These men with Lentulus' permission sent their leading knights and centurions and picked men from the infantry of the legions to Marcus Marcellus at his winter quarters as their representatives, and one of them, receiving permission to speak, said:
“In your consulship,1
Marcus Marcellus, and in Italy we should have come to you already, directly after the senate made in our case a decree that, if not unjust, was surely severe, had it not been our hope that we were being sent into a province thrown [p. 359]
into confusion by the death of its kings, to carry on2
war against Sicilians and Carthaginians combined, and that by our blood and wounds we were to give satisfaction to the senate, just as in the time of our fathers the
men who had been captured by Pyrrhus at Heraclea had done by fighting against Pyrrhus himself.
And yet for what desert of ours have you been angry at us, conscript fathers, or are now angry? It seems that I am looking at both consuls and the entire senate when I look at you, Marcus Marcellus. If we had had you as consul at Cannae the lot of the state, and of ourselves as well, would be a better one.
Before I complain of our plight, permit us, I pray, to clear ourselves of the offence of which we are charged.
If it was not by anger of the gods nor by Fate, according to whose law the chain of human events is unalterably linked, but by a fault that we were undone at Cannae, whose fault, pray, was it? Of the soldiers or of the generals? For my part I, a soldier, will never say anything about my general, especially since I know that he was thanked by the senate because he did not lose hope for the
state, and that after the flight from Cannae his command was continued year after year.
The others too who survived that disaster, the men whom we had as our tribunes of the soldiers, canvass for offices, we have heard, and hold them, and govern provinces. Can it be, conscript fathers, that you readily pardon yourselves and your sons, but are cruel to these creatures of no account? And while it was no disgrace to the consul and other leading men in the state to flee, since there was no other hope, did you send your common soldiers into battle to die inevitably?
At the Allia3
almost the entire [p. 361]
army fled; at the Caudine Forks,4
attempting a battle, the army surrendered its weapons to the enemy, not to mention other shameful defeats of armies.
But so far were men from devising any disgrace for those armies that the city of Rome was recovered by the army which
had fled from the Allia over to Veii, and the Caudine legions, which had returned to Rome without their arms, were sent back armed into Samnium and sent under the yoke that same enemy who had exulted in a disgrace now their own.
But at Cannae can any one accuse the army of panic and fright, where more than fifty thousand men fell, whence the consul fled with seventy horsemen, and of which no one survives except the man whom the enemy, tired of slaying, spared?
At the time when ransom was refused to captives, men were everywhere praising us because we had saved ourselves for the state, had returned to the consul at Venusia and had formed the semblance of a regular army.
But now we are in a worse situation than in our fathers' time were captives. For in their case only their arms and their rank and the position of their tents when in camp were changed. These, however, they recovered by a single service rendered to the state and one victory.
Not one of them was sent into exile, not one of them was deprived of the hope of serving out his term; in fine they were given an enemy, so that in battle with him they might once for all end either life or disgrace.
But we, against whom no charge can be brought except that we are to blame for the survival of any Roman soldier from the battle-line at Cannae, have been sent far away, not only from our native city and Italy, but also from the enemy, that there
we may grow old in exile, that we may have no hope,6
no opportunity of wiping out disgrace, none of appeasing the anger of our citizens, none even of dying bravely.
It is neither an end of our disgrace nor a reward for our courage that we ask. Only let us prove our spirit and put our courage into practice. It is for hardship and danger we are asking, that we may do the duty of men and soldiers.
The war in Sicily has now been carried on with intensity for two years. Some cities are being stormed by the Carthaginian, some by the Roman.
Infantry and cavalry clash in battle-line. At Syracuse the war goes on by land and by sea. The cries of men in battle and the din of arms can be heard by us, who are ourselves unemployed and listless, as if we had neither hands nor weapons. With legions of slaves Tiberius Sempronius, the consul, has engaged the enemy again and again in battle formation.
As a reward for their service they have freedom7
and citizenship. Reckon us at least slaves purchased for this war; let us engage the enemy and by fighting earn freedom. Do you wish, sir, to test our courage on sea, on land, in battle-line, in besieging cities?
We demand all the worst in hardship and danger, in order that what should have been done at Cannae be done as soon as possible, since every day that we have since lived has been marked for disgrace.”