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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book VII Chapter 14: Attack on the Gauls.[358 BC]
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Although the dictator [Note 1] recognized that, however satisfactory the soldiers' action might be, a most undesirable precedent had been set, he nevertheless undertook to carry out their wishes. He interrogated Tullius privately as to what the whole thing meant and what warrant he had for his procedure. Tullius earnestly entreated the dictator not to think that he had forgotten military discipline or the respect due to his commanding officer. "But an excited multitude is generally swayed by their advisers, and he had consented to act as their leader to prevent any one else from coming forward whom they might have chosen because he shared their excitement. He himself would do nothing against the wish of the commander-in-chief, but the commander also must be most careful to keep his men in hand. They were too excited now to be put off; they would themselves choose the place and time for fighting if the dictator did not do so." |
During this conversation some cattle which happened to be grazing outside the rampart were being driven off by a Gaul, when two Roman soldiers took them from him. The Gauls pelted them with stones, a shout was raised by the Roman outpost and men ran together from both sides. Affairs were rapidly approaching a pitched battle had not the centurions promptly stopped the fighting. This incident confirmed the dictator's belief in what Tullius had told him, and as matters no longer admitted of delay he issued orders to prepare for battle on the following day.
The dictator was going into action feeling more assured as to the courage than as to the strength of his troops. He began to turn over in his mind every possible device by which he could inspire fear into the enemy. At last he thought out an ingenious and original plan, one, too, which has since been adopted by many of our own generals as well as those of other countries and which is even practised today. He ordered the packsaddles to be taken off the mules and two pieces of coloured cloth placed on their backs [Note 2] . The muleteers were then furnished with arms, some taken from the prisoners and others belonging to the invalided soldiers, and after thus equipping about a thousand of them and distributing a hundred of the cavalry amongst them he ordered them to ascend the mountains which overlooked the camp and conceal themselves in the woods, and remain there motionless till they received the signal from him. As soon as it grew light the dictator extended his lines along the lower slopes of the mountain in order that the enemy might have to form their front facing the mountain. The arrangements for creating a groundless alarm were now completed, and that groundless alarm proved almost more serviceable than an actual increase of strength would have been.
At first the leaders of the Gauls did not believe that the Romans would come down on to the plain, but when they saw them suddenly descending, they rushed on to meet them, eager for the encounter, and the battle commenced before the signal had been given by the commanders.
Note 1: dictator = Gaius Sulpicius
Event: Second war with the Gauls