At the very instant of the first clash of arms the enemy gave ground, not out of fear, but guile.
Behind them the ground sloped gently up from the battle-line to their camp; and having plenty of men they had left a few strong cohorts armed and drawn up within the camp, which were to sally forth when the fighting had got under way, and the Romans had approached the rampart.
The Romans pursued the retreating enemy without order, and were drawn into an unfavourable position, where this attack could be made upon them with advantage. Thus the victors were threatened in their turn, and, what with the new foe and the declivity, the Roman line gave way.
They were closely pressed by the fresh Volsci who had made the sortie, and those, too, who had pretended flight renewed the battle.
And now the Roman soldiers were no longer retiring in order, but regardless of their late impetuosity and their ancient fame, had turned their backs and were everywhere in full flight towards the camp; when Camillus was lifted into the saddle by his attendants, and rapidly throwing his reserves into the fight, “Soldiers,” he cried, “is this the battle you demanded? What man, what god is there, whom [p. 281]
you could accuse? Yours was the rashness then,1
now the infamy is yours.
You have followed another leader: follow now Camillus, and, as your habit is when I am leading, conquer. Why do you look on the rampart and the camp? Not one of you shall find entrance there, save as a victor.”
A sense of shame at first checked their headlong flight; then, as they saw the standards face about and the line form up against the enemy, while their general, distinguished for his many triumphs and rendered venerable by his age, exposed himself at the front amidst the ensigns, where the fighting and the danger were the greatest, they began each and every one to cry out against themselves and their fellows, and their mutual encouragements ran through the entire army in a ringing cheer.
Nor was the other tribune behindhand, but being sent by his colleague —who was re-forming the line of foot —to rally the horse, he did not chide them —for his share in their fault would have made this of little use —but turning wholly from commands to entreaties, he besought them one and all to save him from the guilt of that day's mishap, for which he was responsible.
“Notwithstanding,” he said, “the refusal and the opposition of my colleague, I gave my adhesion to the general recklessness in preference to the prudence of one man.
Camillus sees glory for himself, whichever way your fortune turns; but I, if the battle is not restored, shall experience the utter misery of sharing with everybody the disaster, while enduring the infamy alone.” It seemed best, as the battle-line was wavering, to dismiss the horses and attack the enemy on foot. Conspicuous for their arms and their courage, they advanced where [p. 283]
they saw the foot-soldiers hardest pressed.
generals nor soldiers relaxed their utmost efforts, and the help afforded by their brave exertions was felt in the result. The Volsci fled in a genuine panic over the ground where they had lately pretended fear. Great numbers of them were slain both in the battle itself and in the flight which followed; the others were cut down in the camp, which was captured in the same charge; but more were made prisoners than were slain.3