We skip chapters 22, 23, and 24. The new king Tullus Hostilius hastens to pick a quarrel with the Albans. Death of Cluilius. His successor as Alban leader confers with Tullus. The war is to be decided by a combat between the Horatii and the Curiatii.
The combat and its results.
With the treaty struck, the triplets, just as had been agreed, took up their arms. When, from both sides, their men encouraged that the ancestral gods, the fatherland and their parents, whoever of the citizens of their home, whoever was in the army, all looked upon the arms of those men, the hands of those men, ferocious and in their nature and filled with the voices of those encouraging them, they proceed to the centre between the two battle-lines. The two armies had seated on either side, more free from imminent danger than from care : for truly the sovereignty was at stake, placed in the virtue and fortune of so few. And so accordingly, therefore, raised up and suspended, for the least pleasing spectacle, they are set aflame by the spirit. The signal is given, with weapons drawn, just as three battle-lines each, the young men ran together, displaying the high-spirits of great armies. And neither to these men nor to those was their danger, the public, sovereignty, or slavery present in their minds, nor that future fortune of the subsequent fatherland, which they themselves would make. As at the first immediate rush their arms clashed, quivering, and their swords glittered, a great horror chilled the spectators, and with hope inclining to neither side, voice and breath fall torpid. And then, joined in hand-to-hand fighting, once when there was not only movement of bodies and wavering motion of the spears and arms, but also wounds and blood for the spectacle, two Romans, one over the other, with three Albans wounded, breathed their last and tumbled down. At the occurrence of which, cum the Alban army cried out for joy, all hope but not yet all care deserted the Roman levies, breathless in the turn of one man whom three Curiatii surrounded. By chance he was unwounded, as alone he was by no means a match for the whole, thus he was ferocious, opposing each singly. Therefore, so that he might divide their battle he seizes upon flight, having reckoned thus that they would follow so that their body might be afflicted by the wound which each had taken. Once he had fled a considerable amount of space from where he was fought, when looking back, he saw that they followed at a great intervals, one hardly far away from him. To him he returned with a great assault ; and while the Alban army cried out to the Curiatii to bear aid for their brother, Horatius, victor, his enemy slain, was already seeking a second fight. Then by a clamor, as is wont of an unexpected favouring, the Romans give aid to their soldier ; and he hastens to finish off the battle. And so prior to the third, who was not far off, he was able to press after, and he dispatches the next Curiatus. And now, with Mars made equal, single men survived, but neither in hope nor in strength were they a match. The one man, his body untouched by iron and a twin victory gave ferocity to a third contest ; the other, dragging his body wearied by a wound, wearied by the chase, and conquered by the slaughter of his brothers before him cast himself before the enemy victor. This was no battle. The Roman, exulting, said, “Two brothers I gave to the shades ; whose third by reason of war, so that the Roman may command the Alban, I shall now give.” And upon a man poorly holding fast his arms, he drives down his sword to the throat, he despoils what lies there. The Romans received Horatius, rejoicing and congratulating him, with that greater joy which is for a matter that was so close to dread. From there they turned to the burial of their own, by no means in equal spirits, for truly some were exalted to rule, others made property of foreign dominion. Sepulchres still stand at the place where each fell, two Roman at one place nearer Alba, three Alban facing Rome, but distant from the place where the fight was.
Horatius slays his sister. He is condemned, but later acquitted.
Before they departed from there, with Mettius asking from the treaty struck what he ordered, Tullus orders that the youth take up arms : he would use their services if there was war with the Veiens. Thus the army was led away from there for home. Horatius went at the head, bearing the triple spoils before himself. In this way his virgin sister, who was betrothed to one of the Curiatii, was in the way before the Capene gate, and once she recognizes over his shoulders the soldier’s cloak of her betrothed, which she herself had made, she loosens her locks, and tearfully calls by name her dead betrothed. The lamentation of his sister during his victory and so much public display of joy riles the spirit in the ferocious young man. His sword unsheathed even while rebuking her he pierces the girl. “Get away from here with your untimely love for your betrothed,” he says, “You have forgotten your own dead brothers and the living, you have forgotten your fatherland. Thus let it be for any Roman woman who mourned an enemy.” This act was seen as savage by the fathers and the plebs : but his recent service stood in contrast to the deed. Nevertheless he was taken to trial before the king. The king, so that he himself would not be the author of a sad trial, displeasing to the commons, and following the trial, a punishment, having summoned a council of the people, said, “I appoint Duumviri, who shall judge Horatius for high treason, according to the law.” The law was of a dreadful chord, “The Duumviri shall judge high treason : if it should be appealed from the Duumviri, let him contend the appeal : if they defeat it, let them cover the head, let them hang him from a barren tree by rope ; let them flog him whether within the city boundary or without the city boundary.” By this law the Duumviri were appointed, who did not reason that it be possible to acquit anyone by that law, not even an innocent, when the other of these two said, “Publius Horatius, I judge you guilty of high treason. Lictor, go bind his hands.” The lictor approached him and were affixing the noose. Then Horatius said to his advisor, Tullus, the merciful interpreter of the law, “I appeal.” Thus, by the appeal, he contended against the people. Men were stirred most in that trial by P. Horatius proclaiming that he judged his daughter killed by the law : were it not so, he would have attended to his son by ancestral right. Then he begged that they not make him, whom they had beheld only just prior with outstanding offspring, bereft of children. Among these the old man embraced the youth, and pointing to the spoils of the Curiatii affixed at that place which is now called the Horatian Column, he said, “This man, whom, you have seen trophy-laden in this way, exulting, marching in victory, Quirites, are you able to see him bound under the yoke, amidst whips and tortures? This hideous spectacle, even the eyes of the Albans could scarcely bear it. Go, lictor, bind those hands which only just prior having taken up arms brought forth an imperium for the Roman people. Go, cover the head of the liberator of this city ; hang him from the barren tree ; whip him, whether within the city boundary, almost amidst the javelins and spoils of the enemy, or outside the boundary, almost amidst sepulchres of the Curiatii ; for where can you lead this young man where his own glories would not vindicate him of this foul mockery of punishment?” The people did not bear either the tears of the father or the spirit of the man himself, equal to any danger, and they absolved him more in admiration of his virtue than for the justice of his cause. And thus so that the flagrant slaughter would nevertheless be atoned for by some appeasement, the father was ordered that the son expiate his guilt from the public fund. He once certain propitiary sacrifices were made, which afterward were passed down to the tribe of Horatius, by setting a little beam across the street, just as the young man was put under the yoke. This too remains today, always publicly repaired ; they call it the little beam of the sisters. The sepulchre for Horatia, at the place where she was struck and fell, is constructed from hewn stone.