In the three hundred and forty-eighth year after the building of the city, the truce that had been for now nearly twenty years with the men of Veii being ended, ambassadors and heralds were sent thither to demand satisfaction for injuries received. So coming to the border of the land they encountered an embassy from Veii journeying to Rome. These made request that the Romans should not go to Veii before that they themselves had had audience of the Senate. Such audience they had, and obtained their petition; to wit, that satisfaction should not be demanded that year, because they were much troubled by strife among themselves. But in the year following there was war. For when the ambassadors came from Rome making the same demand for restitution as before, the men of Veii made answer to them in these words: "Make haste and depart from the land, else we will give you such answer as Lars Tolumnius gave to your fellows."
Now the story of Lars Tolumnius is this. Fidenæ, that was a colony of Rome, revolted to Veii, of which city Lars Tolumnius was king in those days. And when the Romans sent ambassadors inquiring of the men of the city why they had done this thing, the ambassadors were put to death; and this was done, it was said, at the bidding of Tolumnius. But some have sought to excuse Tolumnius in this fashion. They say that he was playing at dice, and that when the men of Fidenæ came to him asking, "Shall we do well to slay these ambassadors of Rome?" he said, "Excellently," not hearing what they said, but thinking only of the dice and of his game, for he had at the very moment thrown most fortunately. But it cannot be believed that in so great a matter he should have been so careless. This Lars Tolumnius was slain afterward by Cornelius Cossus in single combat, and his spoils were dedicated in the temple of Jupiter, hard by the spoils which King Romulus won from the King of Cære.
When this answer was brought back to Rome, the Senate would have war declared against Veii without delay; but the people murmured, saying, "We have enough to do already with the Volscians, and why will ye have another war with the men of Veii, who will stir up all the Etrurians against you?" The tribunes took occasion by this to hinder the matter, and the war was delayed.
The next year there was war with the Volscians, and Anxur, one of their chief cities, was taken, and the spoil was given to the soldiers. They were greatly pleased with this bounty, and yet more when it was ordained that thereafter the soldiers should have pay from the public treasury. And now it was resolved, none opposing, that war should be declared against Veii, for which war a great army was levied forthwith, the greater part of the soldiers offering themselves of their own free will. Thus it came to pass that in the three hundred and fiftieth year after the building of the city, Veii was shut in.
In the third year of the siege the men of Veii, being weary of the strife which troubled them year by year in the choosing of their magistrates, made for themselves a king. But this thing was a grievous offence to the other Etrurians, who hated not so much kingship as the man who had been chosen to be king. The cause of which hatred was this, that the man, being angry because, by the vote of the twelve nations of the Etrurians, another had been preferred before him to be high priest, had caused their yearly festival to be broken off in the midst, a thing which the Etrurians, than whom was never a people more scrupulous in matters of religion, judged to be most impious. This thing he did by taking away the actors of plays, who were for the most part his own slaves. And now the whole nation, being assembled in council, decreed that no help should be given to the men of Veii so long as they should be under the rule of a king. But of this decree no mention was made in Veii, for the King gave out that if any man talked of such matters he should be held guilty of sedition. Nevertheless the Romans, fearing lest the purpose of the Etrurians might suffer a change, made the fortifications wherewith they had shut in the city to be double, having one face against such sallies as the townsmen might make, and the other turned toward Etruria, if perchance help should come thence to the city.
In this year also, because the Romans hoped to take the city by siege rather than by assault, winter quarters, a wholly new thing in those days, were begun to be built; and it was decreed that the army should abide before the city continually, not departing, as the custom had been. at the beginning of the winter. About this there was great debate at Rome, the tribunes protesting that the nobles had invented this device against liberty, contriving that the better part of the Commons should thus be kept away perpetually from the city; while the nobles on the other hand protested by the mouth of Appius Claudius, son of the decemvir, that in no other way could this war be brought to an end, for that it was a grievous waste of time and labor that the works which had been made with so much toil in the summer should be destroyed or suffered to perish in the winter. "The love of sport," said he, "takes them that hunt to the mountains, where they suffer frost and rain without complaint, and shall our soldiers be less enduring when they fight for their country? And if the Greeks were content for the sake of a woman, to besiege the city of Troy for ten years without ceasing, and that far from their country and beyond the sea, shall we refuse to remain for the space of a year before a city which is not so much as twenty miles distant?"
