The other consul, Marcus Atilius, had by no means so easy a war. he was marching, at the head of his legions, towards Luceria, which he had heard was being besieged by the Samnites, when the enemy met him at the Lucerine frontier.
on this occasion rage made their strength as great as his, and the battle was one of shifting fortunes and doubtful issue. yet its outcome was more discouraging to the Romans, both as having been unaccustomed to defeat, and because, as they were retiring from the field, they could see, even better than during the actual engagement, how much their side had got the worst of it in killed and wounded.
The consequence of this was such a panic in the1
camp as, had it come over them whilst they were fighting, must have led to a signal overthrow.
even so the night was an anxious one, for they thought that the Samnites would soon be attacking the camp, or else that they would have to fight their victorious enemy at break of day.
The enemy had suffered less, but was not less faint —hearted. as soon as it grew light they wished to retire without giving battle. but there was only one road, and this led past their enemies, and when they had started to go that way, they looked as if marching straight to attack the camp.
The consul ordered the soldiers to arm and follow him outside the rampart.
to the lieutenants, tribunes, and prefects of the allies he explained what part it was needful for their several commands to play. they all assured him that, as for themselves, they were ready for anything, but that the soldiers were dispirited;
all night long they had been kept awake by the groans of the wounded and the dying; had the enemy attacked the camp before daylight, their fear would have been so great as to cause them to desert their ranks;
as it was, they were withheld by shame from running away, but were otherwise as good as beaten.
on hearing this, the consul thought he had best go about himself among the men and talk to them. wherever he went he scolded those who were hesitating to arm themselves: Why did they linger and hold back?
The enemy would come into the camp, unless they went out; and they would be fighting before their tents, if they were not willing to fight before the palisade.
if men armed themselves [p. 493]
and fought, it was a question whose the victory2
would be; but a man who waited for the enemy, unarmed and helpless, must put up with either death or slavery.
to these objurgations and reproaches they replied that they were exhausted with the battle of the previous day and had no strength left nor blood to shed; while the enemy appeared to be in greater numbers than on the day before.
meanwhile the column was approaching; and presently, as the soldiers obtained a closer view of them, they declared that the Samnites were carrying stakes and were doubtless going to fence in the camp.3
at this the consul lost all patience, and shouted out that it was a shameful thing to suffer such disgrace and humiliation at the hands of the most cowardly of foes. “shall we even be pent up within our camp,” he cried, “to die shamefully of hunger, rather than, if need be, by the sword, like gallant men?”
Heaven prosper them! they must act as each thought worthy of himself; but the consul, Marcus Atilius —alone if there were none to follow him —would
charge the enemy, and sooner fall amongst the standards of the Samnites than see a Roman camp beleaguered.
The consul's words were approved by the lieutenants and the tribunes and by all the squadrons of horse and the centurions of highest rank.
then the soldiers began, for very shame, to arm, and slowly emerged from the stockade; in a long and straggling column, discouraged and almost beaten, they advanced towards the enemy, who were no better off for hopefulness or courage.
accordingly, no sooner had they beheld the Roman standards than a murmur ran through the column [p. 495]
of the Samnites, from the foremost to the hindmost,4
that the Romans —just
as they had feared —were coming out to dispute their passing; there was no way open even for flight; they must fall where they stood, or else cut down their foes and escape over their bodies.