To many the sentiments which Appius uttered seemed cruel and monstrous, as they really were. On the other hand, the proposals of Verginius and Larcius would set a dangerous precedent, that of Larcius at all events, as it would destroy all credit. The advice given by Verginius was regarded as the most moderate, being a middle course between the other two.
But through the strength of his party, and the consideration of personal interests which always have injured and always will injure public policy, Appius won the day.
He was very nearly being himself appointed Dictator, an appointment which would more than anything have alienated the plebians, and that too at a most critical time when the Volscians, the Aequi, and the Sabines were all in arms together.
The consuls and the older patricians, however, took care that a magistracy clothed with such tremendous powers should be entrusted to a man of moderate temper.
They created M. Valerius, the son of Volesus, Dictator. Though the plebeians recognised that it was against them that a Dictator had been created, still, as they held their right of appeal under a law which his brother had passed, they did not fear any harsh or tyrannical treatment from that family.
Their hopes were confirmed by an edict issued by the Dictator, very similar to the one made by Servilius.
That edict had been ineffective, but they thought that more confidence could be placed in the person and power of the Dictator, so, dropping all opposition, they gave in their names for enrolment.
Ten legions, were formed, a larger army than had ever before been assembled. Three of them were assigned to each of the consuls, the Dictator took command of four.
The war could no longer be delayed. The Aequi had invaded the Latin territory.
Envoys sent by the Latins asked the senate either to send help or allow them to arm for the purpose of defending their frontier. It was thought safer to defend the unarmed Latins than to allow them to rearm themselves. The consul Vetusius was despatched, and that was the end of the raids.
The Aequi withdrew from the plains, and trusting more to the nature of the country than to their arms, sought safety on the mountain ridges.
The other consul advanced against the Volscians, and to avoid loss of time, he devastated their fields with the object of forcing them to move their camp nearer to his and so bringing on an engagement.
The two armies stood facing each other, in front of their respective lines, on the level space between the camps. The Volscians had considerably the advantage in numbers, and accordingly showed their contempt for their foe by coming on in disorder.
The Roman consul kept his army motionless, forbade their raising an answering shout, and ordered them to stand with their spears fixed in the ground, and when the enemy came to close quarters, to spring forward and make all possible use of their swords. The Volscians, wearied with their running and shouting, threw themselves upon the Romans as upon men benumbed with fear, but when they felt the strength of the counter-attack and saw the swords flashing before them, they retreated in confusion just as if they had been caught in an ambush, and owing to the speed at which they had come into action, they had not even strength to flee.
The Romans, on the other hand, who at the beginning of the battle had remained quietly standing, were fresh and vigorous, and easily overtook the exhausted Volscians, rushed their camp, drove them out, and pursued them as far as Velitrae
, victors and vanquished bursting pell-mell into the city.
A greater slaughter of all ranks took place there than in the actual battle; a few who threw down their arms and surrendered received quarter.