| 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 LIFE AND DEATH STRUGGLE
 THE year 510 was a year of revolution in Southern
Europe, as in modern times was 1848. It was then that
Athens drove out the sons of Pisistratus; it was then
that Rome expelled the House of Tarquin. The first
Tarquin was an Etrurian noble who had come to Rome at
some time in the reign of its fourth king, Ancus
Martius. He had become famous there by his wealth and
great talents, and had somehow contrived to secure the
succession to the throne. Rome had prospered under his
rule, and though, after his death, the royal power
passed for a while out of his family, the name of
Tarquin was still a power in the State.
By help of this, by Etruscan influence, for the
Etruscans were near neighbours of Rome, their great
city of Veii being but ten miles distant, and by his
own daring, the grandson of the first Tarquin became
the seventh King of Rome—and the last. It is needless
to tell the story of how and why he was expelled.
Though his rule was oppressive, he was able and
successful. Rome became the acknowledged chief of the
Latin cities; her territory was
 enlarged at the expense of her neighbours, the Volsci;
she had the advantage of being on friendly terms with
It was the bad conduct of one of his sons that caused
the king's overthrow and exile. The Romans' latest
experience of monarchy made them resolve to change
their form of government.
Theirs was to be a free State, though much was to be
done and suffered, as we shall see, before freedom was
reached. There were to be two heads of the State, who
should hold office for a year; they were to be called
Prætors (foremost men), a title which was
changed before long into Consuls (colleagues).
The expelled monarch was not disposed to accept the new
order of things, and he lost no time in attempting to
recover his throne. He had not, as had his
fellow-sufferer in Greece, the son of Pisistratus, to
wait for the slow movements of an Eastern king, who was
hundreds of miles away.
His friends were at hand, for it was, of course, to the
Etrurians that he appealed for help.
His first effort, however, was made in another
direction. He had friends and helpers at Rome, some who
really believed that the old order of things was better
than the new, and others who had profited by the royal
favour in the past, and looked to profit by it in the
future. Tarquin sent envoys to Rome; they were
 ask that his private property should be restored to
him, really to communicate with a royalist party which
had conspired to restore the king to his throne. The
conspiracy was discovered, however, and it was punished
in a way which showed how sternly resolved the chiefs
of the new Republic could be to do their duty without
fear or favour.
Among the guilty were the two sons of Lucius Junius
Brutus, who was one of the recently appointed prætors
or consuls. Brutus made no attempt to save his sons
from the penalty of their crime. On the contrary, he
presided at their trial, pronounced on them the
sentence of death, and sat with unmoved countenance
while they were scourged and beheaded.
As for the property of the banished family, it was
divided among the people, who were thus bound more
strongly to support the new order of things.
Not long after, the Roman army met the allies of
Tarquin in the field. Before the battle began, Brutus
and one of the sons of Tarquin met in single combat.
Both were slain. The battle itself had no decisive
result, but Tarquin certainly was no nearer than before
to recovering his throne.
In the course of the following year, however, he found
a more powerful friend. This was Lars Porsena, King of
Clusium, and head of the great league of Etrurian
cities. The Romans did not venture to meet their new
enemy in the field,
 and they failed to hold their first line of defence.
This was the Janiculum Hill on the right or Etrurian
bank of the Tiber—Lars Porsena took it by storm.
Rome itself now seemed to be at his mercy, for he had
only to cross the bridge which joined the Janiculum to
the city. But here he was baffled by the boldness of
three heroic Romans. The three, representing the three
great elements in the Roman people, Latin, Sabine, and
Etrurian, held the bridge till its supports were cut
away, and the river thus rendered impassable. The names
of all, Spurius Lartius, Titus Herminius, and Horatius
Cocles (Cocles means the One-Eyed), lived for ever in
the memories of their countrymen, but the third was
held in especial honour. His two comrades retreated to
the Roman side while the last supports of the bridge
were still standing; Horatius held his place till the
structure had actually fallen. Then, weakened as he was
by wounds, and burdened with the weight of his armour,
he leapt into the river and just succeeded in reaching
the Roman bank.
"HORATIUS HELD HIS PLACE TILL THE STRUCTURE HAD ACTUALLY FALLEN."
Rome was safe for the time, but the prospect of the
future was dark. Lars Porsena had practically command
of the whole country; the food supplies were cut off,
and the city, which was crowded with fugitives from the
rural districts, was in danger of starvation.
A young Roman noble, Caius Mucius by name, thought of a
plan, which he told to a number of his friends, of
delivering his country by getting rid
 of its powerful enemy. He made his way into the
Etrurian camp, to all appearance unarmed, but carrying
a dagger concealed about his person.
The King's secretary was seated in a conspicuous place,
busy in receiving applications and petitions. He was
clad in a splendid robe of purple, and Mucius, thinking
him to be the King, stabbed him to the heart. He was at
once seized and taken before Porsena. The King
threatened him with torture. Mucius replied by
thrusting his right hand into the fire, which was
burning hard by, and holding it there till it was
"I am not afraid of your tortures," he said, "still I
will tell you the secret which you wish to extort from
me. Know, then, that there are three hundred men who
are as determined as I am to rid the country of its
most dangerous enemy. One by one they will make the
attempt, and you may feel sure that sooner or later
they will succeed."
