Sextus next obtained admission to the Gabian councils of state, where, on all subjects but one, he professed a deference for the opinion of those who had long been citizens of Gabii and were better acquainted with the facts. War, however, he did take it upon himself to urge, again and again; and in so doing he assumed a special competence, as one who was acquainted with the strength of both nations, and knew that the king's pride must necessarily be hateful to all the citizens, since even his children had not been able to put up with it.
In this way, little by little, he stirred up the leaders of the Gabini to reopen the war. He would himself take the boldest of the young men and go upon raids and forays. All his words and acts were calculated to deceive, and their ill-grounded confidence so increased that in the end he was chosen commander-in-chief.
The war began, and the people had no suspicion of what was going forward. Skirmishes took place between Rome and Gabii, in which, as a rule, the Gabini had the best of it. Thereupon their citizens, both high and low, contended who should be loudest in expressing the belief that in Sextus Tarquinius they had a heaven-sent leader.
And the soldiers, seeing him ever ready to share in their dangers and hardships, and ever lavish in distributing the plunder, came to love him so devotedly that the elder Tarquinius was not more truly master [p. 189]
in Rome than was his son in Gabii.
And so, when1
Sextus saw that he had acquired strength enough for any enterprise, he despatched one of his own followers to his father in Rome, to ask what the king might please to have him do, since the gods had granted that at Gabii all power in the state should rest with him alone.
To this messenger, I suppose because he seemed not quite to be trusted, no verbal reply was given. The king, as if absorbed in meditation, passed into the garden of his house, followed by his son's envoy. There, walking up and down without a word, he is said to have struck off the heads of the tallest poppies with his stick.
Tired of asking questions and waiting for an answer, the messenger returned to Gabii, his mission, as he thought, unaccomplished. He reported what he had said himself and what he had seen. Whether from anger, or hatred, or native pride, the king, he said, had not pronounced a single word.
As soon as it was clear to Sextus what his father meant and what was the purport of his silent hints, he rid himself of the chief men of the state. Some he accused before the people; against others he took advantage of the odium they had themselves incurred. Many were openly executed; some, whom it would not have looked well to accuse, were put to death in secret.
Some were permitted, if they chose, to leave the country; or they were driven into banishment, and once out of the way, their property was forfeited, just as in the case of those who had been put to death.
Thence came largesses and spoils, and in the sweetness of private gain men lost their feeling for the wrongs of the nation, until, deprived of counsel and aid, the state of Gabii was handed over unresisting to the Roman king.