In the tenth year of the war,1
the Senate abolished the other magistracies and appointed Camillus dictator. After choosing Cornelius Scipio as his master of horse, in the first place he made solemn vows to the gods that, in case the war had a glorious ending, he would celebrate the great games in their honour, and dedicate a temple to a goddess whom the Romans call Mater Matuta.
From the sacred rites used in the worship of this goddess, she might be held to be almost identical with Leucothea. The women bring a serving-maid into the sanctuary and beat her with rods, then drive her forth again; they embrace their nephews and nieces in preference to their own children; and their conduct at the sacrifice resembles that of the nurses of Dionysus, or that of Ino under the afflictions put upon her by her husband's concubine.
After his vows, Camillus invaded the country of the Faliscans and conquered them in a great battle, together with the Capenates who came up to their aid.
Then he turned to the siege of Veii, and seeing that direct assault upon the city was a grievous and difficult matter, he went to digging mines, since the region round the city favoured such works, and allowed their being carried to a great depth without the enemy's knowing about it. So then, when his hopes were well on their way to fulfilment, he himself assaulted the city from the outside, and thus called the enemy away to man their walls; while others secretly made their way along the mines and reached unnoticed the interior of the citadel, where the temple of Juno stood, the largest temple in the city, and the one most held in honour.
There, it is said, at this very juncture, the commander of the Tuscans chanced to be sacrificing, and his seer, when he beheld the entrails of the victim, cried out with a loud voice and said that the god awarded victory to him who should fulfill that sacrifice. The Romans in the mines below, hearing this utterance, quickly tore away the pavement of the temple and issued forth with battle cries and clash of arms, whereat the enemy were terrified and fled away. The sacrificial entrails were then seized and carried to Camillus.
But possibly this will seem like fable.
At any rate the city was taken by storm, and the Romans were pillaging and plundering its boundless wealth, when Camillus, seeing from the citadel what was going on, at first burst into tears as he stood, and then, on being congratulated by the bystanders, lifted up his hands to the gods and prayed, saying:
‘O greatest Jupiter, and ye gods who see and judge men's good and evil deeds, ye surely know that it is not unjustly, but of necessity and in self-defence that we Romans have visited its iniquity upon this city of hostile and lawless men. But if, as counterpoise to this our present success, some retribution is due to come upon us, spare, I beseech you, the city and the army of the Romans, and let it fall upon my own head, though with as little harm as may be.’
With these words, as the Romans' custom is after prayer and adoration, he wheeled himself about to the right, but stumbled and fell as he turned. The bystanders were confounded, but he picked himself up again from his fall and said:
‘My prayer is granted! a slight fall is my atonement for the greatest good fortune.’