In the midst of the debate a greater alarm arose from a new quarter, for some Latin horsemen galloped up with the disquieting news that a Volscian army was advancing to attack the City. This report awoke very different feelings —so completely had their dissensions divided the state into two —in the Fathers and the plebs.
The commons were jubilant; they said that the gods were taking a hand in punishing the arrogance of the senators. They encouraged one another not to give in their names; it would be better to perish all together than alone. Let the Fathers serve, let the Fathers take up arms, that those might incur the hazards of war who received its rewards.
The Curia, on the other hand, was downcast and dismayed. In their twofold fear —of their fellow-citizens and of the enemy —they begged Servilius the consul, whose character appealed more to the people than did that of his colleague, that he would extricate the state from [p. 297]
the fearful perils with which it was beset.1
Thereupon the consul adjourned the senate and went before the people. There he declared that the Fathers were anxious to consult the interests of the plebs, but that their deliberations concerning that very important part —but only a part after all —of the state had been broken off by their fears for the entire nation.
It was impossible, when the enemy was almost at the city gates, to consider anything before the war; and even if there should be some slight respite in that regard, it was neither to the credit of the plebs to refuse to arm for their country, unless they should first receive a recompense, nor honourable to the Fathers to be driven by fear into passing measures for the relief of their fellow-citizens which they would have passed later of their own free will.
He then confirmed his speech by a proclamation in which he commanded that no one should hold a Roman citizen in chains or durance so that he should not be able to give in his name to the consuls, and that none should seize or sell a soldier's property so long as he was in camp, or interfere with his children or his grandchildren.
When this edict had been published, the debtors who were present at once enlisted, and from every quarter, all over the City, they hastened from the houses where their creditors no longer had the right to detain them, and rushed into the Forum to take the military oath.
It was a great throng, nor were there any soldiers whose courage and usefulness in the Volscian war were more conspicuous. The consul led his troops against the enemy, and pitched his camp at a short distance from theirs.