Ars Bellica

Battles In Brief

Battle of Crustumeria

493 or 491 BC

The Roman commanders in the campaign against Equi, Volsci and the Sabines

Aulus Verginius and Titus Veturius

Both lived in the fifth century and they were elected consuls together between 492 and 494 BC. Tito Veturius belonged to the gens Veturia, probably twin brother of Gaius Geminus Veturius Cicurino, consul in 499 BC, and the father of Titus Veturius Geminus Cicurino, consul in 462 BC. Aulus Virginius, however, belonged to the Gens Verginia, and was the father of Aulus Virginius Tricosto Celiomontano, consul in 469 BC, and Spurrier Virginio Tricosto Celiomontano, consul in 456 BC.

Just awarded of the consular office, the two realized that their management would have been very difficult from the beginning. On the internal front, divisions between patricians and plebeians threatened the internal security of the urban area, while on the borders, grown the joint pressure of the Sabines, Volsci and Equi.

The consuls asked for advice to the Senate that identified in Manius Valerius the man who could solve the situation. So the latter was proclaimed dictator, Aulus and Titus worked with him in the overflowing campaign against the peoples mentioned above, routed by a brilliant action at the same time. In particular, Aulus Virginius would lead their legions against the Volscians, Tito Veturius against Equi, while the same dictator would be opposed to the Sabines, flanked by cavalry led by Quintus Servilius Priscus equitum magister.

Once received the triumph in Rome Manius Valerius resumed his position and the two consuls returned in their office. In this context began the secession of the plebeians, who withdrew in protest at the Monte Sacro, three miles outside Rome on the right bank of the Aniene river where it was a fortified camp. This secession ended just with the following intervention of Menenius Agrippa, who spoke to the exiles the famous fable of the limbs and stomach. On a practical level was established the office of a magister in defense of the commons: the tribune of the plebs. This office was forbidden to the patricians, and was sanctioned by a law (the Lex Sacrata) with the characteristic of the absolute inviolability and sacredness (sacrosancti) of the office itself. They were then elected the first two tribunes of the people, who were Gaius Licinius and Lucius Albino.

Manius Valerius Maximus Voluso

Voluso was son of Marcus Valerius Maximus, consul in 505 BC, and the grandson of one of the fathers of the republic, Publius Valerius Publicola, which was four times consul from 509 BC 504 BC. Manius Valerius was augur and dictator and won several wars against the Sabines and Medulini.

Appointed dictator in the year of the consulship of Titus Veturius and Aulus Virginius, his figure immediately reassured the populace of Rome, in consideration of the origin of the gens and the mildness of character of the new dictator: «The populace, while realizing that the appointment of a dictator happening at his expense, was not afraid or sad because of the dictator's family (Valeria), in fact, was just a brother of the newly elected to enact the law on the right to appeal. Following an edict of the dictator confirmed these good dispositions because reproduced roughly the one of consul Servilius».

With the support of the senate, consuls and people, Manius Valerius was able to defeat simultaneously, and with the help of the same consuls in office, the armies of Equi, Volsci and the Sabines. Specifically, he personally led the legions at his disposal against the latter in the battle of Crustumeria.

Got the triumph in the City, do not forget domestic issues relating to the problems of debtors and again brought the issue to the attention of the Senate, demanding a definitive pronouncement on the solution to be adopted for the insolvency debts. Given that the request was not approved, Manius Valerius resigned as dictator and Aulus Verginius and Titus Veturius got back the fullness of their consular powers until the end of the year.

The genesis

The many conflicts which for decades were engage the roman soldiers-citizens against the neighboring italic populations, had weighed heavily on less well-off people's pockets. The populace, unable to care adequately for their productive activities because often committed at war, was now in debt at all. In addition, the laws on debt, and the use of Nexum, which allowed debtors to reduce to slavery, in fact favored the patricians, who took advantage of this situation to prevail against the plebeians. The Senate seemed unable to take final decisions on this issue and the stalemate did nothing but raise the internal tension in Rome up to the highest levels.

To aggravate further the situation in Rome, Volsci, Sabines and Equi, aware of the social tensions in the City, tried to take advantage of the situation and began to press on their borders with the territories of Rome and its allies.

The situation was untenable, and then, the younger senators, rushing menacingly toward the benches of the consuls, ordered them to resign and give up that power which, for lack of temperament, they could not enforce, suggesting the senator Appius Claudio Sabino for the office of Dictator.

