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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book VII Chapter 37: Battle of Suessula -- final Defeat of the Samnites.[343 BC]
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After this success the consul [Note 1] summoned an Assembly, and in the presence of his fellow-soldiers pronounced a eulogy on Decius not only for his former services but also for this crowning proof of his soldierly qualities. In addition to the other military rewards he presented him with a golden chaplet and a hundred oxen, and one white oxen of especial beauty, the horns of which had been gilded. The men who had been with him on the height were rewarded with a standing order for double rations and also with one ox and two tunics apiece. After the consul had made the presentation, the legionaries, amidst loud cheers, placed on Decius' head an "obsidial" wreath of grass. Another similar wreath was bestowed upon him by his own men. With these decorations upon him he sacrificed the beautiful ox to Mars and presented the hundred oxen which had been given him to the men who had accompanied him on his expedition. The legionaries also contributed a pound of meal and a pint of wine for each of them. During all these proceedings enthusiastic cheering went on through the whole camp. |
After the rout it had suffered at the hands of Valerius, the Samnite army was determined to put its fortunes to the proof in a final conflict, and a third battle was fought at Suessula. The whole fighting strength of the nation was brought up. The alarming news was sent in haste to Capua; from there horsemen galloped to the Roman camp to beg for help from Valerius. He at once ordered an advance, and leaving a strong force to protect the camp and the baggage, proceeded by forced marches to Suessula. He selected a site for his camp not far from the enemy, and very restricted in area, as with the exception of the horses there were no baggage, animals, or camp-followers to be provided for. The Samnite army, assuming that there would be no delay in giving battle, formed their lines, and as no enemy advanced against them they marched on towards the Roman camp prepared to assault it. When they saw the soldiers on the rampart and learnt from the report of the reconnoitring parties who had been sent in every direction that the camp was of small dimensions, they concluded that only a weak force of the enemy held it. The whole army began to clamour for the fosse to be filled up and the rampart torn down that they might force their way into the camp. If the generals had not checked the impetuosity of their men, their recklessness would have terminated the war. As it was, however, their huge numbers were exhausting their supplies, and owing to their previous in action at Suessula and the delay in bringing on an action they were not far from absolute scarcity. They determined, therefore, since, as they imagined, the enemy was afraid to venture outside his camp, to send foraging parties into the fields. Meantime they expected that as the Romans made no movement and had brought only as much corn as they could carry with the rest of their equipment on their shoulders, they, too, would soon be in want of everything.
When the consul saw the enemy scattered through the fields and only a few left on outpost duty in front of the camp, he addressed a few words of encouragement to his men and led them out to storm the Samnite camp. They carried it at the first rush; more of the enemy were killed in their tents than at the gates or on the rampart. All the standards which were captured he ordered to be collected together. Leaving two legions to hold the camp, he gave strict orders that they were not to touch the booty till he returned. He went forward with his men in open column and sent the cavalry to round up the scattered Samnites, like so much game, and drive them against his army. There was an immense slaughter, for they were too much terrified to think under what standard to rally or whether to make for their camp or flee further afield. Their fears drove them into such a hasty flight that as many as 40,000 shields -- far more than the number of the slain -- and military standards, including those captured in the storming of the camp, to the number of 170 were brought to the consul. He then returned to the Samnite camp and all the booty there was given to the soldiers.
Note 1: consul = Cornelius Cossus
Event: First war with Samnites