Roman History in a Nutshell – Wars with Sabines, Veii and Fidenae ~753 BCE – ~287 BCE

It doesn’t give a precise date but this is a 5th century map of the central Italian people. Even though Veii and Fidenae were Etruscan cities you can see why they often allied with the Sabines when there was an attack on Rome, they were basically on-the-way! So there is some overlap between some of the conflicts here and some of those discussed in our ‘Wars with Etruscans’ article. (Credit: Sémhur by Free Art License)

CONTENT WARNING: Mentions rape and abduction of the Sabine women.

Much is made of Roman military history. History has enough of a hard-on for wars and conflicts as it is. I wish I could dismiss Roman military history as being little more than the fantasies of whiskey-nosed, posh, wilted flowers, who never got the chance at glory in combat and so they spent their entire lives and careers bullying others pretending it is the same thing and, during their lonely evening hours, sit and fantasise about others’ glory. The Ciceros, if you will.

Sadly this is not the case. Rome is a city, a Kingdom, a Republic and an Empire founded on war and exploitation on a mass scale. It was a consumptive war machine and its enduring legacy exists because of this ability to overpower and/or ally.

It’s another case where the mass-media presentation likely shapes our ideas of something. When we talk of the ‘Roman Army’ between the 8th Century and 5 th Century BCE we are talking of little more than farmers in helmets and breastplates with weapons! It’s easy to consider the ‘Roman Army’ as the disciplined, well-drilled, well-equipped unit we might see in Ridley Scott’s ‘Gladiator’ but that movie is 1,000 years removed from the timelines we’re talking about here. (Credit: Unknown, taken from Weaponsandwarefare.com, used without permission)

That might seem a little reductive. Pre-Roman hill-tribes had their own lives, their own beliefs, their own art, and their own cultures. The Etruscans, who would play a huge part in the founding of Rome and its baby steps as a flourishing city state, are really only known to us through their cultural artefacts. But they, as much as Sabines, Oscans and Latins helped shape what became ‘Rome’. Much of what made Rome great was imported. Much of the reason for our thinking them great is exported. Their taking of land from their Latin neighbours and forming alliances with their surrounding tribes, or else conquering them, gave them the leverage they needed to perform the wholesale plunder of Greek art, architecture, knowledge and culture. With this they spread their words, their borrowed buildings, their influence and their structures across the Mediterranean basin and with trade that influence reached as far East as China, as far South as the Sahara and as far West as Ireland.

Much of this rapid expansion, the materials to craft the buildings, the cities, the armour, the weaponry, the food to feed the workers and soldiers, to keep grain coming into Rome itself  – it was not through buying and selling, Rome was not a mercantile empire. The currency of their expansion was conquest. The main capital was human; soldiers for the conquest and slaves for the work.

So as much as I don’t want a hundred articles about the wars of ancient Rome and would much rather speak of their Gods and Goddesses, their graffiti and customs, their foundation is in conflict. One cannot give the history of Rome without including war.

During the reign of King Servius Tullius the army underwent some reforms. More organisation and regimentation (via classes – literally classis) was introduced as well as the adoption of the Hoplite (A soldier with a round shield and a long pole-weapon, usually a spear (trasmitted likely from Greeks to Etruscans and then via Etruscans to Romans) and the Phalanx formation (A tight, rectangular unit of hoplites using their shields to protect with protruding spears so they basically form a moving spiked wall. (Credit: Mike Bishop CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Apologies for the slightly more serious tone, but war is serious business. Literally a matter of life and death! Again, without it Rome would have struggled to be more than a small town.

So as I mentioned with regards to the founding, Rome and the surrounding area were not uninhabited, a variety of different peoples, tribes if you will, would have lived there and there is every evidence the city of Rome itself was founded by multiple different people of these tribes, we know some of the kings were definitely of Etruscan origin for example.

I also mentioned the abduction and rape of the Sabine women, so one of the first of these neighbouring tribes to come into conflict with Rome was the Sabines.

I think, given the circumstances, it’s pretty understandable. If I popped next door to my neighbours’ house and started having it away with the lady of the house, even consensually, I would expect there to be some conflict once her partner or husband found out – Never mind abducting and potentially sexual assaulting and raping, an entire tribe’s women.

The Sabines are believed to be from the Northeast of Rome, in the central Apennines, the mountains.