But the older consuls and senators, worrying that that office, in itself closer to omnipotence, end up in the hands of a person with a mild character, elected as dictator M. Valerius, the son of Voleso. The populace, while realizing that the appointment of a dictator happening to its disadvantage, however, considering his family ("gens") was not afraid about a epression since it was just a brother of newly elected to enact the law on the right to appeal. A following edict of the dictator confirmed these good dispositions because reproduced roughly the one of consul Servilius. But thinking that the best thing was to trust both in the men and his office, they joined him and enlist in the army. Never before was there such a high number of warriors: ten legions were formed. Every consul had three under his orders, while four went to the dictator. The war could no longer be postponed. The Equi had invaded the territory of Latin. Roman ambassadors asked the senate for sending reinforcements or permission to take up arms to protect their country. Defending the unarmed Latins seemed safer than allowing them to take up arms. He was sent to the console Vetusio , which put an end to the raids. The Equi evacuated the country and trusting more in the position than in the weapons, they were waiting on the tops of hills. The other consul march against the Volscians, and even him do not wasted time: he begins to ravage the countryside methodically to push the enemy and force closer to his camp for a confrontation. The two armies deployed each in front of their trenches, in a plain between the two camps. The Volsci were numerically far greater: for this they threw themselves in a contemptous attack. The Roman consul did not move nor allowed to answer the enemy battle cry, but ordered his men to stand still and with the rods planted in the ground: only when the enemy had arrived at a close distance, they would attack them with all their strength and sort it out with swords. When the Volsci, fatigued by the travel and shouting arrived closed to the Romans, apparently terrified at the sight of them, they realized that a counterattack was taking place because of the gleam of swords , so, as if they were ambushed, they frightened and quichly retreat. But they no longer had even the strength to escape, because they were thrown into battle running. The Romans, however, were still in the early positions, were fresh: it was not so difficult for them to pounce on exhausted enemies and capture their camp. From there, they pursued the Volsci until Velletri, where winners and losers broke as if they were an only army. So, in a general massacre and without distinction, shed more blood than in the battle itself. Were spared only those few who surrendered unarmed. Meanwhile, Manius Valerius was preparing for the decisive battle with the Sabines, sighted near Crustumeria, as indicated by Dionysius of Halicarnassus «the garrison of Crustumeria was telling that the Sabines were coming, and fiercly fought them».

The forces on the field

As already mentioned, never before this campaign was enlisted an army of this size in Rome: 10 Legions were available for the dictator, by a number equal to 40,000 effective infantry along with 3,000 other knights, as indicated by Dionysius of Halicarnassus: «there were made ten military bodies, each of four thousand men. Each consul took three of these bodies with the relative cavalry. The dictator took the other four with the remaining horses».

The legions were divided and allocated: 3 to each consul and 4 to the dictator himself, so, at the clash near Crustumeria, could be fielded a number of legionaries between 15,000 and 20,000 joined by about 1,000 knights.

We do not have sources on the number of Sabines combatants in the field in front of Crustumeria, but not having information on the supernumerary enemy by Roman historians, and considering that most times the Sabines were indicated as "by far the number one enemy of Rome" we can assign them a number of Italic effectives equal to or slightly less than the Romans.

The battle

In this clash Manius Valerius gave proof of great tactic sagacity, which went far beyond his political skills. The Roman dictator chose to use his cavalry force so as to open as much as possible the Sabine deployment, and then enforce the superiority of his own legions. As told by Livy, then, once Manius Valerius «that gave the attack with his cavalry, had created a vacuum in the center of the enemy army, which was too open for the excessive opening of the two fan-shaped wings».

At this point, without being able to count on any kind of coverage, and without even being able to think any outflanking maneuver, the Sabines suffered the prompt attack of the legions. Livy writes: «In the midst of this disorder, followed the infantry assault».

At this time, was proved, clearly, the superior quality of the legionaries of Rome so that, «With only a single attack they took the camp and put an end to the campaign».

Once again, the compactness and the quality of the legionary had been sufficient to defeat the enemy, who probably lost in that battle almost all the actual forces deployed in the field.

The aftermath

Following this defeat the Volsci lost the territory of Velletri, the city, populated by settlers sent from Rome, became a colony. A short time later Romans fought with Equi, even if it means to attack the enemy from unfavorable position. Thanks to the cowardice of the enemy this latest crash had a favorable outcome for the Romans, who were honored with a booty and a not insignificant victory without loss.

After the lake Regillus one, no battle, like the one near Crustumeria, was most popular in those years. The dictator returned to Rome in triumph. In addition to the honors of the ritual, a place was reserved for him and his descendants so as to assist the ludi in the circus, and there was arranged a curule chair. Yet in spite of this threefold military success, the plebs and the senate had not stopped worrying about the solution of internal problems and when the demands hotfix by Manius Valerius were neglected by the presented, he resigned power giving back the power to the two consuls in office. But the situation remained critical, and the subsequent secession of the plebeians, retired on Monte Sacro ended only after the intervention of Menenius Agrippa, who spoke to the exiles the famous fable of the limbs and stomach.