HANNIBAL passed the summer during which these events occurred in Africa and Italy, in the Tarentine territory, with the hope of having the city of the Tarentines betrayed to him. Meanwhile some inconsiderable towns belonging to them, and to the Sallentines, revolted to him.
At the same time, of the twelve states of the Bruttians, which had in a former year gone over to the Carthaginians, the Consentians and Thurians returned to the protection of the Roman people.
And more would have done the same, had not Titus Pomponius Veientanus, praefect of the allies, having acquired the appearance of a regular general, in consequence of several successful predatory expeditions in the Bruttian territory, got together a tumultuary band, and fought a battle with Hanno.
In that battle, a great number of men, consisting, however, of a disorderly rabble of slaves and rustics, were slain or captured. The least part of the loss was, that the prefect himself was taken prisoner; for he was not only in the present instance guilty of having rashly engaged the enemy, but previously, in [p. 957]
the capacity of farmer of the revenue, by iniquitous practices of every description, had shown himself faithless and injurious to the state, as well as the companies.
Among the Lucanians, the consul, Sempronius, fought several small battles, but none worthy of being recorded; he also took several inconsiderable towns.
In proportion as the war was protracted, and the sentiments no less than the circumstances of men fluctuated accordingly as events flowed prosperously or otherwise, the citizens were seized with such a passion for superstitious observances, and those for the most part introduced from foreign countries, that either the people or the gods appeared to have undergone a sudden change.
And now the Roman rites were growing into disuse, not only in private, and within doors, but in public also; in the forum and Capitol there were crowds of women sacrificing, and offering up prayers to the gods, in modes unusual in that country.
A low order of sacrificers and soothsayers had enslaved men's understandings, and the numbers of these were increased by the country people, whom want and terror had driven into the city, from the fields which had lain uncultivated during a protracted war, and had suffered from the incursions of the enemy, and by the profitable trading in the ignorance of others which they carried on like an allowed and customary trade.
At first, good men gave utterance in private to the indignation they felt at these proceedings; but afterwards the thing came before the fathers, and formed a matter of public complaint.
The aediles and triumviri, appointed for the execution of criminals, were severely reprimanded by the senate for not preventing these irregularities; but when they attempted to remove the crowd of persons thus employed from the forum, and to overthrow their preparations for their sacred rites, they narrowly escaped personal injury.
It being now evident, that the evil was too powerful to be checked by inferior magistrates, the senate commissioned Marcus Atilius, the city praetor, to rid the people of these superstitions.
He called an assembly, in which he read the decree of the senate, and gave notice, that all persons who had any books of divination, or forms of prayer, or any written system of sacrificing, should lay all the aforesaid books and writings before him before the calends of April; and that no person should sacrifice in any public or consecrated place according to new or foreign rites. [p. 958]