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The Latin League and the Samnite Wars

With the Celts departed, Rome began to pull itself together to forge a future from the bare bones of its past. But there were neighbouring tribes unwilling to give way before the resurgent Republic, notably the Samnites and their allies, a threat for almost half a century.

In the decades following the Celtic withdrawal,
the Romans repelled numerous incursions in order
to consolidate the territory they had won before the
invasion. Such was Rome’s success that it finally
imposed a treaty on the Latin League in 358 BC.
A period of colonisation began. As a way of
spreading influence, the Senate had already founded
colonies on Rome’s borders, now it founded colonies
in enemy territory – a process that would be continual.

Similarly to the Greeks and the Pheonicians, Rome had
to satisfy land-hunger and founding colonies was a
means of alleviating the problem – as well as providing
defensive bulwarks against enemies. By drawing in the
populations of conquered towns, it had to supply more
food than ever before. Yet the area that Rome
controlled was still relatively small and there were
plenty of enemies on its borders.

The First Samnite War was a conflict Rome created
for itself. In 354 Rome signed a treaty with the
Oscan-speaking Samnites, rural people who dwelt on
the slopes of the Appennines. Just 11 years later,
Rome broke the treaty when it intervened in a dispute
between the Samnites and the town of Capua. A
Roman army first liberated Capua then garrisoned it.
But the difficulty of maintaining discipline and lines of
supply resulted in a negotiated peace with Samnium.

Sometimes trouble came looking for the Romans. Hawkish members of the Latin League took Rome’s signature on successive peace processes as a sign of weakness and formulated an attack. The Latin War lasted for two years, won by Rome in 338 which then forcibly dissolved the Latin League. Perhaps remembering the mistake of Veii, harsh penalties were not inflicted on vanquished. Some towns were incorporated into the Roman state and their inhabitants given Roman full citizenship (civitas optimo iure) and some were incorporated but without full citizenship (civitas sine suffragio). Others were pardoned and allowed to remain independent as allies of Rome. The allies were expected to pay taxes and provide military assistance in times of conflict, but were also entitled to protection and trading rights (commercium) with Roman citizens. They were not, however, allowed to exercise these rights among themselves or have political associations with one another.

Rome’s colonising programme irritated the Samnites, to the extent that war broke out once more in 328. There was a string of victories for Rome until its soldiers were ambushed at the Caudine Forks pass and forced to surrender in 321. Rome had to submit to a humiliating peace treaty that left her impotent for five years. Time was not wasted. In the lull Rome forged new alliances and strengthened its forces.

Pre-empting further Roman expansion, the Samnites attacked in 316 and won the first round in battle at Lautulae. The following year, the tide turned in Rome’s favour, but fighting continued for 11 years until, after a string of Roman victories, the Samnites were ready to bid for peace in 304. As the new century began, Rome was in control of Latium, the Apennines and most of the Campania.

This dramatic expansion of power drove the Samnites, Celts, Umbrians and some Etruscan cities together in an attempt to bring Rome to its knees. The Third Samnite War began with the battle of Sentium in 295, the biggest ever staged in Italy. Both sides lost thousands of soldiers, although later historians insisted Rome was the clear winner because it lost far fewer men. The Roman state may have been a conquering one, but one of its strengths was to adopt from others successful tactics and processes. The war benefitted Rome as it expanded its battle tactics with those copied from the Samnites and equipment borrowed from the Etruscans.

The Samnites finally surrendered in 290, following the equally costly Battle of Samnium. Rome dealt with another invasion by Celts and the truculent Etruscan cities before it finally had mastery over central Italy.

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Conquest and colonisation in Italy, 338­240 BC
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