THE SACRIFICE OF VIRGINIA
 IN the year 504 B.C. a citizen of Regillum, of much
wealth and importance, finding himself at odds with his
fellow-citizens, left that city and proceeded to Rome,
with a long train of followers, much as the elder
Tarquin had come from Tarquinii. His name was Atta
Clausus, but in Rome he became known as Appius
Claudius. He was received as a patrician, was given
ample lands, and he and his descendants in later years
became among the chief of those who hated and oppressed
About half a century after this date, one of these
descendants, also named Appius Claudius, was a
principal actor in one of the most dramatic events of
ancient Rome. The trouble which had long existed
between the patricians and the plebeians now grew so
pronounced, and the demand for a reform in the laws so
great, that in the year 451 B.C. a commission was sent
to the city of Athens, to report on the system of
government they found there and elsewhere in Greece.
After this commission had returned and given its
report, a body of ten patricians was appointed, under
the title of Decemvirs (or ten men), to prepare a new
code of laws for Rome. They were chosen for one year,
and took the place of the consuls, tribunes, and all
the chief officials of Rome.
 At the head of this body was Appius Claudius. The laws
of Rome had previously been only partly written, the
remainder being held in memory or transmitted as
traditions. A complete code of written laws was
desired, and to this work the decemvirs set themselves
diligently. After a few months they prepared a code of
laws, which was accepted by nobles and people alike as
fair and satisfactory, and it was ordered that these
laws should be engraved upon ten tables of brass and
hung up in the comitium, or place of assembly of the
people, where all might read them and learn under what
laws they lived. It is probable that the plebeian
demand for reform was so great that the decemvirs did
not dare to disregard it.
At the end of the year of office of these officials it
was felt that they had done so well that it was thought
wise to continue them in power for another year. But
when the time for election came round, Appius Claudius
managed to have his nine associates defeated, he alone
being re-elected. The other nine chosen were men whom
he felt sure he could control. And now, having a year's
rule assured him, he threw off the cloak of moderation
he had worn, and began a career of oppression of the
plebeians, aided by his subservient associates. The
first step taken was to add two new laws to the code,
which became known, therefore, as the "Twelve Tables."
These new laws proved so distasteful to the people that
they almost broke into open rebellion. It was evident
that the haughty decemvirs were seeking to increase the
power of their class.
 The decemvirs did not confine themselves to passing
oppressive laws. They began a career of outrage and
oppression that filled Rome with woe. The youthful
patricians followed their lead, and insult and murder
became common incidents in Rome. When the second year
of the decemvirate expired, Appius and his colleagues,
knowing that they could not be elected again, showed no
intention of yielding up their authority. They were
supported by the senate and the patricians, and had
gained such power that they defied the plebeians. Those
of the people who were active in opposition were
quietly disposed of, and so intolerable became the
tyranny that numbers of the plebeian party fled from
While this was going on war broke out with the Sabines
and the Æquians. Of the armies sent against these
nations, one was commanded by Lucius Sicinius Dentatus,
among the bravest of the Romans, and who had fought in
one hundred and twenty battles and was covered with the
scars of old wounds. On his way to his post this
veteran was murdered by bravos sent by Appius Claudius.
Decemvirs were now appointed to command the armies,
Appius and one of his colleagues remaining in Rome to
look after the safety of the city.
The story goes that both armies were beaten by their
foes, and forced to retreat within Roman territory.
While they lay encamped, not many miles from Rome, an
event occurred in the city which gave them new work to
do, and proved that the worst enemies of Rome were not
without, but within, her walls.
 In the army sent against the Æquians was a centurion
named Lucius Virginius, who had a beautiful daughter
named Virginia, whom he had betrothed to Lucius
Icilius, recently one of the tribunes of Rome. But the
tyranny of the decemvirs was directed against the wives
and daughters as well as the men of the plebeians, as
was now to be strikingly shown.
One day, as the beautiful maiden was on her way,
attended by her nurse, to school in the Forum (around
which the schools were placed), she was seen by Appius
Claudius, who was so struck by her beauty that he
determined to gain possession of her, and sought to win
her by insidious words. The innocent girl repelled his
advances, but this only increased his desire to possess
her, and he determined, as she was not to be had by
fair means, to have her by foul. He therefore laid a
wicked plot for her capture.
Marcus Claudius, one of his clients, instigated by him,
seized the girl as she entered the Forum, claiming that
she was his slave. The nurse screamed for help, and a
crowd quickly gathered. Many of these well knew the
maiden, her father, and her betrothed, and vowed to
protect her from wrong. But the villain declared that
he meant no harm, and that he only claimed his own, and
was quite willing to submit his claim to the decision
of the law.
