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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IX Chapter 23: War with Samnites. Fighting round Sora.[315 BC]
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The seat of war was now changed; the legions were marched from Samnium and Apulia to Sora. This place had revolted to the Samnites after putting the Roman colonists to death. The Roman army marched thither with all speed to avenge the death of their countrymen and to re-establish the colony. No sooner had they arrived before the place than the reconnoitring parties who had been watching the different routes brought in reports one after another that the Samnites were following and were now at no great distance. The consul marched to meet the enemy, and an indecisive action was fought at Lantulae. The battle was put a stop to, not by the losses or flight of either side but by night, which overtook the combatants while still uncertain whether they were victors or vanquished. I find in some authorities that this battle was unfavourable to the Romans, and that Quintus Aulius, the Master of the Horse, fell there. Gaius Fabius was appointed Master of the Horse in his place and came with a fresh army from Rome. He sent orderlies in advance to consult the dictator [Note 1] as to where he should take up his position and also as to the time and mode of attacking the enemy. After becoming thoroughly acquainted with the dictator's plans, he halted his army in a place where he was well concealed. |
The dictator kept his men for some days confined to their camp, as though he were enduring a siege rather than conducting one. At last he suddenly displayed the signal for battle. Thinking that brave men were more likely to have their courage stimulated when all their hopes depended upon themselves, he kept the arrival of the Master of the Horse and the fresh army concealed from his soldiers, and as though all their prospects of safety depended upon their cutting their way out, he said to his men: "We have been caught in a position where we are shut in, and we have no way out unless we can open one by our victorious swords. Our standing camp is sufficiently protected by its entrenchments, but it is untenable owing to want of provisions; all the places from which supplies could be obtained have revolted, and even if the people were willing to help us the country is impassable for convoys. I shall not cheat your courage by leaving a camp here into which you can retire, as you did on the last occasion, without winning the victory. Entrenchments are to be protected by arms, not arms by entrenchments. Let those who think it worth their while to prolong the war hold their camp as a place of retreat; we must have regard to nothing but victory. Advance the standards against the enemy, and when the column is clear of the camp those who have been told off for the purpose will set it on fire. What you lose, soldiers, will he made up to you in the plunder of all the surrounding cities which have revolted." The dictator's words, pointing to the dire necessity to which they were reduced, produced intense excitement, and rendered desperate by the sight of the burning camp - the dictator had only ordered some spots nearest to them to be set on fire -- they charged like madmen, and at the first onset threw the enemy into confusion. At the same moment the Master of the Horse seeing the burning camp in the distance -- the agreed signal -- attacked the enemy in the rear. Thus hemmed in, the Samnites fled in all directions, each as best he could. A vast number, who had crowded together in their panic and were so close to one another that they could not use their weapons, were killed between the two armies. The enemy's camp was captured and plundered, and the soldiers, loaded with spoil, were marched back to their own camp. Even their victory did not give them so much pleasure as the discovery that with the exception of a small part spoilt by fire their camp was unexpectedly safe.
Note 1: dictator = Quintus Fabius