Accordingly, the following year, when M. Popilius Laenas and Cnaeus Manlius were the consuls, an army from Tibur marched in the early hours of the night when all was still against the City of Rome.
The citizens, suddenly aroused from sleep, were alarmed by the danger of a nocturnal attack and one quite unlooked for, and the alarm was heightened by their ignorance as to who the enemies were and whence they came.
However, the word quickly passed ‘To arms’; the gates were protected by pickets and the walls manned. When the early dawn revealed a comparatively small force before the walls and the enemy turned out to be none other than the Tiburtines, the consuls decided upon an immediate attack. They issued from two separate gates and attacked the enemy, as they were advancing to the walls, on both flanks.
It soon became obvious that they had been trusting more to the chances of a surprise than to their own courage, so little resistance did they offer to the very first onset of the Romans.
Their expedition turned out to be an advantage to the Romans, for the apprehensions aroused by a war so close to their gates stifled a nascent conflict between the patricians and the plebs.
In the war which followed there was another hostile incursion, but one more formidable to the country districts than to the City; the Tarquinians were carrying on their depredations within the Roman frontiers mainly on the side towards Etruria. As redress was refused, the new consuls, C. Fabius and C. Plautius, by order of the people, declared war against them.
This campaign was allotted to Fabius, the one against the Hernici to Plautius.
of hostilities on the part of the Gauls were becoming more frequent. Amidst these numerous alarms, however, there was one consolation — peace had been granted on their request to the Latins, and a strong contingent was sent by them in accordance with the old treaty which for many years they had not observed.
Now that the cause of Rome was strengthened by this reinforcement, there was less excitement created by the news that the Gauls had recently reached Praeneste and from there had settled in the country round Pedum.
It was decided that C. Sulpicius should be nominated Dictator; the consul, C. Plautius, was summoned home for the purpose. M. Valerius was appointed Master of the Horse.
They selected the finest troops out of the two armies which the consuls had commanded and led them against the Gauls.
The war was somewhat more tedious than was agreeable to either side. At first it was only the Gauls who were anxious to fight, then the Romans showed even more alacrity than the Gauls in arming themselves for action.
The Dictator by no means approved of this, since there was no necessity for him to run any risks. The enemy was daily becoming weaker by remaining inactive in a disadvantageous position, without any supplies previously collected, and with no proper entrenchments thrown up. Their whole strength both of mind and body depended upon rapid movements, and even a short delay told upon their vigour.
For these reasons the Dictator prolonged the war and announced that he would inflict severe punishment on any one who fought against orders.
The soldiers grew impatient at this state of things. When on picket or outpost duty at night, they talked in very disparaging terms about the Dictator, sometimes they abused the senators generally for not having given orders that the war should be conducted by consuls.
‘An extraordinary commander,’ they said, ‘had been selected, one man out of a thousand, who thought that if he sat still and did nothing himself, victory would fly down from heaven into his lap.’ Then they uttered these sentiments and still more angry ones openly in the daytime; they declared that they would either fight without waiting for orders or they would march back in a body to Rome.
The centurions made common cause with the soldiers; the murmurs were not confined to scattered groups, a general discussion went on in the main thoroughfares of the camp and in the open space before the headquarters' tent. The crowd grew to the dimensions of an Assembly, and shouts were raised from all sides to go at once to the Dictator. Sextius Tullius was to be spokesman for the army, a position he was well worthy to fill.