The campaign in Etruria fell to the consul T. Manlius. He had scarcely entered the hostile territory when, as he was wheeling his horse round in some cavalry exercises, he was flung off and almost killed on the spot.
Three days later the consul ended his life. The Etruscans derived encouragement from this incident, for they took it as an omen, and declared that the gods were fighting for them.
When the sad news reached Rome, not only was the loss of the man severely felt, but also the inopportuneness of the time when it occurred.
The senate were prepared to order the nomination of a Dictator, but refrained from doing so as the election of a successor to the consul went quite in accordance with the wishes of the leading patricians. Every vote was given in favour of M. Valerius, the man whom the senate had decided upon as Dictator.
The legions were at once ordered to Etruria. Their presence acted as such a check upon the Etruscans that no one ventured outside their lines; their fears shut them up as closely as though they were blockaded.
Valerius devastated their fields and burnt their houses, till not only single farms but numerous villages were reduced to smoking ashes, but he failed to bring the enemy to action.
While this war was progressing more slowly than had been anticipated, apprehensions were felt as to another war which, from the numerous defeats sustained formerly on both sides, was not unreasonably regarded with dread. The Picentes had sent information that the Samnites were arming for war, and that they had approached the Picentes to induce them to join them.
The latter were thanked for their loyalty, and the public attention was diverted to a large extent from Etruria to Samnium.
The dearness of provisions caused widespread distress amongst the citizens. Those writers who make Fabius Maximus a curule aedile for that year assert that there would have been actual famine if he had not shown the same wise care in the control of the market and the accumulation of supplies which he had so often before displayed in war.
An interregnum occurred this year —tradition assigns no reason for it.
The interreges were Ap. Claudius and P. Sulpicius. The latter held the consular elections, at which L. Cornelius Scipio and Cn. Fulvius were returned.
At the beginning of their year a deputation came from the Lucanians to lay a formal complaint against the Samnites.
They informed the senate that that people had tried to allure them into forming an offensive and defensive alliance with them, and, finding their efforts futile, they invaded their territory and were laying it waste, and so, by making war upon them, trying to drive them into a war with Rome.
The Lucanians, they said, had made too many mistakes already; they had now quite made up their minds that it would be better to bear and suffer everything than to attempt anything against Rome.
They implored the senate to take them under its protection and to defend them from the wanton aggressions of the Samnites. They were fully aware that it Rome declared war against Samnium their loyalty to her would be a matter of life and death, but, notwithstanding that, they were prepared to give hostages as a guarantee of good faith.