While this matter was debated at Rome, the people inclining, for the most part, to Appius rather than to the tribunes, there came such tidings from Veii as made all men agree that the city must be attacked with all steadfastness and energy. The works of the besiegers were now pushed forward well-nigh to the walls, and the minds of all being wholly given to the finishing of them, it followed, that though they were diligently advanced in the day, they were the less carefully watched by night. The townsfolk perceiving this, a great multitude of men issued forth from the gates carrying torches in their hands, and set fire to the works, consuming in a very brief space of time that which had been finished after many months. Not a few also of them that would have stayed the burning perished either by fire or by the sword. When these tidings were brought to them the city was greatly disturbed. Nevertheless the matter turned to the public good. First they that had the dignity of horsemen in the State, but were not called to serve, came forward saying, that they would serve, finding horses at their own cost; likewise a great multitude of the people offered themselves to serve as foot soldiers. Thus was there raised a great army, which, marching to Veii, not only restored that which had been destroyed by fire, but also made works that were larger and stronger by far.
In the fourth year of the siege the Romans suffered no small loss. First Anxur was lost, the garrison being surprised by the Volscians, and afterward there followed great reverses at Veii. The men of Capena and Falerii came to the help of Veii, judging that if this city should be taken they themselves would be the next to perish. These fought against a certain part of the Romans, and at the same time the townsfolk sallied from the gates. And when help should have been given to them from the other part of the camp, because there was a strife between the generals, none such was sent; for the one said, "If my colleague be in need of help he will ask for it," and the other, for pride and jealousy, had rather be conquered by the enemy than conquer by aid of one whom he loved not. So it came to pass that Sergius (for he it was whom the men of Capena and Falerii had attacked) with his soldiers left the works and fled, some escaping to the other camp, but the greater part making escape to Rome.
In the seventh year of the siege there happened many marvels. Of these, for the most part, men took little count; but one seemed especially noteworthy, to wit, that the water of the lake of Alba rose to such a height as had never been seen before, and this without great rains or any other cause which might make the thing less to be wondered at. Messengers therefore were sent to the oracle of Delphi to inquire of the god what this might portend. But the Romans found, for so fate would have it, an interpreter of the marvel that was nearer at hand than the oracle of Apollo. As the Roman soldiers and the soldiers of Veii talked together at the outposts, a certain old man, an Etrurian, chanted in the fashion that prophets use this verse—
"Ne'er till the depths of Alba's lake be drained
Shall Veii's walls by Roman arms be gained."
Of these words none at first took any heed, but afterward some began to doubt what they might mean. A certain Roman therefore inquired of the townsfolk (for the siege having now endured for many years there had grown up acquaintance between them) who the man might be that had chanted this prophecy. And when he heard he was a soothsayer, he spake to him, saying that he would fain have some talk with him, for that there had happened to himself a certain marvel, and he desired to know how he might rightly deal with it. So the two went to certain place by themselves, neither of them carrying arms. Then the Roman (for he was a young man and of great strength) caught up the Etrurian in his arms and carried him away to the camp, the Etrurians not being able to hinder him. So they brought the soothsayer to the general, and the general sent him to the Senate; and when the Senate inquired of him what it was that he had prophesied concerning the lake of Alba, the old man answered, "Surely the Gods were wroth with Veii that day when they put it into my mind to betray the thing which by the ordering of fate must bring about the destruction of the city. Nevertheless I cannot recall that which I once uttered by divine inspiration so that it should be as if it were unsaid; and perchance there is no less wickedness in concealing that which the immortal Gods would have revealed than in uttering that which they would have concealed. Know therefore that in the books of fate and in the lore of the Etrurians it is written that if ever the water of the lake of Alba shall increase, the Romans, draining it off in due manner, shall prevail over the men of Veii, but that before that shall have been done, the Gods will not desert the walls of the city." And when he had said this he expounded to them what the due manner of draining off the water might be. Nevertheless because the man seemed to be of small authority, upon whom it would not be well to trust in so great a matter, the Senate determined that messengers should be sent to inquire of the god at Delphi.
In the ninth year of the war these messengers returned, bringing back this answer from the god.
