A Legal Interpretation of Livy's Caudine Sponsio: Using Roman Law to test the validity of Livy's Caudine Forks Narrative

Michael Norman Aston

Abstract


Although much has been written about Livy's account of the defeat of a Roman army at the hands of the Samnites at the Caudine Forks in 321 B.C., commentators do not agree as to whether the account describes an historical event. This paper offers a new approach to the problem, by analyzing the legal form and content of the sponsio (agreement) that acts as the backbone of Livy's narrative. The body of the paper analyzes Livy's sponsio in detail, from a legal perspective. The analysis leads to the conclusion that Livy based his narrative upon the sponsio of Roman civil law. Since it is unlikely that the Romans and Samnites conducted their agreement on the basis of Roman private law, it is concluded that the events at the Caudine Forks are either fictional, or did not happen as Livy describes them.

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