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THE SACRED GEESE
 ROME, when she heard of the defeat of Allia was stricken with
terror. Her walls were left unguarded, her gates open,
for the one thought of the citizens was flight.
And in truth, so fearful were they lest the Gauls
should reach the city and find them still there, that
they crowded out of the gates, across the bridge to the
Some few sacred images they stayed to bury, and the
vestal virgins tarried to take with them the sacred
fire which must not be allowed to die, but many of the
most sacred treasures of Rome were left to perish by the
hands of the barbarians.
So the city was left desolate, her gates open to the
enemy. Only in the Capitol, the temple of the gods, a
band of armed men kept guard, and with them stayed the
priests, who refused to leave the sacred building, and
No others were left in Rome save some old patricians,
who long years before had been Consuls, and had led the
legions of the Republic to many a hard-won battlefield.
These clad themselves in their richest robes, then,
after praying to the gods, they walked to the Forum and
seated themselves, each in his ivory chair, there to
await what the gods should send.
Three days after the Battle of Allia, the Gauls, having
feasted as was their custom after a victory, appeared
before the city.
The gates were open, the walls unmanned, and within
 the city all was silent as the grave. Was it a trap?
Did an ambush lie in wait? Thus the Gauls hesitated,
questioning one another.
At length they ventured into the city—not a single
citizen was to be seen. On through the desolate
streets wandered the bewildered warriors, until at
length they stood in the Forum.
There, seated in chairs of ivory, silent and still as
statues, sat a number of strange, venerable old men.
Seated in chairs of ivory, sat a number of strange, venerable old men.
King Brennus himself came to the Forum to gaze at these
still images of men, and was amazed to see them thus
unmoved in his presence.
He noticed that "they neither rose at his coming, nor
so much as changed colour or countenance, but remained
without fear or concern, leaning upon their staves, and
sitting quietly, looked at each other."
For a long time the Gauls gazed in silence at the quiet
figures. Then, one of the soldiers, bolder than the
others, drew near to Papirius, stretched out his hand,
and slowly stroked the long white beard of the old
This was more than Papirius could bear. He, a Roman
senator, to be touched by a barbarian! Quick as
thought he raised his staff and struck the Gaul a blow.
The strange, silent images were alive then! They could
Swiftly the barbarian drew his sword, and a moment
later Papirius fell from his ivory chair, wounded to
No longer awed by the silent images, the Gauls now fell
upon the other patricians and killed them too. Then
for days they sacked the city, and at length burned it
to the ground, angry that the Capitol was held against
The Capitol stood on a hill, steep and impossible to
scale, save at one point.
Again and again the Gauls tried to storm this one
approach, but the brave defenders drove them back,
killing some of their number. Then the Gauls
 besiege the Capitol, but days and weeks passed, and
still they seemed no more likely to take it than
before. And now their provisions were beginning to run
Meanwhile, the Roman soldiers who had fled from Allia
and taken refuge in Veii, began to be ashamed of
themselves. Surely they ought to go to the help of
their comrades who were so manfully holding the
Capitol. If they had but a leader they would go.
Then all at once they remembered Camillus, who was
still in exile. They would ask him to come back and
lead them as of old to victory.
So they sent to beg Camillus to come to Veii and take
command of the soldiers. But Camillus refused to come
unless the Senate recalled him and asked him to deliver
At first it seemed that there was no way to reach the
Senate. It was shut up in the Capitol. But a young
soldier, named Cominius, hoping to retrieve the
disgrace of his flight from Allia, offered to try to
scale the rock and reach the citadel.
Disguising himself as a poor man, and carrying corks
under his old clothes, he reached the Tiber as it was
growing dark. The bridge, as he had expected, was
guarded by the Gauls. To cross it was impossible.
So, taking off his clothes, he tied them on to his
head, and laying the corks he had brought in the river,
he swam with their help safely across and slipped
unnoticed into the city.
