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Samnite soldiers from a tomb frieze in Nola 4th century BC.

The Samnites were an ancient Italic people who lived in Samnium in south-central Italy. They became involved in several wars with the Roman Republic until the 1st century BC. An Oscan-speaking people, the Samnites probably originated as an offshoot of the Sabines. The Samnites formed a confederation, consisting of four tribes: the Hirpini, Caudini, Caraceni, and Pentri.[1] They allied with Rome against the Gauls in 354 BC, but later became enemies of the Romans and were soon involved in a series of three wars (343–341 BC, 327–304 BC, and 298–290 BC) against the Romans.[2] Despite an overwhelming victory over the Romans at the Battle of the Caudine Forks (321 BC), the Samnites were eventually subjugated. Although severely weakened, the Samnites later helped Pyrrhus and some went over to Hannibal in their wars (280–275 BC and 218–201 BC) against Rome. They also fought from 91 BC in the Social War and later in the civil war (82 BC) as allies of the Roman consuls Papirius Carbo and Gaius Marius against Sulla, who defeated them and their leader Pontius Telesinus at the Battle of the Colline Gate (82 BC).[3] They were eventually assimilated by the Romans, and ceased to exist as distinct people.[4]


At some point in prehistory, a population speaking a common language extended over both Samnium and Umbria. Salmon conjectures that it was common Italic and puts forward a date of 600 BC, after which the common language began to separate into dialects. This date does not necessarily correspond to any historical or archaeological evidence; developing a synthetic view of the ethnology of proto-historic Italy is an incomplete and ongoing task.

Social War coin depicting soldier with a spear and sword nearby a bull

Linguist Julius Pokorny carries the etymology somewhat further back. Conjecturing that the -a- was altered from an -o- during some prehistoric residence in Illyria, he derives the names from an o-grade extension *swo-bho- of an extended e-grade *swe-bho- of the possessive adjective, *s(e)we-, of the reflexive pronoun, *se-, "oneself" (the source of English self). The result is a set of Indo-European tribal names (if not the endonym of the Indo-Europeans): Germanic Suebi and Semnones, Suiones; Celtic Senones; Slavic Serbs and Sorbs; Italic Sabelli, Sabine, etc., as well as a large number of kinship terms.[5]

While the Romans called the population of Samnium Samnites, they called themselves Safineis, and their country Safinim.[4][6] Safinim means cult place of the Safin- people. The root word Safin- is much older than the word Safinim. Safin- appears of graves near Abruzzo dating back to the 5th century. As well as Oscan inscriptions and slabs in Penna Sant'Andrea. The meaning of the word is poorly understood. Safin- appears as a noun used to describe the Samnite kingdom of Samnium, but also as an adjective used in phrases like "the community of the Safin people" and "the leaders of the Safin people." It could also refer to cult sites or a sanctuary in Samnium. This, combined with linguistic data, led archaeologists to believe that the word Safin referred to all the people in the Italian Peninsula.[7] But it could also just refer to the people in Pentria. The last known usage of the word is on a coin from the Social War.[8]

Safin comes from Safen which comes from the Indo-European root Saβeno or Sabh.[9] This was the first time it was used to describe the Samnite people.[4][10] It later became Sab- in Latino-Faliscan and Saf- in Osco-Umbrian.[4] Eventually this root would come to be used in Saβnyom, the Oscan word for Samnium. The words Saini and Saineis would also come from this root. The Greek terms, Saunitai and Saunitis, remain outside the group. Nothing is known of their origin. The Latin names for the Samnites, Samnītēs and Sabellī also derived from the root word Saβnyom. The ī sound emerged due to vowel weakening. Σαυνῖται, or Saunìtai, the Greek word for the Samnites, also coming from Saβnyom, likely dates back to the middle of the 5th century BCE, when the Samnites first encountered the Greeks.[10] Some theories suggest that this word, comes from the Greek word σαύνιον, or Saunion, meaning Javelin.[11]

Safinim is also attested in one inscription and a coin legend. On a coin from the Social War a bull next to a warrior with a spear with the word Safinim engraved on it.[12] According to Samnite legend, a group of Sabines were expelled from their homes and guided to the land where the Samnites would soon live by a bull. The Samnites would then proceed to sacrifice the bull to Mars. Later at Samnite religious sanctuaries, bulls would continue to be sacrificed to Mars.[8][12] These sanctuaries became communal sites. Resulting in the word Safinim coming to refer to all Samnites in Oscan.[8]Safinim may have also designated the part of Italy where most of the fighting in the Social Was was concentrated.[11]


Map of ancient Samnium from The Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd, 1911.

