Third Veientine War, 405-396 B.C.

The Third Veientine War (405-396 B.C.) saw the Roman Republic finally capture and destroy their closest rival, the Etruscan city of Veii, after a siege that lasted for ten years, making them the most powerful state in central Italy. Here we will follow Livy's account of the war, looking at those events that took place away from Veii, while the siege of Veii itself will be examined in a separate article.

In 407 B.C. a truce with Veii expired. At this point the Romans were involved in active wars with the Volscians and the Aequi, but they still decided to send ambassadors to Veii to demand satisfaction for unspecified misdeeds performed by Veii's senate. The ambassadors never reached Veii, turning back after the Veientines requested a delay of a year because of internal problems.

In 406 the ambassadors reached Veii, but were told to return to Rome or suffer the fate inflicted on their predecessors by Lars Tolumnius, king of Veii during the Second Veientine War, who ordered the execution of four Roman ambassadors. The Senate responded by proposing war, but the tribunes of the plebs led a campaign against this on the grounds that there were too many wars already going on. The proposal for war with Veii was dropped after it became clear that the Roman People would vote against it, and instead the Romans captured the town of Anxur from the Volscians. After this victory the Senate announced that Roman soldiers would receive pay from the public purse for the first time, instead of serving at their own cost. 

With pay on offer the Roman People voted in favour of war with Veii in 405 B.C., and the new consular tribunes for that year led a largely volunteer army to besiege the city. Livy records a meeting of the Etruscan National Council at the Fanes of Voltumna, in which the other Etruscan states refused to aid Veii. This probably reflects a misunderstanding on Livy's part about the relationship between the various Etruscan cities, which were enemies as often as allies.

In 404 the Romans were distracted by the war against the Volscians, winning a pitched battle between Ferentinum and Ecetrae and then taking Artena by siege. 403 was distinguished by constitutional novelties in both cities. The Romans elected eight Consular Tribunes, more than in any previous year, while the Veientines elected a king, a move that apparently annoyed the other Etruscan cities, although according to Livy Veii had a king during the Second war.

In 402 Auxur fell to the Volscians. The garrison was under strength, and most of the troops were away from the fortifications, either in the fields or attempting to buy food. Volscian traders were allowed inside the town in large numbers, and overwhelmed the few Romans soldiers left inside. This year also saw the war expand when the Capenates and Faliscans, two Latin speaking people living to the north of Veii, decided to support the Veientines, worried that the Romans would turn on them if Veii fell. The Romans suffered a serious defeat in the siege lines around Veii, and for the rest of the war were forced to maintain at least three armies.

In 401 the Romans were faced with four separate campaigns. M. Furius was given command of the army operating against the Faliscans and Cnaeus Comelius the army operating against the Capenae. Both men conducted successful raids into enemy territory. In contrast Cnaeus Comelius, who was given the task of retaking Anxur, was unable to take the town by storm and had to begin a regular siege. This ended in 400 when the town was captured due to the laxity of the guards during a festival.

In 399 a Roman army raided into Capenae, catching a retreating Capenate and Faliscan army on its way back north after a defeat outside Veii. The raids continued in 398, when L. Valerius Potitus attacked the Falerii and M. Furius Camillus the Capenae.

Livy's account of the war now includes a supernatural intervention. The level of water in the Alban Lake began to rise for no apparent reason. A captured Veientine soothsayer claimed that this was the doom of his city - if the Romans drained the lake in the right way, then Veii must fall. His opinion wasn't yet taken seriously, so the Romans dispatched an embassy to Delphi to ask the oracle for advice. This part of the story at least is true, for after the war the Romans dedicated a golden bowl to the Oracle, and its base remained on display well into better recorded periods. The Oracle's pronouncement reached Rome in the following year, and matched that of the soothsayer. The Romans built ditches to drain the lake, and also dismissed the senior magistrates for the year, replacing them with a series of temporary commanders until the elections could be held for 397.

During 397 the Romans were involved in six separate campaigns. Anxur was being besieged by the Volsci and Labici by the Aequi. The siege of Veii continued, and raids continued against Falerii and Capenae. Seeing this the Tarquinii, another major Etruscan city, decided to raid Roman territory believing that the Romans would be too distracted to punish them. They were mistaken. An army under A. Postumius and L. Julius caught them on their way home, recovering most of their booty.

A more ominous note slips into Livy's account of the Etruscan council in this year. Once again the Etruscans refused to help Veii, but whereas at the start of the war they had refused because Veii had not consulted them before beginning the conflict, now they refused because they were being threatened by a new threat - the Gauls.

The war finally came to an end in 396. Two of the consular tribunes for the year - L. Titinius and Cnaeus Genucius - led an army against the Faliscans and Capenates. This army was ambushed and suffered a heavy defeat in which Genucius was killed and Titinius was lucky to escape. News of this defeat almost caused a second disaster, when rumours of an approaching enemy army reached the Roman camp. Large numbers of soldiers wanted to return to Rome, and were only prevented from doing some with some difficulty. In response the Romans appointed M. Furius Camillus as Dictator. He raised a larger army, with Latin and Hernican components mentioned for the first time. This new army defeated the Faliscans and Capenates in a pitched battle, and then successfully concluded the siege of Veii, capturing the city (he was soon exiled for his role in the distribution of the spoils from Veii, despite asking the Senate to decide what to do).

In the aftermath of the fall of Veii both the Volscians and Aequi sued for peace, which was granted to them. Both wars were soon resumed, but this gap gave the Romans time to defeat the Capenates (395) and Falerii (394). Veii's former territory became part of the ager Romanus, the lands directly controlled by Rome, almost doubling their size. Even before this Roman was the biggest of the Latin cities. Now she dominated them.

Rome's triumph was short-lived. Only six years later Brennus and his Gauls defeated a Roman army on the Allia and sacked the city, an event that scarred the Roman psyche for centuries.

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 (6 October 2009), Third Veientine War, 405-396 B.C. ,

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