Gateway to the Classics: Stories from the History of Rome by Emily Beesly
 
Stories from the History of Rome by  Emily Beesly

The Two Fabii

The Samnites had lost many battles in the wars with Rome, and the Romans began to hope that soon they might be able quite to conquer this brave people, who had fought for so many years against them. Quintus Fabius was now consul; he was the son of Fabius Maximus, a brave old man who had been many times consul, and had won many victories for Rome. Quintus Fabius was young and brave, and thought that, as the Samnites had been so often beaten, it would be easy for him to beat them again, and he hoped that he might have the joy and glory of at last finishing the war. So he raised an army, and marched to attack them.

The Samnites, however, were a very brave people, and they did not much fear Fabius, knowing that he was young and had not had much practice as a general. They, too, got an army together, and set out towards Rome.

I said that Quintus Fabius was a brave man, like the rest of his family, who have been called "the brave Fabian race." But he forgot that he ought to be watchful and careful as well as brave. As he marched through Campania, he came in sight of a party of soldiers sent out by the Samnite general in front of his army, to see if the way was clear for the rest. When this small body of troops saw the Romans coming towards them they retreated to their fellow countrymen. Fabius thought they were running away from him, and at once ordered his soldiers to follow them as fast as possible. Meantime the Samnite general, hearing that the Romans were coming, had placed his soldiers in order of battle, and was ready for the attack. The Romans came up, tired before the battle began, because they had marched so fast; their ranks were in disorder, and they looked as if they were coming to plunder and not to fight. It is not hard to guess what happened. The Samnites easily resisted the charge of the Romans, drove them back, killed three thousand of them, and wounded many more; and if it had not grown too dark for the battle to go on, the whole army would have been destroyed.

Fabius did his best to get his men together again, and made them dig ditches and make mounds round their camp to defend themselves as well as they could in the darkness and hurry. But they had lost all their baggage in the flight, and here there was no food for the hungry, no comforts for the wounded, hardly even rest for the tired; for they feared that the conquering Samnites would follow and attack them again. They waited for the coming of the daylight in this miserable state, thinking that surely that night would be their last.

"For how," they said, "can men tired with want of sleep, weak with their wounds, and out of heart with the shame of being beaten—how can such men do battle against an enemy who conquered us when we were full of hope and courage?"

Fortunately it happened that the Samnite general heard that the other consul was marching against him with another army. This was not true, but the Samnite believed it, and thinking it best to be contented with the victory he had already won, he led his army away, and so Fabius and his troops were saved.

The people of Rome were very angry when they heard that Fabius had been defeated, and they thought the disgrace was worse even than the loss of men. They had hoped that the war was nearly at an end, and now because of the consul's rashness and carelessness things were as bad as ever. The Senate commanded that the consul should come to Rome to answer for what he had done. But when he came before them the rage of the people was so great that they would hardly let him speak to defend himself. They felt that he ought to have been wiser, since he was the son of so brave and successful a general, and that he had disgraced the name of Rome and the name of Fabius by his rashness.

The elder Fabius feared that his son would be disgraced and turned out of his place as consul, and he came forward before the Senate to defend him.

"I cannot excuse his fault," said the old man; "but I pray you that you will not so shame me who have done some service to Rome, and yet more that you will not disgrace the family of Fabius which, almost from the building of Rome till now, has given so many brave men to serve their country.

"And yet I would not have you pardon my son because of the great deeds of his ancestors; but I feel sure that he will yet do good work for Rome, because he has learned to love his country better than even his family. You have seen the worst that can happen from his rashness—but the good is yet to come which you may expect from a man of so brave a temper, and who has been bred up by myself, a master, as you know, able to teach him what a warrior should be. Many men have learned by misfortunes to be more careful, and so may he. If you will let him try again, what has been done wrong shall be amended. I will answer for my son to the people. I will go with him to battle as his lieutenant, and share his fortune whatever it may be. I am old, but I have courage enough and strength enough still to bear the toils of war. If I were good for nothing else, yet I could cheer our own men and terrify the enemy by reminding them of my old battles; and besides I can advise and direct the young consul. Did I not know my son's temper and feel sure that he will be ready to follow good advice, I should be sorry to risk the fame I have won in so many years of toil and danger just now when my life is near its end."

The people felt that what Fabius Maximus said was quite true, and they agreed to what he asked. Everything was soon got ready to begin the war again, and the consul and his father led the army away from Rome. The consul was willing to do all that his father advised, and the soldiers were eager to show that they could do better than in their last fight. They trusted too in the brave old Fabius, remembering how often their fathers led by him had beaten the Samnites; and they wished with all their hearts for battle.

The armies met, the fight began, and at first the Romans got the worst of it. The Samnite general, with a number of his bravest troops, surrounded the consul; but when Fabius Maximus saw his son's danger, he rode at full speed into the midst of the Samnites to rescue him. The Roman horse soldiers saw him, and feeling how shameful it would be if such an old man should dare to do more than they who were both young and strong, they followed him, and charged the enemy so fiercely that the consul was saved and the battle won. The Samnite general, who was a brave man and a good soldier, did his best to keep his men firm and to stop those who fled. But in trying to do so he lost the chance of escaping himself, and was taken prisoner by the Romans, with a great many of his soldiers, and many more were slain. The Samnite camp was also taken, and a great deal of rich plunder, and the two Fabii went home in triumph.


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