|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 DEATH OF VERGINIA
 APPIUS CLAUDIUS did not go to the war. He stayed in Rome, and
before long roused the temper of the people beyond
Verginius, a brave plebeian soldier, was with the army,
and in his absence he had left his beautiful young
daughter Verginia in the care of her nurse.
One day as the young girl was on her way to school in
the Forum, Appius Claudius saw how beautiful she was,
and he determined to take her away from her father and
Icilius, to whom she was betrothed.
But although he did his utmost to persuade the maiden
to go home with him, Verginia refused to leave her
Then Appius Claudius grew angry, and vowed to himself
that he would take her away by foul means, since fair
ones had failed.
So the tyrant ordered a man, named Marcus Claudius, to
declare that Verginia was not a free Roman maiden, as
Verginius had pretended, but was a slave belonging to
This Marcus did, and then, seeing the girl one day in
the Forum, he tried to lay hold of her. But her nurse
cried aloud for help, so that a crowd quickly gathered,
and hearing what had happened, it vowed to protect
Verginia, until her father and her betrothed returned
from the camp.
Then Marcius did as Appius Claudius had secretly bidden
him. He said that he did not wish to harm the maiden,
indeed, he was even willing to take the matter to law.
 So, followed by the crowd, he led Verginia before the
judge, who was no other than Appius Claudius.
Here Marcus announced that he could prove to Verginius
that the maiden was not really his child, but belonged
to a slave who lived in his house. Meanwhile he
demanded that the maiden should be given into his
But the crowd did not believe what Marcus said, nor did
they care to let the young girl leave her home in her
"Send to the camp for Verginius," cried the people,
heedless of the angry looks of the judge. "Verginia is
a free maiden, and shall stay with her friends until
she is proved a slave."
With an effort, Appius Claudius concealed his real
feelings, and, speaking with the dignity of a judge, he
said: "The maiden belongs either to Verginius or to
Marcus. As Verginius is absent, Marcus shall take
charge of her until her father returns, when the case
shall again come before me."
But to such an unfair sentence the people refused to
submit. So fierce was their temper that they would
have forced Claudius to leave the city had he not
reluctantly allowed Verginia to stay with her friends
until the following day. If Verginius did not then
appear at his tribunal Marcus should claim the maiden
without delay, said Claudius.
Icilius had by this time returned to the city, and he
at once sent to the camp, beseeching Verginius to let
nothing keep him from at once coming to Rome.
But Claudius also sent a messenger to the camp, bidding
his officers on no account to allow Verginius to leave
Fortunately, the messenger sent by Icilius reached the
camp first, and Verginius was already hastening to the
city when his officer received the order sent by
The next morning Claudius went to the Forum, sure that
before the day was over he would have secured Verginia.
What was his surprise and anger to see that Verginius,
whom he had believed to be safely detained at camp, was
 already there by the side of his daughter, accompanied
by many Roman matrons and a crowd of people.
The judge could hear the voice of Verginius as he drew
near. He was speaking to the people, and Claudius knew
too well how easily the passions of the mob could be
"It is not only my daughter that is not safe," Verginius was saying; "who will dare henceforth to
leave their children in Rome if I am robbed of my
As the matrons listened they wept, thinking of the fate
that might overtake their own dear daughters.
Claudius was now much too angry to try to humour the
Bidding Verginius be silent, he at once gave his
verdict that the maiden should be given to Marcus,
until her father had proved that she was free-born.
The people stood silent, stunned for the moment by the
wickedness of the judge. But as Marcus drew near to
lead Verginia away, her friends gathered around her,
refusing to let the man come near her.
Then, in his rage, Claudius bade his lictors drive the
people away, and they, raising their axes, soon
scattered the crowd, for it was unarmed.
Verginius, turning quietly to Claudius, asked that he
might at least speak apart for a moment to his daughter
and her nurse. His request was granted. Then the poor
father in his desperate sorrow knew that there was but
one thing to be done. To trust his daughter to these
wicked men was not to be thought of, so, drawing her
into his arms, he snatched a knife from one of the
stalls, and whispered in her ear: "My child, there is
no other way to free thee." Swift and sure, even as he
spoke, he plunged the knife into his daughter's heart.
Turning to the unjust judge, Verginius cursed him to
his face; then breaking through the crowd, he sped to
the city gates, and mounting a horse, rode in hot haste
back to the camp.
 Meanwhile, Icilius lifted the dead body of the maiden,
and bade the people see what the tyrant Claudius had
In fierce anger, the crowd rushed upon the lictors and
a band of armed patricians and drove them from the
Forum. Claudius, covering his face with his toga,
fled, and for the time escaped with his life.
Verginius had no sooner reached the camp than he told
his piteous tale to the army. Willingly the soldiers
marched to Rome, led by the miserable father, and
joined by another army, at the head of which was
Together they entered Rome, and the soldiers deposed
the decemvirs, while each army elected ten tribunes.
They then marched out of the city, followed by the
people, and encamped, as once before, on the Sacred
Mount, leaving Rome to the patricians.
The Senate saw that it was time to act, for the
decemvirs, it was plain, still hoped to keep the power
they had grasped. So it forced them to resign, and
then sent to the Sacred Mount to ask the plebeians what
sentence they wished the tyrants to suffer.
Icilius demanded that the decemvirs should be put to
death, the others were content that they should be
banished from Rome. But Appius Claudius was not
banished with the other decemvirs. He was sent to
prison, where some say that he killed himself, but
others assert that his enemies put him to death.
The people were now ready to return to the city, having
obtained from the Senate a promise that they should
have their tribunes as of old, and that the sacred laws
should be again established.
In 445 B.C., about four years later,
the plebeians succeeded in gaining new privileges. A
law was passed allowing them to marry patricians, and
this greatly pleased the people.
For many years the plebeians had wished to be allowed
 to stand for the Consulship. Now it was arranged that,
instead of Consuls, from three to six military tribunes
should be appointed, and for this office plebeians
Two of the duties however that had belonged to the
Consuls were not given to the military tribunes, but
kept for two new officers, called censors. The censors
were to be chosen from among the patricians.
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