Satricum, a city in ancient Italy, was the unfortunate target or site of many battles and military campaigns in the 4th century BCE. The region was coveted by Rome and the rival Volsci people (especially the Volscian city of Antium), and during their decades-long conflict, the envied Satricum region was violently captured and recaptured several times over. Between the years 386-377 BCE alone, the city had changed hands at least four times. A turning point occurred in 377 BCE, when Satricum (controlled by the Volscians at that time) was largely burned to the ground by an unidentified Latin army. The charred city was neglected for nearly three decades after the burning. Around 348 BCE, however, Antium committed its manpower and resources to rebuilding Satricum. Nevertheless, this prompted a Roman army to attack the refurbished city two years later, setting it once more ablaze in 346 BCE. After that, both sides left the largely abandoned site alone for a few years, but Antium’s people and other supportive Volsicans continued gazing on the coveted ground with an opportunistic eye.
To Antium’s interest, Rome became quite busy in the years following the second burning of Satricum. In 345 BCE, Rome waged campaigns against at least two foes, the Aurunci and the Volscian city of Sora. Yet, those conflicts did not provide much opportunity for Antium, since Rome won the two wars with ease. By 343 BCE, however, Rome found itself at war with a much more competent foe—the Samnites. The so-called First Samnite War (c. 343-341 BCE) began after the Samnites went to war with the Campanian League over the city of Sidicini. As the story goes, the Campanians did poorly in their war and ultimately had to surrender themselves to Rome for protection. Curiously, the Samnites at that time had been friends or allies of Rome, but once Campania became Roman territory, Rome broke off its friendly relationship with the Samnites and declared war. It was a rough war, with victories and defeats on both sides. Yet, for the Romans, the most dangerous situation during the first war did not involve the Samnites, but instead came from Rome’s own military. In 342 BCE, a revolt or mutiny broke out among the Roman troops stationed near Campania, and although the trouble was eventually resolved with legal and military change, the turmoil caused surrounding cities (including Antium) to think that Rome might be vulnerable.
In 341 BCE, just as Rome was beginning to sort out its military and political disputes, the Volscians began to act out, and inspired by the chaos, the city of Privernum also revolted against the Romans. It was at this time, while Rome was distracted by mutinies, wars and uprisings, that Antium decided to sneak some of its manpower once more over to Satricum. The Romans, however, did not overlook this maneuver.
During the course of 341 BCE, the Romans were militarily much better prepared than they were in the previous mutiny-plagued year. Rome’s re-disciplined armed forces quickly crushed the uprising in Privernum, and that victorious army, led by Consul Gaius Plautius, then marched on to the site of Satricum to confront the armed masses gathering there. Antium’s military and their Volscian allies, perhaps, were not expecting the Romans to arrive at Satricum so soon, but when the enemy army approached, the Antium-Volscian coalition whipped their forces into a battle formation. Livy (c. 59 BCE-17 CE), a Roman historian, recorded the story of what reportedly happened on that day of battle:
“The victorious army [of Romans from Privernum] was then taken on to Satricum to confront the Antiates. There the fighting was fierce, with heavy losses on both sides, and was interrupted by a storm before either army could realize its expectations…when the Volscians had counted up the men they had lost on the battlefield they were not at all eager to run into danger a second time, and marched off apprehensively to Antium during the night like defeated men, leaving their wounded and part of their baggage behind” (Livy, History of Rome, 8.1).
As the quote conveyed, a storm reportedly broke up the battle that occurred that day in 341 BCE at Satricum. Given this respite by nature, the people of Antium and their fellow allied Volscians second-guessed the wisdom of gambling precious manpower in a pitched battle against a formidable Roman army. Therefore, the Antium-Volscian coalition decided to retreat during the night rather than risk a decisive defeat the next morning. Regardless of the indecisive end to the battle, the Romans likely shed significant quantities of their foe’s blood, or perhaps they committed some guilty deed against the wounded who were left behind. Whatever the case, the Romans religiously gathered the loot from that battlefield as a burnt offering to the vengeful goddess, Lua Mater, whose ceremonies allowed the Romans to atone for the horrors of war.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (cropped section from The Death of Paulus Aemilius at the Battle of Cannae, painted by John Trumbull (c. 1756–1843), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Yale University Art Gallery).
- The History of Rome (Rome and Italy) by Livy, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1982.