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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IV Chapter 33: Capture and Destruction of Fidenae (cont.)[426 BC]
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The enemy were shaken at the very first onset, when suddenly the gates of Fidenae were flung open and a strange army sallied forth, never seen or heard of before. An immense multitude, armed with firebrands, and all waving blazing torches, rushed like men possessed on the Roman line. For a moment this extraordinary mode of fighting put the Romans into a fright. Then the dictator [Note 1] called up the Master of the Horse with his cavalry, and sent to order Quinctius back from the hills, whilst he himself, encouraging his men, rode up to the left wing, which looked more like a conflagration than a body of combatants, and had given way through sheer terror at the flames. He shouted to them: "Are you overcome with smoke, like a swarm of bees? Will you let an unarmed enemy drive you from your ground? Will you not put the fire out with your swords? If you must fight with fire, not with arms, will you not snatch those torches away and attack them with their own weapons? Come! remember the name of Rome and the courage you have inherited from your fathers; turn this fire upon the enemies' city, and destroy with its own flames the Fidenae which you could not conciliate by your kindness. The blood of ambassadors and colonists, your fellow-countrymen, and the devastation of your borders call upon you to do this." |
At the dictator's command the whole line advanced; some of the torches were caught as they were thrown, others were wrenched from the bearers; both armies were armed with fire. The Master of the Horse, too, on his part, invented a new mode of fighting for his cavalry. He ordered his men to take the bits off the horses, and, giving his own horse his head and putting spurs to it, he was carried into the midst of the flames, whilst the other horses, urged into a hard gallop, carried their riders against the enemy. The dust they raised, mixed with the smoke, blinded both horses and men. The sight which had terrified the infantry had no terrors for the horses. Wherever the cavalry moved they left the slain in heaps.
At this moment fresh shouts were heard, creating astonishment in both armies. The dictator called out that Quinctius and his men had attacked the enemy in the rear, and on the shouts being renewed, he pressed his own attack with more vigour. When the two bodies in two distinct attacks had forced the Etruscans back both in front and rear and hemmed them in, so that there was no way of escape either to their camp or to the hills -- for in that direction the fresh enemy had intercepted them -- and the horses, with their reins loose, were carrying their riders about in all directions, most of the Veientines made a wild rush for the Tiber; the survivors amongst the Fidenates made for their city. The flight of the terrified Veientines carried them into the midst of slaughter, some were killed on the banks, others were driven into the river and swept away by the current; even good swimmers were carried down by wounds and fright and exhaustion, few out of the many got across. The other body made their way through their camp to their city with the Romans in close pursuit, especially Quinctius and his men, who had just come down from the hills, and having arrived towards the close of the struggle, were fresher for the work.
Event: War with Veii