The Disaster at the Caudine Forks
Valerius was not the only Roman who gained a name from meeting a Gaul in single combat. Another was a member of the Manlius family, to which, as you know, the savior of the Capitol belonged.
Manlius, like Valerius, succeeded in killing his enemy, and, as a trophy, he took from the dead body the torque, or necklace of twisted gold, which was generally worn by Gallic chiefs. Because he liked to appear with this ornament around his neck, the Romans surnamed him Torquatus, which means "the man with the necklace."
Torquatus in time was elected consul, and thus had command of the Roman troops. He thought that the soldiers were badly trained, and that the discipline was poor; so he made up his mind to reform the army. He therefore gave strict orders that every soldier should obey promptly, and added that he would put to death any man who ventured to rush into battle without waiting for the signal.
Each Roman soldier was anxious to distinguish himself, and some of the men did not like this command. In the very next battle the general's own son was so eager to begin the fight that he was the first to disobey the orders just given.
Knowing that discipline must be maintained at any price, Torquatus sent for his son as soon as the fighting was over. Then, true to his promise, he had the offender executed in the presence of the whole army.
This example of military justice so awed the Romans that none of them ever dared to disobey their general again. Order and discipline were restored, and the army returned to Rome victorious. There the senate congratulated Torquatus, not only upon his success, but also upon the courage he had shown in keeping his word even at the sacrifice of his own son's life.
The senate never failed to compliment and reward a victorious general, but these same men always considered it a great disgrace when their army was defeated, and they often visited their displeasure upon its unlucky commander.
Therefore, when Spurius Posthumius, one of their consuls, fell into an ambush during a war with the Samnites, they were greatly displeased. The Romans were caught in a mountain defile, called the Caudine Forks, and, being surrounded on all sides, were forced to surrender. Then the whole army had to submit to the humiliation of passing under the yoke, and the consul was made to promise that Rome would never renew the war.
When Posthumius came back to Rome, he was severely reproved by the senators, who were very angry indeed because he had agreed to fight no more. In their wrath, they vowed that his promise to the Samnites should never be kept. Then Posthumius told them that, since they disapproved of his conduct so greatly, they had better bind him hand and foot, and send him back to the Samnites.
Strange to relate, the senate took advantage of this generosity, and Posthumius, bound like a criminal, was led to the Samnite camp. When the enemy heard that, although bound so securely, he had come there only by his own free will, they were struck with admiration for his courage. They knew that the Romans were going to continue the war, but they refused to take vengeance on Posthumius, and sent him home unharmed.
We are told that another Roman, also, showed great patriotism during the wars against the Samnites. This was the consul Decius, who overheard the augurs say that the victory would belong to the army whose commander was generous enough to sacrifice his life for his country's sake.
As soon as the signal was given, therefore, Decius rushed into the very midst of the foe. Without attempting to strike a single blow, or to defend himself, he sank beneath the blows of the enemy.
The soldiers, fired by the example of Decius, fought so bravely for their country's sake that they soon won a brilliant victory, and could return home in triumph.
Many wars were thus waged by the Romans during the years which followed the visit of the Gauls. They took many towns, gradually extended the boundaries of the Roman state, and, after waging three wars against their principal foes, the Samnites, they hoped to have peace.
The Samnites, who had thrice risen up against the Romans, were a powerful people, and were very brave. They lived in the country east and southeast of Latium, and one of their principal towns was Herculaneum, about which you will hear some very interesting things a little later.