Social War (91–88 BC)

Social War (91–88 BC)
This article is about the conflict between Rome and her Italian allies between 91 and 88 BC
For the Athenian conflict with its allies between 357 and 355 BC see Social War (357–355 BC).
Social War
Part of the Roman unification of Italy
Date 91–88 BC
Location Italy
Result Roman military victory, although Italian rights guaranteed.
Status quo ante bellum
Roman Republic Marsic Group:
Samnite Group:
Commanders and leaders
Publius Rutilius Lupus,
Gaius Marius,
Pompeius Strabo,
Lucius Julius Caesar,
Lucius Cornelius Sulla,
Titus Didius,
Lucius Porcius Cato
See article.

The Allied War ("Social" from socii ("allies"); also called the Italian War, the War of the Allies or the Marsic War) was a war waged from 91 to 88 BC between the Roman Republic and several of the other cities in Italy, which prior to the war had been Roman allies for centuries.



The Early Italian campaigns (458–396 BC) saw the Roman conquest of Italy resulting in a collection of alliances between Rome and the cities and communities of Italy, on more or less favorable terms depending on whether a given city had voluntarily allied with Rome or been defeated in war. These cities were theoretically independent, but in practice Rome had the right to demand from them tribute money and a certain number of soldiers: by the 2nd century BC, between one half and two-thirds of the soldiers in Roman armies were drawn from the Italian allies. The Roman government also had virtual control over the allies' foreign policy including their interaction with one another.

In exchange for these exactions, the allies had traditionally received a portion of the booty and lands taken in the course of Rome's conquest of the Mediterranean world. But when Roman politicians redirected these profits to enrich Rome alone in the 2nd century BC, the allies protested. When Rome ignored their demands, the cities’ anger continued to grow to such an extent that most of them eventually declared war on their former ally.

The Romans' policy of land distribution had led to great inequality of land ownership and wealth.[1] This led to the "Italian race… declining little by little into pauperism and paucity of numbers without any hope of remedy."[2]

The Social War was in part caused by the assassination of Marcus Livius Drusus. His reforms would have granted the Roman allies Roman citizenship, giving them a greater say in the external policy of the Roman Republic. Most local affairs came under local governance and were not as important to the Romans as, for example, when the alliance would go to war or how they would divide the plunder. When Drusus was assassinated most of his reforms addressing these grievances were declared invalid. This angered the Roman allies greatly, and most of them allied with one another against Rome.

The War

The Social War began in 91 BC when the Italian allies revolted. Note that none of the Latin allies revolted, remaining loyal to Rome, with the one exception of Venusia. The rebellious allies showed their intentions of not just separating from Rome, but also forming an independent nation, called Italia, and forming a capital at Corfinium (in modern-day Abruzzo) that was renamed Italica. To pay for the troops, they created their own coinage that was used as propaganda against Rome. These coins depict eight warriors taking an oath, probably representing the Marsi, Picentines, Paeligni, Marrucini, Vestini, Frentani, Samnites and Hirpini.[3]

Their soldiers were battle-hardened, most of them having served in the Roman armies. The 12 allies of Italia were originally able to field 100,000 men. The Italians divided this force according to their positions within Italy.[4]

  • Quintus Poppaedius Silo had overall command the "Marsic Group", as consul.
  • Gaius Papius Mutilus had overall command the "Samnite Group", as consul.
  • Titus Lafrenius commanded the Marsi to 90 BC, when he was killed in action. He was succeeded by Fraucus.
  • Titus Vettius Scato commanded the Paeligni to 88 BC, when he committed suicide.
  • Gaius Pontidius probably commanded the Vestini, probably at least until 89 BC.
  • Herius Asinius commanded the Marrucini until 89 BC, when he was killed in action. He was succeeded by Obsidius who was also killed in action.
  • Gaius Vidacilius commanded the Picentes until 89 BC, when he committed suicide.
  • Publius Praesentius probably commanded the Frentani, probably throughout the war.
  • Numerius Lucilius probably commanded the Hirpini until 89 BC, when he seems to have been succeeded by Minatus Iegius (or Minius Iegius).
  • Lucius Cluentius commanded the Pompeiani in 89 BC when he was killed in action.
  • Titus Herennius probably commanded the Venusini throughout the war.
  • Trebatius may have commanded the Iapygii throughout the war.
  • Marcus Lamponius commanded the Lucani throughout the war.
  • Marius Egnatius commanded the Samnites until 88 BC when he was killed in action. He was succeeded by Pontius Telesinus who was also killed in action that year.

It was necessary for Rome to survive the first onslaught as this would discourage further defections and also they would be able to call on help from their provinces as well as from client kingdoms. One of the two separate theatres of war was assigned to each of the consuls of 90 BC. In the north, the consul Publius Rutilius Lupus was advised by Gaius Marius and Pompeius Strabo; in the south the consul Lucius Julius Caesar had Lucius Cornelius Sulla and Titus Didius.

