Roman-Aequian wars

The Roman-Aequian wars were a series of wars during the early expansion of ancient Rome in central Italy against their eastern neighbours, the Aequi.

Livy mentions that the last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, made peace with the Aequi.[1]

They fought several battles against the Romans, among which was the battle of Mons Algidus (458 BC). Their chief center is said to have been taken by the Romans about 484 BC[2] and again about ninety years later.[3]

Records of fighting between Romans and Aequi become much sparser in the second half of the 5th century BC. Likely the Aequi had gradually become a more settled people and their raiding petered out as a result.[4]

The Aequi were not finally subdued until the end of the second Samnite war,[5] when they seem to have received a limited form of franchise.[6]

Aequi incursions in 494 BC

During the period of popular discontent in Rome which led to the First secessio plebis in 494 BC, each of the Volsci, Sabines and the Aequi took up arms at the same time. To meet the threat, a Roman dictator was appointed, Manius Valerius Maximus. Ten legions were raised, a greater number than had been raised previously at any one time, three of which were assigned to the consul Veturius to deal with the Aequi.

The Aequi had invaded Latium, and Veturius marched there to meet the enemy at the request of the Latin allies of Rome, rather than allowing the Latins to arm themselves. Upon the arrival of the Roman army, the Aequians retreated from Latium to the safety of the mountains to the east.[7]

Shortly afterwards, the Romans advanced into the mountains towards the Aequian camp. The Roman consul would have preferred to delay any attack, because the Aequian army's camp was situated on a position which was difficult to approach. However the Roman troops demanded that there be no delay, because of their anxiety to return to Rome as soon as possible because of the political events that had been fomenting there. Therefore the Roman army advanced up the hill towards the Aequian camp. The Aequi, however, were so stunned at the Romans' boldness that they abandoned their camp and fled. The Roman army captured the Aequian camp, and took from it an abundance of booty, thereby securing a bloodless victory.[8]

Attack on Rome in 488 BC

In 488 BC the Volsci, led by Gaius Marcius Coriolanus and Attius Tullus Aufidius, laid siege to Rome. Coriolanus, a native of Rome, relented and broke off the siege. The Volsci eventually returned to attack Rome, and were joined by an army of the Aequi. However the Aequi refused to accept the leadership of Aufidius, and as a result a dispute broke out and the two armies fought, diminishing the strength of each of them such that they were no longer a threat to Rome.[9]

Ongoing hostilities from 485 BC

The Volsci and the Aequi were together defeated again in 485 BC. The consul Quintus Fabius Vibulanus incurred the anger of the plebs by lodging the spoils of victory with the publicum.[10]

Again in 484 BC hostilities with the Volsci and Aequi were renewed. The Romans led by the consul Lucius Aemilius Mamercus defeated the enemy, and the Roman cavalry slaughtered many in the rout which followed.[11]

The Aequi took up arms again in 482 BC. In 481 BC they laid siege to the Latin town of Ortona, and the Romans raised an army and placed it under the command of the consul Kaeso Fabius. The Romans met the Aequi in battle, and routed them solely by a cavalry charge. Due to popular discontent amongst the Roman army, both with the patricians and with Fabius himself, the Roman infantry refused to pursue the enemy. Fabius exhorted them to attack the fleeing enemy, but they refused, and returned to camp. Nevertheless Fabius and the army returned to Rome victorious.[12]

In 479 BC Kaeso Fabius was again consul. The Aequi invaded the Latin territory, and Fabius was assigned an army to deal with the threat. No significant battle was fought, because the Aequi retreated to their walled towns. When word arrived that the other consul Titus Verginius Tricostus Rutilus was threatened by the Veientes, Fabius took his army to rescue his colleague.[13]

Aequi uprising in 388 BC

In 390 BC a Gaulish war band defeated the Roman army at the Battle of Allia and then sacked Rome. The ancient writers report that in 389 BC the Etruscans, the Volsci, and the Aequi all raised armies in hope of exploiting this blow to Roman power. According to Livy and Plutarch, the Aequi gathered their army at Bolae. However, the Roman dictator, Marcus Furius Camillus, had just inflicted a severe defeat on the Volsci. He surprised the Aequian army and captured both their camp and the town.[14] According to Diodorus Siculus, the Aequi were actually besieging Bolae when they were attacked by Camillus.[15] According to Livy, a Roman army ravaged Aequian territory again in 388, this time meeting no resistance.[16] Oakley (1997) considers these notices of Roman victories against the Aequi in 389 and 388 to be historical, confirmed by the disappearance of the Aequi from the sources until 304. Owing to the dispute in the sources, however, the precise nature of the fighting around Bolae cannot be determined. Bolae was a Latin town, but it was also the scene of much fighting between Romans and Aequi, and it changed hands several times. Either an (unreported) Aequian capture followed by Roman recapture, or a failed Aequan siege, are therefore possible.[17]


  1. Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:55
  2. D.S. xi.140
  3. D.S. xiv.106
  4. Cornell, T. J. (1995). The Beginnings of Rome- Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000-264 BC). New York: Routledge. p. 309. ISBN 978-0-415-01596-7.
  5. Livy, ix. 45, fx. i; Diod. xx. 101
  6. Cicero, Off. i. n, 35
  7. Livy, Ab urbe condita, 2:30
  8. Livy, Ab urbe condita, 2:31
  9. Livy, Ab urbe condita, 2:40
  10. Livy, Ab urbe condita, 2.42
  11. Livy, Ab urbe condita, 2.42
  12. Livy, Ab urbe condita, 2.43
  13. Livy, 2.48
  14. Livy, vi.2.14; Plutarch, Camillus 33.1, 35.1
  15. D.S., xiv.117.4
  16. Livy, vi.4.8
  17. Oakley, S. P. (1997). A Commentary on Livy Books VI-X, Volume 1 Introduction and Book VI. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 352–353. ISBN 0-19-815277-9.
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