They had shaken the enemy's resistance at the very first onset, when suddenly the gates of Fidenae were flung open and a strange kind of army, never seen before or heard of, came pouring out.
Fire was the weapon of that vast multitude, and blazing torches threw a glare upon the entire throng when, as though inspired with a wild insanity, they rushed headlong on their enemy.
For an instant the strangeness of this kind of battle dismayed the Romans. Then the dictator, calling up the master of the horse and his cavalry, sending for Quinctius to come down from the mountains, and urging on the fight himself, hurried to the left wing, which, as though it found itself in a conflagration rather than a line of battle, had shrunk back in terror from the flames, and in a loud voice cried out:
“Will you quit your post, [p. 367]
subdued with smoke like a swarm of bees, and yield1
to an unarmed foe? Will you not extinguish fire with the sword?
Will you not seize these self-same brands, and each for himself —if we must fight with fire, not with javelins —attack them with their own weapons? Come, call to mind the Roman name, your fathers' valour and your own; turn this blaze upon the enemy's city and destroy Fidenae with its own flames, since your kindness was powerless to gain its friendship! The blood of your envoys and your colonists and your devastated borders exhort you to do as I say.”
At the dictator's command the whole array was set in motion.
Here they caught up torches which had been flung away; there they wrested them violently from their bearers: both sides were armed with fire. The master of the horse on his part invented a new kind of cavalry-fighting. Commanding his men to pull off the bridles from their horses, he led the way, and setting spurs to his own, was carried by the unbridled charger into the midst of the flames.
The other horses too were urged on and bore their riders at full tilt against the enemy; while the dust that rose and mingled with the smoke darkened the eyes both of the men and of their mounts.
But the sight which had frightened the infantry had no terror for the horses, and the cavalry overthrew their enemies in heaps wherever they advanced. Then a new shout was heard. Both armies in astonishment looked that way; and when the dictator called out that Quinctius the lieutenant and his followers had assailed the enemy in the rear, the cheering was renewed, and he pressed home his own attack more sharply.
Now that two battle-fronts and two distinct attacks2
hemmed in the Etruscans and forced them back from front and rear; and there was no way for them to flee, either back into their camp or into the mountains, whence a new foe had appeared to block their path; and the horses, with loose reins, had borne their riders far and wide; —the Veientes for the most part ran in disorder to the Tiber, while those of the Fidenates who survived turned towards the city of Fidenae.
In their panic they fled into the middle of the carnage. Some were cut down on the banks of the river; others, forced into the water, were swept away by the current; even experienced swimmers were borne down by weariness and wounds and fear; only a few out of the many swam across.
The other party was carried on through the camp to the city. Thither the Romans too pushed forward in the impetuosity of the pursuit —especially Quinctius, and with him those who had just come down from the hills and were the freshest soldiers for the work, having arrived at the close of the battle.