The Samnites (Oscan: Safineis) were an ancient Italic people who lived in Samnium, which is located in modern inland Abruzzo, Molise and Campania in south-central Italy.

Samnite soldiers depicted on a tomb frieze in Nola. From the 4th Century BCE.

An Oscan-speaking people who may have originated as an offshoot of the Sabines, they formed a confederation consisting of four tribes: the Hirpini, Caudini, Caraceni, and Pentri.

Although they allied with Rome against the Gauls in 354 BC, they later became enemies of the Romans and fought them in a series of three wars; despite an overwhelming victory at the Battle of the Caudine Forks (321 BC), the Samnites were subjugated in 290 BCE. Although severely weakened, the Samnites would still side against the Romans, first in the Pyrrhic War and then with Hannibal in the Second Punic War. They also fought in the Social War and later in Sulla's civil war as allies of the Roman consuls Papirius Carbo and Gaius Marius against Sulla, who defeated them and their leader Pontius Telesinus at the Battle of the Colline Gate (82 BC). Afterwards, they were assimilated by the Romans and ceased to exist as a distinct people.

The Samnites had an economy focused upon livestock and agriculture. Samnite agriculture was highly advanced for its time, and they practiced transhumance. Aside from relying on agriculture the Samnites exported goods such as ceramics, bronze, iron, olives, wool, pottery, and terracottas. Their trade networks extended across Campania, Latium, Apulia, and Magna Graecia.

Samnite society was stratified into cantons. Each city was a vicus. Many vici were grouped into a pagus, and many pagi were grouped into a touto. There were four Samnite touto, one for each of the Samnite tribes. Aside from this system of government, a few Samnite cities had political entities similar to a senate. It was rare, although possible for the Samnites to unify under a coalition. Normally the tribes and cities functioned independently from one another.

Samnite religion worshipped both spirits called numina and gods and goddesses. The Samnites honored their gods by sacrificing live animals and using votive offerings. Superstition was prominent in Samnite religion. It was believed that magical chants could influence reality, that magical amulets could protect people, and that augurs could see the future. Samnite priests would manage religious festivals and they could bind people to oaths. Sanctuaries were a major part of Samnite religion. They might have been used to benefit from trade networks, they may have marked the border between territories, and they may have been intertwined with government. Samnite sanctuaries may have also been used to reinforce a group identity.

EtymologyEdit

 
Oscan inscription. From right to left it reads: "V[ibius] Popidius, son of V[ibius], chief magistrate, was responsible for this work and approved it."

The Indo-European root Saβeno or Sabh evolved into the word Safen, which later became Safin. The word Safin may have been the first word used to describe the Samnite people and the Samnite Kingdom.[1][2][3] Some archaeologists believe it refers to all the people of the Italian peninsula, others say just the people of Molise.[4][5] Safin could also be an adjective used to describe a group of people. It appears on graves near Abruzzo from the 5th century, as well as Oscan inscriptions and slabs in Penna Sant'Andrea.[4] The last known usage of the word is on a coin from the Social War.[5]

Safin would go through a series of changes culminating in Safinim, the Oscan word for Samnium. Meaning "cult place of the Safin people."[6] This became the word for the Samnite people, Safineis.[1][7][8] as well as other words such as Saini, Saineis, Samnītēs, Sabellī, and Saunìtai, which was the Greek word for the Samnites. These terms likely originate in the 5th century BCE. It comes from the Greek word for javelin: saunion.[9]

HistoryEdit

Origins and early historyEdit

 
Map of Ancient Samnium.

The Greek geographer Strabo wrote that the Samnite civilization originated from a group of Sabine exiles. According to this account, during either a famine, or as part of an attempt to end a war with the Umbrians, the Sabines vowed to hold a Ver Sacrum. As part of this ritual, all things produced that year were sacrificed, including babies.[10] Once these babies had reached adulthood they were exiled, and then guided by a bull to their new homeland.[11][12] Upon reaching this land they sacrificed this bull to Mars.[5][13] Other Samnite tribes claimed to have been guided by different animals. The Hirpini claimed they were guided by a wolf, the Picentes claimed to have been guided by a woodpecker.[14][15] Alternatively, the Samnites may have been connected to Sparta. This legend is possibly apocryphal. It might have been created by the Greeks for an alliance with the Samnites, or to include the Italic peoples within their worldview, and possibly to highlight similarities between the Samnites and Spartans.[16] Archaeological evidence shows that Samnite civilization likely developed from a preexisting Italian culture.[17]

After the Etruscans abandoned Campania in the 5th Century, the Samnites conquered the region.[18] Cities like Pompeii and Herculaneum were conquered.[19] It is unclear what Samnite cities took part in the campaign, or why.[20] They could have wanted its fertile soil, or to alleviate overpopulation. This theory relies on the Samnites having a poor agricultural industry, which is contradicted by other evidence. Alternatively, the Samnites could have wanted access to the Volturno River and other resources. Once Greek hegemony in Italy waned, the Samnites invaded and conquered much of their former land.[21][22][23] They conquered cities like Cumae, only failing to take Naples.[24][25][26] In the ensuing centuries, they would wage more war against the Campanians, Volscians, Epirot Greeks, and other Latin communities.[27][28]

Samnite WarsEdit

 
Lucanian depiction of the Battle of Caudine Forks.

