Siege of Aeclanum, 89 BC

The siege of Aeclanum (89 BC) saw Sulla force the surrender of the Hirpini after capturing their chief town (Social War)

The Hirpini were one of the original Italian rebels of 91 BC, but they weren't completely committed to the revolt. One of Sulla's subordinates during his campaign of 89 BC was Minatius Magius, who was from Aeclanum, and had raised a loyalist legion amongst the Hirpini. Minatius Magius had taken part in the first part of Sulla's campaign of 89 BC, the sieges of Herculaneum and Pompeii, although we don’t know what part he played in the later stages of the campaign.

Aeclanum was the chief town of the Hirpini. It was situated on a ridge just to the south of the Via Appia, protected by steep slopes to the south but exposed to the north. In 89 BC the town was defended by a wooden wall, which was replaced by a stone wall at some point after the end of the Social War.

The Samnites made an attempt to lift the sieges of Herculaneum and Pompeii, but after a series of clashes Sulla defeated the Samnite army of Lucius Cluentius, forced them back to Nola, and inflicted heavy losses on the Samnites outside the walls. Cluentius was amongst the dead.

Sulla probably completed the two sieges before the next stage of his campaign. He then moved east from Nola to attack Aeclanum, 25 miles to the east/ north-east of Nola. Sulla must have demanded their surrender, as they asked for time to consider their response. In fact they were expecting a Lucanian army to arrive on that same day, and were playing for time. Sulla granted them one hour, and then got his men to spend the time piling fagots around the wooden walls. At the end of the hour the fagots were set on fire, igniting the walls. The defenders surrendered, but because they had been forced to give up by the fire Sulla still allowed his troops to plunder the town.

This example wasn't lost on the other Hirpini towns, and they surrendered without offering any resistance. Having subdued the Hirpini, Sulla turned north to attack the Samnites. He outwitted and defeated the Samnite leader Gaius Papius Mutilus, who fled to Aesernia (55 miles to the north-west of Aeclanum). Sulla destroyed Papius's camp, and then besieged Bovianum, an important Samnite town 40 miles to the north-west of Aeclanum and 15 to the south-east of Aesernia. Bovianum soon fell to Sulla, but after that he returned to Rome to stand for election as one of the consuls of 89 BC. The Samnites remained unconquered until the events of Sulla's First Civil War gave them a respite, and weren't finally defeated until they sided against Sulla once again during his Second Civil War (83-82 BC).

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 August 2017), Siege of Aeclanum, 89 BC , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_aeclanum.html

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