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Famous Men of Rome by  John H. Haaren & A. B. Poland


 

 

THE HORATII AND THE CURIATII

I

[33] THE third king of Rome was Tullus Hostilius. In his reign a remarkable combat took place between three Roman brothers and three Latin brothers. The combat came about in this way:

For years the people of Rome and the people of Alba, also called Latins, as has been already said, were continually quarreling. They would invade and plunder each other's lands. At last, after many petty contests, war was declared between the two nations.

King Tullus marched the Roman army to the border of Alba, but here his progress was stopped by a great force of Latins, under the command of Mettius, the Alban king.

Tullus looked at the strong lines of Latin soldiers, standing firm and resolute to resist the advance of the Romans, and thought that it might be well to have a talk with Mettius to see whether they could not agree on some way of settling the quarrel with- [34] out a fight between the two armies. So he sent for Mettius and they talked the matter over. Mettius also wished very much to avoid a battle, and he said to Tullus:

"Would it not be well to fight in such a way that only a few of our soldiers would be killed instead of many? My plan is this: You shall select three of the best fighting men in the Roman army, and I will select the best three in the army of Alba. The six men shall fight in the presence of the two armies. If the Romans win Alba will submit to Rome; but if the Latins win then Rome must submit to Alba. What say you to the plan?"

"It is a good one," said King Tullus, "and I agree to it. May the best men win!"

With these words they separated, and went to prepare for the combat on which was to depend the fate of the two nations.

II

THE Romans selected as their champions three brothers belonging to a family known as the Horatius family. The brothers were called the Horatii because this word is the plural form of Horatius. The Horatii brothers were tall, handsome men, with wonderful strength, endurance, and courage.

[35] The Albans also selected three brothers as their champions. They were called the Curiatii. They were bold, skillful soldiers, famous for manly beauty and strength, and were champions well worthy to fight for a nation.


[Illustration]

THE HORATII GOING FORTH TO BATTLE

When all was ready the Horatii and the Curiatii advanced to the centre of a large field and took their places. They carried short, thick swords and large, round shields made of stout leather and metal. The two armies gathered around the six champions, [36] but at a distance, so as to leave them plenty of room to fight.

There was silence for a few moments, and then the shrill notes of a trumpet rang out as a signal for the battle. Clash! clang! went the swords upon the shields, and the fight began.

Quick, skillful blows were given for a short time, but no one was seriously hurt. Suddenly the Latins shouted in intense excitement. Lo! one of the Horatii, after a fierce struggle with one of the Curiatii, was stricken down dead! The Romans groaned, hung their heads, and looked in anxious doubt at their remaining two champions.

Bravely the Horatii stood—two to three—and fought with all their might. Step by step they drove the Curiatii back across the field. Cheers rang out from the Romans at this heroic effort. The victory might yet be theirs!

But alas! one of the Curiatii, with a swift, sly sword-thrust, killed another of the Horatii. Then the Latins shouted:

"We have won! We have won! We have won! Hail to the brave Curiatii!"

The Romans were wild with grief and rage. They had now but one champion left—Horatius, the last of the heroic Horatii—and he was running from the field, as if he had given up the fight. He [37] was followed by the Curiatii, though they were all wounded. One of them, running ahead of the others, came up to Horatius and was raising his sword when the Roman turned upon him quickly and slew him.

The cries of the two armies were now hushed, as if by magic. All eyes were upon the champions, and there was a painful silence.

Another of the Curiatii now came up and began to fight Horatius. But the Roman met the attack with great coolness and skill, and soon killed the second Latin. Thus, under the pretence of running away, Horatius separated the Curiatii and slew two of them. Then he advanced in a furious manner on the other Latin and began a desperate fight with him. Soon he struck him down with a deadly blow. Rome was victorious! From the whole Roman army now came the cry, as if from one man:

"Hail to the brave Horatius! Hail to the champion and savior of his country!"

Then they seized Horatius in their arms and bore him in triumph to King Tullus, who placed on his head the laurel wreath of victory. This was one of the ways by which the Romans honored any of their soldiers who had been very brave in battle. But they also honored Horatius by erecting a statue of him in one of the temples of the city.

III

[38] WITH songs of joy the army marched back to Rome. Horatius walked by the side of the king. A throng of women came forth from the gates of the city, eager to greet the soldiers and to rejoice with them over the great victory. The sister of Horatius was in the throng. She had been secretly engaged to be married to one of the Curiatii, for the Romans and Albans were near neighbors and frequently visited one another in times of peace. When she learned that her brother had slain her lover she began to weep bitterly. Then pointing at Horatius she cried out:

"You have killed my lover. Do not come near me. I hate and curse you."

Horatius, in a fit of anger, suddenly drew his sword and stabbed her to the heart. As she fell dead at his feet he cried in a loud voice:

"So perish the Roman maiden who weeps for her country's enemy!"

For this shocking murder Horatius was tried and sentenced to death. But the people would not allow the sentence to be carried out. He was made to do a certain penance for the crime and afterwards was set free.


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