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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book VII Chapter 26: Marcus Valerius Corvus -- Defeat of the Gauls.[349-8 BC]
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Whilst the Romans were passing their time quietly at the outposts, a gigantic Gaul in splendid armour advanced towards them, and delivered a challenge through an interpreter to meet any Roman in single combat. There was a young military tribune named Marcus Valerius, who considered himself no less worthy of that honour than Titus Manlius had been. After obtaining the consul's permission, he marched, completely armed, into the open ground between the two armies. The human element in the fight was thrown into the shade by the direct interposition of the gods, for just as they were engaging a crow settled all of a sudden on the Roman's helmet with its head towards his antagonist. The tribune gladly accepted this as a divinely - sent augury, and prayed that whether it were god or goddess who had sent the auspicious bird that deity would be gracious to him and help him. Wonderful to relate, not only did the bird keep its place on the helmet, but every time they encountered it rose on its wings and attacked the Gaul's face and eyes with beak and talon, until, terrified at the sight of so dire a portent and bewildered in eyes and mind alike, he was slain by Valerius. Then, soaring away eastwards, the crow passed out of sight. Hitherto the outposts on both sales had remained quiet, but when the tribune began to despoil his foeman's corpse, the Gauls no longer kept their posts, whilst the Romans ran still more swiftly to help the victor. A furious fight took place round the body as it lay, and not only the maniples at the nearest outposts but the legions pouring out from the camp joined in the fray. The soldiers were exultant at their tribune's victory and at the manifest presence and help of the gods, and as Camillus ordered them into action he pointed to the tribune, conspicuous with his spoils, and said: "Follow his example, soldiers, and lay the Gauls in heaps round their fallen champion!" Gods and man alike took part in the battle, and it was fought out to a finish, unmistakably disastrous to the Gauls, so completely had each army anticipated a result corresponding to that of the single combat. Those Gauls who began the fight fought desperately, but the rest of the host who come to help them turned back before they came within range of the missiles. They dispersed amongst the Volscians and over the Falernian district from thence they made their way to Apulia and the Western Sea . |
The consul mustered his troops on parade, and after praising the conduct of the tribune presented him with ten oxen and a golden chaplet. In consequence of instructions received from the senate he took over the maritime war and joined his forces with those of the praetor. The Greeks were too lacking in courage to run the risk of a general engagement, and there was every prospect of the war proving a long one. Camillus was in consequence authorised by the senate to nominate Titus Manlius Torquatus as dictator for the purpose of conducting the elections. After appointing Aulus Cornelius Cossus as Master of the Horse, the dictator proceeded to hold the consular elections. Marcus Valerius Corvus (for that was henceforth his cognomen), a young man of twenty-three, was declared to be duly elected amidst the enthusiastic cheers of the people. His colleague was the plebeian, Marcus Popilius Laenas, now elected for the fourth time.
Nothing worth recording took place between Camillus and the Greeks; they were no fighters on land and the Romans could not fight on the sea. Ultimately, as they were prevented from landing anywhere and water and the other necessaries of life failed them, they abandoned Italy. To what Greek state or nationality that fleet belonged is a matter of uncertainty; I think it most likely that it belonged to the tyrant of Sicily, for Greece itself was at that time exhausted by intestine wars and was watching with dread the growing power of Macedonia.