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THE SAMNITE WARS.
In the year 332, just when Alexander the Great was making his conquests
in the East, his uncle Alexander, king of Epirus, brother to his mother
Olympius, came to Italy, where there were so many Grecian citizens south
of the Samnites that the foot of Italy was called Magna Græcia, or
Greater Greece. He attacked the Samnites, and the Romans were not sorry
to see them weakened, and made an alliance with him. He stayed in Italy
about six years, and was then killed.
To overthrow the Samnites was the great object of Rome at this time, and
for this purpose they offered their protection and alliance to all the
cities that stood in dread of that people. One of the cities was founded
by men from the isle of Euboea, who called it Neapolis, or the New
City, to distinguish it from the old town near at hand, which they
called Palæopolis, or the Old City. The elder city held out against the
Romans, but was easily overpowered, while the new one submitted to Rome;
but these southern people were very shallow and fickle, and little to be
depended on, as they often changed sides between the Romans and
Samnites. In the midst of the siege of Palæopolis, the year of the
consulate came to an end, but the Senate, while causing two consuls as
usual to be elected, at home, would not recall Publilius Philo from the
siege, and therefore appointed him proconsul there. This was in 326, and
was the beginning of the custom of sending the ex-consul as proconsul to
command the armies or govern the provinces at a distance from home.
COMBAT BETWEEN A MIRMILLO AND A SAMNITE.
COMBAT BETWEEN A LIGHT-ARMED GLADIATOR AND A SAMNITE.
In 320, the consul falling sick, a dictator was appointed, Lucius
Papirius Cursor, one of the most stern and severe men in Rome. He was
obliged by some religious ceremony to return to Rome for a time, and he
forbade his lieutenant, Quintus Fabius Rullianus, to venture a battle in
his absence. But so good an opportunity offered that Fabius attacked the
enemy, beat them, and killed 20,000 men. Then selfishly unwilling to
have the spoils he had won carried in the dictator's triumph, he
burnt them all. Papirius arrived in great anger, and sentenced him to
death for his disobedience; but while the lictors were stripping him, he
contrived to escape from their hands among the soldiers, who closed on
him, so that he was able to get to Rome, where his father called the
Senate together, and they showed themselves so resolved to save his life
that Papirius was forced to pardon him, though not without reproaching
the Romans for having fallen from the stern justice of Brutus and
Two years later the two consuls, Titus Veturius and Spurius Posthumius,
were marching into Campania, when the Samnite commander, Pontius
Herennius, sent forth people disguised as shepherds to entice them into
a narrow mountain pass near the city of Candium, shut in by thick woods,
leading into a hollow curved valley, with thick brushwood on all sides,
and only one way out, which the Samnites blocked up with trunks of
trees. As soon as the Romans were within this place the other end was
blocked in the same way, and thus they were all closed up at the mercy
of their enemies.
What was to be done with them? asked the Samnites; and they went to
consult old Herennius, the father of Pontius, the wisest man in the
nation. "Open the way and let them all go free," he said.
"What! without gaining any advantage?"
"Then kill them all."
He was asked to explain such extraordinary advice. He said that to
release them generously would be to make them friends and allies for
ever; but if the war was to go on, the best thing for Samnium would be
to destroy such a number of enemies at a blow. But the Samnites could
not resolve upon either plan; so they took a middle course, the worst of
all, since it only made the Romans furious without weakening them. They
were made to take off all their armor and lay down their weapons, and
thus to pass out under the yoke, namely, three spears set up like a
doorway. The consuls, after agreeing to a disgraceful peace, had to go
first, wearing only their undermost garment, then all the rest, two and
two, and if any one of them gave an angry look, he was immediately
knocked down and killed. They went on in silence into Campania, where,
when night came on, they all threw themselves, half-naked, silent, and
hungry upon the grass. The people of Capua came out to help them, and
brought them food and clothing, trying to do them all honor and comfort
them, but they would neither look up nor speak. And thus they went on
to Rome, where everybody had put on mourning, and all the ladies went
without their jewels, and the shops in the Forum were closed. The
unhappy men stole into their houses at night one by one, and the consuls
would not resume their office, but two were appointed to serve instead
for the rest of the year.
Revenge was all that was thought of, but the difficulty was the peace
to which the consuls had sworn. Posthumius said that if it was disavowed
by the Senate, he, who had been driven to make it, must be given back to
the Samnites. So, with his hands tied, he was taken back to the Samnite
camp by a herald and delivered over; but at that moment Posthumius gave
the herald a kick, crying out, "I am now a Samnite, and have insulted
you, a Roman herald. This is a just cause of war." Pontius and the
Samnites were very angry, and they said it was an unworthy trick; but
they did not prevent Posthumius from going safely back to the Romans,
who considered him to have quite retrieved his honor.
A battle was fought, in which Pontius and 7000 men were forced to lay
down their arms and pass under the yoke in their turn. The struggle
between these two fierce nations lasted altogether seventy years, and
the Romans had many defeats. They had other wars at the same time. They
never subdued Etruria, and in the battle of Sentinum, fought with the
Gauls, the consul Decius Mus, devoted himself exactly as his father had
done at Vesuvius, and by his death won the victory.
The Samnite wars may be considered as ending in 290, when the chief
general of Samnium, Pontius Telesimus, was made prisoner and put to
death at Rome. The lands in the open country were quite subdued, but
many Samnites still lived in the fastnesses of the Apennines in the
south, which have ever since been the haunt of wild untamed men.