|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 |
HORATIUS COCLES, OR THE ONE-EYED
 AFTER the death of Brutus, Valerius ruled alone. But he soon
displeased the people, for they thought that he behaved
too much as though he were a king.
The Consul had indeed built himself a beautiful house,
from the windows of which, had he wished, he could look
down into the Forum.
When he walked from his house to the market-place,
Valerius, it was true, was preceded by six lictors,
bearing rods and axes, but this was a dignity accorded
to the Consuls by the people themselves.
Valerius had in truth no wish to spy upon the people as
they feared, nor did he try to use his authority
Yet the people grumbled, and grew restless and
suspicious, until at length the Consul heard that he
had displeased them.
Valerius was not angry with the foolish citizens, but
he resolved to make them ashamed of their groundless
So one evening, when it was dark, he sent for workmen
and ordered them to pull his beautiful house to pieces.
When morning dawned, the people, gazing upward from the
Forum to the Consul's house, were startled. What could
have happened? There was no longer any house to be
It was not for some time that they learned that it was
their foolish suspicions that had caused the Consul to
destroy his house.
Then, fickle as the Roman crowd always was, it changed
 its mind and hung its head, ashamed of the destruction
it had caused.
But Valerius not only made the citizens ashamed of
their suspicions, he made them love him for his
When he came into the Forum, the Consul now ordered his
lictors to carry the rods and axes in two separate
bundles, while the axes were from this time always
lowered when he entered the Senate-house, or stood
before the assembly of the people.
Valerius also made a law that pleased the Romans well.
When a Roman was condemned to death by a magistrate,
the Consul decreed that he should have the right to
appeal to the people against the sentence. This, you
remember, was what Horatius had done when he was
condemned to death for slaying his sister.
So completely had the Consul endeared himself to the
Romans that they now called him Poplicola, or the Lover
of the People.
Meanwhile, Tarquin the Proud had enlisted the aid of a
powerful king, named Lars Porsenna.
This king now sent to Rome, bidding the people open
their gates to Tarquin. When they refused, he at once
marched against the city with a great army.
The Romans increased the guard and strengthened the
forts on the Janiculum hill. At all costs the enemy
must be prevented from crossing the Tiber by the wooden
bridge that joined the hill to the city itself.
Slaves, cattle, goods—all were brought from the
surrounding country, either within the walls of the
city, or into forts without.
But in spite of all the Romans could do, Lars Porsenna
reached the Janiculum, and storming the heights, drove
the Roman soldiers down the hill toward the river. His
men pursued the fugitives, who seemed to think of
nothing save their own safety.
If the enemy was not to enter the city, the bridge must
 be defended until the Roman soldiers on the other side
of the river had cut through the beams that supported
Then, as the enemy drew near and ever nearer to the
bank of the river, a brave Roman, named Horatius
Cocles, or Horatius the One-Eyed, whose country was
dearer to him than life itself, cried to the Consul
" 'Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul,
With all the speed ye may:
I, with two more to help me,
Will hold the foe in play.
In yon strait path a thousand
May well be stopped by three.
Now, who will stand on either hand,
And keep the bridge with me?'
There were not lacking Romans to answer the brave
" 'Lo, I will stand at thy right hand,
And keep the bridge with thee,' "
cried Spurius Lartius, one of Rome's strongest
warriors, while the voice of another brave soldier,
named Herminius, rang out clear above the noise of
" 'I will abide on thy left side,
And keep the bridge with thee,'
For Romans in Rome's quarrel
Spared neither land nor gold,
Nor son, nor wife, nor limb, nor life,
In the brave days of old."
Fully armed, the three brave men sprang to the end of
the bridge farthest from the city, and flung defiance
at Lars Porsenna and his great army.
The king and his army, seeing but three stalwart
warriors, laughed them to scorn, yet ere long their
scorn gave way to amazement.
Before the missiles hurled upon them, before the
fiercest sword-thrusts, Horatius and his comrades
 and unafraid, while at their feet rose a ghastly heap
of those the brave Romans slew.
And while they held the bridge thus resolutely, behind
them fell the blows of mighty axes, loosening the great
beams that held the bridge secure.
Soon the axes had done their work. The bridge began to
totter, to sway, and the Romans shouted to the noble
three to come back ere the bridge gave way.
At the call, Lartius and Herminius turned and darted
swiftly across the swaying planks.
But Horatius stayed behind. Not till the bridge fell
into the river would he stir from his post.
Then, with a mighty crash the bridge gave way, and fell
into the rushing torrent beneath.
Horatius, separated from his friends, stood alone,
facing thirty thousand of the foe. Behind him tossed
the broad surging river.
" 'Down with him,' cried false Sextus,
With a smile on his pale face.
'Now yield thee,' cried Lars Porsena,
'Now yield thee to our grace.'
"Round turned he, as not deigning
Those craven ranks to see,
Nought spake he to Lars Porsena,
To Sextus naught spake he;
But he saw on Palatinus
The white porch of his home;
And he spake to the noble river
That rolls by the towers of Rome.
" 'O Tiber! father Tiber!
To whom the Romans pray,
A Roman's life, a Roman's arms,
Take thou in charge this day!'
So he spake, and speaking sheathed
The good sword by his side,
And with his harness on his back,
Plunged headlong in the tide."
 Not a sound was heard from either bank as Horatius,
wounded and bleeding, disappeared in the flood.
Then the enemy, furious that it had allowed the great
warrior to escape, hurled its spears after him.
But not one reached the bold swimmer, who, weighed down
by his armour and weakened by his wounds, often sank,
yet ever rose again and struggled onwards.
At length he reached the bank, where eager hands were
waiting to draw him up into safety.
When the Romans saw that their hero was safe indeed,
although exhausted with his efforts, a mighty shout of
triumph rent the air.
Horatius was rewarded for his brave deed by the Senate,
who gave him as much land as he could plough in a day,
while in later days a monument was erected in memory of
his prowess and placed in the Comitium. The Comitium
was near to the Forum, and was sometimes counted as
part of it.
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