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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book VIII Chapter 7: The Revolt of the Latins and Campanians. Titus Manlius.[340 BC]
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Amongst the troop commanders who had been sent out everywhere to reconnoitre, there happened to be Titus Manlius, the consul's son. He had ridden out with his men by the enemy's camp and was hardly a stone's - throw from their nearest post, where the Tusculan cavalry were stationed, when Geminus Maecius, who was in command, a man of high reputation amongst his own people, recognised the Roman cavalry and the consul's son at their head, for they were all -- especially the men of distinction -- known to each other. Accosting Manlius he said: "Are you going to conduct the war against the Latins and their allies with that single troop of yours? What will the consuls, what will their two armies be doing in the meantime? ""They will be here in good time," Manlius replied, "and so will Jupiter, the Great and Powerful, the witness of your breach of faith. If we fought at Lake Regillus till you had quite enough, certainly we shall succeed here also in preventing you from finding too much pleasure in meeting us in battle." In reply, Geminus rode forward a short distance and said: "Are you willing, before the day comes when you are to set your armies in motion for so great an effort, to have a meeting with me that the result of our single combat may show how much a Latin horseman is superior to a Roman?" Either urged on by anger or feeling ashamed to decline the contest, or dragged on by the irresistible power of destiny, the high-spirited youth forgot the consul's edict and the obedience due to a father and rushed headlong into a contest in which victory or defeat were alike fatal. The rest of the cavalry retired to remain spectators of the fray; the two combatants selected a clear space over which they charged each other at full gallop with levelled spears. Manlius' lance passed above his adversary's helmet, Maecius' across the neck of the other's horse. They wheeled their horses round, and Manlius standing in his stirrups was the first to get in a second stroke ; he thrust his lance between the horse's ears. Feeling the wound, the horse reared, shook its head violently, and threw its rider off. Whilst he was trying to rise after his heavy fall by supporting himself with his lance and shield, Manlius drove his lance right through his body and pinned him to the earth. After despoiling the body he returned to his men, and amidst their exulting shouts entered the camp and went straight to his father at the head-quarters' tent, not in the least realising the nature of his deed or its possible consequences, whether praise or punishment. "That all may say, my father," he said, " that I am a true scion of your blood, I bring to you these equestrian spoils taken from a dead enemy who challenged me to single combat." On hearing this the consul turned away from his son and ordered the trumpet to sound the Assembly. |
The soldiers mustered in large numbers and the consul began: "Since you, Titus Manlius, have shown no regard for either the authority of a consul or the obedience due to a father, and in defiance of our edict have left your post to fight against the enemy, and have done your best to destroy the military discipline through which the Roman State has stood till now unshaken, and have forced upon me the necessity of forgetting either my duty to the republic or my duty to myself and my children, it is better that we should suffer the consequences of our offence ourselves than that the State should expiate our crime by inflicting great injury upon itself. We shall be a melancholy example, but one that will be profitable to the young men of the future. My natural love of my children and that proof of courage which from a false sense of honour you have given, move me to take your part, but since either the consuls' authority must be vindicated by your death or forever abrogated by letting you go unpunished, I would believe that even you yourself, if there is a drop of my blood in your veins, will not shrink from restoring by your punishment the military discipline which has been weakened by your misconduct. Go, lictor, bind him to the stake." All were paralysed by such a ruthless order; they felt as if the axe was directed against each of them; fear rather than discipline kept them motionless. For some moments they stood transfixed in silence, then suddenly, when they saw the blood pouring from his severed neck, their voices rose in unrestrained and angry complaint; they spared neither laments nor curses. The body of the youth covered with his spoils was cremated on a pyre erected outside the rampart, with all the funeral honours that the soldiers' devotion could pay. " Manlian orders" were not only regarded with horror for the time, but were looked upon as setting a frightful precedent for the future.