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


 

 

THE TRIUMPH

"WHY do you weep, my child?" asked a Roman father of his little girl, as he took her in his arms.

"P—P—Per—Perseus is dead!" she sobbed.

"Which Perseus do you mean?"

"The dear little dog, father."

Ah, the dear little dog. But Perseus was the name of the King of Macedonia also, and it was of this Perseus that the Roman father was thinking.

This father was the general Lucius Ĉmilius Paulus, afterward surnamed Macedonicus, who had fought for Rome during many years. In Spain he had placed the Roman eagle over two hundred and fifty cities. He lived from about 229&endash;160 B.C.

King Perseus expected the coming of the Romans. He had collected an army of his [48] people, and hoped to add more warriors by hiring fighting-men from the banks of the river Danube. Ten thousand horsemen, each with a footman running at his side, arrived at the camp of Perseus, offering to fight for pay. The horsemen were tall, brawny fellows, and ready to give battle to anybody on earth. But their price was high. Each officer from the Danube land demanded one thousand pieces of gold.

Perseus was very fond of money. He often counted his gold, and he sealed it up in bags.

"No," he said to the barbarian horsemen, "I will not pay the sum you ask. It is too dear."

And the ten thousand cavalry rode back to the Danube, and left the King of Macedonia to meet the Romans as best he could.

Ĉmilius Paulus had pitched his camp one night, and the Roman army had had supper. The moon was shining at the full. Presently a shadow began to glide slowly over the face of the moon, and, after a while, all its surface was covered with a reddish-gray tint. It was an eclipse, caused by the shadow of the earth being thrown upon the moon. Paulus had known it was coming—an astronomer had told him. And Paulus too warned his army, lest they should be alarmed. The Romans made a great noise by striking brass pans, and they waved lighted torches; for they always acted so, after the manner of their fore- [49] fathers, when an eclipse took place. The Macedonians were silent and sad.

"This shadow on the moon," they whispered, "foretells the fall of our king."

When the moon was shining again as usual, Paulus had eleven young cows slain and burned as an offering to the gods.

The next day the battle joined. Perseus watched his warriors go forward to meet the Romans. The tall men of Thrace had white shields, black jackets, long pikes. Persians also were among the hired fighters. The young men of Macedon had purple coats, their armor and weapons were glittering, their shields were brass. You have heard of the phalanx (fal-anks)—how the men of Macedon held their shields close together, so as to form a wall of brass; and over this wall they thrust their long spears. Enemies would charge wildly against the phalanx, but could seldom break through this living and moving fortress. The Romans were not cowed by the phalanx. At three in the afternoon they made the attack, and by sunset the victory was won, and Paulus returned to his tent, which had been covered with ivy and laurel leaves in token of success.

Perseus fled with the horsemen. The foot-soldiers came up with them, and called them cowards, and pulled some from their steeds. The king feared lest he should be treated likewise. He [50] turned his horse off the highroad, rolled up his purple cloak, placed it in a bundle on his saddle, and galloped away wildly. A few friends went with him. None of them felt respect for this timid prince. One stopped to tie his shoe, another to give drink to a horse, a third to take a draught of water himself. One by one they all left him, except a small body-guard of Cretans (men from the Island of Crete), and they only followed him for pay. Perseus had a large treasure with him; and, in terror lest the Cretans should forsake him, he gave them several gold and silver cups. When he reached a place of safety he actually went to the Cretans, and, with tears in his eyes, begged them to return the cups, for which he promised to pay!

The Romans scoured the land in search of the flying king. Perseus took ship, and sailed to an island in the Grecian sea. The Roman galleys pursued him even there. He bargained with a Crete sailor to carry him, his wife, and children, and treasure, in a ship to another land. The Cretan took the gold and silver, but said to Perseus:

"It will not be safe for you to sail by day. My boat will pass the Roman fleet. The Romans will see only me in it, and will not suspect me. Meet me at yonder point to-night, and I will take you and your family on board."

[51] At the time fixed Perseus was there. The Cretan was not there. A passing islander told him the ship had set sail some hours before. In a few days he was a prisoner in the hands of the Romans, and was brought to the general.

