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The Story of the Romans by  H. A. Guerber


 

 

THE SACRED GEESE

[106] ROME was all destroyed except the Capitol, where the little army was intrenched behind the massive walls which had been built with such care by Tarquin. This fortress, as you may remember, was situated on the top of the Capitoline hill, so that the Gauls could not easily become masters of it.

Whenever they tried to scale the steep mountain side, the Romans showered arrows and stones down upon them; and day after day the Gauls remained in their camp at the foot of the Capitol, hoping to starve the Romans into surrender.

The garrison understood that this was the plan which Brennus had made; so, to convince him that it was vain, they threw loaves of bread down into his camp. When the chief of the Gauls saw these strange missiles, he began to doubt the success of his plan; for if the Romans could [107] use bread as stones, they were still far from the point of dying of hunger.

One night, however, a sentinel in the Gallic camp saw a barefooted Roman soldier climbing noiselessly down the steep rock on which the Capitol was built. The man had gone to carry a message to the fugitives from Rome, asking them to come to the army's relief.

The sentinel at once reported to Brennus what he had seen; and the Gallic chief resolved to make a bold attempt to surprise the Romans on the next night. While the weary garrison were sound asleep, the Gauls silently scaled the rocks, following the course which the Roman soldier had taken in coming down.

The barbarians were just climbing over the wall, when an accidental clanking of their armor awoke the sacred geese which were kept in the Capitol. The startled fowls began cackling so loudly that they roused a Roman soldier named Manlius.

As this man glanced toward the wall, he saw the tall form of a barbarian looming up against the sky. To spring forward, and hurl the Gaul down headlong, was but the work of a moment. The man, in falling, struck his companions, whose foothold was anything but secure, and all the Gauls rolled to the foot of the rock, as Manlius gave the alarm.

All hope of surprising the Capitol was now at an end, so Brennus offered to leave Rome, on condition that the senate would give him one thousand pounds of gold. This was a heavy price to pay for a ruined city, but the Romans agreed to give it.

When they brought the precious metal and began to [108] weigh it, they found that the barbarians had placed false weights in the scales, so as to obtain more gold than they were entitled to receive. The Romans complained; but Brennus, instead of listening to them, flung his sword also into the scales, saying, scornfully, "Woe to the vanquished!"

While the Romans stood there hesitating, not knowing what to do, the exiled Camillus entered the city with an army, and came to their aid. When he heard the insolent demands of the barbarians, he bade the senators take back the gold, and proudly exclaimed:

"Rome ransoms itself with the sword, and not with gold!"

Next, he challenged Brennus to fight, and a battle soon took place in which the Gauls were defeated with great slaughter, and driven out of the country. As soon as they were fairly gone, the fugitive Romans began to return, and many were the laments when they beheld their ruined homes.

Instead of wasting time in useless tears, however, they soon set to work to rebuild their dwellings from the stones found in the ruins; and as each citizen placed his house wherever he pleased, the result was very irregular and unsightly.

Manlius, the soldier who saved the Capitol from the barbarians, was rewarded by being given the surname of Capitolinus, and a house and pension. He was so proud of these honors, however, that he soon wanted to become king of Rome. He formed a plot to obtain possession of the city, but this was discovered before it could be carried out.

[109] Manlius Capitolinus was therefore accused of treachery, and arrested. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. Like any other traitor, he was flung from the top of the Tarpeian Rock, and thus he perished at the foot of the mountain which he had once saved from the assault of the Gauls.


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