Origins and Early History[edit]

According to Strabo and coins made during the Social war, the Samnites were exiled from the Sabines. After the Sabines won a war against the Umbrians, they decided to dedicate the spoils of war to the god Mars, including the captured babies. When the babies reached adulthood they, along with some Lucanians, were sent away as colonists. A bull would guide them to their new homeland. The bull would then be sacrificed to Mars.[3][8][12][13][14] During the 5th Century the Samnites took over much of the region of Campania after the Etruscans left the region. However, we cannot be sure which Samnite cities and settlements took part in the campaign.[15] Some candidates are the Caudini settlements of Caudium and Saticula. The most likely reason for this conquest was to gain access to the fertile soil of the region. This land could have also been used to alleviate overpopulation.[15] However, this would rely on the idea that the Samnites did not have a booming agricultural industry, which is contradicted by other evidence. The conquered land also gave the Caudini and Saticulans access to the Volturno River and other resources.[15] The Samnites also expanded into former Greek territory one Greek hegemony in the region waned.[16] More conflict between the Samnites and the Campanians, Volscians, Epirot Greeks, and other Latin communities would occur.[15]

Samnite Wars[edit]

First Samnite War[edit]


Despite the fact that the earliest written record of the Samnites is a treaty from 354 BC setting their border at the Liris River, the Samnites first came into contact with the Romans after the Romans conquered the Volscians. Shortly thereafter, in 343 BCE, the Samnite Wars broke out. The First Samnite War was ignited due to a series of wars between the Samnites and other civilizations. The Samnites attacked the Sidinci. The Sidinci went to Capua for aid, this result in the Samnites besieging Capua and fighting the Campanians. The Campanians were defeated in two battles, and the Samnites left a strong military presence in the area. Resulting in the Campanians offering an alliance between them and the Romans. Since much wealth could be gained from an alliance between the two countries, the Romans agreed, and sent diplomats to negotiate with the Samnites. However, these negotiations failed, resulting in the Romans sending armies to attack the Samnites. Modern historians are doubtful of Livy's account of the cause of the war. It is likely it was oversimplified, or wrong. Some theories suggest that Livy was writing propaganda, and trying to portray the Romans in a positive light, or compare the Samnite Wars to other wars. The Romans would go on to win three victories at Mount Gaurus, Saticula, and Suessula. It is possible Livy exaggerated the importance of these victories, and that he exaggerated the devastation inflicted upon the Samnites. The war came to end after the Romans exploited these victories by invading Samnium. Resulting in the Samnites starting peace negotiations, and ending the wars.[4][17][18][19][20][21][22][23]

Second Samnite War[edit]

Lucanian depiction of the Battle of Caudine Forks
Roman Empire after the Samnite Wars

The Second Samnite war began when the city of Fregellae and Palaepolis were attacked by the Samnites. The Samnites also formed an alliance with the Vestini, when this news reached Rome, they sent a general to plunder their territory. Another theory suggests that economic motives one of the causes of the Second Samnite War. The Samnites may have wished to solidify their hold over crucial economic positions. The Romans may have also wished to use the economic prosperity of the city of Venafrum for their own benefit.[15] Other Italic tribes joined the war. The Romans would fight the Ausoni, Sidinci, Dauni, Iapyges Vestini, Messapi, and the city of Tarentum during the war. While this was happening the Romans attack Palaepolis, After the Battle of Caudine Forks an armistice was formed between the Samnites and Romans. However, fighting would eventually resume, resulting in fighting in Saticula, Sora, and Bovianum. After many more years of fighting the Etruscans intervened on the side of the Samnites, however the Romans would defeat them. The war ended with the Romans campaigning into Apulia and Samnium.[4][17][18][19][20][21][22][23] After the war the Romans took control over Bovianum, Fregellae, and forced the Samnites out of Apulia.[15]

