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Appian's History of Rome: The Samnite Wars (1)


Legionary standard (of XXX Ulpia Traiana reenactment group). Photo Jona Lendering.
Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165) is the author of a Roman History and one of the most underestimated of all Greek historians. Although only his books on the Roman Civil Wars survive in their entirety, large parts of other books have also come down to us. His account of the Samnite wars, which we know from Byzantine excerpts, is unfortunately not among the best preserved parts, but it contains some information that we do not already know from other sources.

Because the text has to be reconstructed from several medieval manuscripts, not all editions of Appian's History of the Samnite Wars are numbered in the same way; here, the separate units are counted strictly chronologically. The translation was made by Horace White; notes and additions in green by Jona Lendering.


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Mutiny in the Roman army

[From the Peiresc manuscript: 1] [343 Varronian chronology] When the Roman generals [Aulus] Cornelius [Cossus Arvina] and [Marcus Valerius] Corvinus, and the plebeian [Publius] Decius [Mus], had overcome the Samnites they left a military guard in Campania to ward off the Samnite incursions. These guards, partaking of the luxury and profuseness of the Campanians, were corrupted in their habits and began to envy the riches of these people, being themselves very poor and owing alarming debts in Rome. Finally they took counsel among themselves to kill their entertainers, seize their property, and marry their wives.

[342 VC] This infamy would perhaps have been carried out at once, had not the new general Mamercus, who was marching against the Samnites, learned the design of the Roman guard. Concealing his intentions, he disarmed some of them and dismissed them, as soldiers entitled to discharge for long service. The more villainous ones he ordered to Rome on the pretense of important business, and he sent with them a military tribune with orders to keep a secret watch over them. Both parties of soldiers suspected that their design had leaked out, and they broke away from the tribune near the town of Terracina. They set free all those who were working under sentence in the fields, armed them as well as they could, and marched to Rome to the number of about 20,000.




[2] About one day's march from the city they were met by [dictator Marcus Valerius] Corvinus who went into camp near them on the Alban mount. He remained quietly in his camp while investigating what the matter was, and did not consider it wise to attack these desperadoes. The men mingled with each other privately, the guards acknowledging with groans and tears, as among relatives and friends, that they were to blame, but declaring that the cause of it all was the debts they owed at Rome. When Corvinus understood this he shrank from the responsibility of so much civil bloodshed and advised the Senate to release these men from debt. He exaggerated the difficulty of the war if it should be necessary to put down such a large body of men, who would fight with the energy of despair. He had strong suspicions also of the result of the meetings and conferences, lest his own army, who were relatives of these men and not less oppressed with debt, should be to some extent lacking in fidelity. If he should be defeated he said that the dangers would be greatly increased; if victorious, the victory itself would be most lamentable to the commonwealth, being gained over so many of their own relatives. The Senate was moved by his arguments and decreed a cancellation of debts to all Romans, and immunity also to these revolters. The latter laid down their arms and returned to the city.
 

Courage of Titus Manlius Torquatus

[From the Peiresc manuscript: 3] Such was the bravery of the [future] consul [Titus] Manlius Torquatus. He had a penurious father who did not care for him, but kept him at work with slaves in the fields and left him to partake of their fare. When the tribune Pomponius prosecuted him for numerous misdeeds and thought to mention among others his bad treatment of his son, young Manlius, concealing a dagger under his clothes, went to the house of the tribune and asked to see him privately as though he had something of importance to say about the trial. Being admitted, and just as he was beginning to speak, he fastened the door and threatened the tribune with instant death if he did not take an oath that he would withdraw the accusation against his father. The latter took the oath, dismissed the accusation, and explained the reason to the people. Manlius acquired great distinction from this affair, and was praised for being such a son to such a father.

[From the Suda dictionary: 4] [340 VC] With jeers he challenged him to single combat. The other [Titus Manlius Torquatus] restrained himself for a while; but when he could no longer endure the provocation, he dashed on his horse against him.
 

Roman defeat near the Caudine Forks

[From Constantine Porphyrogenitus, The Embassies: 5] [322 VC] While the Samnites were raiding and plundering the territory of Fregellae, the Romans captured eighty-one villages belonging to the Samnites and the Daunii, slew 21,000 of their men, and drove them out of the Fregellian country. Again the Samnites sent ambassadors to Rome bringing the dead bodies of the men whom they had executed as guilty of causing the war, and also gold taken from their store. Wherefore the Senate, thinking that they had been utterly crushed, expected that a people who had been so sorely afflicted would concede the supremacy of Italy. The Samnites accepted the other conditions, or if they disputed any, they either entreated and begged for better terms, or referred the matter to their cities. But as to the supremacy, they could not bear even to hear anything on that subject, because, they said, they had not come to surrender their towns, but to cultivate friendship. Accordingly they used their gold in redeeming prisoners, and went away angry and resolved to make trial for the supremacy hereafter. Thereupon the Romans voted to receive no more embassies from the Samnites, but to wage irreconcilable, implacable war against them until they were subjugated by force.

[6] [321 VC] A god humbled this haughty spirit, for soon afterwards the Romans were defeated by the Samnites and compelled to pass under the yoke. The Samnites, under their general [Gaius] Pontius, having shut the Romans up in a defile where they were oppressed by hunger, the consuls sent messengers to him and begged that he should win the gratitude of the Romans, such as not many opportunities offer. He replied that they need not send any more messengers to him unless they were prepared to surrender their arms and their persons. Thereupon a lamentation was raised as though a city had been captured, and the consuls delayed several days longer, hesitating to do an act unworthy of Rome. But when no means of rescue appeared and famine became severe, there being 50,000 young men in the defile whom they could not bear to see perish, they surrendered to Pontius and begged him either to kill them, or to sell them into slavery, or to keep them for ransom, but not to put any stigma of shame upon the persons of the unfortunate.