"Let not imprisoned chafe the Alban Lake,
Nor yet to sea its wilful passage take;
Draw high its gates, but in the boundless plain
Disperse its power, its pride of speed refrain;
Then mount the breach, for then by Heaven's decree
Long-leaguered Veii, Roman, yields to thee,
Thy warfare done, throng thankful to the shrine,
Repair thy great default, and pay me that is mine."
When this answer was had the Etrurian soothsayer was held in great honor, and the magistrates sought his help that all things might be done duly and in order. Especially they desired to know what rites had been neglected, and what solemnity left unperformed. As to this they discovered that magistrates not appointed according to due order had kept profanely the yearly festival of the Latins on the hills of Alba. It was commanded therefore that these should resign their office and that all things should be done afresh.
In the meanwhile there was held a council of the tribes of the Etrurians at the temple of Voltumna, and when the men of Capena and of Falerii demanded that the whole nation should join their forces with one consent, and deliver Veii from being besieged, they were thus answered: "Before we denied our aid to the men of Veii because they had not asked our counsel in a matter wherein such counsel was most needed. But now it is not we but our necessities that deny it, and especially in this part of Etruria, for there is come hither among us a strange people even the Gauls, with whom we have neither sure peace nor open war."
And now in the tenth year the games and the great festival of the Latins had been celebrated anew, and the water had been drained off from the lake of Alba, and the day was drawing near when Veii should perish. And because there seemed but one man whom the Gods were keeping to do this work for Rome, Furius Camillus was chosen Dictator, and Camillus chose Cornelius Scipio to be Master of the Horse. And now the general being changed, all things beside seemed to be changed also. First Camillus went to the camp that he might encourage the soldiers; and afterward he raised a new army in the city, neither did any man draw back from the service. The warriors also of the Latins and of the Hernici came offering help, to whom the Senate gave public thanks. Then the Dictator vowed that he would celebrate the Great Games when Veii should have been taken; also he vowed to build anew and dedicate the temple of Mother Matuta, which temple King Servius Tullius dedicated at the first. And so setting forth, and putting to flight on his way the men of Falerii and of Capena, he came to Veii. There he strengthened the works, shutting up the enemy more closely than before. Also he commanded that a mine should be driven under the very citadel of the town. And that this might not be interrupted on the one hand, nor they that did it spent with labor on the other, he divided them that made the mine into six companies, and commanded that each company should labor for six hours. So the work was carried on without ceasing both by night and by day, till the mine was driven into the citadel.
After this, seeing that victory was now in his hands, and considering also that he was about to capture a very wealthy city, wherein was such spoil as had never before been taken in all the wars of the Roman people, he feared lest the soldiers should be provoked to anger if he should seem to grudge them the booty, or the Senate blame him if he should be too bountiful. Whereupon he wrote a letter in these words: "The favor of the Gods and my own counsels and the valor of the soldiers have brought it to pass that Veii will soon be in the possession of the Roman people. What then, think ye, should be done with the spoil?" On this matter there was great debate in the Senate; but at the last it seemed good that proclamation should be made to the people: "Whosoever will have a share in the spoil of Veii, let him go to the camp to the Dictator."
This proclamation having been made, a vast multitude set forth, so that the camp was filled from the one end to the other. Then the Dictator, after duly performing sacrifice, commanded the soldiers that they should arm themselves, Afterward he prayed, speaking these words. "Apollo, God of Delphi, by whose guidance and bidding I have come to destroy this city of Veii, to thee I vow a tenth part of the spoil. And do thou also, Queen Juno, that now dwellest in Veii, follow us, I pray thee, to Rome, that is now our city and shall soon be thine, where also thou shalt have a temple worthy of thy magnificence."
