Siege of Pompeii, ends after 11 June 89 BC

The siege of Pompeii (89 BC) saw a Roman army under Sulla recapture the city, after it fell into the hands of the Italian rebels in the previous year (Social War).

During 90 BC the Samnite leader Gaius Papius Mutilus captured Nola, east of Naples, and then moved south to take Stabiae, Surrentum and Salernum and plunder the area around Nuceria, all in the area to the south of Pompeii, between the Gulf of Naples and the Gulf of Salerno. He then attempted to capture Acerrae, between Naples and Nola. Appian reports at least two Roman attempts to lift the siege, but doesn't actually say how it ended. Appian doesn't mention Pompeii in his account of the war, so we don't know if it was captured by Papius, or joined the revolt of its own free will (at the time Pompeii was an Oscan city).

Appian also fails to mention the Roman recapture of Pompeii in 89 BC, but he does provide an account of the campaign in which it probably happened. Sulla led a Roman army into the hills near Pompeii, presumably to besiege the city. A Samnite relief army under Lucius Cluentius camped nearby, and defeated Sulla's first attack on it. Sulla then gathered together his entire army, defeated Cluentius and pursued him back to Nola. Cluentius and 20,000 of his men were killed outside the town (battle of Nola). Sulla then moved east into the Apennines to besiege Aeclanum, before moving on to attack the Samnites. 

We have scattered and indirect references to the siege. Orosius says that in the 'six hundred and sixty-first year of the City, a Roman army went to besiege Pompeii. This would place the siege in 93 BC, but comes in a section of his text that describes the events of 89 BC.

Pliny the Elder tells us that Stabiae fell to Sulla on 29 April 89 BC (giving the date as the day before the calends of May - the calends being the first day of the month.

In Ovid's Fasti (On the Roman Calendar) the death of Titus Didius is placed on 11 June 89 BC, while Velleius Paterculus says that Titus Didius captured Herculaneum (alongside Velleius's own ancestor Minatius Magius), and Minatius Magius then went on to attack Pompeii alongside Sulla. This places the fall of Pompeii some time after 11 June. It also tells us that not all of Rome's Italian allies supported the revolt, even in tribes that were part of it. Minatius Magius was from Aeclanum and had raised a legion from the Hirpini, one of the Samnite tribes listed as having rebelled in 91 BC.

Orosius follows the reference to Pompeii with an account of the death of Postumius Albinus, an ex-consul who was then serving as a legate under Sulla. Albinus made himself so unpopular that he was stoned to death by his soldiers. Sulla decided not to punish his men, and instead said that 'civil bloodshed could be atoned for only by shedding the blood of the enemy'. Plutarch mentions the same incident, and says that Sulla expected to 'find his men more ready and willing for the war on account of this transgression, since they would try to atone for it by their bravery'. In the periochae of Livy we discover that Aulus Postumius Albinus was commander of the navy, and was killed by his army because they suspected him of high treason. Albinus may have been the command of a fleet operating in support of Sulla's army in Campania, but Orosius has his men taking part in the battle of Nola, so he may also have commanded another Roman army operating in Campania, or just part of Sulla's army.

Some archaeological traces that can probably be dated to Sulla's attack have been discovered at Pompeii. These includes marks left by catapult balls in the town walls, and in particular near the Vesuvian gate on the northern side of the town. Catapult balls have also been discovered in the House of the Vestals and the House of the Labyrinth, which are both just inside the town walls. Sulla's name has also been found in graffiti in the city.

After his victory in Sulla's Second Civil War, Sulla placed a colony of his veterans at Pompeii. This changed the nature of the city - the Oscan language disappeared from public inscriptions, and was replaced by Latin, and Sulla's veterans and their descendents dominated the city for the next couple of generations.

The siege of Pompeii probably came between the battle of Nola and the siege of Aeclanum and Sulla's campaign against the Samnites - it would seem unlikely that Sulla would have left the siege incomplete after defeating the relief army.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (7 August 2017), Siege of Pompeii, ends after 11 June 89 BC , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_pompeii.html

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