Sempronius Atratinus and Quintus Fabius Vibulanus were elected consuls.
A foreign episode, but worth relating, is ascribed to this year, viz. that Volturnum, the Etruscan city which is now Capua, was taken by the Samnites, and named Capua from their leader Capys, or, as is more probable, from its champaign country.2
Now they captured it after being admitted by the Etruscans —who were worn out with fighting —to a share in the city and its fields; then, on a holiday, when the old settlers were heavy with sleep and feasting, the newcomers fell upon them in the night and slew them.
In the train of these events,3
the consuls whom I have named took up their duties, on the 13th of December. By this time not only had those who had been dispatched for this purpose reported that a Volscian invasion was imminent, but
envoys from the Latins, and the Hernici as well, announced that never before had the Volscians been more energetic, whether in selecting generals or in levying an army;
that everywhere men were muttering that they must either give up for ever all thoughts of arms and war, and submit to the yoke, or must not lag behind those with whom they were contending for [p. 379]
supremacy, either in courage or in endurance or in4
Their tidings were true, but they caused no answerable activity among the senators; and Gaius Sempronius, to whom the command had been assigned by lot, trusting to fortune as though it were the most constant thing in the world, because he had commanded the victorious nation against the people they had defeated, conducted everything so carelessly and rashly that Roman discipline was more in evidence in the Volscian army than in the Roman.
Accordingly Fortune, as on many another occasion, waited on desert. In the first battle, which Sempronius entered without caution or deliberation, his line was not strengthened with reserves nor was his cavalry skilfully posted, when the fighting began.
The battle-cries were the first intimation how the affair was likely to go;
for the enemy's was louder and fuller, that of the Romans dissonant and uneven and, dragging more with each repetition, betrayed the faintness of their hearts. This caused the enemy to charge the more boldly, thrusting with shields and making play with swords.
On the Roman side helmets nodded, as their wearers looked this way and that for help, and irresolute soldiers made falteringly for the nearest group; at one moment the standards would be left behind by the retreat of the front-rankers, at the next they would be falling back among their proper maniples.
It was not yet a definite flight, not yet a victory; the Romans sought rather to protect themselves than to fight; the Volscians advanced and bore hard against the Roman line, but saw more of their enemies killed than running away. [p. 381]