As for the envoys of the prisoners, the dictator admitted them into the senate, where their leader spoke as follows: “Marcus Junius and Conscript Fathers, none of us is unaware that no state ever held prisoners of war in less esteem than ours.
But, unless we overrate our cause, there have never been men who came into the power of the enemy less deserving than ourselves of your neglect.
For we did not yield up our swords through fear on the field of battle, but standing on the heaped bodies of the slain prolonged the combat almost until nightfall and then retired to our camp.
The rest of the day and the succeeding night, though exhausted with fighting and with wounds, we defended the stockade.
On the following day, surrounded by a victorious army and cut off from water, having no longer any hope of breaking through the throng of enemies, and thinking it no disgrace that when fifty thousand of our troops had been cut down, some few Roman soldiers should survive the battle of Cannae, we finally stipulated
for a price at which we might be ransomed, and delivered to the enemy the arms in which there was no longer any help.
Even our ancestors —so we had heard —redeemed [p. 393]
themselves from the Gauls with gold; and your1
fathers, despite their fierce opposition to terms of peace, sent envoys to Tarentum to ransom prisoners.
And yet neither the battle with the Gauls at the Allia nor that with Pyrrhus at Heraclea owed its unhappy fame so much to carnage as to craven flight. At Cannae the plains are covered with heaps of Roman corpses, and if we survive, it is only because our enemies' swords were dulled and their strength spent with slaughtering.
There are some of us, too, who were never even in the battle, but were left to guard the camp, and on its surrender passed into the enemy's hands.
Think not that I envy the good luck or circumstances of any fellow citizen or fellow soldier,2
nor would I raise myself by thrusting another down; but —unless there be a prize for fleetness of foot and running —it is not those who, without weapons for the most part and fleeing from the fight, never stopped until they reached Venusia or Canusium that can justly set themselves above us or boast that they are better defenders of the state than
we. Both in them and in us you shall have good and valiant soldiers; but we shall be even more eager than they to defend our country, since we shall owe to your kindness our redemption and our restoration to that country. You are levying soldiers of every age and condition; I hear that eight thousand slaves are being
armed. Our number is not less than that, and our ransom would be no more costly than their purchase; I make no comparison between our worth and theirs, for that would be to insult the name of
Roman. One other point I would suggest, as meriting3
consideration, when you deliberate about this matter, Conscript Fathers: if haply you should incline to deal harshly by us —which we do not in the least deserve —to what enemy would you be leaving us? To a Pyrrhus, pray, who treated his prisoners like
guests? or to a barbarian and Phoenician, of whom it can hardly be determined whether his avarice or cruelty be
greater? If you could behold the fetters, the squalor, the degradation of your fellow-citizens, assuredly the sight would move you no less profoundly than if, on the other hand, you saw your legions lying slaughtered on the fields of Cannae. One thing you can see —the distress and tears of our kinsmen who are standing at the entrance of the Curia awaiting your
decision. When these people are in such suspense and agony for us and for those who are absent, what think you the men themselves must feel whose life and liberty are hanging in the balance? If Hannibal —Heaven help
me! — should himself be pleased, against his nature, to show us mercy, we should nevertheless deem life a worthless boon, if we had seemed to you unworthy of being ransomed. There once came back to Rome some prisoners whom Pyrrhus had allowed to go scot-free; but they came back in company with envoys, the first men of the state, whom you had sent to ransom
them. Am I to come back to my country as a citizen not reckoned to be worth three hundred pieces? Every man, Conscript Fathers, has his own way of
thinking. I know that my life and person are in jeopardy; but I am troubled more by the danger to my honour —lest we depart under your [p. 397]
condemnation and rebuff; for the world will never4
believe that you were niggardly about the cost.”