Battle of Faventia, 82 BC

The battle of Faventia (82 BC) saw the total failure of an attempt by Carbo to launch a surprise attack on Sulla's commander in the north of Italy, Metellus Pius. Soon afterwards Carbo gave up the fight and fled to Africa, leaving the Marian cause almost leaderless in Italy (Sulla's Second Civil War).

At the start of the campaign of 82 BC the consul Gnaeus Papirius Carbo had operated in the north of Italy, while his co-consul, the younger Marius, faced Sulla to the south of Rome. Marius suffered a heavy defeat at the battle of Sacriportus, and had to retreat into Praeneste, where he was besieged by Sulla's forces. Carbo retreated back towards Rome, but the city fell to Sulla, and Carbo ended up at Clusium, about eighty miles to the north. Sulla advanced north from Rome, defeated a cavalry detachment from Carbo's army on the Glanis River, and then fought an inconclusive day-long battle at Clusium (first battle of Clusium, 82 BC). At about the same time Pompey, who had followed Carbo from the north, defeated his lieutenant Carinnas at Spoletium. Carinnas was besieged in Spoletium and an attempt to lift the siege failed, but he was able to escape under cover of a storm.

Sulla was forced to abandon his attempts to defeat Carbo by news from the south, where the Samnites had decided to side with Carbo and Marius. A large Samnite army was threatening to intervene at Praeneste, and Sulla was forced to rush south to reinforce the troops already taking part in the siege.

Although Pompey had moved south, Sulla still had an army in the Po, commanded by Metellus Pius, based at Faventia (modern Faenza, just inside Cisalpine Gaul on the edge of the Po plains, a few miles north-west of Ariminum (Rimini). Carbo moved to Ariminum, and at some point up with Gaius Norbanus, one of the consuls for the previous year, and the first Marian general to be defeated by Sulla during the Civil War (battle of Casilinum, 83 BC).

Carbo and Norbanus planned to attack Metellus late in the day, one hour before nightfall. The attack turned into a disaster. Their route took them across a series of vineyards, and their men got caught up in the vines. The surprise clearly failed, and Metellus must have attacked while his opponents were still disordered. Appian reports that Carbo's army suffered 10,000 dead and 6,000 deserters and most of the rest of the force dispersed. Carbo and Norbanus only had 1,000 men under orders when they straggled back into Ariminum.

More bad news soon followed. Part of Norbanus's army was a legion of Lucanians (from southern Italy) under the command of Albinovanus. When these men learnt of the disaster at Faventia, they deserted to Metellus. Albinovanus didn't accompany them, but stayed with Norbanus. After a few days he got in touch with Sulla and offered to betray Norbanus in return for a promise of safety. He then invited Norbanus, his officers and some of Carbo's officers who had remained in the north to a feast. Norbanus didn't attend, and this saved his life (at least for the moment). In one of the oldest tricks in the book, Albinovanus massacred the Marian officers at the feast, and then fled to Sulla. At about the same time some of Norbanus's bases, including Ariminum, changed sides. Norbanus decided that the war was lost and fled into exile in Rhodes, where he later committed suicide after Sulla demanded his return to Rome.

Carbo was also becoming discouraged. He made one final attempt to lift the siege of Praeneste, sending Brutus Damasippus with two legions, but this also failed. News then arrived that Cisalpine Gaul had switched sides, and another of Carbo's forces in the Po valley was defeated near Placentia. Carbo decided that the war was lost, and fled to Africa, in the hope that he could revive his fortunes there.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (7 November 2017), Battle of Faventia, 82 BC ,

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