The battle-line was formed; neither the Veientines nor the legions of Etruria declined the contest. They were almost certain that the Romans would no more fight with them than they fought with the Aequi, and they did not despair of something still more serious happening, considering the state of irritation they were in and the double opportunity which now presented itself.1
Things took a very different course, for in no previous war had the Romans gone into action with more grim determination, so exasperated were they by the insults of the enemy and the procrastination of the
consuls. The Etruscans had scarcely time to form their ranks when, after the javelins had in the first confusion been flung at random rather than thrown regularly, the combatants came to a hand-to-hand encounter with swords, the most desperate kind of
fighting. Amongst the foremost were the Fabii, who set a splendid example for their countrymen to behold. Quintus Fabius —the one who had been consul two years previously — charged, regardless of danger, the massed Veientines, and whilst he was engaged with vast numbers of the enemy, a Tuscan of vast strength and splendidly armed plunged his sword into his breast, and as he drew it out Fabius fell forward on the
wound. Both armies felt the fall of this one man, and the Romans were beginning to give ground, when M. Fabius, the consul, sprang over the body as it lay, and holding up his buckler, shouted, ‘Is this what you swore, soldiers, that you would go back to camp as
fugitives? Are you more afraid of this cowardly foe than of Jupiter and Mars, by whom you swore? I, who did not swear, will either go back victorious, or will fall fighting by you, Quintus Fabius.’ Then Caeso Fabius, the consul of the previous year, said to the consul, ‘Is it by words like these, my brother, that you think you will make them
fight? The gods, by whom they swore, will-do that; our duty as chiefs, if we are to be worthy of the Fabian name, is to kindle our soldiers' courage by fighting rather than haranguing.’ So the two Fabii dashed forward with levelled spears, and carried the whole line with them.