The Ciminian forest was in those days deemed as impassable and frightful as the German forests have been in latter times; not even any trader having ever attempted to pass it. Hardly any, besides the general himself, showed boldness enough to enter it; the others had not the remembrance of the disaster at Caudium effaced from their mind.
On this, of those who were present, Marcus Fabius, the consul's brother, (some say Caeso, others Caius Claudius, born of the same mother with the consul,) undertook to go and explore the country, and to bring them in a short time an account of every particular.
Being educated at Caere, where he had friends, he was perfectly acquainted with the Etrurian language. I have seen it affirmed, that, in those times, the Roman youth were commonly instructed in the Etrurian learning, as they are now in the Greek: but it is more probable, that there was something very extraordinary in the person who acted so daringly a counterfeit part, and mixed among the enemy.
It is said, that his only attendant was a slave, who had been bred up with him, and who was therefore not ignorant of the same language.
They received no further instructions at their departure, than a summary description of the country through which they were to pass; to this was added the names of the principal men in the several states, to prevent their being at a loss in conversation, and from being discovered by making some mistake. They set out in the dress of shepherds, armed with rustic weapons, bills, and two short javelins each.
But neither their speaking the language of the country, nor the fashion of their dress [p. 610]
and arms, concealed them so effectually, as the incredible circumstance of a stranger's passing the Ciminian forest.
They are said to have penetrated as far as the Camertian district of the Umbrians: there the Romans ventured to own who they were, and being introduced to the senate, treated with them, in the name of the consul, about an alliance and friendship;
and after being entertained with courteous hospitality, were desired to acquaint the Romans, that if they came into those countries, there should be provisions in readiness for the troops sufficient for thirty days, and that they should find the youth of the Camertian Umbrians prepared in arms to obey their commands.
When this information was brought to the consul, he sent forward the baggage at the first watch, ordering the legions to march in the rear of it.
He himself staid behind with the cavalry, and next day, as soon as light appeared, rode up to the posts of the enemy, which had been stationed on the outside of the forest; and, when he had detained them there for a sufficient length of time, he retired to his camp, and marching out by the opposite gate, overtook the main body of the army before night.
At the first light, on the following day, he had gained the summit of Mount Ciminius, from whence having a view of the opulent plains of Etruria, he let loose his soldiers upon them.
When a vast booty had been driven off, some tumultuary cohorts of Etrurian peasants, hastily collected by the principal inhabitants of the district, met the Romans; but in such disorderly array, that these rescuers of the prey were near becoming wholly a prey themselves.
These being slain or put to flight, and the country laid waste to a great extent, the Romans returned to their camp victorious, and enriched with plenty of every kind.
It happened that, in the mean time, five deputies, with two plebeian tribunes, had come hither, to charge Fabius, in the name of the senate, not to attempt to pass the Ciminian forest. These, rejoicing that they had arrived too late to prevent the expedition, returned to Rome with the news of its success.