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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IV Chapter 37: The seizure of Capua -- War with the Volscians.[423 BC]
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The consuls elected were Gaius Sempronius Atratinus and Quintus Fabius Vibulanus.|
There is recorded under this year an incident which occurred in a foreign country, but still important enough to be mentioned, namely, the capture of Volturnus, an Etruscan city, now called Capua, by the Samnites. It is said to have been called Capua from their general, but it is more probable that it was so called from its situation in a champaign country campus). It was after the Etruscans, weakened by a long war, had granted them a joint occupancy of the city and its territory that they seized it. During a festival, whilst the old inhabitants were overcome with wine and sleep, the new settlers attacked them in the night and massacred them.
After the proceedings described in the last chapter, the above-named consuls entered on office in the middle of December. By this time intelligence as to the imminence of a Volscian war had been received not only from those who had been sent to investigate, but also from the Latins and Hernicans, whose envoys reported that the Volscians were devoting greater energy than they had ever done before to the selection of their generals and the levying of their forces. The general cry amongst them was that either they must consign all thoughts of war to eternal oblivion and submit to the yoke, or else they must in courage, endurance, and military skill be a match for those with whom they were fighting for supremacy.
These reports were anything but groundless, but not only did the senate treat them with comparative indifference, but Gaius Sempronius, to whom that field of operations had fallen, imagined that as he was leading the troops of a victorious people against those whom they had vanquished, the fortune of war could never change. Trusting to this, he displayed such rashness and negligence in all his measures that there was more of the Roman discipline in the Volscian army than there was in the Roman army itself.
As often happens, fortune waited upon desert. In the very first battle Sempronius made his dispositions without plan or forethought, the fighting line was not strengthened by reserves, nor were the cavalry placed in a suitable position. The war-cries were the first indication as to how the action was going; that of the enemy was more animated and sustained; on the side of the Romans the irregular, intermittent shout, growing feebler at each repetition, betrayed their waning courage. Hearing this, the enemy attacked with greater vigour, pushed with their shields and brandished their swords. On the other side their helmets drooped as the men looked round for supports; men wavered and faltered and crowded together for mutual protection; at one moment the standards while holding their ground were abandoned by the front rank the next they retreated between their respective maniples(1). As yet there was no actual flight, no decided victory. The Romans were defending themselves rather than fighting, the Volscians were advancing, forcing back their line; they saw more Romans slain than flying.
(1). The standard-bearers were posted immediately behind the front line; when this was forced back they retired to the rear of the maniples immediately behind them.
Event: War with the Volscians