P. Sulpicius Saverrio and P. Sempronius Sophus were the next consuls. During their consulship the Samnites, anxious for either a termination or at least a suspension of hostilities, sent envoys to Rome to sue for peace.
In spite of their submissive attitude they did not meet with a very favourable reception. The reply they received was to the effect that if the Samnites had not often made proposals for peace while they were actually preparing for war negotiations might possibly have been entered into, but now as their words had proved worthless the question must be decided by their deeds.
They were informed that the consul P. Sempronius would shortly be in Samnium with his army, and he would he able to judge accurately whether they were more disposed to peace or to war.
When he had obtained all the information that he wanted he would lay it before the senate; on his return from Samnium the envoys might follow him to Rome.
Wherever Sempronius marched they found the Samnites peaceably disposed and ready to supply them with provisions and stores. The old treaty was therefore restored.
From that quarter the Roman arms were turned against their old enemies the Aequi. For many years this nation had remained quiet, disguising their real sentiments under a peaceable attitude.
As long as the Hernicans remained unsubdued the Aequi had frequently co-operated with them in sending help to the Samnites, but after their final subjugation almost the whole of the Aequian nation threw off the mask and openly went over to the enemy. After Rome had renewed the treaty with the Samnites the fetials went on to the Aequi to demand satisfaction.
They were told that their demand was simply regarded as an attempt on the part of the Romans to intimidate them by threats of war into becoming Roman citizens.
How desirable a thing this citizenship was might be seen in the case of the Hernicans who, when allowed to choose, preferred living under their own laws to becoming citizens of Rome. To men who were not allowed which they would prefer, but were made Roman citizens by compulsion, it would be a punishment.
As these opinions were pretty generally expressed in their different councils, the Romans ordered war to be declared against the Aequi.
Both the consuls took the field and selected a position four miles distant from the enemy's camp.
As the Aequi had for many years had no experience of a national war, their army was like a body of irregulars with no properly appointed generals and no discipline or obedience. They were in utter confusion; some were of opinion that they ought to give battle, others thought they ought to confine themselves to defending their camp.
The majority were influenced by the prospect of their fields being devastated and their cities, with their scanty garrisons, being destroyed.
In this diversity of opinions one was given utterance to which put out of sight all care for the common weal and directed each man's regards to his own private interests.
They were advised to abandon their camp at the first watch, carry off all their belongings, and disperse to their respective cities to protect their property behind their walls. This advice met with the warmest approval from all.
Whilst the enemy were thus straggling homewards, the Romans as soon as it was light marched out and formed up in order of battle, and as there was no one to oppose, they went on at a quick march to the enemy's camp.
Here they found no pickets before the gates or on the rampart, none of the noise which is customary in a camp, and fearing from the unusual silence that a surprise was being prepared they came to a halt. At length they climbed over the rampart and found everything deserted.
Then they began to follow up the enemy's footsteps, but as these went in all directions alike, they found themselves going further and further astray. Subsequently they discovered through their scouts what the design of the enemy was, and their cities were successively attacked. Within a fortnight they had stormed and captured thirty-one walled towns. Most of these were sacked and burnt, and the nation of the Aequi was almost exterminated.
A triumph was celebrated over them, and warned by their example the Marrucini, the Marsi, the Paeligni, and the Feretrani sent spokesmen to Rome to sue for peace and friendship. These tribes obtained a treaty with Rome.