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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book VIII Chapter 38: The Samnites again defeated.[322 BC]
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Quintus Fabius and Lucius Fulvius were the consuls for the following year. The war in Samnium was threatening to take a more serious turn, as it was stated that mercenary troops had been hired from the neighbouring states. The apprehensions created led to the nomination of Aulus Cornelius Arvina as dictator, with Marcus Fabius Ambustus as Master of the Horse. These commanders carried out the enrolment with unusual strictness, and led an exceptionally fine army into Samnium. But although they were on hostile territory, they exercised as little caution in choosing the site for their camp as though the enemy had been at a great distance. Suddenly the Samnite legions advanced with such boldness that they encamped with their rampart close to the Roman outposts. The approach of night prevented them from making an immediate attack; they disclosed their intention as soon as it grew light the next morning. |
The dictator saw that a battle was nearer than he expected, and he determined to abandon a position which would hamper the courage of his men, leaving a number of watch-fires alight to deceive the enemy, he silently withdrew his troops, but owing to the proximity of the camps his movement was not unobserved. The Samnite cavalry immediately followed on his heels but refrained from actual attack till it grew lighter, nor did the infantry emerge from their camp before daybreak. As soon as they could see, the cavalry began to harass the Roman rear, and by pressing upon them where difficult ground had to be crossed, considerably delayed their advance. Meantime the infantry had come up, and now the entire force of the Samnites was pressing on the rear of the column. As the dictator saw that no further advance was possible without heavy loss, he ordered the ground he was holding to be measured out for a camp. But as the enemy's cavalry was gradually enveloping them, it was impossible to procure wood for the stockade or to commence their entrenchment. Finding that to go forward and to remain where he was were equally out of the question, the dictator ordered the baggage to be removed from the column and collected and the line of battle formed. The enemy formed also into line, equally matched in courage and in strength. Their confidence was increased by their attributing the retirement of the Romans to fear and not, as was actually the case, to the disadvantageous position of their camp. This made the fight for some considerable time an even one, though the Samnites had long been unaccustomed to stand the battle-shout of the Romans. We read that actually from nine o'clock till two in the afternoon the contest was maintained so equally on both sides that the shout which was raised at the first onset was never repeated, the standards neither advanced nor retreated, in no direction was there any giving way. They fought, each man keeping his ground, pressing forward with their shields, neither looking back nor pausing for breath. Their noise and tumult never grew weaker, the fighting went on perfectly steadily, and it looked as if it would only be terminated by the complete exhaustion of the combatants or the approach of night. By this time the men were beginning to lose their strength and the sword its vigour, whilst the generals were baffled. A troop of Samnite cavalry, who had ridden some distance round the Roman rear, discovered that their baggage was lying at a distance from the combatants without any guard or protection of any kind. On learning this the whole of the cavalry rode up to it eager to secure the plunder. A messenger in hot haste reported this to the dictator, who remarked: `All right, let them encumber themselves with spoil.' Then the soldiers one after another began to exclaim that their belongings were being plundered and carried off. The dictator sent for the Master of the Horse. `Do you see,' he said, `Marcus Fabius, that the enemy's cavalry have left the fight? They are hampering and impeding themselves with our baggage. Attack them whilst they are scattered, as plundering parties always are; you will find very few of them in the saddle, very few with swords in their hands. Cut them down whilst they are loading their horses with spoil, with no weapons to defend themselves, and make it a bloody spoil for them! I will look after the infantry battle, the glory of the cavalry victory shall be yours.'
Event: Second war with Samnites