Third Samnite War[edit]

In 298 BCE the Third Samnite War broke out. It was caused by rising tensions between the Romans and Samnites over the Lucanians. Who had asked Rome for protection. On another front, the Romans and Etruscans were fighting due to treaties between the Romans and the Picentes. After a few years of fighting, the Etruscans campaigned against Rome, culminating in the Battle of Sentium. After the Battle of Aquilonia the Samnite Army was destroyed. With the defeat of Samnium, the Romans were able to take over the Sabines, Praetutii, and establish a colony at Venusia. The Samnites were also assimilated into Roman society. During the Samnite Wars the Romans adopted the Manipular System.[4][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24]

Later History[edit]

Colline Gates

The Samnites were one of the Italian peoples that allied with King Pyrrhus of Epirus during the Pyrrhic War. After Pyrrhus left for Sicily, the Romans invaded Samnium and were crushed at the Battle of the Cranita hills, but after the defeat of Pyrrhus, the Samnites could not resist on their own and surrendered to Rome. Some of them joined and aided Hannibal during the Second Punic War, but most stayed loyal to Rome.[25] The Samnites and several other Italic people rebelled against Rome and started the Social War, after Romans refused to grant them Roman citizenship. The war lasted almost four years, and resulted in a Roman victory. However, Samnites and other Italic tribes were granted Roman citizenship, to avoid another war. The Samnites supported the faction of Marius and Carbo in the civil war against Sulla. A Samnite by the name Pontius Telesinus lead the Samnites against Sulla. Pontius Telesinus worked with Lucanian leader named Marcus Lamponius, and possibly a third man named Tiberius Clepitius.[26] They gathered an army of 40,000 men and fought a battle against Sulla at the Colline Gates. This battle was close, however Sulla won. Pontius was killed shortly after the battle.[26] During the battle Pontius went to his men and told them that the wolves who were the oppressors of Italy would always be there unless the forest they lived in was cut down.[27] Pontius is also recorded having told his men:[26][28]

"We had concluded perpetual friendship with the Romans, which you yourselves violated by giving aid to the Sidicini, our enemies. When peace was concluded again, you made war upon the Neapolitans, our neighbors. Nor did it escape us that these things were part of a plan of yours to seize the dominion of all Italy. In the first battles, where you gained the advantage on account of the unskilfulness of our generals, you showed us no moderation. Not content with devastating our country and occupying towns and villages not your own, you planted colonies in them. Moreover, when we twice sent embassies to you and made many concessions, you treated us disdainfully, and demanded that we should yield you the supremacy and obey you, as though we were not a nation to make terms with but a conquered race. Thereupon you decreed this irreconcilable, implacable war against your former friends, descendants of the Sabines whom you made your fellow-citizens. On account of your insatiable cupidity we ought not to make a treaty with you. But I, having regard for the divine wrath (which you despised), and mindful of our former relationship and friendship, will permit each one of you to pass under the yoke safe and sound with the clothes you stand in, if you swear to give up all of our lands and strongholds and withdraw your colonies from the same, and never wage war against the Samnites again."

— Pontius Telesinus, Appian, Samnite History

Many scholars debate the veracity of this speech. Some claim that it is propaganda made during the first century for the Social War. According to Livy, Pontius spoke against the Romans for violating the terms of their surrender. Pontius stated:[29]

“Will you never lack a reason for not abiding, in defeat, by your agreements? You gave hostages to Porsenna, and smuggled them out through trickery.”