Followed by the crowd, he led the weeping maiden to
where Appius Claudius occupied the judgment-seat, and
demanded justice at his hands. He declared that the
wife of Virginius, being childless,
 had got this child from its mother and presented it to
Virginius as her own, and said that the real mother had
been his slave, and that, therefore, the daughter was
his slave also. This he would prove to Virginius on his
return to Rome. Meanwhile it was but just that the
master should keep possession of his slave.
This specious appeal was earnestly combated by the
friends of the maiden, many of whom were present in the
throng. Virginius, they said, was absent from Rome in
the service of the commonwealth. To take such action
in his absence was unjust. They would send him word at
once, and in two days he would be in the city.
"Let the case stand until he can appear," they
demanded. "The law expressly declares that in cases
like this every one shall be considered free till
proved a slave. The maiden, therefore, should legally
be left with her friends till the day of trial. Put not
her fair fame in peril by giving up a free-born maiden
into the hands of a man whom she knows not."
To this reasonable appeal Appius, with a show of
judicial moderation, replied,—
"Truly, I know the law
you speak of, and hold it just and good, for it was
enacted by myself. But this maiden cannot in any case
be free; she belongs either to her father or to her
master. And as her father is not here, who but her
master can have any claim to her? I decide, therefore,
that M. Claudius shall keep her till Virginius comes,
and shall require him to give sureties to bring her
judgment-  seat when the day comes for hearing the case between
This illegal decision was far from satisfying the
multitude. The decemvirs and their adherents had gained
an unholy reputation for dishonorable treatment of the
wives and daughters of the people, and it was not safe
to trust a maiden in their hands. Word had been hastily
sent to Numitorius, the uncle of Virginia, and Icilius,
her betrothed, and they now came up in great haste, and
protested so vigorously against the sentence, that the
surrounding people became roused to fury. Appius,
seeing the temper of the throng, and fearing a riotous
demonstration, felt forced to change his decision. He
said, therefore, that, in view of the rights of fathers
over their children, he would let the case rest till
the next day.
"If, then," he said, with a show of stern dignity,
"Virginius does not appear, I plainly tell Icilius and
his fellows that I will support the laws which I have
made. Violence shall not prevail over justice at this
Obliged to be content with this, the friends of
Virginia conducted her home, and Icilius sent
messengers in all haste to the camp, to bid Virginius
come without an hour's delay to Rome. Surety was given
that the maiden should appear before Appius the next
It was fortunate that the army in which Virginius was a
centurion had been obliged to retreat, and then lay not
many miles from Rome. The messengers sent reached the
camp that same evening, and
 told Virginius of the peril of his daughter. Appius had
also sent messengers to his colleagues in command of
the army, secretly instructing them not to lot
Virginius leave the camp on any pretence. But the
messengers of right outstripped those of wrong, and
when word came from the decemvirs in command to
restrain Virginius he had already been given leave of
absence, and was speeding on the road to Rome, spurred
by love and indignation.
Morning came, and Appius resumed his judgment-seat,
under the delusion that his vile scheme was safe. To
his surprise and dismay, be saw Virginius, whom he
supposed detained in camp, dressed in mean attire, like
a suppliant, and leading his daughter into the Forum.
With him came a body of Roman matrons and a great troop
of friends, for the affair had roused the people almost
to the point of revolt.
This is not my cause only, but the cause of all," said
Virginius, in moving accents, to the people. "If my
daughter shall be robbed from me, what father and
mother among you all is safe?"
Icilius earnestly seconded this appeal, and the mothers
who stood by wept with pity, their tears moving the
people even more than the words of the father and
But Appius was not to be moved by tears or appeals.
Bent on gaining his unholy ends, he did not even give
Virginius time to address the tribunal, but before
Claudius had done speaking he hastened to give
sentence. The maiden, he said, should be considered a
slave until proved to be free-born. In the
 mean time she should remain in the custody of her
THE SACRAFICE OF VIRGINIA.
This monstrous decision, a perversion of all law,
natural and civil, filled the people with astonishment.
Could the maker of the laws of Rome thus himself set
them at defiance? They stood as if stunned, until
Claudius approached to lay bands on the maiden, when
the women and her friends gathered around her and kept
him off, while Virginius broke out in passionate
threats that he would not tamely submit to so great a
Appius had prepared for this. He had brought with him a
body of armed patricians, and, supported by them, he
bade his lictors to drive back the crowd. Before their
threatening axes the unarmed people fell back, and the
weeping maiden was left standing alone. Virginius
looked on in despair. Was he to be robbed of his
daughter in the face of Rome, and in defiance of all
justice and honor? There was one way still to save her,
and only one.
