In the middle of these disturbances, fresh alarm was created by some Latin horsemen who galloped in with the disquieting tidings that a Volscian army was on the march to attack the City. This intelligence affected the patricians and the plebeians very differently; to such an extent had civic discord rent the State in twain.
The plebeians were exultant, they said that the gods were preparing to avenge the tyranny of the patricians; they encouraged each other to evade enrolment, for it was better for all to die together than to perish one by one. ‘Let the patricians take up arms, let the patricians serve as common soldiers, that those who get the spoils of war may share its perils.’
The senate, on the other hand, filled with gloomy apprehensions by the twofold danger from their own fellow-citizens and from their enemy, implored the consul Servilius, who was more sympathetic towards the people, to extricate the State from the perils that beset it on all-sides.
He dismissed the senate and went into the Assembly of the plebs. There he pointed out how anxious the senate were to consult the interests of the plebs, but their deliberations respecting what was certainly the largest part; though still only a part, of the State had been cut short by fears for the safety of the State as a whole.
The enemy were almost at their gates, nothing could be allowed to take precedence of the war, but even if the attack were postponed, it would not be honourable on the part of the plebeians to refuse to take up arms for their country till they had been paid for doing so, nor would it be compatible with the self-respect of the senate to be actuated by fear rather than by good-will in devising measures for the relief of their distressed fellow-citizens.
He convinced the Assembly of his sincerity by issuing an edict that none should keep a Roman citizen in chains or duress whereby he would be prevented from enrolling for military service, none should distrain or sell the goods of a soldier as long as he was in camp, or detain his children or grandchildren.
On the promulgation of this edict those debtors who were present at once gave in their names for enrolment, and crowds of persons running in all quarters of the City from the houses where they were confined, as their creditors had no longer the right to detain them, gathered together in the Forum to take the military oath.
These formed a considerable force, and none were more conspicuous for courage and activity in the Volscian war.
The consul led his troops against the enemy and encamped a short distance from them.