Siege of Saticula, 316-315 BC

The siege of Saticula (316-315 BC) was a Roman success that marked the resumption of hostilities in the Second Samnite War after a short period of truce.

We have two main sources for the events at Saticula and at Lautulae, one provided by Livy and the other by Diodorus Siculus. They both agree in the basic outline of events, and in the Roman commanders at Lautulae, but differ on the Roman commanders during the siege of Saticula and the timing of the appointment of a Dictator.

According to Livy the siege began in the consular year of Sp. Nautius and M. Popilius, but was conducted by the Dictator L. Aemilius, with M. Fulvius as his master of horse. It continued into the consular year of L. Papirius Cursor and Q. Publilius Philo, but once again was conducted by a dictator, Quintus Fabius, with Quintus Aulius as his master of horse. This doesn't agree with what we know of later Roman practise, when dictators were only appointed to deal with emergencies, but might be possible at this early date - Livy records one dictator being appointed simply to open the chariot races.

The alternative tradition comes from Diodorus, who records that Quintus Fabius was only appointed as dictator after the fall of Saticula, and after the appearance of a large Samnite army dangerously close to the city.

This second tradition is partly supported by Livy. He records Quintus Aulius as having died during the siege of Saticula, but then admits that an alternative tradition exists, in which he was killed at Lautulae.

Whoever was in command the attack on Saticula led to a resumption of hostilities with the Samnites. According to Livy the Samnites raised a large army in 316, and attempted to raise the siege. The Samnites entrenched themselves close to the Roman camp, and then combined with the besieged Saticulans to attack the Roman camp. The Roman commander responded by concentrating on the sortie, driving the Saticulans back into the city, before turning on the Samnites, inflicting a heavy defeat on them. In the aftermath of this defeat the Samnites moved away to besiege Plistica.

According to Livy the siege lasted into a second year. The consuls L. Papirius Cursor and Q. Publilius Philo copied their predecessors, and stopped in Rome, while Quintus Fabius was appointed as dictator to conduct the siege, with Quintus Aulius as his master of the horse.

Livy and Diodorus agree that the Samnites made an attempt to raise the siege just before the city fell - the second attempt in Livy, probably the first attempt in Diodorus. Diodorus records a great battle with heavy casualties on both sides, but that ended in a Roman victory. Livy gives more details. In his account the Samnites carried out a series of minor harassing attacks on the Romans. The Roman commander didn't take them too seriously, and the Samnites came closer and closer to the Roman camp. Eventually the master of horse Q. Aulius, without consulting the dictator, led the cavalry against the Samnites, and drove them off. The Samnite commander led his cavalry back into the fight, and was killed, but in the aftermath of this Q. Aulius also died. This story probably belongs in the account of the battle of Lautulae.

In the aftermath of this failed relief effort the Samnites marched away from Saticula, which soon fell to the Romans. This was balanced by the fall of Plistica, but worse was to come for the Romans. The city of Sora, between Saticula and Rome, either fell to the Samnites or rebelled against the Romans. A large Samnite army was formed, and moved south-west from Sora towards Tarracina on the coast. This threatened to cut Rome off from her southern possessions, and so the dictator Quintus Fabius, now definitely in command, led his army to the pass of Lautulae, in an attempt to block the Samnites. There he probably suffered a major defeat, which exposed Latium to Samnite raids.

Roman Conquests: Italy, Ross Cowan. A look at the Roman conquest of the Italian Peninsula, the series of wars that saw Rome transformed from a small city state in central Italy into a power that was on the verge of conquering the ancient Mediterranean world. A lack of contemporary sources makes this a difficult period to write about, but Cowan has produced a convincing narrative without ignoring some of the complexity.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (4 December 2009), Siege of Saticula, 316-315 BC ,

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