In 418 BCE, Rome defeated an allied force of Aequians and warriors from Labici, then subsequently sacked the city of Labici and turned the devastated region into a Roman colony. The Aequians, and another one of their allied cities called Bolae (or Bola), watched the colonization of Labici with increasing concern. In Bolae, the proposal of launching raids against the new settlers in Labici was popular. Yet, the Aequians were hesitant to resume war so quickly after their recent defeat. Bolae, unfortunately, disregarded the concerns of their stronger partner, and around the year 415 BCE, they started raids against Roman settlers in Labici without Aequian help. In Rome, the harassment of their colony was not taken lightly, and the republic responded by declaring war on Bolae. As Roman troops marched toward the city, the defenders would soon learn how seriously the Aequians were entrenched against seeking battle with Rome at that time. The leaders of the Aequians decided not to save Bolae, ultimately leaving the gung-ho city to face the Romans alone. The Roman historian, Livy (c. 59 BCE-17 CE), described the ensuing war, writing, “no [Aequian] support came, and after a campaign almost too trivial to mention, consisting as it did of a siege and one small battle, they [Bolae] lost both town and lands” (The History of Rome, 4.49).
After their quick victory, the Roman Republic considered sending settlers to repopulate the region of Bolae, but as they were already trying to start up a colony in Labici, they opted to leave the recently conquered city in ruins. This abandoned tract of free real estate, however, was not ignored by the Aequians, who quickly sent settlers and warriors to occupy the region. With this inflow of manpower, Bolae was revived to become stronger than ever. Before long, the growing Aequian activity in Bolae became too dangerous for the Romans to ignore. In 414 BCE, the Roman Republic once again declared war on Bolae and sent an army, under the command of Marcus Postumius Regilensis, to wipe the troublesome settlement out of existence once and for all.
Postumius’ campaign was an odd experience. He reportedly pushed the Aequians out of Bolae with little difficulty—the defenders, and the relatively few settlers they were guarding, apparently decided to withdraw back to Aequian territory after only a few skirmishes. The retreating Aequians also took with them any valuables that they had brought with them to Bolae. Therefore, when the Romans retook the fortress, all that the victorious forces gained were ruins that had already been picked clean from the previous conquest of the region. Furthermore, even the land that the Roman warriors risked their lives to reconquer was a monopolized commodity that the affluent members of the Roman Senate were loath to share with the common masses. For the average member of the Roman army, this meant that they had just put their lives on the line for a campaign that brought them no loot and no land. As the story goes, this realization caused an uproar in the ranks, and according to Livy, Postumius was stoned to death by his angry troops. Curiously, instances such as this led to military reforms in Rome by the end of the 5th century BCE, including wages for the members of the Roman military to make them less dependent on pillaged loot.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Scene inspired by the life of Publius Cornelius Scipio, painted by Giovanni Bellini (circa 1430 –1516), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of Rome by Livy, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.
- The Beginnings of Rome by T. J. Cornell. New York: Routledge, 1995.