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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IX Chapter 9: War with the Samnites. Speech of Postumius.[320 BC]
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To this Postumius replied: "In the meanwhile, surrender us, whom no inviolability protects and whose surrender will violate no man's conscience. Afterwards you will surrender those sacrosanct gentlemen also as soon as their year of office expires, but if you take my advice you will see that before they are surrendered they are scourged in the Forum by way of paying interest for a punishment that will have been delayed. Why, who is so ignorant of fetial law as not to see that these men are saying this, not because it represents the fact but to prevent their being surrendered? I do not deny, senators, that where the pledged words of men are held to possess a binding force only second to the sanctions of religion, then such undertakings as we have given are as sacred as formal treaties. But I do say that without the express order of the people nothing can be ratified which can bind the people. Suppose the Samnites, in the same spirit of insolent pride in which they extorted this capitulation from us, had compelled us to recite the formula for the surrender of cities (1), would you say, tribunes, that the Roman people was surrendered and that this City with its shrines and temples, its territory, and its waters had become the property of the Samnites? I say no more about surrender, because what we are considering is the pledge we gave in the capitulation. Well now, suppose we had given a pledge that the Roman people would abandon this City, would burn it, would no longer have its own magistrates and senates and laws, but would live under the rule of kings. " Heaven forbid!" you say. Yes, but the binding force of a capitulation is not lightened by the humiliating nature of its terms. If the people can be bound by any article, it can by all. The point which some consider important, namely whether it is a consul or a dictator or a praetor who has given the undertaking is of no weight whatever. The Samnites themselves made this clear, for it was not enough for them that the consuls pledged themselves, they compelled the staff-officers, the quaestors, and the military tribunes to do the same." |
"Now no one need say to me, "Why did you pledge yourself in that way, seeing that a consul has no right to do so and you were not in a position to promise them a peace of which you could not guarantee the ratification, or to act on behalf of the people when they had given you no mandate to do so?" Nothing that happened at Caudium, senators, was dictated by human prudence; the gods deprived both the enemy's commanders and your own of their senses. We did not exercise sufficient caution in our various movements, they in their folly threw away a victory when they had won through our folly. They hardly felt safe on the very ground which gave them their victory, such a hurry were they in to agree to any conditions if only they could deprive of their arms men who were home to arms. If they had been in their senses, would they have had any difficulty in sending envoys to Rome whilst they were fetching an old man from his home to advise them? Was it impossible for them to enter into negotiations with the senate and with the people about securing peace and making a treaty? It is a three days' journey for lightly-equipped horsemen, and in the meantime there would have been an armistice until the envoys returned bringing either peace or the certainty of their victory. Then and then only would there have been a binding agreement, because we should have made it by order of the people. But you would not have made such an order, nor should we have given such a pledge. It was not the will of heaven that there should be any other result than this, namely, that the Samnites should be vainly deluded by a dream too delightful for their minds to grasp, that the same Fortune which had imprisoned our army should also release it, that an illusory victory should be rendered futile by a still more illusory peace, and that stipulations should be brought in, binding on none but those who actually made them. For what share have you, senators, what share has the people in this business? Who can call you to account, who can say that you have deceived him? The enemy? You have given no pledge to the enemy. Any fellow-citizen? You have not empowered my fellow-citizen to give a pledge on your behalf. You are not in my way involved with us, for you have given us no mandate; you are not answerable to the Samnites, for you have had no dealings with them. It is we who are answerable, pledged as debtors and quite able to discharge the debt in respect of what is our own, which we are prepared to pay, that is, our own persons and lives. On these let them wreak their vengeance, for these let them sharpen their swords and their rage. As for the tribunes,. you ought to consider whether it is possible for them to be surrendered at once, or whether it ought to be deferred, but as for us, Titus Veturius and the rest of you who are concerned, let us in the meantime offer these worthless lives of ours in discharge of our bond, and by our deaths set free the arms of Rome for action."
(1): For this formula, see Vol. I. p. 45.