The Samnites and Romans first came into contact after the Roman conquest of the Volscians. In 354 BCE they agreed to set their border at the Liris River.[29] Livy, a Roman historian who serves as a source on the Samnite Wars, states that when the Samnites attacked the Campanians, the latter civilization formed an alliance with the Romans. Igniting war between them and the Samnites in 343 BCE.[30][31][32] This account of the war's cause is not universally accepted by modern historians.[33][34] Livy may be writing propaganda or trying to compare this war to other conflicts. After three Samnite defeats and a Roman invasion, the Samnites agreed to sign a peace treaty.[35][36][37]

There are two accounts of the cause of the Second Samnite War. Possibly, Rome declared war due to a Samnite alliance with the Vestini and wars against Fregellae and Paleopolis. Additionally, the Romans wished to use the economic prosperity of the city of Venafrum for their own benefit.[29] Conflict may have also emerged because the Samnites desired to solidify their hold over crucial economic positions.[1] After the Roman defeat at the Battle of the Caudine Forks both sides agreed to an armistice.[32][33][38] Fighting resumed in 326 BC.[33] The war ended after a Roman campaign into Apulia and Samnium.[35] Following the end of the war, the Romans annexed Bovianum and Fregellae, and forced the Samnites out of Apulia.[33][36][37]

In 298 BCE the Third Samnite War broke out due to tension over the Lucanians, who had asked Rome for protection.[1][36][39] On another front, treaties between the Romans and Picentes caused conflict with the Etruscans. This war came to end after the Samnite defeat at the Battle of Aquilonia.[35] Afterwards, Samnium was conquered and the Samnites were assimilated into Roman society.[29][37][40]

Later historyEdit

 
Social War coin depicting the Samnite soldiers taking an oath to fight the Romans.

The Samnites were one of the Italian peoples that allied with King Pyrrhus of Epirus during the Pyrrhic War.[41] After Pyrrhus left for Sicily, the Romans invaded Samnium and were crushed at the Battle of the Cranita Hills, but after the defeat of Pyrrhus, the Samnites could not resist on their own and surrendered to Rome. Some of them joined and aided Hannibal during the Second Punic War, but most stayed loyal to Rome.[42] After the Romans refused to grant the Samnites citizenship, they, along with other Italic peoples, rebelled against the Romans. This war, known as the Social War, lasted almost four years, and resulted in a Roman victory. After this bloody conflict, Samnites and other Italic tribes were granted citizenship to avoid the possibility of another war.

The Samnites supported the faction of Marius and Carbo in the civil war against Sulla. The Samnites and their allies were led by Pontius Telesinus and a Lucanian named Marcus Lamponius. They gathered an army of 40,000 men and fought a battle against Sulla at the Colline Gates.[43] After their defeat in the battle, and subsequently the war, Pontius was executed.[44][45][46]

As a consequence of Sulla's victory and his establishment as dictator of Rome he ordered the punishment of those who had opposed him.[47] Samnites, who were some of the most prominent supporters of the Marians, were punished so severely that it was recorded, "some of their cities have now dwindled into villages, some indeed being entirely deserted." The Samnites did not play any prominent role in history after this, and they were Latinized and assimilated into the Roman world.[12][48] Several of their gentes would go on to achieve high distinction, including the Cassii, the Herennii, and the Vibii.[5]

SocietyEdit

EconomyEdit

 
Samnite coin depicting a javelin head with a laurel wreath.

Most of Samnium consisted of rugged and mountainous terrain lacking in natural resources. Resulting in a mixed economy focused on using the small amounts of fertile land to practice highly developed forms of subsistence agriculture, mixed farming, animal husbandry, sheep farming, pastoralism, and smallholdings.[21][49][50] The prosperity of the Samnite agricultural industry likely resulted in conflicts between them and other civilizations. Possibly, it was one of the causes of the Samnite Wars.[27]

The prominence of pastoralism and livestock in the Samnite economy was also a consequence of their homeland's terrain.[51][52][53] Horses, poultry, cattle, goats, pigs, and sheep were all common and important kinds of livestock.[54] These animals were valued because they could serve as a tradeable good, and as a source of food. Transhumance, or the seasonal movement of livestock from summer to winter pastures, was an important aspect of the Samnite economy.[27][55][56] Annual short distance transhumance formed the basis of the aristocracy's wealth.[57] Long distance transhumance was practiced between Apulia and Samnium.[49][27]

During the fifth and fourth centuries BCE an increasing population combined with trade links to other Italians contributed to further agricultural and urban development. This change is most drastic in Larinum. The city began as a major grain producer with a mill and a threshing floor. It developed into the hub for all economic activity in the Biferno Valley.[58] The Samnites exported goods such as cereals, cabbages, olives, olive oil, wine, bronze, iron, textiles, legumes, and vines.[59][60][61] They also imported materials such as bronze bowls and bucchero from places such as Campania, Etruria, Latium, Apulia, and Magna Graecia.[52][27] These trade networks resulted in the adoption of products and ideas from other cultures such as the Sabines, Latins, and Etruscans.[27][62][63]

