Siege of Veii, 405-396 B.C.

Siege of Veii, 405-396 B.C.

Siege of Veii, 405-396 B.C.

The ten year long siege of Veii (405-396 B.C.) was the main event of the Third Veientine War and saw the Romans finally conquer their nearest rival, the Etruscan city of Veii. The two cities were only a few miles apart - Rome on the eastern bank of the Tiber and Veii about ten miles away to the west of the river. The rivals had already fought two wars in the fifth century B.C., and in 407 B.C. the truce agreed after the Second Veientine War expired. After some internal wrangling in Rome war was declared in 405 B.C., and the long siege began. Our knowledge of the events of the siege comes from histories written centuries later, the most important of which was that of Livy. The accuracy of Livy's work is at best uncertain - even in the text Livy himself admits that there are many uncertainties. Here we will give a summary of Livy's account of the siege.

The exact nature of the siege is unclear. Given its length it can not have been a close blockade, and in some years Livy reports that nothing significant happened around Veii. The Roman Republic was ruled by annually elected magistrates (three or more consular tribunes during the siege of Veii), and so each year a different set of individuals, with different ideas, were in charge of the war. The Romans were also fighting a number of other enemies at the same time, and so in some years their attention was elsewhere. For much of the time the 'siege' must have been no more than a loose blockade, with fortified Roman camps close to Veii.

War was declared just after the Senate had decided to pay soldiers for the first time. Service in the Roman army was a duty owed by every Roman citizen, and until this point they had served at their own cost. As a result of this change the Consular Tribunes for 405 were able to lead a large army to Veii, where they conducted a vigorous but unsuccessful siege. At the end of the campaigning season this siege ended, and the Romans returned home. The same was true in 404 B.C., when the siege was conducted less vigorously because of events elsewhere.

A key change came in 403 B.C. Eight consular tribunes had been elected, more than in any previous year. As the summer came towards an end they decided to build winter quarters at Veii and conduct a continuous siege. This caused a political crisis at Rome that was only ended by a disaster in the siege works. The Romans had built a great ramp that had reached the city walls, and their vineae were about to be placed in contact in with the walls, in preparation for an assault. One night the defenders of Veii sortied from the city, took advantage of lax Roman precautions, and burnt down the siege engines and the ramp. The Romans united in the face of this defeat, and renewed the siege.

In 402 B.C. the arguments spread to the Roman army. M. Sergius Fidenas and L. Verginius Tricostus Esquilinus, two of the six consular tribunes for the year, detested each other. This might not have mattered if the Veientines had not found allies. The Capenates and Faliscans, two Latin speaking peoples who lived to the north of Veii and were part of the Etruscan world, feared that if Veii fell then the Romans would turn on them next, and decided to come to the aid of their neighbours. Their combined army attacked the part of the Roman trenches commanded by Sergius. At the same time the defenders of the city attacked the trenches from the opposite side. The main Roman camp was commanded by Verginius, who refused to help unless Sergius asked for help. Sergius was too proud to do that, and was eventually forced to retreat back to Rome.

In the aftermath of this disaster both men were dismissed from their posts. A series of temporary appointments filled the gap until the election of the next set of consular tribunes, who concentrated on recapturing the lost siege works (401 B.C.). According to Livy nothing of importance happened in the next year at Veii, but in 399 B.C. the Capenates and Faliscans made a second relief attempt. This time the Romans cooperated, and while the allies were attacking the Roman trenches they were in turn attacked from the rear and forced to flee. Those of the defenders of the Veii who had sortied were trapped outside the city walls when the gates were closed to prevent the Romans from breaking in, while the Capenates and Faliscans suffered a second defeat when they ran into a Roman raiding party while returning home.

398 and 397 were quiet years around Veii, but 396 was to be the final year of the siege. After two of the consular tribunes for the year suffered a defeat at the hands of the Capenates and Faliscans M. Furius Camillus was appointed as dictator. He raised a new army, which for the first time included Latin and Hernican elements. After vowing to restore the temple of Matuta the Mother if Veii fell he left the city. His new army won a victory over the Capenates and Faliscans in the territory of Nepete (some way to the north of Veii), and then returned south to conduct the siege.

