Accordingly, in the following year, when1
Marcus Popilius Laenas and Gnaeus Manlius were consuls, a hostile expedition set out from Tibur and arrived in the first silence of the night, at the walls of Rome.
It was terrifying to be suddenly waked out of sleep by a surprise and a night alarm; moreover many of the people knew not who their enemies were nor whence they had come; nevertheless the call to arms was quickly given, and watches were set at the gates and the walls were manned.
And when the first light showed the enemy before the City to be in no great force, and only the men of Tibur, the consuls sallied out at two gates and assailed them on both flanks as they were now drawing near the walls.
It was evident that in coming they had relied more on opportunity than on courage, for they scarcely withstood the first shock of the Roman onset.
In fact their expedition was confessedly a good thing for the Romans, and the fear occasioned by so near an enemy repressed a quarrel that was already in the air, between the patricians and the plebs.
Another hostile incursion was more terrifying to the countryside. The Tarquinienses, bent on plundering, ranged over the Roman territory, particularly that part which adjoins Etruria; and demands for reparation proving futile, the new consuls, Gaius Fabius and Gaius Plautius, declared war against them, as commanded by the people. This campaign fell to Fabius, that against the Hernici to Plautius.
Rumours of a Gallic war began also to be rife.2
But with many perils, there was this consolation, that they had granted peace to the Latins, at their desire, and had received a large force of soldiers from them, under the terms of an ancient treaty which the Latins had for many years disregarded.
Thus strengthened, the Romans heard soon after with small concern that the Gauls had come to Praeneste and had then pitched their camp in the vicinity of Pedum.
They resolved on making Gaius Sulpicius dictator, and sent for Gaius Plautius the consul to appoint him; Marcus Valerius was named as his master of the horse. These two marched against the Gauls, with the choicest troops from both the consular armies.
The war was considerably more protracted than was pleasing to either side. At first only the Gauls had been eager for battle; but later the Romans far exceeded the Gauls in the ardour with which they would run to arm themselves and fight.
Yet the dictator was by no means willing, being under no compulsion, to hazard his fortune against an enemy whom each day made less formidable, as he lingered on in an unfriendly country, without a magazine of food, and without adequate defences —an enemy, too, whose strength and courage lay wholly in attacking, and languished as soon as there came a slight delay.
Upon these considerations the dictator spun out the war and threatened to punish anyone severely who should fight the enemy without his orders. The soldiers were mortified at this. At first they grumbled among themselves about the dictator, when on picket-duty or watching in the night, and [p. 397]
sometimes railed at the senators collectively for not3
having given the consuls charge of the war; a fine general they had chosen, a unique commander, who thought that without his lifting a finger victory would fly down from heaven into his lap!
But they presently began to utter these same sentiments quite openly and in the light of day, and even bolder things than these: they would not wait, they declared, for the general's orders, but would either fight or go in a body to Rome.
The centurions began to mingle with the soldiers; the murmuring was not confined to little knots of men, but in the main street and before the commander's tent there was now one general clamour; the throng increased to the bigness of an assembly, and on every side shouts were heard that they should go instantly to the dictator, and that Sextus Tullius should be spokesman for the army, as became his courage.