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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IX Chapter 2: War with the Samnites. The Caudine Fork.[321 BC]
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After uttering this prediction, which proved to him as true as it was reassuring, he took the field and, keeping his movements as secret as possible, fixed his camp in the neighbourhood of Caudium. From there he sent ten soldiers disguised as shepherds to Calatia, where he understood that the Roman consuls were encamped with instructions to pasture some cattle in different directions near the Roman outposts. When they fell in with any foraging parties they were all to tell the same story, and say that the Samnite legions were in Apulia investing Luceria with their whole force and that its capture was imminent. This rumour had purposely been spread before and had already reached the ears of the Romans; the captured shepherds confirmed their belief in it, especially as their statements all tallied. There was no doubt but that the Romans would assist the Lucerians for the sake of protecting their allies and preventing the whole of Apulia from being intimidated by the Samnites into open revolt. The only matter for consideration was what route they would take. There were two roads leading to Luceria; one along the Adriatic Coast through open country, the longer one of the two but so much the safer; the other and shorter one through the Caudine Forks. This is the character of the spot; there are two passes, deep, narrow, with wooded hills on each side, and a continuous chain of mountains extends from one to the other. Between them lies a watered grassy plain through the middle of which the road goes. Before you reach the plain you have to pass through the first defile and either return by the same path by which you entered or, if you go on, you must make your way out by a still narrower and more difficult pass at the other end. |
The Roman column descended into this plain from the first defile with its overhanging cliffs, and marched straight through to the other pass. They found it blocked by a huge barricade of felled trees with great masses of rock piled against them. No sooner did they become aware of the enemy's stratagem than his outposts showed themselves on the heights above the pass. A hasty retreat was made, and they proceeded to retrace their steps by the way they had come when they discovered that this pass also had its own barricade and armed men on the heights above. Then without any order being given they called a halt. Their senses were dazed and stupefied and a strange numbness seized their limbs. Each gazed at his neighbour, thinking him more in possession of his senses and judgment than himself. For a long time they stood silent and motionless, then they saw the consuls' tents being set up and some of the men getting their entrenching tools ready. Though they knew that in their desperate and hopeless plight it would he ridiculous for them to fortify the ground on which they stood still, not to make matters worse by any fault of their own they set to work without waiting for orders and entrenched their camp with its rampart close to the water. While they were thus engaged the enemy showered taunts and insults upon them, and they themselves in bitter mockery jeered at their own fruitless labour. The consuls were too much depressed and unnerved even to summon a Council of war, for there was no place for either counsel or help, but the staff-officers and tribunes gathered round them, and the men with their faces turned towards their tents sought from their leaders a succour which the gods themselves could hardly render them.
Note 1: he = Pontius