— Pontius Telesinus, Livy, Ab Urbe Condita

Sulla ended up winning the war and was declared the dictator of Rome. He ordered all those who went against him to be punished. Thousands of people in Rome and all over Italy were brutally hunted down and killed. Samnites, who were some of the most prominent supporters of the Marians, were punished so severely that it was recorded, "some of their cities have now dwindled into villages, some indeed being entirely deserted." The Samnites did not play any prominent role in history after this, and they eventually became Latinized and assimilated into the Roman world.[30][31]


Transhumance routes in ancient Samnium

Samnite territory, such as the Biferno River Valley and the Volturno River were very fertile. This, combined with a lack of other natural resources, resulted in an economy primarily focused onpastoralism and agriculture.[1][32] The Samnites had highly developed forms of subsistence agriculture, animal husbandry, mixed farming, sheep farming, and smallholdings.[16][33] During the fifth and fourth centuries BCE an increasing population combined with trade links to other Italians contributed to even further agricultural and urban development. This change is most drastic in Larinum. The city began as a city with a mill, threshing floor, and it was also a major grain producer. Grain being one of the most important Samnite crops.[34] Larinum would become the hub of all economic activity in the Biferno Valley, and it would trade with places like Apulia. Animal rearing was a pillar of the Samnite economy as livestock such as sheep, cattle, goats, and pigs were useful due to the mountainous terrain. Livestock had many functions. They could have been eaten, but they may have also been traded to others. Samnite farmers practiced tanshumance, or the seasonal movement of livestock from summer pastures to winter pastures.[15][32] The prosperity of the Samnite agricultural industry likely resulted in conflicts between them and others. It is possible one of the reasons for the Samnite Wars was competition over the dominance of material resources.[19][32][35]

An ancient Samnite loom weight

Concurrent to the agricultural activity in Samnium, the Samnites produced many trade goods. Such as cereals, olives, wine, olive oil, legumes, and vines.[32] As evidenced by the many pottery workshops, kilns, and signs of wool manufacturing throughout Samnite settlements, Ceramics and textiles were produced by the Samnites.[15] The Samnites also produced amphorae, terracottas, and impasto pottery with black gloss.[34] It is likely that wool and probably leather were harvested in significant quantities. As evidenced by the many loom weights found in the region.[15] Most Samnite loom weights had patterns that were either incised lines, dots, oval stamps, gem impressions, or imprints from metal signet rings. Pyramidal, star pattern, dotted or incised cross motif decorations could cover the loom weight. The motifs could have been shaped like leaves, flowers, or pomegranates, or mythological figures. One loom weight found in Locri is decorated with a gem impression of a satyr playing a lyre. Sometimes Greek words would be incised into loom weights. Possibly to indicate the order in which the threads should be woven in various textile patterns, or to indicate the maker or the quality. It may also be shorthand for the weight of the loom weight, or even the weight or dimensions of the finished cloth.[36] The Samnites also had ironworking techniques and bronze production.[34]

The Samnites even imported goods from other parts of Italy and the Mediterranean, such as Campania, Latium, Apulia, and Magna Graecia.[1][15]


A depiction of the Samnite government

A Samnite settlement, or a vicus, would be grouped into cantons with other cities called a Pagus. Each Pagi had a leader called a Meddix, and they would be grouped into a touto.[17] There was one touto for each of the four Samnite tribes. The Caraceni, Caudini, Hirpini, Pentri. Each touto would be governed by an elected official called a Meddix Tuticus. The Meddix Tuticus was elected annually and had supreme executive and judicial power.[34][17] This was not the only political body in Samnium. Councils and assemblies similar to a Senate existed. Some Senates were located at the capitals of the Samnite tribes. For instance, the Pentrian Senate was located at Bovianum. It is unclear if these forms of government existed before the Roman conquest.[37] Despite these democratic institutions, Samnite society was still dominated by a small group of aristocratic families.[34]

Samnite society was not a unified entity. Each tribe functioned independently from the others. However, a union similar to the Latin League would occasionally form between the tribes. Such an alliance would be primarily militaristic, with a commander and chief enforcing all laws enacting by the alliance. Legislation would be passed by leading men from each tribe. They would have to all agree before a bill could become a law.[15][19] The Samnite tribes would rarely unify, and even if they did some tribes still might not join the alliance. It is known that the Pentri, Caudini, Carracini and Hirpini would have been part of such a league. However it is unclear the Frentani were apart of the league.[25] The relevance of the tribe to this organization may be exaggerated. It is possible that cities were more important in this organization, rather than the tribe.[38]

