Every one of these circumstances was known to the Volsci, and they pressed their enemy the harder, hoping that the Roman army would exhibit the same spirited opposition to Appius which it had evinced towards the consul Fabius.
But Appius found his men far more unruly than had Fabius; for not only were they unwilling to conquer, as the Fabian army had been, but they wished to be conquered. Being drawn out into battle-order, they basely fled and sought their camp; nor did they make a stand until they saw the Volsci advancing against their fortifications and inflicting a disgraceful slaughter upon their rearguard.
This compelled them to exert themselves and fight, with the result that the enemy was dislodged from the stockade in the moment of victory. Yet it was evident enough that the capture of their camp was the only thing at which the Roman soldiers balked, and that elsewhere they rejoiced at their own defeat and ignominy.
These things in no wise daunted the haughty spirit of Appius. But when he would have gone further and have vented his rage upon the army, and was issuing orders for an assembly, the lieutenants and tribunes gathered hurriedly about [p. 419]
him and warned him upon no account to seek a test1
of his authority, when its effectiveness all depended on the goodwill of those obeying it.
The men, they reported, were saying that they would not go to be harangued, and everywhere voices were overheard demanding that the camp be removed from Volscian territory. The victorious enemy had a little while before been almost in their gates and on their wall, and a great disaster was not merely to be apprehended, but was openly hovering before their eyes.
Giving way at last, since the soldiers were gaining nothing but a postponement of their punishment, he relinquished the idea of an assembly, and commanded a march for the following day. At daybreak he caused the signal for departure to be sounded on the trumpet.
At the very instant when the column was getting clear of the camp, the Volsci, as though set in motion by the same signal, fell upon their rear. Thence the confusion spread to the van, and the panic so disordered the standards and the ranks that it was impossible either to hear commands or to form a line.
Nobody thought of anything but flight, and so demoralised was the rout, as the men escaped over fallen bodies and discarded weapons, that the enemy sooner ceased to pursue than the Romans to flee.
When at last the soldiers had been collected from their scattered flight, the consul, who had followed his men in a vain attempt to call them back, pitched his camp on friendly soil. Then he summoned an assembly and soundly rated them, not without reason, as an army which had been false to military discipline and had deserted its standards.
Asking them all in turn where their arms and where their standards were, he caused the unarmed soldiers and [p. 421]
the standard-bearers who had lost their standards,2
addition to these the centurions and the recipients of a double ration3
who had quitted their ranks, to be scourged with rods and beheaded; of the remaining number every tenth man was selected by lot for punishment.