Camillus conducted a more organised siege than his predecessors. The siege works were improved, and more forts were built in the lines around Veii, suggesting that the previous siege had been a fairly loose blockade. He stopped the random skirmishes that had been going on between the two lines, and made sure that no fighting took place unless he ordered it.

According to Livy Camillus also ordered the construction of a tunnel into the citadel at Veii. This is normally dismissed as being a erroneous repetition of a similar incident during the siege of Fidenae (435 or 426 B.C.), but could just as easily reflect the truth - Camillus might have been inspired by the success of that very attack.

With the tunnel close to completion (or the city about to fall for some other unknown reason) Camillus was faced with the problem of how to divide the booty - how much was to go to the army and how much to the city treasury. He decided to ask the Senate what he should do, and the Senate decided that the loot should go to the army. This careful approach didn't save Camillus from being prosecuted after the war, and when the Gauls threatened Rome a few years later he was in exile.

According to Livy the city fell when the Romans in the tunnel broke into the Temple of Juno, which was inside the citadel of Veii. The defenders inside the citadel were overwhelmed, and the Romans were able to open the gates in the city walls. Eventually Camillus allowed unarmed Veientines to surrender, and the fighting died down.

The fall of Veii greatly increased the potential strength of Rome. It nearly doubled the land directly controlled by the city. Although the surviving inhabitants of Veii itself were sold into slavery the rural population was probably left alone, increasing the Republic's manpower. This great increase in power was soon to be temporarily overshadowed by a great disaster, for only six years later the city was captured and sacked by the Gauls under Brennus.

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.

[read full review]


Battle of the Allia

The Battle of the Allia was a battle fought c. 387 BC [1] [2] between the Senones – a Gallic tribe led by Brennus who had invaded northern Italy – and the Roman Republic. The battle was fought at the confluence of the Tiber and Allia rivers, 11 Roman miles (16 km, 10 mi) north of Rome. The Romans were routed and Rome was subsequently sacked by the Senones. [11] According to scholar Piero Treves, "the absence of any archaeological evidence for a destruction-level of this date suggests that [this] sack of Rome was superficial only." [12]

The date of the battle has been traditionally given as 390 BC in the Varronian chronology, based on an account of the battle by the Roman historian Livy. Plutarch noted that it took place "just after the summer solstice when the moon was near the full [. ] a little more than three hundred and sixty years from the founding [of Rome]," or shortly after 393 BC. [13] [14] The Greek historian Polybius used a Greek dating system to derive the year as 387 BC, which is the most probable. [1] [2] Tacitus listed the date as 18 July. [15] [2]


Camillus at the Seige of Veii

We have now to tell the story of another dictator of Rome. Like Cincinnatus, Camillus is largely a creature of legend, but he plays an active part in old Roman annals, and the tale of his doings is well worth repeating.

Rome was at war with the city of Veii, a large and strong city beyond the Tiber, and not many miles away. In the year of Rome 350 (or 403 B . C .) the siege of Veii began, and was continued for seven years. We are told that the Romans surrounded the city, five miles in circumference, with a double wall, but it could not have been complete, or the Veientians could not have held out against starvation so long. For the end of the siege and the taking of the city we must revert to the legendary tale.

For seven years and more, so the legend says, the Romans had been besieging Veii. During the last year of the siege, in late summer, the springs and rivers all ran low but of a sudden the waters of the Lake of Alba began to rise, and the flood continued until the banks were overflowed and the fields and houses by its side were drowned. Still higher and higher the waters swelled till they reached the tops of the hills which rose like a wall around the lake. In the end they overflowed these hills at their lowest points, and poured in a mighty torrent into the plain beyond.

The prayers and sacrifices of the Romans had failed to check the flood, which threatened their city and fields, and despairing of any redress from their own gods they sent to Delphi, in Greece, and applied there to the famous oracle of Apollo. While the messengers were on their way, it chanced that a Roman centurion talked with an old Veientian on the walls whom he had known in times of peace, and knew to be skilled in the secrets of Fate. The Roman condoled with his friend, and hoped that no harm would come to him in the fall of Veii, sure to happen soon. The old man laughed in reply, and said,—

"You think, then, to take Veii. You shall not take it till the waters of the Lake of Alba are all spent, and flow out into the sea no more."

