while both consuls and all the strength of Rome were being devoted mainly to the Etruscan war, new armies rose up in Samnium to waste the territories under Roman sway, and crossing over into Campania and the Falernian district, through the land of the Vescini, gathered in huge spoils.
as Volumnius was returning by long marches into Samnium —for now the extension of authority granted to Fabius and Decius was drawing to a [p. 433]
—a rumour about the Samnite army and its2
depredations in the territory of Campania turned him aside to the defence of the allies.
when he came to the Calenian country, he saw for himself the fresh traces of the enemy's ravages, and the Calenians informed him that the Samnites had already so great a train of booty as to march with difficulty, and their leaders were
saying openly that they must retire at once into Samnium, and leaving their plunder there, return to the invasion, and not subject an army so heavily burdened to the risks of battle. These reports were plausible enough; nevertheless he thought it right to obtain more authentic information.
he therefore sent out horsemen in various directions, to intercept straggling plunderers in the fields, from whom he learned, on questioning them, that
their army was encamped at the Volturnus river, whence they would set forward in the third watch and march towards Samnium.
being satisfied of the truth of these reports, he followed the enemy and encamped at such a distance from them that while they could not learn of his arrival from his being too close at hand, he yet might surprise them as they were leaving their camp.
a little before dawn he approached the camp and sent ahead men who knew the Oscan language to find out what was being done. mingling with their enemies, as they could easily do in the confusion of the dark, they learned that the standards had gone forward with a scanty following of men —at —arms, that the booty and its escort were just setting out, but that the column was incapable of progress, since every man was intent upon his [p. 435]
own affairs, with no common understanding among3
any of them nor any very definite leadership.
The time seemed highly suitable for delivering an attack, and the day was breaking.
Volumnius therefore ordered them to sound the charge and assailed the enemy's column. The Samnites were impeded by their booty and few of them were armed; some quickened their pace and drove the cattle before them, some stood still, uncertain whether it were safer to go on or to return to camp; while they hesitated, the Romans were upon them, and now they had scaled the rampart and the camp was filled with carnage and commotion.
The Samnite column, besides being charged by the enemy, had also been disordered by a sudden outbreak of the prisoners, some of
whom, being loose, were releasing those who were bound, while others were catching up the weapons tied up in the soldiers' packs,4
and, mixed up with the column as they were, caused a hurly —burly that was more terrifying than the battle itself.
they presently performed a remarkable exploit; for as Staius Minatius, the Samnite general, was riding along the ranks and encouraging them, they made a rush at him, and scattering the horsemen who were with him, surrounded him, and hurried him off a prisoner, horse and all, to the Roman consul.
this tumult had the effect of bringing back the vanguard of the Samnites, who renewed the battle, which had been almost finished.
but prolonged resistance was impossible. The slain amounted to six thousand men, and twenty —five hundred were captured —among them four military tribunes —as well as thirty standards. what caused most joy among the victors was the recovery of [p. 437]
seven thousand four hundred prisoners and a vast5
quantity of spoils belonging to the allies. The owners were summoned by proclamation to identify and recover their property on an appointed day.
those things for which no owner appeared were made over to the soldiers, and they were compelled to sell their booty, that they might have no concern in anything but fighting.