By this time the day was breaking and everything could be seen. Fabius had delivered a charge with his cavalry; the consul had made a sally from the camp against the enemy, who were already wavering;
while the dictator, on the other side of the field, attacking the supports and the second line, had fallen upon the foe from every side, as they [p. 349]
wheeled about to meet the wild shouts and sudden1
onsets, with his victorious foot and horse.
Accordingly, being now hemmed in on every side, the enemy would have suffered to a man the penalty of their rebellion, had not Vettius Messius, a Volscian more distinguished by his deeds than by his birth, called out in a clear voice to his men, who were already crowding together in a circle, “Are you going to offer yourselves up here to the weapons of the enemy, defenceless and unavenged?
To what end then are you armed, or why without provocation did you make war, turbulent in peace and sluggards in the field? What hope is there while you stand here? Do you think that some god will protect you and deliver you from this plight?
It is your swords must make a way for you! Come, where you see me go before, there you must follow, if you would look on homes, parents, wives and children! It is not a wall or rampart that blocks your path, but armed men like yourselves. In courage you are their equals; in necessity, which is the last and chiefest weapon, you are the better men.”
So he spoke, and acted on the word. Renewing their shouts they followed after, and hurled themselves against the Romans where the cohorts of Postumius Albus had confronted them. And they forced the victors to give ground, until the dictator came up, as his men were already falling back, and the fighting all centred on that spot.
On one single warrior, Messius, hung the fortunes of the enemy. Many were the wounds on either side, and great was the slaughter everywhere. Now even the Roman leaders were bleeding as they fought.
Only Postumius left the battle, struck by a stone that broke his head. [p. 351]
A wounded shoulder could not drive the dictator2
from so critical a fight; nor would Fabius retire for a thigh almost pinned to his horse; nor the consul for an arm that was hewn away.