This remark troubled the Roman, who knew the prophetic foresight of his friend. The next day he talked with him again, and finally enticed him to leave the city, saying that he wished to meet him at a certain secret place and consult with him on a matter of his own. But on getting him in this way out of the city, he seized and carried him off to the camp, where he brought him before the generals. These, learning what the old man had said, sent him to the senate at Rome.

The prisoner here spoke freely. "If the lake overflow," he said, "and its waters run out into the sea, woe unto Rome but if it be drawn off, and the waters reach the sea no longer, then it is woe unto Veii."

This he gave as the decree of the Fates but the senate would not accept his words, and preferred to wait until the messengers should return from Delphi with the reply of the oracle.

When they did come, they confirmed what the old prophet had said. "See that the waters be not confined within the basin of the lake," was the message of Apollo's priestess: "see that they take not their own course and run into the sea. Thou shalt take the water out of the lake, and thou shalt turn it to the watering of the fields, and thou shalt make courses for it till it be spent and come to nothing."

What all this could possibly have to do with the siege of Veii the oracle did not say. But the people of the past were not given to ask such inconvenient questions. The oracle was supposed to know better than they, so workmen were sent with orders to bore through the sides of the hills and make a passage for the water. This tunnel was made, and the waters of the lake were drawn off, and divided into many courses, being given the duty of watering the fields of the Romans. In this way the water of the lake was all used up, and no drop of it flowed to the sea. Then the Romans knew that it was the will of the gods that Veii should be theirs.

Despite all this, the army of Rome must have met with serious difficulties and dangers at Veii, for the senate chose a dictator to conduct the war. This was their ablest and most famous man, Marcus Furius Camillus, a leader among the aristocrats, and a statesman of distinguished ability.

Under the command of Camillus the army hotly pressed the siege. So straitened became the Veientians that they sent envoys to Rome to beg for peace. The senate refused. In reply, one of the chief men of the embassy, who was a skilled prophet, rebuked the Romans for their arrogance, and predicted coming retribution.

"You heed neither the wrath of the gods nor the vengeance of men," he said. "Yet the gods shall requite you for your pride as you destroy our country, so shall you shortly after lose your own."

This prediction was verified before many years in the invasion of the Gauls and the destruction of Rome,—a tale which we have next to tell.

Camillus, finding that Veii was not to be taken by assault over its walls, began to approach it from below. Men were set to dig an underground tunnel, which should pass beneath the walls, and come to the surface again in the Temple of Juno, which stood in the citadel of Veii. Night and day they worked, and the tunnel was in course of time completed, though the ground was not opened at its inner extremity.

Then many Romans came to the camp through desire to have a share in the spoil of Veii. A tenth part of this spoil was vowed by Camillus to Apollo in reward for his oracle and the dictator also prayed to Juno, the goddess of Veii, begging her to desert this city and follow the Romans home, where a temple worthy of her dignity should be built.

All being ready, a fierce assault was made on the city from every side. The defenders ran to the walls to repel their foes, and the fight went vigorously on. While it continued the king of Veii repaired to the Temple of Juno, where he offered a sacrifice for the deliverance of the city. The prophet who stood by, on seeing the sacrifice, said, "This is an accepted offering. There is victory for him who offers the entrails of this victim upon the altar."

The Romans who were in the secret passage below heard these words. Instantly the earth was heaved up above them, and they sprang, arms in hand, from the tunnel. The entrails were snatched from the hands of those who were sacrificing, and Camillus, the Roman dictator, not the Veientian king, offered them upon the altar. While he did so his followers rushed from the citadel into the streets, flung open the city gates, and let in their comrades. Thus both from within and without the army broke into the town, and Veii was taken and sacked.

From the height of the citadel Camillus looked down upon the havoc in the city streets, and said in pride of heart, "What man's fortune was ever so great as mine?" But instantly the thought came to him how little a thing can bring the highest fortune down to the lowest, and he prayed that if some evil should befall him or his country it might be light.

As he prayed he veiled his head, according to the Roman custom, and turned toward the right. In doing so his foot slipped, and he fell upon his back on the ground. "The gods have heard my prayer," he said. "For the great fortune of my victory over Veii they have sent me only this little evil."

He then bade some young men, chosen from the whole army, to wash themselves in pure water, and clothe themselves in white, so that there would be about them no stain or sign of blood. This done, they entered the Temple of Juno, bowing low, and taking care not to touch the statue of the goddess, which only the priest could touch. They asked the goddess whether it was her pleasure to go with them to Rome.

