The Deeds of the Fabii
There was in Rome a great family of nobles called the Fabii. There were a great many of them, brothers, cousins, and other relations, and they were brave men and good soldiers, but proud to the people. So the commons hated them, and were very angry because the nobles year after year got one or another Fabius made consul. The people thought that one of these men, Quintus Fabius, had not divided fairly the plunder that had been taken in war from the Volscians, and for this they hated the Fabii more than ever; and they hated the nobles too, for so often making Fabii their consuls.
These quarrels grew so violent that one year when Kæso Fabius was consul, and led the army against the Veientians, the soldiers would not fight. Fabius had more trouble with his own soldiers than with the enemy. He was a good general and drew up his troops in order of battle; but when he commanded them to charge, the foot-soldiers would not move; they hated the consul so much that they felt they would rather bear the disgrace of being beaten than help to win a victory for him. The horse-soldiers, however, who were rich men and did not belong to the common people, and did not hate the Fabii, charged the Veientians, and defeated them without the help of the foot.
The nobles still would not do as the people wished, and the next year they chose Marcus Fabius, Kæso's brother, for one consul, and Cnæus Manlius for the other.
The Etruscans were very glad when they knew how the Romans were quarrelling among themselves; for now they thought Rome might be conquered, as its own people would not fight to defend it. The Roman consuls were more afraid of their own soldiers than of the enemy, and they thought the best thing they could do was to shut themselves up in their camp, hoping that the soldiers would after a time change their minds and wish to fight. The Etruscans used to ride up to the gates of the camp, and challenge the Romans to come out and fight them. Sometimes they would tell them that they only pretended to quarrel because they were cowards and dared not fight. Sometimes they would say that the consuls would not let them fight, because they knew the Romans would be sure to be beaten.
The consuls did not care or take much notice of the taunts of the enemy; but the soldiers could not bear them so well. Their hearts were filled with shame and anger; and at last they crowded to the consuls' tent begging them to give the signal for battle. The consuls were glad enough to see the change in their men, but they would not yet yield. They wished to fight, but they thought if the soldiers were kept still a little longer in the camp that they would grow more and more eager for battle. So they spoke to the soldiers, and told them that the time for attacking the enemy was not yet come, but that they would stay in the camp.
The soldiers went away from the consuls, thinking that they were not to be allowed to fight, and wishing to do so more than ever. The enemy too, hearing that the consuls would not fight, came up to the gates of the camp and mocked and insulted the Romans, saying that they were not to be trusted with their arms, lest they should use them against their own generals. The Romans could bear it no longer, and ran in crowds to the consuls, demanding with shouts and cries to be led to battle.
Marcus Fabius, having talked with Manlius, the other consul, commanded the soldiers to be silent, and then said—
"I know, Manlius, that these men can win the battle if they choose, but I know not whether they really mean to win it. So I have resolved not to give the signal for battle unless they swear that they will come back conquerors. For they will not dare to disappoint the gods."
One of the centurions (or officers), called Flavoleius, came forward, and said, "Fabius, I swear that I will come back a conqueror from the fight. If I do not, may the gods punish me."
All the rest of the soldiers made the same promise, and when this was done Fabius gave the signal, and the army marched out of the camp, full of hope and shouting to the Etruscans—
"Now let us see if you dare call us cowards again."
The Etruscans were eager for battle, thinking that the Romans would not really fight. But they soon found that they were mistaken, for they had hardly time to get into order, before the Romans rushed upon them, sword in hand. The people and the nobles all fought well that day, but the Fabii fought best of all, and gave a noble example for their countrymen to follow. One of them, Quintus Fabius, was in front of the Roman army, and he attacked the enemy so fiercely that he was separated from his own men, and surrounded by his foes. An Etruscan stabbed him with his spear, and he sunk down and died. The fall of this brave man made the Romans stop and then begin to go back; but Marcus Fabius, the consul, stepped across his brother's body and cried out to the soldiers—
"Was this what you promised me, fellow-soldiers? Did you swear that you would come back beaten to the camp? I made no promise; but now I swear I will either win the battle, or else die at your side, dear Quintus Fabius."
Then Kæso Fabius, who had been consul the year before, stepped up to the side of Marcus.