Samnite currency developed in the late fifth and early fourth centuries BCE. Likely as a consequence of interaction with the Greeks, and war creating a need for mercenaries. Their bronze or silver currency might have been produced in Naples, and then "ordered" from the city's workshops. Alternatively, Samnite cities might have supplied the materials necessary for making currency. Or coins could have been imported from cities that Samnite mercenaries worked for. Such as Taranto. Currency at this time generally depicted places like Allifae, Nola, Philistia, or peoples such as the Campani. These images are associated with the development of the Samnite political structure. Coins may have not been used by individuals, but instead by government institutions to finance administrative tasks. Following this early period of high currency production, the Samnites began to mint less money.[27][64]

 
Samnite loom weight with a design of fibulas and tweezers.

Wool and leather were likely harvested by the Samnites in significant quantities. As evidenced by the numerous loom weights found throughout Samnium. Most loom weights used incised lines, dots, oval stamps, gem impressions, or imprints from metal signet rings to create patterns. Common patterns included pyramids, stars, or dotted or incised cross motifs. Motifs could have been shaped like leaves, flowers, pomegranates, or mythological figures. One loom weight from Locri is decorated with a gem impression of a satyr playing a lyre. Numerous pieces of Samnite pottery with Greek words incised into them have been found. These Greek words may have served a variety of possibilities. Such as instructing the weaver how to order the threads in the textile patterns, it could also have marked the piece's quality. The Greek words may also have stated the weight of either the loom weight or the cloth, and possibly the cloth's dimensions.[65]

The Samnites also produced amphorae, terracottas, and impasto pottery with black gloss. Protective coating, also called varnish,[66] was used to cover pottery and amphorae. Most amphorae came from Rhodes, and pottery was commonly purchased from Greece.[67] Pottery was also rarely imported from North Africa or areas by the Adriatic. After the urbanization of Samnite society, the production of Hellenistic or Italian pottery drastically increased.[68] Ceramics, pottery, and amphorae often used patterns. The majority of these patterns were trademarks or signatures from the craftsmen. On other occasions they depicted places such as the island of Rhodes, or named government officials. Such as the Meddíss Túvtíks.[5][69] One example of a pottery stamp is:[9]

Detfri (slave) of Herennis Sattis signed in planta pedis.

— Impressed on a tile in Pietrabbondante in the Second Century BCE.

GovernmentEdit

 
A depiction of the Samnite Pagus-vicus system.

Throughout the Iron Age Samnium was ruled by chieftains and aristocrats who used funerary displays to flaunt their wealth. During the early third and fourth centuries the Samnite political system developed into an organization focused on rural settlements led by magistrates.[6] The Samnite settlements, or the vici, were at the bottom of the Samnite social hierarchy. They were grouped into cantons called Pagi, which were run by an elected official known as a meddiss. The Pagi were organized into the toutos, which were the Samnite tribes. Each touto was led by an annually elected official with supreme executive and judicial power called the meddíss túvtiks.

Political entities similar to councils, assemblies, or Senates such as the Kombennio possibly existed.[70] The Kombennio was a democratic organization responsible for electing officials, making laws, and enforcing laws in Pompeii.[1][71] Senates were located at the capitals of the Samnite tribes, such as Bovianum, the Pentrian capital. It is unclear if these forms of government existed before the Roman conquest.[72] Despite these democratic institutions, Samnite society was still dominated by a small group of aristocratic families such as the Papii, Statii, Egnatii, and Staii.[35][73]

 
Samnite flag as depicted on a tomb in Paestum.

Each Samnite tribe functioned independently from the others. However, a union similar to the Latin League would occasionally form between the tribes. Such an alliance would be primarily militaristic, with a commander and chief enforcing all laws enacted by the alliance.[74] In order for the alliance to pass legislation, leading men of each tribe would have to unanimously agree before a bill could become a law.[27][33] Such an alliance was rare, and even if some tribes unified others might refuse to unite with the other tribes. The Frentani were another Italic tribe that might have been included in this alliance, however their importance to the union might be exaggerated. The relevance of the Samnite tribes in this organization might also be exaggerated, cities could have had more political power.[75]

This system of government maintained itself after the Roman conquest of Samnium albeit with some reductions in power. The touto and pagus began to function as miniature Republics, while the vicus remained unchanged. The only interference from the Romans would be that the Municipum held authority over all of the previous institutions and it could override them. While the prefectures had little authority over the Samnites.[52]

MilitaryEdit

 
Bronze Samnite helmet. This helmet is of the Attic type.

