When the news of this embassy reached Rome, the Fathers, putting aside all other business, sent fetials to demand redress, and failing to obtain it, declared war after the customary fashion.1
They [p. 469]
then voted that the people be asked to ratify this2
action at the earliest possible moment; and being commanded so to do, both consuls took the field; and Valerius marching into Campallia and Cornelius into Samnium, the one encamped at the foot of Mount Gaurus, the other near Saticula. It was Valerius whom the Samnite levies encountered first —for that was the direction which they expected the invasion to take.
The Campanians moreover had incurred their sharp resentment, having been so ready now to render aid against them, now to invoke it.
But when they beheld the Roman camp, they began, every man for himself, to call loudly on their leaders for the battle-signal, affirming that the Romans would have no better fortune in helping the Campanians than these had experienced in helping the Sidicini.
Valerius, having delayed not many days for the purpose of testing the enemy in small skirmishes, hung out the signal for a battle.
But first he spoke a few words of encouragement to his soldiers, bidding them have no fear of a strange war and a strange enemy.
With every advance of their arms from Rome, he said, they came to nations that were more and more unwarlike.
They must not judge of the courage of the Samnites by the defeats they had administered to the Sidicini and Campanians. Whatever their respective qualities, it was inevitable that when they fought together, one side should be vanquished. As for the Campanians, there was no question they had been beaten rather by the enervation resulting from excessive luxury and by their own effeminacy, than by the strength of their enemies.
Furthermore, what were the Samnites' two successful wars in so many ages, as [p. 471]
against the many glorious achievements of the3
Roman People, who could count almost more triumphs than the years since their City had been founded;
who had subjugated by their arms all the nations round about them, the Sabines, Etruria, the Latins, the Hernici, the Aequi, the Volsci, and the Aurunci; who after beating the Gauls time after time in battle, had ended by compelling them to flee to the sea-board and their ships?
He said that they ought, as they went into action, not only to rely every man on his own courage and martial glory, but also to consider under whose command and auspices they would have to fight;
whether he were one who only merited a hearing as a brilliant orator, warlike only in his words, and ignorant of military operations, or one who knew himself how to handle weapons, to advance before the standards, and to play his part in the press and turmoil of a battle.
“Soldiers,” he cried, “it is my deeds and not my words I would have you follow, and look to me not only for instruction but for example. Not with factions, nor with the intrigues common amongst the nobles, but with this right hand, have I won for myself three consulships and the highest praise.
Time was when it might have been said: Ah, but you were a patrician and sprung from the liberators of your country, and your family held the consulship in the very year that saw the institution of that office.'
But now the consulship lies open on equal terms to us, the nobles, and to you plebeians, nor is it any longer a reward of birth, but of merit. Have regard, therefore, soldiers, in every instance, to great honours.
Though you men have given me, with Heaven's sanction, my surname of Corvinus,4
I have [p. 473]
not forgot the ancient surname of our family —the5
at home and in the field, as a private citizen, in little magistracies and in great ones, as consul no less than as tribune, and with the same undeviating course through all my successive consulships, have I cherished, and cherish still, the Roman plebs.
Now, with Heaven's good help, to the work we have in hand! Seek with me a novel triumph never yet won from the Samnites!”