While they were thus busy with their intrigues in Etruria the warfare which the Romans were carrying on in Samnium was terribly destructive. When P. Decius had ascertained through his scouts the departure of the Samnite army he summoned a council of war.
‘Why,’ he asked, ‘are we roaming through the country districts, making war only upon the villages? Why are we not attacking the walled cities? There is no army to defend them, the army has abandoned its country and gone into voluntary exile.’
His proposal was unanimously adopted and he led them to the attack of Murgantia, a powerfully fortified city. Such was the eagerness of the soldiers, due partly to the affection they felt for their commander and partly to the expectation of a larger amount of plunder than they were securing in the country districts, that they stormed and captured the city in a single day.
Two thousand one hundred combatants were cut off and made prisoners and an enormous quantity of plunder was seized.
To avoid loading the army with a lot of heavy baggage Decius called his men together and addressed them thus: ‘Are you going to content yourselves with this one victory and this spoil? Raise your hopes and expectations to the height of your courage. All the cities of the Samnites and all the wealth left in them are yours now that their legions, routed in so many battles, have at last been driven by you beyond their frontiers.
Sell what you now hold and attract traders by the hope of profit to follow our armies; I shall frequently supply you with things for sale.
Let us go on to the city of Romulea where still greater spoil awaits you but not greater exertions.’
The booty was then sold and the men, urging on their commander, marched to Romulea. Here, too, no siege works were constructed, no artillery employed, the moment the standards were brought up to the walls no resistance on the part of the defenders could keep the men back; they planted their scalingladders just where they happened to be, and swarmed on to the walls.
The town was taken and sacked, 2300 were killed, 6ooo taken prisoners, and a vast amount of plunder secured, which the troops, as before, were
obliged to dispose of to the traders.
The next place to be attacked was Ferentinum, and though no rest was allowed the men, they marched thither in the highest spirits.
Here, however, they had more trouble and more risk. The position had been made as strong as possible by nature and by art, and the walls were defended with the utmost energy, but a soldiery habituated to plunder overcame all obstacles.
As many as 3000 of the enemy were killed round the walls; the plunder was given to the troops.
In some annalists the greater part of the credit of these captures is given to Maximus; Decius they say took Murgantia, Ferentinum and Romulea being captured by Fabius.
Some again claim this honour for the new consuls, while a few restrict it to L. Volumnius, to whom they say Samnium was assigned as his sphere of action.