It came to pass that the Æquians brake the treaty of peace which they had made with Rome, and, taking one Gracchus Clœlius for their leader, marched into the land of Tusculum; and when they had plundered the country thereabouts, and had gathered together much booty, they pitched their camp on Mount Ægidus. To them the Romans sent three ambassadors, who should complain of the wrong done, and seek redress. But when they would have fulfilled their errand, Gracchus the Æquian spake, saying, “If ye have any message from the Senate of Rome, tell it to this oak, for I have other business to do;” for it chanced that there was a great oak that stood hard by, and made a shadow over the general’s tent. Then one of the ambassadors, as he turned to depart, made reply, “Yes, let this sacred oak and all the gods that are in heaven hear how ye have wrongfully broken the treaty of peace; and let them that hear help us also in the day of battle, when we shall avenge on you the laws both of gods and of men that ye have set at nought.”
When the ambassadors had returned to Rome the Senate commanded that there should be levied two armies; and that Minucius the Consul should march with the one against the Æquians on Mount Ægidus, and that the other should hinder the enemy from their plundering. This levying the tribunes of the Commons sought to hinder; and perchance had done so, but there also came well-nigh to the walls of the city a great host of the Sabines plundering all the country. Thereupon the people willingly offered themselves, and there were levied forthwith two great armies. Nevertheless when the Consul Minucius had marched to Mount Ægidus, and had pitched his camp not far from the Æquians, he did nought for fear of the enemy, but kept himself within his entrenchments. And when the enemy perceived that he was afraid, growing the bolder for his lack of courage, they drew lines about him, keeping him in on every side. Yet before that he was altogether shut up there escaped from his camp five horsemen, that bare tidings to Rome how that the Consul, together with his army, was besieged. The people were sorely dismayed to hear such tidings; nor, when they cast about for help, saw they any man that might be sufficient for such peril, save only Cincinnatus. By common consent, therefore, he was made Dictator for six months, a thing that may well be noted by those who hold that nothing is to be accounted of in comparison of riches, and that no man may win great honor or show forth singular virtue unless he be well furnished with wealth. For here in this great peril of the Roman people there was no hope of safety but in one who was cultivating with his own hand a little plot of scarcely three acres of ground. For when the messengers of the people came to him they found him ploughing, or, as some say, digging a ditch. When they had greeted each the other, the messengers said, “May the Gods prosper this thing to the Roman people and to thee. Put on thy robe and hear the words of the people.” Then said Cincinnatus, being not a little astonished, “Is all well?” and at the same time he called to his wife Racilia that she should bring forth his robe from the cottage. So she brought it forth, and the man wiped from him the dust and the sweat, and clad himself in his robe, and stood before the messengers. These said to him, “The people of Rome make thee Dictator, and bid thee come forthwith to the city.” And at the same time they told how the Consul and his army were besieged by the Æquians. So Cincinnatus departed to Rome; and when he came to the other side of the Tiber there met him first his three sons, and next many of his kinsfolk and friends, and after them a numerous company of the nobles. These all conducted him to his house, the lictors, four and twenty in number, marching before him. There was also assembled a very great concourse of the people, fearing much how the Dictator might deal with them, for they knew what manner of man he was, and that there was no limit to his power, nor any appeal from him.
The next day before dawn the Dictator came into the market-place, and appointed one Lucius Tarquinius to be Master of the Horse. This Tarquinius was held by common consent to excel all other men in exercises of war; only, though, being a noble by birth, he should have been among the horsemen, he had served, for lack of means, as a foot soldier. This done he called an assembly of the people and commanded that all the shops in the city should be shut; that no man should concern himself with any private business, but all that were of an age to go to the war should be present before sunset in the Field of Mars, each man having with him provisions of cooked food for five days, and twelve stakes. As for them that were past the age, they should prepare the food while the young men made ready their arms and sought for the stakes. These last they took as they found them, no man hindering them; and when the time appointed by the Dictator was come, all were assembled, ready, as occasion might serve, either to march or to give battle. Forthwith they set out, the Dictator leading the foot soldiers by their legions, and Tarquinius the horsemen, and each bidding them that followed make all haste. “We must needs come,” they said, “to our journey’s end while it is yet night. Remember that the Consul and his army have been besieged now for three days, and that no man knows what a day or a night may bring forth.” The soldiers themselves also were zealous to obey, crying out to the standard-bearers that they should quicken their steps, and to their fellows that they should not lag behind. Thus they came at midnight to Mount Ægidus, and when they perceived that the enemy was at hand they halted the standards. Then the Dictator rode forward to see, so far as the darkness would suffer him, how great was the camp of the Æquians and after what fashion it was pitched. This done he commanded that the baggage should be gathered together into a heap, and that the soldiers should stand every man in his own place. After this he compassed about the whole army of the enemy with his own army, and commanded that at a set signal every man should shout, and when they had shouted should dig a trench and set up therein the stakes. This the soldiers did, and the noise of the shouting passed over the camp of the enemy and came into the city, causing therein great joy, even as it caused great fear in the camp. For the Romans cried, “These be our countrymen, and they bring us help.” Then said the Consul, “We must make no delay. By that shout is signified, not that they are come only, but that they are already dealing with the enemy. Doubtless the camp of the Æquians is even now assailed from without. Take ye your arms and follow me.” So the legion went forth, it being yet night, to the battle, and as they went they shouted, that the Dictator might be aware. Now the Æquians had set themselves to hinder the making of a ditch and rampart which should shut them in; but when the Romans from the camp fell upon them, fearing lest these should make their way through the midst of their camp, they left them that were with Cincinnatus to finish their entrenching, and fought with the Consul. And when it was now light, lo! they were already shut in, and the Romans, having finished their entrenching, began to trouble them. And when the Æquians perceived that the battle was now on either side of them, they could withstand no longer, but sent ambassadors praying for peace, and saying, “Ye have prevailed; slay us not, but rather permit us to depart, leaving our arms behind us.” Then said the Dictator, “I care not to have the blood of the Æquians. Ye may depart, but ye shall depart passing under the yoke, that ye may thus acknowledge to all men that ye are indeed vanquished.” Now the yoke is thus made. There are set up in the ground two spears, and over them is bound by ropes a third spear. So the Æquians passed under the yoke.
In the camp of the enemy there was found abundance of spoil. This the Dictator gave wholly to his own soldiers. “Ye were well-nigh a spoil to the enemy,” said he to the army of the Consul, “therefore ye shall have no share in the spoiling of them. As for thee, Minucius, be thou a lieutenant only till thou hast learnt how to bear thyself as a consul.” Meanwhile at Rome there was held a meeting of the Senate, at which it was commanded that Cincinnatus should enter the city in triumph, his soldiers following him in order of march. Before his chariot there were led the generals of the enemy; also the standards were carried in the front; and after these came the army, every man laden with spoil. That day there was great rejoicing in the city, every man setting forth a banquet before his doors in the street.
After this, Virginius, that had borne false witness against Cæso, was found guilty of perjury, and went into exile. And when Cincinnatus saw that justice had been done to this evil-doer, he resigned his dictatorship, having held it for sixteen days only.