To many the opinion of Appius appeared, as it really was, severe and violent. On the other hand, those of Virginius and Largius were not safe for the precedent they established; especially they thought that of Largius so, as it would destroy all credit. The opinion of Virginius was reckoned to be most moderate, and a happy medium between the other two.
But through the spirit of faction and a regard of private interest, which always have and always will obstruct the public councils, Appius prevailed, and was himself near being created dictator;
which step would certainly have alienated [p. 114]
the commons at this most dangerous juncture, when the Volsci, the Aequi, and the Sabines happened to be all in arms at the same time.
But the consuls and elder senators took care that this office, in its own nature uncontrollable, should be committed to a man of moderate temper.
They choose Manius Valerius, son of Volesus, dictator. The people, though they saw that this magistrate was created against themselves, yet as they had got the right of appeal by his brother's law, dreaded nothing oppressive or tyrannical from that family.
An edict of the dictator's, which was almost the same with that published by the consul Servilius, afterwards confirmed their minds. But judging it safer to confide in both the man and in the absolute power with which he was vested, they gave in their names, desisting from all contest.
Ten legions were levied, a greater army than had ever been raised before. Each of the consuls had three legions assigned him, and the dictator commanded four.
Nor could the war be deferred any longer. The Aequi had made incursions upon the Latin territory; the deputies of the Latins begged the senate either to send them assistance, or to allow them to arm themselves for the purpose of defending their own frontiers.
It seemed safer that the Latins should be defended without arming, than to allow them to take up arms again. Wherefore Vetusius the consul was sent to their assistance; this immediately put a stop to the devastations. The Aequi retired from the plains, and depending more on the advantage of the ground than on their arms, secured themselves on the summits of the mountains.
The other consul, having marched against the Volsci, in order that he too might not waste time, challenged the enemy to pitch their camp nigh to his, and to risk an engagement by ravaging their lands.
Both armies stood in order of battle before their lines in a plain between the two camps.
The Volsci had considerably the advantage in number. Accordingly they rushed on to the fight, in a careless manner, and as if contemptuously. The Roman consul neither advanced his forces, and not suffering the enemy's shouts to be returned, he ordered them to stand still with their spears fixed in the ground, and when the enemy came up, to draw their swords and fall upon them with all their force.
The Volsci, wearied with running and shouting, set upon the Romans as if they had been quite be- [p. 115]
numbed through fear; but when they found the vigorous resistance that was made, and saw their swords glittering before their face, they turned their backs in great disorder, just as if they had fallen into an ambuscade. Nor had they strength sufficient even for flight, as they had advanced to the battle in full speed.
The Romans, on the other hand, as they had not stirred from their ground in the beginning of the action, being fresh and vigorous, easily overtook the enemy, who were weary, took their camp by assault, and after driving them thence, pursued them to Velitrae, into which the conquered and conquerors entered in a body.
By the promiscuous slaughter which was here made of all ranks, there was more blood spilt than in the battle itself. Quarter was given to a small number of them, who threw down their arms and surrendered.