Equal danger, and an issue equally glorious, soon after attended the war with the Samnites; who, besides their many preparations for the field, made their army to glitter with new decorations of their armour.
Their troops were in two divisions, one of which had their shields embossed with gold, the other with silver. The shape of the shield was this; broad at the middle to cover the breast and shoulders, the summit being flat, sloping off gradually so as to become pointed below, that it might be wielded with ease;
a loose coat of mail also served as a protection for the breast, and the left leg was covered with a greave; their helmets were adorned with plumes, to add to the appearance of their stature.
The golden-armed soldiers wore tunics of various colours; the silver-armed, of white linen. To the latter the right wing was assigned; the former took post on the left.
The Romans had been apprized of these splendid accoutrements, and had been taught by their commanders, that “a soldier ought to be rough; not decorated with gold and silver, but placing his confidence in his sword. That matters of this kind were in [p. 616]
reality spoil rather than armour; glittering before action, but soon becoming disfigured amid blood and wounds.
That the brightest ornament of a soldier was valour; that all those trinkets would follow victory, and that those rich enemies would be valuable prizes to the conquerors, however poor.”
Cursor, having animated his men with these observations, led them on to battle.
He took post himself on the right wing, he gave the command of the left to the master of the horse. As soon as they engaged, the struggle between the two armies became desperate, while it was no less so between the dictator and the master of the horse, on which wing victory should first show itself.
It happened that Junius first, with the left wing, made the right of the enemy give way; this consisted of men devoted after the custom of Samnites, and on that account distinguished by white garments and armour of equal whiteness.
Junius, saying “he would sacrifice these to Pluto,” pressed forward, disordered their ranks, and made an evident impression on their line: which being perceived by the dictator, he exclaimed, “Shall the victory begin
on the left wing, and shall the right, the dictator's own troops, only second the arms of others, and not claim the greatest share of the victory?”
This spurred on the soldiers: nor did the cavalry yield to the infantry in bravery, nor the ardour of lieutenants-general to that of the commanders. Marcius Valerius from the right wing, and Publius Decius from the left, both men of consular rank, rode off to the cavalry, posted on the extremities of the line, and, exhorting them to join in putting in for a share of the honour, charged the enemy on the flanks.
When the addition of this new alarm assailed the enemies' troops on both sides, and the Roman legions, having renewed the shout to confound the enemy, rushed on, they began to fly.
And now the plains were quickly filled with heaps of bodies and splendid armour. At first, their camp received the dismayed Samnites; but they did not long retain even the possession of that: before night it was taken, plundered, and burnt.
The dictator triumphed, in pursuance of a decree of the senate;
and the most splendid spectacle by far, of any in his procession, was the captured arms: so magnificent were they deemed, that the shields, adorned with gold, were distributed among the owners of the silver shops, to serve as embellishments to the forum.
Hence, it is said, arose the custom of the forum [p. 617]
being decorated by the aediles, when the grand processions are made, on occasion of the great games. The Romans, indeed, converted these extraordinary arms to the honour of the gods:
but the Campanians, out of pride, and in hatred of the Samnites, gave them as ornaments to their gladiators, who used to be exhibited as a show at their feasts, and whom they distinguished by the name of Samnites.
During this year, the consul Fabius fought with the remnants of the Etrurians at Perusia, which city also had violated the truce, and gained an easy and decisive victory.
He would have taken the town itself; (for he marched up to the walls,) had not deputies come out and capitulated. Having placed a garrison at Perusia, and sent on before him to the Roman senate the embassies of Etruria, who solicited friendship, the consul rode into the city in triumph, for successes more important than those of the dictator.
Besides, a great share of the honour of reducing the Samnites was attributed to the lieutenants-general, Publius Decius and Marcius Valerius: whom, at the next election, the people, with universal consent, declared the one consul, the other praetor.