This system of government maintained itself after the Roman conquest of Samnium. Albeit with some reductions in power. The touto and pagus would function as miniature Republics, while the vicus would continue to function normally. The only interference from the Romans would be that the Municipum held authority over all of the previous institutions, and could override them. The prefectures had little authority over the Samnites and other Italic peoples.[1]

Settlements and Houses[edit]


The majority of Samnite settlements were small. Most people lived in hamlets and had to work for a living.[16] Larger settlements existed. Such as Saepinum and Caiatia.[39] Samnite cities had well-ordered streets and monumental buildings.[4][15] Their cities had no buildings similar to a forum or an Agora. Although they did have lavish temples, dining complexes, houses, dining complexes, and sanctuaries dedicated to political, legal, theatrical, and religious business.[1][16][37][40] Other civil and military buildings received less lavish treatment than similar buildings in other cultures.[33] Roads called tratturi would be spread throughout the cities. They connected to form a main road called a tratturo. The tratturo lead from summer pastures in the Apennines to the grazing areas in the lowlands for the winter.

Road in Bojano, modern day Bovianum

During the Samnite Wars many cities began to develop walls and other defensive fortifications.[16] Samnites cities had rough and crude walls.[4] Saepinum's walls were ten feet thick. Allifae's walls were thirty feet high. Monte Varino has walls stretching three kilometers.[34] Most walls were located by the crest of a hill with no other defenses nearby. Indicating that the walls were built for the purpose of allowing the defending army to retreat and regroup, rather than protecting the city. City gates were heavily fortified on the left side, but not the right. This was done to force soldiers to attack the city on the side they were not holding their shield on.[4]

Hillforts built with polygonal walling may have been either another common defensive fortification, or a form of settlement that represented a transitional phase between a more rural society and a more urban one. It is unclear if these hillforts were permanent defenses they may have only been inhabited temporarily. Hillforts would have been important to the political structure of Samnium. Some academics, like Maurizio Gaultieri, have gone as far as to suggest that the vicus-pagi-touto system, may have been a vicus, pagi, oppidum, touto system. With the oppidum representing the forts.[1]

Small, personal farms were common buildings. One farmhouse found near Campobasso consists of a square module, which was likely a stable house, and a series of rooms with hearths centered around a courthouse. The house has a small mortar line basin, a dolia, and other container vessels. Indicating that these materials were used for the process and storage of produce.[34] Other Samnite houses had limestone columns, terracotta gutter spouts, tiled roofs, and were made of stone.[33][34]




Face of Mefitis

Spirits called Numina were prominent in Samnite mythology. It was essential to establish proper relations with these spirits. The Numina were vaguely defined. They may or may not have had human forms, and could have been genderless, nameless, and kinless. The Romans used the term Numina to refer to vague and impersonal spirits.[4] Eventually, the Numina evolved into the Samnite gods and goddesses.[41] They lived in particular localities and they excised certain powers. Their powers possibly amounted to nothing more than divine will. Numina lived in everything. They lived in houses, rivers, mountains, the day, the night.[8] The most famous spirit-haunted place in Samnium was the valley of Ampsanctus.[8][42][43][44]


Few Samnite gods are known, but some names have survived. The Samnites worshipped Mefitis, the goddess of the foul smelling gasses of the earth.[45] The household was the center of Samnite of Samnite religion. Samnite religion preserved the family as if it were its chief object. Samnite religion also emphasized birth, marriage, and death. Which were, in their view, the most important things that could happen in a household. This is showcased by one of their gods. Recorded by the Romans as genetrix, obsterix, and nutrix, was the goddess of happiness and childbirth. Other gods worshipped by the Samnites were Flora and Loesius. Gods like Fortuna, Fides, and Spes did not gain importance until after the Roman conquest.[4]



