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THE ROCK OF THE CAPITOL.
B. C. 389.
HE city of Rome was gradually rising on the
banks of the Tiber, and every year was adding to its temples and public buildings.
Every citizen loved his city and her greatness above all else. There was as yet little wealth among them ; the richest owned little more than a few acres, which they cultivated themselves by the help of their families, and sometimes of a few slaves, and the beautiful Campagna di Roma, girt in by hills looking like amethysts in the distance, had not then become almost uninhabitable from pestilential air, but was rich and fertile, full of highly cultivated small farms, where corn was raised in furrows made by a small hand-plough, and herds of sheep, goats, and oxen browsed in the pasture lands. The owners of these lands would on public days take off their rude working-dress and broad-brimmed strawhat, and putting on the white toga with a purple hem, would enter the city, and go to the valley called the Forum or Market-place to give their votes for the officers of state who were elected every year; especially the two consuls, who were like kings all but the crown, wore purple togas richly embroidered, sat on ivory chairs, and were followed by lictors carrying an axe in a bundle of rods for the execution of justice. In their own chamber sat the Senate, the great council composed of the patricians, or citizens of highest birth, and of those who had formerly been consuls. They decided on peace or war, and made the laws, and were the real governors of the State, and their grave dignity made a great impression on all who came near them. Above the buildings of the city rose steep and high the Capitoline Hill, with the Temple of Jupiter on its summit, and the strong wall in which was the chief stronghold and citadel of Rome, the Capitol, the very centre of her strength and resolution. When a war was decided on, every citizen capable of bearing arms was called into the Forum, bringing his helmet, breastplate, short sword, and heavy spear, and the officers, called tribunes, chose out a sufficient number, who were formed into bodies called legions, and marched to battle under the command of one of the consuls. Many little States or Italian tribes, who had nearly the same customs as Rome, surrounded the Campagna, and so many disputes arose, that every year, as soon as the crops were saved, the armies marched out, the flocks were driven to folds on the hills, the women and children were placed in the walled cities, and a battle was fought, sometimes followed up by the siege of the city of the defeated. The Romans did not always obtain the victory, but there was a stanchness about them that was sure to prevail in the long run; if beaten one year, they came back to the charge the next, and thus they gradually mastered one of their neighbors after another, and spread their dominion over the central part of Italy.
They were well used to Italian and Etruscan ways of making war, but after nearly four hundred years of this kind of fighting, a stranger and wilder enemy came upon them. These were the Gauls, a talí, strong, brave people, long-limbed and red-haired, of the same race as the Highlanders of Scotland. They had gradually spread themselves over the middle of Europe, and had for some generations past lived among the Alpine mountains, whence they used to come down upon the rich plains of northern Italy for forays, in which they slew and burnt, and drove off cattle, and now and then, when a country was quite depopulated, would settle themselves in it. And thus, the Gauls conquering from the north and the Romans from the south, these two fierce nations at length came against one another.
The old Roman story is that it happened thus : The Gauls had an unusually able leader, whom Latin historians call Brennus, but whose real name was most likely Bran, and who is said to have come out of Britain. He had brought a great host of Gauls to attack Clusium, a Tuscan city, and the inhabitants sent to Rome to entreat succor. Three ambassadors, brothers of the noble old family of Fabius, were sent from Rome to intercede for the Clusians. They asked Brennus what harm the men of Clusium had done the Gauls, that they thus made war on them, and, according to Plutarch's account, Brennus made answer that the injury was that the Clusians possessed land that the Gauls wanted, remarking, that it was exactly the way in which the Romans themselves treated their neighbors, adding, however, that this was neither cruel nor unjust, but according
“To the good old plan,
And they should keep who can. The Fabii, on receiving this answer, were so foolish as to transgress the rule, owned even by the savage Gauls, that an ambassador should neither fight nor be fought with ; they joined the Clusians, and one
* These lines of Wordsworth on Rob Roy's grave almost literally translate the speech Plutarch gives the first Kelt of history, Brennus.
brother, named Quintus, killed a remarkably large and tall Gallic chief in single combat. Brennus was justly enraged, and sent messengers to Rome to demand that the brothers should be given up to him for punishment. The priests and many of the Senate held that the rash young men had deserved death as covenant-breakers ; but their father made strong interest for them, and prevailed not only to have them spared, but even chosen as tribunes to lead the legions in the war that was expected.* Thus he persuaded the whole nation to take on itself the guilt of his sons, a want of true self-devotion uncommon among the old Romans, and which was severely punished.
The Gauls were much enraged, and hurried southwards, not waiting for plunder by the way, but declaring that they were friends to every State save Rome. The Romans on their side collected their troops in haste, but with a lurking sense of having transgressed ; and since they had gainsayed the counsel of their priests, they durst not have recourse to the sacrifices and ceremonies by which they usually sought to gain the favor of their gods. Even among heathens, the saying has often been verified, “a sinful heart makes failing hand,” and the battle on the banks of the river Allia, about eleven miles from Rome, was not so much a fight as a rout. The Roman soldiers were ill drawn up, and were at once broken. Some fled to Veii and other towns, many were drowned in crossing the Tiber, and it was but a few who showed in Rome their shame-stricken faces, and brought word that the Gauls were upon them.
Had the Gauls been really in pursuit, the Roman name and nation would have perished under their swords ; but they spent three days in feasting and sharing their plunder, and thus gave the Romans time to take measures for the safety of such as could yet escape. There seems to have been no notion of defending the city, the soldiers had been too much dispersed; but all who still remained and could call up something of their ordinary courage, carried all the provisions they could collect into the stronghold of the Capitol, and resolved to hold out there till the last, in hopes that the scattered army might muster again, or that the Gauls might retreat, after having revenged themselves on the city. Every one who could not fight, took flight, taking with them all they could carry, and among them went the white-clad troop of vestal virgins, carrying with them their censer of fire, which was esteemed sacred, and never allowed to be extinguished. A man named Albinus, who saw these sacred women footsore, weary, and weighed down with the treasures of their temple, removed his own family and goods from his cart and seated them in it, an act of reverence for which he was much esteemed, — and thus they safely reached the city of Cumæ. The only persons left in Rome outside the Capitol were eighty of the oldest senators and some of the priests. Some were too feeble to fly, and would not come into the Capitol to consume the food that might maintain fighting men; but most of them were filled with a deep, solemn thought, that, by offering themselves to the weapons of the barbarians, they might atone for the sin sanctioned by the Republic, and that their death might be the saving of the nation. This notion that the death of a ruler would expiate a country's guilt, was one of the strange presages abroad in the heathen world of that which alone takes away the sin of all mankind.
* These events happened during an experiment made by the Romans of having six military tribunes instead of two consuls.