Roman historians believed that Samnite society was highly militaristic. They feared Samnite cavalry and infantry, and nicknamed them Belliger Samnis. Which translates to "Warrior Samnites."[1][76] It is unclear if this portrayal of the Samnites is accurate. Most Roman historical accounts of the Samnites were written after the Samnite civilization had disappeared. Much of this work could also be propaganda.[51][77] In the early parts of Samnite history, the military consisted of trained warriors led by local leaders. Access to the military and military equipment was dependent on one's wealth and status. While poorer and lower status individuals were relegated to jobs such as agriculture.[78] Samnite soldiers would have been trained in the triangular forum in Pompeii from an early age as part of a group known as the Vereiia. The Vereiia evolved into a community service group after the Roman conquest.[1][79] During the Samnite Wars, the Samnite army evolved to resemble the armies of Ancient Greek city states. This new system used phalanxes, hoplites, maniples, and cohorts made of 400 men, creating an army flexible enough to fight in mountainous terrain.[80][81][82] Low class soldiers began to be conscripted into the army, increasing the size of the army to several thousand soldiers. Although these new soldiers were less skilled and poorly trained.

Livy mentions a legio linteata. Otherwise known as a "linen legion."[83] This unit used flamboyant equipment to differentiate themselves from the other Samnite Warriors. According to Livy this legion took an oath to never flee battle inside a linen structure.[84][85] Scholars believe that this description was designed to highlight the differences between the "civilized" Romans, and the barbaric enemies of Rome.[86] Livy also could have been attempting to try and convey Samnite historical and religious power through a single unit.[87] Due to corroborating archaeological evidence other scholars state that it would be "rash" to completely dismiss this entire story.[1][50]

ArmorEdit

 
Bronze Samnite cuirass. This piece is from 400 to 300 BCE in Southern Italy.

Samnite soldiers wore a small single disc breastplate. This breastplate, called the kardiophylax consisted of straps that passed around the shoulders, chest, and back, and attached around points. Although the Triple-disc cuirass offered more protection, this armor continued to be used as a status symbol.[88] There were three types of triple-disc cuirass.[89][90] The first type used bronze to fill the space between the three identical discs. Small rings were attached to this bronze, and side straps were used to hold the armor together. Shoulder straps were also fastened to these small rings. Type two utilized an edge to outline the discs. The third type used plates to depict the heads of religious figures such as Athena or demons. All three types were constructed by placing a mid-way between two upper discs and a lower third disc with.[91]

Broad belts made of leather, gold, or bronze were common pieces of armor, and significant to Samnite culture. They were likely dedicated to protecting the abdomen. Samnite belts were made by heating up tin alloys at 800 degrees Celsius. Afterwards work would be performed on the belt at a temperature ranging from 600 to 800 degrees Celsius. Hammers and abrasives were used to grind the strips, giving them the appearance of silver. While making the belts a thermal treatment was used in repeated cycles in order to increase the durability of the material in the belt.[92]

Samnite helmets were based on Greek military equipment. These helmets used cheek guards, crests, and plumes. Crests were usually made by fastening horse tails to a metal piece that hung at the back of the helmet. Rivets could also be used to pin crests to the helmet's peak. Another type of crest was thin and bushy with long free-flowing ends. Feathers and horns were a common feature of Samnite crests and plumes.[93][91] Soldiers would don their greaves by resting their leg on a rock whilst using their hands to test the fitting of the equipment. This piece of equipment reached down to the ankle, and was likely custom made to fit the owner. There are few depictions of Samnite soldiers wearing graves, implying that they were rarely used outside of rituals and "mock-fights."[91]

WeaponryEdit

 
Pottery depicting a Samnite warrior.

Projectiles such as spears and javelins were commonly used by the Samnites. Spearheads were made from two bronze or iron parts.[94] The upper part was the spearhead proper, and a lower part, which used a tube to hold up the end of a wooden shaft. To fasten the shaft to the spearhead nails were driven through a hole in the shaft. Tubes were used to fit the spear into a bronze chape, which would protect the wooden shaft. Projectile weaponry was so essential to Samnite tactics, that if a soldier ran out of projectiles, they would throw rocks off the ground.

Alongside spears, soldiers would use swords or even hand-to-hand combat.[95] Depictions on pottery, and figurines such as the Capestrano Warrior showcase Samnite soldiers using a kind of Bronze Age sword called an antenna sword. Another kind of sword associated with the Samnite civilization is the short sword. Short swords were carried using a long strap fastened to either the warrior's body or the sword's hilt.[91] Samnite art depicts soldiers receiving swords in ritual ceremonies, and warriors eager to receive swords. Implying that short swords were highly valued in Samnite society. Maces were rarer than spears or javelins, yet still common. They had heavy and undecorated iron heads attached to handle hoisted with a hole or a socket. Axes were also rarely used. They may have primarily been symbols of power.[32]

There is little archaeological record of the Samnite shield, as most of the remaining shields have had much of their components destroyed. Samnite art commonly depicts Samnite soldiers using a round shield called a aspis. To carry the shield, two straps were used. One strap was leather, decorated with patterns, and ran vertically over the middle of the shield. Another strap used to provide a firm grip ran vertically near the shield's edge. Alongside aspides, the Samnites used possibly bronze oval shields with pointed ends, and possibly incised decorations. It is possible that the Samnites used scuta. It is also possible that the Samnite scutum influenced the Roman shield.[95] However, evidence for this is unclear. Samnite art depicts their soldiers carrying scuta. However, it is either as trophies taken from the enemy, or an attempt to mimic ancient Greek art.[96][97] Livy states that the Samnite shield was broad near the shoulder and chest; but it was thinner closer to the feet.[98][99] Archaeological evidence does not substantiate this idea. Livy possibly mistook the equipment of a Samnite gladiator for that of a Samnite soldier.[91]

CultureEdit

ReligionEdit

 
Face of Mefitis, a Samnite goddess.

