The ambassadors were then made to withdraw while the senate considered their request. It was evident to many that the largest and wealthiest city of Italy, with a very fertile territory near the [p. 465]
sea, would in times of scarcity be a store-house for1
the Roman People.
Yet this great advantage was of less moment with them than their honour, and the consul, being so instructed by the senate, returned the following answer to the ambassadors: “Men of Campania, the senate holds you worthy of assistance; but on such terms only can we become your friends as shall not violate an older friendship and alliance. The Samnites and we are united by a covenant; we must therefore refuse to make war in your behalf upon the Samnites, for this would be to wrong first gods,2
and then men; we will, however, dispatch envoys, as is right and just, to entreat our allies and friends to do you no violence.”
To this the leader of the delegation answered —in accordance with instructions they had brought with them: —“Since you decline to use a righteous violence to protect from violence and injustice what belongs to us, you will at least defend your own;
to your sovereignty, therefore, Conscript Fathers, and to the sovereignty of the Roman People, we surrender the people of Campania and the city of Capua, with our lands, the shrines of our gods, and all things else, whether sacred or profane; whatever we endure henceforth, we shall endure as your surrendered subjects.”
When these words had been pronounced, they all stretched forth their hands in supplication to the consul, and weeping bitterly, threw themselves face downwards on the floor of the entrance to the Curia.
The Fathers were profoundly moved by the vicissitudes of human fortune, considering how that great and opulent people, famed for its luxury and pride, of whom a little while before its neighbours [p. 467]
had sought assistance, was become so broken in3
spirit as to yield itself up with all its possessions to the dominion of another.
They now held it to be a point of honour not to betray those who were become their subjects; neither did they think that the Samnite people would deal justly, if they attacked a country and a city, which, by surrendering, had become the property of the Roman People.
The senate accordingly voted to dispatch ambassadors to the Samnites, without loss of time. Their instructions were to inform the Samnites what the Campanians had asked, how the senate, mindful of the friendship of the Samnites, had replied to them, and lastly how they had surrendered;
they were then to request that the Samnites, out of regard for the friendship and alliance of the Romans, would spare their subjects, and make no hostile incursion into a territory which belonged now to the Roman People;
if soft words proved ineffectual, they were to warn the Samnites, in the name of the Roman People and the senate, not to meddle with the city of Capua or the Campanian domain.
But the Samnites, when these things were represented to them in their council4
by the envoys, behaved so insolently as not only to declare that they meant to carry on the war, but their magistrates stepping out of the senate-house —while the envoys stood by —summoned
the commanders of their cohorts, and with a loud voice gave them orders to proceed at once to make a raid upon Campania.