This controversy preoccupied men's thoughts at a most inopportune moment, when such a serious war was on their hands.
At last, after Julius and Cornelius had, one after the other, argued at great length that as they were quite competent to conduct that war, it was unjust to deprive them of the honour which the people had conferred upon them, Ahala Servilius, the other consular tribune, intervened in the dispute.
He had, he said, kept silent so long, not because he had any doubt in his own mind, —for what true patriot could separate his own interest from that of the State? —but because he would rather have had his colleagues yield voluntarily to the authority of the senate than allow the power of the plebeian tribunes to be invoked against them.
Even now he would have gladly given them time to abandon their unyielding attitude if circumstances allowed. But the necessities of war do not wait on the counsels of men, and the commonwealth was more to him than the goodwill of his colleagues.
If, therefore, the senate adhered to its decision, he would nominate a Dictator the next night, and if any one vetoed the passing of a senatorial decree he should be content to act simply on their resolution.
By taking this course he won the well-deserved praise and sympathy of all, and after nominating P. Cornelius as Dictator, he was himself appointed Master of the Horse.
He furnished an example to his colleagues, as they compared his position with their own, of the way in which high office and popularity come sometimes most readily to those who do not covet them.
The war was far from being a memorable one.
The enemy were defeated with great slaughter at Antium in a single easily-won battle. The victorious army devastated the Volscian territory. The fort at Lake Fucinus was stormed, and the garrison of 3000 men taken prisoners, whilst the rest of the Volscians were driven into their walled towns, leaving their fields at the mercy of the enemy.
After making what use he could of Fortune's favours in the conduct of the war1
, the Dictator returned home with more success than glory and
laid down his office.
The consular tribunes waived all proposals for the election of consuls —owing, I believe, to their resentment at the appointment of a Dictator —and issued orders for the election of consular tribunes.
This increased the anxiety of the senators, for they saw that their cause was being betrayed by men of their own party.
Accordingly, as in the previous year they had excited disgust against all plebeian candidates, however worthy, by means of those who were perfectly worthless, so now the leaders of the senate appeared as candidates, surrounded by everything that could lend distinction or strengthen personal influence.
They secured all the places and prevented the entrance of any plebeian. Four were elected, all of whom had previously held office, viz., L. Furius Medullinus, C. Valerius Potitus, N. Fabius Vibulanus, and C. Servilius Ahala. The latter owed his continuance in office to the popularity he had won by his singular moderation as much as to his other merits.