While these things were going on in Rome, there came envoys from Ardea begging the Romans in the name of their ancient alliance, renewed by the recent treaty, to send help to their city, which was on the brink of ruin.
For the enjoyment of peace, which they had most wisely preserved with the Roman People, had been denied them, owing to civil war.
This is said to have had its cause and origin in the rivalry of factions, which have been and will be fraught with destruction to more nations than foreign wars, or famine and pestilence, or whatsoever other scourges men attribute, as the most desperate national calamities, to the wrath of Heaven.
A maiden of plebeian family who was famous for her beauty had two youthful suitors. One was of her own class and relied on the approval of her guardians, who were themselves of the same standing.
The other was a noble, captivated solely by her good looks, who was supported by the favour of the optimates,1
which resulted in the introduction of party strife into the household of the girl herself. The noble was preferred by the mother, who wished her daughter to make as grand a match as possible. The guardians, mindful even in a matter like this of political interests, held out for their fellow plebeian.
When the dispute could not be settled [p. 289]
privately, a suit was instituted. After listening to the2
pleas of the mother and the guardians, the magistrates decreed that the mother should have power to decide as she saw fit about the marriage.
But violence was stronger than they; for the guardians, after openly addressing a crowd of their own party in the market-place, on the injustice3
of the decision, collected a party and carried the girl off from her mother's house.
To confront them an even more warlike band of nobles gathered, under the leadership of the injured and indignant youth, and a desperate battle followed. The plebs were routed, but, unlike the Roman plebs, having armed and withdrawn from their city and encamped upon a certain hill, they sallied forth, sword and torch in hand, to sack the farms of the nobles.
They even prepared to besiege the city itself, for the entire body of artizans, even those who had hitherto had no part in the quarrel, had been called out by the hope of plunder;
nor was there wanting any form of the horrors of war, as though the nation had been infected with the madness of the two young men who sought a fatal marriage in the ruin of their country.
Neither side saw that there had been enough of war and arms at home; the optimates called upon the Romans to relieve their beleaguered city; the plebeians sent for the Volsci to help them capture Ardea.
The Volsci, with the Aequian Cluilius for their leader,4
were the first to reach Ardea, and threw up intrenchments against the walls of their enemies.
When the news was brought to Rome, Marcus Geganius the consul immediately set out with an army. When three miles from the enemy he chose a place for his camp; and as the day was [p. 291]
now fast drawing to a close, ordered his soldiers5
to refresh themselves.
Then in the fourth watch he marched out, and commencing a contravallation, made such speed that at sunrise the Volsci perceived that they were more securely hemmed in by the Romans than was the city by themselves; and on one side the consul had thrown out a work to join the walls of Ardea, in order that his friends in the town might be enabled to come and go.6