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Our Young Folks' Plutarch by  Rosalie Kaufman


 

 

AEMILIUS PAULUS

THE Æmilian family was one of the oldest among the Roman nobility, and the subject of this chapter was descended from it. He lived at a time when Rome was full of celebrated men, and even among these Paulus was so conspicuous for bravery, honesty, and justice, that when he was nominated with thirteen others for the office of ædile he won it, though the remaining candidates were men of such merit that each, in course of time, became consul.

An ædile was an officer or magistrate who had care of the pub- [319] lic buildings, games, and roads, and his position was one of great importance in Rome.

Later in life Æmilius Paulus was appointed augur, and then he showed how the worship of the gods might be called a science. The augurs were those priests who had so much power that they could encourage or put a stop to any public affair by interpreting the signs in nature or the flight of birds, favorably or otherwise, as they chose. While Paulus held this office he gave himself up to it entirely, studied all the ancient ceremonies, and never permitted even the most trifling of them to be altered or omitted. For he said that although the Deity might forgive neglect because He was merciful, yet it was dangerous for the state to do so, because those who were careless about trifles were sure to overlook important duties at one time or another.

He was likewise particular in observing the ancient Roman discipline in military affairs, even though by doing so he ran the risk of making himself unpopular with the soldiers; for he thought that it was impossible to beat an enemy unless the citizens were under strict control. It must be remembered that the Roman soldiers were at the same time citizens, who had votes in all the important civil and military affairs.

While the Romans were fighting Antiochus the Great, King of Syria, a war broke out in Spain, and Æmilius was sent there in command of the army. He went with all the dignity of a consul, though he was really only a prætor; but instead of having six axes carried before him as the other prætors did, he had twelve. He was very successful in Spain, and conquered two hundred and fifty cities there, but did not enrich himself at all by the war.

He had two wives. The first one was named Papiria, and became the mother of the renowned Scipio and of Fabius Maximus, who was consul five times. But the marriage was not a happy one, and resulted in divorce. Then Æmilius married again, and had two more sons.

When he was created consul, he was sent upon an expedition against the Ligurians, a warlike people, whose country was at the foot of the Alps. They had an army of forty thousand, and Æmilius had only eight thousand, but he routed them completely and shut them up within their walls. However, after destroying [320] their fortifications, he returned their cities to them, set at liberty a number of prisoners, then carried off all their large ships and went back to Rome.

He was anxious to be appointed consul a second time, but on being defeated at the election, gave it up and devoted himself to his duties as augur, and to the education of his children. He sent to Greece for professors, who instructed his boys in grammar, logic, rhetoric, modelling, and drawing, as well as in field sports and the management of dogs and horses. He was considered the most affectionate father in Rome, and was always present at the lessons and exercises of his children when not hindered by public affairs.

There came a time when the Romans were engaged in a war with the Macedonians. Perseus, who was then on the throne, was so well prepared that, although he was neither wise nor brave, he succeeded in defeating one consul after another, and the Romans began to wonder what could now be the matter with their army that had so long been the terror of more powerful commanders than the Macedonian king. At last, when they heard that he had engaged the Gauls and several other nations to join him, and was contemplating an invasion of Italy from the Adriatic shore, they thought it time to secure a general capable of managing so great an affair.

Paulus Æmilius was then sixty years of age, but he was in robust health, and the people turned to him in their need and called him to the consulship. At first he refused, for he no longer desired to hold office, but as he was daily urged to make his appearance at the Forum, he at last yielded, and placed himself among the candidates. He was unanimously elected, and put in command of the Macedonian war.

When he returned home he found his little daughter, Tertia, in tears, and asked her what was the matter. She put her arms around his neck, and, kissing him, said, "Oh, father, do you not know that Perseus is dead?" She meant a pet dog that had been brought up in the house with her. Æmilius replied, "That is a lucky incident, my child; I embrace the omen."

It was the custom among the Romans for those who were elected consuls to address the people from the rostrum and thank them for the honor. When Æmilius made his speech, he told them that he [321] had applied for the first consulship because he wanted a command; but now they had applied to him because they wanted a commander; therefore he had nothing to thank them for. If they thought any other could manage the war better, he was willing to give up his charge; but if they confided in him, they were not to interfere with his orders, but were to supply him with the means of carrying on the war without question. For if they wanted to command their general, the expedition would be ridiculous. The Romans were much pleased with this address, and submitted, as they always did, to reason and virtue, in the hope that they might one day become masters of the world.

