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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book X Chapter 28: Devotion and death of Decius.[295 BC]
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But although neither side was gaining any advantage and Fortune had not yet indicated in any way to whom she would grant the victory, the fighting on the right wing was very different from that on the left. The Romans under Fabius were acting more on the defensive and were protracting the contest as long as possible. Their commander knew that it was the habitual practice of both the Gauls and the Samnites to make a furious attack to begin with, and if that were successfully resisted, it was enough; the courage of the Samnites gradually sank as the battle went on, whilst the Gauls, utterly unable to stand heat or exertion, found their physical strength melting away; in their first efforts they were more than men, in the end they were weaker than women. Knowing this, he kept the strength of his men unimpaired against the time when the enemy usually began to show signs of defeat. |
Decius, as a younger man, possessing more vigour of mind, showed more dash; he made use of all the strength he possessed in opening the attack, and as the infantry battle developed too slowly for him, he called on the cavalry. Putting himself at the head of a squadron of exceptionally gallant troopers, he appealed to them as the pick of his soldiers to follow him in charging the enemy, for a twofold glory would be theirs if victory began on the left wing and, in that wing, with the cavalry. Twice they swept aside the Gaulish horse. Making a third charge, they were carried too far, and whilst they were now fighting desperately in the midst of the enemy's cavalry they were thrown into consternation by a new style of warfare. Armed men mounted on chariots and baggage wagons came on with a thunderous noise of horses and wheels, and the horses of the Roman cavalry, unaccustomed to that kind of uproar, became uncontrollable through fright; the cavalry, after their victorious charges, were now scattered in frantic terror; horses and men alike were overthrown in their blind flight. Even the standards of the legionaries were thrown into confusion, and many of the front rank men were crushed by the weight of the horses and vehicles dashing through the lines. When the Gauls saw their enemy thus demoralised they did not give them a moment's breathing space in which to recover themselves, but followed up at once with a fierce attack. Decius shouted to his men and asked them whither they were fleeing, what hope they had in flight; he tried to stop those who were retreating and recall the scattered units. Finding himself unable, do what he would, to check the demoralisation, he invoked the name of his father, Publius Decius, and cried: "Why do I any longer delay the destined fate of my family? This is the privilege granted to our house that we should be an expiatory sacrifice to avert dangers from the State. Now will I offer the legions of the enemy together with myself as a sacrifice to Tellus and the Dii Manes." When he had uttered these words he ordered the pontiff, Marcus Livius, whom he had kept by his side all through the battle, to recite the prescribed form in which he was to devote himself and the legions of the enemy on behalf of the army of the Roman people, the Quirites." He was accordingly devoted in the same words and wearing the same garb as his father, Publius Decius, at the Battle of Veseris in the Latin war. After the usual prayers had been recited he uttered the following awful curse: "I carry before me terror and rout and carnage and blood and the wrath of all the gods, those above and those below. I will infect the standards, the armour, the weapons of the enemy with dire and manifold death, the place of my destruction shall also witness that of the Gauls and Samnites." After uttering this imprecation on himself and on the enemy he spurred his horse against that part of the Gaulish line where they were most densely massed and leaping into it was slain by their missiles.