3. P. Decius
Mus, son of the preceding, was consul in B. C. 279, and fought with his colleague P. Sulpicius against Pyrrhus at the battle of Asculum.
Before the battle alarm had been spread in the camp of Pyrrhus, by the report that the consul Decius intended, like his father and grandfather, to devote himself to death and the army of the enemy to destruction. Pyrrhus in consequence sent word to the consuls that he had given orders that Decius should not be killed but taken alive, and that he would put him to death as a malefactor.
A later legend, recorded by Cicero (Tusc.
1.37, 2.19), related that Decius sacrificed himself at this battle like his father and grandfather; and it is not improbable, as Niebuhr has conjectured, that Cicero may have found this statement in Ennius.
In other passages, however, Cicero speaks only of two Decii--Decii duo fortes viri
(Cic. de Off.
As to the result of the battle of Asculum, it is differently stated by different writers. Hieronymus of Cardia related that Pyrrhus gained a victory, Dionysius represented it as a drawn battle, and the Roman annalists claimed the victory for the Romans.
The last statement is certainly false, and it appears that Pyrrhus was superior in the contest, though the victory was not a very decisive one. (Zonar. 8.5
; Plut. Pyrrh. 21
; Eutrop. 2.13
; Oros. 4.1
; Flor. 1.18.9
; Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome,
vol. iii. pp. 502-505.)
At a later time Decius, according to the account in Aurelius Victor (de Vir. Ill.
36), was sent against Volsinii, where the manumitted slaves had acquired the supreme power, and were treating their former masters with severity.
He killed a great number of them, and reduced the others to slavery again. Other accounts, however, ascribe the expedition against the slaves of Volsinii to Q. Fabius Maximus Gurges, in his third consulship, B. C. 265 (Flor. 1.21
; Zonar. 8.7
); but as Zonaras states that Fabius died of a wound during the siege of the town, it has been conjectured by Freinsheim that Decius may have commanded the army after the death of the consul, and may thus have obtained the credit of the victory.