Again the Fabii were pitted against the people1
of Veii. No preparations had been made for a great war, yet not only were raids made upon farming lands, and surprise attacks upon raiding parties, but at times they fought in the open field and in serried ranks;
and a single clan of the Roman People often carried off the victory from that most mighty state, for those days, in all Etruria.
At first the Veientes bitterly resented this; but they presently adopted a plan, suggested by the situation, for trapping their bold enemy, and they even rejoiced as they saw that the frequent successes of the Fabii were causing them to grow more rash.
And so they now and then drove flocks in the way of the invaders, as if they had come there by accident; and the country folk would flee from their farms and leave them deserted; and rescuing parties of armed men, sent to keep off pillagers, would flee before them in a panic more often feigned than real. By this time the Fabii had conceived such scorn for the enemy that they believed themselves invincible and not to be withstood, no matter what the place or time.
This confidence so won upon them that on catching sight of some flocks at a distance from the Cremera, across a wide interval of plain, they disregarded the appearance here and there of hostile arms, and ran down to capture them. Their rashness carried them on at a swift pace past an ambuscade which had been laid on both sides of their very road.
They had scattered this way and that and were seizing the flocks, which had dispersed in all directions, as they do if terrified, [p. 391]
when suddenly the ambush rose up, and enemies were2
in front and on every side of them.
First the shout which echoed all along the Etruscan line filled them with consternation, and then the javelins began to fall upon them from every quarter; and as the Etruscans drew together and the Romans were now fenced in by a continuous line of armed men, the harder the enemy pressed them the smaller was the space within which they themselves were forced to
contract their circle, a thing which clearly revealed both their own fewness and the vast numbers of the Etruscans, whose ranks were multiplied in the narrow space.
The Romans then gave up the fight which they had been directing equally at every point, and all turned in one direction. Thither, by dint of main strength and arms, they forced their way with a wedge. Their road led up a gentle acclivity.
There they at first made a stand; presently, when their superior position had afforded them time to breathe and to collect their spirits after so great a fright, they actually routed the troops which were advancing to dislodge them; and a handful of men, with the aid of a good position, were winning the victory, when the Veientes who had been sent round by the ridge emerged upon the crest of the hill, thus giving the enemy the advantage again.
The Fabii were all slain to a man, and their fort was stormed. Three hundred and six men perished, as is generally agreed; one, who was little more than a boy in years,3
survived to maintain the Fabian stock, and so to afford the very greatest help to the Roman People in its dark hours, on many occasions, at home and in the field.