The Samnites were one of the Roman Republic’s toughest opponents within Italy, taking part in the three Samnite Wars and providing forces for Rome’s later opponents right through to the civil wars of the late Republic, where they finally disappeared after picking the wrong side and becoming one of Sulla’s victims after his final victory. This book focuses on the third and final of the named Samnite Wars, although also includes useful sections on the Second Samnite War and the role of the Samnites in the wars against Pyrrhus, Hannibal and the civil wars.
I have two minor complains about the book. First is that in the early stages it isn’t entirely clear which Samnite War each chapter is actually about – I’d have preferred more informative chapter headings. The detailed account starts about half way through the Second Samnite War, after the battle of the Caudine Forks, but we sort of zig-zag back and fore for a bit, before finally reaching the Third War itself in chapter six. A bit more clarity here would have been useful. Second is that on occasion the prose gets a little too purple, with a tendancy in some sections to replace Rome or Roman with a series of euphamisms – ‘The Tiber City’ etc (I must admit this last tendency isn’t quite as widespread as I had remembered – when searching for examples they were further apart than I’d felt while reading), and in general the writing is nicely atmospheric.
Apart from that this is a useful account of this significant victory for the Roman Republic. The war isn’t well documented, and Roberts has done a good job of piecing together the limited sources to give a coherent account of events, while also acknowledging the limits to our knowledge and alternative versions of events. Sadly our most detailed sources fade away half way through this war, making it a rather difficult period (we aren’t even sure what peace terms the Romans imposed). I found the sections looking at why the Samnites were unable to win to be of great value, examining why the Romans kept winning these conflicts, even when their opponents equalled or outnumbered them.
1 – A City on a River
2 – Into Italy
3 – Another Fine Mess
4 – Into the Wild Wood
5 – A Samnite Pause
6 – Early Stages
7 – A Man and His Road
8 – Santinum
9 – The Last Stand of the Linen Legion
10 – The Last Campaigns
Author: Mike Roberts
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military