, with four thousand Samnites. This misfortune closed the war, but

the Samnites were not subjected to humiliating terms. The Romans, however,

sullied their victories by the execution of C. Pontius, the Samnite

general, who had once spared the lives of two Roman armies, B.C. 291. Rome

now became the ruling State of Italy, but there were still two great

nations unsubdued--the Etruscans in the north, and the Lucanians in the


A new coalition arose against Rome, soon after the Samnites were

subdued, composed of Etruscans, Bruttians, and Lucanians. The war began in

Etruria, B.C. 283, and continued with alternate successes, until the

decisive victory at the Vadimonian Lake, gained by G. Domitius Calvinus,

destroyed forever the power of the Etruscans. The attention of Rome was

now given to Tarentum, a Greek city, at the bottom of the gulf of that

name, adjacent to the fertile plain of Lucania. This city, which was

pre-eminent among the States of Magna Grecia, had grown rich by commerce,

and was sufficiently powerful to defend herself against the Etruscans and

the Syracusans. It was a Dorian colony, but had abandoned the Lacedaemonian

simplicity, and was given over to pleasure and luxury; but, luxurious as

it was, it was the only obstacle to the supremacy of Rome over Italy.

This thoughtless and enervated, but great city, ruled by

demagogues, had insulted Rome--burning and destroying some of her ships. It

was a reckless insult which Rome could not forget, prompted by fear as

well as hatred. When the Samnite war closed, the Tarentines, fearing the

vengeance of the most powerful State in Italy, sent to Pyrrhus, king of

Epirus, a soldier of fortune, for aid. They offered the supreme command of

their forces, with the right to keep a garrison in their city, till the

independence of Italy was secured.

Pyrrhus, who was compared with Alexander of Macedon, aspired to

found an Hellenic empire in the West, as Alexander did in the East, and

responded to the call of the Tarentines. Rome was not now to contend with

barbarians, but with Hellenes--with phalanxes and cohorts instead of a

militia--with a military monarchy and sustained by military science. He

landed, B.C. 281, on the Italian shores, with an army of twenty thousand

veterans in phalanx, two thousand archers, three thousand cavalry, and

twenty elephants. The Tarentine allies promised three hundred and fifty

thousand infantry and twenty thousand cavalry to support him. The Romans

strained every nerve to meet him before these forces could be collected

and organized. They marched with a force of fifty thousand men, larger

than a consular army, under Laevinius and AEmilius. They met the enemy on

the plain of Heraclea. Seven times did the legion and phalanx drive one or

the other back. But the reserves of Pyrrhus, with his elephants, to which

the Romans were unaccustomed, decided the battle. Seven thousand Romans

were left dead on the field, and an immense number were wounded or taken

prisoners. But the battle cost Pyrrhus four thousand of his veterans,

which led him to say that another such victory would be his ruin. The

Romans retreated into Apulia, but the whole south of Italy, Lucania,

Samnium, the Bruttii, and the Greek cities were the prizes which the

conqueror won.

Pyrrhus then offered peace, since he only aimed to establish a

Greek power in Southern Italy. The Senate was disposed to accept it, but

the old and blind Appius Claudius was carried in his litter through the

crowded forum--as Chatham, in after times, bowed with infirmities and age,

was carried to the parliament--and in a vehement speech denounced the

peace, and infused a new spirit into the Senate. The Romans refused to

treat with a foreign enemy on the soil of Italy. The ambassador of

Pyrrhus, the orator Cineas, returned to tell the conqueror that to fight

the Romans was to fight a hydra--that their city was a temple, and their

senators were kings.

Two new legions were forthwith raised to re-enforce Laevinius, while

Pyrrhus marched direct to Rome. But when he arrived within eighteen miles,

he found an enemy in his front, while Laevinius harassed his rear. He was

obliged to retreat, and retired to Tarentum with an immense booty. The

next year he opened the campaign in Apulia; but he found an enemy of

seventy thousand infantry and eight thousand horse--a force equal to his

own. The first battle was lost by the Romans, who could not penetrate the

Grecian phalanx, and were trodden down by the elephants. But he could not

prosecute his victory, his troops melted away, and he again retired to

Tarentum for winter quarters.

Like a military adventurer, he then, for two years, turned his

forces against the Carthaginians, and relieved Syracuse. But he did not

avail himself of his victories, being led by a generous nature into

political mistakes. He then returned to Italy to renew his warfare with

the Romans. The battle of Beneventum, gained by Carius, the Roman general,

decided the fate of Pyrrhus. The flower of his Epirot troops was

destroyed, and his camp fell, with all its riches, into the hands of the

Romans. The king of Epirus retired to his own country, and was

assassinated by a woman at Argos, after he had wrested the crown of

Macedonia from Antigonus, B.C. 272. He had left, however, to garrison,

under Milo, at Tarentum. The city fell into the hands of the Romans the

year that Pyrrhus died.

With the fall of Tarentum, the conquest of Italy was complete. The

Romans found no longer any enemies to resist them on the peninsula. A

great State was organized for the future subjection of the world. The

conquest of Italy greatly enriched the Romans. Both rich and poor became

possessed of large grants of land from the conquered territories. The

conquered cities were incorporated with the Roman State, and their

inhabitants became Roman citizens or allies. The growth of great plebeian

families re-enforced the aristocracy, which was based on wealth. Italy

became Latinized, and Rome was now acknowledged as one of the great powers

of the world.

The great man at Rome during the period of the Samnite wars was

Appius Claudius--great grandson of the decemvir, and the proudest

aristocrat that had yet appeared. He enjoyed all the great offices of

State. To him we date many improvements in the city, also the highway

which bears his name. He was the patron of art, of eloquence, and poetry.

But, at this period, all individual greatness was lost in the State.