When he had thus prayed, seeing that he had an exceedingly great multitude of men, he attacked the city on all sides at the same time, because the inhabitants would be thus at less leisure to observe the peril that was threatening them from the mine. As to the men of Veii, they knew not that the oracles of the stranger, yea, that their own prophets, had betrayed them, that the gods of their land were even now looking to dwell in the temples of Rome, and that even now their last day had come; neither did they think that their walls had been undermined, and that their very citadel was full of enemies. With good heart, therefore, they took up their arms and ran to the walls, marvelling what strange fury was this that drave the Romans to attack them thus suddenly, seeing that now for many days none had moved in the outposts. And some tell this story: that as the king of Veii was doing sacrifice, an augur that stood by cried aloud, "To him that shall cut in pieces the inwards of this victim shall be given the victory;" and that the Roman soldiers, being in the mine below, heard the words, and breaking open the mine, laid hands on the victim, and carried it to the Dictator. But whether this be true or no, no man can say; nevertheless it is certain that at the time appointed a great company of men, chosen for this end, suddenly came forth from the mine, in the temple of Juno, which was in the citadel. Of these some took the enemy in the rearward as they stood upon the walls, and some drew back the bolts of the gates; and others, seeing that the women and slaves were casting stones and tiles from the roofs of the houses, began to set fire to the city. And now, the armed men being driven from off the wall and the gates being thrown open, there ran in many from the host that was without. And now there was fighting in all the streets and squares of the city, and many were slain; till, the men of Veii growing feeble, the Dictator proclaimed that all such as did not bear arms should be spared. After this there was no more bloodshed; the inhabitants threw down their arms and surrendered themselves; and the soldiers, the Dictator permitting them, scattered to gather spoil. And when the Dictator saw how great was the spoil and of how precious things, being far beyond all hope and expectation, he lifted up his hands to heaven and prayed, saying, "If the good fortune of the Roman people seem over great to any god or man, I pray that such jealousy may be appeased by my own loss rather than by the damage of the State." But as he turned him after making this prayer he stumbled and fell. And this omen was judged by them that interpreted it by the things that followed, to look first to the condemnation of Camillus by the people, and second to the great overthrow of the city at the hands of the Gauls; both of which things will be related hereafter.
This day, therefore, was spent in the subduing of the enemy and in the plundering of the city; and never indeed was city more wealthy. The next day the Dictator sold by public auction all the inhabitants that were of free condition; the money from which sale was brought into the public treasury; and though none other was so brought the Commons took it ill. And indeed for such spoil as each man bare home with him, they thought themselves to be in debt not indeed to Camillus, that had referred to the Senate a matter that lay within his own power, but to him that had prevailed with the Senate that it should be given to the people.
All the possessions of the men of Veii having been now carried away, the Romans began to remove the offerings of the gods and the gods themselves; but this they did after the manner of worshippers rather than of plunderers. For certain young men, chosen out of the whole host, having first washed their bodies in pure water and clothed themselves in white garments, came into the temple, having made due obeisance; and so, with much awe, laid their hands on the goddess. It was the custom among the Etrurians that none should touch that image save the priests only. This having been done, one of the youths, whether speaking by inspiration from heaven, or in boisterous jest, cried, "Wilt thou away to Rome, Juno?" and the others cried that the image nodded her head. In after time it was said that the image even spake the words, "I will." Certainly it is related that it was moved from its place with small trouble, and that when it was carried to Rome it passed lightly and easily, as one that followed freely; and so was brought unhurt to its dwelling on Mount Aventine, where was built a temple, according to the vow of the Dictator, which temple he himself in due time dedicated.
Thus perished the city of Veii, than which there was none among the Etrurians more wealthy. For ten years was it besieged, both summer and winter; and now it fell not so much by force as by the art of the engineer.
The tidings of this thing being brought to Rome there was great rejoicing; because, for all the prophecies of the soothsayers and the answers of the oracle, and the greatness of Camillus, men had scarce believed that so strong a city, from which so much loss had been suffered in time past, would indeed be conquered. Straightway the temples were crowded with women that gave thanks to the gods. And the Senate decreed a thanksgiving of four days, such as never had been decreed before.
As for the Dictator, when he came back to the city, there went out to meet him men of all ranks and conditions. Such honor was rendered to him as had never before been rendered to any man. But when he rode through the city in a chariot drawn by white horses, men said, "This becometh not a citizen, nor indeed a man, how great soever he be. He maketh himself equal to Jupiter or Apollo." Afterward, having contracted for the building of a temple to Queen Juno on Mount Aventine, and dedicated the temple to Mother Matuta, he resigned the dictatorship. And now came the paying of the tenth of the spoil to Apollo, according to the vow which Camillus had vowed. For the priests affirmed that the people were bound by the vow. It was commanded, therefore, that every man should set a price on the spoil which he had carried away from Veii, and should pay a tenth part to the god. This also turned away the hearts of the Commons from Camillus.