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The third Samnite war and the destruction of Aquilonia

Climbing along the winding mountain road that leads from the town towards the Radicosa district, you will find a fork that leads to San Leonardo. From there, a path of a few km allows you to reach one of the ridges of the Monte Sambùcaro massif (1205 m a.s.l.). Not far away, on the right, a unique spectacle is still visible.

When in 1972 Prof. Emilio Pistilli, a scholar of San Vittorio origins, together with his collaborators came across the walls of Monte Sambùcaro, he did not have to believe his eyes. A mighty defensive system formed by gigantic boulders kept together dry, without the aid of any type of mortar, surrounded the first two ridges of the mountain in the Marena-Falascosa area.

Right from the start, the idea that it could be the walls of ancient Aquilonia, a Samnite city destroyed by the Romans in 293 BC, made its way into their minds. That evocative place deserved more concrete answers.

Although many places claimed the location of the mythical Aquilonia, the researchers did not give up and immediately began to build their castle of evidence in support of the idea that the one on Monte Sambùcaro was actually the Samnite city, the scene of one of the bloodiest battles. of the various conflicts between ambitious Rome and the Italic people of the Samnites. Few like them were able to subjugate the power of the city (just remember the caudine forks).

Of course, the main source from which they drew - it could not be otherwise - was the History of Rome by Tito Livio (Ab Urbe Condita). The monumental work of the Latin historian, made up of 142 books, of which only 35 have survived, spans about 750 years of the history of Rome from its foundation to the Empire of Augustus. In Book X, in particular, the third Samnite war and, in fact, the battle of Aquilonia is described.

Obviously, this cannot be the place to deepen the studies that underlie the hypothesis that Aquilonia may be in the territory of San Vittore del Lazio, but we can summarize some paradigms. The protagonists of the battle of Aquilonia were two Roman consuls, leading their respective armies: one, Spurius Carvilius Maximus, who left Rome conquered Amiternum and subsequently conquered and encamped in Cominium; the other, Lucio Papirio Cursore, crossed the city of Duronia to then go to besiege Aquilonia. To understand how crucial the keeping of the city was for the Samnite people, just think that laws were promulgated ad hoc for the occasion, in order to force anyone who was able to handle a weapon to enlist, under penalty of death. The entire Samnite army was moved to Aquilonia and, although the estimates may be exaggerated, there are as many as 60,000 men who for the time are enormous.

Therefore, starting from the "clues" contained in Livy's History of Rome, as in an exciting treasure hunt, the following conclusions were reached:


- It seems established that the city of Cominum where the Roman army of Spurius Carvilius was encamped is to be identified with the current Vicalvi.


- Tito Livio reports that the other camp (that of Aquilonia) was kept informed of everything that was done in Cominium. Therefore, the two consuls were in constant contact and each participated in the decisions of the other.


- According to the textual words contained in Book X of the History of Rome, the two camps were about 20 miles apart. It is exactly the distance between the San Vittorese territory, the place of the clash, and the area of ​​the current Val di Comino passing through the ancient streets upstream of the current casilina.


- Papirio Cursore orders his subordinate to free some mules during the battle in order to create a diversion. He asks to do it near a hill that Tito Livio calls "Tumulum". The term fits perfectly with the shape of Monte Chiaia, precisely in the shape of a tumulus, which separates the territories of the current San Vittore and Cervaro.


- Lucio Papirio, having decided to attack Aquilonia, sends a messenger to warn Spurius Carvilius so that the latter would keep part of the Samnite army engaged in Cominium. Tito Livio reports that the messenger took a day for the round trip. This supports the thesis of the distance of 20 miles between the two camps.


- Again from the description of the History of Rome, it is deduced that the city of Aquilonia was on the left with respect to the Roman army. Therefore, the Romans were forced to break through the enemy lines as they were unable to attack Aquilonia, as they were prevented by the cliffs that line the Rio Sorgentina.

It therefore seems very plausible that the site of the battle is to be located between the Campo Piano area and the valley just below Monte Chiaia.

These conclusions, which you can deepen by reading the book by Emilio Pistilli "Aquilonia in San Vittore del Lazio", have led to the concrete hypothesis that the walls located on Monte Sambùcaro (or Sammucer if you prefer) belonged to the mythical city of whose destruction sanctioned the end of the third Samnite war and the definitive subjection of one of the most combative Italic peoples to the hegemony of Rome.


Two witnesses to the events?


Some time ago, Roberto Giangrande, a citizen of San Vittore del Lazio, pointed out the presence of two singular-looking trees. They seem to belong to the "Bosnian pine" species, secular trees capable of surviving in the most inaccessible and inhospitable areas for thousands of years. The two specimens are found tenaciously clinging to the overhang that runs along the Rio Sorgentina. Some even consider them coeval with dinosaurs and we like to imagine that maybe they could be the last guardians, eyewitnesses of the battle of Aquilonia.

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