Superstition dominated Samnite culture.[1][100][101] They believed magic could influence reality and practiced augury.[5][52][56] Vaguely defined spirits called Numina were also prominent in Samnite mythology.[52][102][103] It was essential to establish proper relations with these spirits, who evolved into the Samnite gods and goddesses.[104][105][106] Few Samnite gods and goddesses are known.[107][108][109] It is known that gods such as Vulcan, Diana, and Mefitis were all worshipped. With Mars being the most prominent god in Samnite religion.[52][110] To honor their gods, votive offerings and animals would be sacrificed.[52][111][112] In a practice known as the Ver Sacrum, all things produced in a particular year would be exiled or offered to the gods.[1][113][114] Such a practice may have been invented by Livy for propaganda purposes.[56][82][115] Samnite gravesites often contain goods. For example, wealthy individuals have graves with statues or steles. These goods indicated the wealth and status of the individual in life.[51] Proper burials required certain practices to be observed in order to adequately bury the dead.[116][117][118] Burial was likely a sign of social status, and it was rare to be buried, despite the Samnite belief in an afterlife. Sanctuaries were important to Samnite religion.[42][52][56] They served a variety of purposes. They siphoned money off transhumance routes, marked borders, served as a center for communication, served as places of worship, and served in the government.[52][42] Over time Samnite sanctuaries become much less prominent in Samnite culture, and soon afterwards they were all abandoned.[52][119][120]

Gender rolesEdit

 
Graph showcasing the correlation between burial goods and gender at Campo Consolino.

There were two major roles for Samnite women. Domestic and ceremonial. Women would weave, which likely played an important role in the economy.[51][121][57] They also likely expressed a small amount of political power through the symposium, which was a kind of ancient Greek or Etruscan banquet.[122] Other responsibilities included teaching young girls how to dance, childrearing, and possibly managing the household.[51][54] Relationships between Samnite wives and husbands are unclear. Libation scenes might suggest that a wife was supposed to be dutiful and loyal to her husband.[91] Women may have been expected to be disciplined. In Horace's Odes he complains about women lacking these traits. He possibly based his expectations of women off of Samnite customs.[123] Another possibility is that women were capable of acquiring large amounts of wealth. However, they might have only been capable of displaying their partner's wealth. Artwork and pottery depicting Samnite women showcases them involved in rituals or nearby altars with votive offerings.[91] These rituals usually involve women honoring their husbands through offerings of wine, or possibly praying for their husbands before they leave to fight.

The geographer Strabo states that the Samnites would take ten virgin women and ten young men who were considered to be the best representation of their sex and mate them.[124] Following this, the best women would be given to the best male, then the second-best women to the second-best male. It is possible that the "best" men and women were chosen based on athletic capabilities. This would continue until all 20 people had been assigned to one another. If the people involved dishonor themselves, they would have been removed and forcefully separated from their partner.[1][5][54]

Samnite society may have enforced a distinction between men, who were supposed to be warriors, and women, who were supposed to be "bejeweled."[1][125] Ancient historians describe the Samnites as a warlike people, however much of this is possibly propaganda. Campanian pottery often depicts Samnite warriors and cavalrymen fighting. While Apulian pottery, tends to depict Samnites in a wider variety of circumstances. Pottery from those same cultures also depicts armed men involved with other activities such as burying the dead or marriage.[77] Differences between male and female graves also support this theory. Men were buried with weapons and armor. While women were buried with domestic goods such as spindles or jewelry. Young adult women were typically buried with coils, pendants, beads, clothing, spindles, and fibulae similar to those worn by boys.[126] Possibly meaning that femininity was tied to youth in Samnite culture. Men wore much smaller and less elaborate Fibulae. Possibly indicating that the male identity was tied to maturity.[51][127] The skeletons of men and women also show differences in trauma. Male skeletons found near Pontecagnano Faiano have a cranial trauma rate of 12.9%, while only 8% of female skeletons have a cranial trauma rate. Another community at Alfedena has male Samnite skeletons with similar rates of cranial injury. This indicates that Samnite men may have been expected to serve as warriors and fight, while women were not.[128]

 
Graph depicting the percentage of male or female graves at Campo Consolino buried with a certain good.

However, a large quantity of graves are not buried with their respective gender's items. Samnite men have been buried with goods typically associated with women, and a few Samnite women have been buried with goods associated with men.[129] Only 3% of men in Campo Consolino were buried with their respective gender's goods. While one in five women were buried with weaponry. Men have also been found buried with domestic goods. This could be explained if these goods were not indicative of the person's responsibilities in life, but instead were offerings to the dead. The rarity of certain burial goods could indicate that they were exclusive to high status individuals. For example, jewelry could be explained as an indication of wealth or femininity. Differences in jewelry between the graves of adolescent and young adult women could be a form of preventative healthcare. It may have been done to protect women in childbirth.[127]

Another possibility is that Samnite society was not as focused on gender roles or as warlike as ancient scholars believed. Most of the literature concerning the Samnites and the Samnite Wars was written long after the Samnite civilization had collapsed. These works may also be propaganda, designed to support the idea of the civilized Romans fighting the barbarians. Archaeological evidence may also not be sufficient. Some evidence such as tattoos, clothing, and hairstyles can be lost or destroyed, and archaeologists and historians may misinterpret grave sites. Alongside this, focusing on weapons and clothing may only serve to give academics an incomplete or biased picture of Samnite society.

