Prev | Next | Roman Legends | Main Page
Of the chief houses in Rome there was none greater than the house of the Fabii; nor in this house any man of more valour and renown than a certain Kæso. Good service had he done, more particularly against the Etrurians, and thrice was he chosen consul. Now the third time that he was so chosen he was urgent with the Fathers that they divide the land that had been taken from the enemy as fairly as might be among the Commons. For the tribunes of the Commons were wont, year after year, to demand such division, and the counsel of Kæso was that the nobles should be beforehand with them, giving them this boon of their own accord. "Verily," he said, "it is well that they should have the land who have won it by their own toil and by the shedding of their blood." Nevertheless this counsel pleased not the nobles. "This Kæso," they said, "was wise, but too great glory has turned his wisdom into folly." For this cause Kæso was ill content, and was the more willing to take such occasion as offered of serving his country elsewhere than at Rome.
Now the city of Veii, being ten miles only distant from Rome, was ever at variance with it. Never was there peace between these two, neither was there open war. When the Roman legions marched forth, the men of Veii would flee before them and seek refuge in their city; but so soon as they perceived that the legions had departed, then they would sally forth and spoil the land of the Romans. These had other enemies also with whom to deal; for the Æquians and the Volscians were content to be quiet only till they should have recovered themselves from the loss they had of late suffered, and the Sabines were always enemies, and all the cities of Etruria were manifestly making ready for war.
These things being so, Kæso Fabius, the Consul, on behalf of the whole house of the Fabii, spake thus to the Senate: "This war with the men of Veii, as ye well know, Fathers, needeth not a great army, yet needeth one that shall be ever at hand. With this, therefore, we that are of the house of Fabius will deal; the others we leave to you. This will we wage of our own strength and at our own cost, with some saving, we trust, of men and money to the State." The Senate receiving these words with much thankfulness, the Consul departed to his own house; the Fabii, who had stood in the porch of the senate-house till the matter should be settled, following him. Straightway the fame of the thing spread throughout the city, and all men extolled the Fabii. "See now," they said, "how this one family has undertaken the burden of the State. Had we but two such houses besides who might undertake, this to do battle with the Æquians and that with the Volscians, the city might remain at peace and do its business quietly, while all the nations round about should be subdued unto it." The next day the Fabii arm themselves for battle, and assemble as Kæso had commanded. Then the Consul, coming from his house with his soldiers cloak, upon his shoulders, saw all his kindred drawn up in array before the porch. And when these had received him into their midst, he bade them lift the standards. Never had there passed through the city a smaller army, or one more renowned and admired among men. Three hundred and six soldiers there were, nobles all of them, all of one house, not one but might well have been a leader of men. And after them followed a great crowd, first of kinsfolk and friends, then of the other citizens, bidding them God speed in this their enterprise. "Be bold." they cried, "and fortunate. Let the issue of this undertaking be even as the beginning, and ye shall have from us consulships and triumph, yea, and all honours that ye can desire." And as the army passed by the Capitol they prayed to all the Gods that they would guide it safely on its way and bring it back safely home. They prayed to no purpose. Passing by that which men call the Unlucky Way, through the right archway of the Gate of Carmenta, the Fabii went on their way till they came to the river Cremera, thinking that to be a fit place for building a fort.
For a while all things prospered with the Fabii in their dealings with the men of Veii. And not only did they make incursions upon their lands and carry off much booty, but fought set battles, not once or twice, but many times; a single Roman house so winning victory over that which was the wealthiest of all the cities of Etruria. Now this seemed to the men of Veii a shameful thing, and one that was not to be endured. So they began to take counsel how they might take this enemy by subtlety, and perceived, not without joy, that the Fabii grew daily bolder by success.
So when the men went to gather booty they would cause that herds of cattle came in their way, as though it had been by chance, and that companies of soldiers, sent to hinder them from their plundering, fled before them, making pretence of fear. And now the Fabii had such contempt for the enemy that they thought themselves such as could never be conquered at any place or time. In which confidence, seeing on a certain day herds of cattle on the plain, they ran forth to drive them, heeding not that they were distant from the fort a great space of plain. And so, scattering themselves in thoughtless fashion, they passed a place where the enemy had set an ambush, and busied themselves with the cattle. Then all of a sudden the Etrurians rose up from the ambush, and lo! there were enemies both before them and on all sides. These set up a great shout and threw their javelins, still closing in upon them, so that the Fabii also were compelled to gather themselves more and more closely together, so making it the more evident how few they were in comparison of them that were against them. After this they fought not as before, turning every way against them that pressed upon them, but set themselves with all their strength to gain one certain point--a hill of no great height that stood hard by the road. And to this, by dint of strength and plying their swords, they won their way, and made there a stand for a while; nay more, because the higher ground gave them breathing space and advantage, they drave back them that assailed them from below. But after a time the men of Veii, climbing the ridge from behind, took them in the rear, so that the enemy was again above them. Thus all the Fabii were slain that day; and indeed the whole house had perished, but that there had been left behind at Rome a youth not fully grown to manhood. From him there sprang anew a race of Fabii that did good service to Rome in perilous times, both at home and abroad.