Ancient texts

Liv. (10.3-5)

Quick facts
Date: 302 bc
Dictator: M. Valerius Maximus
Inf.: 2 legions +
Cav.: 600 + ?
Casualties: ?
Leader: ?
Inf.: ?
Cav.: ?
Casualties: ?

Battle of Rusellae

When the Etruscans and the Marsi made trouble, Marcus Valerius Maximus was appointed Dictator he chose M. Aemilius Paulus as his master of the horse. He marched up against the Marsi and routed them in a single battle. After that he conquered some cities and now he turned against the Etruscans.

He was recalled to Rome to refresh the auspices. In his absence, the army was attacked while foraging and driven back into the camp. Word was brought to Rome where the senate overreacted as if the whole army had been routed. Valerius left with a fresh army to his master of the horse.


Etruscan warrior once carrying a spear


All quiet
When he arrived, Aemilius had sorted everything out, had moved the camp to a safer place and all the units that had lost their standards were positioned outside the gate with no tents, which was the normal punishment. Now the dictator moved his army towards Rusellae. Here he built a camp as usual. At a certain distance of the camp he positioned an outpost. Livius doesn't mention the force of the unit here but it must have consisted of at least 2 manipels and probably the place was somehow fortified. The whole thing was commanded by legatus Cn. Fulvius.

The enemy concealed armed troops in the half destroyed house nearby en then tried to lure Fulvius out of his fortification by moving a herd of cows in their direction. When Fulvius didn't take the bait the enemy attacked directly. Fulvius sent for help, because the attacking force was too strong for his unit.

Did this really happen?
Livius continues with mentioning other sources tell him there was no such fierce battle. They are right probably. Placing an outpost of that fortitude seems very unusual to me. Such a unit is meant to observe and alert and not to fight, probably it was much smaller and attacked by a much smaller group of enemies, who were easily chased away when one or two manipels, or even more probable a cavalry unit, left the gate
of the main camp and moved in their direction.

Frontal attack
Another reason to doubt this battle is the way the cavalry is said to have operated. The Etruscans would have been organized in a phalanx, which meant a wall of spears. No horse is willing to run into that. Cavalry can be used for attacking the flanks and for the protection of your own flanks of course.

As described the Roman army was more or less defeated and a quick retaliation to wipe out this humiliation was needed for some of the annalists.

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