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The First, Second, and Third Samnite wars, between the early Roman Republic and the tribes of Samnium, extended over half a century, involving almost all the states of Italy, and ended in Roman domination of the Samnites. The tribes of Samnium, who held the Apennines to the southeast of Latium, were one of early Rome's most formidable rivals.
First Samnite War (343 to 341 BC)
For centuries the Sabellian highlanders of the Apennines had struggled to force their way into the plains between the hills and the Mediterranean. But Etruscans and Latins had held them in check, and for the past hundred years the direction of their expansion had been not on Latium but east and south-east. They had begun to stream into Campania where they had become accustomed to a more civilized life, and in turn had become less warlike and ill-fitted to cope with their kinsmen of the hills. In the middle of the fourth century, the most powerful group of the highlanders, the confederated Samnites, were swarming down upon their civilized precursors in Campania. Farther east and south, Lucanians and Bruttians were pressing upon the Greek colonies of Magna Graecia. The Samnite warrior-herdsmen from nearby hills wished to use the grasslands of the plains for their animals — lands that the plains people had fenced. In effect the semi-civilized were hammering the over-civilized. The Greeks were appealing for help to Epirus; those on the plains — the Campanians — appealed to Rome and Rome came to their rescue. Roman envoys went to leaders among the hill people for discussions and were rudely treated. War between Rome and the Samnite hill people followed.
The First Samnite War was brief. It was marked by Roman victories in the field and by a mutiny on the part of the soldiery, which was suppressed by the sympathetic common sense of the distinguished dictator Marcus Valerius Corvus, who was said to have vanquished a Gallic Goliath in single combat in his youth. The war lasted two years, ending in 341 with Rome triumphant and the Samnites willing to make peace.
The war was ended by a hasty peace as the Romans deserted the Campanians, to put down a revolt by their Latin allies. The members of the Latin League had been forced into the Samnite War without their consultation, and they resented their dependence on Rome.
Despite its brevity the First Samnite War resulted in Roman acquisition of the rich land of Campania with its capital of Capua. Roman historians modeled their description of the war's beginning on the Greek historian Thucydides' account of the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. Nevertheless, they were probably correct in stating that the Campanians, when fighting over the town of Capua with the Samnites, allied themselves with Rome in order to utilize its might to settle the quarrel. If so, this may have been the first of many instances in which Rome went to war after being invited into an alliance by a weaker state already at war. Once invited in, Rome usually absorbed the allied state after defeating its adversary. In any event, Campania now somehow became firmly attached to Rome; it may have been granted Roman citizenship without the right to vote in Rome (''civitas sine suffragio''). Campania was a major addition to Rome's strength and manpower.