Some Latin horse came full speed to Rome, with the alarming news that the Volscians were marching with a hostile army, to besiege the city, the announcement of which (so completely had discord made the state two from one) affected the senators and people in a far different manner.
The people exulted with joy, and said, that the gods were come as avengers of the tyranny of the fathers. They encouraged one another not to enrol their names, that it was better that all should perish together, than that they should perish alone. That the patricians should serve as soldiers, that the patricians should take up arms, so that the perils of war should remain with those with whom the advantages were.
But the senate, dejected and confounded by the two-fold terror, that from their own countrymen, and that from the enemy, entreated the consul Servilius, whose temper was more conciliating, that he would extricate the commonwealth beset with such great terrors.
Then the consul, dismissing the senate, proceeds into the assembly. There he shows them that the senate were solicitous that care should be taken for the people's interest: but their alarm for the whole commonwealth had interrupted their deliberation regarding that which was no doubt the greatest part, but yet only a part;
nor could they, when the enemy were almost at the gates, allow any thing to take precedence of war: nor, if there should be some respite, was it either to the credit of the people not to have taken up arms in defence of their country unless they first receive a recompence, nor consistent with the dignity of the senators that they adopted measures of relief for the distresses of their countrymen through fear rather than afterwards from inclination.
He gave additional confidence to the assembly by an edict, by which he ordained that no one "should detain a Roman citizen either in chains or in prison, so as to hinder his enrolling his name under the consuls. And that nobody should either seize or sell the goods of any [p. 108]
soldier, while he was in the camp, or arrest his children or grandchildren.
This ordinance being published, the debtors under arrest who were present immediately entered their names, and crowds of persons hastening from all quarters of the city from their confinement, as their creditors had no right to detain their persons, ran together into the forum to take the military oath.
These made up a considerable body of men, nor was the bravery or activity of the others more conspicuous in the Volscian war. The consul led out his army against the enemy, and pitched his camp at a little distance from them.