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Patriots and Tyrants by  Marion Florence Lansing


 

 

KING MARBOD

[6] AS Marbod was the oldest, and the first to come to the Roman court, so he was the first to return to his own land, where his tribe welcomed the handsome young noble eagerly, and gave to him the chieftainship.

This was about eight years after the brave Roman general Drusus, whose story you have read in "Barbarian and Noble," had tried to conquer Germany and had met his death in the northern forests. The fear of the conqueror was upon all the Teuton tribes, for they knew that peace could not last. Ere many days Roman armies would cross the Rhine and the Danube, and try once again to set up their rule throughout Germany. So the people rejoiced at the return of the strong, Roman-trained leader, for his coming showed that he loved his fatherland more than he loved the Roman court.

The people were right. Marbod had worn the golden chain, but a Teuton heart beat beneath it. He had learned the Roman arts of war and peace, but there had never been a day, in all the years of training, when his anger had not been stirred by the [7] patronizing way in which the Roman nobles spoke of him and his people as barbarians. He had given obedience where he must, but he had given it with a proud bearing which had shown that willingly he would take orders from no man. Now he went from tribe to tribe of the neighboring peoples, urging them to unite with him and with each other to withstand the hated power of Rome. Singly they could do nothing; together they would be strong. That was the burden of his message. By his eager enthusiasm and his burning words he won them over. "To keep back the Romans,"—that was the watchword of the union, and proud chiefs yielded for the sake of that cause the lonely independence which they had held so dear. Marbod was to be the general, and at his call they would come with their troops and together do battle with the Romans, when the dreaded day should come.

Year after year Marbod strengthened the union, till there was a great federation banded together to uphold the freedom of the Teuton peoples. And Marbod was at the head. No Teuton had ever held such power. How did he use it? There lay the test. The liberty-loving people had trusted him, and at his persuasion had surrendered part of their long-cherished independence. They had thought to make [8] themselves members of a union; they awoke to find themselves subjects of a king.

Marbod had learned one lesson too many in the school of Rome,—he had learned the rule of one. In the court of the emperor he had seen how one man could rule a great kingdom, and the power which the tribes gave him tempted him too far. He announced that he was going to build a city,—the first city in all Germany; and the people were glad. Now the Romans could no longer taunt them with being barbarians. They would have a city of their own, and make it strong and beautiful. So they gave of their time and money to build it. But when it was done, Marbod ordered that it be called Marbodstadt, which is to say, Marbod City, just as the emperor had called the latest city which he had built Augusta, or the city of Augustus.

The people thought that in the center of their city there would be a great council hall, where, after the Teuton custom, the leaders of all the tribes would meet and discuss the affairs of the union. In the center of the city was a great castle and fort, with a treasure house, and here Marbod was to dwell. The center of South Germany was to be the palace of Marbod, as the center of Rome and of the world was the palace of Augustus. The Teutons had had for [9] leaders chiefs elected by the people; Marbod called himself King. The Teutons loved freedom and equality. Marbod created a bodyguard of men who should attend and wait on him whenever he sat in his council chamber or walked abroad. The Teutons came together to fight when there was need. Marbod insisted that there must be a standing army which should be waiting always at his call.

When his power was established, Marbod wished others to see it. He opened his frontiers to Roman merchants. He invited Roman artists to come. In so far as he could he made his Teuton court like the great court of Rome, and he succeeded too well for the pleasure of the haughty world emperor. Merchants returned to Rome telling of the power of Marbod,—King Marbod, as he was called,—and the Roman court decided that here was too strong a neighbor. Marbod sent messengers to the emperor declaring that he had no thought of a break with Rome, still less of establishing a Teuton kingdom in defiance of the universal Roman empire; but the emperor saw in him a dangerous power, and sent his son Tiberius to conduct a war against him.

It was a long journey from Rome to South Germany. While Tiberius was on the march with his army, rumors reached him of a rising among the [10] Dalmations and the Pannonians. He had expected to obtain an addition to his army from the troops which were stationed in these provinces. Now, five days' journey from Marbod's outposts, comes word that the uprising is proving dangerous, and that he must come instead to give help to the troops already there.

The time seems at hand when the Roman power is to be broken. Here is the Roman army, hundreds of miles from possible help, marching between Marbod with his strong Teuton union, gathered for this very purpose, and the eastern provinces which have risen in revolt against the conqueror. It needs only that Marbod shall act. He must unite the revolting peoples. He must send swift messengers calling his Teuton brothers between the Rhine, the Weser, the Elbe, and the Danube to come together at this fortunate hour and strike the blow which shall save the land of the Teutons from Roman conquest.

But the Marbod of these days is not the bold, impetuous young man who came back from Rome eager to unite his people against the tyrant nation. Tiberius has to deal with King Marbod, who proves to be a very different person. The Roman general hastens to send an embassy offering easy terms of peace.

[11] "Rome will make no more complaint of your Teuton kingdom," runs the message of the emperor's son. "Your royal throne and your separate realm shall be assured to you. The strength of Rome shall be behind you, giving you help instead of taking away your power. Our friendship shall be yours."

The favorableness of the terms convinces others of the Roman's desperate need. Marbod is blinded by the offers of personal security to him in his kingdom. At this crisis he is not strong enough to put to the test this Teuton union which is his work. He strikes a peace with the Roman, draws back his army, and announces to the other tribes that he has saved the land from a Roman invasion. What he has done is to save to the emperor a Roman army and a hold on the provinces east of the Rhine and the Danube.


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