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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor

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THE ROMANS CONQUER THE GAULS

[168] THE first Punic war ended in 242 B.C., leaving the Romans in possession of Sicily, while the second Punic war did not begin until twenty-three years later.

For a little time Rome was at peace, and in 235 B.C. the gates of the temple of Janus were closed for the first time since the reign of the peace-loving King, Numa Pompilius.

But ten years later, the Gauls once again threatened to invade Rome. They were always foes to be dreaded, and some of the old superstitious fears, which had apparently vanished for ever, began once more to spread among the Roman legions.

Omens of ill too were rife. The Capitol was struck with lightning, so the Sibylline books were opened, and behold, it was written, "When the lightning shall strike the Capitol and the temple of Apollo, then, must thou, O Roman, beware of the Gauls."

After that the simplest event seemed to the Romans to forebode evil. And while they brooded over the meaning of a strange light in the sky or a cloud of curious aspect, a large Gallic army was marching through Etruria, upon Clusium, a town only three days' march from Rome. This was the very way their fathers had taken long years before.

When the Consuls were absent from Rome, or already engaged with other matters, prætors were sent to lead the Romans against the foe.

[169] In this case it was a prætor who was sent with a reserve corps to track the enemy. He succeeded in following the Gauls to Clusium, and believed the enemy was in his grasp.

But during the night, the main body of the Gauls slipped quietly out of their camp and marched some distance off, leaving only the cavalry to guard the tents. They hoped to entrap the Romans.

The prætor, finding only a small force of cavalry in the camp, ordered an attack. As the Gallic horse retreated, the Romans followed, to find themselves, almost at once, face to face with the whole force of the barbarians.

A fierce struggle followed, in which six thousand Romans were slain. Those who were left alive entrenched themselves with the prætor on a hill, and were at once surrounded by the Gauls.

Meanwhile Æmilius, one of the Consuls, found himself free to hasten to Clusium with a large army. Here he heard of the disaster that had befallen the arms of Rome, and he resolved to restore her fortune.

The prisoners on the hill were soon cheered to see the watchfires of their comrades, and they were sure that in the morning the Consul would scatter the barbarians.

But the Gauls had no wish to encounter Æmilius while they were laden with prisoners and booty. So they began to march northward, followed by the Consul, who harassed their rear, and wrested what booty he could from the retreating-foe.

Suddenly the barbarians were ordered to halt. Their chiefs had seen another army approaching. If they were Romans, the Gauls saw that they were caught in a trap.

It was indeed a Roman army that was marching toward them, led by Regulus, the son of the Consul who had perished at Carthage. He was on his way to Rome when he unwittingly startled the Gauls by his appearance.

With an army marching straight toward them and [170] another in their rear, there was nothing left for the Gauls to do save prepare for battle.

One part of the Gallic army continued to face northward, ready to destroy, as they hoped, the troops led by Regulus. The other turned to the south, to face Æmilius, who was eager to attack the warriors. A short time before it had seemed as though they were going to escape the punishment he was anxious to inflict.

Those who advanced upon Æmilius were the fiercest of all the fierce Gallic tribes. They wore neither armour nor clothes, but their bodies were covered with ornaments.

The chiefs wore the richest jewels, for they were adorned with heavy collars and bracelets of twisted gold, the sight of which filled the Romans with greed. Their savage war-cries filled them with fear.

Amid the blowing of horns and trumpets, the Gauls, still shouting their wild battle-cries, dashed upon the enemy, while they, remembering the dread day of Allia, fought with all their might.

Toward the north, the battle also raged. Regulus himself led his cavalry, but he was slain almost at once. The barbarians cut off his head, and in their savage way held it aloft on a spear, that his followers might see what had befallen their leader. With no one to command them, the cavalry withdrew, to allow the infantry to advance.

But the Gauls soon found that their weapons were of little use against the shield or helmet of the enemy. Their swords, of which the steel was badly tempered, bent at the first stroke and glanced aside, leaving the Roman's shield or helmet unglazed.

Fierce was the struggle between the two forces, but ere long the barbarians found that the day was going against them. The knowledge made them fight but the more desperately.

Slowly but steadily the Roman legions now began to close in, shutting the Gauls together in their midst, until [171] at length they were hemmed in so relentlessly that it was not possible for them to use their arms. Then the Romans slaughtered them without mercy.

Forty thousand were killed, ten thousand taken prisoners, while one of the Gallic kings was captured alive. The other perished by his own hand.

All the booty that the Gauls had taken from the Romans, when they enticed them out of the camp at Clusium, was now recaptured. The Gauls themselves were robbed of their ornaments and their land was invaded by the victorious armies.

Æmilius then led his troops back to Rome and was given a great triumph, while the people thanked the gods that their city was safe from the barbarians.

For three years the war with the Gauls continued, until, from the Apennines to the Alps, the whole plain of Northern Italy had been subdued and was subject to Rome.


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