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Appian's History of Rome: The Samnite Wars (2)

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 information that we do not know from other sources. (Our main source for the history of the Roman Republic, Livy, is incomplete for this period.)

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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[From the Suda dictionary:12] [290 BCE] On account of admiration for his bravery a multitude of chosen youths numbering eight hundred were in the habit of following [Manius Curius] Dentatus, ready for anything. This was an embarrassment to the Senate at their meetings.

[From Constantine Porphyrogenitus, The Embassies: 13] [283] Once a great number of the Senones, a Celtic tribe, aided the Etruscans in war against the Romans. The latter sent ambassadors to the towns of the Senones and complained that, while they were under treaty stipulations, they were furnishing mercenaries to fight against the Romans. Although they bore the caduceus [1], and wore the garments of their office, Britomaris cut them in pieces and flung the parts away, alleging that his own father had been slain by the Romans while he was waging war in Etruria. The consul [Publius] Cornelius [Dolabella], learning of this abominable deed while he was on the march, abandoned his campaign against the Etruscans, dashed with great rapidity by way of the Sabine country and Picenum against the towns of the Senones, and devastated them with fire and sword. He carried their women and children into slavery, and killed all the adult youth except a son of Britomaris, whom he reserved for awful torture, and led in his triumph.

[14] When the Senones who were in Etruria heard of this calamity, they joined with the Etruscans and marched against Rome. After various mishaps these Senones, having no homes to return to, and being in a state of frenzy over their misfortunes, fell upon [consul Gnaeus] Domitius [Calvinus], by whom most of them were destroyed. The rest slew themselves in despair. Such was the punishment meted out to the Senones for their crime against the ambassadors.

Pyrrhus. Bust from the Villa of the Papyri, Herculaneum. National Archaeological Museum, Naples (Italy). Photo Marco Prins.
Pyrrhus. Bust from the Villa of the Papyri, Herculaneum (National Archaeological Museum)

[15] Cornelius went sight-seeing along the coast of Magna Graecia with ten ships with decks. At Tarentum there was a demagogue named Philocharis, a man of obscene life, who was for that reason nicknamed Thais. He reminded the Tarentines of an old treaty by which the Romans had bound themselves not to sail beyond the promontory of Lacinium. By his passion he persuaded them to excitement against Cornelius, and they sunk four of his ships and seized one of them with all on board. They accused the Thurini of preferring the Romans to the Tarentines although they were Greeks, and held them chiefly to blame for the Romans overpassing the limits. Then they expelled the noblest citizens of Thurii, sacked the city, and dismissed the Roman garrison that was stationed there under a treaty.

[16] [282] When the Romans learned of these events, they sent an embassy to Tarentum to demand that the prisoners who had been taken, not in war, but as mere sight-seers, should be surrendered; that the citizens of Thurii who had been expelled should be brought back to their homes; that the property that had been plundered, or the value of what had been lost, should be restored; and finally, that they should surrender the authors of these crimes, if they wished to continue on good terms with the Romans. The Tarentines made difficulties about admitting the embassy to their council at all, and when they had received them jeered at them because they did not speak Greek perfectly, and made fun of their togas and of the purple stripe on them. [The text here describes an indignity put upon Postumius, the chief of the embassy, by one Philonidas, which will not bear translation.] [2] This spectacle was received with laughter by the bystanders. Postumius, holding out his soiled garment, said: "You will wash out this defilement with plenty of blood - you who take pleasure in this kind of jokes." As the Tarentines made no sort of answer the embassy departed. Postumius carried the soiled garment just as it was, and showed it to the Romans.

[17] [281] The people, deeply incensed, sent orders to [consul Lucius] Aemilius [Barbula], who was waging war against the Samnites, to suspend operations for the present and invade the territory of the Tarentines, and offer them the same terms that the late embassy had proposed, and if they did not agree, to wage war against them with all his might. He made them the offer accordingly. This time they did not laugh for they saw the army. They were about equally divided in opinion until one of their number said to them as they doubted and disputed: "To surrender citizens is the act of a people already enslaved, yet to fight without allies is hazardous. If we wish to defend our liberty stoutly and to fight on equal terms, let us call on Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, and designate him the leader of this war." This was done.

[From the Peiresc manuscript: 18] [281] After a shipwreck, Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, arrived at the harbor of Tarentum. The Tarentines were very much put out with the king's officers, who quartered themselves upon the citizens by force, and openly abused their wives and children. Afterwards Pyrrhus put an end to their revels and other social gatherings and amusements as incompatible with a state of war, and ordered the citizens to severe military exercise, under penalty of death if they disobeyed. Then the Tarentines, tired out by these most unusual exercises and orders, fled the city as though it were a foreign government and took refuge in the fields. Then the king closed the gates and placed guards over them. In this way the Tarentines gained a clear perception of their own folly.

A war elephant. Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam (Holland). Photo Jona Lendering.
A war elephant (Allard Piersonmuseum, Amsterdam)

[19] Some Roman soldiers were stationed in Rhegium for the safety and protection of the city against enemies. They, and their leader Decius, envying the good fortune of the inhabitants and seizing an opportunity when they were observing a public festival, slew them and violated their wives. They offered an excuse for this crime, that the citizens of Rhegium were about to betray the garrison to Pyrrhus. So Decius became supreme ruler instead of a prefect of the guard, and he contracted an alliance with the Mamertines, who dwelt on the other side of the strait of Sicily, and who had perpetrated the same kind of an outrage on their hosts not long before.

[20] Suffering from an affection of the eyes and distrusting the physicians of Rhegium, Decius sent for a medical man who had migrated from Rhegium to Messana so long before that it was forgotten that he was a Rhegian. The latter persuaded him that, if he wished speedy relief, he should use certain hot drugs. Having applied a burning and corrosive ointment to his eyes, he told him to bear the pain till he should come again. Then he secretly returned to Messana. Decius, after enduring the pain a long time, washed off the ointment and found that he had lost his eyesight.

[21] [Gaius] Fabricius [Luscinus] was sent by the Romans to restore the city to those Rhegians who still remained. He sent the guards who had been guilty of this revolt back to Rome. They were beaten with rods in the Forum [Romanum], then beheaded, and their bodies cast away unburied. Decius, being placed under strict guard, in the discouragement of a blind man, committed suicide.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Samnite wars, part 3

Note 1:
A herald's staff. Appian describes the same incident in his History of the Gallic Wars, 9.

Note 2:
Horace White preferred not to translate this line; Appian says:

But a certain Philonides, a fellow fond of jest and ribaldry, going up to Postumius, the chief of the embassy, turned his back to him, drew up his dress and polluted him with filth. This spectacle was received with laughter by the bystanders. 
The incident can also be found in the Roman Antiquities (19.5.1-5) by Dionysius of Halicarnassus.
Thanks to Bill Thayer of LacusCurtius.

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