The seat of war was now shifted, and the legions were transferred from Samnium and Apulia to Sora, which had gone over to the Samnites, after putting to death the Roman colonists.
The Roman army, by a series of forced marches, undertaken to avenge their slaughtered fellow —citizens and regain the colony, came first upon the ground.
but the scouts who had scattered out along the roads reported one after the other that the Samnite legions [p. 251]
were following and were already close at hand.1
whereupon the Romans marched to meet the enemy, and an indecisive battle was fought near Lautulae.
it was not the losses nor the rout of either army that put a stop to the engagement, but darkness, which left them uncertain if they had lost or won.
i find in some authorities2
that the Romans were defeated in this battle, and that it was here that the master of the horse, Quintus Aulius, lost his life. to fill out the term of Aulius they appointed Gaius Fabius,3
who marched from Rome with a fresh army. sending messengers on ahead to the dictator, he consulted him as to where he should halt, and when, and from what quarter, attack the enemy.
on being accurately informed regarding every detail of the dictator's plans, he halted where his army could lie concealed.
for some days after the battle the dictator had kept his soldiers within their works, more like one besieged than a besieger. then, suddenly, he displayed the battle —signal, and thinking it more efficacious for quickening the courage of brave men to leave none of them any hope but in himself, he concealed from his troops the arrival
of the master of the horse and his new army, and, as though their only salvation lay in cutting their way through, “soldiers,” he said, “we are trapped and have no way of escape save such as victory shall open to us.4
our standing camp is sufficiently protected by its rampart, but for lack of provisions is untenable; for every place round about us from which supplies could be brought up has revolted, and even if men wished to help us, the character of the country is against it.
i will therefore not beguile you by leaving the camp standing here for you to [p. 253]
make a refuge, if you fail of victory, as on the former5
occasion. entrenchments should be secured by arms, not arms by entrenchments.
let those have a camp, and retire to it, who have time to prolong the war: as for us, let us shut out all regard for everything but victory.
forward against the enemy! when the column is outside the rampart, let those who have been ordered to do so fire the camp! your losses, men, shall be made good with the spoils of all the revolted peoples round about!”
inflamed by the dictator's speech, which pointed to the direst necessity, the soldiers advanced upon the foe; and the mere sight of their blazing camp as they glanced back, though only the nearest tents were set afire — for so the dictator had commanded —was no small whet to their resentment.
and so, charging like madmen, they threw the enemy's ranks into confusion at the first assault; and in the nick of time the master of the horse, who had seen far away the burning camp —which was the signal they had agreed upon —assaulted the enemy from behind.
being thus hemmed in, the Samnites fled, as each best might, in different directions; a vast throng huddled up together, in their terror, and blocking each other's way in the confusion, were cut down where they stood.
The enemy's camp was seized and plundered, and the soldiers, laden with the spoils, were led back by the dictator to the Roman camp, rejoicing not so greatly in their victory as because, contrary to their expectation, they found all safe there, except for a trifling part that had been damaged by the flames.