As the war was carried on in Italy with less vigour since the battle of Cannae, the strength of one party having been broken, and the energy of the other relaxed, the Campanians of themselves made an attempt to subjugate Cumae, at first by soliciting them to revolt from the Romans, and when
that plan did not succeed, they contrived an artifice by which to entrap them.
All the Campanians had a stated sacrifice at Hamae. They informed the Cumans that the Campanian senate would come there, and requested that the Cuman senate should also be present to deliberate in concert, in order that both people might have the same allies and the same enemies; they said that they would have an armed force there for their protection, that there might be no danger from the Romans or Carthaginians.
The Cumans, although they suspected treachery, made no objection, concluding that thus the deception they meditated might be concealed.
Meanwhile Tiberius Sempronius, the Roman consul, having purified his army at Sinuessa, where he had appointed a day for their meeting, crossed the Vulturnus, and pitched his camp in the neighbourhood of Liternum.
As his troops were stationed here without any employment, he compelled them frequently to go through their exercise, that the recruits, which consisted principally of volunteer slaves, might accustom themselves to follow the standards, and know their own centuries in battle.
While thus engaged, the general was particularly anxious for concord, and therefore enjoined the lieutenant-generals and the tribunes that “no disunion should be engendered among the different orders, by casting reproaches on any one on account of his former condition.
That the veteran soldier should be content [p. 879]
to be placed on an equal footing with the tiro, the freeman with the volunteer slave; that all should consider those men sufficiently respectable in point of character and birth, to whom the Roman people had intrusted their arms and standards; that the measures which circumstances made it necessary to adopt, the same circumstances also made it necessary to support when adopted.”
This was not more carefully prescribed by the generals than observed by the soldiers; and in a short time the minds of all were united in such perfect harmony, that the condition from which each became a soldier was almost forgotten.
While Gracchus was thus employed, ambassadors from Cumae brought him information of the embassy which had come to them from the Campanians, a few days before, and the answer they had given them;
that the festival would take place in three days from that time; that not only the whole body of their senate, but that the camp and the army of the Campanians would be there.
Gracchus having directed the Cumans to convey every thing out of their fields into the town, and to remain within their walls, marched himself to Cumae, on the day before that on which the Campanians were to attend the sacrifice. Hamae was three miles distant from his position.
The Campanians had by this time assembled there in great numbers according to the plan concerted; and not far off Marius Alfius, Medixtuticus, which is the name of the chief magistrate of the Campanians, lay encamped in a retired spot with fourteen thousand armed men, considerably more occupied
in making preparation for the sacrifice and in concerting the stratagem to be executed during it, than in fortifying his camp or any other military work. The sacrifice at Hamae lasted for three days.
It was a nocturnal rite, so arranged as to be completed before midnight.
Gracchus, thinking this the proper time for executing his plot, placed guards at the gates to prevent any one from carrying out intelligence of his intentions; and having compelled his men to employ the time from the tenth hour in taking refreshment and sleep, in order that they might be able to assemble on a signal given as soon as it was dark.
He ordered the standards to be raised about the first watch, and marching in silence, reached Hamae at midnight; where, finding the Campanian camp in a neglected state, as might be expected during a nocturnal festival, he assaulted it at every gate at once;
some [p. 880]
he butchered while stretched on the ground asleep, others as they were returning unarmed after finishing the sacrifice.
In the tumultuous action of this night more than two thousand men were slain, together with the general himself, Marius Alfius, and thirty-four military standards were captured.