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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book II Chapter 50: The Annihilation of the Fabii.[477 BC]
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The conflicts between the Fabii and the state of Veii were resumed without any more extensive military preparations than before. There were not only forays into each other's territories and surprise attacks upon the foragers, but sometimes they fought regular engagements, and this single Roman house often won the victory over what was at that time the most powerful city in Etruria. This was a bitter mortification to the Veientines, and they were led by circumstances to adopt the plan of trapping their daring enemy in an ambuscade; they were even glad that the numerous successes of the Fabii had increased their confidence. |
The Annihilation of the Fabii
Accordingly they drove herds of cattle, as if by accident, in the way of the foraying parties, the fields were abandoned by the peasants, and the bodies of troops sent to repel the raiders fled in a panic more often assumed than genuine. By this time the Fabii had conceived such a contempt for their foe as to be convinced that under no circumstances of either time or place could their invincible arms be resisted. This presumption carried them so far that at the sight of some distant cattle on the other side of the wide plain stretching from the camp they ran down to secure them although but few of the enemy were visible. [Note 1] Suspecting no danger and keeping no order they passed the ambuscade which was set on each side of the road, and whilst they were scattered in trying to catch the cattle, which in their fright were rushing wildly about, the enemy suddenly rose from their concealment and attacked them on all sides. At first they were startled by the shouts round them, then javelins fell on them from every direction. As the Etruscans closed round them, they were hemmed by a continuous ring of men, and the more the enemy pressed upon them, the less the space in which they were forced to form their ever-narrowing square. This brought out strongly the contrast between their scanty numbers and the host of Etruscans, whose ranks were multiplied through being narrowed. After a time they abandoned their plan of presenting a front on all sides; facing in one direction they formed themselves into a wedge and by the utmost exertion of sword and muscle forced a passage through. The road led up to gentle eminence, and here they halted. When the higher ground gave them room to breathe freely and to recover from the feeling of despair, they repelled those who mounted to the attack, and through the advantage of position the little band were beginning to win the day, when some Veientines who had been sent round the hill emerged on the summit. So the enemy again had the advantage. The Fabii were all cut down to a man, and their fort taken. It is generally agreed that three hundred and six men perished, and that one only, an immature youth [Note 2], was left as a stock for the Fabian house to be Rome's greatest helper in her hour of danger both at home and in the field.
Note 1: although but few of the enemy were visible -- and therefore they should have suspected a ruse.