The coming of peace elsewhere found Rome and Veii facing each other with such mutual hatred and ferocity that none could doubt but that defeat for either would mean extinction. Elections in the two towns revealed a wide difference in the policy of each: the Romans increased the number of their military tribunes to the unprecedented number of eight – Manlius Aemilius Mamercus (for the second time), Lucius Valerius Potitus (for the third time), Appius Claudius Crassus, Marcus Quinctilius Varus, Lucius Julius Julus, Marcus Postumius, Marcus Furius Camillus, Marcus Postumius Albinus; the Veientes, on the contrary, in disgust at the annually recurring scramble for office which had not seldom given rise to bitter quarrels, had appointed a king. The other Etruscan communities had taken offence at this innovation, for personal reasons no less than for political, as the man who was given supreme power in Veii had been generally disliked owing to his wealth and, more particularly, because of the outrage he had committed on their religious feelings by breaking up a solemn national festival. The Twelve Peoples had failed to elect him as priest, and in rage at this rebuff he without warning, and while the show was still in progress, withdrew the performers, most of whom were his own slaves. The Etruscan communities, deeply learned as they were in sacred lore of all kinds, were more concerned than any other nation with religious matters, and for that reason they determined to refuse assistance to Veii while the king ruled there. In Veii itself this decision was kept dark, as people were afraid of the king who was always inclined to take the bearer of this sort of news as a likely leader of rebellion – never as a mere reporter of gossip. The Romans were well aware that the question of aid to Veii was being brought up at all the meetings of the Etruscan communities, so in spite of reports that all was at present quiet there, they took the precaution of constructing their field–works both for offence and defence – facing the town to prevent sorties, and also confronting the open country to block any assistance which might come from elsewhere in Etruria.
The Roman commanders, in the belief that a siege offered better prospects of success than a direct assault, took the hitherto unprecedented step of beginning the construction of winter quarters, intending to continue hostilities throughout the year. For some time now the tribunes in Rome had been without a pretext for stirring up trouble, but the moment they got news of the commanders’ intention they jumped at their chance: hurriedly calling an assembly they did all they could to inflame the mob. ‘So that’ (they exclaimed) ‘is why the soldiers have been granted pay! A gift indeed, but a poisoned one – just as we knew it would be. The liberty of the people has been sold. All who are fit for service have been got out of the way for ever – banished from city life and politics – no longer allowed even during the storms of winter to visit their homes or see to their affairs. What’s behind this new idea of winter campaigning? We’ll tell you: it is simply and solely to prevent the presence in Rome of large numbers of those active men who constitute the whole strength of the popular cause – if they are not here, then nothing will be done for you. Moreover, these soldiers of ours are being subjected to far worse suffering than our enemies in Veii, who have their houses to live in during the winter months and can look for protection to the natural strength and excellent defences of their city, while our own men have to grind their hearts out in frost and snow, living under canvas and not permitted to sheathe their swords even in those months which have always brought a respite from all wars, whether by sea or land. To campaign upon compulsion, summer and winter alike? Why, this is slavery beyond any imposed by the kings, or by those haughty consuls in the old days before we tribunes existed; it is worse than anything done by the gloomy and remorseless power of the dictatorship, or by the self–willed and arrogant decemvirs.
‘These men who have acted with such savagery wield, as yet, only the shadow of consular authority – what, then, do you think they will do when they are consuls indeed – or Dictators?
‘My friends, you deserve your fate. Eight military tribunes were elected, and you did not find room amongst them for a single man of your own class. Once patrician candidates used to fill three places a year, and that only after a hard–fought election, but now they come galloping up to the poll like an eight–horse team with us plebeians absolutely nowhere – not a commoner in sight to remind his colleagues, if nothing else, that the soldiers on service are not slaves but free men and fellow–citizens, who ought in winter at least to be allowed to return to the comfort of their homes, to see their parents and wives and children at any rate for a part of the year, and to use their privilege, as burgesses of Rome, of voting at elections.’
The tribunes were quickly confronted by a man thoroughly well qualified to answer their impassioned tirades; this was Appius Claudius, who had been left by his colleagues in Rome for the express purpose of dealing with any trouble which the tribunes might raise. For most of his adult life he had been deeply engaged in active opposition to the popular party, and it was he, as I have already recorded, who a few years previously had suggested that the power of the tribunate might be broken by getting some of the tribunes to veto the proposals of the others. He was a clever man and a practised speaker, and the speech he delivered on the present occasion was to the following effect. ‘Men of Rome, if there has ever been any doubt whether it is for your sakes or for their own that the tribunes have always encouraged sedition, that doubt is surely now at an end. For years you have failed to see the true state of the case – but you see it now, and I am thankful. Moreover I congratulate you – as I congratulate the country on your behalf – that the mistake has been cleared up at a time when things are going well for you. Is it not as plain as daylight that by no injustice you ever suffered – as you may have done, possibly, from time to time – have your tribunes been roused to such a pitch of indignation as by the free gift which the Senate gave you when payment was granted for military service? What they were afraid of then, and what they are seeking to destroy today, is – obviously – concord between the orders – between nobility and commons – as they are convinced that it would contribute more than anything else to the collapse of the tribunate. They are like dishonest tradesmen looking for work – it suits them best if there is always something wrong in the body politic, so that you can call them in to put it right.
