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Bill Thayer

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Book V
Chapter 24

This webpage reproduces a section of
Italy and Her Invaders

by
Thomas Hodgkin

published by the Clarendon Press
Oxford
1896

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Book V
Chapter 25

Book V (continued)

Vol. IV
p643
Note E

On the Site of the Battle of 552

For a full discussion of this question I must refer to an article written by me for the 'Atti e Memorie della R. Deputazione di Storia Patria per le Provincie di Romagna, 1884' (pp35‑70).

It may at once be stated that the whole difficulty arises from the following sentences in Procopius, with which I have not thought it necessary to encumber my narrative. 'The camp of Narses was pitched on level ground, which was however closely surrounded by many mounds, said to mark the scene of the defeat and destruction of the host of the Gauls by Camillus, the Roman general. Even down to my own time the place bears witness to the deed, and by its name Busta Gallorum preserves the memory of the Gallic overthrow, busta being the Latin word for that which is left from the pyre; and in this place there are a very great number of high-heaped tombs of those slain Gauls.'

Now it is admitted on all hands that there is at least one great mistake here, and the only question is whether there are not two or three, and in fact whether it is worth considering at all. It is almost as certain as any fact can be in history, that Camillus never fought any battle with the Gauls in Umbria, the scenes of his exploits being all much nearer Rome, at the Allia, Velitrae, Sutrium, and so forth; places only a quarter as far from Rome as this where Procopius would place his victory. Then the Busta Gallica of which Livy speaks1 in connection with the burnt bodies of Gauls slain by Camillus are in Rome itself, not even in Latium, much less in Umbria. It is evident, therefore, that there is some extraordinary misconception on the part of Procopius, or perhaps of some centurion in the army of Narses with a little smattering of Roman history, from whom Procopius may have derived his information.

But there was a great battle fought with the Gauls in agro Sentinati at or near the spot we are now speaking of in the Third Samnite War. The date of the battle was B.C. 295 (seventy  p644 years after the death of Camillus), and the hero of it was the younger Decius, who, by devoting himself to death, turned the apparently imminent defeat of the Romans into a victory. Now, it is said, this is evidently the battle of which Procopius was thinking. It was fought 'in agro Sentinati'; and the site of Sentinum is near to the modern town of Sasso Ferrato; and therefore at or near Sasso Ferrato we must look for the Busta Gallorum and the battle-field of Narses and Totila.

From this argument I utterly dissent. Sasso Ferrato is on the other side of the Apennines from Tadino. Narses might have marched thither, but Totila could not, consistently with the narrative of Procopius. The best of the roads between Tadino and Sasso Ferrato is a high mountain pass, somewhat resembling the Pass of Glencoe. The rest are little more than mountain paths, carried through deep gorges in which no armies could manoeuvre. Any one of them, if battles had been fought there, must have left its mark on the historian's recital.

I am not sure whether it is worth while to try to reconcile the hint here given by Procopius with any theory as to the battle-field. His story is in itself strange and improbable. Can any one suppose that the burnt bodies of any number of Gaulish combatants slain at the battle of Sentinum or anywhere else could, after the lapse of more than eight centuries, still form a number of eminences,2 the possession of which could be, as Procopius hints, of importance in the contending armies? But if the point is worth arguing for, a good deal is to be said in support of the view that the battle of B.C. 295, in which Decius fell, was itself fought at or near Scheggia. The river Sentino, upon which the city of Sentinum stood, rises a little west of Scheggia, which might, I conceive, be correctly described as 'in agro Sentinati,' and with the single exception of the words 'transgresso Apennino' in Livy's account of the movements of the consuls previous to the battle, everything that we are told concerning it fits remarkably well with Scheggia, itself a strong position and the key to four important valleys.

Upon the whole, however, I think it is safer to disregard the Busta Gallorum of Procopius altogether. It is evident that there is a large amount of inaccuracy in the sentence relating to them, and how far that inaccuracy reaches none can say.

 p645  My friend Mr. Bryce has devoted great pains to the settlement of this question. He has paid two visits, and I one, to the valleys of the Chiascio and Sentino, in order to examine the locus in quo, and we have been much helped in our investigations by an excellent local antiquary, S. Ulpiano Garofoli of Sigillo. Mr. Bryce (for reasons which he intends to state in a memoir on the subject) is disposed to set a higher value on the claims of the Sasso Ferrato site than I do, but on the whole inclines to the conclusion which I have set forth in the previous chapter. He thinks, however, that the immediate vicinity of Scheggia barely affords room for the evolution of such large bodies of men as those described by Procopius, and, in deference to better judgment, I have somewhat modified the views expressed in the article before mentioned, and now hold that the camp of Narses may not have been pitched at Scheggia itself, but at some point south of that place where the valley is somewhat broader.


The Author's Notes:

1 V.48.

Thayer's Note: The article Busta Gallica in Platner & Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome includes other citations and a brief discussion.

2 Χῶροι λοφώδεις (p611).


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