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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE FAITHLESS FRIEND

[35] LUCIUS TARQUINIUS, to whom the king had entrusted the care of his children, was a Greek noble possessing great wealth. His real name was Lucumo, and being driven from his native town by a tyrant, he had taken refuge in the town of Tarquinii in Etruria. It was from this town that he took the name by which he was known in Rome.

But neither Lucumo nor his wife Tanaquil were content to spend their lives in such a sleepy little town as Tarquinii proved to be. So they determined to go to Rome, where, it was said, strangers were ever welcome.

One day, then, the husband and wife set out on their journey. As they drew near to the Janiculum hill, an eagle suddenly swooped down upon the travellers, and seized the cap which Lucumo was wearing. Then, uttering loud screams, the bird flew high in the air, only to return in a few moments to replace the cap on the head of its astonished owner.

Tanaquil seemed pleased with the strange behaviour of the eagle, and assured her husband that it was an augury or sign from the gods that he would rise to honour in the city to which they were going.

King Ancus heard of the wealth and the wisdom of the stranger who had come to Rome, and ere long he sent a messenger to Tarquinius, bidding him attend the king's councils. So wisely did Tarquinius behave that the king soon treated him as a friend.

When Ancus Marcius was dying, he did not fear the future for his children. They would be safe, he believed, [35] in the care of Tarquinius. But he, alas! betrayed his trust that he might satisfy his own ambition.

After the death of the king, Tarquinius, pretending that he wished to make the sons of Ancus forget their grief, persuaded them to go away from the city to hunt.

In their absence the false friend appealed to the people to make him king, and this they did.

Tarquinius had gained his power by a treacherous deed, but by his courage on the battlefield he won the admiration of his subjects.

He fought against the Latins, and made many of their cities subject to Rome. And when the Sabines took up arms and marched almost to the gates of the city, Tarquinius, vowing that if Jupiter would come to his aid he would build a temple in his honour, rushed against the foe and drove it away.

Flushed with victory, he then went to war with the Etruscans, and forced them to acknowledge him as their king.

As a sign of their subjection the conquered tribe sent to Tarquinius royal gifts—a golden crown, a scepter, an ivory chair, an embroidered tunic, a purple toga, and twelve axes tied up in bundles of rods.

These gifts the king sent before him to Rome as a proof of his victory over the Etruscans.

Then, when peace was at length proclaimed, Tarquinius remembered the vow he had made to Jupiter, and began to build a temple on the Capitoline hill.

As the workmen were digging, in order to lay a good foundation, they found a human head. This was a sign, so said those who knew, that the spot on which the head had been buried should become the chief place of worship in Rome.

The temple, when it was finished, was named the Capitol, and in days to come it was indeed looked upon as the most sacred building in the city.

Although Tarquinius was but a usurper, yet he did all that he could to improve the kingdom over which he ruled.

[37] He ordered great drains to be built, that the marshy valleys between the hills of Rome might become healthier. He also built a large circus and a racecourse, to encourage the games of the people, and in course of time the Roman games became famous.

In the valley between the Capitoline hill and the Palatine hill the king then began to build the Forum, or market-place. Round the Forum he set up booths, where the tradesfolk might carry on their business.

Meanwhile, the subjects of Rome had become so numerous, that the king wished to increase the three tribes into which Romulus had divided his people.

But a skilful augur, named Attius, forbade Tarquinius to alter what Romulus had consecrated with rites sacred to the gods.

The king could ill brook interference, and he mocked at the augur's words in the Forum, where the people had assembled.

Then, thinking to show that Attius was not really as wise as he was believed to be, he cried: "Tell me, O Attius, can the thing of which I am thinking at this moment come to pass?"

The augur, undisturbed by the mockery of the king, consulted the sacred birds. Yes, the omens were good. The thought in the mind of the king could be put into action.

Tarquinius pointed to a whetstone which lay before him, and said: "Can you then cut this whetstone in twain with a razor?"

Undismayed, Attius at once seized a razor, and with one stroke the stone was split in two.

Then the king was afraid, and dared not disregard the wisdom of the augur. So the number of tribes ordained by Romulus was left unchanged.

But Tarquinius doubled the nobles in each tribe, and also increased the companies of knights.


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