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Emily Beesly

The Battle of Corbio

S OME years after the victory of Cincinnatus when Titus Quintius Capitolinus was consul for the fourth time, the Volscians and the Æqui again attacked Rome. They thought they could do so safely, because there were great quarrels in the city, between the nobles and the common people. They first attacked the Latins, who were now friends with the Romans, and then, finding that no army was sent to meet them, they marched on, plundering the country as they went, till they came up to the walls of Rome. Then having shown the Romans how little they feared them, and having collected a great deal of plunder, they marched away to Corbio.

Then the Consul Quintius called the people together, and spoke to them in these words—

"I come before you to-day, Romans, with the greatest shame that could be. You know, and our children's children will hear, that the Volscians and Æqui came in arms before the walls of Rome, and that no sword was drawn to resist them, in the year when Titus Quintius was consul. Had I known that such shame would have come upon me, I would rather have died or have been banished, than have been made consul. Which did our enemies think the most lazy and cowardly? Us consuls, or you Romans? If the fault is ours, let us be no longer consuls, or if that is not enough, punish us in what way you like. But if the fault is yours, O Romans, I would have you repent of your wrong doing, and I pray that neither gods nor men may punish you for it.

"Your enemies did not trust in your sloth, nor in their own courage, for you have beaten them so often in battle, that by this time they know both themselves and you. But the quarrels between the nobles and the commons are the ruin of Rome. What would you have? You wished for tribunes, and we granted them to you. We punished by death or banishment the noblest men of the city, because you were displeased with them. What will be the end of these quarrels? When shall we have peace within our walls? It is only against us nobles that you take up arms, not against the enemies of your country.

"But let me ask you to go out of the gates of the town, or, if you dare not do that, to look from the city walls into the fields. See how they are laid waste by fire and sword, the cattle driven away, and the houses smoking. The country is desolate, the city is besieged, and the glory of the war is with our enemies. What have you at home to make up for such losses as these? The tribunes will give you plenty of talk and words; but which of you ever took home to his wife and children, anything but quarrels and hatreds from these struggles in the city?

"But when you were soldiers under me, not under the tribunes—when you were in the camp, not in the Forum—when the enemy in the battle-field, not the Roman nobles in the Senate, heard and feared your shouts—then did you not return to your homes in triumph, loaded with riches, and crowned with glory? Stay here in the city if you please; but if you do not go to fight your enemies, they will come before long, to fight you here; they will scale the walls, mount the Capitol, nay, pursue you into your own homes.

"I know I might say many things that would please you better than this. And truly I would gladly please you, Romans; but yet I would much rather save you, whatever you may think of me hereafter. Oh, if you will but give up these quarrels, and do as your fathers would have done, I will bear any punishment you please, if I do not in a few days drive these plunderers of our country out of their camp, and carry the war from our walls to their cities."

Never were the people more delighted with any speech than with this one of the consul, and they were eager for war. The army was ordered to meet next morning in the Field of Mars; the standards were brought out from the temple where they were kept in time of peace, and given to the soldiers; and the army with the two consuls at its head marched away from Rome. The next evening they pitched their camp near to that of the enemy near Corbio.

Now though there were two consuls, one of them, whose name was Agrippa Furius, thought that it would be much better that the army should be governed by one man; so he told the other consul, Quintius, that he would obey him in everything, and would do whatever Quintius thought best. Quintius was much pleased, and he praised Agrippa for caring more that the war should be well managed than that he himself should manage it.

When the Roman army was drawn up in line of battle, Quintius made Agrippa the leader of the left wing, that is, of the soldiers who fought on the left side of the army, and he himself led the right wing. The middle part of the army, the centre as it was called, was commanded by Spurius Postumius. The battle began, and the centre and right wing of the Roman army fought bravely, and though the Volscians and Æqui resisted stoutly, yet the Romans began to get the better of them. Meantime the Roman cavalry, or horse soldiers, attacked the enemy's cavalry and defeated them and killed a great many. When they had done so they charged the rest of the Volscian army, by which they greatly helped their countrymen, and the enemy who were already beginning to give way were put in disorder, and yielded to Quintius.

But the left wing of the Roman army was in great trouble, for they could not conquer the part of the enemy's army which was opposed to them. Then the Consul Agrippa, who was a very strong man, seized the standards from the soldiers who carried them, and going up in front of the enemy, he flung the standards with all his force into the middle of them. The Romans would have felt it a terrible disgrace if they had lost their standards, and rushed forward so eagerly to win them back that they broke the ranks of the Æqui, and so the battle was won.

Just at this moment there came a messenger from Quintius to tell them that he was victorious, and just going to enter the enemy's camp; but that he waited to know if Agrippa had conquered too. If so, Agrippa was to come to Quintius at once, so that the whole army might join in winning the spoils of the enemy. Agrippa did as he was commanded, and after taking the camp, where they found great quantities of rich spoil as well as the plunder which had been taken from their own country, Quintius and he led their army back to Rome.