After the Romans suffered the humiliation of the Gallic Sack of Rome (dated between 390-386 BCE), the Roman Republic’s growing influence over the Italian city-states faced an increasing wave of challenge from the Latin League. Emboldened by the Gallic blip in Rome’s early history, the Latin League pulled away from the Romans and aligned itself with its former enemies, the Volscians, and also courted the aid of disgruntled Roman colonies. Velitrae was one such colonial city that had ties to Rome, but it reportedly joined the anti-Roman coalition as early as around 385 BCE. Velitrae’s new stance came at a cost, however, as its territory became a frequent battleground when Rome and its resistors clashed over the next decades. The city of Velitrae, itself, did not go unscathed during the many years it participated in the jostling over land and power in ancient Italy—Rome occupied the city in 380 BCE, and again in 368 BCE. These early brushes with the Roman military, however, did not stop Velitrae from continuing to side with Rome’s enemies. By around 358 BCE, the rebellious city was once more in a state of armed hostility against the Romans, going so far as to launch raids against Rome’s territory. Less than two decades later, Velitrae became a major player in the final phase of the Roman-Latin conflict, greatly involving itself in the so-called Latin Wars that erupted between 341-388 BCE.
Unfortunately for Velitrae, it chose the wrong side in the conflict. Rome, led by the consuls Titus Manlius Imperiosus Torquatus and Publius Decius Mus, reportedly defeated the Latin League in two pitched battles during the year 340 BCE. After a brief pause, Rome renewed its military campaigns with a vengeance again in 339 and 338 BCE, in which the Latin League and its allies were dealt a total defeat. As told by Roman tradition, Rome’s consuls for 338 BCE (Lucius Furius Camillus and Gaius Maenius) were able to quickly hunt down and ambush the smaller warbands of the individual cities in the Latin League, destroying or disrupting the separate contingents before the troops of the anti-Roman cities could ever gather into a formidable coalition army. These Roman successes, compounded with Rome’s earlier victories two years prior, evidently left the Latin League and its allies with a depopulated and debilitated military. Before the year 338 BCE was over, the Roman military was able to sweep through the region, forcing all of its adversaries in the Latin Wars to submit to Rome’s judgment.
Unfortunate Velitrae was among the cities that Rome occupied as a result of the war. With the troublesome city at their mercy, the Romans decided to rid themselves of their Velitrae problem once and for all, sentencing the city to some of the harshest treatment meted out in the post-war process. The ancient Roman historian, Livy (c. 59 BCE-17 CE), described the fate of Velitrae:
“The Veliterni, Roman citizens of long standing, were savagely penalized for having rebelled so many times: their walls were pulled down, their senate deported, and its members ordered to live on the far side of the Tiber on the understanding that if one of them were caught on the near side, his ransom should be no less than a thousand pounds of bronze and his captor should not release him from bondage until the money was paid. Colonists were sent to occupy the senators’ land, and when they were enrolled Velitrae recovered its previous appearance of having a large population” (Livy, History of Rome, 8.14).
Such was the fate of Velitrae. Its walls were demolished; its government was dissolved; its leaders were quarantined; and its remaining population was counterbalanced with a large injection of Roman colonists. After these measures were imposed, Velitrae ceased to pose a threat to the Roman Republic.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Cropped section of a Roman assault, drawn by Giovanni Guerra (c. 1542 – 1618), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Statens Museum for Kunst).
- The History of Rome (Rome and Italy) by Livy, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1982.
- The Beginnings of Rome by T. J. Cornell. New York: Routledge, 1995.