In the beginning of the year, on a letter from Lucius Marcius being laid before the senate, they considered his achievements as most glorious; but the title of honour which he assumed (for though he was neither invested with the command by the order of the people, nor by the direction of the fathers, his letter ran in this form, “The proprietor to the senate”) gave offence to a great many.
It was considered as an injurious precedent for generals to be chosen by the armies, and for the solemn ceremony of elections, held under auspices, to be transferred to camps and provinces, and (far from the control of the laws and magistrates) to military thoughtlessness.
And though some gave it as their opinion, that the [p. 1019]
sense of the senate should be taken on the matter, yet it was thought more advisable that the discussion should be postponed till after the departure of the horsemen who brought the letter from Marcius.
It was resolved, that an answer should be returned respecting the corn and clothing of the army, stating, that the senate would direct its attention to both those matters; but that the letter should not be addressed to Lucius Marcius, proprietor, lest he should consider that as already determined which was the very point they reserved for discussion.
After the horsemen were dismissed, it was the first thing the consuls brought before the senate;
and the opinions of all to a man coincided, that the plebeian tribunes should be instructed to consult the commons with all possible speed, as to whom they might resolve to send into Spain to take the command of that army which had been under the conduct of Cneius Scipio.
The plebeian tribunes were instructed accordingly, and the question was published. But another contest had pre-engaged the minds of the people: Caius Sempronius Blaesus, having brought Cneius Fulvius to trial for the loss of the army in Apulia, harassed him with invectives in the public assemblies:
“Many generals,” he reiterated, “had by indiscretion and ignorance brought their armies into most perilous situations, but none, save Cneius Fulvius, had corrupted his legions by every species of excess before he betrayed them to the enemy; it might therefore with truth be said, that they were lost before they saw the enemy, and that they were defeated, not by Hannibal, but by their own general.
No man, when he gave his vote, took sufficient pains in ascertaining who it was to whom he was intrusting an army.
What a difference was there between this man and Tiberius Sempronius! The latter, having been intrusted with an army of slaves, had in a short time brought it to pass, by discipline and authority, that not one of them in the field of battle remembered his condition and birth, but they became a protection to our allies and a terror to our enemies. They had snatched, as it were, from the very jaws of Hannibal, and restored to the Roman people, Cumae, Beneventum, and other towns.
But Cneius Fulvius had infected with the vices peculiar to slaves, an army of Roman citizens, of honourable parentage and liberal education; and had thus made them insolent and turbulent among their allies, inefficient and dastardly among their ene- [p. 1020]
mies, unable to sustain, not only the charge, but the shout of the Carthaginians.
But, by Hercules, it was no wonder that the troops did not stand their ground in the battle, when their general was the first to fly; with him, the greater wonder was, that any had fallen at their posts, and that they were not all the companions of Cneius Fulvius in his consternation and his flight.
Caius Flaminius, Lucius Paullus, Lucius Posthumius, Cneius and Publius Scipio, had preferred falling in the battle to abandoning their armies when in the power of the enemy. But Cneius Fulvius was almost the only man who returned to Rome to report the annihilation of his army.
It was a shameful crime that the army of Cannae should be transported into Sicily, because they fled from the field of battle, and not be allowed to return till the enemy has quitted Italy; that the same decree should have been lately passed with respect to the legions of Cneius Fulvius;
while Cneius Fulvius himself has no punishment inflicted upon him for running away, in a battle brought about by his own indiscretion; that he himself should be permitted to pass his old age in stews and brothels, where he passed his youth, while his troops, whose only crime was that they resembled their general, should be sent away in a manner into banishment, and suffer an ignominious service.
So unequally,” he said, “was liberty shared at Rome by the rich and the poor, by the ennobled and the common people.”