The Battle of Caudine Forks, 321 BC, was a decisive event of the Second Samnite War. Its designation as a battle is a mere historical formality: there was no fighting and there were no casualties. The Romans were trapped in a waterless place by the Samnites before they knew what was happening and nothing remained but to negotiate an unfavorable surrender. The action was entirely political, with the magistrates on both sides trying to obtain the best terms for their side without disrespecting common beliefs concerning the rules of war and the conduct of peace. In the end the Samnites decided it would be better for future relations to let the Romans go, while the Romans were impeded in the prosecution of their campaign against the Samnites by considerations of religion and honor.
The Samnite commander, Gaius Pontius, hearing that the Roman army was located near Calatia, sent ten soldiers disguised as shepherds with orders to give the same story which was that the Samnites were besieging Lucera in Apulia. The Roman commanders, completely taken in by this ruse, decided to set off to give aid to Luceria. Worse, they chose the quicker route through the Caudine Forks, a narrow mountain pass near Benevento, Campania. The area round the Caudine Forks was surrounded by mountains and could be entered only by two defiles. The Romans entered by one; but when they reached the second defile they found it barricaded. They returned at once to the first defile only to find it now securely held by the Samnites. At this point the Romans, according to Livy, fell into total despair, knowing the situation was quite hopeless.
Copyright: CC 3.0