295 before Christ – SENTINUM – The Battle of Nations

Historical re-enactment
Every year the last weekend of July in Sentinum, Sassoferrato (Marche, Italy)5

The battle of Sentinum was the decisive battle of the Third Samnite War, fought in 295 BC near Sentinum (next to the modern town of Sassoferrato, in the Marche region of Italy), in which the Romans were able to overcome a formidable coalition of SamnitesEtruscansUmbrians, and Senone Gauls. The Romans won a decisive victory which broke up this coalitions (the Etruscans, Umbrians and Senones pulled out of the war) and paved the way for their winning this war. The Romans were commanded by consuls Publius Decius Mus and Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus.0

The two armies arrived at the Plain of Sentinum but waited for two days to battle each other. Finally, unable to control the eagerness of their troops, the Romans attacked. The Gauls stood on the right wing and the Samnites on the left. Quintus Fabius stood on the right and Publius Decius on the left.

Quintus Fabius fought defensively to prolong the battle into a test of endurance and wait for the enemy to flag. Publius Decius fought more aggressively and ordered a cavalry attack, which drove back the Senone cavalry twice. The second time they reached the enemy infantry, but suffered a chariot attack and were scattered and overthrown. The line of Decius’ infantry was broken by the chariots and the Senone foot attacked. Publius Decius decided to devote himself. This term referred to a military commander offering prayers to the gods and launching himself into the enemy lines, effectively sacrificing himself, when his troops were in dire straits. His father had done the same at the Battle of Vesuvius (340 BC).

This act galvanised the Romans left which were also joined by two reserve contingents which Quintus Fabius had called in to help. On the right, Quintus Fabius told the cavalry to outflank the Samnite wing and attack it in the flank and ordered his infantry to push forward. He then called in the other reserves. The Samnites fled past the Senone line. The Senones formed a testudo (tortoise) formation – where the men aligned their shields in a compact formation covered with shields at the front and top. Quintus Fabius ordered 500 Campanian lancers to attack them at the rear. This was to be combined with push by the middle line of one of the legions and an attack by the cavalry. Meanwhile, Quintus Fabius took the Samnite camp by storm and cut off the Senones in the rear. The Senone Gauls were defeated. According to Livy the Romans lost 8,700 men and their enemy 20,000.

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Experience of the unknown …

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In our age of interconnectivity, there’s literally nothing new under the sun. The paths to the Great Wall of China, Petra, the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat and the Pyramids are as well worn as the objects themselves. They seem to disintegrate before our eyes not only because of the elements, but because of the over use of the images in the both the media and our imaginations. It’s almost impossible to explore something new—when it comes to our growingly small seeming plant earth. Le Grotte di Frasassi in Le Marche region of Italy are an exception. They were discovered in l971 by a group of boys whose experience of the center room of the caverns was that of plunging into a kind of ultimate darkness. Initially they had tossed a stone down. Noting that it took 5 seconds to hit bottom, they used Newtonian physics to calculate the depth (or height) of 240 meters. When they lowered themselves on a cable ladder they lost all sense of time and space. Maurizio Montalbini, an Italian sociologist and caver would eventually enter Le Grotte on December 14, 1986 and emerge on July 12, l987, but he had little idea of how much time had passed. The experience of those early spelunkers who discovered Le Grotte di Frasassi has continued to be a source of interest, particularly to NASA scientists dealing with the effects of isolation on astronauts. Tolkein talked of a Middle-earth, but the Frasassi caverns which sit in the middle of an awe inspiring gorge on which you can spot the ant like figures of rock climbers, are a literal embodiment of Tolkein’s terminology. When you enter you are dazzled by a universe of speleothems, rock formations like stalactites and stalagmites that have taken wondrous shape. The Frasassi caverns date from the Pleistocene era, 1,400,000 years ago. The calcite mineral formations take place at the rate of 2 millimeters per year and time has wrought miraculous formations over the centuries. These are identified by names like the Witch’s Castle, Dante Alghieri, the Madonna and the 7 ton Sword of Damocles which hangs threateningly from a ceiling. In our current age of disenchantment, in which everything wants to be explained by science, the Frasassi are a bit of magic that’s the result of nature working in seclusion. Because their discovery is relatively recent, they exude a mystery and innocence that brings us a little closer to the increasingly novel experience of the unknown.

watercolor by Hallie Cohen

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy’s blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}