|The Story of Rome|
|by Mary Macgregor|
|A vivid account of the story of Rome from the earliest times to the death of Augustus, retold for children, chronicling the birth of a city and its growth through storm and struggle to become a great world empire. Gives short accounts of battles and campaigns, and of the men who expanded the borders of the Roman empire to include all lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Ages 10-14 |
THE CAUDINE FORKS
 ONE of the chief events of the Second Samnite war took
place in 321 B.C., at a gorge or pass
called the Caudine Fork.
Gaius Pontius, the general of the Samnite army, was
encamped at Caudium. He had hoped to hold the passes
which led from the plain of Naples to the higher
mountain valleys among the Apennines.
But one day he thought of a better plan. If he could
but entice the Roman army into the mountain passes, he
would have them in a trap before they were aware.
So he sent two countrymen to Rome, bidding them report
to the Consuls that the Samnite army had left Caudium
and marched to Apulia, where they were besieging the
town of Luceria.
The Consuls had no reason to doubt the truth of the
countrymen's words, and as Luceria was held by allies
of Rome, they resolved to send an army to her help,
lest she should fall into the hands of the enemy.
So before long the Roman legions were marching toward
Apulia. As the shortest way lay through the pass of
the Caudine Forks, and as the Consul Postumius, who was
at the head of the legions, believed that the Samnite
army was far away, he did not hesitate to enter the
It was a deep and gloomy pass, between rugged
mountains. As the Romans advanced, the gorge grew more
narrow and precipitous, and they were glad when at
length they approached the end of the dangerous path.
 pleasure was soon changed to anxiety, for the exit from
the pass was barricaded with trees and great masses of
Postumius began to suspect treachery. It was plain
that the trees had but recently been cut down. Suppose
the barricades were the work of the Samnites! The
Consul at once ordered the army to retreat.
But long before the weary legions reached the opening
by which they had entered the pass they felt sure that
they were caught in a trap.
The Samnites were indeed guarding the entrance, and
escape was impossible.
Nevertheless, the Romans made a gallant attempt to
scale the side of the steep mountains that brooded over
the gorge, and when they reached the opening they even
tried to make their way through the enemy. But the
Samnites killed or wounded all who tried to escape.
When night fell, Postumius ordered his army to encamp
in the valley at its broadest point, and here he
awaited the will of Gaius Pontius.
But the Samnite general was in no haste to make terms
with his prisoners. Each day that he delayed, famine
would stare the Roman army more closely in the face.
Before long it would be forced to agree to whatever
terms he chose to dictate.
And, indeed, before many days had passed, the Romans
were compelled to yield, crying to their foes: "Put us
to the sword, sell us as slaves, or keep us as
prisoners until we be ransomed, only save our bodies,
whether living or dead, from all unworthy insult."
It was plain that the Romans feared lest they should be
treated in the same way as they used their captives.
For the Romans dragged their prisoners in chains at the
chariot wheels of their victorious generals. Often,
too, their captives were beheaded in the common prison,
and their bodies refused the rite of burial.
 But Pontius used his power generously. If his terms
were heard, yet they were just, and had in them no
trace of cruelty.
"Restore to us," said the Samnite general, "the towns
you have taken from us, and recall the Roman colonists
you have unjustly settled on our soil. Then conclude
with us a treaty, which shall own each nation to be
alike independent of the other. If you will swear to
do this I will spare your lives and let you go without
ransom, each man of you giving up your arms merely and
keeping his clothes untouched, and you shall pass in
sight of your army as prisoners, whom we . . . . set free of
our own will, when we might have killed them, or sold
them, or held them to ransom."
The Consuls and officers of the army vowed to observe
this treaty, and six hundred knights were given as
hostages to the Samnites.
But Pontius, had he been wise, would have gained the
consent of the Senate and people of Rome to his terms,
before he was content.
To the Romans, the demands of Pontius seemed severe,
but yet deeper was the humiliation they were to endure.
The entire army, along with the Consuls, were forced to
pass beneath the yoke, in the presence of their foe.
It was the only way of escape from the pass of the
Giving up their arms, and wearing only a kilt which
reached from their waist to their knees, the vanquished
army filed sullenly out of the gorge beneath the yoke.
This was no unusual humiliation, but was the custom in
those days, and equal to our demand that arms should be
laid down on the surrender of a garrison.
Pontius was indeed strangely kind to his conquered
foes, ordering carriages for the wounded, and giving
them food to eat on the march back to Rome.
But nothing could comfort the Romans, whose pride had
been gravely wounded by being forced to pass beneath
 In silence, shame written clear upon their faces, they
marched gloomily along, with no desire to reach the end
of their journey.
When they drew near to Rome, those who lived in the
country slipped away to their homes, hoping that none
would notice them. Those who lived in the city waited
until it was dark that they might enter unseen.
The Consuls were not able to shun the attention of the
crowd, for they entered the city during the day. But
they, too, were so ashamed that they deemed themselves
no longer fit to be Consuls, and escaping from the
people as soon as possible, they shut themselves up in
Rome was a gloomy city for days after the return of the
The senators laid aside their gold rings, and no longer
wore on their robes the red border which was the sign
of their rank. In somber attire and with grave faces
they sat in the Senate-house, or paced the streets,
thinking of the disgrace that had overtaken their
Shops were shut, business was laid aside, while the
citizens mourned alike for those who had returned as
for those who had been slain.
Ere long new Consuls were elected, and they, with the
Senate, agreed that the treaty made with Pontius must
not be kept.
Postumius then offered to go back to the Samnites, with
his colleague and officers, as a punishment for
agreeing to so humiliating a treaty. To this proposal
the Senate gave its approval.
The Consuls and officers were then stripped of all save
the kilt which they had worn when they passed beneath
the yoke, and thus, with their hands tied behind them,
they were sent back to the Samnites.
"These men are forfeited to you in
atonement for the broken treaty," cried those who accompanied the miserable
 penitents, when at length they stood in the
presence of Pontius.
But the Samnite general refused to receive such
atonement. "Either," said he, "you must put your army
back in the Caudine Forks, or you must keep the treaty
to which your Consuls agreed."
As the Romans refused to do this, the second Samnite
war continued to be waged.
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