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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book X Chapter 29: The Battle of Sentinum, the end.[295 BC]
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From this moment the battle could hardly have appeared to any man to be dependent on human strength alone. After losing their leader, a thing which generally demoralises an army, the Romans arrested their flight and recommenced the struggle. The Gauls, especially those who were crowded round the consul's body, were discharging their missiles aimlessly and harmlessly as though bereft of their senses; some seemed paralysed, incapable of either fight or flight. But, in the other army, the pontiff Livius, to whom Decius had transferred his lictors and whom he had commissioned to act as propraetor, announced in loud tones that the consul's death had freed the Romans from all danger and given them the victory, the Gauls and Samnites were made over to Tellus the Mother and the Dii Manes. Decius was summoning and dragging down to himself the army which he had devoted together with himself, there was terror everywhere among the enemy, and the Furies were lashing them into madness. |
Whilst the battle was thus being restored, Lucius Cornelius Scipio and Gaius Marcius were ordered by Fabius to bring up the reserves from the rear to the support of his colleagues. There they learnt the fate of Publius Decius, and it was a powerful encouragement to them to dare everything for the republic. The Gauls were standing in close order covered by their shields, and a hand-to-hand fight seemed no easy matter, but the staff officers gave orders for the javelins which were lying on the ground between the two armies to be gathered up and hurled at the enemy's shield wall. Although most of them stuck in their shields and only a few penetrated their bodies, the closely massed ranks went down, most of them falling without having received a wound, just as though they had been struck by lightning. Such was the change that Fortune had brought about in the Roman left wing.
On the right Fabius, as I have stated, was protracting the contest. When he found that neither the battle-shout of the enemy, nor their onset, nor the discharge of their missiles were as strong as they had been at the beginning, he ordered the officers in command of the cavalry to take their squadrons round to the side of the Samnite army, ready at a given signal to deliver as fierce a flank attack as possible. The infantry were at the same time to press steadily forwards and dislodge the enemy. When he saw that they were offering no resistance, and were evidently worn out, he massed all his support which he had kept in reserve for the supreme moment, and gave the signal for a general charge of infantry and cavalry. The Samnites could not face the onslaught and fled precipitately past the Gauls to their camp, leaving their allies to fight as best they could.
The Gauls were still standing in close order behind their shield wall (1). Fabius, on hearing of his colleague's death, ordered a squadron of Campanian horse about 500 strong, to go out of action and ride round to take the Gauls in the rear. The principes of the third legion were ordered to follow, and, wherever they saw the enemy's line disordered by the cavalry, to press home the attack and cut them down. He vowed a temple and the spoils of the enemy to Jupiter Victor, and then proceeded to the Samnite camp to which the whole crowd of panic-struck fugitives was being driven. As they could not all get through the gates, those outside tried to resist the Roman attack and a battle began close under the rampart. It was here that Gellius Egnatius, the captain-general of the Samnites, fell. Finally the Samnites were driven within their lines and the camp was taken after a brief struggle. At the same time the Gauls were attacked in the rear and overpowered; 25,000 of the enemy were killed in that day's fighting and 8000 made prisoners. The victory was by no means a bloodless one, for Publius Decius lost 7000 killed and Fabius 1700. After sending out a search party to find his colleague's body, Fabius had the spoils of the enemy collected into a heap and burnt as a sacrifice to Jupiter Victor. The consul's body could not be found that day as it was buried under a heap of Gauls; it was discovered the next day and brought back to camp amidst the tears of the soldiers. Fabius laid aside all other business in order to pay the last rites to his dead colleague; the obsequies were conducted with every mark of honour and the funeral oration sounded the well-deserved praises of the deceased consul.
(1): We should hardly expect to find them still in this attitude after the overthrow mentioned above. Possibly only the front rank went down or the words may be merely the reinsertion of the identical sentence above by some wool-gathering copyist.