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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book VII Chapter 33: War with Samnites. A Roman Victory.[343 BC]
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Nowhere was there ever a general [Note 1] who endeared himself more to his soldiers by cheerfully sharing every duty with the humblest of his men. In the military sports when the soldiers got up contests of speed and strength among themselves he was equally ready to win or to lose, and never thought any man unworthy to be his antagonist. He showed practical kindness as circumstances required; in his language he was not less mindful of other men's liberty than of his own dignity, and what made him most popular was that he displayed the same qualities in discharging the duties of his office which he had shown as a candidate for it. |
Following up their commander's words, the whole army marched out of camp with extraordinary alacrity. In no battle that was ever fought did men engage with strength more equally matched, or more assured hopes of victory on both sides, or a stronger spirit of self-confidence unaccompanied, however, by any feeling of contempt for their opponents. The fighting temper of the Samnites was roused by their recent achievements and the double victory won a few days previously; the Romans on the other hand were inspired by their glorious record of four centuries of victory reaching back to the foundation of the City. But each side felt some anxiety at meeting a new and untried foe. The battle was an index to their feelings; for some time they fought so resolutely that neither line showed any signs of giving way. At length the consul, seeing that the Samnites could not be repulsed by steady fighting, determined to try the effect of a sudden shock and launched his cavalry at them. This made no impression, and as he watched them wheeling round in the narrow space between the opposing armies after their ineffective charge, having utterly failed to penetrate the enemy's line, he rode back to the front ranks of the legions, and after dismounting said: "Soldiers, this task belongs to us infantry. Come on! Wherever you see me making my way through the enemy's lines with my sword follow, and each of you do his best to cut down those in front. All that ground which is now glittering with uplifted spears you shall see cleared by a vast carnage." During those words the cavalry, at the consul's order, retired an both flanks, leaving the centre clear for the legions. The consul led the charge, and slew the first man he engaged with. Fired at the sight, every man, right and left, charged straight forward and began a fight to be remembered. The Samnites did not flinch, though they were receiving more wounds than they inflicted.
The battle had now gone on for a considerable time; there was a terrible slaughter round the Samnite standards but no signs of flight anywhere, so resolved were they that death alone should be their conqueror. The Romans began to find their strength failing through fatigue and not much daylight remained, so goaded on by rage and disappointment they flung themselves madly upon their foe. Then for the first time the Samnites were seen to be giving ground and preparing to flee; they were being taken prisoners and killed in all directions, and not many would have survived had not night put an end to what was becoming a victory rather than a battle.
The Romans admitted that they had never fought with a more obstinate enemy, and when the Samnites were asked what it was that first turned them, with all their determination, to flight, they said that the eyes of the Romans looked like fire, and their faces and expression like those of madmen; it was this more than anything else which filled them with terror. This terror showed itself not only in the result of the battle but also in their hurrying away in the night. The next day the Romans took possession of their empty camp, and all the population of Capua came out there to congratulate them.
Note 1: general = Valerius Corvus