These words at length kindled their courage so effectually, and renewing the shout, as if suddenly changed into other men, they bore down upon the enemy with such impetuosity that they could not longer be withstood.
First, those of the Carthaginians who stood before the standards; [p. 914]
then the standards were thrown into disorder; and lastly, the whole line was compelled to give way. They then turned their backs downright, and fled precipitately to their camp with such terror and consternation, that not a man made a stand in the gates or on the rampart; while the Romans, who pursued them so close as to form almost a part of their body, commenced the battle anew, enclosed within the rampart of the enemy.
Here the battle was more bloody as the combatants had less room to move, from the narrowness of the place in which they fought. The prisoners too assisted; for snatching up swords in the confusion, and forming themselves into a body, they slew the Carthaginians in the rear and prevented their flight.
Thus less than two thousand men out of so large an army, and those principally cavalry, effected their escape with their commander, all the rest were slain or taken prisoners. Thirty-eight standards were taken.
Of the victors about two thousand fell. All the booty except that of the prisoners was given up to the soldiery. Such cattle also as the owners should identify within thirty days was excepted.
When they returned to their camp loaded with spoil, about four thousand of the volunteer slaves who had fought with less spirit, and had not joined in breaking into the enemy's camp, through fear of punishment, took possession of a hill not far from the camp.
Being brought down thence the next day by a military tribune, it happened that they arrived during an assembly of the soldiers which Gracchus had called.
At this assembly the proconsul, having first rewarded the veteran soldiers with military presents, according to the valour displayed, and the service rendered by each man in the engagement, then observed, with respect to the volunteer slaves, that he would rather that all should be praised by him whether deserving it or not, than that any one should be chastised on that day.
I bid you, said he, all be free, and may the event be attended with advantage, happiness, and prosperity to the state and to yourselves.
These words were followed by the most cordial acclamations, the soldiers sometimes embracing and congratulating one another, at other times lifting up their hands to heaven, and praying that every blessing might attend the Roman people, and Gracchus in particular; when Gracchus addressed them thus:
“Before I had placed you all on an equal footing with respect to the enjoyment of [p. 915]
liberty, I was unwilling to affix any marks by which the brave and dastardly soldier might be distinguished.
But now the pledge given by the state being redeemed, lest all distinction between courage and cowardice should disappear, I shall order that the names of those persons be laid before me, who, conscious of their dastardly conduct in the battle, have lately seceded.
I shall have them cited before me, when I shall bind them by an oath, that none of them, except such as shall have the plea of sickness, will, so long as they serve, take either meat or drink in any other posture than standing. This penalty you will bear with patience when you reflect that it is impossible your cowardice could be marked with a slighter stigma.”
He then gave the signal for packing up the baggage; and the soldiers, sporting and jesting as they drove and carried their booty, returned to Beneventum in so playful a mood, that they appeared to
be returning, not from the field of battle, but from a feast celebrated on some remarkable holiday.
All the Beneventans pouring out in crowds to meet them at the gate, embraced, congratulated, and invited the troops to entertainments.
They had all prepared banquets in the courts of their houses, to which they invited the soldiers, and of which they entreated Gracchus to allow them to partake. Gracchus gave permission, with the proviso that they should feast in the public street. Each person brought every thing out before his door.
The volunteers feasted with caps of liberty on their heads, or filletted with white wool; some reclining at the tables, others standing, who at once partook of the repast, and waited upon the rest.
It even seemed a fitting occasion that Gracchus, on his return to Rome, should order a picture representing the festivities of that day to be executed in the temple of Liberty, which his father caused to be built on the Aventine out of money arising from fines, and which his father also dedicated.