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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IX Chapter 1: War with the Samnites. Speech of Pontius.[321 BC]
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The following year (321 B.C.) was rendered memorable by the disaster which befell the Romans at Caudium and the capitulation which they made there. Titus Veturius Calvinus and Spurius Postumius were the consuls. The Samnites had for their captain-general that year Gaius Pontius, the son of Herennius, the ablest statesman they possessed, whilst the son was their foremost soldier and commander. |
When the envoys who had been sent with the terms of surrender returned from their fruitless mission, Pontius made the following speech in the Samnite council: "Do not suppose that this mission has been barren of results. We have gained this much by it, whatever measure of divine wrath we may have incurred by our violation of treaty obligations has now been atoned for. I am perfectly certain that all those deities whose will it was that we should be reduced to the necessity of making the restitution which was demanded under the terms of the treaty, have viewed with displeasure the haughty contempt with which the Romans have treated our concessions. What more could we have done to placate the wrath of heaven or soften the resentment of men than we have done? The property of the enemy, which we considered ours by the rights of war, we have restored; the author of the war, whom we could not surrender alive, we gave up after he had paid his debt to nature, and lest any taint of guilt should remain with us we carried his possessions to Rome. What more, Romans, do I owe to you or to the treaty or to the gods who were invoked as witnesses to the treaty? What arbitrator am I to bring forward to decide how far your wrath, how far my punishment is to go? I am willing to accept any, whether it he a nation or a private individuaI. But if human law leaves no rights which the weak share with the stronger, I can still fly to the gods, the avengers of intolerable tyranny, and I will pray them to turn their wrath against those for whom it is not enough to have their own restored to them and to he loaded also with what belongs to others, whose cruel rage is not satiated by the death of the guilty and the surrender of their lifeless remains together with their property, who cannot he appeased unless we give them our very blood to suck and our bowels to tear. A war is just and right, Samnites, when it is forced upon us; arms are blessed by heaven when there is no hope except in arms. Since then it is of supreme importance in human affairs what things men do under divine favour and what they do against the divine will, he well assured that, if in your former wars you were fighting against the gods even more than against men, in this war which is impending you will have the gods themselves to lead you."