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Samnites (sămˈnĪts) [key], people of ancient Italy. Their country was Samnium. The Samnites were Oscan-speaking and therefore should be included among the Sabelli. The Tabula Agnonensis, a bronze tablet that carries an inscription engraved in the full Oscan alphabet, is an important record of the language. The loose confederation of agricultural tribes, expanding in the 4th cent. B.C., came into conflict with the Romans over Campania. There was probably a good deal of warfare before the three Samnite Wars (343–341 B.C., c.326–304 B.C., 298–290 B.C.), in which the Romans won control of central and S Italy. Although the Samnites continued to fight against Rome with Pyrrhus, Hannibal and later Marius in the Social War, they were crushed (82 B.C.) by Sulla before the gates of Rome; most of them were killed. Some survivors were sold into slavery; the rest were Romanized.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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