IN the mountains east of Latium there lived a rather wild people called
Æquians, who were very often at war with Rome. After some time of peace
and good conduct these people suddenly began to plunder the rich farms of
the Romans. This was about four hundred and fifty years before the birth of
Christ and not long after the Veientians had destroyed the Fabian family.
As soon as the Roman Senate heard what the Æquians were doing it sent
messengers to the Æquian king to complain of the wrong. The messengers
found the king in his camp, sitting near a huge oak tree. But when they
spoke to him he answered them rudely, saying:
"I am too busy now with other matters. Go tell your message to the oak
This made the messengers very angry, and one of the them said:
"We shall tell it to the oak, but we shall tell it also to the gods and call
them to witness how you
 have broken the peace! And they shall be on our side when we come to punish
you and your people for the crimes you have committed against us."
And it is said that the angry messengers did tell the message to the oak,
and to all the other trees around, and boldly shouted that war would come
from this insult to Rome.
Then the messengers returned to Rome and told the Senate how they had been
insulted by the Æquian king. The Senate at once declared war against the
Æquians and ordered the Consul Minucius to lead an army against them.
The Romans easily won a few battles at first. Then the Æquians began to
retreat as if they did not mean to fight any more. The Romans followed
swiftly, until they were drawn into a narrow valley on each side of which
were high, rocky hills. It was a trap, and the Romans knew it before they
had marched very far from the entrance.
The Æquian king then closed up the valley with strong barricades and placed
his troops at the entrance and along the hills, so that the Romans could not
In the valley there was very little grass for the horses and no food for the
men, so that if the Romans were not soon relieved both they and their horses
would die of hunger.
 BUT luckily for the Romans a few of their horsemen had managed to get out of
the valley before the Æquians closed it. These horsemen rode as fast as
they could to Rome and told the Senate how Minucius and his soldiers were
placed. What was to be done? No one seemed to know at first, but after a
good deal of discussion, a senator said:
"Let us make Lucius Quinctius dictator. He is the only man who can save
The Senate agreed to this, and so Lucius Quinctius was chosen dictator. A
dictator had more power than the Senate or the consuls. All his commands
had to be obeyed just as if he were a king. But there was not a dictator
always. A dictator was appointed only when there was some great danger, and
he held office only for six months.
Lucius Quinctius belonged to a noble family. He was a great soldier and had
won many battles for his country. He had such beautiful, long, curly hair
that the people called him
which means curly-haired, and
this is the name by which he is known in history.
At the time Cincinnatus was appointed dictator he lived on a small farm
outside of Rome. He
 worked on the farm himself, and when the messengers from the Senate came to
tell him that he had been chosen dictator they found him ploughing in one of
his fields. He left his plough where it stood and hastened to Rome, where
he was welcomed by all the people.
The first thing he did was to raise a new army. He gave orders that every
man of suitable age should buckle on his sword and be ready in a few hours
to march to the help of Minucius and his soldiers.
Before evening Cincinnatus and his army marched out of the city for the
Alban Hills, where the Romans were shut up. They reached the place in the
early morning and formed in a line all around the hills. The Æquians then
found themselves hemmed in on every side between two Roman armies—the army
of Minucius and the army of Cincinnatus. They fought as well as they could,
but they were quickly overpowered, so that they could do nothing but cry to
the Roman commander to spare their lives.
Cincinnatus spared their lives, but he made them pass under the yoke.
The yoke was formed of two spears, fixed upright in the ground, and a third
fastened across near the top from one to the other. Cincinnatus made the
Æquians lay down their
 arms and pass out, every man of them, under the yoke of spears. They had to
bend their heads as they did so, for the spears were not very long, and the
one on the top was only a few feet from the ground. The yoke was set up
between two lines of Roman soldiers, and as the Æquians passed under it the
Romans jeered at them and taunted them.
Having to pass under the yoke was regarded as the greatest disgrace that
could happen to soldiers. Many much preferred to suffer death. The
practice has given to our language the word subjugate, meaning to subdue
or conquer, from the Latin words sub, under, and jugum, a yoke.
PASSING UNDER THE YOKE
When the soldiers of Consul Minucius came out of the valley they shouted for
joy and crowded
 around Cincinnatus, thanking him as their deliverer and protector. "Let us
give Cincinnatus a golden crown!" they cried; but the great general only
smiled, shook his head, and gave the order for the homeward march.
Great was the rejoicing in Rome when the news of the victory was received.
The Senate ordered that there should be a general holiday and a grand parade
through the city. And so the victorious army marched into Rome amid the
shouts and cheers of the people.
Cincinnatus rode in a splendid chariot drawn by six handsome black horses.
He wore the dress of dictator of Rome, and on his head was a laurel wreath.
Behind his chariot the Æquian king and his chiefs walked, looking very
humble and forlorn. Following them were slaves laden with the arms and
other valuable things taken from the enemy's camp. With bugles and trumpets
gayly sounding, the parade went through the city. The chariot of
Cincinnatus was followed by a throng of people cheering and crying, "Hail to
the Dictator! Hail to the Conqueror!" Flowers were showered upon him and
thrown before his chariot wheels.
A few days afterward Cincinnatus gave up the office of dictator and went
back to his little farm.