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Conquest of Veii in 396 BCE

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Marcus Furius Camillus appearing in Rome
Marcus Furius Camillus appearing in Rome

According to ancient sources, the conquest of Veii by Rome in 396 BCE was an important event for the Roman community. Veii was located only 16 km north of the “Eternal City” and posed a real threat in the region.

Veii was a smaller city compared to Rome, but they certainly competed with Rome for dominance in the region. Roman writers created many myths around this war, which allows us to sometimes compare the siege of the Etruscan Veii to the legendary siege of Troy.

The war between Veii and Rome broke out in 406 BCE when Rome declared war on the Etruscan city. Due to the fact that the centre was in an inaccessible place and was well fortified, the siege of the Romans lasted years. In 401 BCE the long war was widely criticized, which elevated Marcus Furius Camillus – a capable soldier – to command functions. Camillus fought mainly against the allies of the Veins. It is worth mentioning that, according to Titus Livius, Roman soldiers were to receive remuneration from the state budget during the siege.

Finally, in 396 BCE Camillus was appointed dictator as the war was taking a bad turn. The fighting had been going on for 10 years, and the siege was to no avail. When the dictator arrived at Veye, it turned out that the water in the nearby Albanian Lake began to rise unnaturally. Both the local fortune-tellers and the famous Pythia of Delphi gave one answer to the dictator’s question, what does it mean – the Romans will not conquer the Veins until they make the water in the lake subsided. The chief ordered to build canals, which drained the water and poured it over the fields.

The next assault on the city brought victory – Camillus’ men got behind the walls by a clandestine trench. The excavation was calculated in such a way that its exit fell to the town square itself. Roman general in thanks to the gods organized a Great Games (Ludi Magni) and built a temple in Rome Mater Matuta (Old Roman fertility goddess).

According to Roman sources, all inhabitants of Veii were kidnapped, their property was plundered, and the town was completely destroyed. The statue of Juno the Queen (Iuno Regina) was also taken from the Veins and a temple was erected for her in Rome. Juno was the patroness of the Veins and before the attack, Camillus, as was his custom, said a special prayer – evocatio, i.e. summoning the city’s patron deity to leave it in return for a new headquarters on the Capitol.

The most important aspect of conquering the Veins was the division of the conquered land into plots (about 1.75 ha) and granting them, along with full citizenship, to poor peasants, who had been working on the land of the rich owners until then. The increase in the number of citizens resulted in an increase in the size of the army. Camillus had a triumph, but his popularity was somewhat hurt by donating a large portion of the loot to the oracle at Delphi. The soothsayers felt that the gods were angry that there were no sacrifices in their honour.
During the triumph, Camillus was the first in history to ride a chariot drawn by four white horses, and the victory over the Wejas was celebrated for four days.

It is worth noting that ancient accounts of the complete destruction of the city (such as that of Propertius) seem to be untrue. Mary Beard reports that excavations on the site of the former Etruscan city show that the local sanctuaries were still operating after the defeat of Rome and that the city was inhabited. The conquest of the Veins allowed Rome to expand its territory by roughly 60%.

  • Beard Mary, SPQR. Historia starożytnego Rzymu, Poznań 2016

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