The King was so impressed with this threat that he
resolved to come to terms with so determined an enemy.
So he made a proposal for a treaty, and as he was
willing to give up his demand that King Tarquin should
be restored to his throne, the Romans gladly accepted
He was to have yet another proof of how bold a race he
had to deal with. Hostages, ten boys and as many girls,
were handed over to him, to be held in custody till the
conditions should be fulfilled; but Clœlia, one of the
girl-hostages, contrived to elude the soldiers who were
guarding her, and plunged into the river. Her
 her example, and all reached the Roman bank in safety.
The Romans, however, sent them back, and Porsena,
greatly impressed by this display of courage and good
faith, set the hostages at liberty, restored without
ransom all the prisoners whom he had captured, and even
handed over to the besieged for the relief of their
distress all the stores in his camp.
These picturesque stories must not, however, hide from
us the truth that Rome had, in fact, to undergo a great
humiliation. One Roman writer tells us that the city
was surrendered to Porsena; another informs us that
among the terms of the treaty was one frequently
imposed upon a conquered people—as by Sisera on the
Hebrews in the days of Deborah and Barak, and by the
Philistines in the time of Saul—that no iron should be
used except for agricultural tools.
One more great struggle Rome had to make before her
freedom was assured, and this was with her Latin
kinsfolk. One of the most powerful of the Latin chiefs
was Octavius Mamilius, of Tusculum, who had married a
daughter of King Tarquin. The decisive battle took
place at the Lake Regillus.
There we hear, for the first time, of a personage who
often appears in Roman history. The consuls were
superseded for a time, and a dictator whose power was
absolute took their place.
One of the old champions of the bridge reappeared and
slew the Latin chief. Other deeds of valour were
performed; Rome was helped, so the
 story ran, by the presence of the twin brethren, Castor
and Pollux, just as in Spanish history we hear of St.
James of Compostella leading on the Christian army
against the Moors. In the end the Latin army was
routed. This was in 495, and two years later Tarquin
The city of Veii, one of the most ancient and most
formidable of the enemies of Rome, seems to have taken
no part in the campaigns of Porsena. This king
represented an adverse party in the Etruscan League. We
even find him, when he had become friendly to the
Romans, gratifying them by a gift of Veientine
territory. When we remember that Veii was only twelve
miles distant from Rome—less than the distance that
Kingston-upon-Thames is from London—we perceive what a
fortunate circumstance this was. After the death of
Porsena the two cities were constantly at war. It is
impossible to do more than note one or two of the
principal events. In 476 happened the great disaster of
Cremera. It is a strange story. The Veientines, unable
to withstand the Roman army in the field, took shelter
within their walls, issuing forth when occasion offered
to plunder and destroy.
One of the great Roman families, the Fabii, undertook
to deal with the trouble. It should be their business
to protect their country against these robbers. The
whole clan—three hundred and six men, not one of whom,
says Livy, the Senate would have deemed unfit for high
command—marched out of Rome, and took up a position
which commanded the hostile territory.
 This they held for two years with success; in the third
they were lured into an ambush, and perished to a man.
Only one young lad of the Fabian race remained.
Happily, he had been left in Rome, for he was to be the
ancestor of a race which was to serve the country in
after times. Twenty years after this the Romans
determined to put an end to the perpetual annoyance of
an enemy almost at their gates. They found it no easy
task, even though Veii received no help from the other
Etruscan cities. The siege lasted for ten years, a
period of supreme importance in the history of Rome,
because she then had for the first time a standing
army. In the tenth year a strange phenomenon was
observed. The Alban Lake rose so high as to threaten
the surrounding country.
The oracle of Delphi being consulted directed that the
waters should be drained off, not by the usual channel,
but by distributing them over the country, and that
this would bring about the capture of the city. This
may mean that by making a new outlet the means of
driving a mine under Veii was discovered. This seems to
have been the way in which the city was taken. A band
of Roman soldiers suddenly emerged in the temple of
Juno, which stood on the citadel. The inhabitants made
a fierce resistance, but after a while, under a promise
of their lives, laid down their arms. They were sold
into slavery. In such matters the age had no scruples,
but the gods of the place could not be disposed of so
easily. A pius excuse was
 therefore invented. Juno was the patron deity of the
city, and one of those who had been commissioned to
deal with the matter asked her "either," says Livy, "by
inspiration or in jest," whether she was willing to go
to Rome. Her associates declared that the image nodded
assent; some went so far as to say that they heard the
words, "I am willing." For some years Veii stood empty;
more than once Roman citizens, discontented with their
lot at home, took up their abode in it. Once at least a
general migration was proposed. But there was no
permanent settlement. The place fell into decay. Three
centuries and a half later Propertius sang:—
"O ancient Veii! splendid once and great,
Her forum graced with throne of royal state;
Now there the lazy shepherd's horn is blown,
And where her chiefs lie dead the harvest mown."
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