Italian votive offering

The Samnites had religious sanctuaries dedicated to sacrifice. 72 percent of the sacrificed animals were pigs, 28 percent were sheep and goats. Male pigs were two times more likely to be sacrificed then female pigs. Other animals that could be sacrificed were birds, cows, fish, roe deer, oysters.[34] According to Livy the sacrifices were practiced in a 200 square feet area, which was fenced off and covered in linen cloth. Livy also claims the Samnites had a practice called ver sacrum. Where all the infants born in a particular year were dedicated to a god and would be exiled from the community upon reaching adulthood. Some scholars, such as Oakley and De Cazanove, believe Livy is likely lumping together many different practices and groups. It is likely that Livy was trying to purposely paint the Samnites in a negative light. Other scholars, such as Coareli and Tagliamonte, believe Livy is accurately describing Samnite practices.[8]

Ver Sacrum[edit]
A depiction of the bull in the Ver Sacrum

The Ver Sacrum, or Sacred Spring, was a religious practice practiced by both ancient Italic civilizations and Romans. In a Ver Sacrum all the offspring of plants and animals were now property of the gods. Human offspring would be exiled from their homeland once they reached adulthood.[46][47] It has been suggested that this was done to alleviate overpopulation.[48] However, overpopulation was not a problem for the Samnites, as they had highly developed systems of agriculture.[49] The Samnites believed that the ver sacrum was the origin of their society.[50] The found myth of the Samnites was that bull sent by the war god Mamers, who was the Samnite equivalent of Mars , to lead the Samnites to a new country once they had been exiled.[51] Ancient sources claim that all of these sacrifices would be made to Apollo or Mars instead of Mamers. Bulls had symbolic connections to the military in Samnium. The Hirpini believed that they were guided by a wolf to their land. Hence the name Hirpini, from Hirpus, meaning wolf.[52][53][54] These myths have often been associated with the founding myth of Rome.[11] Despite how often the ver sacrum appears in ancient literature, very little architectural evidence of this practice exists.[55][56][57]


In the 5th Century BCE, Samnites offered weapons taken from defeated enemies to their gods. By the third century BCE, this practice had been replaced with other votive offerings. Votive bronze and terracotta figurines, which were dedicated to their gods. Pottery, coins, beverages, cakes, and animal statuettes were also offered.[58] Sacred loom weights would have been used weave sacred cloth. They could have also been used to supply the inhabitants of the sanctuary. There are other explanations for the usage of loom weights. They could have been used for weighing votive offerings, or as markers left attached to woven cloth dedications. Many loom weights found in Italy are inscribed with names or images of deities.[36] The gifts offered to the gods needed to be important to the populous.[4]


The Samnites had magical chants which were used at harvests, festivals, and marriages. While chanting, the chanters would have faces painted with red. Other ceremonies would be performed at weddings which would promote fertility and bring good fortune. The Samnites also used birds to tell omens.[8]

The Samnites believed in an afterlife. When burying a dead person, they would give them items which would ease their journey into the afterlife. One example is, they would be given games, food, and some sort of purification rite. It is debated if people would be honored after death.[4] Before the 5th Century BCE ornately decorated burial places occupied an important part of Samnite religion. The importance of graves reached its most prominent position during the Samnite Wars. Afterwards, a significant decline in Samnite burial places occurs. Suggesting a decline the importance of graves in Samnite religion.


Priests supervised and regulated festivals. They defined the limits to sanctuaries and kept records. Samnite priests likely formed the basis of Augustus' seviri augustales. Samnite priests also had linen books which they would use to manage sacrifices and bind people to oaths.[34][59] During the Samnite Wars they tried binding the Samnite army to these oaths.[4][60][61] The political leaders of Samnite society. The Meddix and Meddix Tuticus were likely also involved in religious life.[4]


Samnite sanctuary complex at Pietrabbondante. The sanctuary at Pietrabbondante was likely at the top of Samnite social hierarchy.


