| Stories from Ancient Rome|
|by Alfred J. Church|
| Stories of the early days of Rome, from the time of the kings through the establishment of the republic and its struggles with other peoples on the Italian peninsula, and concluding with the wars with Carthage. Ages 9-12 |
A GREAT DISASTER
 IT was well that the Roman State made some advance
towards unity and harmony in the hundred and twenty
years that followed the expulsion of the kings, for in
390 B.C. it suffered a blow which might well have been
fatal. A large part of Northern Italy had for some
years been in the hands of invading tribes which, from
time to time, had made their way by passes of the Alps
from Gaul into Italy. Rome had doubtless received some
benefit from these movements. The Etrurian cities had
been more or less occupied with defending themselves
against their enemies on the north, and had been
content to leave their neighbours on the south alone.
In 391 B.C. a tribe of Italian Gauls, finding their
territories too narrow for them, and possibly pressed
by newcomers from the north, invaded Etruria, and
attacked the city of Clusium. The people of Clusium
sent envoys to Rome, asking for help.
The Romans did not think fit to send troops—it would
have been a serious matter to levy an army
 for what may be called foreign service—but sent an
embassy which was to represent to the Gauls that
Clusium was a friendly city and must be left alone. The
Gauls replied: "We have no wish to injure Clusium, but
it has more land than it needs, while we have not
enough. Let it give us a share, and we shall be
content. If it refuses, stand by, and see whether we
cannot make good our claims by force of arms."
The Roman ambassadors, three haughty young nobles—so
the story runs—asked: "What are Gauls doing in
Etruria? By what right do you come?" "By the right of
our swords," was the answer. A battle followed, and the
Roman ambassadors had the imprudence to take part in
it. One of them struck down a Gallic chief, and was
recognised as he stripped the fallen man of his arms.
The Gauls at once drew off from the field. It was with
Rome, not with Clusium, that they had thenceforward to
They sent envoys demanding the surrender of the three
men who had so grossly offended against the law of
nations. The Senate asked counsel of the Priestly
College which had to do with such matters. The college
replied that the offenders ought to be given up. But
the Senate hesitated. The three men belonged to what
was then the most powerful family in Rome, the great
Fabian House. Whether they referred the matter to the
decision of the whole body of the people is not clear.
In any case the people expressed its opinion in a way
that could not be mistaken, for they elected the
 three envoys among the Military Tribunes for the next
The election took place, it is probable, late in the
year. For this reason, and also, it is probable,
because they thought it well to wait for
reinforcements from kinsmen beyond the Alps, the Gauls
did not immediately act on the challenge thus thrown
down. It was not till the summer of the following year
that they marched on Rome. They attacked no one on
their way; their one thought seemed to be to avenge the
insult which had been offered to them.
The Romans, on the other hand, were strangely
insensible to their danger. They raised an army,
indeed, partly of home levies, partly of allies, but no
special care was taken to make it equal to the
occasion; even in point of numbers it was
insufficient. It was remembered afterwards that the
religious ceremony with which it was usual to begin a
campaign was omitted.
The army took up its position at a place about eleven
miles from the city, where a small brook named the
Allia fell into the Tiber. The battle that followed was
soon over. The Gallic king, Brennus (Bran) by
name, charged the Roman line at the point where
probably an attack was least expected, the rising
ground occupied by the right wing.
The fury of the Gallic warriors carried all
 before them, much as some twenty centuries later Prince
Charlie's Highlanders did at Prestonpans. Then they
turned their victorious arms on the centre, which had
been weakened to prolong the line, and on the left.
There, too, the victory was rapid and complete.
The Romans fled precipitately across the river. Some
were drowned; not a few were crushed to death by their
comrades. The survivors made their way with headlong
speed to Rome. The rout of Allia was rightly held to be
one of the most disgraceful incidents in the Roman
annals, and the day on which it happened (July 18th)
was marked in the calendar as one of those on which no
business could be transacted.
For two days the conquerors remained on the field of
battle, celebrating their victory with revel, or, as
the historian suggests, fearing that the speedy flight
of the enemy concealed some deep design. On the third
day they marched to Rome. They found the city deserted,
with the exception of the Capitol, which was occupied
by a garrison of picked men.
