Four consular tribunes were elected-T. Quinctius Poenus, who had been consul, C. Furius, M. Postumius, and A. Cornelius Cossus.
Cossus was warden of the City, the other three after completing the levy advanced against Veii, and they showed how useless a divided command is in war. By each insisting on his own plans, when they all held different views, they gave the enemy his opportunity.
For whilst the army was perplexed by different orders, some giving the signal to advance, whilst the others ordered a retreat, the Veientines seized the opportunity for an attack.
Breaking into a disorderly flight, the Romans sought refuge in their camp which was close by; they incurred more disgrace than loss. The commonwealth, unaccustomed to defeat, was plunged in grief; they hated the tribunes and demanded a Dictator; all their hopes rested on that. Here too a religious impediment was met with, as a Dictator could only be nominated by a consul.
The augurs were consulted and removed the difficulty. A. Cornelius nominated Mamercus Aemilius as Dictator, he himself was appointed by him Master of the Horse.
This proved how powerless the action of the censors was to prevent a member of a family unjustly degraded from being entrusted with supreme control when once the fortunes of the State demanded real courage and ability.1
Elated by their success, the Veientines sent envoys round to the cantons of Etruria, boasting that three Roman generals had been defeated by them in a single battle.
As, however, they could not induce the national council to join them, they collected from all quarters volunteers who were attracted by the prospect of booty.
The Fidenates alone decided to take part in the war, and as though they thought it impious to begin war otherwise than with a crime, they stained their weapons with the blood of the new colonists, as they had previously with the blood of the Roman ambassadors.
Then they joined the Veientines. The chiefs of the two peoples consulted whether they should make Veii or Fidenae the base of operations. Fidenae appeared the more suitable; the Veientines accordingly crossed the Tiber and transferred the war to Fidenae.