Even already Appius was a match for the tribunes of the people in the popular assemblies; when suddenly a misfortune sustained before Veii, from a quarter whence no one could expect it, both gave Appius the superiority in the dispute, produced also a greater harmony between the different orders, and greater ardour to carry on the siege of Veii with more pertinacity.
For when the trenches were now advanced to the very city, and the machines were almost about to be applied to the walls, whilst the works are carried on with greater assiduity by day, than they are guarded by night, a gate was thrown open on a sudden, and a vast multitude, armed chiefly with torches, cast fire about on all sides;
and after the lapse of an hour the flames destroyed both the rampart and the machines, the work of so long a time, and great numbers of men, bearing assistance in vain, were destroyed by the sword and by fire.
When the account of this circumstance was brought to Rome, it inspired sadness into all ranks; into the senate anxiety and apprehension, lest the sedition could no longer be withstood either in the city or in the camp, and lest the tribunes of the commons should insult over the commonwealth, as if vanquished by them;
when on a sudden, those who possessed an equestrian fortune, [p. 331]
but to whom horses had not been assigned by the public, having previously held a meeting together, went to the senate; and having obtained permission to speak, promise that they will serve on their own horses.
And when thanks were returned to them by the senate in the most complimentary terms, and the report of this proceeding spread through the forum and the city, there suddenly ensues a concourse of the commons to the senate-house.
They say that “they are now of the pedestrian order, and the preferred their services to the commonwealth, though not compelled to serve, whether they wished to march them to Veii, or to any other place. If they were led to Veii, they affirm, that they would not return from thence, until the city of the enemy was taken.”
Then indeed they with difficulty set bounds to the joy which now poured in upon them;
for they were not ordered, as in the case of the horsemen, to be publicly eulogized, the order for so doing being consigned to the magistrates, nor were they summoned into the senate-house to receive an answer; nor did the senate confine themselves within the threshold of their house, but every one of them individually with their voice and hands testified from the elevated ground the public joy to the multitude standing in the assembly;
they declared that by that unanimity the Roman city would be happy, and invincible and eternal; praised the horsemen, praised the commons; extolled the day itself by their praises; they acknowledged that the courtesy and kindness of the senate was outdone.
Tears flowed in abundance through joy both from the patricians and commons;
until the senators being called back into the house, a decree of the senate was passed, "that the military tribunes, summoning an assembly, should return thanks to the infantry and cavalry; and should state that the senate would be mindful of their affectionate attachment to their country. But that it was their wish that their pa should go on for those who had, out of their turn, undertaken voluntary service.
To the horsemen also a certain stipend was assigned. Then for the first time the cavalry began to serve on their own horses. This army of volunteers being led to Veii, not only restored the works which had been lost, but also erected new ones. Supplies were conveyed from the city with greater care than before; lest any thing [p. 332]
should be wanting for the accommodation of an army who deserved so well.