The Roman consuls also dreaded nothing else, than their own strength, and their own arms. The recollection of the destructive precedent set in the last war, deterred them from bringing matters to such a pass as that they should have to fear two armies at the same time.
Accordingly they kept within their camp, avoiding this double danger: “that delay and time itself would soften down resentment, and bring a right way of thinking to their minds.”
The Veientian enemy and the Etrurians proceeded with so much the greater precipitation; they provoked them to battle, first riding up to the camp and challenging them; at length, when they produced no effect by reviling as well the consuls themselves as the army, they stated, “that the pretence of internal dissension was assumed as a cloak for this cowardice; and that the consuls distrusted as much the courage as the obedience of their soldiers.
That silence and inaction among men in arms were a novel form of sedition.” Besides this they threw out reproaches, both true as well as false, on the upstart quality of their race and origin.
Whilst they vociferated these reproaches beneath the very rampart and gates, the consuls bore them without impatience: but at one time indignation, at another time shame, distracted the breasts of the ignorant multitude, and diverted their attention from intestine evils; they were unwilling that the enemy should come off unpunished; they were unwilling that success should accrue to the patricians or the consuls; foreign and domestic hatred struggled for mastery in their breasts;
at length the former prevail, so haughtily and insolently did the enemy revile them; they crowd in a body to the general's tent; they demand battle, they require that the signal be given.
The consuls confer together as if to deliberate; they continue the conference for a long time; they were desirous of fighting, but that desire must be checked and concealed, that by opposition and delay they might increase the ardour of the soldiery once roused.
An answer is returned, “that the latter in question was premature, that it was not yet time for fighting: that they should keep within their camp.” They then issue a [p. 134]
proclamation, “that they should abstain from fighting; that if any one fought without orders, they should punish him as an enemy.”
When they were thus dismissed, their eagerness for fighting increases in proportion as they think that the consuls were less disposed for it; the enemies moreover come up much more insolently, as soon as it was known that the consuls had determined not to fight.
For they supposed “that they might insult them with impunity; that their arms were not intrusted to the soldiery. That the matter would explode in a violent mutiny; that a termination had come to the Roman empire.” Relying on these hopes, they run up to the gates, heap reproaches on them, with difficulty refrain from assaulting the camp.
Now indeed the Romans could no longer endure these insults; they crowd from every quarter of the camp to the consuls: they no longer, as formerly, make their demand with reserve, through the mediation of the centurions of the first rank; but all proceed indiscriminately with loud clamours.
The affair was now ripe; still they put it off. Fabius then, his colleague giving way in consequence of his dread of mutiny being now augmented by the uproar, after he had commanded silence by sound of trumpet, says, “that these men are able to conquer, Cneius Manlius, I know; that they are willing they themselves have prevented me from knowing.
It is therefore resolved and determined not to give the signal, unless they swear that they will return victorious from this battle. The soldier has once deceived the Roman consul in the field, the gods he never will deceive.” There was a centurion, Marcus Flavoleius, one of the foremost in demanding battle; he says, “M. Fabius, I will return victorious from the field.”
If he deceived, he invokes the anger of father Jove, Mars Gradivus, and of the other gods. After him the entire army severally take the same oath. The signal is given to them when sworn; they take up arms, go into battle, full of rage and of hope.
They bid the Etrurians now to cast their reproaches; they severally require that the enemy, once so ready with the tongue, should now stand before them armed as they were.
On that day the bravery of all, both commons and patricians, was extraordinary: the Fabian name, the Fabian race shone forth most conspicuous: they are determined to recover in that battle the affections of the commons, which during many civil con- [p. 135]
tests had been alienated from them. The line of battle is formed; nor do the Veientian foe and the Etrurian legions decline the contest.