The Battle of the Cremera was fought between the Roman Republic and the Etruscan city of Veii, in 477 BC (276 AUC).
Historical records show the defeat of the Roman stronghold on the river Cremera, and the consequent incursions of the Veientes in Roman territory.
The preserved account of the battle, written by Livy, is an elaboration of the real events, and celebrates the sacrifice of the gens Fabia. Probably, its aim is to give a reason of the absence of Fabii from consular lists in the years following the battle. Furthermore, this account is clearly influenced by the Spartan last stand at the Battle of Thermopylae.Background
After a pacific coexistence between Rome and Veii, open war sprung between the close cities, escalating into a battle in 480 BC, in which the Roman army was close to defeat, and saved by consul Kaeso Fabius Vibulanus. After the battle, the Veientes kept on raiding Roman territory, retreating in front of Roman legions to deny them open battle.
Engaged in a conflict with Aequi and Volsci, the Romans were fighting on two fronts. Thus, in 479 BC, the gens Fabia offered to deal with Veii on its own, while the Republican legions had to fight against the other enemies. Livy says that all of the 306 adult (i.e. more than fifteen years old) Fabii went to the war, together with their clients.
The Fabii built a stronghold on the river Cremera, close to Veii, from which they managed to limit Veii raids. The Veientes engaged an open battle near the Roman stronghold, but were defeated by Fabii and a Roman army led by consul Lucius Aemilius Mamercinus, and obliged to ask for a truce.
After the truce was broken, the Veientes renewed their raid, but were repeatedly defeated by the Fabii, who, encouraged by the successes, became bold and attacked and pillaged Veii territory.Account of the battle
In the end, however, the Fabii fell in the trap laid by the Veientes. Considering the enemies far from the stronghold, the Romans exited from the stronghold to capture a herd, scattering in pursue of the animals. In that moment, the outnumbering Veientes exited and surrounded the Fabii. Adopting the wedge formation, the Romans broke through and reached a hill, where they successfully repulsed the Etruscan attacks, until a Veienite formation arrived to their back.
All of the Fabii were slaughtered save Quintus Fabius Vibulanus, who was too young to be sent to war.