Then a wonder happened from the mouth of the image came the words "I will go." And when they now touched it, it moved of its own accord. It was carried to Rome, where a temple was built and consecrated to Juno on the Aventine Hill.

On his return to Rome Camillus entered the city in triumph, and rode to the Capitol in a chariot drawn by four white horses, like the horses of Jupiter or those of the sun. Such was his ostentation that wise men shook their heads. "Marcus Camillus makes himself equal to the blessed gods," they said. "See if vengeance come not on him, and he be not made lower than other men."

There is one further legend about Camillus. After the fall of Veii he besieged Falerii. During this siege a school-master, who had charge of the sons of the principal citizens, while walking with his boys outside the walls, played the traitor and led them into the Roman camp.

But the villain received an unexpected reward. Camillus, justly indignant at the act, put thongs in the boys' hands and bade them flog their master back into the town, saying that the Romans did not war on children. On this the people of Falerii, overcome by his magnanimity, surrendered themselves, their city, and their country into the hands of this generous foe, assured of just treatment from so noble a man.

But trouble came upon Camillus, as the wise men had predicted. He was an enemy of the commons and was to feel their power. It was claimed that he had kept for himself part of the plunder of Veii, and on this charge be was banished from Rome. But the time was near at hand when his foes would have to pray for his return. The next year the Gauls were to come, and Camillus was to be revenged upon his ungrateful country. This story we have next to tell.


Rise of Rome

The most famous wars of early Rome, (from the founding of Rome in 753 BC, to the first Gallic invasion in 390 BC), were fought against their Etruscan and Italian neighbors. The Etruscans resided primarily in the region directly north of Rome, now called Tuscany. Rome had friendly relationships with some Etruscan cities and hostile relationships with others, most particularly Veii. Several of Rome's kings were of Etruscan descent, including Tarquin Superbus, whose banishment led to the foundation of the Roman Republic.

Rome's Italian neighbors were composed of four tribes, the Latins, Oscans, Umbrians, and Samnites. The Latins were Rome's nearest neighbors and Alba Longa contended with Rome to be the chief of the Latin cities. The Oscans were settled south of the Latins in Campania and were fierce rivals of Rome. Their chief tribes were the Volcians and Aequians. The Samnites were settled in the mountains south and east of Rome, and were the most serious long term rivals of Rome, but the century long Samnite Wars did not commence in earnest until fourth century BC when Rome was already well established. Most of the wars dealt with in this section were fought in the early "legendary" period of Rome and involved the Rome's Latin, Sabine, Etruscan, and Osciian enemies.


Besieged

In the 480s a powerful Roman clan, the Fabians, built a fortress-villa roughly halfway between the two cities. The Fabii had familial connections in both cities, but the Fabian strongpoint at the junction of the Tiber and Cremora rivers was too threatening to Veiian security. The battle of Cremora in 476 ended in Veiian control of the key river junction as well as the Janiculum Hill, overlooking Rome itself. This attack broke a truce that the Romans and Etruscan city-states had been observing for nearly forty years. Rome replied to the threat with a siege of Fidenae, a colony also at the junction of the rivers. The siege lasted three years and was ended when the Romans dug under the city walls. Throughout the siege the Veiians had appealed to other Etruscan city-states for aid, but none responded. Veii had broken the truce, they could face the consequences.

The two cities observed an uneasy peace until the end of the fifth century. Then, for reasons that are unclear, Rome began besieging Veii itself. (The dates of the siege are the focus of some dispute. Roman tradition described a ten-year siege from 400 to 390, but most historians think that ten-year period was fabricated to give Rome its own Iliad. Some dates suggested are 405�, 404�, or 406�.)

The Siege

Three years into the siege, two Etruscan cities launched attacks on Roman camps. They did this in their own interest, thinking Roman armies might target them next. The Veiians, however, thought that all Etruria had finally responded to their call and sent out a sally themselves. The Romans held for a time against this two-pronged assault, but a personal dispute between two Roman commanders ended in forcing a Roman retreat all the way back to their home city. Roman armies returned to the siege the following year and held their positions with little trouble for two more years.

