Matters being thus conducted, the consul, having sum- [p. 494]
moned an assembly, pronounces a panegyric on Decius, not only that which had been commenced on a previous occasion, but as now completed by his recent deserts; and besides other military gifts, he presents him with a golden crown and one hundred oxen, and with one white one of distinguished beauty, richly decorated with gilded horns.
The soldiers who had been in the guard with him, were presented with a double allowance of corn for ever; for the present, with an ox and two vests each. Immediately after the consuls' donation, the legions place on the head of Decius a crown of grass, indicative of their deliverance from a blockade, expressing their approbation of the present with a shout.
Decorated with these emblems, he sacrificed the beautiful ox to Mars; the hundred oxen he bestowed on the soldiers, who had been with him in the expedition. On the same soldiers the legions conferred, each a pound of corn and a pint of wine; and all these things were performed with great alacrity, with a military shout, a token of the approbation of all.
The third battle was fought near Suessula, in which the army of the Samnites, having been routed by Marcus Valerius, having summoned from home the flower of their youth, determined on trying their strength by a final contest. From Suessula messengers came in great haste to Capua, and from thence horsemen in full speed to the consul Valerius, to implore aid.
The troops were immediately put in motion; and the baggage in the camp being left with a strong guard, the army moves on with rapidity;
and they select at no great distance from the enemy a very narrow spot (as, with the exception of their horses, they were unaccompanied by a crowd of cattle and servants). The army of the Samnites, as if there was to be no delay in coming to an engagement, draw up in order of battle;
then, when no one came to meet them, they advance to the enemy's camp in readiness for action.
There when they saw the soldiers on the rampart, and persons sent out to reconnoitre in every direction, brought back word into how narrow a compass the camp had been contracted, inferring thence the scanty number of the enemy.
The whole army began to exclaim, that the trenches ought to be filled up, the rampart to be torn down, and that they should force their way into the camp; and by that temerity the war would have been soon over, had not the generals restrained the impetuosity of the soldiers.
However, [p. 495]
as their own numbers bore heavily on their supplies, and in consequence, first of their sitting down so long at Suessula, and then by the delay of the contest, they were not far from a want of provisions, it was determined, whilst the enemy remained shut up as if through fear, that the soldiers should be led through the country to forage;
[supposing] in the mean time, that all supplies would fail the Romans also, who having marched in haste, had brought with him only as much corn as could be carried on his shoulders amid his arms.
The consul, after he had observed the enemy scattered through the country, that the posts were left but insufficiently attended, having in a few words encouraged his men, leads them on to besiege the camp.
After he had taken this on the first shout and contest, more of the enemy being slain in their tents than at the gates and rampart, he ordered the captive standards to be collected into one place, and having left behind two legions as a guard and protection, after giving them strict order that they should abstain from the booty, until he himself should return;
having set out with his troops in regular order, the cavalry who had been sent on driving the dispersed Samnites as it were by hunting toils, he committed great slaughter among them.
For in their terror they could neither determine by what signal they should collect themselves into a body, whether they should make for the camp, or continue their flight to a greater distance.
And so great was their terror, and so precipitate their flight, that to the number of forty thousand shields, though by no means were so many slain, and one hundred and seventy standards, with those which had been taken in the camp, were brought to the consul.
Then they returned to the enemy's camp; and there all the plunder was given up to the soldiers.