It was now the seventh campaign in which Tullius had served as first centurion, nor was there anyone in the army, at least among the foot-soldiers, more distinguished for his services.
At the head of the men, who followed in a body, he approached the platform, where the amazement of Sulpicius on seeing the mob was not greater than at seeing it led by Tullius, a soldier most obedient to authority.
“By your leave, Dictator,” he began, “the entire army, deeming itself condemned in your mind for cowardice and almost deprived of its arms by way of humiliation, has asked me to plead its cause with you.
For my part, even if we could be taunted with anywhere quitting a post, with turning our backs on the foe, with shamefully losing our standards, I should still think you ought to hearken [p. 399]
to our entreaty that we be permitted to redeem our1
fault with valour, and by winning new renown blot out the memory of our disgrace.
Even the legions that were routed at the Allia afterwards set out from Veii and by manful conduct won back the very City their cowardice had lost. In our case, thanks to the kindness of the gods and to your good fortune and that of the Roman People, both our cause and our glory are unimpaired.
Yet I hardly dare to mention glory, since the enemy flout us with every species of insult, as though we were women cowering behind our rampart; and since you, our general —a thing far harder to bear —regard us as an army without spirit, without swords, and without hands, and ere you have given us a trial, have so despaired of us as to reckon yourself a commander of cripples and weaklings.
For how else can we account for it, that you, an experienced and fearless general, should, as they say, be sitting down with folded hands? Indeed, however this may be, it is more reasonable that you should seem to distrust our bravery, than that we should seem to distrust yours.
But if this is not your own but public policy, and if some agreement amongst the senators, and not the Gallic war, keeps us in exile from the City and from our homes, then I beg you to hear what I have to say, as though it were spoken not by his soldiers to a general but by the plebs to the patricians —for if the plebs, even as you have your policies, should assert that they proposed likewise to have theirs, who, pray, could be angry with them?
I say, then, we are your soldiers, not your slaves; you have sent us to war, not into banishment; if anyone would give us the signal and lead us into battle, we are [p. 401]
ready to quit us in the fight like men and Romans:2
but if there be no occasion for our arms, we had rather spend our leisure in Rome than in a camp.
Thus much we would say to the patricians. But of you, our general, we, your soldiers, beg that you give us an opportunity of fighting. We are eager not only to conquer, but to conquer under your leadership; to win for you the glorious laurel; to enter the City with you in the march of triumph; and following your chariot, to approach the throne of Jupiter Optimus Maximus with gratulations and rejoicings.”
The speech of Tullius was supported by the entreaties of the crowd, who on all sides clamoured for the signal and the command to arm.