Marcus Popilius Laenas was chosen from the plebs, Lucius Cornelius Scipio from the patricians.
Fortune even made the plebeian consul the more illustrious, for the news that a huge army of Gauls had encamped in Latium found Scipio afflicted with a grave disorder, and the conduct of the war was entrusted by special arrangement to Popilius.
He levied troops with energy, and ordered all the young men to assemble under arms outside the Porta Capena, at the temple of Mars, commanding the quaestors to convey the standards thither, from the treasury. After filling up four legions, he turned over the supernumeraries to the praetor, Publius Valerius Publicola, urging the senators to enroll [p. 435]
a second army as a national reserve against the1
uncertain emergencies of war.
Having at length concluded all the necessary preparations, he himself marched against the enemy;
and that he might first learn their strength before putting it to the test of a decisive battle, he seized and began to fortify an eminence as close as he could find to the camp of the Gauls.
These, being a fierce people and by nature eager for the combat, on beholding the Roman ensigns in the distance, at once drew out their line, as if for instant battle. But perceiving that the Romans did not descend into the plain, but sought to protect themselves not only by their position but even with a rampart, they supposed them to be panic-stricken and at the same time the more open to attack for being just then taken up with their task. They advanced, therefore, with hideous yells.
The Romans without a pause in their work, on which the reserves were engaged, began the action with their troops of the first and second lines, who had been standing alert and armed in front of the working party.
Besides their valour, they had an advantage from the elevation, for their javelins and spears, instead of falling without effect, as they mostly do when thrown on a level field, were steadied by their own weight and all struck home.
The Gauls were burdened with the missiles which had either transfixed their bodies, or, sticking in their shields, had made them very heavy; their dash had carried them almost up the slope, but first they halted, uncertain what to do, and then —for
the mere delay had abated their ardour and increased that of their foes —they were thrown back, and falling one upon [p. 437]
another wrought greater carnage than even their2
enemies had done; for so headlong was the rout, that more were trodden under foot than slain with the sword.