Samnite sanctuaries in the third century BCE were Ionic. They consisted of a temple and several surrounding buildings. After this temple was destroyed, a new sanctuary was built. The new temple was built on a podium. It was likely prostyle and portico, with a single cellarette. This temple was important to Samnite political life in the second century BCE. Parts of the building were dedicated by magistrates. These two sanctuaries were not the only ones built. Another theatre complex, built shortly before the Social War, was a portico temple with a podium and the three cellarettes. This sanctuary had long porticos and stairs leading to the podium. In front of the podium, two altars stand. They are aligned with the central and eastern cellarettes. It was flanked by two lateral porticoes. This temple has a theatre. the theatre has polygonal walls which are decorated with telamones.[1]

From the fourth century BCE onwards non-urban sanctuaries began to be constructed. However, after the late third century BCE these sanctuaries would become much more elaborate. This is probably caused by a desire to display wealth. Or it could be caused by a shift in social organization. It is also possible these were not causes of the monumentalization of the sanctuaries, but instead they were a prerequisite. Epigraphic evidence suggests that instead, powerful families such as the Stattii pushed for the architectural change.[25]


Map of sanctuary sites in Metapontum

The majority of sanctuaries were built in the third century BCE. There are numerous theories to explain why. One is that the Samnites used them to benefit from the Mediterranean trade networks. However, it is unclear how the Samnites would have made money off these temples. It is also uncertain how any money made from these would be spent. Another theory is that the sanctuaries were the areas where government business was conducted. They could have also used to them to make profits from the practice of transhumance and also house herdsman. Many gods worshipped in the Sanctuaries such as Alba Fucens or Hercules had connections to transhumance. Suggesting that the temples not just attracted a crowd of farmers, but they also benefited from agriculture in some way. Some, such as Iñaki Sagarna, believe that the practice of positioning of sanctuaries nearby transhumance routes was only developed after the Roman conquest of Samnium.[1][25] Most examples we have of connections between Hercules and trade, especially sheep and cattle trade date to times where Rome controlled Samnium. It is possible these sanctuaries existed before the Romans conquered the Samnites, however there is little evidence for this. Hercules was commonly worshipped long before connections between him and pastoralism were established. His role as patron of herdsman and merchants was still important, however he was venerated long before he was the patron of these trades.

Territory Markers[edit]

Another kind of sanctuary was the territorial marker sanctuary. These sanctuaries functioned as border markers between urban and rural areas and meeting places between bordering communities. For example, the Carricini would be separated from the Marrucini by sanctuaries littered with bronze statutes. The sanctuary at Pietrabbondante likely was also used by the wealthy to showcase Samnite unity.

Aside from marking the borders between communities. Contact between different communities would have been important to the development of sanctuaries. The areas between communities and contact between though would have lead to the sanctuaries being built. Sanctuaries would be the area where the sovereignty of the city manifested. This analysis of the archaeological remnants may not be accurate, as our archaeological evidence may not be complete, our interpretation of the evidence may also be wrong. Despite the fact that it is somewhat imprudent to try and catalogue all non-urban sanctuaries as border marker, it is likely some sanctuaries were border markers. Although a rigid territory organizations seems unlikely.[1]


Many scholars, such as Letta, believe that sanctuaries had a function in the Samnite government. According to their theory the sanctuaries would serve as meeting places between the different groups making up the Samnites. Different sanctuaries served as meeting places for different levels of government. Sanctuaries outside settlements would mainly be dedicated to the Pagi. Urban sanctuaries were also primarily dedicated to the Pagus. Sanctuaries located in the direct neighborhood of a Vicus, would be dedicated to that Vicus. These sanctuaries would exclusively serve the residents of that Vicus. There would also be rural sanctuaries, dedicated to the tribe. Each Samnite tribe had their own tribal sanctuary. After the Roman conquest of Samnium, a new kind of sanctuary was created. This new sanctuary was located outside urban centers and was dedicated to the Municipum. There are problems with this theory. Mainly, epigraphic evidence is necessary to definitively assert the role of a sanctuary. However, epigraphic evidence of this kind is rare. In one sanctuary found near Fontecchio has an inscription stating that the temple was dedicated to Jupiter. Since the roles of Samnite officials and governing bodies are unclear, historians cannot be sure on whether or not this means the temple was dedicated to the Vicus or the Pagus.[1]


