Battle of Suessula, 343

The battle of Suessula (343 B.C.) was the final major clash during the First Samnite War (343-341 B.C.), and was a major Roman victory. Having suffered defeats at Mount Gaurus and Saticula the Samnites managed to raise a third army, which according to Livy contained 'the whole fighting strength of the nation', and probably included the survivors of the earlier two battles.

This army crossed into Campania, where it threatened Capua. Messengers from the city reached the camp of the Roman consul Valerius Corvus, who was probably still based at Mount Gaurus, off to the south.

When he reached Suessula after a forced march Valerius built a much smaller camp than was normal, taking advantage of the lack of baggage and camp followers, still back at Mount Gaurus. When the Samnites saw the Roman camp they believed that they were only facing a small army. Their commanders managed to prevent them from launching an impetuous attack on the Roman camp, and the two sides settled down into a short period of inactivity.

By now the Samnites were dangerously short of supplies, and believing that they were only facing a weak Roman force they sent out large foraging parties to find food. Valerius took advantage of this to launch an attack on the Samnite camp, capturing it in the first rush. Livy records that more Samnites were killed in their tents than on the walls.

According to Livy after this success Valerius was able to use his cavalry to force the Samnite foraging parties against his infantry, in the process inflicting massive casualties. He also records the capture of 40,000 shields, although admits that more shields were captured than Samnites killed. In all probability most of the Samnite army actually escaped back across the border, for if Livy's casualties figures are to believed then the Samnites lost the vast majority of their able bodied men in the three battles of the First Samnite War, and it is clear from later events that this was not the case.

The defeat at Suessula seems to have eliminated any enthusiasm for the war in Samnium. In the following year, when the Romans were distracted by a mutiny, no Samnite incursions are recorded, and in 341, when a new Roman army invaded Samnium, they were greeted by a peace envoy, ending the war.

Roman Conquests: Italy, Ross Cowan. A look at the Roman conquest of the Italian Peninsula, the series of wars that saw Rome transformed from a small city state in central Italy into a power that was on the verge of conquering the ancient Mediterranean world. A lack of contemporary sources makes this a difficult period to write about, but Cowan has produced a convincing narrative without ignoring some of the complexity.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (16 November 2009), Battle of Suessula, 343 ,

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