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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book X Chapter 19: Clash of the consuls.[296 BC]
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As the consuls were parting from each other, the staff-officers and military tribunes stood round them; some of them implored their own commander not to reject the assistance of his colleague, assistance which he himself ought to have invited and which was now spontaneously offered; many of the others tried to stop Volumnius as he was leaving and appealed to him not to betray the safety of the republic through a wretched quarrel with his colleague. They urged that if any disaster occurred the responsibility for it would fall on the one who abandoned the other, not on the other who was abandoned; it came to this -- all the glory of success and all the disgrace of failure in Etruria was transferred to Volumnius. People would not inquire what words Appius had used, but what fortune the army was meeting with; he may have been dismissed by Appius, but his presence was demanded by the republic and by the army. He had only to test the feelings of the soldiers to find this out for himself. |
Amidst appeals and warnings of this character they almost dragged the reluctant consuls into a Council of war. There the dispute which had previously been witnessed by only a few went on at much greater length. Volumnius had not only the stronger case, but he showed himself by no means a bad speaker, even when compared with the exceptional eloquence of his colleague. Appius remarked sarcastically that they ought to look upon it as due to him that they had a consul who was actually able to speak, instead of the dumb inarticulate man he once was. In their former consulship, especially during the first months of office, he could not open his lips, now he was becoming quite a popular speaker. Volumnius observed, "I would much rather that you had learnt from me to act with vigour and decision than that I should have learnt from you to be a clever speaker." He finally made a proposal which would settle the question who was -- not the better orator, for that was not what the republic needed, but -- the better commander. Their two provinces were Etruria and Samnium; Appius might choose which he preferred, he, Volumnius, was willing to conduct operations either in Etruria or in Samnium.
On this the soldiers began to clamour; they insisted that both consuls should carry on the war in Etruria. When Volumnius saw that this was the general wish he said, "Since I have made a mistake in interpreting my colleague's wishes I will take care that there shall be no doubt as to what it is that you want. Signify your wishes by acclamation; do you wish me to stay or to go?" Such a shout arose in reply that it brought the enemy out of their camp; seizing their arms they came down to the battle-field. Then Volumnius ordered the battle signal to be sounded and the standards to be carried out of the camp. Appius, it is said, was for some time undecided, as he saw that whether he fought or remained inactive the victory would be his colleague's, but at last, fearing lest his legions also should follow Volumnius, he yielded to their loud demands and gave the signal for battle.
Defeat of the Allies.
On both sales the dispositions were far from complete. The Samnite captain-general Gellius Egnatius, had gone off with a few cohorts on a foraging expedition, and his troops commenced the battle in obedience to their own impulses rather than to any word of command. The Roman armies again were not both led to the attack at the same time, nor was sufficient time allowed for their formation. Volumnius was engaged before Appius reached the enemy, so the battle began on an irregular front, and the usual opponents happened to be interchanged, the Etruscans facing Volumnius and the Samnites, after a short delay owing to their leader's absence, closing with Appius. The story runs that he lifted up his hands to heaven so as to be visible to those about the foremost standards and uttered this prayer: Bellona! if thou wilt grant us victory to-day, I, in return, vow a temple to thee." After this prayer it seemed as though the goddess had inspired him, he displayed a courage equal to his colleague's, or indeed to that of the whole army. Nothing was lacking on the part of the generals to ensure success, and the rank and file in each of the consular armies did their utmost to prevent the other from being the first to achieve victory.
The enemy were quite unable to withstand a force so much greater than any they had been accustomed to meet, and were in consequence routed and put to flight. The Romans pressed the attack when they began to give ground, and when they broke and fled, followed them up till they had driven them to their camp. There the appearance of Gellius and his cohorts led to a brief stand being made; soon, however, these were routed and the victors attacked the camp. Volumnius encouraging his men by his own example led the attack upon one of the gates in person, whilst Appius was kindling the courage of his troops by repeatedly invoking "Bellona the victorious." They succeeded in forcing their way through rampart and fosse; the camp was captured and plundered, and a very considerable amount of booty was discovered and given to the soldiery; 6900 of the enemy were killed, 2120 made prisoners.