The War Between Rome And The Privernum-Fundi Alliance In 330-329 BCE

Italy was an interesting place in the 330s BCE. The major regional powers of Rome (in central Italy) and the Samnite Federation (more toward the heel of the peninsula) were engaging in a precarious diplomatic dance at that time, sometimes being allies, and other times being neutral to each other, while also remaining hostile enough to break out into constrained wars over conflicts involving their respective allies and protectorates. Adding to the tense atmosphere was a resurgence in Greek involvement in Italy led by King Alexander of Epirus. He arrived in Italy around 334 BCE to aid the Greek colonial city of Tarentum. He campaigned on multiple fronts, battling the Samnites, as well as other enemies of Tarentum, such as the Lucanians and Bruttians. Meanwhile, Rome was expanding its influence by conquest and diplomacy. Prior to Alexander of Epirus’ death in 331 BCE, Rome had successfully campaigned against the territories of the Ausones and the Sidicini. By 330 BCE, while the Samnites were recovering after their war with Alexander of Epirus, Rome added the cities of Fabrateria and Lucania to its growing list of protectorate or subject states. Rome’s continuing growth and the Samnite Federation’s recovery put other nearby city-states, such as Privernum and Fundi, into the situation of being between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Around 330 BCE, knowing that Rome or the Samnites could likely target them soon, Privernum and Fundi banded together and evidently decided to strike first and fight on their own terms.

As Privernum had long been a foe of Rome (wars were fought between them in the 350s and 340s BCE), it is not surprising that the Privernum-Fundi alliance ended up going to war against the Romans. The leader of the underdog alliance was reportedly a man named Vitruvius Vaccus, a wealthy and renowned individual who previously had good relations with the Romans. Vitruvius’ decision to lead the alliance came at a great financial cost, for he was said to have been the owner of a luxurious and treasure-filled home on Rome’s Palatine hill. This home, unless he emerged victorious against the Romans, would be forfeited as soon as Vitruvius Vaccus led the forces of Privernum and Fundi against Rome. Nevertheless, this was a sacrifice that Vitruvius was willing to make.

Vitruvius Vaccus and the Privernum-Fundi forces began their campaign boldly and with great ambition. On this initial phase of the campaign, the Roman historian, Livy (c. 59 BCE-17 CE), wrote, “He was effecting widespread destruction in the territory of Setia, Norba, and Cora when [the Roman consul] Lucius Papirius marched out against him and took up a position not far from his camp” (Livy, History of Rome, 8.19). It is vague whether or not Vitruvius was leading a multi-prong invasion or was simply roving with one army from one region to another, but in the end, his forces were eventually intercepted and blocked by Roman troops led by Lucius Papirius.

Vitruvius Vaccus and the Privernum-Fundi forces, despite their earlier boldness, evidently reassessed the situation at this point and concluded that they could not defeat the nearby Roman forces in pitched battle. Therefore, Vitruvius switched into a defensive posture and began an orderly retreat back to Privernum. Lucius Papirius and his personal command of Romans followed Vitruvius back to Privernum, besieging the city while the opposing army was within the walls. Lucius Plautius Venox, the other Roman consul at that time, meanwhile took a separate Roman army and marched against Fundi. That region had apparently lost its nerve once news had spread that Vitruvius had been pushed back to Privernum. As a result of this wariness, the leaders of Fundi sent diplomats to make peace with the Romans before any further battles were fought. Livy, in his account, claimed that the people and leader of Fundi were forgiven by Rome. Yet, Livy also acknowledged that there were other variants of the tale in which leadership figures from Fundi were said to have been executed. Whatever the case, the region of Fundi was no longer a threat to Rome and Plautius led his army to join with Lucius Papirius’s forces at the siege of Privernum.

By ancient standards, the siege of Privernum lasted a relatively long time. Roman troops remained camped outside the hostile city into the next year, overlapping with the Roman election process. In 329 BCE, the new Roman consuls, Lucius Aemilius Mamercinus and Gaius Plautius, took power and mobilized an additional fresh army. This newly mustered force was supposedly called up in response to reports of an incoming Gallic army. Nevertheless, no Gauls appeared and the army was instead rerouted to reinforce the siege of Privernum. Whether or not the Gallic scare was real or manufactured, the additional army seemed to be just what the siege of Privernum needed, and the city fell before the end of the year. Unfortunately, exactly how the war ended was not recorded clearly in history, and even the ancient Roman historian, Livy, did not attempt to pick a side in the varying stories. He wrote, “From this point the tradition is divided. Some say that the town was taken by storm and Vitruvius was taken prisoner alive; others that before the final assault the inhabitants came out bearing a herald’s staff and gave themselves up to the consul, and that Vitruvius was handed over by his own people” (Livy, History of Rome, 8.20). Differing details aside, all the storylines agreed that Privernum ultimately was defeated by Rome and that Vitruvius Vaccus was taken alive into custody.

After the war, the walls of Privernum were torn down and Vitruvius Vaccus was transported back to Rome, where triumphal parades were thrown in celebration of the Roman victory. Unfortunately for the captured commander of the defeated Privernum-Fundi forces, he and other identified leadership figures were scheduled to serve as one of the main attractions of the festivities. As told by Livy, “Vitruvius was to be held in prison until the consul’s arrival and then be flogged and executed…Plautius had held his triumph. After this Vitruvius was executed along with his partners in crime” (Livy, History of Rome, 8.20). As for Vitruvius’ property in Rome, the wealth from his home on the Palatine hill was confiscated and then the building was demolished. As the story goes, the site of his home became a park or shrine for the Sabine god, Semo Sangus (also known as Dius Fidius)—a deity overseeing oaths. Bronze goods from Vitruvius’ estate were used to furnish a preexisting shrine of Semo Sangus that was near the temple of Quirinus in Rome.  Vitruvius’ property on the Palatine hill eventually became known as the Meadows of Vaccus.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Illustration labeled Storming of a city, by Heinrich Leutemann (c. 1824-1905), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the NYPL).



  • The History of Rome (Rome and Italy) by Livy, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1982.

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