In the 440s BCE, the Italian city of Ardea experienced a heavy dose of political turmoil that caused tempers and discord to flare. At the beginning of the decade, Ardea was embroiled in a land dispute with a rival city called Aricia. Years went by and neither city was able to enforce its claim on the territory. As both Ardea and Aricia were allies of Rome, they were said to have eventually sent representatives to the Romans and asked for the city to make a decision as to whether Ardea or Aricia had the better claim to the land. During the negotiations, which reportedly took place in 446 BCE, the Roman government came to a scandalous conclusion, claiming the disputed land for themselves instead of giving it to either of the rival cities.
In outrage to Rome’s decision, Ardea abruptly ended its alliance with the Romans. Yet, Rome’s controversial arbitration and the scorned city’s subsequent rage-cancellation of the alliance became topics of great debate among the different factions in Ardea. Heated partisan arguments in the city would only grow in intensity, for the then-leading party in Ardea quickly regretted the end of the alliance and almost immediately tried to resume a new partnership with the Romans. Between 445-443 BCE the leaders of Ardea were able to negotiate some sort of treaty with Rome, yet the wishy-washy policy of the city leaders only further stoked the ire of the opposition. Unfortunately, by 443 BCE, the animosity between the political factions in Ardea had descended into open civil war.
Centuries later, the Roman historian Livy (c. 59 BCE-17 CE) would comment on Ardea’s civil war in his History of Rome. Based on ancient annals, documents and histories that he had at his disposal, Livy described the conflict as a chaotic and action-packed struggle, with both warring factions pulling other Italian powers into the war. In a scene similar to the Cold War of the 20th century, Rome and its rivals used the conflict as a proxy war. The Romans gave their support to an aristocratic faction in Ardea, presumably the ruling party that had negotiated the recent treaty with Rome. The opposition movement of Ardea, dominated by commoner-oriented factions, instead reached out to Rome’s enemies, the Volscians and Aequians.
Romans, Volscians and Aequians all scrambled to help their chosen side of the civil war, ensuring that a complicated battle would soon play out at Ardea. A coalition of Volscians and Aequians were the first to arrive at the city, led by a commander named Cluilius. The Roman-aligned aristocrats reportedly still maintained control of most of the city at the time, so the Volscian-Aequian army helped the opposition forces set up a siege of the city. Yet, sieges take time, and time was a commodity that the besieging party did not have on their side, for a Roman army led by Consul Marcus Geganius Macerinus was also on its way to Ardea.
Despite the arrival of the Volscian and Aequian troops, the opposition faction could not force the ruling aristocratic party in Ardea to surrender. Instead, the aristocrats and their supporters held out until Consul Geganius arrived on the scene. The Romans, upon their arrival, went about doing what the Romans did best—they built. As the story goes, Consul Geganius’ army built a series of earthworks and forts around the Volscian-Aequian army. Simply put, the Romans reportedly besieged the besiegers. Additionally, Consul Geganius reportedly constructed a fortified passageway to the city, so that he could resupply the aristocratic party inside the city.
Cluilius and the Volscian-Aequian forces could not find a way to destroy the fortified path between the Roman army and the aristocratic faction position inside the city, much less devise a way to break free of the greater ring of Roman earthworks and forts. Trapped, and with a victory in battle unlikely, Cluilius reportedly opened up negotiations with Consul Geganius. An agreement of surrender was reached between the two, in which the Volscians and Aequians were allegedly allowed to leave Ardea, albeit only after handing over their weapons, armor and belongings to the Romans. With the city in their hands, the Roman army went to work enforcing the authority of their chosen faction on the city. As told by Livy, “Geganius restored peace to the distracted town of Ardea by executing the ringleaders of the recent troubles and turning over their property to the public funds” (History of Rome, 4.10). As for the unarmed and unarmored army of Volscians and Aequians, they were reportedly massacred in an ambush near Tusculum.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Roman Emperor Meeting With A Soldier, by Agostino Veneziano (c. 1490-1536), [Public Domain] via Smithsonian Institute Open Access and Creative Commons).
- The History of Rome by Livy, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.