However, that power which permits no great successes to bring a pure and unmixed enjoyment, but diversifies human life with a blending of evil and of good-be it Fortune, or Nemesis, or Inevitable Necessity, within a few days brought to Marius tidings of his colleague Catulus, which, like a cloud in a calm and serene sky, involved Rome in another tempest of fear.
For Catulus, who was facing the Cimbri, gave up trying to guard the passes of the Alps, lest he should be weakened by the necessity of dividing his forces into many parts, and at once descended into the plains of Italy. Here he put the river Atiso between himself and the enemy, built strong fortifications on both banks of it to prevent their crossing, and threw a bridge across the stream, that he might be able to go to the help of the people on the other side in case the Barbarians made their way through the passes and attacked the fortresses.
But these Barbarians were so contemptuous and bold in following their enemies that, more by way of displaying their strength and daring than because it was necessary at all, they endured the snow-storms without any clothing, made their way through ice and deep snow to the summits, and from there, putting their broad shields under them and then letting themselves go, slid down the smooth and deeply fissured cliffs.
After they had encamped near the stream and examined the passage, they began to dam it up, tearing away the neighbouring hills, like the giants of old, carrying into the river whole trees with their roots, fragments of cliffs, and mounds of earth, and crowding the current out of its course; they also sent whirling down the stream against the piles of the bridge heavy masses which made the bridge quiver with their blows, until at last the greater part of the Roman soldiers played the coward, abandoned their main camp, and began to retreat.
And now Catulus, like a consummately good commander, showed that he had less regard for his own reputation than for that of his countrymen. For finding that he could not persuade his soldiers to remain, and seeing that they were making off in terror, he ordered his standard to be taken up, ran to the foremost of the retiring troops, and put himself at their head, wishing that the disgrace should attach to himself and not to his country, and that his soldiers, in making their retreat, should not appear to be running away, but following their general.
The Barbarians attacked and captured the fortress on the further side of the Atiso, and they so much admired the Romans there, who showed themselves bravest of men and fought worthily of their country, that they let them go on parole, making them take oath upon the bronze bull. This was subsequently captured, after the battle, and was carried, we are told, to the house of Catulus as the chief prize of the victory. But the country was now destitute of defenders, and the Barbarians inundated and ravaged it.