Anticipations like these had given the Etruscans fresh energy after their many vicissitudes of defeat and victory. The Roman consuls, too, dreaded nothing but their own strength and their own arms. The recollection of the fatal precedent set in the last war deterred them from any action whereby they would have to fear a simultaneous attack from two armies.
They confined themselves to their camp, and in face of the double danger avoided an engagement, hoping that time and circumstances might perhaps calm the angry passions and bring about a more healthy state of mind.
The Veientines and Etruscans were all the more energetic in forcing an engagement; they rode up to the camp and challenged the Romans to fight.
At last, as they produced no effect by the taunts and insults levelled at the army and consuls alike, they declared that the consuls were using the pretext of internal dissensions to veil the cowardice of their men, they distrusted their courage more than they doubted their loyalty. Silence and inactivity amongst men in arms was a novel kind of sedition.
They also made reflections, true as well as false, on the upstart quality of their nationality and descent. They shouted all this out close up to the ramparts and gates of the camp. The consuls took it with composure, but the simple soldiery were filled with indignation and shame, and their thoughts were diverted from their domestic troubles.
They were unwilling that the enemy should go on with impunity, they were equally unwilling that the patricians and the consuls should win the day, hatred against the enemy and hatred against their fellow-countrymen struggled in their minds for the mastery. At length the former prevailed, so contemptuous and insolent did the mockery of the enemy become.
They gathered in crowds round the generals' quarters, they insisted upon fighting, they demanded the signal for action. The consuls put their heads together as though deliberating, and remained for some time in conference.
They were anxious to fight, but their anxiety had to be repressed and concealed in order that the eagerness of the soldiers, once roused, might be intensified by opposition and delay. They replied that matters were not ripe, the time for battle had not come, they must remain within their camp.
They then issued an order that there must be no fighting, any one fighting against orders would be treated as an enemy. The soldiers, dismissed with this reply, became the more eager for battle the less they thought the consuls wished for it.
The enemy became much more exasperating when it was known that the consuls had determined not to fight, they imagined that they could now insult with impunity, that the soldiers were not entrusted with arms, matters would reach the stage of mutiny, and the dominion of Rome
had come to an end.
In this confidence they ran up to the gates, flung opprobrious epithets and hardly stopped short of storming the camp. Naturally the Romans could brook these insults no longer, they ran from all parts of the camp to the consuls, they did not now prefer their demand quietly through the first centurions as before, they shouted them in all directions.
Matters were ripe, still the consuls hung back. At last Cn. Manlius, fearing lest the increasing disturbance might lead to open mutiny, gave way, and Fabius, after ordering the trumpets to command silence, addressed his colleague thus: ‘I know, Cn. Manlius, that these men can conquer; it is their own fault that I did not know whether they wished to do so.
It has, therefore, been resolved and determined not to give the signal for battle unless they swear that they will come out of this battle victorious. A Roman consul was once deceived by his soldiers, they cannot deceive the gods.’
Amongst the centurions of the first rank who had demanded to be led to battle was M. Flavoleius. ‘M. Fabius,’ he said, ‘I will come back from the battle victorious.’ He invoked the wrath of Father Jupiter
and Mars Gradivus
and other deities if he broke his oath. The whole army took the oath, man by man, after him.
When they had sworn, the signal was given, they seized their weapons, and went into action, furious with rage and confident of victory. They told the Etruscans to continue their insults, and begged the enemy so ready with the tongue to stand up to them now they were armed.
All, patricians and plebeians alike, showed conspicuous courage on that day, the Fabian house especially covered itself with glory. They determined in that battle to win back the affection of the plebs, which had been alienated through many political contests.