Upon this he was admitted into their public councils, where though, with regard to other matters, he professed to submit to the judgment of the old inhabitants of Gabii, to whom they were better known, yet he every now and then advised them to renew the war; to that he pretended to a superior knowledge, because he was well acquainted with the strength of both nations, and knew that the king's pride was decidedly become hateful to his subjects, which not even his own children could now endure.
As he thus by degrees stirred up the nobles of the Gabians to renew the war, went himself with the most active of their youth on plundering parties and expeditions, and ill-grounded credit was attached to all his words and actions, framed as they were for deception, he is at length chosen general-in-chief in the war.
There when, the people being still ignorant of what was really going on, several skirmishes with the Romans took place, wherein the Gabians generally had the advantage, then all the Gabians, from the highest to the lowest, were firmly persuaded, that Sextus Tarquinius had been sent to them as their general, by the special favour of the gods.
By his exposing himself to fatigues and dangers, and by his generosity in dividing the plunder, he was so beloved by the soldiers, that Tarquin the father had not greater power at Rome than the son at Gabii.
When he saw he had got sufficient strength collected to support him in any under- [p. 71]
taking, he sent one of his confidants to Rome to ask his father what he wished him to do, seeing the gods had granted him the sole management of all affairs at Gabii. To this courier no answer by word of mouth was given, because, I suppose, he appeared of questionable fidelity.
The king going into a garden of the palace, as it were to consider of the matter, followed by his son's messenger; walking there for some time in silence, he is said to have struck off the heads of the tallest poppies with his staff.
The messenger, wearied with demanding and waiting for an answer, returned to Gabii as if without having accomplished his object, and told what he had said himself; and what he had observed, adding, “that Tarquin, either through passion, aversion to him, or his innate pride, had not spoke a word.”
As soon as it became evident to Sextus what his father wished, and what conduct he recommended by those silent intimations, he put to death the most eminent men of the city, accusing some of them to the people, and others who were exposed by their own unpopularity. Many were executed publicly, and some, against whom an impeachment was likely to prove less specious, were secretly assassinated.
Means of escape were to some allowed, and others were banished, and their estates, as well as the estates of those who were put to death, publicly distributed.
By the sweets of corruption, plunder, and private advantage resulting from these distributions, the sense of the public calamities became extinguished in them, till the state of Gabii, destitute of counsel and assistance, was delivered without a struggle into the hands of the Roman king.