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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IX Chapter 10: War with the Samnites. Postumius advice taken.[320 BC]
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Both the speech and the speaker produced a great impression on all who heard him, including the tribunes, who were so far influenced by what they had heard that they formally placed themselves at the disposal of the senate. They immediately resigned their office and were handed over to the fetials to be conducted with the rest to Caudium |
After the senate had passed their resolution, it seemed as though the light of day was once more shining on the State. The name of Postumius was in all men's mouths, he was extolled to the skies, his conduct was put on a level with the selfsacrifice of Publius Decius and other splendid deeds of heroism. It was through his counsel and assistance, men said, that the State had found its way out of a dishonourable and guilty peace; he was exposing himself to the rage of the enemy and all the tortures they could inflict as an expiatory victim for the Roman people. All eyes were turned to arms and war; " shall we ever be allowed," they exclaimed, " to meet the Samnites in arms?"
Pontius rejects the sham surrender.
Amidst this blaze of angry excitement and thirst for vengeance, a levy was made and nearly all re-enlisted as volunteers. Nine legions were formed out of the former troops, and the army marched to Caudium. The fetials went on in advance, and on arriving at the city gate they ordered the garment to be stripped off from those who had made the capitulation and their arms to be tied behind their backs. As the apparitor, out of respect for Postumius' rank, was binding his cords loosely, "Why do you not," he asked, "draw the cord tight that the surrender may be made in due form?" When they had entered the council chamber and reached the tribunal where Pontius was seated, the fetial addressed him thus: "Forasmuch as these men have, without being ordered thereto by the Roman people, the Quirites, given their promise and oath that a treaty shall be concluded and have thereby been guilty of high crime and misdemeanour, I do herewith make surrender to you of these men, to the end that the Roman people may he absolved from the guilt of a heinous and detestable act." As the fetial said this Postumius struck him as hard as he could with his knee, and in a loud voice declared that he was a Samnite citizen that he had violated the law of nations in maltreating the fetial who, as herald, was inviolable, and that after this the Romans would be all the more justified in prosecuting the war(1).
(1): "It is hard to say whether this trickery, at once so base and so foolish, should be ascribed to mere hypocrisy or to fanaticism; for the fanatic is as prone to falsehood as to cruelty, and justifies to himself the one no less than the other by holding that the end sanctifies the means. Yet it is a fanaticism less wicked indeed, but even more extraordinary, when a man like Livy can describe such a scene, and can represent, as he has done, the conduct of Pontius in such strong contrast with that of the Romans, without appearing to feel any admiration of the one or any shame for the other." (Arnold, History of Rome, II. p. 225.) Most English readers will sympathise with Dr. Arnold here; few probably will read without a sense of pain Dr. Mommsen's defence of the part the Romans played in this transaction (pp. 364-5, Vol. I.). The proposition he lays down that "a great nation does not surrender what it possesses except under the pressure of extreme necessity: all treaties making concessions are acknowledgments of such a necessity, not moral obligations" is undoubtedly true from the Roman standpoint, but surely is subversive of any ethical basis on which international amity can rest to-day.