Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
APPIUS CLAUDIUS CÆCUS
 SOON after the defeat of the Gauls there lived in Rome a great man named
Appius Claudius. He belonged to one of the highest families of the
city. He was consul for two years, and for several years he held the office
of censor (312-308 B.C.).
The censor was a very high and important officer. He was not only head of
the department for taking the census, but he had charge of the collecting of
the taxes, the erecting of public buildings, and the making of roads and
Appius Claudius was a great soldier. Every Roman citizen had to be a
soldier, and every man who was consul had to be able to lead armies and to
fight and win battles. But Appius Claudius was chiefly famous for the great
public works he planned and directed in Rome, which at that time was a city
with a population of about three hundred thousand. One of these works was
an aqueduct which brought water to the city from a lake eight miles distant.
The Roman aqueducts were the best in the world.
 Some of them that were built over two thousand years ago are still in use.
But the greatest work of Appius Claudius was the making of a road from Rome
to Capua, a distance of one hundred and twenty miles. This road was
called the Appian Way in honor of Appius. It was also called the "queen of
roads" because it was so well built. Parts of it are still in existence.
The Romans had good roads as well as good aqueducts. They were the best
road-builders in the world.
THE APPIAN WAY
 While he was censor Appius Claudius very much improved Rome. He was called
"the greatest of his countrymen in the works of peace." Even after he
retired from office he had great influence in public affairs. His advice
was asked by both plebeians and nobles.
Once during the first war which the Romans had with the Greeks the advice of
Appius was of great benefit to Rome. At that time there were many Greek
settlements in the south of Italy. One of the Greek towns was called
Tarentum. It was built close to the sea and had a very good harbor.
Many of the people of this town were well educated. In those days the
Greeks were mostly an educated people. They were fond of learning and of
art. They called the Romans barbarians and were not friendly to them.
Once when a Roman fleet entered the bay of Tarentum, the people of the town
attacked it and after taking five of the ships put the crews to death. When
the news of this outrage reached Rome the Senate sent ambassadors to demand
satisfaction. One of the ambassadors was a man named Lucius Posthumius. When they arrived at Tarentum they were met by a noisy crowd
of people of the town, who made fun of their dress.
The Romans wore an outer dress called a toga.
 It was a large white woollen cloth, in the shape of a half circle, four or
five yards long and of nearly the same width. In putting on this garment
they doubled it lengthwise, then passed one end over the left shoulder and
under the opposite arm and again over the left shoulder, the other end
reaching nearly to the ground in front. The Tarentines laughed at the toga
of the Roman ambassadors. They said it was a dress fit only for savages.
ROMAN WITH TOGA
In a short time the ambassadors were taken to the public theatre, where the
people had assembled to hear the message from Rome. Posthumius spoke to
them in Greek, but as this was not his own language he pronounced many of
the words in a peculiar way, and the Tarentines laughed. The Roman went on,
however, in a dignified manner and finished his speech as if he had not
noticed the insult.
Just then a Tarentine moved forward to the place where Posthumius stood and
threw some dirt on his white toga. The ambassador held up the soiled
garment with his hand and said that Tarentum would be made to suffer for the
outrage. Then the theatre rang with laughter and offensive cries.
 "Laugh on," said Posthumius, "you may laugh now but you shall weep
hereafter. The stain on this toga shall be washed out in your blood!"
Then the ambassadors left the theatre and at once set out for Rome. When
they appeared before the Senate Posthumius showed the stain on his toga as
proof of the insult offered to Rome by the Tarentines. The Senate at once
declared war on Tarentum and sent a powerful army to attack it.
AT this time the Tarentines had no general they thought would be able to
fight the Romans. So they sent across the sea to Epirus, in Greece, for
the king of that country to come and help them. The name of this king was
Pyrrhus. He was a great soldier and commander and was nearly always
engaged in war. He consented to help the Tarentines and crossed over to
Italy with a great army in which there was a number of fighting elephants.
