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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE BATTLE ON THE BANKS OF THE ANIO

[111] THE battle on the banks of the Anio took place when Camillus was no longer young, and when he was attacked with illness.

Yet the Senate, anxious to have his help, would not listen as he pleaded that he was unable for the duties of a tribune.

But when war broke out with the Volscians and the Prænestines, it sent another tribune with Camillus, to lead the army, so that the old man's strength might be spared. Lucius Furius was the name of the tribune who accompanied Camillus.

The two tribunes encamped near the enemy, Camillus hoping to avoid battle until he was stronger.

But Lucius wished to win glory on the field, and was impatient to fight.

The old warrior, too generous to thwart the young tribune, agreed that he should lead the army to the field; yet he feared that the rashness of Lucius might lead to defeat.

Owing to his feeble health, Camillus himself stayed in the camp, with only a small company of soldiers. But he could see all that was happening on the battlefield.

As he had feared, Lucius proved too rash a leader, and the Roman army was soon in dire confusion and flying toward the camp.

Such a sight was more than the brave old warrior could endure. Leaping from his couch, he bade those who were near to follow him.

Then as the fugitives saw their old general, who had so [112] often led them to victory, forcing his way toward the enemy, shame stayed their flight.

Swiftly they rallied, and turning, followed Camillus, so that the Volscians and the Prænestines were in their turn forced to flee.

The next day Camillus led the whole army against the foe, and fought so fiercely that before long the enemy was in full retreat. Many of the fugitives sought refuge in their camp. But the Romans followed, and driving them from the shelter of the tents, put them to death.

Then, having won these three victories, Camillus returned in triumph to Rome, carrying with him much plunder.

But the old warrior was not yet to be allowed to rest.

In 381 B.C. war broke out in Tusculum, which town had long been faithful to Rome, and Camillus was sent to put down the rebellion. He was told to choose one of his five colleagues to help him.

Each tribune longed for the glory of accompanying Camillus, but his choice fell upon Lucius, who had so nearly lost a battle in the last war. Perhaps the great general wished to give the tribune a chance to retrieve his mistake.

When the Tusculans heard that Camillus was approaching their gates with a large army, they speedily repented of their rebellion and laid down their arms.

Ploughmen hastened back to their fields, shepherds to their sheep. Tradesmen, too, were soon again busy in their workshops, children were in their places at school, while the well-to-do citizens walked about the streets in their usual dress, unarmed.

When the tribunes arrived at Tusculum, they were welcomed by the magistrates with every sign of pleasure, and entertained as hospitably as though they were eagerly expected guests.

Camillus was too wise to be deceived by these simple folk, yet seeing their penitence, he was sorry for them.

So, instead of punishing them, he merely bade them [113] send ambassadors to the Senate to beg for forgiveness, promising himself to speak on their behalf.

The Senate proved merciful. For the city was forgiven, and her inhabitants were made Roman citizens.

About five years later, in 376 B.C., the Latins were defeated so severely by the Romans, that they were glad to enter into alliance with their conquerors. Then for nearly ten years Rome enjoyed greater peace than had been her lot for long. It was during these years that Licinius made the laws of which I have told you.

But in 367 B.C., the Gauls, who were still dreaded by the Romans, marched with a large army toward Rome, laying waste the country through which they passed.

Camillus, although now eighty years of age, was again made Dictator.

Before leading his army against the dreaded foe, the Dictator ordered smooth and polished helmets of iron to be made. In other days he had seen that the swords of the Gauls swept down with relentless force on the heads and shoulders of the Romans. Now he hoped that their blows would glance off the smooth surface of the iron helmets, or be broken.

The Roman shields, too, were made of wood, but Camillus ordered their rims to be strengthened with bands of brass.

With his army thus equipped, the Dictator felt that victory was secure.

The Gauls, already laden with the plunder that they had taken on their march, were encamped near the river Anio.

Within sight of the camp was a hill with hollows, behind which it would be easy to hide from the enemy. To this hill Camillus led his men, carefully concealing the larger number of them behind these hollows so that from the Gallic camp the Roman soldiers seemed but a small company.

The Gauls were indeed completely deceived. It seemed to them that the Romans did not mean to attack them; that they had fled for safety to the hills.

[114] Camillus, wishing to lure the Gauls into danger, never stirred, even when the enemy ventured close to his trenches in search of plunder.

Soon, careless of the enemy, the barbarians scattered over the country in search of forage, while those left in the camp spent day and night in song and feast.

Then the Dictator knew that the time for action had come.

He sent a small company of his men to harass the enemy, while early the following morning he marched with his whole army to the foot of the hill.

The barbarians were dismayed when they saw so great a host in battle array, and before they could form into their proper ranks the enemy was upon them.

Shouting their wild battle-cries, the Gauls then drew their swords and fought with fury. But their swords were soon twisted or broken, as they slid off the polished helmets worn by the Roman soldiers. To complete their discomfort, the javelins which Camillus now bade his soldiers throw at the enemy's shields, stuck fast in them, until they grew too heavy to wield.

As their swords were useless, the Gauls sought to pull the javelins out of their shields, that they might use the Romans' weapons against the enemy.

But Camillus saw what they meant to do, and ordered his men to advance swiftly, and cut the Gauls to pieces before they could carry out their plan. The foremost were speedily hewn down, while those who could fled over the plains, for the hills were already held by the Romans.

So sure of victory had the Gauls been, that they had left their camp unguarded, and it too was soon captured.

Thirteen years before, the defeat at Allia and the sack of Rome had filled the Romans with a superstitious fear of the fierce Gallic warriors.

The battle now won by the banks of the river Anio for ever put an end to their dread of the barbarians.

Camillus returned once more in triumph to Rome, to [115] find yet another service he could do for the country he had served so loyally and loved so well.

Civil war was on the point of breaking out, for the people, acting according to one of the Licinian laws, had chosen Sextus, a plebeian, to be Consul.

The Senate and patricians were not at all ready to carry out this law. Indeed, it seemed that they would rather fight than let the people have their will. As the plebeians refused to give up their new-won privilege, the city was in an uproar.

But Camillus had great influence with the Senate, and he persuaded it to yield to the just demand of the people. So the angry passions of the patricians and the plebeians were allayed, and Sextus became the first plebeian Consul.

In the following year, 366 B.C., a pestilence swept over Italy, and in Rome, among many who perished was the brave old soldier Camillus.


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