At this juncture, while both parties were preparing for an action, ambassadors from the Tarentines interposed, requiring both Samnites and Romans to desist from war; with menaces, that “if either refused to agree to a cessation of hostilities, they would join their arms with the other party, against them.”
Papirius, on hearing the purport of their embassy, as if influenced by their words, answered, that he would consult his colleague: he then sent for him, employing the intermediate time in the necessary preparations; and when he had conferred with him on a matter, about which no doubt was entertained, he made the signal for battle.
While the consuls were employed in performing the religious rites, and the other usual business preparatory to an engagement, the Tarentine ambassadors put themselves in their way, expecting an answer:
to whom Papirius said, “Tarentines, the priest reports that the auspices are favourable, and that our sacrifices have been attended with excellent omens: under the direction of the gods, we are proceeding, as you see, to action.”
He then ordered the standards to move, and led out the troops; thus rebuking the exorbitant arrogance of that nation, which at a time when, through intestine discord and sedition, it was unequal to the management of its own affairs, yet presumed to prescribe the bounds of peace and war to others.
On the other side, the Samnites, who had neglected every preparation for fighting, either because they were really desirous of peace, or it seemed their interest to pretend to be so, in order to conciliate the favour of the Tarentines, when they saw, on a
sudden, the Romans drawn up for battle, cried out, that “they would continue to be directed by the Tarentines, and would neither march out, nor carry their arms beyond the rampart. That if deceived, they would rather endure any consequence which chance may bring, than show contempt to the Tarentines, the advisers of peace.”
The consuls said, that “they embraced the omen, and prayed that the enemy might continue in the resolution of not even defending their rampart.”
Then, dividing the forces between them, they advanced to the works; and, making an assault on every side at once, while some filled up the trenches, others tore down the rampart, and tumbled it into the trench. All were stimulated, not only by their native courage, but by the resentment which, since their disgrace, had been festering in their [p. 579]
They made their way into the camp; where, every one repeating, that here was not Caudium, nor the forks, nor the impassable glens, where cunning haughtily triumphed over error; but Roman valour, which no rampart nor trench could ward off; —they slew, without distinction, those who resisted and those who fled, the armed and unarmed, freemen and slaves, young and old, men and cattle.
Nor would a single animal have escaped, had not the consuls given the signal for retreat;
and, by commands and threats, forced out of the camp the soldiers, greedy of slaughter.
As they were highly incensed at being thus interrupted in the gratification of their vengeance, a speech was immediately addressed to them, assuring the soldiers, that “the consuls neither did nor would fall short of any one of the soldiers, in hatred toward the enemy;
on the contrary, as they led the way in battle, so would they have done the same in executing unbounded vengeance, had not the consideration of the six hundred horsemen, who were confined as hostages in Luceria, restrained their inclinations;
lest total despair of pardon might drive on the enemy blindly to take vengeance on them, eager to destroy them before they themselves should perish.”
The soldiers highly applauded this conduct, and rejoiced that their resentment had been checked, and acknowledged that every thing ought to be endured, rather than that the safety of so many Roman youths of the first distinction should be brought into danger.