The Lex aedis Furfensis

Inside sanctuaries many different gods would have been worshipped. It has been suggested that different sanctuaries would venerate different gods, and different aspects of gods. If this were true it would imply the Samnite sanctuaries excluded outsiders and reinforced group identity. The Samnites are known to have been xenophobic. One Samnite ritual has them formally banishing outsiders from their country. In certain Oscan texts, rules are laid out for a temple that worshipped Hercules. The sanctuary is specifically supposed to serve the inhabitants of Nola and Abella by resolving property disputes between them. This sanctuary, and the land around it, seems to belong to no one. This could imply the sanctuaries were instead supposed to mark a lack of borders.[1]

One ancient Roman law called the lex aedis Furfensis concerns a sanctuary dedicated to Jupiter Liber. It was my by a magistrate and a priest of Furfo. This law states that if someone stole a sacred object, the aedile could determine the amount of the fine. The law also makes an unclear claim. The text states "idque veicus Furf[ensis] mai[or] pars, FIFELTARES sei apsolvere volent sive condemnare." This statements meaning is unclear, mostly due to the unclear word , fifeltares. This part of the law could imply that the vicus held a special position. The text could also state that many different vici were working together in a pagus. The status of the sanctuary determines whether or not it served the vicus or the pagus. It could also imply that the pagus-vicus was not universal throughout Samnium.[1] Other Samnite inscriptions such as those at Trasaco or Saepinum rarely mention a vicus or a pagus. This showcases that evidence for a connection between Samnite sanctuaries and the Samnite government is limited. With most epigraphic evidence being small in number, or nonexistent.[1]


As Roman influence in Samnium grew, many sanctuaries became abandonned. They would have been replaced by Municipal centers as sanctuaries became obsolete. An alternative explanation is that the Samnites tried to Romanize themselves out of a desire to become Roman. This idea has been challenged by more modern studies as there is no definitive evidence for it. The prevailing theory as to how the Samnites were Romanized is that the spread of Roman religious items and temples lead to the adoption of Roman culture. Rome also took a more active approach in Romanizing the Samnites. Normally Rome would have not forced its culture upon the Samnites, however this time they destroyed the sanctuaries. Another way the Romans wiped out Samnite culture was through urbanization. The increasing urbanization of Samnium lead to more rural sanctuaries being abandonned. The surviving sanctuaries were located within a favorable position in the new municipal order. Even then, the power of the Sanctuaries decreased. Sanctuaries were no longer were relevant to the entirety of a vicus or pagus. Roman styles of architecture also became prominent in the sanctuaries built after the Roman conquest.[1]

List of tribes[edit]

Notable Samnites[edit]

Gentes of Samnite origin[edit]

Leaders of the Samnites[edit]

Social War leader[edit]

Romans of Samnite origin[edit]

Catholic Popes[edit]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Salmon, Edward Togo. Samnium and the Samnites. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1967.
  • Forsythe, Gary. A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.
  • Jones, Howard. Samnium: Settlement and Cultural Change: the Proceedings of the Third E. Togo Salmon Conference On Roman Studies. Providence, RI: Center for Old World Archaeology and Art, 2004.
  • Paget, R. F. Central Italy: An Archaeological Guide; the Prehistoric, Villanovan, Etruscan, Samnite, Italic, and Roman Remains, and the Ancient Road Systems. 1st U.S. ed. Park Ridge, NJ: Noyes Press, 1973.
  • Salvucci, Claudio R. A Vocabulary of Oscan: Including the Oscan and Samnite Glosses. Southampton, Pa.: Evolution Pub., 1999.
  • Stek, Tesse. Cult Places and Cultural Change In Republican Italy: A Contextual Approach to Religious Aspects of Rural Society After the Roman Conquest. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010.

External links[edit]