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Ancient texts

Liv. (10.11-47)

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war against Pyrrhus

Third war against Samnites

298-290 bc

In 302 bc the Etruscans started a war once more but were defeated in a battle near Rusellae But the historicity of this battle is doubtful.

In 300 bc another privilege of the patricians was opened for the plebeians. But not without fierce debates preceding. Of course Appius Claudius was against, P. Decius Mus, son of the the plebeian consul who had sacrificed himself in the Latin war, defended the proposal. The privilege the plebeians not had at that time was priesthood. In the end the numbers of the priests were doubled ( to 8 pontifices and 9 augurs) and the the plebeians could opt for these functions.

In 298 bc the Samnites were tired again of the Roman rule and tried other peoples to help them to attack the Romans. They also approached the Picenians, who happened to have a treaty with the Romans at that time. The Picenians refused and alerted the Romans. At he same time the Etruscans prepared for war with Rome and tried to make the Gauls their allies, which failed. When the Lucanians refused to take part in the war the Samnites were preparing, the Samnites tried to force them by starting a war against the Lucanians. The Lucanians complained to the Romans, who decided to help them and sent the fetials to the Samnites. Next consul Q. Fabius was sent into Samnium, where he fought with the Samnites in the battle of Tifernum.

Appius Claudius
After their defeat the Samnites moved their army to Etruria to try and fight together with the Etruscans. In the next year in the absence of an opponent army the now proconsul Decius Mus conquered a number of Samnite cities. Consul Appius Claudius who was to wage war in Etruria got in trouble because of bad leadership and had to ask for help from his colleague.

Decius Mus
In the next year the Samnites,Gaul, Etruscans and Umbrians united in order to defeat the Romans. Fabius and Decius were elected consul once more. Once the dangers were clear to the senate both Fabius and Decius were sent to Etruria. Two other armies were kept closer to Rome. In the following battle of Sentinum Decius Mus followed the example of his father and when the battle is going wrong for the Romans he self scarified, which gave the Romans the upper hand and the victory. Historians doubt if both of these sacrifices are historical. Twice seems a little too much. But one should realize the Decii Mus were plebeians and the annalists would grab every opportunity to diminish the acts of plebeians. And if his father sacrificed himself the chance the son would follow his example enlarges.

Pyrrheian victory
Still the Samnites refused to submit to the Romans and raised new armies. Battles were fought with various outcomes, like the battle of Luceria where the Romans obtained a Pyrrhus-victory avant la lettre.

Sacred chickens
In 293 bc consul L. Papirius Cursor marched his army down to Cominius where he met a Samnite army beautifully armed and where all officers had been forced to take an oath that they would be cursed if the didn't fight In the Roman army everybody was in the mood the give battle and consul L.Papirius Cursor had ordered the pullarius to observe the omens : (T Livius ab urbe condita 10.40 ) and feed the sacred chickens to learn the will of the gods. The chickens didn't eat. The pullarius dared not tell the truth but told Papirius "the grain had danced". When the consul was told the truth by someone who had observed the procedure he replied:

"But," he continued, "if the man who is watching the omens makes a false report, he brings down the divine wrath on his own head. As far as I am concerned, I have received the formal intimation that the chickens ate eagerly, there could be no more favorable omen for the Roman people and army."

And he placed the pullarius in the first line where the man got killed.
The Romans attacked and won the battle.


When another epidemic broke out the Sibylline books were consulted. The the decemviri found the god Aesculapius (Greek:Esklepios) of Epidaurus (Greece) should be brought to Rome. It took a year before envoys were sent to bring the statue of the god. They returned with a snake, that had boarded the ship with them. No doubt the god was present in that snake.

In 290 bc the Samnites finally sued for peace after having been beaten once more by consul M' Curius Dentatus.

    Aesculapius and his daughter Hygieia and the snake    

Aesculapius and his daughter Hygieia and the snake
(Rijksmuseum voor oudheden Leiden)


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