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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

CAMILLUS CAPTURES THE CITY OF VEII

[88] WHEN Rome was in danger, the people, as you know, were called from their homes, their shops, and their fields to fight for their country. If the army was sent to besiege a town, it was one which could be taken in a short time, so that the soldiers were soon free to go home to plough their fields and tend their shops.

These soldier citizens received no wages for fighting for their country. They were but doing their duty in defending her or in adding to her dominions.

But the Romans were now growing ambitious to win greater glory by their conquests than they had yet done. To do this they knew that they must have a regular army that could stay in the field as long as was necessary. This army, too, would have to be paid by the State. It was, partly, at least, through the influence of Camillus, who was soon to be made Dictator, that a standing army was raised. Under him the army began to grow in power, nor did it cease to grow until at length it was able to control Senate and people alike.

In 406 B.C. the Romans began their more ambitious wars by besieging a beautiful city called Veii. Veii was in Etruria, about ten miles north of Rome.

For many years the inhabitants of this city had made raids along the borders of Rome, plundering and burning the countryside, until the people fled from their homes at the slightest rumour of their approach.

To destroy Veii was the only way to put an end to these [89] constant and irritating border raids, and the siege was begun.

The town was built on the summit of a steep rock, three sides of which it was impossible to scale, and she was strongly fortified. Her population was larger and richer than that of Rome, while her buildings were grander and more beautiful.

Camillus was made Dictator during the siege, which lasted for ten long years.

I need not tell you of all that happened in the course of these ten years, but of the taking of the city many legends are told. Here is one of them.

It was autumn, and many of the lakes and brooks were dry, for little rain had fallen during the summer. But in the Lake of Alba the water began to rise in a strange, mysterious way.

First it rose to the foot of the mountains which encircled the lake, and that was wonderful enough, but when the water reached the summit of the mountains that was marvellous indeed.

No waves disturbed the peace of the lake, but by and by the sheer weight of the water broke down part of the surrounding mountains, which had acted as a dam.

Then a great flood of water spread over fields and groves, and the Romans whispered to one another, "It is a sign from the gods," yet no one could tell what the sign might portend.

In the camp before Veii and in the city itself every one talked of the strange omen.

One day a Roman soldier talked with a Veian soldier, who was said to know the meaning of omens.

It was plain that the Veian did not think that the omen boded ill to his city, but the Roman did not find it easy to find out all that the other knew. Until he had done so, he determined not to let him go.

So, telling the Veian stories about his own country, he drew the wise man unaware farther and farther from the [90] gates of Veii. As they drew near to the Roman camp, the soldier, who was tall and strong, seized the Veian in his arms and carried him before his captain. Before long the captive had been persuaded to tell all he knew.

"The city of Veii shall never be taken," said the wise man, "until the waters of the Lake of Alba are dried up."

It seemed to the Romans that the soothsayer should be sent to the Senate, that it might hear for itself what he had to say.

But when the Senate had listened to the Veian's words it was still uncertain what to do; so it sent messengers to the oracle of Delphi, which was the highest authority it knew. The oracle sent back a plain message. "Shut up the water of the lake in its ancient bounds, and keep it from flowing into the sea"; and the Romans at once began to carry out its instructions.

Channels were dug, and soon, with the help of great engineering works, the water of the lake was carried away to irrigate the plain.

Meanwhile, Camillus, finding that he would never be able to take Veii by storm, ordered underground passages to be made between his camp and the centre of the city. So secretly were the tunnels dug that the enemy never dreamed what was going on beneath their streets and temples.

At length the passage was complete, and Camillus led a picked band of soldiers along the tunnel, until they stood beneath the temple of Juno, the goddess of Veii.

While the Dictator was stealing underground with his followers, the walls of the city were being once again attacked.

The Veians, still ignorant of the mine beneath their feet, rushed to defend their walls against the enemy.

As the conflict raged, the King of Veii hastened to the temple of Juno to offer sacrifices, and to beseech the goddess to grant him victory.

[91] "The victory will be won by him who lays the sacrifice on the altar," cried the priest who stood by the side of the king.

Camillus, who was just beneath the altar, heard the priest's words. Instantly he broke through the floor of the temple and entered the sacred building with his followers, who shouted and waved their weapons above their heads.

The Veians fled from the temple in dismay, while Camillus hastened to seize the sacrifice and fling it upon the altar.

Then, knowing that victory was assured, the band of Roman soldiers rushed to the gates of the city and flung them wide that their comrades might enter.

A little later, and the Veians were overwhelmed, and Veii was at length in the hands of the Romans.


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