Ars Bellica

Battles In Brief

Battle of Praeneste

487 or 485 BC

The opponents

Caio Aquilio

Roman general and politician, comes to the fore in the history of Rome for his election to the consulate, along with Tito Sicinius in 485 BC. In the description of the two new consuls, Dionysius of Halicarnassus sentenced immediately that they were two "men of war", so, two men of the City elite looking for the use of military force to close the first possible dispute with the neighbors Italian people. In view of this ratio, following the election to the consulate, and a brief attempt diplomat, Aquilio defeated the Ernici at Praeneste in 485 BC. His war effort, however, was overshadowed by fellow Sicinius victory in Velletri, which according to the people, had taken a much more difficult mission while defeating the Volscians. Aquilio however received the "ovatio", instead of triumph and had to settle a parade on foot instead of the splendid chariot on which had marched Tito Sicinius.

The genesis

As already mentioned, in 485 B.C., the consulate was given to two men whose ratio was anything but a pacifist, as described by Dionysius of Halicarnassus «took the following year the consulate Aquilio Caius and Titus Sicinius, both men of war». It was not a random choice: the two consuls were elected to give a strong signal, especially from the military point of view, to the "uncomfortable" neighboring populations. The Ernici in fact, up to that time were known as friends and «confoederati», but they were stained of the shame of having made incursions into Roman territory during their war with the Volscians and Equi.

But the military solution was not the first option of the Roman senate against this population. To the Ernici people were sent ambassadors to ask for compensation in respect to those raiders actions, but the same former confoederati «says that were not public agreements between them and Romans, and considered already disbanded any agreement between them and Tarquin, as he was dethroned, and died in a foreign land. The prey and the raids were not injustices of all the Ernici people, but intended for private gain: however, even the authors of those actions should not surrender to punishment. As they were complaining the fact that also Ernici had suffered same kind raids, it was sure, for the romans the Ernici willing to accept war».

The Senate actually had already mobilized resources and people even before the ambassadors departed. The forces of Rome were thus divided into three parts: one under Sicinius, had to take care of the Volsci; a second, to Aquilio, which had the task of defeating the Ernici and a third, headed Largio Spurrier, a man tursted by the consuls themselves, with the task of garrison and patrol the areas surrounding the city. In addition to these forces, was formed a kind of citizen militia, composed, in large part, by veterans of previous campaigns («already exempt from military records, but still good to bear arms») under the leadership of Aulus Sempronius Atratino, with the task of overseeing the walls of Rome.

A few days after the departure, the army Aquilio encounter the Ernici waiting for him near Praeneste («in Prenestino soil») and then decided to set up his camp right in front of them.

The forces on the field

The sources available to us do not indicate the exact number of combatants in Praeneste. Considering the transition to the republican form of government, the army was divided into two legions, each commanded by a consul, and only in case of extreme danger the two legions were unified and was elected one man at command, in charge for six months, called dictactor. But in this case, Dionysius stated that the Roman forces were divided into three parts, so it is possible that the number of fighters available to Aquilio was lower than the canonical figures of the legions ranks in the first republican era. So we can assume a number between 3000 and 4000 legionnaires with the support of 150 knights.

On the opposite side there were no numbers nor quotes that make us think of a quantitative advantage sufficiently important for Ernici. For their army, then, we can estimate a total of fighters equal to or slightly less than that available to Aquilio.

The battle

Three days after the Romans had camped there were the first signs of battle. Once approached towards the enemy, the Romans raised the battle cry, while the archers and slingers began their shooting from both sides. Soon after came the time of impact, according to Dionysius first between cavalry and then between the opposite infantries: «The action was vivid, supporting each other and with ardor, and they remained for a long time in the place where they were deployed without anyone give way to the enemy. This until the roman legion start to give field to the enemy».

Seeing this sign of slight subsidence, Aquilio sent fresh troops in the battle, earlier prepared, which had to take over in the ranks where the legion was giving way, giving the possibility to withdraw the wounded behind them. The Ernici, observing this movement, insisted in the points where they thought the legion could falter, but a nasty surprise awaited them: «In that places they were received by the Romans fresh reserves, and the fought became once more strong, as in the beginning, with both faces of the enemies were growing hot, especially as long as the Ernici were still reinforced by captains with fresh troops to replace the weary».

The attempt of the Ernici of flake the legion had failed, despite the inclusion of their fresh forces and, towards evening the console spurring his horse: «takes command himself, and rushes against the right wing of the enemy. The Ernici resists for a while, but then cede, and so starts a great massacre». So, on The right front the Ernici gave way, retreating from the battlefield. The left side of the Italic instead still held the field but had to give way too as once rout the enemy's right, «Aquilio even noticed there with his young and horny warriors animating [...] to signalize themselves in the conflict». Unprotected on its flanks, the Ernici's center collapsed, and the italics fled to their own camp. The Romans, taken from the heat, pursued them almost to the protection range of the Ernici camp, but given the potential risk of this action, Aquilio decided to go back with his men so to not risk anything in a battle already won: «So the Romans, being the sun already going down, returned rejoicing and singing to their tents».

Dionysius then points out that, in panic, Ernici, during the night made a further disorderly retreat without bothering to leave the wounded in the camp to their fate. The Romans mistakenly alarmed by the clamor in the field of Ernici «Raise their swords in the air, and reinforcing their camp so in the night nobody could attempt an assault against it, now aroused din of arms and, as if to attack, raised the battle cry». These moves (sounds) frightened even more the Ernici that flee immediately. At dawn, when the scouts informed Aquilio about the disordered enemy escape, he invaded «the enemies camp, full of beasts, and of supplies of arms, even seizing set of wounded, that were many as the fugitives. Soon after, he send the cavalry against those who were dispersed along the streets and the woods, making many prisoners. Then he start to plundering with impunity the lands of Ernici, with no one dared him. That is what was operated by Aquilio».

The aftermath

Ernici could not represent themselves as a threat to Rome. But framed on the chessboard of the Italic peoples confined to the Urbe, could swell the ranks of Equi and Volsci which was already in open warfare. The decision of the Senate to send consuls separately thus appears even more apt. With the victory at Praeneste, the subjected Ernici could swell the ranks of potential allies of Rome, so the Urbe could concentrate more forces in the future clashes against the Volsci.

This victory , however, was not taken up by the people of Rome as he had hoped Aquilio . The simultaneous , or nearly so, on the same victory of Tito Sicinius against the Volsci in Velletri, darkened his success on Ernici at Praeneste: «as soon as come in Rome the news about the victories, sent from the consuls, flooded lively joy in the people, and were decreed sacrifices to thank the gods. The glory of the triumph for the consuls, was not the same for both: the bigger one was for Siccio (Sicinius), which seemed to have freed the city from greater danger, destroying the army of the insolent Volscians, and killing the commander. Therefore, he entered in the city with his prey, prisioners, with the companions militias, surrounded by royal cloak, as was tradition in the most distinguished triumph, and sitting on the chariot pulled by adorned horses with gold brakes. Aquilio was granted of a minor celebration, not the triumph, called "Ovatio" [...]. He entered the city by foot leading the rest of his pump».