Again the Veientian state had to contend with the Fabii without any additional military armament [on either side]; and there were not merely incursions into each other's territories, or sudden attacks on those making the incursions, but they fought repeatedly in the open field, and in pitched battles:
and one family of the Roman people oftentimes gained the victory over an entire Etrurian state, one of the most powerful at that time.
This at first appeared mortifying and humiliating to the Veientians: then (they formed) a design, suggested by the circumstance, of surprising their daring enemy by an ambuscade; they were even glad that the confidence of the Fabii was increasing by their great success.
Wherefore cattle were frequently driven in the way of the plundering parties, as if they had come there by mere accident, and tracts of land were abandoned by the flight of the peasants; and troops of armed men sent to prevent the devastations retreated more frequently from pretended than from real fear.
And now the Fabii had such a contempt for the enemy, as to [p. 141]
believe that their invincible arms could not be withstood either in any place or on any occasion: this presumption carried them so far, that at the sight of some cattle at a distance from Cremera, with an extensive plain lying between, they ran down to it (although few troops of the enemy were observed); and when incautious and in disorderly haste they had passed the ambuscade placed on either side of the very road;
and when dispersed in different directions they began to carry off the cattle straying about, as is usual when they are frightened, the Veientians rise up suddenly from their ambuscade, and the enemy were in front and on every side.
At first the shout that was raised terrified them; then weapons assailed them from every side; and, the Etrurians closing, they also were compelled, hemmed in as they now were by a compact body of soldiers, to contract their own circle within a narrower compass; which circumstance rendered striking both their own paucity of numbers, and the superior numbers of the enemy, the ranks being crowded in a narrow space.
Then the plan of fighting, which they had directed equally against every part, being now relinquished, they all incline their forces towards one point;
in that direction straining every effort both with their bodies and arms, they forced a passage by forming a wedge.
The way led to a hill of moderate acclivity; here they first halted: presently, as soon as the higher ground afforded them time to gain breath, and to recover from so great a panic, they repulsed them as they advanced up; and the small band by the advantage of the ground was gaining the victory, had not a party of the Veientians, sent round the ridge of the hill, made their way to the summit; thus again the enemy obtained the higher ground;
all the Fabii were killed to a man, and the fort was taken: it is agreed on all hands that the three hundred and six were cut off; that one1
only, who nearly attained the age of puberty, was left as a stock for the Fabian race; and that he was destined to prove the greatest support in the dangerous emergencies of the Roman people both at home and in war.