Analysis of skeletons has shown that both genders have fractures, lesions, and injuries. Although men have these injuries much more commonly.[128] This difference could be explained by greater amounts of male skeletons than female skeletons.[51] Other skeletons showcase similarities between the lives of men and woman. For example, both have healthy teeth, implying that they had healthy diets with low amounts of carbohydrates. Art depicts groups of both men and women honoring both dead men and women. Indicating that Samnite men and women could be honored in similar ways after death.[91] Each gender may have had different, but equally important roles. Another possibility is that the Samnites had two categories for gender. One was adult males. The other was everything else.[51]

The Samnites possibly practiced ritualized prostitution. Young women of all social standings would engage in sexual activities as a rite of passage. It is possible this practice would transform from a ritual into a profession.[130][131]

ArtEdit

 
Fragment of Samnite art from the Museo Campano.

The first style of art in Pompeii, a kind of art style used by the Samnites, developed when Greek painters traveled to Italy to paint for local aristocrats.[132] It borrows elements from the Etruscans, Greeks, and other Italic art. For example, hierarchy of scale, clothing demonstrating status, captions, episodic narratives, and depictions of history were all borrowed from other cultures.[133]

Samnite art featured polychrome murals and paintings. Murals usually used black or red cement pavements outlined with designs that ran across tesserae. There were two different styles of tesserae. Worm-like, or miculatum, and oppus tessellatum, or woven-style. Miculatum consisted of inserting marble and terracotta trays into the mosaic floor. Oppus tessellatum style used tesserae to create an appearance resembling weaving. Samnite art was usually colorful, and it often depicted myths, warriors, or Greek subjects.[132] Murals found in Pompeii were designed to create an idyllic sense.[134]

Aside from these murals, other works of Samnite art have survived to the modern day. On the walls of a sanctuary at Pietrabbondate there is an unidentifiable relief that is possibly an atlas. Another possible work of Samnite or Roman art in Isernia depicts two helmeted warriors.[1][132][135] One example of Samnite figurative art may be the Warrior of Capestrano.[136] However, the statue was found in Vestini territory and depicts a Picentine warrior.[103][137]

ClothingEdit

 
Samnite bronze belt with a clasp.

Most Samnite clothes were loose, pinned, draped, folded, and not stitched or sewn. Clothing held symbolic and ritual purposes in Samnite society. For example, clothing indicated social status and chitons were often used in ceremonies. The most valuable kind of clothing was a fastened bronze or leather girdle covered in bronze.[138][139]

Men wore rings, amulets with snake heads, and collars. Collars were usually pierced with holes from which they suspended amulets and pendants and engraved with incised decorations. Collars would be given to the man in boyhood, and never removed. Bearskins were also common clothing.[76][90]

Female clothing was similar to Greek clothing. Women wore long sleeveless peplum, caps, hats similar to a pileus, chitons, decorated belts, and chatelaine. The chatelaine had a central section consisting of mail and metal spirals made from perforated discs of metal.[91][140][141] An essential part of Samnite women's clothing was garments long enough to touch the ground. These were worn alongside colored capes that were fastened beneath the chin and held together with a brooch. Samnite capes covered the whole upper body, the arms, and the legs. Although necklaces and amulets remained visible, as the neckline of the cape did not touch the shoulders. Women also wore another kind of cape similar to a jacket. This jacket had sleeves, was fastened at the front, uses a low cut neckline, and it fit the body tightly. Covering much of it with folding. The frontal part of the jacket hung just below the waist, which is also nearby where it was kept. Samnite skirts were heavily influenced by Greek clothing. They covered with a himation and that usually also covered the hips as well as drapery. Women wore headdresses made from a folded piece of cloth. One depiction of this kind of headdress shows it as a long veil that was folded and ran across the head. Another piece of art shows a Samnite woman wearing a hairnet beneath a cylindrical headdress with white and red stripes running across it.[91] Some kinds of clothing were gender neutral. Red, white, or black belts covered in motifs that were usually made by using hooks to fasten cloth or leather into holes were worn by both genders.[91]

 
Bronze Samnite fibula, with a middle part made from three circular pieces.