Paulus Æmilius set out at great speed, and soon reached the Roman camp. He did not fear Perseus, but he was struck with surprise and admiration when he beheld the strength of his army and the extent of his preparations. The Macedonian king had four thousand horse and nearly forty thousand foot soldiers, and he had chosen his position by the sea-side, at the base of Mount Olympus, with fences and barricades of wood on all sides. He felt very secure, and had no doubt that, with his immense wealth and great advantages, he could worry and tire out the consul.

Now, the habit Æmilius had formed of paying attention to details served him well, and led him to weigh every method of attack and to provide against surprises. When his soldiers showed impatience and presumed to give advice, he bade them not to meddle with what did not concern them, but to take care that they and their weapons were ready for use when their commander should see fit to employ them. He ordered the sentinels to stand guard unarmed, because he knew that if they had no means of defending themselves they would be watchful and not likely to fall asleep. He had wells dug along the foot of the mountain to provide plenty of fresh water for his men, and attended to many other such matters before he made his plans for battle.

Never were two great armies known to be so close together and yet to enjoy so much quiet. During the few days that Æmilius took for consideration he was informed that there was one passage that Perseus had left unguarded. It was a rough, difficult one, but a council was called to discuss whether or not to make an attempt through it. Among those present was Scipio, surnamed Nasica, [322] son-in-law to Scipio Africanus. As soon as the expedition was decided on he was the first to propose himself for the command, and the second was Fabius Maximus, eldest son of Æmilius.

That very night they set out with about eight thousand soldiers, marched several hours, and encamped under the temple of Apollo, high up on Mount Olympus. During the march a deserter had made his way to Perseus and told him of the approach of Nasica. He was startled at the news, because, as Æmilius had remained quietly with his troops, there was no suspicion of any attack being made. Perseus immediately sent twelve thousand soldiers, under the command of Milo, to take possession of the unguarded pass. They met the Romans on the mountain, where a severe battle was fought. They were defeated, and those that were not killed threw away their armor, and, headed by Milo, fled shamefully back to camp.

This was a serious disappointment to Perseus, and he removed his troops in haste, but his friends encouraged him by telling him that his army was superior in numbers, and must be courageous, since they were fighting for the defence of their wives and children. Then Perseus pitched his camp again in a spot that offered every advantage for his army, and commanded that the Romans should be attacked as soon as they approached.

Meanwhile, Æmilius had rejoined Nasica, and advanced with his whole army. But when he beheld the enemy in all the magnificence of battle-array, his confidence was shaken, and he halted. The young commanders urged him on, particularly Nasica, who felt encouraged by his late victory. Æmilius turned to him with a smile, and said, "I would not hesitate were I of your age; but many victories have taught me the ways in which men are defeated, and forbid me to engage soldiers, weary with a long march, against an army drawn up and prepared for battle."

That night the moon, which was full, grew gradually dark, and became totally eclipsed. Æmilius had been prepared for this event by an astronomer in his army, and, as he had studied the cause of eclipses, he felt no superstitious terror with regard to them, and had informed his soldiers that there was to be one. But he was pious, and religiously observed sacrifices and the art of divination, so as soon as the moon shone out again, he offered [323] up to her eleven heifers. When day dawned, he sacrificed twenty more to Hercules, without receiving a sign that his offering was accepted, but at the twenty-first there was a promise of victory for the Romans, and the captains were ordered to prepare for battle. The soldiers were so eager that Æmilius could scarcely restrain them, but he would not move until late in the afternoon, because he was too prudent to lead on his men with the sun shining full in their faces.

During the eclipse, the Macedonians were in a state of terror and amazement such as only the ignorant ever experience on account of the phenomena of nature. In their belief an eclipse portended some dire calamity, it was a sign of displeasure on the part of the gods, and by degrees a rumor spread to all parts of the camp that Perseus was on the brink of destruction, the eclipse having been sent as a warning.

