Pontius replied:‘I shall not accept this surrender of yours nor will the Samnites regard it as valid.
Why do you not, Spurius Postumius, if you believe in the existence of gods, either cancel the whole agreement or abide by what you have pledged yourself to. The Samnite people have a right to all those whom it held in its power, or in their stead it has a right to make peace with Rome.
But why do I appeal to you? You are keeping your word as far as you can and rendering yourself as prisoner to your conqueror. I appeal to the Roman people. If they are dissatisfied with the convention of the Caudine Forks, let them place their legions once more between the passes which imprisoned them.
Let there be no fraudulent dealing on either side, let the whole transaction be annuled, let them resume the arms which they delivered up at the capitulation, let them return to that camp of theirs, let them have everything that they had on the eve of their surrender. When that is done, then let them take a bold line and vote for war, then let the convention and the peace agreed to be repudiated.
Let us carry on the war with the same fortune and on the same ground which we held before any mention was made of peace; the Roman people will not then have any occasion to blame their consuls for pledges they had no right to give, nor shall we have any reason to charge the Roman people with any breach of faith.’
‘Will you never be at a loss for reasons why, after defeat, you should not abide by your agreements? You gave hostages to Porsena, afterwards you stole them away.
You ransomed your city from the Gauls with gold, whilst they were in the act of receiving the gold they were cut down. You made peace with us on condition of our restoring your captured legions, you are now making that peace null and void.
You always cloak your dishonest dealing under some specious pretext of right and justice. Does the Roman people not approve of its legion being saved at the cost of a humiliating peace? Then let it keep its peace to itself, only let it restore to the victor its captured legions.
Such action would be in accord with the dictates of honour, with the faith of treaties, with the solemn proceedings of the fetials. But that you should secure what you stipulated for, the safety of thousands of your countrymen, whilst I am not to secure the peace which I stipulated for when I released them —is this what you Aulus Cornelius and you fetials call acting according to the law of nations?’
‘As to those men whom you make believe to surrender I neither accept them nor do I regard them as surrendered, nor do I hinder them from returning to their countrymen, who are bound by a convention, the violation of which brings down the wrath of all the gods whose majesty is being trifled with.
True, Spurius Postumius has just struck the herald fetial with his knee, then wage war! Of course the gods will believe that Postumius is a Samnite citizen not a Roman, and that it is by a Samnite citizen that a Roman herald has been maltreated, and that for that reason you are justified in making war upon us.
It is sad to think that you feel no shame in exposing this mockery of religion to the light of day, and that old men of consular rank should invent excuses for breaking their word which even children would think beneath them.
Go, lictor, remove the bonds from the Romans, let none of them be hindered from departing where they please.’
Thus set free they returned to the Roman camp, their personal obligations and possibly those of the State having been discharged.