"Think you, brother," said he, "that you can make these men fight by talking to them? Instead of telling them, let us show them what to do, as is fitting for brave men, and men of the Fabian race."
When he had said these words the two Fabii at once attacked the enemy, and they were followed by the whole army.
Meantime, Manlius the other consul had been so badly wounded in another part of the battle, that he was obliged to go out of the fight, that his wounds might be bound up. This made his soldiers lose heart; they thought he was killed and were beginning to give way, when the Consul Fabius rode up to them with some of his horse soldiers, and called to them that he had conquered the other wing of the Etruscans, and that Manlius was not dead but only wounded. This cheered them, and soon after, to their great joy, Manlius came back to the battle. Meantime the Etruscans, who were many more in numbers than the Romans, sent a body of troops to attack the Roman camp, which they did so fiercely that they broke into it though the Roman guards defended it bravely.
News was brought to Manlius of what had happened, and he immediately came to the camp and set a guard of soldiers at each gate to prevent the enemy getting out. They tried hard to break through, and in the fight Manlius was killed. The Etruscans managed to get through the gate, but as they marched away they were met by the Consul Fabius and his conquering army, and many of them were killed and the rest put to flight. Thus the Romans had gained a splendid victory, though it was saddened by the deaths of Quintus Fabius, and of the Consul Manlius.
The Senate were very glad to hear of the battle being won, and they sent word to Marcus Fabius that he should enter the city in triumph with his army. But Fabius answered,
"My family are all in tears and grief for the death of my brother Quintus, and Rome is mourning for her consul. So I will not wear the laurel wreath, nor come home in triumph."
This refusal of Fabius was thought by the people more glorious than any triumph could have been. Splendid funerals were made for the two dead chiefs, and Fabius made speeches at the graves and gave them the praise that they deserved for so bravely dying for Rome.
Fabius did not forget that he had determined when he was first made consul to make the people friends again with the nobles. One of the things he did to bring this about was to plan that the nobles should give money to feed and clothe the poor soldiers who had been badly wounded in the war. And none of these soldiers were better taken care of than those who were the charge of the Fabian family. By these and other brave and kind deeds the Fabii made the people love them and forget their old dislike.
Soon afterwards new wars began with several peoples round Rome; but the most troublesome enemies of all were the Veientians. Then the Fabian family went to the Senate, and Kæso, who was consul again that year, spoke for all the rest.
"Fathers," he said, "it is well known to you that to fight the Veientians, a small number of soldiers always ready would be more useful than a larger number who would only be sometimes watching them. Do you attend to the other wars, but give the war against Veii to the care of the Fabian family. We promise you that we will not disgrace the name of Rome, and we will pay the cost of the war ourselves."
The Senate thanked the brave Fabii, and the consul with his family returned to their homes. Next day all the Fabii armed themselves, and met together in front of the consul's house. The consul saw all his family drawn up in order of battle, and he went out clad in his armour, and joined them. He gave the signal to start, and they all, three hundred and six in number, all nobles, all of one family, and each man fit to be a general, marched through the city to the gate nearest to Veii. They were followed by crowds of people praising them, admiring them, and bidding them go on bravely and fight successfully. So the Fabii left Rome, and marched on till they came to the River Cremera, where they built themselves a strong fort or castle, and there they watched the Veientians. They were so strong and brave that they kept their fort safe, and defended the country which borders on Etruria, and troubled the Etruscans greatly for some time.
The Etruscans got together an army and attacked the castle, but the Romans sallied out and drove off the enemy, and afterwards defeated them in several other battles.
The Etruscans began to think that they could never conquer these fierce Fabii in open fight, so they made a plan to attack them unexpectedly. A number of Etruscan soldiers hid themselves not far from the castle. Then some others drove a flock of sheep out on to the plain further away from it. When the Fabii saw the sheep they went out to catch them, and in doing so they passed the place where the Etruscans were hidden. Then they scattered themselves about the plain in pursuit of the sheep, and suddenly met some Etruscan troops who had been sent to attack them. At the same time the Etruscans who had been hidden rushed upon them from behind, so that they were quite surrounded. The Fabii fought nobly, as you may fancy from what you have heard of their deeds; but they were few and the Etruscans were many, and they were killed, every one of them, except one young boy.