It was common in ancient Samnium for both men and women to wear no footwear. Despite this, numerous shoe styles still existed. Some shoes were low, some reached to the ankles, others had a small hole at its tip. Another kind used an accentuated upper edge and reached higher than the ankles. Styles of footwear did not vary greatly between gender. Except for styles of boot. Female boots were usually ankle-high, while male boots reached higher. To secure the lacing of the shoe, white buttons and pointed, curved, or short lines that ran across horizontal laces could be used. Samnite sandals had white soles that used a strap around the foot to attach the soles to the foot. One kind of sandal left the foot uncovered, the other kind covered it up. Socks may have existed in ancient Samnium. If socks did not exist, an alternative could have existed. Such as a sort of soft fabric used as a replacement for socks.[91]

Italic pottery and Samnite tomb paintings depict Samnite warriors wearing tunics. These tunics were usually made from one piece of cloth and decorated with black or white motifs. Motifs were almost always placed on the sleeves, although rarely on the lower part of the tunic. Common kinds of motifs included stipes or dots. Tunics were held together at the midriff by broad leather belts.

Livy describes Samnite soldiers wearing two kinds of clothing. One was referred to as versicolor, meaning the clothing used contrasting colors. These clothes might have been designed to give a chameleon-like appearance Livy's may have intended to invoke ideas of Aeneas, who once allied with a warrior named Astyr. This warrior had multi-colored weapons and armor. It also may have been designed to showcase the worthiness of the Samnites as an opponent to Rome. These are not the only possibilities. Livy may have wanted to reference Plato's Republic, in which Plato compares Republics to a multi-colored garment. Also, multi-colored clothing may have had symbolized wealth. The other group of Samnites wore silver clothing and carried weapons.[142][143]

RecreationEdit

 
Etruscan bucchero. These kinds of cups would have been used by the Samnites.

Drinking and eating was very important to the life of the Samnites. It served as a way to entertain, and to establish social networks, and to negotiate politics or labor.[51] Whilst eating, the host would distribute food and drink to the guests. It was rare for wine to be given to adult men, although wine was consumed by other demographics.[1] Banquets used large containers or mixing vessels, serving vessels, and small pieces which were used by individuals for individual consumption. Large containers were often amphorae or kraters. Serving vessels were usually dippers, or jugs. The smaller vessels were usually cups, beakers, kylikes, and kantharoi. It was common to import these goods. For example, bucchero was commonly imported from Etruria.[5][51]

Gladiatorial games may have originated in Samnium. Roman and Greek authors such as Livy, Strabo, Horace, Athenaeus, and Silius Italicus mention that the Campanian aristocrats would host gladiator games during their banquets.[144][145] It is possible that the Samnite gladiator originated from these Oscan and Samnite games. However, evidence for this is inconclusive. Other scholars believe that gladiatorial games originated from Etruria, the Celts, or the city of Mantineia. The word lanista may imply a connection between gladiatorial games and the Etruscans. Although, the earliest gladiators were called Samnites, and the word lanista may have no connection to the Etruscans. Art from Campania depicts Samnites in gladiatorial games. One piece of art depicts a dead gladiator with a spear stuck in their head. This indicates that the Samnites likely were not averse to brutality. Art also showcases large gladiatorial games alongside chariot racing and banquets. Implying that Samnite gladiatorial games were grandiose and for entertainment. Alternatively, these games may have been conducted at funerals. Games are usually depicted taking place near funerals, and usually pomegranates are depicted in the background. Which were symbols of the afterlife.[95] The warriors in these funerary games are depicted wearing colorful armor.[146]

Chariot racing and hunting with projectile weaponry were recreational activates practiced by Samnite men.[1][57][91] In Pompeii, ancient baths were built during the time the Samnites ruled the city.[147]

Cities and engineeringEdit

 
Amphitheater in Saepinum

From the Bronze Age to the Iron Age the number of Samnite settlements drastically increased. Most of these settlements were small, with most people living in hamlets and working for a living.[21][148] These small settlements organized around larger settlements, such as Saepinum and Caiatia.[48] Samnite cities were generally not as large as those in the rest of Italy.[5] They were generally disorganized, and generally lacked urban centers. Roads called tratturi were used to connect the summer pastures to the winter pastures.[149][150] Alongside these roads, Samnite cities had buildings such as temples, dining complexes, houses, and sanctuaries.[151] Their cities had no buildings similar to a forum or an Agora. Except for the city of Pompeii, which had a small forum with irregular architecture and tabernae.[152]

Samnite cities began to develop walls and other defensive fortifications during the Samnite Wars. Walls were usually rough and crude. Most walls were located by the crest of a hill with no other defenses nearby. Indicating that the walls were built for the purpose of allowing the defending army to retreat and regroup, rather than protecting the city. City gates were heavily fortified on the left side, but not the right. This was done to force soldiers to attack the city on the side they were not holding their shield on.[1][21]

Hillforts built with polygonal walling may have been either a common defensive fortification, or a form of settlement that represented a transitional phase between a more rural society and a more urban one. It is unclear if these hillforts were permanent defenses as they may have only been inhabited temporarily. Scholars have proposed other possible purposes for the Samnite hillforts. They may have played a role in government.[52] Forts may have also been used to pass along signals by fire.[153]

 
Samnite house in Pompeii.

