Ligurian War (238-233 BC)

The Ligurian War (238-233 BC) saw the Romans win a series of victories over the tribes of the mountainous north-west of Italy, but fail to establish any lasting control over the area.

The Ligurians were an Italic people, who had been forced into the mountains of north-western Italy by the entry of the Gauls into the Po valley. In later years this area would be of great significance as it controlled the coastal route between Italy and southern Gaul, but at this early date the Romans had no foothold in that area, so the route was of less interest. The Ligurians had some contacts with the Carthaginians, who until recently had controlled nearby Corsica, and they had been providing mercenaries to Carthage for at least two centuries

In the aftermath of the First Punic War both Sardinia and Corsica had been left in Carthaginian hands, but they had both then been lost when their mercenary garrisons rebelled (Mercenary or Truceless War). However on Sardinia the garrison had then been expelled by the islanders, leaving the island briefly independent. In 238 the Roman Senate decided to occupy the islands and it was this campaign that brought them into conflict with the Ligurians, presumably because some of the Carthaginian mercenaries were from that area.

In 238 the Romans sent an army under the consul Ti. Sempronius Gracchus to occupy Sardinia. Nothing is recorded of his activities on the island, but after his campaign there Gracchus took his army across to the mainland, where he was recorded as defeating the Ligurians in battle.

There is no record of any conflict in 237.

The relatively low importance of this conflict is shown in 236, when the consul P. Cornelius Lentulus Caudinius only moved to the area after the end of the Boian War (238-236 BC). This war had ended when the Gallic alliance fell apart and the former allies fought each other, suffering heavy enough losses to force the Boii to surrender some of their territory. This left Lentulus with an army and no opponent, and he took it to Liguria, where he was recorded to have beaten off an attack and captured a number of unnamed fortresses.

235 was a quiet year, but in 234 the Romans had to send armies to Corsica, Liguria and Sardinia in response to a series of revolts that may have been encouraged by the Carthaginians. The Consul Lucius Postumius Albinus was sent to Liguria, the Consul Sp. Carvilius Maximus was sent to Corsica and the Praetor P. Cornelius was sent to Sardinia. Cornelius died of disease on Sardinia. Carvilius put down the revolt on Corsica, winning a triumph, and then moved to Sardinia, where he won another victory although the island revolted after he left. Nothing is known about Albinus’s activities in Liguria, but he wasn’t awarded a triumph, suggesting that he didn’t achieve much.

The fighting continued in 233 BC. This time the Romans sent the consul Q. Fabius Maximus, who was then serving as consul for the first time, but would go on to hold the post five times and help save Rome during the Second Punic War. According to Plutarch the Ligurians had been raiding nearby parts of Italy, but suffered a heavy defeat in battle against Fabius and retreated into their mountain fastnesses. This appears to have ended the raids, and Fabius was awarded a triumph.

Although this was the last fighting in the area for some time, it is clear that the Romans hadn’t established any real control of Liguria. The consuls for 230 BC were sent to Liguria but before they arrived had to be sent east to deal with a new threat from the Boii. This area would be of concern to the Romans for the next fifty years.

Rome Spreads Her Wings - Territorial Expansion between the Punic Wars, Gareth C. Sampson. Focuses on Rome's other wars in the period of the first two Punic Wars, including the first expansion east across the Adriatic into Greece and the Balkans and the conquest of Gallic northern Italy. This is a difficult period, with limited sources as ancient authors either concentrated on the more glamorous wars against Carthage, or have been lost to us. Sampson does a good job of guiding us through the difficult sources for this period, often providing alternative versions of key events, complete with their supporting sources. A useful book that helps fill a gap in the military history of Rome [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (17 October 2022), Ligurian War (238-233 BC) ,

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