this was going on in Rome, ambassadors came from Ardea, appealing, in the name of the ancient alliance and recently renewed treaty, for help for their city which was almost destroyed.
They were not allowed, they said, to enjoy the peace which in pursuance of the soundest policy they had maintained with Rome, owing to internal disputes.
The origin and occasion of these is said to have been party struggles, which have been and will be more ruinous to the majority of States than external wars or famine and pestilence or whatever else is ascribed to the wrath of the gods as the last evil which a State can suffer.
Two young men were courting a maiden of plebeian descent celebrated for her beauty.
One of them, the girl's equal in point of birth, was encouraged by her guardians, who belonged to the same class; the other, a young noble captivated solely by her beauty, was supported by the sympathy and good-will of the nobility.
Party feeling had even penetrated into the girl's home, for the mother, who wanted her daughter to make as splendid a match as possible, preferred the young noble, whilst the guardians, carrying their partisanship even into such a matter as this, were working for the man of their own class.
As the matter could not be settled within the four walls of the house, they brought it into court. After hearing the appeals of the mother and of the guardians, the magistrates granted the disposal of the girl's hand in accordance with the mother's wishes.
But violence won the day, for the guardians, after haranguing a number of their partisans in the Forum on the iniquity of the verdict, collected a body of men and carried off the maiden from her mother's house.
They were met by a still more determined troop of nobles, assembled to follow their young comrade, who was furious at the outrage. A desperate fight ensued and the plebeians got the worst of it. In a very different spirit from the Roman plebs they marched, fully armed, out of the city and took possession of a hill from which they raided the lands of the nobles and laid them waste with fire and sword.
A multitude of artisans who had previously taken no part in the conflict, excited by the hope of plunder, joined them, and preparations were made to besiege the city.
All the horrors of war were present in the city, as though it had been infected with the madness
of the two young men who were seeking fatal nuptials out of their country's ruin.
Both sides felt the need of an addition to their strength; the nobles prevailed on the Romans to come to the relief of their beleaguered city;
the plebs induced the Volscians to join them in attacking Ardea.
The Volscians, under the leadership of Cluilius, the Aequian, were the first to come, and drew lines of circumvallation round the enemy's walls. When news of this reached Rome the consul M. Geganius at once left with an army and fixed his camp three miles distant from the enemy, and as the day was declining he ordered his men to rest. At the fourth watch he ordered an advance, and so expeditiously was the task undertaken and completed, that at sunrise the Volscians saw themselves enclosed by a stronger circumvallation than the one which they had themselves carried round the city.
In another direction the consul constructed a covered way up to the wall of Ardea by which his friends in the city could go to and fro.