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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE SON OF FABIUS LOSES A BATTLE

[138] THE year 295 B.C. in which the battle of Sentinum was won, was a year long remembered by the Romans for its glorious victories.

But three years later their armies were defeated by the Samnites.

Fabius, the son of the Fabius who crossed the Ciminian hills, led the Roman legions against the foe. The young Consul believed that the Samnites had been so severely beaten during the last few years, that he need take no great precautions before attacking them.

It was after a long march that Fabius encountered a small detachment of the enemy. His men were weary, but he determined to pursue the foe, and succeeded in making it slowly retreat.

The Consul pushed on still more eagerly, to find himself, before he was aware, close to the entire Samnite army, which was drawn up ready for battle.

A terrible struggle took place. But the Romans, exhausted and unprepared, were slain in great numbers. Indeed had night not fallen, the whole army would have been destroyed.

At Rome, the dreadful tidings roused great indignation against Fabius. It was even proposed in the Senate that the young Consul should be recalled and have his Consulship taken from him, a disgrace unheard of until now.

But his father pleaded that his son might be spared so heavy a punishment. If he was allowed to keep his com- [139] mand, Fabius even offered to go to the war and serve under his son.

So unselfish an offer could not be refused, and the veteran general was permitted to join the army. He lost no time in setting out, and he took with him large reinforcements, for every man was willing to follow the brave old chief.

The Roman soldiers were themselves anxious to retrieve their defeat. Encouraged by the presence of the general, who had so often led them to victory, they fought fiercely and defeated the Samnites, taking Pontius, their leader, captive.

When young Fabius returned to Rome, his former defeat was forgotten in the joy of this great victory, and he enjoyed a triumph.

Some histories tell that the leader of the Samnites, whom Fabius had captured, was the same Pontius who thirty years before had spared the lives of the Roman soldiers at Caudium.

If that was so the generous treatment of the Samnite chief was now cruelly requited. For as Fabius drove in his chariot through the streets of Rome, Pontius, loaded with chains, walked in the procession. At the foot of the Capitol he was taken, with other captives, to the prison beneath the Capitoline hill and beheaded.

A year or two later, in 290 B.C. the third Samnite war drew to a close. The last battle was won by a famous Consul, named Dentatus.

The Samnites, hoping to bribe the Roman, sought for him in his country home. They found him, like Cincinnatus, living quietly on his farm, cooking for his dinner turnips which he had himself sown in his fields.

Dentatus had little to say to the Samnite ambassadors, when they offered him bribes to desert his country, save to tell them that he did not consider it a great thing to possess gold. "To rule those who have it, is what I value," he added sternly. And as the ambassadors withdrew they [140] saw, as in a picture, their own army defeated, and the Romans, with Dentatus at their head, marching home victorious.

The Consul did indeed defeat the Samnites, so that they were forced to sue for peace and retire once again to their mountain strongholds.

Yet even now their hardy spirits were not subdued, and again and again you will read of them coming down from their fastnesses to strike a blow at Rome. And they were wise in their warfare, choosing always the time when Rome was already surrounded by other foes.


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