Nevertheless, they presented a formidable appearance when the battle was about to begin. First marched the Thracians, men of enormous size, with bright, sparkling shields and great, heavy spears; then came the paid soldiers, differently armed. These were followed by a picked company of native Macedonians, brave, strong men in the prime of life, wearing scarlet coats and gilt armor. Last came the troops in phalanx called the Brazen Shields. The whole plain seemed alive with the flashing of weapons and armor, while the hills echoed the shouts of the soldiers as they cheered each other on. They marched boldly forward, and when the battle began, and Æmilius gazed upon the wall of Brazen Shields forming the phalanx, he was filled with dismay. He had never beheld such a sight before, and his heart misgave him. But he did not betray his real sensations as he rode through his army without breastplate or helmet.

It is not necessary to give the details of this conflict. It was fought within the space of one hour, and its fierceness was unparalleled. At one time Æmilus began to despair, and his men were on the point of running away, but, watching his chance, he divided up his forces and commanded them to make their way through the breaks in the enemy's ranks and fight them at many different points at once. In this way the phalanx was broken, and a hand-to-hand fight ensued. This resulted in a glorious victory for the Romans. [324] The enemy were all cut to pieces; the plain and the lower part of the hills were covered with their corpses, and the river ran red with their blood. It is said that twenty-five thousand of their number fell.

On their return to camp that night the Romans were met by their servants with torches and led in triumph to their tents, which were brilliantly lighted and gayly decked with wreaths of ivy and laurel. When all were assembled, Scipio, the younger of the two sons who served under Æmilius, was missing. He was only seventeen years of age, but he had shown such wisdom for command and counsel, and such remarkable bravery in action, that he was universally admired. In spite of his victory, the general was overwhelmed with grief, and the soldiers were so afflicted at the sight that many of them left their suppers to seek the body of the youth among the slain. Soon the air was filled with the cries of men calling out for Scipio, for there was hope that he might not be dead. At last, late in the night, when everybody was beginning to despair of finding him dead or alive, he appeared with two or three of his companions, the fresh blood that covered them showing that they had pursued the enemy to the last.

For some unknown reason, Perseus had left the battlefield at the very beginning of the fight, and after it was over he fled with his cavalry, who had suffered no loss, to Pella. When the foot-soldiers joined them, they called them traitors and cowards, pulled them from their horses, and wounded several, so that the king, fearing for his own safety, turned into a by-road, took off his regal robes, and then led his horse, so that he might converse with his friends. But by degrees they all slunk away from him, one under pretence of tying his shoe, another of watering his horse, and a third of being thirsty himself. This was not so much because they feared the enemy as because they dreaded the cruelty of Perseus, who tried to lay the blame of his defeat on anybody but himself. On arriving at Pella he killed, with his own hand, two of his treasurers who presumed to give him advice, and after that everybody, excepting the Cretans, who hoped to get money from him, deserted him. These last were deceived, for he cheated them all, then sailed for Samothrace, and took refuge there in the temple of Castor and Pollux.

[325] Then the Macedonians submitted to Æmilius, and in two days he was master of their whole country. He sent Cnæus Octavius with a fleet to Samothrace, not to seize Perseus, but to prevent his escape. Meanwhile, Perseus had made an arrangement with a Cretan, who owned a boat, to help him escape with his wife and children. An ancient proverb says, "The Cretans are always liars," and so it proved in this case, for the man who had promised to wait for the king and his family sailed away long before the appointed time. Then, in a fit of desperation, Perseus gave himself up to Octavius. When brought before Æmilius, the prisoner threw himself at his feet, embraced his knees, begged for mercy, and behaved in every way in a most abject, unmanly manner.

With an expression of mingled sorrow and indignation Æmilius looked at him, and said, "Wretched man, why do you take pains to prove that you deserve Fortune's frowns, and that you are now, and have long been, unworthy of the protection of that goddess? Why do you tarnish my laurels and make my conquests appear trifling by proving yourself a coward, unfit to be a Roman foe? Courage in the unfortunate is respected even by the enemy; but cowardice, though it meet with success, has ever been regarded with scorn by the Romans." He then gave Perseus his hand, raised him from the ground, and delivered him in charge of Tubero, his son-in-law.

Æmilius retired to his tent, where he remained for a long time in reflection; then, raising his head, he discoursed to the young men of his family and to others who were present on the uncertainty of human affairs, and drew a graphic picture of how, in one short hour, a great king had been humbled when at the very height of his power. He advised them not to be arrogant because of their victories, but to be humble and on the lookout for the misfortunes that the gods would surely send to counterbalance their present prosperity.

