Young Folks' History of Rome
15. The Samnite Wars
In the year 332, just when Alexander the Great was making his conquests in the East, his
uncle Alexander, king of Epirus, brother to his mother Olympius, came to Italy, where
there were so many Grecian citizens south of the Samnites that the foot of Italy was
called Magna Græcia, or Greater Greece. He attacked the Samnites, and the Romans were
not sorry to see them weakened, and made an alliance with him. He stayed in Italy about
six years, and was then killed.
To overthrow the Samnites was the great object of Rome at this time, and for this purpose
they offered their protection and alliance to all the cities that stood in dread of that
people. One of the cities was founded by men from the isle of Euboea, who called it
Neapolis, or the New City, to distinguish it from the old town near at hand, which they
called Palæopolis, or the Old City. The elder city held out against the Romans, but was
easily overpowered, while the new one submitted to Rome; but these southern people
were very shallow and fickle, and little to be depended on, as they often changed sides
between the Romans and Samnites. In the midst of the siege of Palæopolis, the year of
the consulate came to an end, but the Senate, while causing two consuls as usual to be
elected, at home, would not recall Publilius Philo from the siege, and therefore appointed
him proconsul there. This was in 326, and was the beginning of the custom of sending the
ex-consul as proconsul to command the armies or govern the provinces at a distance from
In 320, the consul falling sick, a dictator was appointed, Lucius Papirius Cursor, one of
the most stern and severe men in Rome. He was obliged by some religious ceremony to
return to Rome for a time, and he forbade his lieutenant, Quintus Fabius Rullianus, to
venture a battle in his absence. But so good an opportunity offered that Fabius attacked
the enemy, beat them, and killed 20,000 men. Then selfishly unwilling to have the spoils
he had won carried in the dictator's triumph, he burnt them all. Papirius arrived in great
anger, and sentenced him to death for his disobedience; but while the lictors were
stripping him, he contrived to escape from their hands among the soldiers, who closed on
him, so that he was able to get to Rome, where his father called the Senate together, and
they showed themselves so resolved to save his life that Papirius was forced to pardon
him, though not without reproaching the Romans for having fallen from the stern justice
of Brutus and Manlius.
Two years later the two consuls, Titus Veturius and Spurius Posthumius, were marching
into Campania, when the Samnite commander, Pontius Herennius, sent forth people
disguised as shepherds to entice them into a narrow mountain pass near the city of
Candium, shut in by thick woods, leading into a hollow curved valley, with thick
brushwood on all sides, and only one way out, which the Samnites blocked up with
trunks of trees. As soon as the Romans were within this place the other end was blocked
in the same way, and thus they were all closed up at the mercy of their enemies.
What was to be done with them? asked the Samnites; and they went to consult old
Herennius, the father of Pontius, the wisest man in the nation. "Open the way and let
them all go free," he said.
"What! without gaining any advantage?"
"Then kill them all."