|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 |
PYRRHUS AND HIS ELEPHANTS
ALTHOUGH defeated in three separate wars, the Samnites
were not entirely subdued. They knew,
however, that they would never be able to conquer Rome
alone; so they began to look about them for a very
South of their country, and near the sea, were several
cities founded by Greek colonies which had come there
many years before. These cities were rich and thriving,
and so powerful that their alliance was sought after by
many of the Italian towns and tribes.
One of the strongest of the Greek cities was
Tarentum, situated on what is now called the Gulf of
Taranto. The Samnites, therefore, turned to this city
for aid, and soon entered into an alliance with it.
They knew that the people of Tarentum had earned most
of their money by
trading, and that they had a great many ships, and
cruised all about the Mediterranean Sea.
Not long after the alliance had been formed between the
Samnites and Tarentines, the Romans complained that
their vessels had been attacked by Tarentine sailors,
 asked redress. The Greek city refused to apologize or
to pay damages; so the quarrel between the two parties
ended in a declaration of war.
But the people of Tarentum did not feel strong enough,
even with the aid of the Samnites, to meet the Roman
army; and they asked for help from Epirus, a Greek
country on the other side of the Adriatic Sea.
Pyrrhus, the King of Epirus, was a brave man and a
good general. His greatest ambition was to imitate
Alexander the Great, and to conquer the whole world.
He therefore thought that this would be an excellent
chance to begin, and sent a large army over to Italy.
To complete the treaty of alliance with Tarentum, he
also sent a man named Cineas, who was famous for his
eloquence, and who was a pupil of the great orator,
Demosthenes. Pyrrhus himself soon came over to
Italy, where he proudly viewed his force of twenty-five
thousand men, and his elephants which were trained for
Pyrrhus and his Elephants.
Upon arriving in southern Italy, Pyrrhus gazed with
contempt upon the Tarentines. He despised them because
they hired soldiers to do their fighting for them, and
spent all their days in eating and lounging, and in
attending the baths or the theaters.
Pyrrhus therefore told them that unless they hardened
themselves by exercise, they would never be able to
fight; and he ordered both baths and theaters to be
closed. Next he tried to drill them, and to make them
as good warriors as his own soldiers, whom he formed
into a phalanx as the great Alexander of
done with his troops.
Now, although the people of southern Italy were so
 weak and indolent, Pyrrhus knew that the Romans were
foes worthy of him. He had often heard of their
fighting, and he suspected that the Roman legions were
a match even for the Macedonian phalanx.
Both sides were therefore very anxious to win; and when
the armies met at Heraclea, there was a terrible
battle. The Romans had never seen any elephants before,
and they were terrified when they heard these animals
trumpet, and saw them catch the soldiers up with their
trunks, dash them down, and crush them under their huge
In spite of their fear the Romans fought with the
utmost valor, but they were finally forced to retreat.
They lost fifteen thousand men on this disastrous day,
and eighteen hundred were made prisoners.
Pyrrhus won a victory, but he was obliged to pay for it
very dearly, and lost so many soldiers that he was
heard to exclaim: "One more victory like this, and I
shall have to go home without any army."
As he was the victor, he remained on the battlefield,
and on the next day he walked all over it. The ground
was strewn with the dead, but every Roman soldier had
evidently perished from a wound in front, which proved
that there was not a single coward among them.
Pyrrhus was so struck with admiration at this
circumstance, and at the sight of all those faces,
which even in death bore the expression of stern
resolve, that he exclaimed aloud:
"Ah, how easily I could conquer the world, had I the
Romans for soldiers, or if they had me for king!"
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics