In its long history, the Roman Republic suffered many defeats, but none as humiliating as the Caudine Forks in the summer of 321 BC. Rome had been at war with the Samnites — one of early Rome's most formidable foes — since 326 BC in what would turn out to be a long and bitter conflict now known as the Second Samnite War. The rising, rival Italic powers vied for supremacy in central and southern Italy, and their leaders were contemplating the conquest of the entire Italian peninsula. Driven by the ambitions of Titus Veturius Calvinus and Spurius Postumius Albinus, Roman forces were determined to inflict a crippling blow on the Samnites, but their combined armies were instead surprised, surrounded, and forced to surrender by the Samnites led by Gavius Pontius. The Roman soldiers, citizens of Rome to a man, were required to quit the field by passing under the yoke of spears in a humiliating ritual worse than death itself.
This new study, using specially commissioned artwork and maps, analyses why the Romans were so comprehensively defeated at the Caudine Forks, and explains why the protracted aftermath of their dismal defeat was so humiliating and how it spurred them on to their eventual triumph over the Samnites. With this in mind, this study will widen its focus to take account of other major events in the Second Samnite War.