The year 458 however passed away, apparently, in armings and marchings. For the following year (459) the Romans placed their two best generals, Publius Decius Mus and the aged Quintus Fabius Rullianus, at the head of their army in Etruria, which was reinforced with all the troops that could be spared from Campania, and amounted to at least 60,000 men, of whom more than a third were full burgesses of Rome. Besides this, two reserves were formed, the first at Falerii, the second under the walls of the capital. The rendezvous of the Italians was Umbria, towards which the roads from the Gallic, Etruscan, and Sabellian territories converged; towards Umbria the consuls also moved off their main force, partly along the left, partly along the right bank of the Tiber, while at the same time the first reserve made a movement towards Etruria, in order if possible to recall the Etruscan troops from the main scene of action for the defence of their homes. The first engagement did not prove fortunate for the Romans; their advanced guard was defeated by the combined Gauls and Samnites in the district of Chiusi. But that diversion accomplished its object. Less magnanimous than the Samnites, who had marched through the ruins of their towns that they might not be absent from the chosen field of battle, a great part of the Etruscan contingents withdrew from the federal army on the news of the advance of the Roman reserve into Etruria, and its ranks were greatly thinned when the decisive battle came to be fought on the eastern declivity of the Apennines near Sentinum.

Battle Of Sentinum-- Peace With Etruria

Nevertheless it was a hotly contested day. On the right wing of the Romans, where Rullianus with his two legions fought against the Samnite army, the conflict remained long undecided. On the left, which Publius Decius commanded, the Roman cavalry was thrown into confusion by the Gallic war chariots, and the legions also already began to give way. Then the consul called to him Marcus Livius the priest, and bade him devote to the infernal gods both the head of the Roman general and the army of the enemy; and plunging into the thickest throng of the Gauls he sought death and found it. This heroic deed of despair on the part of one so eminent as a man and so beloved as a general was not in vain. The fugitive soldiers rallied; the bravest threw themselves after their leader into the hostile ranks, to avenge him or to die with him; and just at the right moment the consular Lucius Scipio, despatched by Rullianus, appeared with the Roman reserve on the imperilled left wing. The excellent Campanian cavalry, which fell on the flank and rear of the Gauls, turned the scale; the Gauls fled, and at length the Samnites also gave way, their general Egnatius falling at the gate of the camp. Nine thousand Romans strewed the field of battle; but dearly as the victory was purchased, it was worthy of such a sacrifice. The army of the coalition was dissolved, and with it the coalition itself; Umbria remained in the power of the Romans, the Gauls dispersed, the remnant of the Samnites still in compact order retreated homeward through the Abruzzi. Campania, which the Samnites had overrun during the Etruscan war, was after its close re-occupied with little difficulty by the Romans. Etruria sued for peace in the following year (460); Volsinii, Perusia, Arretium, and in general all the towns that had joined the league against Rome, promised a cessation of hostilities for four hundred months.

Last Struggles Of Samnium

But the Samnites were of a different mind; they prepared for their hopeless resistance with the courage of free men, which cannot compel success but may put it to shame. When the two consular armies advanced into Samnium, in the year 460, they encountered everywhere the most desperate resistance; in fact Marcus Atilius was discomfited near Luceria, and the Samnites were able to penetrate into Campania and to lay waste the territory of the Roman colony Interamna on the Liris. In the ensuing year Lucius Papirius Cursor, the son of the hero of the first Samnite war, and Spurius Carvilius, gave battle on a great scale near Aquilonia to the Samnite army, the flower of which --the 16,000 in white tunics--had sworn a sacred oath to prefer death to flight. Inexorable destiny, however, heeds neither the oaths nor the supplications of despair; the Roman conquered and stormed the strongholds where the Samnites had sought refuge for themselves and their property. Even after this great defeat the confederates still for years resisted the ever-increasing superiority of the enemy with unparalleled perseverance in their fastnesses and mountains, and still achieved various isolated advantages. The experienced arm of the old Rullianus was once more called into the field against them (462), and Gavius Pontius, a son perhaps of the victor of Caudium, even gained for his nation a last victory, which the Romans meanly enough avenged by causing him when subsequently taken to be executed in prison (463). But there was no further symptom of movement in Italy; for the war, which Falerii began in 461, scarcely deserves such a name. The Samnites doubtless turned with longing eyes towards Tarentum, which alone was still in a position to grant them aid; but it held aloof. The same causes as before occasioned its inaction--internal misgovernment, and the passing over of the Lucanians once more to the Roman party in the year 456; to which fell to be added a not unfounded dread of Agathocles of Syracuse, who just at that time had reached the height of his power and began to turn his views towards Italy. About 455 the latter established himself in Corcyra whence Cleonymus had been expelled by Demetrius Poliorcetes, and now threatened the Tarentines from the Adriatic as well as from the Ionian sea. The cession of the island to king Pyrrhus of Epirus in 459 certainly removed to a great extent the apprehensions which they had cherished; but the affairs of Corcyra continued to occupy the Tarentines--in the year 464, for instance, they helped to protect Pyrrhus in possession of the island against Demetrius--and in like manner Agathocles did not cease to give the Tarentines uneasiness by his Italian policy.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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