Marching up the Flaminian road, it was already deep night when 79 Antonius reached ’The Red Rocks’. His help had come too late. There he heard that Sabinus had been killed, and the Capitol burnt; the city was in panic; everything looked black; even the populace and the slaves were arming for Vitellius. Petilius Cerialis, too, had been defeated in a cavalry engagement. He had pushed on without caution, thinking the enemy already beaten, and the Vitellians with a mixed force of horse and foot had caught him unawares. The engagement had taken place near the city among farm buildings and gardens and winding lanes, with which the Vitellians were familiar, while the Flavians were terrified by their ignorance. Besides, the troopers were not all of one mind; some of them belonged to the force which had recently surrendered at Narnia, and were waiting to see which side won. Julius Flavianus, who commanded a regiment of cavalry, was taken prisoner. The rest fell into a disgraceful panic and fled, but the pursuit was not continued beyond Fidenae.
This success served to increase the popular excitement. The city 80 rabble now took arms. A few had service-shields: most of them snatched up any weapons they could find and clamoured to be given the sign for battle. Vitellius expressed his gratitude to them and bade them sally forth to protect the city. He then summoned a meeting of the senate, at which envoys were appointed to go to the two armies and urge them in the name of public welfare to accept peace. The fortunes of the envoys varied. Those who approached Petilius Cerialis found themselves in dire danger, for the soldiers indignantly refused their terms. The praetor, Arulenus Rusticus, was wounded. Apart from the wrong done to a praetor and an envoy, the man’s own acknowledged worth made this seem all the more scandalous. His companions were flogged, and the lictor nearest to him was killed for venturing to make a way through the crowd. Indeed, if the guard provided by the general had not intervened, a Roman envoy, the sanctity of whose person even foreign nations respect, might have been wickedly murdered in the mad rage of civil strife under the very walls of Rome. Those who went to Antonius met with a more reasonable reception; not that the soldiers were less violent, but the general had more authority.