Many felt, and with reason, that the proposal of Appius was stern and cruel; on the other hand those of Verginius and Largius were inexpedient because of the precedent; particularly that of Largius, since it destroyed all credit. The most reasonable and moderate plan, in its regard for both sides, was held to be that of Verginius.
But owing to party spirit and consideration for private interests, things which have always been hurtful to public deliberations and always will be, Appius prevailed, and came very near
to being himself appointed dictator, a step which would infallibly have estranged the commons, and that at a most dangerous moment, since the Volsci, the Aequi, and the Sabines were all, as it [p. 315]
chanced, up in arms at once.
But the consuls and1
the older senators saw to it that a magistracy rendered formidable by its paramount authority should be committed to a man of gentle disposition, and chose for dictator Manius Valerius, son of Volesus.
The plebs, though they perceived that it was against themselves that the creation of a dictator was aimed, still, since it was through a law proposed by a brother of Valerius that they possessed the right of
they had no fear of any harsh or oppressive act on the part of one of that family. An edict which the dictator soon promulgated strengthened their confidence.
It conformed essentially to the edict of Servilius; but Valerius and the office he held commanded greater confidence, and, ceasing to struggle, men gave in their names. So large an army had never been enrolled before.
Ten legions were embodied; each consul was given three of these, and the dictator had four.
Nor could war be deferred any longer, for the Aequi had invaded Latin territory. Emissaries from the Latins begged the senate either to send them help or permit them to take up arms themselves in defence of their country.3
It seemed safer that the Latins should be defended without arming them, than that they should be suffered to resume their weapons. Vetusius the consul was dispatched to them, and this ended the pillaging. The Aequi left the fields, and trusting more to situation than to arms, secured themselves on the summits of the ridges.
The other consul marched against the Volsci. Lest he too might waste his time, he provoked the [p. 317]
enemy, chiefly by ravaging their lands, to bring their4
camp nearer and do battle with him.
In the plain between the camps the two armies formed their lines, each in front of its own stockade.
In numbers the Volsci were somewhat superior, and accordingly they came on in a loose and careless order. The Roman consul did not advance, nor did he allow a response to the enemy's shout. He commanded his men to plant their spears in the ground and stand still until the enemy had come to close quarters; then they were to assail them with all their might, and settle the question with the sword.
The Volsci, weary with running and shouting, hurled themselves upon the Romans, who seemed to be numb with fear. But when the attackers found that their charge was firmly met and saw the swords flash in their faces, they were no whit less confounded than if they had fallen into an ambush, and turned and fled; and even flight was beyond their strength, since they had been running as they entered the battle.
The Romans on the contrary, having stood at ease at the beginning of the fight, were fresh and strong; they readily caught up with the exhausted Volsci, and having taken their camp with a rush, pursued their enemies beyond it to Velitrae, where vanquished and victors burst into the city in one body.
More blood was shed there, in the promiscuous slaughter of all sorts of people, than had been in the battle itself. A very few were granted quarter, having come without arms and given themselves up.