CAMILLUS AT THE SEIGE OF VEII
 WE have now to tell the story of another dictator of
Rome. Like Cincinnatus, Camillus is largely a creature
of legend, but he plays an active part in old Roman
annals, and the tale of his doings is well worth
Rome was at war with the city of Veii, a large and
strong city beyond the Tiber, and not many miles away.
In the year of Rome 350 (or 403 B.C.) the siege of Veii
began, and was continued for seven years. We are told
that the Romans surrounded the city, five miles in
circumference, with a double wall, but it could not
have been complete, or the Veientians could not have
held out against starvation so long. For the end of the
siege and the taking of the city we must revert to the
For seven years and more, so the legend says, the
Romans had been besieging Veii. During the last year of
the siege, in late summer, the springs and rivers all
ran low; but of a sudden the waters of the Lake of Alba
began to rise, and the flood continued until the banks
were overflowed and the fields and houses by its side
were drowned. Still higher and higher the waters
swelled till they reached the tops of the hills which
rose like a wall around the lake.
 In the end they overflowed these hills at their lowest
points, and poured in a mighty torrent into the plain
The prayers and sacrifices of the Romans had failed to
check the flood, which threatened their city and
fields, and despairing of any redress from their own
gods they sent to Delphi, in Greece, and applied there
to the famous oracle of Apollo. While the messengers
were on their way, it chanced that a Roman centurion
talked with an old Veientian on the walls whom he had
known in times of peace, and knew to be skilled in the
secrets of Fate. The Roman condoled with his friend,
and hoped that no harm would come to him in the fall of
Veii, sure to happen soon. The old man laughed in
reply, and said,—
"You think, then, to take Veii. You shall not take it
till the waters of the Lake of Alba are all spent, and
flow out into the sea no more."
This remark troubled the Roman, who knew the prophetic
foresight of his friend. The next day he talked with
him again, and finally enticed him to leave the city,
saying that he wished to meet him at a certain secret
place and consult with him on a matter of his own. But
on getting him in this way out of the city, he seized
and carried him off to the camp, where he brought him
before the generals. These, learning what the old man
had said, sent him to the senate at Rome.
The prisoner here spoke freely. "If the lake overflow,"
he said, "and its waters run out into the sea, woe unto
Rome; but if it be drawn off, and the
 waters reach the sea no longer, then it is woe unto
This he gave as the decree of the Fates; but the senate
would not accept his words, and preferred to wait until
the messengers should return from Delphi with the reply
of the oracle.
When they did come, they confirmed what the old prophet
had said. "See that the waters be not confined within
the basin of the lake," was the message of Apollo's
priestess: "see that they take not their own course
and run into the sea. Thou shalt take the water out of
the lake, and thou shalt turn it to the watering of the
fields, and thou shalt make courses for it till it be
spent and come to nothing."
What all this could possibly have to do with the siege
of Veii the oracle did not say. But the people of the
past were not given to ask such inconvenient questions.
The oracle was supposed to know better than they, so
workmen were sent with orders to bore through the sides
of the hills and make a passage for the water. This
tunnel was made, and the waters of the lake were drawn
off, and divided into many courses, being given the
duty of watering the fields of the Romans. In this way
the water of the lake was all used up, and no drop of
it flowed to the sea. Then the Romans knew that it was
the will of the gods that Veii should be theirs.
Despite all this, the army of Rome must have met with
serious difficulties and dangers at Veii, for the
senate chose a dictator to conduct the war. This was
their ablest and most famous man, Marcus
 Furius Camillus, a leader among the aristocrats, and a
statesman of distinguished ability.
Under the command of Camillus the army hotly pressed
the siege. So straitened became the Veientians that
they sent envoys to Rome to beg for peace. The senate
refused. In reply, one of the chief men of the embassy,
who was a skilled prophet, rebuked the Romans for their
arrogance, and predicted coming retribution.
"You heed neither the wrath of the gods nor the
vengeance of men," he said. "Yet the gods shall requite
you for your pride; as you destroy our country, so
shall you shortly after lose your own."
