The first centuries of the republic were filled with
constant warfare. The Romans needed all their skill, bravery, and patriotism to
keep back the Etruscans on the north, and the wild tribes of the Apennines.
About 390 B.C. the state was brought near to destruction by an invasion of the
Gauls. These barbarians, whose huge bulk and enormous weapons struck
terror to the hearts of their adversaries, poured through the Alpine passes and
ravaged far and wide. At the river Allia, only a few miles from Rome, they
annihilated a Roman army and then captured and burned the city itself. But the
Gallic tide receded as swiftly as it had come, and Rome rose from her ashes
mightier than ever. Half a century after the Gallic invasion she was able to
subdue her former allies, the Latins, and to destroy their league. The Latin
War, as it is called, ended in 338 B.C., the year of the fateful battle of
Chaeronea in Greece. By this time Rome ruled in Latium and southern
Etruria and had begun to extend her sway over Campania. There remained only one
Italian people to contest with her the supremacy of the peninsula—the Samnites.
ROME SUPREME IN CENTRAL ITLAY, 290 B.C.
The Samnites were the most vigorous and warlike race of
central Italy. While the Romans were winning their way in Latium, the Samnites
were also entering on a career of conquest. They coveted the fertile Campanian
plain with its luxurious cities, Cumae and Neapolis, which the Greeks had
founded. The Romans had also fixed their eyes on the same region, and so a
contest between the two peoples became inevitable. In numbers, courage, and
military skill Romans and Samnites were well matched. Nearly half a century of
hard fighting was required before Rome gained the upper hand. The close of the
Samnite wars found Rome supreme in central Italy. Her authority was now
recognized from the upper Apennines to the foot of the peninsula.