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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book X Chapter 14: War with the Samnites. Battle near Tifernum.[297 BC]
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The consuls were busy with their arrangements for the campaign, deciding which of them should deal with the Etruscans, and which with the Samnites, what troops they would each require, which field of operations each was best fitted for, when envoys arrived from Sutrium, Nepete, and Falerii bringing definite information that the local assemblies of Etruria were being convened to decide upon a peace policy. On the strength of this information the whole weight of war was turned against the Samnites. In order to facilitate the transport of supplies, and also to make the enemy more uncertain as to the line of the Roman advance, Fabius led his legions by way of Sora, while Decius proceeded through the Sidicine district. When they had crossed the frontiers of Samnium they marched on a widely extended front, laying the country waste as they went on. They threw out their scouting parties still more widely, and so did not fail to discover the enemy near Tifernum. They had concealed themselves in a secluded valley, prepared to attack the Romans, should they enter the valley, from the rising ground on each side. Fabius removed the baggage into a safe place and left a small guard over it. He then informed his men that a battle was impending, and massing them into a solid square came up to the above-mentioned hiding-place of the enemy. The Samnites, finding all chance of a surprise hopeless, since matters would have to be decided by an action in the open, thought it better to meet their foes in a pitched battle. Accordingly they came down to the lower ground, and placed themselves in the hands of Fortune with more of courage than of hope. But whether it was that they had got together the whole strength out of every community in Samnium, or that their courage was stimulated by the thought that their very existence as a nation depended upon this battle, they certainly did succeed in creating a good deal of alarm in the Roman ranks, even though they were fighting in a fair field. When Fabius saw that the enemy were holding their ground in every part of the field, he rode up to the first line with his son Maximus, and Marcus Valerius, both military tribunes, and ordered them to go to the cavalry and tell them that if they remembered any single occasion on which the republic had been aided by the efforts of the cavalry, they should that day strive their utmost to sustain the reputation of that invincible arm of the State, for the enemy were standing immovable against the infantry and all their hopes rested on the cavalry. He made a personal appeal to each of them, showering commendations upon them and holding out the prospect of great rewards. Since, however, the cavalry charge might fail in its object, and attacking in force prove useless, he thought he ought to adopt a stratagem. Scipio, one of his staff, received instructions to draw off the hastati of the first legion and, attracting as little observation as possible, take them to the nearest hills. Then climbing up where they could not be seen, they were suddenly to show themselves in the enemy's rear. |
The cavalry, led by the two young tribunes, dashed out in front of the standards, and their sudden appearance created almost as much confusion amongst their own people as amongst the enemy. The Samnite line stood perfectly firm against the galloping squadrons, nowhere could they be forced back or broken. Finding their attempt a failure, the cavalry retired behind the standards and took no further part in the fighting. This increased the courage of the enemy, and the Roman front could not have sustained the prolonged contest, met as they were by a resistance which was becoming more stubborn as its confidence rose, had not the consul ordered the second line to relieve the first. These fresh troops checked the advance of the Samnites, who were now pressing forward. Just at this moment the standards were descried on the hills, and a fresh battle-shout arose from the Roman ranks. The alarm which was created among the Samnites was greater than circumstances warranted, for Fabius exclaimed that his colleague Decius was coming, and every soldier, wild with joy, took up the cry and shouted that the other consul with his legions was at hand. This mistake occurring so opportunely filled the Samnites with dismay; they dreaded, exhausted as they were by fighting, the prospect of being overwhelmed by a second army, fresh and unhurt. Unable to offer any further resistance they broke and fled, and owing to their scattered flight, the bloodshed was small when compared with the greatness of the victory; 3400 were killed, about 830 made prisoners, and 23 standards were captured.
Event: Fourth war with Samnites