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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IX Chapter 31: Further Successes in Samnium.[311 BC]
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The consuls drew lots for their respective commands; the Samnites fell to Junius, the new theatre of war in Etruria to Aemilius. The Roman garrison of Cluvia in Samnium, after being unsuccessfully attacked, were starved into surrender, and were then massacred after being cruelly mangled by the scourge. Enraged at this brutality, Junius felt that the first thing to be done was to attack Cluvia, and on the very day he arrived before the place he took it by storm and put all the adult males to death. Thence his conquering army marched to Bovianum. This was the chief city of the Pentrian Samnites, and by far the wealthiest and best supplied with arms. There was not the same cause for resentment here as at Cluvia, the soldiers were mainly animated by the prospect of plunder, and on the capture of the place the enemy were treated with less severity; but there was almost more booty collected there than from all the rest of Samnium, and the whole of it was generously given up to the soldiers. |
Now that nothing could withstand the overwhelming might of Roman arms, neither armies nor camps nor cities, the one idea in the minds of all the Samnite leaders was to choose some position from which Roman troops when scattered on their foraging expeditions might be caught and surrounded. Some peasants who pretended to be deserters and some who had, either deliberately or by accident, been made prisoners, came to the consuls with a story in which they all agreed, and which really was true, namely, that an immense quantity of cattle had been driven into a pathless forest. The consuls were induced by this story to send the legions, with nothing but their kits to encumber them, in the direction the cattle had taken, to secure them. A very strong body of the enemy were concealed on either side of the road, and when they saw that the Romans had entered the forest they suddenly raised a shout and made a tumultuous attack upon them. The suddenness of the affair at first created some confusion, while the men were piling their kits in the centre of the column and getting at their weapons, but as soon as they had each freed themselves from their burdens and put themselves in fighting trim, they began to assemble round the standards. From their old discipline and long experience they knew their places in the ranks, and the line was formed without any orders being needed, each man acting on his own initiative.
The consul rode up to the part where the fighting was hottest and, leaping off his horse, called Jupiter, Mars, and other gods to witness that he had not gone into that place in quest of any glory for himself, but solely to provide booty for his soldiers, nor could any other fault be found with him except that he had been too anxious to enrich his men at the expense of the enemy. From that disgrace nothing would clear him but the courage of his men. Only they must one and all make a determined attack. The enemy had been already worsted in the field, stripped of his camp, deprived of his cities, and was now trying the last chance by lurking secretly in ambush and trusting to his ground, not to his arms. What ground was too difficult for Roman courage? He reminded them of the citadels of Fregellae and of Sora and of the successes they had everywhere met with when the nature of the ground was all against them.
Fired by his words, his men, oblivious of all difficulties, went straight at the hostile line above them. Some exertion was needed while the column were climbing up the face of the hill, but when once the leading standards had secured a footing on the summit and the army found that it was on favourable ground, it was the enemy's turn to be dismayed; they flung away their arms, and in wild flight made for the lurking-places in which they had shortly before concealed themselves. But the place which they had selected as presenting most difficulty to the enemy now became a trap for themselves, and impeded them in every way. Very few were able to escape. As many as 20,000 men were killed, and the victorious Romans dispersed in different directions to secure the cattle of which the enemy had made them a present.