Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 10.14-16

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[14] While the city was in such turmoil, a man of the Sabine race, of no obscure birth and powerful because of his wealth, Appius Herdonius by name, attempted to overthrow the supremacy of the Romans, with a view either of making himself tyrant or of winning dominion and power for the Sabine nation or else of gaining against name for himself. Having revealed his purpose to many of his friends and explained to them his plan for executing it, and having received their approval, he assembled his clients and the most daring of his servants and in a short time got together a force of about four thousand men. Then, after supplying them with arms, provisions and everything else that is needed for war, he embarked them on river-boats and, 2 sailing down the river Tiber, landed at that part of Rome where the Capitol stands, not a full stade distant from the river. It was then midnight and there was profound quiet throughout the entire city; with this to help him he disembarked his men in haste, and passing through the gate which was open (for there is a certain sacred gate of the Capitol, called the porta Carmentalis, which by the direction of some oracle is always left open), he ascended the hill with his troops and captured the fortress. 3 From there he pushed on to the citadel, which adjoins the Capitol, and took possession of that also. It was his intention, after seizing the most advantageous positions, to receive the exiles, to summon the slaves to liberty, to promise the needy an abolition of debts, and to share the spoils with any other citizens who, being themselves of low condition, envied and hated those of lofty station and would have welcomed a change. The hope that both inspired him with confidence and deceived him, by leading him to believe that he should fail of none of his expectations, was based on the civil dissension, because of which he imagined that neither any friendship nor any intercourse would any longer exist between the populace and the patricians. 4 And if none of these expectations should turn out according to his wish, he had resolved in that event to call in not only the Sabines with all their forces, but also the volscians and as many from the other neighbouring peoples as desired to be delivered from the hated domination of the Romans.

[15] It so happened, however, that all his hopes were disappointed; for neither the slaves deserted to him nor did the exiles return nor did the unfranchised and the debtors seek their private advantage at the expense of the public good, and the reinforcements from outside did not have time enough to prepare for war, since within three or four days all told the affair was at an end, after causing the Romans great fear and turmoil. 2 For upon the capture of the fortresses, followed by a sudden outcry and flight of all those living near those places — save those who were slain at once — the mass of the citizens, not knowing what the peril was, seized their arms and rushed together, some hastening to the heights of the city, others to the open places, which were very numerous, and still others to the plains near by. Those who were past the prime of life and were incapacitated in bodily strength occupied the roofs of the houses together with the women, thinking to fight from there against the invaders; for they imagined that every part of the city was full of fighting. 3 But when it was day and it came to be known what fortresses of the city were taken and who the person was who had possession of them, the consuls, going into the Forum, called the citizens to arms. The tribunes, however, summoned the populace to an assembly and declared that, while they did not care to do anything opposed to the advantage of the commonwealth, they thought it just, when the populace were going to undertake so great a struggle, that they should go and meet the danger upon fixed and definite terms. 4 "If, therefore," they went on to say, "the patricians will promise you, and are willing to give pledges, confirmed by oaths, that as soon as this war is over they will allow you to appoint lawgivers and for the future to enjoy equal rights in the government, let us assist them in freeing the fatherland. But if they consent to no reasonable conditions, why do we incur danger and give up our lives for them, when we are to reap no advantage?" 5 While they were speaking thus and the people were persuaded and would not listen to even a word from those who offered any other advice, Claudius declared that he had no use for such allies, who were not willing to come to the aid of the fatherland voluntarily, but only for a reward, and that no moderate one; but the patricians by themselves, he said, taking up arms in their own persons and in the persons of the clients who adhered to them, joined also by any of the plebeians who would voluntarily assist them in the war, must with these besiege the fortresses. And if even so their force should seem to them inadequate, they must call on the Latins and the Hernicans, and, if necessary, must promise liberty to the slaves and invite all sorts of people rather than those who harboured a grudge against them in times like these. 6 But the other consul, Valerius, opposed this, believing that they ought not to render the plebeians, who were already exasperated, absolutely implacable against the patricians; and he advised them to yield to the situation, and while arraying against their foreign foes the demands of strict justice, to combat the long-winded discourses of their fellow citizens with terms of moderation and reasonableness. 7 When the majority of the senators decided that this advice was the best, he appeared before the popular assembly and made a decorous speech, at the end of which he swore that if the people would assist in this war with alacrity and conditions in the city should become settled, he would permit the tribunes to lay before the populace for decision the law which they were trying to introduce concerning an equality of laws, and would use his utmost endeavours that their vote should be carried into effect during his consulship. But it was fated, it seems, that he should perform none of these promises, the doom of death being near at hand for him.

[16] After the assembly had been dismissed in the late afternoon, they all flocked to their appointed places, giving in their names to the generals and taking the military oath. During that day, then, and all the following night they were thus employed. The next day the centurions were assigned by the consuls to their commands and to the sacred standards; and the crowd which lived in the country also in great numbers flocked in. 2 Everything being soon made ready, the consuls divided the forces and drew lots for their commands. It fell to the lot of Claudius to keep guard before the walls, lest some army from outside should come to the relief of the enemy in the city; for everybody suspected that there would be very serious turmoil, and they feared that all their foes would fall upon them at the same time with united forces. To Valerius Fortune assigned the siege of the fortresses. 345 But neither their numbers, in which they were greatly superior to the enemy, were of any service to them when they were ascending by a narrow road, full of broken fragments of rock the came crashing down upon them from above, where a small body of men would be a match for a large one; nor was their constancy in dangers, which they had acquired by their training in many wars, of any advantage to them when forcing their way up steep heights. For it was not a situation that called for the display of the daring and perseverance of hand-to‑hand fighting, but rather for the tactics of fighting with missiles. 6 Moreover, the blows made by missiles shot from below up to lofty targets were slow on arrival and ineffective, naturally, even if they hit their mark, while the blows of missiles hurled down from above came with high speed and violence, the very weight of the weapons contributing to the force with which they were thrown. Nevertheless, the men attacking the ramparts were not easily discouraged, but bravely endured the hard rations of unavoidable dangers, ceasing not from their toils either by day or by night. At last, when the missiles of the besieged gave out and their strength failed them, the Romans reduced the fortresses on the third day. 7 In this action they lost many brave men, among them the consul, who was universally acknowledged to have been the best of them all; he, even after he had received many wounds, did not retire from danger until a huge rock, crashing down upon him as he was mounting the other wall, snatched from him at once the victory and himself life. As the fortresses were being taken, Herdonius, who was remarkable for his physical strength and brave in action, after piling up an incredible heap of dead bodies about him, perished under a multitude of missiles. Of those who had aided him in seizing the fortresses some few were taken alive, but the greater part either killed themselves with their swords or hurled themselves down the cliffs.


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