Cominius, fortunately, was light and agile. He
actually succeeded in scaling the rock on which the
Capitol was built, as only a bold and skilful climber
could. When he reached the summit in safety he called
to the astonished guards and begged to be taken to the
It was pleased to see the brave youth, and after
listening to his tale at once bade Cominius return and
let Camillus know that Rome not only recalled him from
exile, but appointed him Dictator. So Cominius
hastened back to
 Veii with the good news, and because the soldiers were
eager to fight, messengers were sent in hot haste to
Camillus to tell him the decision of the Senate, and to
bring him back to Veii.
Soon Camillus had twenty thousand men ready to follow
him to Rome.
Meanwhile the Capitol was all but taken by the Gauls.
The morning after Cominius had clambered down the
cliff, the barbarians noticed that the shrubs had been
crushed, that bushes had had their branches torn, that
the soil had been loosened on the side of the rock.
It was clear that some one had either climbed up to the
Capitol, or had come down the terrible descent. And if
that was possible, why should not they climb the cliff,
and at last capture the Capitol?
So when night had come, the Gauls began their dangerous
task. Up and up they climbed as noiselessly as might
be, up and up, until they had nearly reached the top.
At the summit there was no wall, no sentinel. Even the
watchdogs heard no sound and slept on undisturbed.
Close to the top of the rock, however, stood the temple
of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, the three guardian
deities of Rome. Without the temple, geese, sacred to
Juno, had their home. Although the defenders of the
Capitol were starving, yet they never dreamed of
touching the birds that were sacred to the goddess,
"which thing proved their salvation."
Up and up climbed the Gauls, and no one heard them as
they drew near to the summit of the rock, no one save
the sacred geese. They, divine birds as they were,
began to cackle and to flap their wings, and to make as
much noise as geese can make.
Manlius, the captain of the guard, who slept near the
temple, awoke startled to hear the din caused by the
sacred birds. Springing swiftly from the couch on
which he had lain wrapped in his military cloak, he
seized his arms and
 ran to the top of the cliff. As he
ran he shouted to his men to follow as quickly as they
As Manlius reached the edge of the rock, lo, the face
of a Gaul peered at him over the summit.
The Roman was but just in time. Dashing his shield at
the enemy, he hurled him down the cliff, and he, as he
fell, knocked against those who were behind, so that
they also were carried down the face of the rock, which
they had climbed with so much difficulty. Thus the
Capitol was saved by the sacred geese.
The defenders of the citadel were grateful to Manlius
for acting so promptly, and although they were all
suffering from hunger, each one agreed to give him,
from his own slender store, one day's allowance of
food. This consisted of half a pound of corn and a
measure holding five ounces of wine.
At length a day came when the brave folk in the Capitol
must either die of starvation or surrender. So the
senators sent to King Brennus and offered to pay him a
large sum of money if he would raise the siege.
As the Gauls too were suffering from famine, the king
was willing to accept a ransom, but he demanded the
large sum of one thousand pounds of gold.
Only by borrowing treasures from the temple, and
receiving gifts of golden ornaments from Roman matrons,
could the sum be found.
In bitterness of spirit the Romans went down to the
Forum on the day appointed, and began to lay their
treasures on the scales.
Suddenly they noticed that the weights which the
barbarians were using on the scales, were false.
But when they complained, the king threw his sword into
the scale, crying scornfully, "Væ Victis," "Woe to
At that moment, Rome was saved from the shame of paying
a ransom, for Camillus with his army marched into the
 As Dictator, the supreme power was his, and he had the
right to forbid even what the Senate had allowed.
He looked at the gold ornaments lying in the scales,
and bade the Romans take them back, for, said Camillus
proudly, "It is usual with Romans to pay their debts,
not in gold, but in iron." By these words the Dictator
meant that the Romans used their weapons to settle
Then, forcing the Gauls out of the city which they had
ruined, Camillus and his army fought so fiercely
against their enemy that not a single man was left
alive to tell the tidings to his countrymen.
King Brennus himself was slain, and as he fell he heard
the Romans shout in triumph the words he himself had so
lately used, "Væ Victis," "Woe to the Conquered."