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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IX Chapter 38: Battle with the Samnites.[309 BC]
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During these occurrences in Etruria the other consul, Gaius Marcius Rutilus, took Allifae from the Samnites. Many other fortified posts and hamlets were either destroyed or passed uninjured into the power of the Romans. While this was going on, Publius Cornelius, whom the senate had made maritime prefect, took the Roman fleet to Campania and brought up at Pompeii. Here the crews landed and proceeded to ravage the territory of Nuceria. After devastating the district near the coast, from which they could have easily reached their ships, they went further inland, attracted as usual by the desire for plunder, and here they roused the inhabitants against them. As long as they were scattered through the fields they met nobody, though they might have been cut off to a man, but when they returned, thinking themselves perfectly safe, they were overtaken by the peasants and stripped of all their plunder. Some were killed; the survivors were driven helter-skelter to their ships. |
However great the alarm created in Rome by Quintus Fabius' expedition through the Ciminian forest, there was quite as much pleasure felt by the Samnites when they heard of it. They said that the Roman army was hemmed in; it was the Caudine disaster over again; the old recklessness had again led a nation always greedy for further conquests into an impassable forest; they were beset by the difficulties of the ground quite as much as by hostile arms. Their delight was, however, tinged with envy when they reflected that fortune had diverted the glory of finishing the war with Rome from the Samnites to the Etruscans. So they concentrated their whole strength to crush Gaius Marcius or, if he did not give them a chance of fighting, to march through the country of the Marsi and Sabines into Etruria. The consul advanced against them, and a desperate battle was fought with no decisive result. Which side lost most heavily was doubtful, but a rumour was spread that the Romans had been worsted, as they had lost some belonging to the equestrian order order and some military tribunes besides a staff officer, and -- what was a signal disaster -- the consul himself was wounded. Reports of the battle, exaggerated as usual, reached Rome and created the liveliest alarm among the senators. It was decided that a dictator should be nominated, and no one had the slightest doubt that Papirius Cursor would be nominated, the one man who was regarded as the supreme general of his day. But they did not believe that a messenger could get through to the army in Samnium, as the whole country was hostile nor were they by any means sure that Marcius was still alive.
The other consul, Fabius, was on bad terms with Papirius. To prevent this private feud from causing public danger, the senate resolved to send a deputation to Fabius, consisting of men of consular rank who were to support their authority as public envoys by using their personal influence to induce him to lay aside all feeling of enmity for the sake of his country.
When they had handed to Fabius the resolution of the senate, and had employed such arguments as their instructions demanded, the consul, keeping his eyes fixed on the ground, withdrew from the deputation, without making any reply and leaving them in utter uncertainty as to what he would do. Subsequently, he nominated Lucius Papirius dictator according to the traditional usage at midnight. When the deputation thanked him for having shown such rare self-command, he remained absolutely silent, and without vouchsafing any reply or making any allusion to what he had done, he abruptly dismissed them, showing by his conduct what a painful effort it had cost him. Papirius named Gaius Junius Bubulcus, Master of the Horse. Whilst he was submitting to the Assembly of Curies the resolution conferring the dictatorial power, an unfavourable omen compelled him to adjourn the proceedings. It fell to the Faucian cury to vote first, and this cury had voted first in the years in which two memorable disasters occurred, the capture of the City and the capitulation of Caudium. Licinius Macer adds a third disaster through which this cury became ill-omened, the massacre at the Cremera