Having put his army into garrison for rest, Æmilius went on a visit of pleasure to Greece, and as he passed along he did much good by reforming governments and bestowing gifts. At Delphi he found a pillar of white marble, intended to support a gold statue of Perseus; he ordered his own to be placed there instead, saying that the conquered should make way for the conqueror.

[326] He delivered up their country to the Macedonians, only demanding of them half the tribute they had been accustomed to pay their king. He would not even look at the piles of silver and gold in the palace of Perseus, but ordered them to be placed in the public treasury. The library he presented to his sons, who were men of letters, and to Tubero, his son-in-law, he gave a silver cup weighing five pounds, but that was all he took.

Before leaving Greece, Æmilius told the Macedonians always to remember the liberty that the Romans had gained for them. But the Macedonians could not be grateful because their own laws were replaced by others, and their kingdom had been divided into four districts. They could see no advantage to themselves, particularly as in making these changes Æmilius had placed certain Roman senators to rule in Macedon. And they were not pleased with the law that forbade the people of different districts to marry or trade with one another. They were forced to submit, however, and, what was worse, all the nobility were commanded to remove immediately to Italy. Æmilius may have seen the wisdom of the laws he made for the Macedonians, but it is difficult to find how he could have excused himself for the horrible deed he committed at Epirus.

The senate had decreed that the soldiers who had fought under Æmilius against Perseus should have the spoils of the cities of Epirus. So Æmilius sent for ten of the principal residents of each city, and fixed a day for them to bring to him whatever silver or gold could be found in their temples and houses. With each of these he sent back a guard of soldiers to receive the valuables, as he said. But on the day appointed these soldiers rushed upon the people, seized and captured a hundred and fifty thousand of them, and destroyed seventy cities. In spite of all this ruin and destruction, the soldiers got so little for their share that they were very angry, and did not hesitate to let it be known when Æmilius sailed up the Tiber, in a galley taken from Perseus, all adorned with bright arms and gay colors.

They did not say in public that they were displeased because they had been cheated out of the riches they expected; they made another excuse for their complaints, and declared that they were because Æmilius had commanded in such a haughty, severe [327] manner. Then Servius Galba, who had served under Æmilius as a tribune, and disliked him extremely, openly expressed his opinion that the general did not deserve a triumph, and that no honors ought to be shown him at all. He did more: he went around among the soldiers and told stories about Æmilius injurious as they were false. The tribunes then called an assembly and ordered Galba to repeat his charges against Æmilius, and when he had finished a vote was taken to decide whether the accused was worthy of a triumph or not. The first company of soldiers voted against it, but the commonalty and the senate showed their displeasure at such injustice, and the principal senators decided among themselves that something must be done to repress the boldness of soldiers who, if encouraged to deprive a worthy general of the honors of victory, would in time stop at no act of violence and wrong. Then they pushed through the crowd in a body, and ordered the tribunes to stop taking votes until they had spoken to the people.

It was Marcus Servilius, a prominent and highly-respected consul, who spoke as follows: "I am more than ever convinced of how great a general Paulus Æmilius must be, since he has performed such wonderful and honorable deeds with so mutinous and disorderly an army; but I am surprised at the Roman people, who, after rejoicing in triumphs over the Ligurians, will not allow themselves the pleasure of seeing the king of Macedon alive and led captive by the Roman arms. When a slight rumor of victory was brought to us a short time ago, you offered sacrifices and implored the gods to make it true; but now that the consul has returned with a real victory, you seem unwilling to behold the greatness of it. Perhaps you are afraid to rob the gods of their due honor, or wish to spare the feelings of Perseus; it would be much better to refuse the triumph out of mercy to the king than out of envy to your general. But you carry your malice so far that you permit a man who has never received a wound to discourse to you about the conduct of the war and the right to a triumph,—to you who, at the expense of so much blood, have learned to judge fairly of your commanders."

Baring his breast, he showed a mass of scars, and continued: "I glory in these marks before my fellow-citizens, for I got them [328] in their service. Now go on, collect your votes, and I will mark those cowardly, ungrateful men who would rather have their fancies indulged than be properly commanded." This speech had such an effect that every soldier voted for Æmilius to have the triumph. We will give an account of how it was celebrated, because the word triumph gives no idea of the wonderful display.

