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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor

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FABIUS AMONG THE CIMINIAN HILLS

[131] ONE of the most famous heroes of the second Samnite war was Fabius.

Before the disgrace of the Caudine Forks, Fabius, who was an ardent warrior, had fought a battle against the command of the Dictator, Papirius. That he was victorious did not make Papirius less angry with his disobedience. Indeed so angry was he, that he ordered that Fabius should at once be beheaded. But the soldiers threatened to mutiny if the order was carried out, and so for the time the life of the young soldier was saved.

Knowing that the Dictator would take the first opportunity to carry out the sentence he had pronounced, Fabius waited only until it was dark and then fled from the camp to Rome.

When he reached the city he summoned the Senate to meet, meaning to beg for protection from the wrath of the Dictator.

But before the Senate had assembled, Papirius, who had followed Fabius, dashed into the Forum and ordered the runaway to be arrested.

The father of Fabius then besought the tribunes to interfere between his son and the Dictator, declaring that if they did not do so, he would appeal to the Assembly of the people.

But although the tribunes disapproved of the severity of Papirius, they did not dare to interfere, for the power of the Dictator was supreme.

[132] The people, however, who had now gathered in the Forum, speedily took the matter into their own hands. With one voice they begged Papirius to forgive Fabius for their sake.

Papirius, whose passion had had time to cool, was pleased that the people should ask him to be merciful, and he promised to pardon the disobedient soldier.

In 310 B.C., Fabius was elected Consul, along with Marcius. Together the two Consuls set out, each with his own army, to the relief of Sutrium, which town had already been besieged for a year by the Etruscans.

Roman troops had tried again and again, but without success, to raise the siege.

New hope was aroused in Sutrium when the citizens heard that both the Consuls were on the way to their relief. Before they had accomplished anything, however, Marcius was forced to leave his colleague to march against the Samnites, who were in Apulia, plundering the allies of Rome.

Fabius was left alone at Sutrium, but before long he had forced the Etruscans to raise the siege and had captured their camp, in which he found thirty-eight standards.

The Consuls then pursued the enemy across the Ciminian hills, which hills we now know as the mountains of Viterbo.

In these days of long ago, the Ciminian hills were densely-wooded, and strange stories were told of their mysterious shades.

No pathway was to be found through these hilly forests, while their unknown terrors were dreaded so much that even peaceful merchants never attempted to reach Etruria by passing through the Ciminian hills. This was the way that Fabius ventured in pursuit of the enemy.

The Senate at Rome no sooner heard of the Consul's daring, than it sent messengers to bid him be less reckless. But long before the messengers reached the edge of the thicket, Fabius was in the depth of the forests.

[133] For weeks nothing was heard of the Consul and his army, and the Senate believed that they were lost. Fabius had, however, escaped from the thickly-wooded hills with but few adventures, and was safe in the rich plains of central Etruria. If he had not captured the Etruscans, he was now at least able to plunder their country.

Meanwhile the dire tidings reached Rome that Marcius had been defeated by the Samnites, nor was it known whether the Consul had escaped with his life.

Bereft, for the time at least, of both Consuls, the Senate resolved to appoint a Dictator, and Papirius, they knew, was the man to inspire the people with the greatest trust.

But a Dictator must be appointed by one of the Consuls, and Marcius was either dead or in the hands of his enemies.

Fabius, of whose safety the Senate was now assured, would scarcely appoint Papirius to the supreme post of honour, for it was he who had hunted Fabius and condemned him to death in earlier days.

Nevertheless, the Senate determined to beg Fabius to forget the treatment he had received from Papirius, and for the sake of his country to appoint him Dictator. So messengers were sent to the Consul with the Senate's request.

Fabius had fought and won many battles, but never had he had a fiercer one to fight than while he listened to the message sent to him by the Senate.

His look indeed was forbidding, and gave the ambassadors little hope of success. Having heard what they had to say, he gave them no clue to his thoughts, for he dismissed them without a word.

But in the dead of night, he arose, as was the custom when a Dictator had to be appointed, and gave to his enemy the coveted post. By this act he made himself once more the subordinate of Papirius.

The ambassadors thanked Fabius for his noble deed, but showing no pleasure in their praise, the Consul, still without a word, sent them from his presence.

[134] Fabius had won that night a more glorious victory than any he had ever gained on the battlefield, for he had conquered himself.

No sooner was Papirius appointed Dictator, than he marched against the Samnites and defeated them in a great battle. Marcius, who was alive, was thus set free to return to Rome. The Samnites were forced back into their own mountain country, and in 304 B.C. they made an honourable peace with Rome. Thus the second Samnite war came to an end.

Fabius meanwhile won victory after victory over the Etruscans, and in 304 B.C. they also made a peace with Rome, which lasted for several years.

Rome was now mistress of Italy, and in such respect was she held that no tribe henceforth dared to attack her, without first enlisting other powers to help them in their adventure.


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