A south-Etrurian pot (an aryballos) found within a Sabine town. The closest thing I could find to material evidence of the Sabines that wasn’t directly link with THAT event in Rome’s founding! Even though it is likely the Sabines had lives and cultures of their own, I can seem to find little in the way of material history on them. This pot, however, does show the liklihood of trade links between Sabines and Etruscans, and likely there was trade with Latins, too. (Credit:
Jona Lendering CC-BY-1.0)

Again, many Sabines would have joined the Roman cause, become Romans themselves and joined this successful settlement but those that chose not to and remained in the mountains became a thorn in the side of the Romans for several hundred years.

Wars with the Sabines would take place from the 8th century BCE to the 6th century BCE. How much of it is legend and how much is truth is difficult to tell with this point in Roman history, but I will try to give a brief of the approximate timeline of conflicts.

  • The rape of the Sabine women is where it began
  • Then in the 7th century BCE, during the reign of Tullius Hostilius, the Sabines and the Romans had a scrap again
  • Then under Ancus Marcius in the 7th century BCE
  • Then in the early 6th century BCE against king Lucius Taquinius Priscus
  • They fought with the last King of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus
  • Various times between the establishment of the Early Republic and around 475 BCE, including a couple of one-day wars!
  • A combined tribal effort of the Veii-Sabine alliance in 475 BCE was probably one of the most serious Sabine assaults on Rome
  • Then, finally, between 470-468 BCE there was another war.

For most of the details of these conflicts Livy is the main source, although Dionysius of Helicarnassus also provides some details.

Apparently, after the women had been abducted and likely raped by Romans, the Sabines were a bit miffed and went to give them what-for. The Sabine women allegedly intervened to stop the conflict and protect their abductors and rapists. It’s a weird story, to be honest! Also why one of the Roman soliders is butt-naked except for sandals I don’t know. Why there are babies wrestling, I dont know. Why an elderly lady appear to be about to flash her breasts, I don’t know. I’m fairly certain, judging by the look on its face, that horse on the right is just as confused as me! (Credit: Jacques-Louis David, Public Domain)

A lot of this early history is semi-legendary, and a lot of the spats are little more than raids, or responses to raids. It’s small time civilisation stuff. But, the treatment of their near neighbours, Sabines, Latins, Veii, and Etruscans would become the means by which Rome as a territory grows and would set a blueprint. If you beat up nearby people you can either take their stuff, or convince them to give you stuff for peace.

We will see as we move into further conflicts how this would help turn a small town into a city, a small city into a city state, a city state into a territory and a territory into an empire.

Read the other parts in our ‘Roman History in a Nutshell’ Series:
Introduction
The Founding – 753 BCE and Before

The Kingdom – 753 BCE – 509 BCE
The Patrician Era and the Conflict of the Orders – 494 BCE – 287 BCE
Wars with Etruscans Pre-753 BCE – ~264 BCE

The Latin Wars 7th Century BCE – ~338 BCE
The Gallic Wars ~390 BCE – ~284 BCE
The Rest of the Med ~2,000 BCE – ~3rd Century BCE
The Samnite Wars ~343 BCE – ~290 BCE

Want to read more about Romans? We’ve got a little for you.

The Mother of Rome: Livia Drusilla – Before the hit Sky TV series ‘Domina’ there was me espousing the life and works of Livia, the canny politician, the Patrician, the Patron and the wife and mother of an Empire.
The Pleb who Built Rome: Marcus Agrippa – It is my belief that the right-hand-man of Augustus had a much bigger part to play in the building and management of the Empire than did his friend with the titles. Find out why.

A New Lease of Life? – A Discussion about the new floor in the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Colosseum, and what Vespasian, who initially commissioned the building, might think.

Bad History: Boudica and Bullshit Nationalism – Looking at the use of historical figures for current political or social agendas.
Bad History: Did Rome ever Actually Fall? Questioning the ‘Decline and Fall’ narrative and looking at structures inherited from the Romans we have to this day.

The Fan-TAS-tic Virtues of Rome – A look at the moral virtues of Roman life.

What are the ‘Ides of March’ – Because I envitably get asked by my dad every Ides, I wrote about it!

Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Introduction
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Easily available abortion (CW)
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Drawing dicks on things.
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Energy Drinks
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Gender and Sexuality Liberation (CW)
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Travel and Tourist Tat.
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – AirBnB
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Bipartisan Politics
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Fast Food
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Pro-Wrestling
Top Ten Modern Things Romans Would Love – Social Media (Especially Insta and Twitter)

Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

Like a dark-chocolate fountain at a weight loss party, Karl Anthony Mercer is an under-utilised river of bittersweetness. When not busy researching or writing about any and all non-fiction topics for 'We Lack Discipline' Karl can often be found walking, staring at wildlife or writing poetry.

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