The expedition into Samnium was attended with ambiguous auspices; but the flaw in them took effect, not in the outcome of the war, which was waged successfully, but in the animosities and madness of the generals.
for Papirius, the dictator, as he was setting out for Rome, on the advice of the keeper of the sacred chickens, to take the auspices afresh, warned the master of the horse to remain in his position, and not to engage in battle with the enemy while he himself was absent.
when Quintus Fabius had ascertained from his scouts —after the departure of the dictator —that
the enemy were in all respects as careless and unguarded as if there had been not a single Roman in Samnium, whether it was that the spirited young man felt aggrieved that all power should seem to be vested in the dictator, or that lie was tempted by the opportunity of striking a successful blow, he put the army in fighting trim, and advancing upon a place they call Imbrinium, engaged in a pitched battle with the Samnites.
this engagement was so fortunate that no greater success could have been gained, had the dictator been present; the general failed not his men, nor the men their general.
The cavalry, too —at the suggestion of Lucius Cominius, a tribune of the soldiers —after charging a number of times without being able to break the enemy's lines, pulled the bridles off their horses and spurred them on so hotly that nothing could resist the shock, and arms and men went down before them over a wide front.
The foot soldiers, following up the cavalry charge, advanced on the disordered enemy, [p. 117]
of whom it is said that twenty thousand were slain1
that day. i find it stated by certain writers that Quintus Fabius twice fought the enemy while the dictator was absent, and twice gained a brilliant victory. The oldest historians give but this one battle, and in certain annals the story is omitted altogether.
The master of the horse found himself, after so great a slaughter, in possession of extensive spoils. he piled the enemy's arms in a great heap, applied a torch to them, and burnt them.
this may have been done in fulfilment of a vow to one of the gods, or —if one chooses to accept the account of Fabius —to prevent the dictator reaping the harvest of his glory and inscribing his name on the arms, or having them carried in his triumph.
a dispatch, too, reporting the victory, which Fabius sent to the senate and not to the dictator, argues that he had no mind to share the credit with him. at all events, the dictator so received the news, that while everyone else was rejoicing at the victory, he showed no uncertain signs of anger and discontent.
and so, having hastily dismissed the senate, he rushed out of the Curia, repeatedly asserting that in that battle the master of the horse had defeated and overthrown the prestige of the dictatorship and military discipline not less decisively than the Samnite legions, should it end in his having flouted orders with impunity.
and so lie set out for the camp, breathing wrath and menaces; but though he travelled by exceedingly long stages, he was unable to arrive before the report of his being on the way.
for couriers had hastened from the City, bringing word that the dictator was coming, athirst [p. 119]
for vengeance and praising with almost every other2
word the deed of Titus Manlius.3