In the very first onset they had made an impression on the enemy; when on a sudden, the gates of Fidenae flying open, a strange sort of army sallies forth, unheard of and unseen before that time.
An immense multitude armed with fire and all blazing with fire-brands, as if urged on by fanatical rage, rush on the enemy: and the form of this unusual mode of fighting frightened the Romans for the moment.
Then the dictator, having called to him the master of the horse and the cavalry, and also Quintius from the mountains animating the fight, hastens himself to the left wing, which, more nearly resembling a
conflagration than a battle, had from terror given way to the flames, and exclaims with a loud voice, “Vanquished by smoke, driven from your ground as if a swarm of bees, will ye yield to an unarmed enemy? will ye not extinguish the fires with the sword? or if it is with fire, not with weapons, we are to fight, will ye not, each in his post, snatch those brands, and hurl them on them?
Come, mindful of the Roman name, of the valour of your fathers, and of your own, turn this conflagration against the city of your enemy, and destroy Fidenae by its own flames, which ye could not reclaim by your kindness. The blood of your ambassadors and colonists and the desolation of your frontiers suggest this.”
At the command of the dictator the whole line advanced; the firebrands that were discharged are partly caught up; others are wrested by force: the armies on either side are now armed with fire.
The master of the horse too, on his part, introduces among the cavalry a [p. 289]
new mode of fighting; he commands his men to take the bridles off their horses: and he himself at their head, putting spurs to his own, dashing forward, is carried by the unbridled steed into the midst of the fires: the other horses also being urged on carry their riders with unrestrained speed against the enemy.
The dust being raised and mixed with smoke excluded the light from the eyes of both men and horses. That appearance which had terrified the soldiers, no longer terrified the horses. The cavalry therefore, wherever they penetrates, produced a heap of bodies like a ruin.
A new shout then assailed their ears; and when this attracted the attention of the two armies looking with amazement at each other, the dictator cries out “that his lieutenant-general and his men had attacked the enemy on the rear:” he himself, on the shout being renewed, advances against them with redoubled vigour.
When two armies, two different battles pressed on the Etrurians, now surrounded, in front and rear, and there was now no means of flight back to their camp, nor to the mountains, where new enemies were ready to oppose them, and the horses, now freed from their bridles, had scattered their riders in every direction, the principal part of the Veientians make precipitately for the Tiber. Such of the Fidenatians as survived, bend their course to the city of Fidenae.
Their flight hurries them in their state of panic into the midst of slaughter; they are cut to pieces on the banks; others, when driven into the water, were carried off by the eddies; even those who could swim were weighed down by fatigue, by their wounds, and by fright; a few out of the many make their way across.
The other party make their way through the camp into the city. In the same direction their impetuosity carries the Romans in pursuit; Quintius more especially, and with him those who had just come down from the mountain, being the soldiers who were freshest for labour, because they had come up towards the close of the engagement.