[7] Pontius took counsel with his father, sending to Caudium to fetch him in a carriage on account of his age. The old man said to him: "My son, for a great enmity there is but one cure - either extreme generosity or extreme severity. Severity terrifies, generosity conciliates. Regard this first and greatest victory as a treasure house of good fortune. Release them all without punishment, without shame, without loss of any kind, so that the greatness of the benefit may inure to your advantage. I hear that they are very sensitive on the subject of their honor. Vanquished by benefits only, they will strive to surpass you in deeds of kindness. It is in your power to attain this state of kindly action as a security for everlasting peace. If this does not suit you, then kill them to the last man, not sparing one to carry the news. I advise as my choice the former, otherwise the latter is a necessity. The Romans will avenge themselves inevitably for any shame you put upon them. In that case you should strike the first blow and you will never deal them a heavier one than the slaughter of 50,000 of their young men at one time."

[8] When he had thus spoken his son answered: "I do not wonder, father, that you have suggested two plans absolutely opposed to each other, for you said in the beginning that you should propose extreme measures of one kind or the other. But I cannot put such a large number of men to death. I should fear the vengeance of a god and the opprobrium of mankind. Nor can I take away from the two nations all hope of mutual accommodation by doing an irreparable wrong. As to releasing them I myself do not approve of that. After the Romans have inflicted so many evils upon us and while they hold so many of our fields and towns in their possession to this day, it is impossible to let these captives go scot free. I shall not do that. Such unreasonable leniency is insanity. Now look at this matter, leaving me out of the account. The Samnites, whose sons, fathers, and brothers have been slain by the Romans, and who have lost their goods and money, want satisfaction. A victor is naturally a haughty creature and our men are greedy of gain. Who then will endure that I should neither kill, nor sell, nor even fine these prisoners, but dismiss them unharmed like meritorious persons? Therefore let us discard the two extremes - the one because it is not in my power, the other because I cannot be guilty of such inhumanity. Yet, in order to humble the pride of the Romans to some extent, and to avoid the censure of others, I will take away the arms they have always used against us, and also their money (for even their money they get from us). Then I will make them pass safe and sound under the yoke, this being the mark of shame they are accustomed to put upon others. Then I will establish peace between the two nations and select the most illustrious of their knights as hostages for its observance until the entire people ratify it. In this way I think I shall have accomplished what belongs to a victor and to a humane man. I think also that the Romans themselves will be content with these terms, which they, who lay claim to such excellence of character, have often imposed upon others."

[9] While Pontius was speaking the old man burst into tears, then seated himself in his carriage and went back to Caudium. Pontius then summoned the Roman envoys and asked them if they had any fetial [1] priest with them. There was none present because the army had marched to undertake an irreconcilable, implacable war. Accordingly he commanded the envoys to make this announcement to the consuls and other officers of the army and to the whole multitude: "We had concluded perpetual friendship with the Romans, which you yourselves violated by giving aid to the Sidicini, our enemies. When peace was concluded again, you made war upon the Neapolitans, our neighbors. Nor did it escape us that these things were part of a plan of yours to seize the dominion of all Italy. In the first battles, where you gained the advantage on account of the unskilfulness of our generals, you showed us no moderation. Not content with devastating our country and occupying towns and villages not your own, you planted colonies in them. Moreover, when we twice sent embassies to you and made many concessions, you treated us disdainfully, and demanded that we should yield you the supremacy and obey you, as though we were not a nation to make terms with but a conquered race. Thereupon you decreed this irreconcilable, implacable war against your former friends, descendants of the Sabines whom you made your fellow-citizens. On account of your insatiable cupidity we ought not to make a treaty with you. But I, having regard for the divine wrath (which you despised), and mindful of our former relationship and friendship, will permit each one of you to pass under the yoke safe and sound with the clothes you stand in, if you swear to give up all of our lands and strongholds and withdraw your colonies from the same, and never wage war against the Samnites again."

[10] When these terms were communicated to the camp there was wailing and lamentation, long and loud, for they considered the disgrace of passing under the yoke worse than death. Afterwards, when they heard about the knights who were to be held as hostages, there was another long lament. Yet they were compelled by want to accept the conditions. Accordingly they took the oaths, [Gaius] Pontius on the one side, and the two consuls, [Spurius] Postumius [Albinus] and [Titus] Veturius [Calvinus], on the other, together with two quaestors, four division commanders, and twelve tribunes - all the surviving officers. When the oaths had been taken, Pontius opened a passage from the defile, and having fixed two spears in the ground and laid another across the top, caused the Romans to go under it as they passed out, one by one. He also gave them some animals to carry their sick, and provisions sufficient to bring them to Rome. This method of dismissing prisoners, which they call sending under the yoke, seems to me to serve only to insult the vanquished.

[11] When the news of this calamity reached the city there was wailing and lamentation like a public mourning. The women mourned for those who had been saved in this ignominious way as for the dead. The senators discarded their purple-striped tunics. Feasts, marriages, and everything of that kind were prohibited for a whole year, until the calamity was retrieved. Some of the returning soldiers took refuge in the fields for shame, others stole into the city by night. The consuls entered by day according to law, and they wore their usual insignia, but they exercised no further authority.






Appian   :   Roman History   :   Samnite wars, part 2





Note 1:
A fetial was a religious official who was specialized in the conclusion of international treaties.




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