at this juncture, while both sides were [p. 213]
making ready for the struggle, came ambassadors1
from Tarentum, admonishing both Samnites and Romans to desist from war. whichever party should oppose the cessation of hostilities, against that they proposed to fight in behalf of the other.
after listening to these envoys, Papirius, as though moved by what they said, replied that he would consult his colleague. having sent for Publilius, he employed every moment of the interval in making his preparations, and when he had conferred with him about a matter which admitted of no doubt, displayed the battle —signal.2
The consuls were busy with matters pertaining to gods and to men, as they are wont to to be on the eve of an engagement, when the envoys from Tarentum approached them to receive their answer;
to whom Papirius replied, “Tarentines, the keeper of the chickens reports that the signs are favourable; the sacrifice too has been exceedingly auspicious;3
as you see, the gods are with us at our going into action.”
he then commanded to advance the standards, and marshalled his troops, with exclamations on the folly of a nation which, powerless to manage its own affairs, because of domestic strife and discord, presumed to lay down the limits of peace and war for others.
The Samnites, on their side, having dismissed from their minds every anxiety regarding the war, either because they sincerely wished for peace, or because it was expedient for them to pretend that they wished it, in order to gain the support of the Tarentines, when they beheld
the Romans suddenly arrayed for battle, cried out that they would abide by the will of the Tarentines and would neither take the field nor advance beyond the rampart;
they had [p. 215]
been deceived, but they chose rather to endure4
whatever Fortune might have in store for them than be thought to have spurned the peaceful advice of the Tarentines.
The consuls declared that they embraced the omen,5
praying that the enemy might be so minded as not even to defend his rampart. they themselves, dividing their troops between them, marched up to the earthworks of the Samnites, and attacked them at once from every side. some began to fill the trenches, others to pull up the palings and fling them into the trenches; besides their native courage they were goaded on by anger at the disgrace that rankled in their hearts.
forcing their way into the camp, while every man repeated that here were no Forks, no Caudium, no trackless passes, where guile had arrogantly triumphed over error, but Roman manhood, which neither rampart nor trenches could keep out, they cut down without distinction those who resisted and those who fled, the armed and the unarmed, slaves and
freemen, adults and children, men and beasts;
nor would anything living have survived, had not the consuls bade sound the recall and expelled the bloodthirsty soldiers from the enemy's camp with commands and threats.
The men were incensed at the interruption of their sweet revenge, and accordingly the consuls at once addressed them and explained that they had neither yielded nor meant to yield to any of the soldiers in hatred of the enemy;
on the contrary, they would have led the way, as in war, so in the exaction of endless vengeance, had their indignation not been checked by thoughts of the six hundred knights who were being held as hostages in Luceria;
but they feared that the enemy, if they despaired of [p. 217]
quarter, might be driven blindly to put their6
prisoners to death, choosing to slay before they were slain themselves.
These arguments the men applauded, and rejoiced that their wrath had been restrained; they confessed that it was better that they should suffer anything than betray the lives of so many distinguished young Romans.