When the dispatches from the consul and1
the praetor had been read out, the senate voted to send Marcus Claudius,2
the praetor commanding the fleet at Ostia, to Canusium, and to write to the consul to turn the army over to him and come to Rome at the earliest moment compatible with the welfare of the state.
They were terrified not only by the great disasters they had suffered, but also by a number of prodigies, and in particular because two Vestals, Opimia and Floronia, had in that year been convicted of unchastity. Of these one had been buried alive, as the custom is, near the Colline Gate, and the other had killed herself.
Lucius Cantilius, a secretary to the pontiffs —one
of those who are now called the lesser pontiffs —had been guilty with Floronia, and the Pontifex Maximus had him scourged in the Comitium so severely that he died under the blows.
Since in the midst of so many misfortunes this pollution3
was, as happens at such times, converted into a portent, the decemvirs were commanded to consult the Books, and Quintus Fabius Pictor4
dispatched to Delphi, to enquire of the oracle with what prayers and supplications they might propitiate the gods, and what would be the end of all their calamities.
In the meantime, by the direction of the Books of Fate, some unusual sacrifices were offered; amongst others a Gaulish [p. 387]
man and woman and a Greek man and woman were5
buried alive in the Cattle Market, in a place walled in with stone, which even before this time had been defiled with human victims, a sacrifice wholly alien to the Roman spirit.6
Deeming that the gods had now been sufficiently appeased, Marcus Claudius Marcellus sent fifteen hundred soldiers whom he had under him, enrolled for service with the fleet, from Ostia to Rome, to defend the City; and sending before him to Teanum Sidicinum the naval legion (to wit, the third7
) under its tribunes, handed over the fleet to his colleague Publius Furius Philus and a few days later hastened by forced marches to Canusium.
The senate then authorized the appointment of a dictator and Marcus Junius [Pera] was named to that office, with Tiberius Sempronius as master of the horse.
Proclaiming a levy they enlisted the young men over seventeen and some who still wore the purple-bordered dress of boyhood. Of these they made up four legions and a thousand horse. They also sent men to the allies and the Latins to take over their soldiers, as by treaty provided.
They gave orders that armour, weapons and other equipment should be made ready, and took down from the temples and porticoes the ancient spoils of enemies.
The levy wore a strange appearance, for, owing to [p. 389]
the scarcity of free men and the need of the hour,8
they bought, with money from the treasury, eight thousand young and stalwart slaves and armed them, first asking each if he were willing to serve.
They preferred these slaves for soldiers, though they might have redeemed the prisoners of war at less expense.