|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 ELEPHANTS AT THE BATTLE OF HERACLEA
 WHILE Pyrrhus was training the lazy Tarentines, the new
Consul, Valerius, was advancing with his army toward
the city, burning and plundering the country through
which he passed. So Pyrrhus resolved to leave Tarentum
and go to meet the enemy. Assembling his troops he
marched away toward the town of Heraclea, which stood
on the bank of the river Siris, where he determined to
pitch his camp.
Across the river lay the Roman army, and the king rode
along the bank on his side of the Siris, admiring the
order and discipline of the enemy.
"We shall see presently what they can do," he said to
a friend who rode by his side.
Wishing to keep the Romans from crossing the river
until his reinforcements arrived, Pyrrhus ordered
soldiers to guard the passage.
But Valerius did not mean to wait for the king to
strengthen his force, and he at once sent his cavalry
higher up the Siris to cross at a ford, while he, with
his infantry, tried to cross the river in spite of the
guard set by Pyrrhus.
The king immediately advanced with three thousand
horse, hoping to scatter the Romans ere they succeeded
in reaching the opposite bank.
But protecting themselves with their shields, the Roman
soldiers were soon scrambling out of the river.
Pyrrhus, ordering his men to form in closer ranks, then
 led them against the enemy. His armour, richer and
more beautiful than that of his soldiers, at once
attracted the attention of the Romans and drew on him
the most determined attacks.
The armour of Pyrrhus was richer and more beautiful than that of his soldiers.
His friends, seeing the danger to which the king was
exposed, begged him to beware.
One of them, pointing to a barbarian who rode upon a
black horse with white feet, said, "Sire, yonder
fellow fixes his whole attention on you alone, taking
no notice of others. Be on your guard against him."
The king answered, "It is impossible for any man to
avoid his fate, but neither he nor any other Italian
shall have much satisfaction in engaging with me."
At that moment the Roman, spurring on his horse and
lowering his spear, dashed upon the king.
Pyrrhus fell to the ground, for his steed was pierced
by the enemy's spear.
Quick as lightning, Leonnatus, who had warned Pyrrhus
of this very soldier, killed the Roman's horse, and
before he or any other of the enemy could reach the
king, his friends had dragged him to a place of safety.
He was then persuaded to change his armour with one of
his officers named Megacles.
The Romans now fiercely attacked Megacles, and at
length they succeeded in dragging him from his horse
and in wounding him to death.
Then the victors seized his helmet and cloak and
hastened with them to their general, to show that they
had indeed killed the king.
The royal trophies were placed on the point of a spear
and carried along the lines of the Roman army, that all
might see that the king was slain.
While the Romans shouted for joy, the Greeks looked on
in dismay, thinking that their Eagle king was no longer
But Pyrrhus soon learned what had happened, and
 dashing to the front, he rode bare-headed before his
men, shouting to them to follow him.
The Consul now determined to bring forward the force he
had kept in reserve, thinking that it would decide the
day. But Pyrrhus too had a reserve force, and a more
terrible one than his enemy. This was his twenty
elephants, which, with towers on their backs filled
with armed men, he now let loose upon the foe.
The huge beasts, trumpeting loudly, were more than the
Roman horses could stand. Wild with fear at the sight
of such strange monsters, they galloped madly away,
either throwing their riders or carrying them off the
Many of the fallen were trampled to death by the
elephants, while the victorious Greeks hastened in
pursuit of the flying legions.
The whole Roman army would have been destroyed save for
As he fled, one of the Roman soldiers flung his spear
at an elephant and wounded it. The beast, wild with
pain, turned back upon its own army, making the other
elephants also restive.
Before order was restored and the animals pacified, the
main body of the Romans had escaped across the Siris.
Pyrrhus had gained a victory indeed, but he had lost a
large number of his men. As he looked sadly upon the
hosts of the dead lying upon the battlefield, he cried,
"Another such victory and I must return to Epirus
The sight of the Roman soldiers slain in battle roused
his admiration, for he noticed that their wounds were
all in front. "Had I such soldiers," said the king,
"I should soon be master of the world." Pyrrhus must
have been thinking as he spoke of the lazy,
undisciplined Tarentines, for his own brave Epirots
were surely the last to turn their backs to an enemy.
 When tidings of the king's victory became known, many
Greek towns sent tardy recruits to the conqueror.
And Pyrrhus, who had a generous heart, gave to these a
share of the plunder, and rebuked them but lightly for
joining him only after the battle was won.
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