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TARQUINIUS SUPERBUS, the seventh king of Rome, was not
only a builder, but also a great warrior. During his
reign he made war against the Volscians, and he also
besieged the city of Gabii, where the patricians who
did not like him had taken refuge.
This city was so favorably situated, and so well
fortified, that Tarquin could not make himself master
of it, although his army was unusually well trained.
 Seeing that he could not take it by force, he soon
decided to try to win it by fraud. He therefore
directed his son, Sextus Tarquinius, to go to Gabii,
and win admittance to the city by saying that the king
had ill-treated him, and that he had come to ask
protection. Sextus was as wicked as his father, so he
did not scruple to tell this lie; and he set out
immediately for Gabii.
When the people heard the pitiful tale which Sextus
told, they not only let him into the city, but also
revealed to him their secrets. Then they made him
general of their army, and even gave him the keys of
the gates. Sextus was now all-powerful at Gabii, but he
did not know exactly what to do next, so he sent a
messenger to his father, to tell him all that had
happened, and to ask his advice.
The messenger found Tarquin in his garden, slowly
walking up and down between the flower borders. He
delivered all his messages, and then asked what reply
he should carry back to Sextus at Gabii.
Instead of answering the man, Tarquin slowly turned and
walked down the garden path, striking off the heads of
the tallest poppies with his staff. The messenger
waited for a while in silence, and then again asked
what answer he should take to his master.
Tarquin came back to him, and carelessly said: "Go back
to Gabii, and tell my son that I had no answer to send
him, but be sure to tell him where you found me, and
what I was doing."
The man went back to Sextus, and reported all he had
seen. After thinking the matter over for a little
while, Sextus understood why no verbal message had been
 It was for fear their plans would become known;
and then he decided that his father, by striking off
the heads of the tallest flowers, meant to advise him
to get rid of the principal men in the city.
This advice pleased the young prince, who now sought,
and soon found, a pretext for getting rid of all the
most prominent people of Gabii, without arousing any
suspicions. When all the bravest men had been either
exiled or slain, there was no one left who dared to
oppose him. Then Sextus opened the gates of the city
and handed it over to the Romans.