|The Story of the Romans|
|by Helene A. Guerber|
| Elementary history of Rome, presenting short stories of the great heroes, mythical and historical, from Aeneas and the founding of Rome to the fall of the western empire. Around the famous characters of Rome are graphically grouped the great events with which their names will forever stand connected. Vivid descriptions bring to life the events narrated, making history attractive to the young, and awakening their enthusiasm for further reading and study. Ages 10-14 |
THE DISASTER AT THE CAUDINE FORKS
VALERIUS was not the only Roman who gained a name from meeting a
Gaul in single combat. Another was a member of the
Manlius family, to which, as you know, the savior of
Manlius, like Valerius, succeeded in killing his enemy,
and, as a trophy, he took from the dead body the
torque, or necklace of twisted gold, which was
generally worn by Gallic chiefs. Because he liked to
appear with this ornament around his neck, the Romans
surnamed him Torquatus, which means "the man with the necklace."
Torquatus in time was elected consul, and thus had
command of the Roman troops. He thought that the
soldiers were badly trained, and that the discipline
was poor; so he made up his mind to reform the army. He
therefore gave strict orders that every soldier should
obey promptly, and added that he would put to death any
man who ventured to rush into battle without waiting
 Each Roman soldier was anxious to distinguish himself,
and some of the men did not like this command. In the
very next battle the general's own son was so eager to
begin the fight that he was the first to disobey the
orders just given.
Knowing that discipline must be maintained at any
price, Torquatus sent for his son as soon as the
fighting was over. Then, true to his promise, he had
the offender executed in the presence of the whole
This example of military justice so awed the Romans
that none of them ever dared to disobey their general
again. Order and discipline were restored, and the army
returned to Rome victorious. There the senate
congratulated Torquatus, not only upon his success,
but also upon
the courage he had shown in keeping his word even at
the sacrifice of his own son's life.
The senate never failed to compliment and reward a
victorious general, but these same men always
considered it a great disgrace when their army was
defeated, and they often visited their displeasure upon
its unlucky commander.
Therefore, when Spurius Posthumius, one of their
consuls, fell into an ambush during a war with the
Samnites, they were greatly displeased. The Romans
were caught in a mountain defile, called the Caudine Forks, and, being surrounded on all sides, were forced
to surrender. Then the whole army had to submit to the
humiliation of passing under the yoke, and the consul
was made to promise that Rome would never renew the
When Posthumius came back to Rome, he was severely
reproved by the senators, who were very angry indeed
 because he had agreed to fight no more. In their wrath,
they vowed that his promise to the Samnites should
never be kept. Then Posthumius told them that, since
they disapproved of his conduct so greatly, they had
better bind him hand and foot, and send him back to the
Strange to relate, the senate took advantage of this
generosity, and Posthumius, bound like a criminal, was
led to the Samnite camp. When the enemy heard that,
although bound so securely, he had come there only by
his own free will, they were struck with admiration for
his courage. They knew that the Romans were going to
continue the war, but they refused to take vengeance on
Posthumius, and sent him home unharmed.
We are told that another Roman, also, showed great
patriotism during the wars against the Samnites. This
was the consul Decius, who overheard the augurs say
that the victory would belong to the army whose
commander was generous enough to sacrifice his life for
his country's sake.
As soon as the signal was given, therefore, Decius
rushed into the very midst of the foe. Without
attempting to strike a single blow, or to defend
himself, he sank beneath the blows of the enemy.
The soldiers, fired by the example of Decius, fought so
bravely for their country's sake that they soon won a
brilliant victory, and could return home in triumph.
Many wars were thus waged by the Romans during the
years which followed the visit of the Gauls. They took
many towns, gradually extended the boundaries of the
Roman state, and, after waging three wars against their
principal foes, the Samnites, they hoped to have peace.
 The Samnites, who had thrice risen up against the
Romans, were a powerful people, and were very brave.
They lived in the country east and southeast of Latium,
and one of their principal towns was Herculaneum, about which you will hear some very interesting things
a little later.
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