The Roman consuls also felt that they had nothing else to dread but their own forces and their own arms. The recollection of the heinous example set in the last war deterred them from offering battle in a situation where they would be in danger from two armies at the same time.
Accordingly they kept within their camp, restrained by the thought of so grave a peril: time and circumstances would perhaps assuage the anger of the men [p. 369]
and bring them to their senses.
Their enemies the1
Veientes and the other Etruscans were for that reason the more in haste to act; they attempted to provoke the Romans to fight, at first by riding up to their camp and challenging them to come out, and finally, when they gained nothing by this, by shouting insults both at the consuls themselves and at the army.
They said that their pretended want of harmony amongst themselves had been resorted to in order to conceal their fear, and that the consuls distrusted the courage of their men even more than their loyalty; it was a strange kind of mutiny where armed men were silent and inactive.
To these taunts they added others upon the newness of their race and origin, partly false and partly true. This abuse, noisily uttered beneath the very rampart and the gates, was endured unconcernedly enough by the consuls. But the inexperienced rank and file, stirred now by indignation and now by shame, were diverted from the thought of their domestic troubles; they were unwilling that their enemies should go unpunished;
they were unwilling that the patricians, that the consuls should obtain a success; hatred of the foe contended in their bosoms with hatred of their fellow-citizens. At length the former feeling got the upper hand, so proud and insolent was the jeering of the enemy.
They gathered in crowds at the praetorium,2
demanded battle, requested that the signal should be given. The consuls, as though considering the matter, put their heads together and conferred for a long time.
They desired to fight, but it was needful to keep back their desire and conceal it, that by opposition and delay they might stimulate to fury the already eager soldiery. The men were therefore told that the [p. 371]
thing was premature, that the time for battle had3
not yet come; that they must keep within the camp.
Then the consuls issued an order to abstain from fighting, declaring that if any man fought without orders they should treat him as an enemy. Dismissed with these words, the less inclination the soldiers discovered in the consuls the greater became their own eagerness for the fray.
They were still further exasperated by the enemy, who were much bolder even than before, when the consuls' determination not to fight became known: it was clear that they could insult the Romans with impunity; their soldiers were not trusted with weapons, the affair would culminate in absolute mutiny, and the end of the Roman power had come.
Relying on these convictions, they charged up to the gates, flung gibes at their defenders, and scarcely refrained from assaulting the camp. At this the Romans could no longer brook their insults; from all over the camp they came running to the consuls.
There were no more cautious requests, preferred through the chief centurions, but on all sides arose a general clamour. The time was ripe; nevertheless the consuls hung back. Then Fabius, when his colleague, beginning to fear mutiny, was on the point of yielding to the growing tumult, commanded silence by a trumpet-blast and said: “I know, Gnaeus Manlius, that these men have the power to conquer, but their will to do so I know not; and for this they are themselves to blame.
I am therefore resolved and determined not to give the signal unless they swear that they will return victorious from this engagement. Once, in a battle, the soldiers betrayed a Roman consul: they will never betray the gods.”
There was a centurion named [p. 373]
Marcus Flavoleius, who had been among the foremost4
in demanding battle. “I will return victorious from the field, Marcus Fabius,” he cried, and invoked the wrath of Father Jupiter, Mars Gradivus, and the other gods, if he failed to keep his vow. The same pledge was then taken in order by the entire army, each man invoking its penalties upon himself.
When they had sworn, the signal sounded. They armed and entered the fight, angry and confident. Now let the Etruscans fling their taunts!
Now —they all cried —now, when they were armed, let the lip-bold enemy face them! On that day they all showed splendid courage, both commoners and nobles, but the Fabian name was especially distinguished. In the course of many political struggles they had estranged the plebs, and they resolved to regain their goodwill in that battle.