both the consuls with the whole strength of Rome were devoting their energies more and more to the Etruscan war, fresh armies were raised in Samnium for the purpose of ravaging the territories which belonged to the feudatories of Rome. They passed through the Vescini into the country round Capua and Falernum and secured immense spoil.
Volumnius was returning to Samnium by forced marches, for the extended command of Fabius and Decius had almost expired, when he heard of the devastations which the Samnites were committing in Campania. He at once diverted his route in that direction to protect our allies.
When he was in the neighhourhood of Cales he saw for himself the fresh traces of the destruction that had been wrought, and the inhabitants informed him that the enemy were carrying off so much plunder that they could hardly keep any proper formation on the march.
In fact their generals had openly given out that they dared not expose an army so heavily laden to the chances of battle, and they must at once return to Samnium and leave their plunder there, after which they would return for a fresh raid.
However true all this might be, Volumnius thought he ought to get further information, and accordingly he despatched some cavalry to pick up any stragglers they might find among the raiders.
On questioning them he learnt that the enemy were halted at the river Volturnus, and were going to move forward at the third watch and take the road to Samnium.
Satisfied with this information he marched on and fixed his camp at such a distance from the enemy that while it was not close enough for his arrival to be detected it was sufficiently near to allow of his surprising them while they were leaving their camp.
Some time before daylight he approached their camp and sent some men familiar with the Oscan language to find out what was going on. Mingling with the enemy, an easy matter in the confusion of a nocturnal departure, they found that the standards had already gone with only a few to defend them, the booty and those who were to escort it were just leaving, the army as a whole were incapable of any military evolution, for each was looking
after his own affairs, without any mutually arranged plan of action or any definite orders from their commander.
This seemed the moment for delivering his attack, and daylight was approaching, so he ordered the advance to be sounded and attacked the enemy's column. The Samnites were encumbered with their booty, only a few were in fighting trim; some hurried on and drove before them the animals they had seized, others halted, undecided whether to go on or retreat to the camp; in the midst of their hesitation they were surrounded and cut off.
The Romans had now got over the rampart, and the camp became a scene of wild disorder and carnage. The confusion created in the Samnite column by the swiftness of the attack was increased by the sudden outbreak of their prisoners.
Some after releasing themselves broke the fetters of those round them, others snatched the weapons which were fastened up with the baggage and created in the centre of the column a tumult more appalling even than the battle which was going on.
Then they achieved a most extraordinary feat. Statius Minacius, the general commanding, was riding up and down the ranks encouraging his men, when the prisoners attacked him, and after dispersing his escort, hurried him off, whilst still in the saddle, as a prisoner to the Roman consul.
The noise and the tumult recalled the cohorts who were at the head of the column, and the battle was resumed, but only for a short time, as a long resistance was impossible.
As many as 6ooo men were killed, there were 2500 prisoners, amongst them four military tribunes, thirty standards were taken, and, what gave the victors more pleasure than anything else, 7400 captives were rescued and the immense booty which had been taken from the allies recovered. Public notice was given inviting the owners to identify and recover what belonged to them.
Everything for which no owner appeared on the appointed day was given to the soldiers, but they were obliged to sell it all that nothing might distract their thoughts from their military duties.