To this Postumius replied, “In the mean time surrender us as unsanctified persons, which ye may do, without offence to religion;
those sacred and inviolable personages, the tribunes, ye will afterwards deliver up as soon as they go out of office: but, if ye listen to me, they will be first scourged with rods, here in the Comitium, that they may pay this as interest for their punishment being delayed.
For, as to their denying that the people are acquitted of the re- [p. 571]
ligious obligation, by our being given up, who is there so ignorant of the laws of the heralds, as not to know, that those men speak in that manner, that they themselves may not be surrendered, rather than because the case is really so?
Still I do not deny, conscript fathers, that compacts, on sureties given, are as sacred as treaties, in the eyes of all who regard faith between men, with the same reverence which is paid to duties respecting the gods: but I insist, that without the order of the people, nothing can be ratified that is to bind the people.
Suppose that, out of the same arrogance with which the Samnites wrung from us the convention in question, they had compelled us to repeat the established form of words for the surrendering of cities, would ye, tribunes, say, that the Roman people was surrendered?
and, that this city, these temples, and consecrated grounds, these lands and waters, were become the property of the Samnites? I say no more of' the surrender, because our having become sureties is the point insisted on.
Now, suppose we had become sureties that the Roman people should quit this city; that they should set it on fire; that they should have no magistrates, no senate, no laws; that they should, in future, be ruled by kings: the gods forbid, you say. But, the enormity of the articles lessens not the obligation of a compact. If there is any thing in which the people can be bound, it can in all.
Nor is there any importance in another circumstance, which weighs, perhaps, with some: whether a consul, a dictator, or a praetor, be the surety. And this, indeed, was what even the Samnites themselves proved, who were not satisfied with the security of the consuls, but compelled the lieutenants-general, quaestors, and military tribunes to join them.
Let no one, then, demand of me, why I entered into such a compact, when neither such power was vested in a consul, and when I could not, either to them, insure a peace, of which I could not command the ratification; or in behalf of you, who had given me no powers.
Conscript fathers, none of the transactions at Caudium were directed by human wisdom. The immortal gods deprived of understanding both your generals and those of the enemy.
On the one side we acted not with sufficient caution in the war; on the other, they threw away a victory, which through our folly they had obtained, while they hardly confided in the places, by means of which they had conquered; [p. 572]
but were in haste, on any terms, to take arms out of the hands of men who were born to arms.
Had their reason been sound, would it have been difficult, during the time which they spent in sending for old men from home to give them advice, to send ambassadors to Rome, and to negotiate a peace and treaty with the senate, and with the people?
It would have been a journey of only three days to expeditious travellers. In the interim, matters might have rested under a truce, that is, until their ambassadors should have brought from Rome, either certain victory or peace.
That would have been really a compact, on the faith of sureties, for we should have become sureties by order of the people. But, neither would ye have passed such an order, nor should we have pledged our faith;
nor was it right that the affair should have any other issue, than, that they should be vainly mocked with a dream, as it were, of greater prosperity than their minds were capable of comprehending, and that the same fortune, which had entangled our army, should extricate it;
that an ineffectual victory should be frustrated by a more ineffectual peace; and that a convention, on the faith of a surety, should be introduced, which bound no other person beside the surety. For what part had ye, conscript fathers; what part had the people, in this affair? Who can call upon you? Who can say, that he has been deceived by you?
Can the enemy? Can a citizen? To the enemy ye engaged nothing. Ye ordered no citizen to engage on your behalf.
Ye are therefore no way concerned either with us, to whom ye gave no commission; nor with the Samnites, with whom ye transacted no business. We are sureties to the Samnites; debtors, sufficiently wealthy in that which is our own, in that which we can offer —our bodies and our minds. On these, let them exercise their cruelty; against these, let them whet their resentment and their swords.
As to what relates to the tribunes, consider whether the delivering them up can be effected at the present time, or if it must be deferred to another day. Meanwhile let us, Titus Veturius, and the rest concerned, offer our worthless persons, as atonements, for the breaking our engagements, and, by our sufferings, liberate the Roman armies.”