When Pyrrhus entered Tarentum he made himself master of the city. The
Tarentines were very fond of plays and amusements of all kinds. Pyrrhus
closed the theatres, stopped all the amusements and made the people drill as
soldiers all day long.
As soon as he was ready to fight he marched out
 with his army of Greeks and Tarentines against the Romans, and there was a
great battle near the city of Heraclea. Both sides fought well for
hours, but the Greeks at last began to fall back. They could not stand
against the steady, fierce attacks made by the Romans.
Then Pyrrhus brought his elephants upon the field. He had seventy of them,
and they were thoroughly trained to fight. They would run into the ranks of
the enemy, knock the soldiers down and trample them to death, or lay hold of
them with their trunks and throw them high into the air.
ELEPHANTS OF PYRRHUS
As the elephants stood in line waiting for the order to charge, the Romans
looked at them with wonder and fear. They knew nothing about elephants, for
they had never seen any before. And when the huge beasts came charging
furiously across the field, making strange noises, many of the Roman
 were terribly frightened and began to run away. The elephants killed
hundreds of them, and in a few minutes the Roman army was put to flight.
It was saved from entire destruction by only one thing. A Roman soldier was
brave enough to rush at an elephant while it was charging and cut off a part
of its trunk with his sword. The animal, wild with pain, turned and ran
back to the Greek lines, trampling down the soldiers and causing a great
deal of confusion. In the excitement the Romans managed to escape across a
river to a friendly city where they were safe.
Pyrrhus won the victory, but he lost thousands of men. When he saw the
great number of his soldiers that lay dead on the field, he exclaimed:
"A few more such victories and I must return to Epirus alone!"
SHORTLY after the battle Pyrrhus sent his friend and favorite minister,
Cineas, to Rome to offer terms of peace to the Senate. Cineas was a very
eloquent man. Often when Pyrrhus could not conquer people in battle, Cineas
by his clever speeches induced them to submit to the king and be his
friends. This was why the Greeks used to say,
 "The tongue of Cineas wins more cities than the sword of Pyrrhus."
Cineas proposed to the Roman Senate that the Romans should not make war any
longer on the Tarentines, nor on any of the Italian tribes that had helped
them, and that all the lands Rome had taken from these tribes in past years
should be given back. If the Romans would agree to these terms, then
Pyrrhus would be their true friend.
The terms were not good for Rome, but Cineas was so smooth-spoken and so
pleasant in proposing them that many of the senators were inclined to accept
them. One day while they were discussing the matter in the Senate a
thrilling scene occurred.
Appius Claudius was still living in Rome. He was very old and had become
blind. For this reason he got the name Cæcus,
a word which is Latin
for blind. But his mind was remarkably clear, and he had not lost
interest in public affairs. When he heard that the Senate was going to
accept the terms offered by Pyrrhus he rose from his bed declaring that he
would go and speak against the proposal.
So he was carried by his slaves to the Senate house, and his sons led the
aged man to his seat. He began his speech amidst the deepest silence. His
youth seemed to come back to him. Once
 more he was the bold censor of thirty years before. In fiery words he spoke
against the plan for peace, saying it would be base and cowardly to yield to
the Greek king.
"Let us fight on," he said, "as long as we have soldiers. Shall we submit
to this Greek invader merely because we have lost one battle? Never!
Never! I say. Better to lose all that we have than to disgrace ourselves
APPIUS CLAUDIUS IN THE SENATE
The patriotic old man went on speaking in this way until his strength failed
him and he sank exhausted into his seat. His speech had so much effect on
the senators that they immediately voted against the proposal of Pyrrhus and
ordered Cineas to depart from Rome.
Then the war was carried on vigorously. A great battle was fought at
Asculum, and again the Romans were defeated by the Greeks. But they were
not discouraged. The Consul Curius Dentatus fought another battle
against Pyrrhus at Beneventum, and won a glorious victory. The Greeks
were utterly defeated, and Pyrrhus soon afterwards left Italy and returned
to his own country.
Then the Romans speedily took possession of Tarentum and made its people pay
well for their insult to the Roman ambassadors.