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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IX Chapter 40: Victory over the Samnites.[309 BC]
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Equally hard fighting and an equally brilliant success characterised the campaign which immediately followed against the Samnites. In addition to their usual preparations for war, they had new glittering armour made in which their troops were quite resplendent. There were two divisions; one had their shields plated with gold, the other with silver. The shield was made straight and broad at the top to cover the chest and shoulders, then became narrower towards the bottom to allow of it being more easily moved about. To protect the front of the body they wore coats of chain armour; the left leg was covered with a greave, and their helmets were plumed to give them the appearance of being taller than they really were. The tunics of the men with gold plated shields were in variegated colours, those with the silver shields had tunics of white linen. The latter were assigned to the right wing, the former were posted on the left. |
The Romans knew that all this splendid armour had been provided, and they had been taught by their generals that a soldier ought to inspire dread not by being decked out in gold and silver but by trusting to his courage and his sword. They looked upon those things as a spoil for the enemy rather than a defence for the wearer, resplendent enough before a battle but soon stained and fouled by wounds and bloodshed. They knew that the one ornament of the soldier was courage, and all that finery would belong to whichever side won the victory; an enemy however rich was the prize of the victor, however poor the victor might be.
With this teaching fresh in their minds, Cursor led his men into battle. He took his place on the right wing, and gave the command of the left to the Master of the Horse. As soon as the two lines came into collision, a contest began between the dictator and the Master of the Horse, quite as keen as the struggle against the enemy, as to whose division should be the first to win the victory. Junius happened to be the first to dislodge the enemy. Bringing up his left wing against the enemy's right, where the " devoted" soldiers were posted, conspicuous in their white tunics and glittering armour, he declared that he would sacrifice them to Orcus, and, pushing the attack, he shook their ranks and made them visibly give way. On seeing this, the dictator exclaimed, " Shall the victory begin on the left wing? Is the right wing, the dictator's own division, going to follow where another had led the way in battle, and not win for itself the greatest share of the victory?" This roused the men; the cavalry behaved with quite as much gallantry as the infantry, and the staff-officers displayed no less energy than the generals. Marcus Valerius on the right wing, and Publius Decius on the left, both men of consular rank rode up to the cavalry who were covering the flanks and urged them to snatch some of the glory for themselves. They charged the enemy on both flanks, and the double attack increased the consternation of the enemy. To complete their discomfiture, the Roman legions again raised their battle-shout and charged home. Now the Samnites took to flight, and soon the plain was filled with shining armour and heaps of bodies. At first the terrified Samnites found shelter in their camp, but they were not able even to hold that; it was captured, plundered, and burnt before nightfall.
The senate decreed a triumph for the dictator. By far the greatest sight in the procession was the captured armour, and so magnificent were the pieces considered that the gilded shields were distributed amongst the owners of the silversmiths' shops to adorn the Forum. This is said to be the origin of the custom of the aediles decorating the Forum when the symbols of three Capitoline deities conducted in procession through the City on the occasion of the Great Games. Whilst the Romans made use of this armour to honour the gods, the Campanians, out of contempt and hatred towards the Samnites, made the gladiators who performed at their banquets wear it, and they then called them "Samnites."
The consul Fabius fought a battle this year with the remnants of the Etruscans at Perusia, for this city had broken the truce. He gained an easy and decisive victory, and after the battle he approached the walls and would have taken the place had not envoys been sent on to surrender it. After he had stationed a garrison in Perusia, deputations came to him from different cities in Etruria to ask for a restoration of amicable relations; these he sent on to the senate at Rome. Then he entered the city in triumphal procession, after achieving a more solid success than the dictator, especially as the defeat of the Samnites was put down largely to the credit of the staff-officers, Publius Decius and Marcus Valerius. These men were chosen by an almost unanimous vote at the next elections -- one as consul, the other as praetor.