battle took place near the base of Mount Vesuvius, where the road led to Veseris. Before leading out their armies to battle the consuls offered sacrifice. Theharuspex
, whose duty it was to inspect the different organs in the victims, pointed out to Decius a prophetic intimation of his death, in all other respects the signs were favourable. Manlius' sacrifice was entirely satisfactory.
‘It is well,’ said Decius,‘if my colleague has obtained favourable signs.’
They moved forward to battle in the formation I have already described, Manlius in command of the right division, Decius of the left.
At first both armies fought with equal strength and equal determination. After a time the Roman hastati on the left, unable to withstand the insistency of the Latins, retired behind the principes.
During the temporary confusion created by this movement, Decius exclaimed in a loud voice to M. Valerius: ‘Valerius, we need the help of the gods! Let the Pontifex Maximus dictate to me the words in which I am to devote myself for the legions.’
The Pontifex bade him veil his head in his toga praetexta, and rest his hand, covered with the toga, against his chin, then standing upon a spear to say these words:
‘Janus, Jupiter, Father Mars, Quirinus, Bellona, Lares, ye Novensiles and Indigetes, deities to whom belongs the power over us and over our foes, and ye, too, Divine Manes, I pray to you, I do you reverence,
I crave your grace and favour that you will bless the Roman People, the Quirites, with power and victory, and visit the enemies of the Roman People, the Quirites, with fear and dread and death.
In like manner as I have uttered this prayer so do I now on behalf of the commonwealth of the Quirites, on behalf of the army, the legions, the auxiliaries of the Roman People, the Quirites, devote the legions and auxiliaries of the enemy, together with myself to the Divine Manes and to Earth.’
After this prayer he ordered the lictors to go to T. Manlius and at once announce to his colleague that he had devoted himself on behalf of the army.
He then girded himself with the Gabinian cincture, and in full armour leaped upon his horse and dashed into the middle of the enemy. To those who watched him in both armies, he appeared something awful and superhuman, as though sent from heaven to expiate and appease all the anger of the gods and to avert destruction from his people and bring it on their enemies.
All the dread and terror which he carried with him threw the front ranks of the Latins into confusion which soon spread throughout the entire army.
This was most evident, for wherever his horse carried him they were paralysed as though struck by some death-dealing star; but when he fell, overwhelmed with darts, the Latin cohorts, in a state of perfect consternation, fled from the spot and left a large space clear.
The Romans, on the other hand, freed from all religious fears, pressed forward as though the signal was then first given and commenced a great battle.
Even the rorarii rushed forward between the companies of antepilani and added strength to the hastati and principes, whilst the triarii, kneeling on their right knee, waited for the consul's signal to rise.