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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book XXV Chapter 16: Titus Sempronius Gracchus betrayed.[212 BC]
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|An unlucky prodigy occurred to Gracchus, while sacrificing, previous to his departure from Lucania. Two snakes gliding from a secret place to the entrails, after the sacrifice was completed, ate the liver; and after having been observed, suddenly vanished out of sight. The sacrifice having been repeated according to the admonition of the aruspices, and the vessel containing the entrails being watched with increased attention, it is reported that the snakes came a second, and a third time, and, after tasting the liver, went away untouched. Though the aruspices forewarned him that the portent had reference to the general, and that he ought to be on his guard against secret enemies and machinations, yet no foresight could avert the destiny which awaited him. There was a Lucanian, named Flavius, the leader of that party which adhered to the Romans when the others went over to Hannibal; he was this year in the magistracy, having been created praetor by the same party. Suddenly changing his mind, and seeking to ingratiate himself with the Carthaginians, he did not think it enough that he himself should pass over to them, or that he should induce the Lucanians to revolt with him, unless he ratified his league with the enemy with the head and blood of the general, betrayed to them, though his guest. He entered into a secret conference with Mago, who had the command in Bruttium, and receiving a solemn promise from him, that he would take the Lucanians into his friendship, without interfering with their laws, if he should betray the Roman general to the Carthaginians, he conducted Mago to a place to which he was about to bring Gracchus with a few attendants. He then directed Mago to arm his infantry and cavalry, and to occupy the retired places there, in which he might conceal a very large number of troops. After thoroughly inspecting and exploring the place on all sides, a day was agreed upon for the execution of the affair. Flavius came to the Roman general, and said, that "he had begun a business of great importance, for the completion of which, it was necessary to have the assistance of Gracchus himself. That he had persuaded the praetors of all the states which had revolted to the Carthaginians in the general defection of Italy, to return into the friendship of the Romans, since now the Roman power too, which had almost come to ruin by the disaster at Cannae, was daily improving and increasing, while the strength of Hannibal was sinking into decay, and was almost reduced to nothing. He had told them that the Romans would be disposed to accept an atonement for their former offence; that there never was any state more easy to be entreated, or more ready to grant pardon; how often, he had observed to them, had they forgiven rebellion even in their own ancestors! These considerations," he said, "he had himself urged, but that they would rather hear the same from Gracchus himself in person, and touching his right hand, carry with them that pledge of faith. That he had agreed upon a place with those who were privy to the transaction, out of the way of observation, and at no great distance from the Roman camp; that there the business might be settled in few words, so that all the Lucanian states might be in the alliance and friendship of the Romans." Gracchus, not suspecting any treachery either from his words or the nature of the proposal, and being caught by the probability of the thing, set out from the camp with his lictors and a troop of horse, under the guidance of his host, and fell headlong into the snare. The enemy suddenly arose from their lurking-place, and Flavius joined them; which made the treachery obvious. A shower of weapons was poured from all sides on Gracchus and his troop. He immediately leaped from his horse, and ordering the rest to do the same, exhorted them, that "as fortune had left them only one course, they would render it glorious by their valour. And what is there left," said he, "to a handful of men, surrounded by a multitude, in a valley hemmed in by a wood and mountains, except death? The only question was, whether, tamely exposing themselves to be butchered like cattle, they should die unavenged; or whether, drawing the mind off from the idea of suffering and anticipation of the event, and giving full scope to fury and resentment, they should fall while doing and daring, covered with hostile blood, amid heaps of arms and bodies of their expiring foes." He desired that "all would aim at the Lucanian traitor and deserter;" adding, that the man who should send that victim to the shades before him, would acquire the most distinguished glory, and furnish the highest consolation for his own death." While thus speaking, he wound his cloak round his left arm, for they had not even brought their shields out with them, and then rushed upon the enemy. The exertion made in the fight was greater than could be expected from the smallness of the number. The bodies of the Romans were most exposed to the javelins, with which, as they were thrown on all sides from higher ground into a deep valley, they were transfixed. The Carthaginians seeing Gracchus now bereft of support, endeavoured to take him alive; but he having descried his Lucanian host among the enemy, rushed with such fury into their dense body that it became impossible to save his life without a great loss. Mago immediately sent his corpse to Hannibal, ordering it to be placed, with the fasces which were taken at the same time, before the tribunal of the general. This is the true account; Gracchus fell in Lucania, near the place called the Old Plains.||
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Haruspex:(H)aruspex: diviner, predicts future events form entrails. Originally Etruscan.
Horse:a. the animal. b. cavalry.
Fasces:Rods of wood tied by a red thong into a bundle from which an axe projected. Symbol of regal and later magesterial authority.