Events in 90 BC:

  • Roman consul Strabo successfully besieged Asculum
  • Rutilius was defeated and killed in Tolenus Valley
  • Quintus Servilius Caepio was defeated and killed by Poppaedius
  • Marius was able to retrieve these losses and was left in sole command
  • Besieged Aesernia — a key fortress which covered the communication between the north and south areas — forced it to surrender
  • Papius Mutilus burst into southern Campania and won over many towns and held them until defeated by Caesar
  • Other Italian commanders lead successful raids into Apulia and Lucania

Despite these losses, the Romans managed to stave off total defeat and hang on. In 89 BC, both consuls went to the northern front whilst Sulla took sole command of the southern front.

Events in 89 BC:

  • Lucius Porcius Cato (one of the two consuls) defeated and killed
  • Strabo (other consul) left in sole command – decisive engagement defeated Italian Army of 60,000 men – after success forces Asculum to surrender
  • Sulla moved to the offensive — he defeated a Samnite army
  • Recovered some of the major cities in Campania

By 88 BC, the war was largely over except for the Samnites (the old rivals of Rome) who still held out. It is likely that the war would have continued a lot longer had Rome not made concessions to their allies.

Roman concessions to the Allies

L. Julius Caesar proposed the Lex Julia during his consulship which he carried before his office ended. The law offered full citizenship to all Latin and Italian communities who had not revolted.

However, the law offered the option of citizenship to whole communities and not to individuals. This meant that each individual community had to pass the law, most likely by a vote in assembly, before it could take effect. It was also possible under the Lex Julia for citizenship to be granted as a reward for distinguished military service in the field.

It is assumed that the Lex Julia was closely followed by a supplementary statute, the Lex Plautia Papiria, which stated that a registered male of an allied state could obtain Roman citizenship by presenting himself to a Roman praetor within 60 days of the passing of the law. This statute enabled inhabitants of towns disqualified by the Lex Julia to apply for citizenship if they desired.

Roman citizenship and the right to vote was limited, as always in the ancient world, by the requirement of physical appearance on voting day. After 8 BC, candidates regularly paid the expenses (at least partially) for their supporters to travel to Rome in order to vote.

See also


  1. ^ Appian, Civil Wars, p. 1.7 .
  2. ^ Appian, Civil Wars, p. 1.9 .
  3. ^ Scullard, HH (1970), From the Gracchi to Nero, London: Methuen & Co. Ltd 
  4. ^ Salmon, ET (1958), "Notes on the Social War", Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association (89): pp. 159–84 

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  • Social War — may refer to:* Social War (357 355 BC), or the War of the Allies, was fought between the Second Athenian Empire and the allies of Chios, Rhodes, and Cos as well as Byzantium * Social War (91–88 BC), or the Italian War or the Marsic War, was… …   Wikipedia

  • Social War — 1. Gk. Hist. the war between Athens and its confederates, 357 355 B.C. 2. Rom. Hist. the war in Italy between Rome and its allies, 90 88 B.C. * * * Social War noun The war (90–88BC) of Rome s Italian allies (Socii) against Rome for admission to… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Social War — 1. Gk. Hist. the war between Athens and its confederates, 357 355 B.C. 2. Rom. Hist. the war in Italy between Rome and its allies, 90 88 B.C. * * * or Italic War or Marsic War (90–89 BC) Rebellion waged by ancient Rome s Italian allies (Latin,… …   Universalium

  • Social War — /soʊʃəl ˈwɔ/ (say sohshuhl waw) noun 1. the war between Athens and its confederates in 357–355 BC. 2. the war between Rome and its Italian allies in 90–88 BC. {Latin socius ally} …   Australian English dictionary

  • SOCIAL WAR —    name given to an Insurrection of the allied States in Italy against the domination of Rome, and which lasted from 90 to 88 B.C., in consequence of their exclusion from the rights of citizenship and the privileges attached; they formed a league …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Social War (357–355 BC) — This article is about the conflict between Athens and its allies between 357 and 355 BC : For the conflict between Rome and her allies between 91 and 88 BC, see Social War (91–88 BC) Infobox Military Conflict conflict=Social War partof= date=357… …   Wikipedia

  • Coinage of the Social War (91–88 BC) — Denarius Laureate head of Italia left, Oscan retrograde legend right UILETIV [víteliú = Italia] …   Wikipedia

  • social — [sō′shəl] adj. [< Fr or L: Fr < L socialis < socius, companion, akin to sequi, to follow < IE base * sekw , to follow > OE secg, man, warrior] 1. of or having to do with human beings living together as a group in a situation in… …   English World dictionary

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  • social — adj. & n. adj. 1 of or relating to society or its organization. 2 concerned with the mutual relations of human beings or of classes of human beings. 3 living in organized communities; unfitted for a solitary life (man is a social animal). 4 a… …   Useful english dictionary