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Tales of the Romans : The Children's Plutarch by  F. J. Gould


 

 

BATTLE-FIELDS AND GARDENS

THE snow fell fast and thick. Ten cohorts of Roman foot-soldiers (a cohort was about six hundred men) were struggling through the storm. There were also cavalry soldiers, and their horses slipped on the frosted ground. Some men sank in the drifts, overcome by the cold. But the general, Lucullus (Lu-kul-lus), who lived from about 110 B.C. to about 57 B.C., bade the army go on in spite of the tempest. They caught up the enemy—the army of Mithridates, King of Pontus, and killed many, and took fifteen thousand prisoners.

The King of Pontus escaped by water, and sailed with many galleys on the Black Sea. A storm arose. Many of his ships were wrecked, and broken timber and rigging strewed the shores for miles. The royal galley was filling with water. A boat rowed by Black Sea pirates was passing, and the king was glad enough of their help to reach the coast of Pontus.

The Roman general was a man of strong will. [85] You see how he could make a king fly for his life, and his own soldiers would dare snow, hail, wounds, and death at his command.

When the King of Pontus renewed the war he pitched his camp on a plain among the mountains and forests. The Roman camp was not far off. One day some of the king's men ran, with loud shouts, after a deer. A number of Romans rushed from their camp to attack the Asiatics. A skirmish took place. The Romans began to retreat.

Lucullus had watched the fight from the wall of his camp (for you know the camps were surrounded by walls of earth, with gates in them). Alone he leaped from the wall, and walked toward the place of battle.

"Halt!" he cried to the first men that came up.

They halted; the rest rallied also. They made a firm stand against the enemy, and in the end drove them back to their camp.

But Lucullus was not satisfied. He called together all the army. The men who had fled from the foe were ordered to strip off their coats and girdles, and dig a trench twelve feet long. The rest of the soldiers watched the digging. This digging was counted a great disgrace.

A few days afterward the Romans burst into the Asiatic camp. The king's troops gave way in panic, snatching plunder even from their own [86] friends. One of their own captains was slain for the sake of the purple robe he wore. King Mithridates was swept along in a crowd of soldiers that were pushing through a gateway of the camp. The Romans were close upon him when a mule happened to trot by. On its back was a sack of gold. The pursuers at once seized it, and quarrelled with one another as to who should have the yellow metal. Meanwhile the king escaped.

Step by step, the Romans became masters of all Asia Minor. The King of Pontus fled to his son-in-law, Tigranes (Tig-ra-neez), king of the hilly land of Armenia. A Roman named Appius was sent to the court of the King of Armenia.

This king kept great state. Whenever he rode out four footmen in short jackets ran before him, fleet as horses. These footmen had once been kings themselves.

Tigranes sat on his throne. The four kings stood by with their hands clasped together as a sign of their slavery. A large number of courtiers wore splendid robes.

Appius the Roman glanced round the shining throng without fear.

"I come, sir," he said, "from my chief, Lucullus. He asks you to give up to him the person of Mithridates, King of Pontus."

"What for?" asked the king, trying to look as if he cared naught for the Roman power.

[87] "To follow in the train of Lucullus when he goes through the streets of Rome in triumph."

"And suppose I will not yield him up?"

"Then, sir, the Romans will declare war against you."

All the hearers wondered. Such bold speaking to the king they had never heard before.

War was declared. Near the Taurus mountains, capped with snow, lay the chief city of Armenia. Tigranes had collected an immense host of horsemen, archers, and slingers. Thirty-five thousand pioneers were employed to level the roads, to build bridges, and to provide wood and water for the warriors.

On the flat land by the river and the city was drawn the small army of Lucullus. Six thousand kept an eye on the city, eleven thousand prepared to attack the vast host of Tigranes.

From the hills the king looked down at the little band of Romans as it moved toward the river. His Armenians laughed at the smallness of the enemy's force.

"The Romans are afraid! They are marching away!" rose the cry.

It seemed so. Only one courtier thought otherwise.

"Sir," he said to the king, "the Romans do not put on their helmets and polish their shields so brightly when they wish to retreat."

[88] Presently the Romans wheeled to the right. They had reached a ford. The foremost man, carrying an eagle, splashed into the river; and the rest followed in order.

"Are these men coming against us?" exclaimed Tigranes; and he hastily arranged his troops to meet the onset.