This prediction was verified before many years in the
invasion of the Gauls and the destruction of Rome,—a
tale which we have next to tell.
Camillus, finding that Veii was not to be taken by
assault over its walls, began to approach it from
below. Men were set to dig an underground tunnel, which
should pass beneath the walls, and come to the surface
again in the Temple of Juno, which stood in the citadel
of Veii. Night and day they worked, and the tunnel was
in course of time completed, though the ground was not
opened at its inner extremity.
Then many Romans came to the camp through desire to
have a share in the spoil of Veii. A tenth part of this
spoil was vowed by Camillus to Apollo in reward for his
oracle; and the dictator also prayed to Juno, the
goddess of Veii, begging her to desert this city and
follow the Romans home, where a temple worthy of her
dignity should be built.
 All being ready, a fierce assault was made on the city
from every side. The defenders ran to the walls to
repel their foes, and the fight went vigorously on.
While it continued the king of Veii repaired to the
Temple of Juno, where he offered a sacrifice for the
deliverance of the city. The prophet who stood by, on
seeing the sacrifice, said, "This is an accepted
offering. There is victory for him who offers the
entrails of this victim upon the altar."
The Romans who were in the secret passage below heard
these words. Instantly the earth was heaved up above
them, and they sprang, arms in hand, from the tunnel.
The entrails were snatched from the hands of those who
were sacrificing, and Camillus, the Roman dictator, not
the Veientian king, offered them upon the altar. While
he did so his followers rushed from the citadel into
the streets, flung open the city gates, and let in
their comrades. Thus both from within and without the
army broke into the town, and Veii was taken and
From the height of the citadel Camillus looked down
upon the havoc in the city streets, and said in pride
of heart, "What man's fortune was ever so great as
mine?" But instantly the thought came to him how little
a thing can bring the highest fortune down to the
lowest, and he prayed that if some evil should befall
him or his country it might be light.
As he prayed he veiled his head, according to the Roman
custom, and turned toward the right. In doing so his
foot slipped, and he fell upon his back on the ground.
"The gods have heard my prayer,"
 he said. "For the great fortune of my victory over Veii
they have sent me only this little evil."
He then bade some young men, chosen from the whole
army, to wash themselves in pure water, and clothe
themselves in white, so that there would be about them
no stain or sign of blood. This done, they entered the
Temple of Juno, bowing low, and taking care not to
touch the statue of the goddess, which only the priest
could touch. They asked the goddess whether it was her
pleasure to go with them to Rome.
Then a wonder happened; from the mouth of the image
came the words "I will go." And when they now touched
it, it moved of its own accord. It was carried to Rome,
where a temple was built and consecrated to Juno on the
On his return to Rome Camillus entered the city in
triumph, and rode to the Capitol in a chariot drawn by
four white horses, like the horses of Jupiter or those
of the sun. Such was his ostentation that wise men
shook their heads. "Marcus Camillus makes himself equal
to the blessed gods," they said. "See if vengeance come
not on him, and he be not made lower than other men."
There is one further legend about Camillus. After the
fall of Veii he besieged Falerii. During this siege a
school-master, who had charge of the sons of the
principal citizens, while walking with his boys outside
the walls, played the traitor and led them into the
But the villain received an unexpected reward.
Camillus, justly indignant at the act, put thongs in
 the boys' hands and bade them flog their master back
into the town, saying that the Romans did not war on
children. On this the people of Falerii, overcome by
his magnanimity, surrendered themselves, their city,
and their country into the hands of this generous foe,
assured of just treatment from so noble a man.
But trouble came upon Camillus, as the wise men had
predicted. He was an enemy of the commons and was to
feel their power. It was claimed that he had kept for
himself part of the plunder of Veii, and on this charge
be was banished from Rome. But the time was near at
hand when his foes would have to pray for his return.
The next year the Gauls were to come, and Camillus was
to be revenged upon his ungrateful country. This story
we have next to tell.