With an aspect of humility he asked Appius to let him
speak one word to the nurse in the maiden's hearing,
that he might learn whether she were really his child
or not. "If I am not indeed her father, I shall bear
her loss the lighter," he said.
Appius, with a show of moderation, consented, and the
distracted father drew the nurse and his daughter aside
to a spot where stood some butchers' booths, for the
Forum of Rome was then a place of trade as well as of
justice. Here he snatched a knife from a butcher, and,
holding the poor girl in his arm, he cried, "This is
the only way, my child, to
 keep thee free," and plunged the weapon to her heart.
Then, turning to Appius, he cried, in threatening
accents, "On you and on your head be the curse of this
"Seize the madman!" yelled Appius.
But, brandishing the bloody knife, Virginius broke
through the multitude, which readily made way for his
passage, and flew to the city gates, where, seizing a
horse, he rode with wild haste to the camp of Tusoulum.
Meanwhile Icilius and Numitorius held up the maiden's
body, and bade the people see the bloody result of the
decemvir's unholy purpose. A tumult instantly arose,
the people rushing in such fury upon the tribunal that
the lictors and armed patricians were driven back, and
Appius, stricken with fear, covered his face with his
robe and fled into a neighboring house.
Never had Rome been so stirred to fury. The colleague
of Appius rushed with his followers to the Forum, but
the people were too strong for all the force he could
gather. The senate met, but could do nothing in the
excited state of public feeling. An attempt to support
the decemvirs now might cause the commons once more to
secede to the Sacred Hill.
While this was going on in the city, Virginius,
followed by many citizens, had reached the camp. Here
the encrimsoned knife he held, the blood on his face
and body, and the many unarmed citizens who followed
him, brought the soldiers crowding round to learn what
all this meant.
 The tale was told in moving accents. On hearing it the
whole army burst into a storm of indignation. Heedless
of the orders of their generals, they rushed excitedly
to arms, pulled up their standards, and put themselves
in hasty march for Rome. The only leader they
recognized was Virginius, who, knife in hand, led the
way in the van.
Reaching the city, the soldiers called on the commons
to assert their liberties and elect new tribunes, the
decemvirs having deprived them of these officials. They
then marched to the Aventine Hill, where they selected
ten military tribunes. The senate sent to them to know
what they wanted, but they replied that they had no
answer to give except to their own friends.
The other army had also heard of the outrage, and soon
appeared at the Aventine, led by Icilius and
Numitorius, who had hastened with the dreadful story to
its camp. It, too, elected ten tribunes, and waited to
hear what the senate had to propose. They waited in
vain. No word came to them. The senate, distracted by
the sudden occurrence, sought to temporize, but the
people were in too deadly earnest to be thus dealt
with. In the end the armies left the Aventine, marched
through the city, and made their way to the Sacred
Hill, where the seceding commoners had established
themselves on a famous occasion long before. Men,
women, and children followed them in multitudes. Once
more the city was deserted by the plebeians, and the
patricians were left to keep Rome together as they
This brought the senate to terms. The decemvirs
 agreed to resign. Deputies were sent to ask what the
people demanded. They replied that they wanted their
tribunes and the right of appeal restored, full
indemnity for all the leaders in the secession, and the
punishment of their oppressors.
"These decemvirs," said Icilius, "are public enemies,
and we will have them die the death of such. Give them
up to us, that they may be burnt with fire, as they
have richly deserved."
This bloodthirsty desire, however, was not insisted on.
All their other requests were granted, and the people
returned to Rome. The decemvirs had resigned. Ten
tribunes were chosen, among them Virginius and Icilius.
The people of Rome had regained the liberty of which
they had been robbed by their late oppressors.
But though the decemvirs had been spared from death by
fire, they were not forgiven. Virginius, as a tribune,
impeached Appius for having given a decision in
defiance of the law. The proud patrician appeared in
the Forum surrounded by a body of young nobles, but he
gained nothing by this bravado. He refused to go before
the judge, appealed to the people, and demanded to be
released on bail. This Virginius refused. He could not
be trusted at liberty. He was therefore thrown into
prison, to await the judgment of the people.
This judgment he did not live to hear. Whether he
killed himself in prison, or was killed by order of his
accusers, we do not know. We only know that he died.
His colleague, who had come to his aid on that fatal
day, was also thrown into prison, on the
 charge of having wantonly scourged an old and
distinguished soldier. He also died there. The other
decemvirs, with M. Claudius, who had claimed Virginia
as his slave, were allowed to give bail, and all fled
from Rome. The property of all of them was confiscated
Rome had experienced enough of decemvirate rule. The
tribunes of the people were restored, and thereafter
they were both freely chosen by the people, which had
not been the case before.
And thus it was that Virginia was revenged and justice
once more reigned in Rome.