at the beginning of that year, when the letter of Lucius Marcius1
was brought before the senate, [p. 7]
his achievement was thought magnificent; but many2
were offended by the official title used, since he had written “the Propraetor to the Senate,” although his command had not been given him by order of the people, nor by authority of the senate.
it was a bad precedent, they said, for generals to be chosen by armies, and for the sanctity of elections with the required auspices to be removed instead to camps and the provinces, far from laws and magistrates, at the bidding of reckless soldiers.
and when some moved that the matter be laid before the senate, it seemed better to postpone deliberation on that point until the knights who had brought the letter from Marcius should depart.
in regard to grain and clothing for the army, it was voted to reply that both matters would receive the attention of the senate, but not to address it “to the Propraetor Lucius Marcius,” for fear he should get, as though already decided, the very thing which they had left to be considered.
when the knights had been sent away, the consuls brought up that matter first of all, and there was complete unanimity that the tribunes of the plebs should be persuaded to bring before the plebs at the earliest possible moment the question as to whom they preferred to send with full authority to Spain and the army of which Gnaeus Scipio had been the commander —in —chief.
the matter was arranged with the tribunes and due notice given; but a different dispute had claimed men's attention.
Gaius Sempronius Blaesus,3
having named a day for the trial, was inveighing against Gnaeus Fulvius in harangues, because of the loss of his army in Apulia, insisting that many generals out of recklessness and lack of experience had led their [p. 9]
armies into a dangerous place; but that no one4
except Gnaeus Fulvius had ruined his legions with every vice before he betrayed them.
and so it could be truly said that they were lost before they saw the enemy, and that they were defeated, not by Hannibal, but by their own commander.
no one, in casting his vote, he said, clearly saw to what sort of man he was entrusting a command and an army. what had been the difference between Tiberius Sempronius and Gnaeus Fulvius?
Tiberius Sempronius, though he had been given an army of slaves, by his training and authority had soon brought it about that no one of them in battle remembered his class and origin, and that they were a defence to allies, a terror to enemies. they had rescued Cumae, Beneventum5
and other cities out of the jaws of Hannibal, as it were, and restored them to the Roman people.
but Gnaeus Fulvius, having an army of Roman citizens,6
men well born and brought up as free men, had steeped them in the vices of slaves. consequently this was what he had accomplished: that they were overbearing and turbulent in their dealings with allies, cowardly and unwarlike towards the enemy, and unable to withstand even the battle —cry of the Carthaginians, to say nothing of their attack.
and surely it was no wonder that the soldiers had given way in battle, when their commander was the first of all to flee.
he wondered more, he said, that some had fallen where they stood, and that not all had shared the consternation and flight of Gnaeus Fulvius. Gaius Flaminius, Lucius Paulus, Lucius Postumius, Gnaeus and Publius Scipio had preferred to fall in battle —line rather than to desert their entrapped armies. but Gnaeus Fulvius, almost [p. 11]
the only man to report the destruction of his army,7
had returned to Rome.
it was a shameful thing that the army of Cannae, for having escaped from the battle —line, had been deported to Sicily, not to be relieved of service there until the enemy withdrew from Italy, and that the same action had been taken recently in the case of Gnaeus Fulvius' legions;
that the flight of Gnaeus Fulvius from a battle begun by his own recklessness should have gone unpunished, and he should be expecting to spend his old age in cook —shops and brothels in which he passed his youth, whereas the soldiers, whose only fault was that they were like their commander, had been all but exiled and were enduring military service in disgrace.
so different was freedom at Rome for the rich and the poor, for the man who had held and the man who had not held public office!