As Lucullus was about to enter the river, one of his officers said:

"Sir, this is a black day in Roman story. It was on this day—the sixth of October—that the Cimbri from the north once defeated our countrymen in Italy."

"I will make this day a happier one for the Romans," replied Lucullus.

The armies met in the shock of war. Lucullus, with a division of troops, climbed a hill, and called to his men:

"The victory is ours, my fellow-soldiers! The victory is ours!"

It was indeed. An awful mass of dead was left in the valleys; and yet (so it is said) the Romans only had five killed and one hundred wounded. Such was the defeat of the vain king who despised the fewness of the enemy.

Far among the Armenian mountains Lucullus pushed his way. Never had Romans been so far from home. They were toiling up rocky passes, slipping over snow-drifts, tramping through great [89] and lonely forests. At length their patience gave out. There could be no use in conquering more of this wild region. Lucullus heard their murmurs, and ordered a retreat.

Not long afterward he returned to Rome, and his place in Asia Minor was taken by the famous general Pompey.

Grand was the triumph of Lucullus in the city of Rome. In the procession were to be seen ten Asiatic chariots, armed with scythes attached to the wheels; sixty captive nobles; one hundred and ten galleys with brass beaks in front (these, of course, were drawn on wagons); a statue of King Mithridates, all of gold, six feet high; twenty loads of silver vessels; thirty-two loads of gold cups and coins; eight mules carrying gold bedsteads; fifty-six mules carrying lumps of silver, and one hundred and seven mules carrying silver money.

And now, after all these hard campaigns and victories, what do you think Lucullus did?

You have heard of the Bay of Naples—its blue sea, the hills draped with green trees and vines, and the mountain Vesuvius that rises behind. On this lovely coast the old Roman general had resolved to settle down—to eat, drink, and be merry. Here he raised a splendid villa, or mansion, with many chambers. All about the place you could see marble, gold, silver, rich purple carpets. [90] Many slaves moved from room to room. Fountains shot up sprays of water to make the sitting-rooms cool and musical. At dinner the gentlemen ate while slaves played on sweet flutes. He had another villa near Rome, in which there was more than one great dinner-room, the largest being called Apollo.

One day, being in the forum at Rome, he met his two friends—Cicero, the orator, who lived from 106 B.C. to 43 B.C., and Pompey, the soldier.

"Good-day, Lucullus," said Cicero. "We have not spent an evening with you lately."

"Nothing would please me better than to entertain you to-night to dinner."

"Many thanks; but you are not to prepare a grand reception for us. We want to dine with you just in the ordinary way."

"My dear Cicero, you shall hear my orders to the servant. They will be very plain and simple." Calling a slave, he said:

"My two friends and I will dine in the Apollo this evening."

"Yes, sir."

That was all. But when they reached the villa the Apollo chamber was decked with gold, silver, purple carpets. The dishes on the table were golden. Bands of musicians played. Dancers danced on the polished floor. Roses were scattered. The feast cost many thousands of dollars.

[91] Lucullus had rooms fitted up for books, and scholars (or learned men) might come in and read, or sit under the portico and discuss. He had galleries full of pictures and statues, which cost vast sums of money.

Round his villas he had great gardens laid out, where you could sit under the shade of cedars; where the palm rose high over myrtles and fig-trees; where flowers formed lovely beds; where fountains glittered; where people could walk along winding paths, under archways of green. And in his gardens at Naples, Lucullus built big ponds, the water coming from the neighboring sea, and in the ponds large numbers of fish were kept.

Such were the villas and gardens of Lucullus. Was it right of him to spend so much wealth on such pleasures?

Perhaps you say the money was his own. He had won it in the wars.

He had certainly fought hard in the wars; but so had his army, and they went home from the battle-fields to hard toil in the fields, and to mean houses. And, besides this, masses of people in Italy were poor and needy. Was it right to feast so grandly while these people were in such different circumstances?

Again, the villas and gardens could not be kept up without slave labor. Behind the splendor of [92] the house there were hid a host of men and women who were not free.

And again, the villas and gardens were the private property of one man. If they had been made beautiful for the whole of the people to enjoy, we might admire them more. Even then I cannot see that life is any more bright and joyous for so much gold and silver.

Do not forget, also, that the wealth of Lucullus was robbed from the folk of Asia. How many of them had to live more wretched lives and pay more taxes because of the gardens of Lucullus!


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