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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book III Chapter 6: Pestilence in Rome.[463 BC]
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Then the elections were held and Lucius Aebutius and Publius Servilius were chosen as consuls; they entered upon office on August I, which was then the commencement of the consular year. The season was a trying one, and that year happened to be a pestilential one both for the City, and the rural districts, for the flocks and herds quite as much as for human beings. The violence of the epidemic was aggravated by the crowding into the City of the country people and their cattle through fear of raids. This promiscuous collection of animals of all kinds became offensive to the citizens, through the unaccustomed smell, and the country people, crowded as they were into confined dwellings, were distressed by the oppressive heat which made it impossible to sleep. Their being brought into contact with each other in ordinary intercourse helped to spread the disease. |
Whilst they were hardly able to bear up under the pressure of this calamity, envoys from the Hernici announced that the Aequi and Volscians had united their forces, had entrenched their camp within their territory, and were ravaging their frontier with an immense army. The allies of Rome not only saw in the thinly-attended senate an indication of the widespread suffering caused by the epidemic, but they had also to carry back the melancholy reply that the Hernici must, in conjunction with the Latins, undertake their own defence. Through a sudden visitation of the angry gods, the City of Rome was being ravaged by pestilence; but if any respite from the evil should come, then she would send succour to her allies as she had done the year before and on all previous occasions.
The allies departed, carrying home in answer to the gloomy tidings they had brought a still more gloomy response, for they had in their own strength to sustain a war which they had hardly been equal to when supported by the power of Rome. The enemy no longer confined himself to the country of the Hernici, he went on to destroy the fields of Rome, which were already lying waste without having suffered the ravages of war. He met no one, not even an unarmed peasant, and after overrunning the country, abandoned as it was by its defenders and even devoid of all cultivation, he reached the third milestone from Rome on the Gabian road
Aebutius, the consul, was dead, his colleague Servilius was still breathing, with little hope of recovery, most of the leading men were down, the majority of the senators, nearly all the men of military age, so that not only was their strength unequal to an expeditionary force such as the position of affairs required, but it hardly allowed of their mounting guard for home defence. The duty of sentinel was discharged in person by those of the senators whose age and health allowed them to do so; the plebeian aediles responsible for their inspection. On these magistrates had devolved the consular authority and the supreme control of affairs.