CAUDINE FORKS (Furculae Caudinae), a pass in Samnium, famous for the disaster which befell the Roman army in the second Samnite War (321 b.c.). Livy (ix, 2) describes it as formed by two narrow wooded gorges, between which lay a plain, grassy and well-watered, but entirely enclosed by mountains. Through this plain the road (later the Via Appia) led. The Romans, marching from Calatia to the relief of Luceria, entered the valley unopposed, but found the exit blocked by the enemy; on marching back they saw that the entrance and the hills surrounding the plain were also occupied, and there was no way of escape. The plain which lies west of Caudium (Montesarchio) seems, despite the older views, to be the only possible site for such a disaster to an army of as many as 40,000 men; and there is no doubt that the Romans wished to leave it by the defile on the east, through which later ran the Via Appia to Beneventum. The existence of three ancient bridges on the line of the modern road renders it impossible to suppose that its course can be essentially different from that of the ancient, though Hülsen makes the two diverge considerably after passing Montesarchio. There are, however, two possible entrances - one on the north by Moiano, and one on the west by Arpaia; the former seems to answer better to Livy's description (via alia per cavam rupem), while the latter is the shortest route, having been, later on, followed by the Via Appia, and bore the name Furculae Caudinae in the middle ages.
See C. Hülsen in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie, iii. (1802).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)