Towards the close of the year there was a1
brief season of peace, but, as always on other occasions, a peace distracted by the strife of patricians and plebeians.
The angry plebs refused to take part in the consular elections:2
by the votes of the patricians and their clients Titus Quinctius and Quintus Servilius were chosen consuls. They experienced a year like the preceding one: dissensions, to begin with, then a foreign war and tranquillity.
The Sabines executed a rapid march across the Crustuminian plains, bringing fire and sword to the country about the river Anio. When almost at the Colline Gate and the City walls they were beaten back, yet they carried off immense spoils of men and cattle.
Servilius the consul pursued them with an army, and though he could not overtake the column itself on ground which was suitable for offering battle, he devastated the country so extensively as to leave nothing untouched by the ravages of war, and returned with many times the plunder which the Romans had lost.
Operations in the Volscian country, too, were very successful, thanks both to the general and to his soldiers. First, there was a pitched battle in the open field, with enormous numbers killed and wounded on both sides.
The Romans indeed, whose fewness made them feel their loss more sensibly, would have fallen back, had it not been for a salutary falsehood told by the consul, who shouted that the enemy were running away on the other wing, and so aroused the spirits of his troops.
The Romans charged and, believing themselves to be conquering, they conquered. The consul feared lest by pressing the enemy too hard he might cause a renewal of the struggle.
He therefore gave the signal for the recall. For a few [p. 431]
days both sides rested, as if they had tacitly agreed3
on a truce. Meanwhile a great force of men came in from all their tribes to the camp of the Volsci and Aequi.
They made no question but that the Romans, if they had perceived them, would retreat in the night, and accordingly at about the third watch4
they came to attack the camp.
Quinctius stilled the tumult which the sudden alarm had raised, and bidding the soldiers remain quietly in their tents, led out a cohort of Hernici to an outpost, and mounting trumpeters and buglers upon horses, ordered them to blow their instruments in front of the rampart and keep the enemy in suspense till daybreak.
For the remainder of the night all was so peaceful in camp that the Romans were even able to sleep. But the Volsci, beholding armed foot-soldiers, whom they supposed to be more numerous than they were, and to be Romans; and hearing the stamping and neighing of the horses, which were infuriated not only at finding unaccustomed riders on their backs, but also by the blare of the trumpets, were kept on the alert in anticipation of an attack.