HORATIUS SLAYS HIS SISTER
 TULLUS HOSTILIUS, the king who succeeded Numa Pompilius in 672
B.C., loved war as much as Pompilius
had loved peace.
He feared lest already the Romans had lost the renown
that had been theirs on the battlefield when Romulus
was king. So he determined to find a pretext for war
as soon as possible, that his soldiers might show that
courage was still theirs, and that their fame might
spread as of old to the neighbouring tribes.
Such was the warlike character of Tullus Hostilius,
that it was soon found necessary to throw wide the
gates of the temple Janus.
It chanced that shortly after the new king came to the
throne some Roman and Alban countrymen quarrelled, each
saying that he had been robbed by the other.
Tullus at once took the side of his own people, sending
to the King of Alba to demand that the goods which had
been stolen should be restored. The King of Alba at
the same time sent messengers to Tullus, claiming that
justice should be meted out to those who had robbed his
The King of Rome received the messengers from Alba so
courteously and treated them so well, that they forgot
the errand on which they had been sent, until startled
by the return of the Roman ambassadors.
They, having been refused justice by the King of Alba,
had, ere they left, declared that the Romans would
avenge the wrong done to their countrymen.
Tullus was well pleased with the report of his
 He sent away the careless messengers of Alba, bidding
them tell their king that it was he who had provoked
The two kings speedily collected their armies and
marched to the battlefield. But before the war began
the King of Alba died. Then the Albans chose one of
their number, named Mettius, to be Dictator.
He, standing between the two armies, begged that the
victory might be decided by single combat, so that many
lives might be spared.
To this Tullus agreed, sending forth as the Roman
champions three brothers, called the Horatii, while the
choice of Mettius fell upon three Alban brothers, named
A great silence fell upon the two armies as the
combatants stood forth, armed to the teeth, and the
contest which was to settle the fate of Rome and Alba
Should the Horatii win, Rome would seize Alba as its
prize. Should the Curiatii be the victors, Rome would
be forfeit to the Albans.
Fierce and yet more fierce fell the blows of the
champions, until at length, two of the Horatii lay
slain on the ground, while the three Curiatii were
Then, to the dismay of the Roman army, Horatius, on
whose courage the safety of Rome depended, turned and
fled, pursued by the three wounded men.
But the Romans need not have feared that Horatius had
turned coward. His flight, as they soon saw, was but a
feint to separate his enemies.
As the swiftest of the Curiatii gained upon him, the
Roman champion turned and smote him to the ground.
Without a moment's pause Horatius then attacked the
second brother, who had now reached his side, and he
also fell before the fury of the Roman's stroke. The
last of the Curiatii had been forced to follow more
slowly, as his wounds had been severe. He, too, was
now stricken down by the conqueror.
 Rome was saved! At the thought great shouts rent the
air, and Horatius was led in triumph toward the city.
As the glad procession drew near to the gate, the
sister of Horatius came out to meet her brother. She
was the promised bride of one of the Curiatii.
When she saw Horatius, wearing on his shoulders the
cloak of her betrothed, which she herself had
embroidered, she broke into bitter sobs and began to
curse him for his cruel deed.
When she saw Horatius wearing on his shoulders the cloak of her betrothed, she broke into bitter sobs.
Then Horatius, in sudden passion, drew his sword and
stabbed his sister, crying: "So perish the Roman
maiden who shall weep for her country's enemy."
Great was the service Horatius had done for Rome that
day, yet his rash act could not be allowed to pass
unpunished. He was taken prisoner, and brought before
two judges, who condemned him to death.
But Horatius refused to submit to his sentence, and
appealed to the people of Rome to save him. And for
the sake of his old father, who had already that day
lost two sons, as well as because he himself had risked
his life for his country, the people listened to his
plea and set him free.
Yet, as a public penance, he was obliged to pass
beneath a yoke and offer sacrifices to the spirit of
the sister he had slain.
The yoke under which Horatius had to pass was formed of
two beams of wood which were thrust into the ground,
and across the top of which a third beam was placed.
Sometimes the yoke was made by using three swords in
But it was a wooden yoke under which Horatius stooped,
and one of the beams was treasured for many years, and
named the "sister's beam."
Yet it was not only the memory of his penance that was
preserved. To recall his courage to the Romans who
would follow him, the arms which Horatius had taken
from the Curiatii were hung on a pillar in the
market-place. And in days to come the citizens would
point to this pillar, saying: "It is the pillar of