In the succeeding consulate of Publius Sulpicius Saverrio and Publius Sempronius Sophus, the Samnites, desirous either of a termination or a suspension of hostilities, sent ambassadors to Rome to treat of peace;
to whose submissive solicitations this answer was returned, that, “had not the Samnites frequently solicited peace, at times when they were actually preparing for war, their present application might, perhaps, in the course of negotiating, have produced the desired effect.
But now, since words had hitherto proved vain, people's conduct must be guided by facts: that Publius Sempronius the consul would shortly be in Samnium with an army: that he could not be deceived in judging whether their dispositions inclined to peace or war.
He would bring the senate certain information respecting every particular, and their ambassadors might follow the consul on his return from Samnium.” When the Roman army accordingly marched through all parts of Samnium, which was in a state of peace, provisions being liberally supplied, a renewal of the old treaty was, this year, granted to the Samnites.
The Roman arms were then turned against the Aequans, their old enemies, but who had, for many years past, remained quiet, under the guise of a treacherous peace;
because, while the Hernicians were in a state of prosperity, these had, in conjunction with them, frequently sent aid to the Samnites; and after the Hernicians were subdued, almost the whole nation, without dissembling that they acted by public authority, had revolted to the enemy; and when, after the conclusion of the treaty with the Samnites at Rome, ambassadors were sent to demand satisfaction, they said, that “this was only a trial made of them, on the expectation that they would through fear suffer themselves to be made Roman citizens.
But how much that condition was to be wished for they had been taught by the Hernicians; who, when they had the option, preferred their own laws to the freedom of the Roman state.
To people who wished for liberty to choose what they judged preferable, the necessity of becoming Roman citizens would have the nature of a punishment.”
In resentment of these declarations, uttered publicly in their assemblies, the Roman people ordered war to be made on the Aequans;
and, in prosecution of this new undertaking, both the consuls marched from the city, and sat down at the distance of four miles from the camp of the enemy.
The troops of the Aequans, like tumultuary recruits, in consequence of their having passed such a number of years without waging war on their own account, were all in disorder and confusion, without established officers and without command.
Some advised to give battle, others to defend the camp; the greater part were influenced by concern for the devastation of their lands, likely to take place, and the consequent destruction of their cities, left with weak garrisons.
Among a variety of propositions, one, however, was heard which, abandoning all concern for the public interest, tended to transfer every man's attention to the care of his private concerns.
It recommended that, at the first watch, they should depart from the camp by different roads, so as to carry all their effects into the cities, and to secure them by the strength of the fortifications; this they all approved with universal assent.
When the enemy were now dispersed through the country, the Romans, at the first dawn, marched out to the field, and drew up in order of battle; but no one coming to oppose them, they advanced in a brisk pace to the enemy's camp.
But when they perceived neither guards before the gates, nor soldiers on the ramparts, nor the usual bustle of a camp, —surprised at the extra- [p. 626]
ordinary silence, they halted in apprehension of some stratagem. At length, passing over the rampart, and finding the whole deserted, they proceeded to search out the tracks of the enemy.
But these, as they scattered themselves to every quarter, occasioned perplexity at first. Afterwards discovering their design by means of scouts, they attacked their cities, one after another, and within the space of fifty days took, entirely by force, forty-one towns, most of which were razed and burnt, and the race of the Aequans almost extirpated.
A triumph was granted over the Aequans. The Marrucinians, Marsians, Pelignians, and Ferentans, warned by the example of their disasters, sent deputies to Rome to solicit peace and friendship; and these states, on their submissive applications, were admitted into alliance.