Scaffolds were erected in the Forum and in all the public race-tracks, or circuses, as they were called, and these were occupied by spectators in white garments. The temples were open and filled with garlands and perfumes. Numerous officers kept the way clear for the procession, which on the first day consisted of the statues, pictures, and large images that had been taken from the enemy, drawn upon one hundred and fifty chariots. The triumph on this occasion lasted three days, because the spoils were so numerous.

On the second day a train of wagons brought the richest and most beautiful of the Macedonian arms, that shone and glittered in the sunlight. They looked as though they had been thrown together pell-mell, but they had really been placed with great judgment and care, to display the highly-polished shields, breast-plates, and targets to the best advantage. Arrows, horses' bits, points of naked swords, and long pikes stuck out on all sides, and made a terrible clatter as they moved along. Then came three thousand men carrying silver coins in seven hundred and fifty vessels, each containing three talents, or about three thousand dollars of our money. Others followed with valuable and beautifully-wrought bowls, horns, goblets, and cups.

On the third day the trumpets were sounded, just as they always were by the Romans at the beginning of a battle. A hundred and twenty fat oxen, with their horns gilded and adorned with garlands and bright ribbons, followed the trumpeters. Each ox was led by a young man, who wore a belt of curious workmanship, and behind them came boys with the gold and silver vessels for the sacrifice. Persons carrying the gold coin, in vessels that held three talents each, came next, and then followed the consecrated bowl, weighing ten talents, which Æmilius had caused to be made of gold and adorned with precious stones. This bowl was consecrated to Jupiter. It preceded the chariot of Perseus, in which [329] were his armor and his crown. At a little distance his children were led captive, attended by a great number of governors and masters. The children, two sons and a daughter, were so young that they did not realize the misfortune that had overtaken them, but they were not the less to be pitied, and many Romans wept as they passed along. The captive king, clad in black, and wearing sandals according to the fashion of his country, walked alone. His appearance was that of a man whose reason was upset. He had sent to ask Æmilius to allow him to remain out of the triumph, and not make a public exhibition of him. His answer was, that it was in his own power to avoid the disgrace. Æmilius, who had a contempt for the cowardice of the king, meant that by putting an end to his life he could spare himself the pain of appearing as part of his own spoils. But he had not the courage to strike the blow.

Perseus was followed by a number of friends, all bowed down with sorrow, and after these were carried four hundred coronets of gold, which had been sent as a compliment to Æmilius by the cities he had rescued. Next came the victorious consul himself, riding in a magnificent chariot, wearing a purple robe woven with gold, and carrying in his right hand a branch of laurel. His army followed, chanting odes of victory and the glorious exploits of Æmilius, whom all admired but few envied. For, amidst all the honors that were showered on him, his heart was very heavy. Five days before the triumph, one of his younger sons, a bright lad of fourteen, had died, and three days after, the one aged twelve had followed his brother to the grave.

Æmilius bore the double blow with courage, and proved himself a hero in resisting the shocks of ill fortune as he had the spears of the enemy. He pitied the condition of Perseus, and had him made as comfortable in prison as possible, but the poor captive starved himself to death.

Æmilius, by his conquest of Macedonia, brought so much money to the treasury that it was many years before the Romans had any taxes to pay, and this of course they considered a great benefit. So popular was Æmilius, not only with the nobility but also with the people, that he was appointed censor, a position that gave him power to expel a senator, replace him by another when [330] duly elected, and to disgrace such young men as led dissipated lives by depriving them of their horses. The censors valued estates also, and registered the number of the citizens; they had other duties, which are recorded in the life of Cato.

After a time the health of Æmilius failed, and his doctor sent him to Velia, in the southern part of Italy. He was very much missed by the Romans, who at last desired his presence for a solemn sacrifice. He returned, performed the ceremony, and then went home to dinner. It was soon found that his health had not improved as people hoped it had, for he became delirious shortly after he had eaten, and three days later he died. Not only his fellow-citizens, but also the Spaniards, Ligurians, and Macedonians who happened to be in Rome, assembled at the funeral to pay the last honors to this brave and generous hero, and there could have been no better proof of the justice which had marked his behavior towards all mankind without distinction.


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