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.”
He was asked to explain such extraordinary advice. He said that to release them generously would be to make them friends and allies for ever; but if the war was to go on, the best thing for Samnium would be to destroy such a number of enemies at a blow. But the Samnites could not resolve upon either plan; so they took a middle course, the worst of all, since it only made the Romans furious without weakening them. They were made to take off all their armor and lay down their weapons, and thus to pass out under the yoke, namely, three spears set up like a doorway. The consuls, after agreeing to a disgraceful peace, had to go first, wearing only their undermost garment, then all the rest, two and two, and if any one of them gave an angry look, he was immediately knocked down and killed. They went on in silence into Campania, where, when night came on, they all threw themselves, half-naked, silent, and hungry upon the grass. The people of Capua came out to help them, and brought them food and clothing, trying to do them all honor and comfort them, but they would neither look up nor speak. And thus they went on to Rome, where everybody had put on mourning, and all the ladies went without their jewels, and the shops in the Forum were closed. The unhappy men stole into their houses at night one by one, and the consuls would not resume their office, but two were appointed to serve instead for the rest of the year.