The length of the siege, coupled with a harsh winter, a hot summer, and a plague, began to wear on Roman morale. A solemn banquet was held to honor the gods and invoke their aid, but the nature of Rome’s electorate held the key to the problem (or so the patricians thought). Claiming that their problems stemmed from lower-class criticism of the nobility, the tribunal elections brought two patricians to office. One of these tribunes was Marcus Furius Camillus, destined to be Veii’s conqueror.

Rather than bringing about an immediate change in the situation, news from the north alarmed the Romans. The Etruscans were beginning to feel pressure from invading Gauls and had decided to aid Veii, rid themselves of the Roman threat, then put together a united front against the barbarians from the north. This problem motivated the Romans to name the tribune Camillus to the position of dictator. He appointed the able Publius Cornelius Scipio as commander of the cavalry and called for a mass levy of troops. Few failed to respond. The new army won two quick victories over Etruscan troops from Falerii and Capena and gathered immense booty from their camps. Camillus, rather than distribute it to the troops in payment for a job well done, instead sent most of the loot back to Rome, to be used to construct a temple.

With the Etruscan threat beaten back for a time, Camillus returned to Veii and began serious work. He ordered the men to keep their distance from the city walls, and instead to strengthen their trenches. He also began work on a tunnel through the rock supporting Veii’s walls. As the tunnel drew nearer its destination, word spread through Rome that the attacking forces would be free to loot Veii at will. That promise motivated a huge percentage of the population to join in the siege. When all was ready, Camillus offered up a prayer to the gods and ordered a massive assault on the walls. The move surprised the defenders, who had been lulled into passivity since Camillus had taken his command and ordered his men to keep away from the walls. As the city leaders gathered in the temple of Juno to ask for direction, a handpicked force of Roman soldiers burst out from their tunnel into the temple and began the slaughter. The troops soon spread through the city, attacking the defenders from the rear and opening the city gates to the horde outside.

Results

The city of Veii was not only looted of everything of value, it was then completely destroyed. This action was at variance with the normal manner of Roman conquest, which was to absorb the region and population into the Roman social and political realms. Fearing Veii’s long-standing power and potential for rebirth, the government deemed a complete destruction in Rome’s best interest. From this point forward Etruria put forth little serious opposition to Rome. Unfortunately for the Romans, however, the threat of Gallic invasion proved all too real. In 390 the Gauls defeated a Roman army at the Allia River, then sacked the city.

Camillus was reappointed as dictator and managed to drive the Gauls away, but with bribes rather than power. When they returned in 367, however, he once again assumed the position of dictator and this time succeeded in beating back the invaders. No Roman enemy entered the city in victory again for 800 years.


Etruscan city of Veii at battle with the romans 396 BC - stock illustration

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References

  • B. D'Agostino, 'Military Organisation and Social Structure in Archaic Etruria' in O. Murray & S. Price (eds), The Greek City: From Homer to Alexander (Oxford 1990), 58-82
  • Peter Connolly, Greece and Rome at War (London, rev. ed. 2006), 91-100
  • Ross Cowan, Roman Conquests: Italy (Barnsley 2009)
  • Ross Cowan, 'The Art of the Etruscan Armourer' in Jean MacIntosh Turfa (ed.) The Etruscan World (London & New York 2013), 747-748
  • David George, 'Technology, Ideology, Warfare and the Etruscans Before the Roman Conquest' in Jean MacIntosh Turfa (ed.) The Etruscan World (London & New York 2013), 738-746
  • W.V. Harris, Rome in Etruria and Umbria (Oxford 1971)
  • L. Rawlings, 'Condottieri and Clansmen: Early Italian Raiding, Warfare and the State' in K. Hopwood (ed.), Organised Crime in Antiquity (Cardiff 1999), 97-127
  • P. Stary, 'Foreign Elements in Etruscan Arms and Armour: 8th to 3rd Centuries BC', Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 45 (1979), 179-206
  • Jean MacIntosh Turfa, Catalogue of the Etruscan Gallery of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Philadelphia 2005)
  • Various authors, 'Warfare' in M. Torelli (ed.), The Etruscans (New York 2001), 558-565

Camillus At The Siege Of Veii

Rome was at war with the city of Veii, a large and strong city beyond the Tiber, and not many miles away. In the year of Rome 350 (or 403 B.C.) the siege of Veii began, and was continued for seven years. We are told that the Romans surrounded the city, five miles in circumference, with a double wall, but it could not have been complete, or the Veientians could not have held out against starvation so long. For the end of the siege and the taking of the city we must revert to the legendary tale.

