Whilst both sides were making their preparations for battle, a deputation from Tarentum appeared on the scene with a peremptory demand that both the Samnites and the Romans should desist from hostilities. They threatened that whichever side stood in the way of a cessation of arms, they would assist the other side against them.
After hearing the demands which the deputation advanced and apparently attaching importance to what they had said, Papirius replied that he would communicate with his colleague. He then sent for him and employed the interval in hastening the preparations for battle. After talking over the matter, about which there could be no two opinions, he displayed the signal for battle.
Whilst the consuls were engaged in the various duties, religious and otherwise, which are customary before a battle, the Tarentines waited for them, expecting an answer, and Papirius informed them that the pullarius had reported that the auspices were favourable and the sacrifice most satisfactory.
‘You see,’ he added, ‘that we are going into action with the sanction of the gods.’
He then ordered the standards to be taken up, and as he marched his men on to the field he expressed his contempt for a people of such egregious vanity, that whilst quite incapable of managing their own affairs, owing to domestic strife and discord, they thought themselves justified in prescribing to others how far they must go in making peace or war.
The Samnites, on the other hand, had given up all thoughts of fighting, either because they were really anxious for peace or because it was their interest to appear so, in order to secure the goodwill of the Tarentines.
When they suddenly caught sight of the Romans drawn up for battle, they shouted that they should act according to the instructions of the Tarentines; they would neither go down into the field nor carry their arms outside their rampart, they would rather let advantage be taken of them and bear whatever chance might bring them than be
thought to have flouted the peaceful advice of Tarentum The consuls said that they welcomed the omen, and prayed that the enemy might remain in that mood so as not even to defend their rampart.
Advancing in two divisions up to the entrenchments, they attacked them simultaneously on all sides. Some began to fill up the fosse, others tore down the abattis on the rampart and hurled the timber into the fosse. It was not their native courage only, but indignation and rage as well which goaded them On smarting as they were from their recent disgrace.
As they forced their way into the camp, they reminded one another that there were no Forks of Caudium there, none of those insuperable defiles where deceit had won an insolent victory over incaution, but Roman valour which neither rampart nor fosse could check. They slew alike those who fought and those who fled, armed and unarmed, slaves and freemen, young and old, men and beasts.
Not a single living thing would have survived had not the
consuls given the signal to retire, and by stern commands and threats driven the soldiers who were thirsting for blood out of the enemy's camp.
As the men were highly incensed at this interruption to a vengeance which was so delightful, it was necessary to explain to them on the spot why they were prevented from carrying it further.
The consuls assured them that they neither had yielded nor would yield to any man in showing their hatred of the enemy, and as they had been their leaders in the fighting so they would have been foremost in encouraging their insatiable rage and vengeance.
But they had to consider the 6oo equites who were being detained as hostages in Luceria, and to take care that the enemy, despairing of any quarter for themselves, did not wreak their blind rage on their captives, and destroy them before they perished themselves.
The soldiers quite approved and were glad that their indiscriminate fury had been checked; they admitted that they must submit to anything rather than endanger the safety of so many youths belonging to the noblest families in Rome.