Samnite architecture in Pompeii often resembled that of Greek architecture.[52] For example, palaestras, colonnades, stoai, and columns were all borrowed from the Greeks.[132][154] Other techniques were borrowed from the Etruscans. Such as breaking up orthostates with narrow blocks. The Samnite palaestra in Pompeii is made from a rectangular courtyard surrounded by porticos and Doric columns made of tufa. A peristyle courtyard lies to the west of the palaestra. This building was similar to Greek palaestra, and was likely either a gymnasium, religious site, or a campus.[155] Houses were built on foundations topped with smaller blocks laid in courses. In order to elevate the foundation, dados and orthostates were inserted into the fauces. Blocks of stone also needed to be put alongside the base of the wall. Walls were usually made of rubble. The rubble could have carved to make it resemble carved blocks of stone, rather than rubble. Alongside this practice, layers of plaster was spread over it. Plaster was also used to make frescoes. This was done by applying pigment to the plaster whilst it was damp. Another construction material, called stucco was often painted, created the appearance of a house covered in marble.[156] Atriums were a common feature of Samnite houses. They used impulviums, loggia, and cellae.[52][157] Façades made of tuff, tabernae, peristyles, dentil cornices supported by cubic capitals, which are the upper part of a column, used figurines and were all located outside of the houses.[158][159] Roofs with downspouts made of stone and tiles.[49][160]

Small, personal, and makeshift farms or houses were common buildings.[161] One farmhouse found near Campobasso consists of a square module, which was likely a stable house, and a series of rooms with hearths centered around a courthouse. The house has a small mortar line basin, a dolia, and other container vessels. Indicating that these materials were used for the process and storage of produce.[157] Another farmstead was built in 200 BCE using limestone blocks held together by yellow mortar.[162] An archaeological site known as "ACQ 11000" had a terrace covered in thick clay, a walled space with a paved floor, and a stone wall.[163]

Notable SamnitesEdit

 
Coin from 90 BCE depicting Gaius Papius Mutilus.

Leaders of the SamnitesEdit

  • Gaius Pontius ca. 320s BC.[164]
  • Gellius Egnatius ca. 296 BC.[165]
  • Herenius Pontius, a Samnite philosopher.[166]
  • Brutulus Papius, a Samnite aristocrat mentioned by Livy.[73][167]
  • N. Papius Mr. f, Meddix Tuticus in 190 BCE.[73]
  • Statius Gellius, general during the Samnite Wars.[73][168]
  • Staius Minatius, Samnite general during the Samnite Wars.[73][169]
  • N. Papius Maras Metellus, Meddix Tuticus in 100 BCE.[73]
  • Numerius Statius, Meddix Tuticus in 130 BCE.[73]
  • Gaius Statius Clarus, Meddix Tuticus around 90 BCE.[73]
  • Olus Egnatius, Meddix Tuticus in the 2nd Century BCE.[73]
  • Titus Staius, Meddix Tuticus in the 2nd Century BCE.[73]
  • Gnaeus Staius Marahis Stafidinus, Meddix Tuticus in the 2nd Century BCE.[73]
  • Ovius Staius, Samnite in the 2nd Century BCE. May have built a statue to Hercules in the sanctuary by Campochiaro.[73]
  • Gaius Statius Clarus, Samnite who constructed the podium in the temple of Pietrabbondante.[73]
  • Stenis Staius Metellus, Meddix Tuticus 130 BCE. Possibly built the sanctuary in Campochiaro.[73]
  • Maras Staius Bacius, builder of the Pietrabbondante sanctuary.[73]
  • Pacius Staius Lucius, builder of the Pietrabbondante sanctuary.[73]
  • Papius N. f, Meddix Tuticus in 160 BCE.[73]
  • C. Papius Met. f, Meddix Tuticus in 130 BCE.[73]
  • N. Papius Mr.f. Mt. n, Meddix Tuticus in 100 BCE.[73]
  • L. Staius Ov. f. Met. n, Meddix Tuticus in Bovianum in 130 BCE.[73]
  • Minatius Staius Stati f, Meddix Tuticus of Bovianum and Pietrabbondante in 120 BCE.[73]
  • L. Staius Mr. f, Meddix Tuticus in 120 BCE.[73]
  • Staius Sn. f, Meddix Tuticus in 100 BCE.[73]
  •  
    Bust of Gaius Cassius Longinus.
    Gaius Papius, builder of the temple in the Schiavi d'Abruzzo sanctuary.[73]

Social War leadersEdit

Romans of Samnite originEdit

Catholic PopesEdit

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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Further readingEdit

  • Salmon, Edward Togo. Samnium and the Samnites. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1967.
  • Forsythe, Gary. A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.
  • Jones, Howard. Samnium: Settlement and Cultural Change: the Proceedings of the Third E. Togo Salmon Conference On Roman Studies. Providence, RI: Center for Old World Archaeology and Art, 2004.
  • Paget, R. F. Central Italy: An Archaeological Guide; the Prehistoric, Villanovan, Etruscan, Samnite, Italic, and Roman Remains, and the Ancient Road Systems. 1st U.S. ed. Park Ridge, NJ: Noyes Press, 1973.
  • Salvucci, Claudio R. A Vocabulary of Oscan: Including the Oscan and Samnite Glosses. Southampton, Pa.: Evolution Pub., 1999.
  • Stek, Tesse. Cult Places and Cultural Change In Republican Italy: A Contextual Approach to Religious Aspects of Rural Society After the Roman Conquest. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010.

External LinksEdit