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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book V Chapter 7: War with Veii. Flames to the Vineae.[403 BC]
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The siege of Veii pressed with greater vigour. Appius was already quite a match for the tribunes even on the platform, and now his victory over them was assured by the sudden intelligence of a most unexpected disaster, the effect of which was to unite all classes in an ardent resolve to prosecute the siege of Veii more vigorously. A raised way had been carried up to the city, and the vineae had almost been placed in contact with the walls, but more attention had been devoted to their construction by day than to their protection by night. Suddenly the gates were flung open and an enormous multitude, armed mostly with torches, flung the flaming missiles on to the works, and in one short hour the flames consumed both the raised way and the vineae, the work of so many days. Many poor fellows who vainly tried to render assistance perished either in the flames or by the sword. |
When the news of this reached Rome there was universal mourning, and the senate were filled with apprehension lest disturbances should break out in the City and the camp beyond their power to repress, and the tribunes of the plebs exult over the vanquished republic.
Suddenly, however, a number of men who, though assessed as knights, had not been provided with horses, after concerting a common plan of action, went to the Senate-house, and on permission being given to address the senate, they engaged to serve as cavalry on their own horses. The senate thanked them in the most complimentary terms. When the news of this incident had circulated through the Forum and the City, the plebeians hastily assembled at the Senate-house and declared that they were now part of the infantry force, and though it was not their turn to serve, they promised to give their services to the republic to march to Veii or wherever else they were led. If, they said, they were led to Veii they would not return till the city was taken.
On hearing this it was with difficulty that the senate restrained their delight. They did not, as in the case of the knights, pass a resolution of thanks to be conveyed through the presiding magistrates nor were any summoned into the House to receive their reply, nor did they themselves remain within the precincts of their House. They came out on the raised space in front and each independently signified by voice and gesture to the people standing in the Comitium the joy they all felt, and expressed their confidence that this unanimity of feeling would make Rome a blessed City, invincible and eternal. They applauded the knights, they applauded the commons, they showered encomiums on the very day itself, and frankly admitted that the senate had been outdone in courtesy and kindness. senators and plebeians alike shed tears of joy.
At last the sitting was resumed, and a resolution was carried that the consular tribunes should convene a public meeting and return thanks to the infantry and the knights, and say that the senate would never forget this proof of their affection for their country. They further decided that pay should be reckoned from that day for those who, though not called out, had volunteered to serve. A fixed sum was assigned to each knight; this was the first occasion on which the knights received military pay.
The army of volunteers marched to Veii, and not only reconstructed the works that had been lost, but constructed new ones. More care was taken in bringing up supplies from the City, that nothing might be wanting for the use of an army that had behaved so well.