In the Forum, however, a strange spectacle met their
eyes. There, seated on chairs of state, sat a company
of venerable citizens. They were too old to be of any
service in defending the Capitol; to fly from Rome
seemed unworthy of their rank. Perhaps they might serve
their country in the only way that was possible to
them, by a death that would expiate its sin. The Gauls
 them with respectful astonishment. At last a barbarian
ventured to stroke the beard of one of them. The old
man, wroth at the familiarity, smote the man with his
ivory staff. The Gaul, resenting the insult of a blow,
slew him, and all the others met with the same fate.
"THE OLD MAN, WROTH AT THE FAMILIARITY, SMOTE THE MAN WITH HIS IVORY STAFF."
Though the city was in the hands of the barbarians,
Rome was not wholly lost. The Capitol was held by a
strong garrison, too numerous, it may well be, for the
room which it offered and for the store of provisions
which it could hold: a large force had been collected
at Veii, made up of fugitives from Allia, eager to wipe
out their disgrace, and others who were longing for an
opportunity to serve their country.
The invaders, on the other hand, were beginning to
suffer in various ways. Rome, never a very healthy
place, was particularly dangerous during the heat of
summer. It was deserted at this season by all who could
contrive to get away, and these strangers from a more
temperate climate naturally suffered more than natives.
Supplies began to run short. The stores found in the
houses had been wastefully used; much had perished in
the fires which broke out in the deserted city. The
Gauls soon found themselves compelled to plunder the
neighbouring country, and suffered much at the hands of
enemies who were familiar with every spot, and were
always on the watch to cut off stragglers.
Once indeed they were very near to a great success,
nothing less than the capture of the Capitol
 itself. A messenger, despatched by the garrison to
their countrymen at Veii, had contrived to make the
expedition unobserved, but had left some trace of his
movements. This the Gauls had not failed to detect, and
they conceived the idea of a surprise.
The Romans had a very narrow escape. The sentinels were
asleep; no such attacks had been made before; even the
dogs were silent. So the Gauls were able to climb
unobserved almost to the summit of the hill; but the
geese which were penned in the temple of Juno heard
their approach and began to cackle. The birds were
sacred to the goddess, and though provisions had by
this time run very short, they had not been touched,
and their provender had been spared from the scanty
rations of the men. This piety was now to be rewarded.
The clamorous birds roused a certain Marius Manlius
from his slumbers; he hastily armed himself and ran to
the edge of the cliff, just in time to hurl down the
foremost of the attacking party. The enterprise, which
could only have succeeded as a surprise, was
abandoned, and the Capitol was saved. The incident was
one of the most famous in Roman story. Virgil, in his
description of the shield on which Vulcan pictured for
Æneas the coming fortunes of his race, thus described
"There Manlius on Tarpeian steep
Stood firm, the Capitol to keep.
A silver goose in gilded walls
With flapping wings announced the Gauls;
And through the wood the invaders crept,
And climbed the height while others slept.
Golden their hair on head and chin:
Gold collars deck their milk-white skin:
Short cloaks with colour checked
Shine on their backs: two spears each wields
Of Alpine make: and oblong shields
Their brawny limbs protect."
Æn. VIII. (Conington's Translation).
"JUST IN TIME TO HURL DOWN THE FOREMOST OF THE ATTACKING PARTY."
Both sides were now growing weary of the conflict. The
Gauls, suffering grievously from sickness and from
scarcity, were longing to return to their native land;
with the garrison things had come to an almost
desperate pass. It was agreed that a large sum should
be paid in gold, and that the invaders should depart.
The agreement was carried out, and Rome was once more
Two picturesque stories, which are told of the last
scene, may be repeated as they stand, without too
precise an inquiry into their truth. According to one,
when the gold was being weighed, Brennus, the Gallic
king, threw his sword—the Gallic swords were notably
long and heavy—into the scale in which lay the weights.
When the Roman commissioners remonstrated, he cried
out "Woe to the conquered!" (Vœ victis), and the
Romans had to submit.
The other saved the Roman pride by representing that,
just at the critical moment, Camillus, who had been
duly appointed Dictator by the magistrates who were
serving in the garrison of the Capitol, came up and
drove the overbearing conquerors in headlong rout from
the city. Rome had suffered the disgrace of having to
 for her freedom, but not the crowning shame of having
actually to buy off her conquerors.
BRENNUS AND THE GOLD.
The Gauls continued to be formidable enemies. From time
to time during the next two centuries they appeared,
carrying a sudden terror over the prosperous fields of
Northern Italy—the Romans had a special word,
indicative of sudden confusion and uproar
(tumultus), to express their onslaughts—but they
never again brought the great city so near to the brink
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