For seven years and more, so the legend says, the Romans had been besieging Veii. During the last year of the siege, in late summer, the springs and rivers all ran low but of a sudden the waters of the Lake of Alba began to rise, and the flood continued until the banks were overflowed and the fields and houses by its side were drowned. Still higher and higher the waters swelled till they reached the tops of the hills which rose like a wall around the lake. In the end they overflowed these hills at their lowest points, and poured in a mighty torrent into the plain beyond.

The prayers and sacrifices of the Romans had failed to check the flood, which threatened their city and fields, and despairing of any redress from their own gods they sent to Delphi, in Greece, and applied there to the famous oracle of Apollo. While the messengers were on their way, it chanced that a Roman centurion talked with an old Veientian on the walls whom he had known in times of peace, and knew to be skilled in the secrets of Fate. The Roman condoled with his friend, and hoped that no harm would come to him in the fall of Veii, sure to happen soon. The old man laughed in reply, and said,--

"You think, then, to take Veii. You shall not take it till the waters of the Lake of Alba are all spent, and flow out into the sea no more."

This remark troubled the Roman, who knew the prophetic foresight of his friend. The next day he talked with him again, and finally enticed him to leave the city, saying that he wished to meet him at a certain secret place and consult with him on a matter of his own. But on getting him in this way out of the city, he seized and carried him off to the camp, where he brought him before the generals. These, learning what the old man had said, sent him to the senate at Rome.

The prisoner here spoke freely. "If the lake overflow," he said, "and its waters run out into the sea, woe unto Rome but if it be drawn off, and the waters reach the sea no longer, then it is woe unto Veii."

This he gave as the decree of the Fates but the senate would not accept his words, and preferred to wait until the messengers should return from Delphi with the reply of the oracle.

When they did come, they confirmed what the old prophet had said. "See that the waters be not confined within the basin of the lake," was the message of Apollo's priestess: "see that they take not their own course and run into the sea. Thou shalt take the water out of the lake, and thou shalt turn it to the watering of the fields, and thou shalt make courses for it till it be spent and come to nothing."

What all this could possibly have to do with the siege of Veii the oracle did not say. But the people of the past were not given to ask such inconvenient questions. The oracle was supposed to know better than they, so workmen were sent with orders to bore through the sides of the hills and make a passage for the water. This tunnel was made, and the waters of the lake were drawn off, and divided into many courses, being given the duty of watering the fields of the Romans. In this way the water of the lake was all used up, and no drop of it flowed to the sea. Then the Romans knew that it was the will of the gods that Veii should be theirs.

Despite all this, the army of Rome must have met with serious difficulties and dangers at Veii, for the senate chose a dictator to conduct the war. This was their ablest and most famous man, Marcus Furius Camillus, a leader among the aristocrats, and a statesman of distinguished ability.

Under the command of Camillus the army hotly pressed the siege. So straitened became the Veientians that they sent envoys to Rome to beg for peace. The senate refused. In reply, one of the chief men of the embassy, who was a skilled prophet, rebuked the Romans for their arrogance, and predicted coming retribution.

"You heed neither the wrath of the gods nor the vengeance of men," he said. "Yet the gods shall requite you for your pride as you destroy our country, so shall you shortly after lose your own."

This prediction was verified before many years in the invasion of the Gauls and the destruction of Rome,--a tale which we have next to tell.

Camillus, finding that Veii was not to be taken by assault over its walls, began to approach it from below. Men were set to dig an underground tunnel, which should pass beneath the walls, and come to the surface again in the Temple of Juno, which stood in the citadel of Veii. Night and day they worked, and the tunnel was in course of time completed, though the ground was not opened at its inner extremity.

Then many Romans came to the camp through desire to have a share in the spoil of Veii. A tenth part of this spoil was vowed by Camillus to Apollo, in reward for his oracle and the dictator also prayed to Juno, the goddess of Veii, begging her to desert this city and follow the Romans home, where a temple worthy of her dignity should be built.

