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On the Shores of the Great Sea by  M. B. Synge


 

 

BACK TO ROME AGAIN

"The Gaul shall come against thee

From the land of snow and night;

Thou shalt give his fair-haired armies

To the raven and the kite."

—MACAULAY.

WE left Rome struggling to assert herself above the neighbouring tribes of Italy. But she had further struggles before her, before she should be free and great—great enough to conquer even Greece herself.

Some hundred years had passed away, since the death of the traitor Coriolanus, and one Camillus was now Dictator.

And now some new foes began to sweep down, from the north, towards Rome. They were known to the Romans, as the Gauls, a fierce and savage people, who loved fighting. They were tall, strong men with fair hair, unlike the dark Romans. They dressed in bright colours, with gold collars round their necks, carrying round shields and huge broadswords.

Over the Alps came these savage warriors, on [152] and on towards Rome herself. No one had ever seen the like of them before, and the Romans grew very much alarmed, when they heard the Gauls shouting out their war-songs and clashing their arms like barbarians.

A fight took place near Rome in which the Gauls were victorious, and Brennus, the King of the Gauls, led his rough army into Rome. To their surprise they found the city empty. Terror had seized the Romans. They had no hope of defending their city, so they made their way, with their women and children, to the Capitol, a steep rocky hill, defended with strong walls, the great national temple of old Rome, where they hoped to be safe.

The city itself was empty save for a few infirm and sick people, a little garrison, and eighty old senators, who determined to sit still in the Forum and await the foe. They were too old to flee; they thought if they sacrificed themselves to the gods, the city would be saved. They dressed themselves in their splendid robes of state, and sat down in a row, with their ivory staves in their hands, on their ivory chairs, to await what they knew must be their end.

The savage Gauls burst into Rome. When they came to the Forum they stood amazed, at the sight of the eighty grand old men, sitting calm and still in their chairs. One of the Gauls put out his hand to touch one of the long white beards, but the old man resented it and struck the rude soldier with [153] his ivory staff. At this, the Gaul instantly drew his sword, and killed the old Roman. Then the slaughter began. The Gauls killed the old men, plundered their houses, and then attacked the Capitol.

The Romans let them come half-way up, and then hurled them down the steep rocks. As they could not take the Capitol by force, the Gauls now laid siege to it. Time went on and the brave Romans were nearly starved, shut up in the lofty Capitol and surrounded by their enemies. At last a Roman made his way through the Gauls at night, climbed the steep rock to the Capitol, and told the weary garrison, that Camillus was coming with an army to rescue them. Then he slid down the rock and made his way back safely. But the broken twigs and torn ivy, showed the Gauls, that the Capitol had been scaled. What man had done, man could do.

So King Brennus sent up some of his men by night in twos; they crept up silently, but just as they came to the top, some geese began to cackle and scream, and a Roman ran out, to see what was the matter. There he saw a tall Gaul standing on the wall, at the top of the rock. Rushing at him, he struck him such a blow, that knocked him right off the wall, and down the rocks, and no other Gauls dared to climb up.

But in the end the Romans won; for Camillus arrived on the scene, defeated the Gauls, took their [154] camp, and not a man was left to carry back the news to their own country.

So Rome shook herself free once more, and Camillus was always known, as the second founder of Rome, for he had saved his city from the Gauls.


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