Tullius was now for the seventh time first centurion of a legion, nor was there in the army, at least among those who served in the infantry, a man more distinguished by his conduct.
He, at the head of a body of the soldiers, proceeds to the tribunal, and to Sulpicius, not more surprised at the crowd than at Tullius, the leader of the crowd, a soldier most obedient to command, he says:
“Dictator, the whole army, conceiving that they have been condemned by you of cowardice, and kept without their arms by way of disgrace, has entreated me to plead their cause before you.
In truth, if having deserted our post any where, if turning our backs to the enemy, [p. 462]
if the disgraceful loss of our standards could be laid to our charge, I would still think it but just that we should obtain this from you, that you would suffer us to redeem our fault by our bravery, and to blot out the memory of our disgrace by newly acquired glory.
Even the legions defeated at the Allia, when they afterwards set out from Veii, recovered by their valour the same country which they had lost through a panic. We, by the bounty of the gods, your good fortune, and that of the Roman people, have both our cause and our glory uninjured.
Though of glory I would scarcely venture to say any thing; since both the enemy scoff at us with every kind of insult, as women hiding ourselves behind a rampart; and you, our general, what we grieve at still more, judge your army to be without spirit, without arms, without hands; and before you had made trial of us, you have so despaired of us, as to consider yourself to be the leader of a set of maimed and disabled men.
For what else shall we believe to be the reason why you, a veteran general, most valiant in war, sit down with hands folded, as they say. But however it may be, it is fitter that you should seem to doubt of our courage than we of yours.
If however this plan of proceeding be not your own, but a public one, if some concerted scheme of the patricians, and not the Gallic war, keeps us exiled from the city, from our homes, I beg that you consider what I may say here, as addressed not by soldiers to their general, but to the patricians by the commons, who tell you that as ye have your separate plans, so will they have theirs. Who in the name of goodness can be angry that we (consider ourselves) your soldiers, not your slaves?
as men who have been sent to war, not into exile? as men who, if any one give the signal, and lead them out into the field, will fight as becomes men and Romans? as men who, if there be no need of arms, would spend their idle time in Rome rather than in a camp?
Consider these observations as addressed to the patricians. As your soldiers, we entreat you, general, to afford us an opportunity of fighting. We both desire to conquer, and also to conquer with you for our leader; to confer on you the distinguished laurel, with you to enter the city in triumph; following your car with congratulations and rejoicings, to approach the temple of Jupiter supremely great and good.”
The entreaties of the multitude followed the speech of Tullius; and from every [p. 463]
side they cried out, that he would give the signal, that he would order them to take arms.