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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book X Chapter 35: Battle of Luceria.[294 BC]
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The other consul, Marcus Atilius, found his task by no means so easy. He had received information that the Samnites were besieging Luceria, and he marched to its relief, but the enemy met him at the frontier of the Lucerine territory. Exasperation and rage lent them a strength which made them a match for the Romans. The battle went on with changing fortunes and an indecisive result, but in the end the Romans were in the sorrier plight, for they were unaccustomed to defeat, and it was after the two armies had separated rather than in the battle itself that they realised how much greater the loss was on their side in both killed and wounded. When they were once more within their camp they became a prey to fears which, had they felt them whilst actually fighting, would have brought upon them a signal disaster. They passed an anxious night expecting that the Samnites would make an immediate attack on the camp, or that they would have to engage their victorious foe at daybreak. On the side of the enemy the loss was less, but certainly the courage displayed was not greater. |
As soon as it began to grow light the Romans were anxious to retire without fighting, but there was only one way and that led past the enemy; if they took that route it would amount to a challenge, for it would look as though they were directly advancing to attack the Samnite camp. The consul issued a general order for the soldiers to arm for battle and follow him outside the rampart. He then gave the necessary instructions to the officers of his staff, the military tribunes and the prefects of the allies. They all assured him that as far as they were concerned they would do everything that he wished them to do, but the men had lost heart, they had passed a sleepless night amidst the wounded and the groans of the dying, and had the enemy attacked the camp while it was still dark, they were in such a state of fright that they would have deserted their standards. As it was they were only kept from flight by a feeling of shame, in every other respect they were practically beaten men.
Under these circumstances the consul thought he ought to go round and address the soldiers personally. When he came to any who were showing reluctance to arm themselves he asked them why they were so slow and so cowardly; the enemy would come up to their camp unless they met him outside; they would have to fight to defend their tents if they refused to fight in front of their rampart. Armed and fighting they had a chance of victory, but the men who awaited the enemy unarmed and defenceless would have to suffer either death or slavery. To these taunts and reproaches they replied that they were exhausted with the fighting on the previous day, they had no strength or blood left, and the enemy seemed to be in greater force than ever.
Whilst this was going on the hostile army approached, and as they were now closer and could be seen more clearly the men declared that the Samnites were carrying stakes with them, and there was no doubt they intended to shut the camp in with a circumvallation. Then the consul loudly exclaimed that it would indeed be a disgrace if they submitted to such a galling insult from so dastardly a foe. "Shall we," he cried, "be actually blockaded in our camp to perish ignominiously by hunger rather than, if we must die, die bravely at the sword's point? Heaven forbid! Act, every man of you, as you deem worthy of yourselves! I, the consul, Marcus Atilius, will go against the enemy alone if none will follow and fall amongst the standards of the Samnites sooner than see a Roman camp hedged in by circumvallation."
The consul's words were welcomed by all his officers, and the rank and file, ashamed to hold back any longer, slowly put themselves in fighting trim and slowly marched out of camp. They moved in a long irregular column, dejected and to all appearance thoroughly cowed, but the enemy against whom they were advancing felt no more confidence and showed no more spirit than they did. As soon as they caught sight of the Roman standards a murmur ran through the Samnite army from the foremost to the hindmost ranks that what they feared was actually happening, the Romans were coming out to oppose their march, there was no road open even for flight, they must either fall where they were or make their escape over the bodies of their prostrate foes.
Event: Fourth war with Samnites