1. P. Decius
Mus, is first mentioned in B. C. 352, when he was appointed one of the quinqueviri mensarii for the purpose of liquidating in some measure the debts of the citizens. In B. C. 343 he served as tribune of the soldiers under M. Valerius Corvus Arvina, in the Samnite war, and by his heroism saved the Roman army from the most imminent danger. While marching through the mountain passes of Samnium, the consul had allowed his army to be surrounded in a valley by the enemy: destruction seemed inevitable; when Decius offered, with the hastati and principes of the legion, in all sixteen hundred men, to seize a height which commanded the way by which the Samnites were hastening down to attack the Roman army. Here he maintained himself, notwithstanding the efforts of the Samnites to dislodge him, while the Roman army gained the summit of the mountain.
In the ensuing night he broke through the Samnites who were encamped around him and joined the Roman consul, whom he forthwith persuaded to make an immediate attack upon the enemy.
The result was a brilliant victory and the capture of the enemy's camp.
The consul rewarded Decius with a golden crown, a hundred oxen, and a magnificent white bull with gilt horns, the army with a crown of twisted grass, an honour bestowed upon the soldier who had delivered an army from an enemy, and his comrades gave him a similar crown. (Liv. 7.21
; Frontin. Strateg.
1.5.14, 4.5.9; Aurel. Vic. de Vir. Ill.
26; Appian, Samn.
1; Cic. de Div.
1.24; Plin. Nat. 16.4. s. 5
In B. C. 340 Decius was consul with T. Manlius Torquatus, and he and his colleague had the conduct of the great Latin war.
The two consuls marched into the field, and when they were encamped opposite the enemy near Capua a vision in the night appeared to each consul, announcing that the general of one side and the army of the other were devoted to the gods of the dead and the mother earth. They thereupon agreed that the one whose wing first began to waver should devote himself and the army of the enemy to destruction.
The decisive battle took place at the foot of Vesuvius; and when the troops of Decius, who commanded the left wing, began to give way, he resolved to fulfil his vow.
He called for the pontifex maximus, M. Valerius, and repeated after him the form of words by which he devoted himself and the enemy to the gods of death, with his toga wrapt around his head and standing upon a weapon: he then jumped upon his horse, wearing the cinctus gabinus or sacrificial dress, rushed into the thickest of the enemy, and was slain, leaving the victory to the Romans. Such is the common story of his death; but other accounts relate it somewhat differently. Zonaras (7.26
) says that he was killed as a devoted victim by a Roman soldier. (Liv. 8.3
; V. Max. 1.7.3
; Flor. 1.14
; Frontin. Strateg.
4.5.15; Oros. 3.9
; Aurel. Vict. l.c.
; Cic. in Orelli's Onom. Tull.
p. 210; Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome,
vol. iii. pp. 121, &100.136, &c.)