Paulus rose from his seat to meet him. Perseus flung himself on the ground, and caught hold, as a slave might, of the general's knees.

"Oh, sir," he groaned, "show mercy on me; oh, show mercy on me, poor wretch that I am!"

"Wretch, indeed," answered Paulus, "to behave thus. We Romans always respect a foe who is brave, and we feel contempt for cowards."

Paulus then conquered Macedonia. Sometimes his soldiers broke loose, and ran riot in the Greek cities, robbing and plundering. But, so far as he was able, the general kept his army in discipline, and he behaved kindly and humanely to the conquered people. At last he sailed back to Rome, where the citizens were waiting to give him a welcome, or Triumph.

In the galley of Perseus the victor was rowed up the river Tiber. The galley was draped in cloth of scarlet and purple, and spears and bucklers taken from the foe shone brightly on its masts and deck. Multitudes of people stood on the river-banks shouting for joy.

On the first day of the welcoming of Ĉmilius [52] Paulus platforms were set up in the streets of Rome for the people to stand on and watch the procession. The citizens were dressed in white. The gates of all the temples were open, and the temple walls were hung with garlands, and the priests burned sweet incense.

"Here they come!" cried the crowd.

First the lictors, each bearing a bundle of rods. They cleared the way for a long line of chariots, two hundred and fifty in number, conveying images, paintings, and large statues taken from the towns of Macedonia.

On the second day an immense number of wagons filed by, carrying helmets, shields, breast-plates, bucklers, quivers full of arrows, swords, and pikes. After the wagons walked three thousand men in groups of four. Each group of four soldiers bore a box or some such vessel, filled with silver money. There were seven hundred and fifty of these vessels of coin. Other men had bowls, horns, goblets, cups—all of silver.

The last day was the chief day, and all the folk were early astir, clad again in white. Trumpeters sounded a charge. After them trudged one hundred and twenty fat oxen, their horns being gilded, and their necks gay with flowers. Boys followed with gold and silver vessels in their arms. Next appeared many men who brought seventy-seven chests full of gold coin. A chariot rolled by on [53] which could be seen a man's armor in a heap. It had once belonged to King Perseus.

"Poor children," murmured the people, as they gazed at the next chariot.

In this car were the children of Perseus. They stretched out their hands toward the Roman crowd, begging for mercy. There were two boys and one girl, all young.

King Perseus walked behind this chariot. He was dressed in black, and his feet were shod with sandals. Behind him walked a troop of his courtiers, all looking miserable.

Last, the chariot of Paulus, drawn by four white horses, wreathed with garlands. His tunic was purple; his cloak purple, adorned with golden stars; his shoes gilded. An ivory sceptre was in his left hand, a branch of laurel in his right. A slave stood behind him, holding over his head the golden crown of Jupiter.

The Roman people shouted:

"Yo! yo! yo! Triumph! triumph! triumph! Yo! yo!"

But the slave, every now and then, whispered in the general's ear:

"Ah, but remember you are mortal! Remember you will die!"

Thus the Romans taught themselves to be humble in the midst of their glory.

The soldiers of the army brought up the rear, [54] singing lustily, and shouting, "Yo! Yo! Triumph!"

Alas! the general's heart was sorrowful. Five days before the Triumph his son, aged fourteen, had died.

And another grief was to come. Three days after the Triumph another son, aged twelve, also died.

At a meeting of the citizens Ĉmilius Paulus spoke.

"Friends," he said, "the winds of Fortune blow soft and fair, and sometimes they blow in dreadful tempest. In fifteen days I conquered Macedonia. I took much spoil, and had princes among my prisoners. Thus did Fortune blow fair. But two of my dear sons are now no more. I have buried them in the days of my triumph. The sons of Perseus, who was conquered, are still alive. The sons of Paulus, who conquered, are dead."

The people listened in deep silence, their hearts touched by the general's grief.

When Ĉmilius Paulus died the city greatly mourned. His bier (or funeral litter) was carried by young Macedonians and Spaniards. And some old Macedonians and Spaniards went behind, saying:

"He was good to us, even when he conquered us."


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