All being ready, a fierce assault was made on the city from every side. The defenders ran to the walls to repel their foes, and the fight went vigorously on. While it continued the king of Veii repaired to the Temple of Juno, where he offered a sacrifice for the deliverance of the city. The prophet who stood by, on seeing the sacrifice, said, "This is an accepted offering. There is victory for him who offers the entrails of this victim upon the altar."

The Romans who were in the secret passage below heard these words. Instantly the earth was heaved up above them, and they sprang, arms in hand, from the tunnel. The entrails were snatched from the hands of those who were sacrificing, and Camillus, the Roman dictator, not the Veientian king, offered them upon the altar. While he did so his followers rushed from the citadel into the streets, flung open the city gates, and let in their comrades. Thus both from within and without the army broke into the town, and Veii was taken and sacked.

From the height of the citadel Camillus looked down upon the havoc in the city streets, and said in pride of heart, "What man's fortune was ever so great as mine?" But instantly the thought came to him how little a thing can bring the highest fortune down to the lowest, and he prayed that if some evil should befall him or his country it might be light.

As he prayed he veiled his head, according to the Roman custom, and turned toward the right. In doing so his foot slipped, and he fell upon his back on the ground. "The gods have heard my prayer," he said. "For the great fortune of my victory over Veii they have sent me only this little evil."

He then bade some young men, chosen from the whole army, to wash themselves in pure water, and clothe themselves in white, so that there would be about them no stain or sign of blood. This done, they entered the Temple of Juno, bowing low, and taking care not to touch the statue of the goddess, which only the priest could touch. They asked the goddess whether it was her pleasure to go with them to Rome.

Then a wonder happened from the mouth of the image came the words "I will go." And when they now touched it, it moved of its own accord. It was carried to Rome, where a temple was built and consecrated to Juno on the Aventine Hill.

On his return to Rome Camillus entered the city in triumph, and rode to the Capitol in a chariot drawn by four white horses, like the horses of Jupiter or those of the sun. Such was his ostentation that wise men shook their heads. "Marcus Camillus makes himself equal to the blessed gods," they said. "See if vengeance come not on him, and he be not made lower than other men."

There is one further legend about Camillus. After the fall of Veii he besieged Falerii. During this siege a school-master, who had charge of the sons of the principal citizens, while walking with his boys outside the walls, played the traitor and led them into the Roman camp.

But the villain received an unexpected reward. Camillus, justly indignant at the act, put thongs in the boys' hands and bade them flog their master back into the town, saying that the Romans did not war on children. On this the people of Falerii, overcome by his magnanimity, surrendered themselves, their city, and their country into the hands of this generous foe, assured of just treatment from so noble a man.

But trouble came upon Camillus, as the wise men had predicted. He was an enemy of the commons and was to feel their power. It was claimed that he had kept for himself part of the plunder of Veii, and on this charge he was banished from Rome. But the time was near at hand when his foes would have to pray for his return. The next year the Gauls were to come, and Camillus was to be revenged upon his ungrateful country. This story we have next to tell.

(The end)
Charles Morris's short story: Camillus At The Siege Of Veii


Constantinople, 1453

The Restored Walls of Constantinople Photo Credit

Mines could be used defensively as well as offensively. Nowhere was this better demonstrated than during the Ottoman siege of Constantinople in 1453.

Johann Grant, a German engineer, was among those leading the defense of the city. He half-buried drums in a line behind the city walls and placed dried peas on each drum. Tunneling caused vibrations in the ground, which made the drums shake and the peas jump. Using this simple technique, Johann was able to detect Ottoman tunnels and direct counter-measures.

Grant had his men dig counter-mines to intercept the Ottomans. Some of the enemy tunnels were destroyed with gunpowder. Some he filled with burning toxic sulfur dioxide. Others were seized in fierce close quarters combat, and the struts pulled down, destroying the mines.

Grant showed, with cunning and care, defensive mines could block any an attacker might dig. Unfortunately, it was not enough. The Ottoman Empire swept forward in an inexorable tide, and Constantinople fell.


Fading into History

Over time, circumvallation took over from the blockade camps as the usual Roman approach to siege craft. Then another change took place, with a shift away from protracted sieges in favor of direct assaults.

By Bezabde (360 AD) and Maiozamalcha (363 AD), the construction of fortified siege works had become unusual enough that it was considered noteworthy by chroniclers. Roman blockade camps faded into the past along with their empire, to be rediscovered by historians and archaeologists centuries later.