‘Tell me, which side are you tribunes on? Are you defending or attacking the commons? Are you for or against our soldiers in the field? Personally I suspect your real position is mere contrariness – you object to anything and everything the Senate does, regardless of its political implications. Just as masters refuse to let anyone outside the family help or harm their slaves, or have anything to do with them, so you try to stop all intercourse between patricians and commons, for fear lest our kindliness and generosity have their due effect upon them, and they, in their turn, learn to listen to our counsel. If you loved your country – nay, if you had a spark of humanity in you – you ought rather to have welcomed and, so far as you could, to have fostered a proper relationship between patricians and populace – kindliness on the one hand, obedience on the other. Could the harmony between them but last for ever, who would hesitate to affirm that we should quickly become the dominant power amongst our neighbours?
‘As to the decision of my colleagues not to withdraw the troops from Veii until their object is accomplished, I will explain presently why it is not merely a sound, but also a necessary decision. First, however, I should like to say a word about the actual condition of the soldiers on the spot. Now surely not only you but they too, if they could hear what I am saying and had every chance to criticize, would admit the fairness of arguments which I am perfectly willing to borrow from my opponents, should I fail to find enough of my own. The tribunes were saying just now that pay ought not to have been granted to the soldiers, because it had never been granted before. How then can they now object if men who are better off than they used to be are asked to do more for it – to contribute additional service in proportion to their gain? There is, to speak generally, no such thing as work without gain or gain without work: toil and pleasure, though apparent opposites, are indissolubly linked. Men on active service used to resent having to serve the country at their own expense, but they were glad, at least, to have a part of the year for working their farms and earning something for the support of their families even when they had to go abroad again. Now they are no less glad that the state is contributing to their incomes – they are by no means averse to drawing their pay. Let them, therefore, put up with being away a little longer from their homes and from that property of theirs which no longer has to bear heavy expenses during their absence. To put the matter on a strictly business footing, might not the state say: “You have a year’s pay, so give a year’s work. Or do you think that twelve months’ pay for six months’ service is a fair proposition?”
‘I find it distasteful to labour this point, as it is the sort of argument which would be appropriate in the case of an army of mercenaries. We, on the contrary, wish to deal with our fellow–citizens, and claim to be similarly dealt with ourselves: what you discuss with us, you are discussing with your country.
‘Men of Rome, either this war ought never to have been undertaken or it ought to be conducted worthily and ended as quickly as possible – and ended it will be, if we press the siege and withdraw only when the capture of Veii shall have crowned our hopes. God help us, my friends, shame itself, if nothing else, should keep us in the field: there was a time when for one woman’s sake a city was besieged for ten years by the united armies of Greece – far from home, with many lands and the sundering seas between! How, remembering that, can we shrink from sticking it for a single year – barely twenty miles away, too; nay, almost within sight of home? Is our quarrel with Veii such a slight one? Have we no grievance against them sufficient to keep us at our task? Come, come: on seven separate occasions they have started hostilities against us; in the intervals of peace we could never trust them; a thousand times they have devastated our farmlands; they have forced Fidenae to revolt, killed our settlers, prompted, in contravention of all human decency, the impious murder of our envoys, and attempted to raise all Etruria against us. They are still trying to do so now, and, when our envoys demanded redress, they were within an ace of laying violent hands upon them. Are those the sort of people we should fight with the gloves on – or dilatorily? Righteous indignation should be enough to move us, but there is more too, and I beg you in God’s name to understand what it is: Veii is already surrounded by siege–works on a vast scale; all the inhabitants are shut up within their walls; their farms are neglected, and any cultivated land there was has been ruined. If, then, we raise the siege, can you doubt for an instant that they will invade us – not only in desire for revenge but from the sheer necessity of recouping their own losses by plundering somebody else? Raise the siege, and we shall not be postponing the war till next summer: no indeed – we shall be fighting it on our own territory.
‘To come now to purely military considerations – to what personally touches our troops in the field – those troops whom the gallant tribunes, after trying to rob them of their pay, now suddenly wish to protect from hardship. Consider the position: they have completed the immensely laborious construction of a rampart and trench extending over miles of country; they have built forts in increasing numbers as their own strength grew, and defence–works of all sorts to guard against attack not only from the town but from the surrounding country, and in addition to these major works there has been the preparation of all the elaborate apparatus needed for a siege – towers, mantlets, tortoises, and goodness knows what. Can you really believe that now, when all this mass of work has been brought to a successful conclusion, it ought to be abandoned, only to be begun over again, with the same labour, the same sweat, next summer? Surely it is infinitely easier to keep what we’ve got, to press relentlessly on – in short, to finish the job. It will not take us long, if only we keep at it and do not deliberately postpone the fulfilment of our hopes by interruptions and delays. I speak of the waste of time and labour, but there is a worse danger we run by putting off our operations, and all these meetings of the Etruscan communities to discuss aid to Veii are not likely to let us forget it. As things are at the moment, there is no love lost between these communities and Veii – they are refusing to help, and for all they care we are at liberty to take the place; but who can guarantee that if our present operations are broken off they will not change their minds? Once we relax our efforts, there will be, in the first place, an increased diplomatic offensive on Veii’s part, and, in the second, the cause of the other Etruscans’ resentment, the monarchial government in Veii, may well be removed either in the natural course of things or by the will of the people, who might hope thereby to get on terms again with the rest of Etruria – indeed the king himself, unwilling to endanger his people, might voluntarily abdicate. Only consider the train of consequences which are bound to follow this disastrous policy – the sheer waste of our laboriously constructed siege–works, the imminent devastation of our own countryside, war not with Veii only but with a united Etruria.
‘That, then, is the policy the tribunes recommend. It reminds me of a doctor who, by indulging his patient’s craving for food and drink, protracts his disease, and perhaps renders it permanently incurable, when strict treatment would have set him on his feet again within a week. Even apart from this particular campaign, it was of the utmost importance to military discipline that our troops should accustom themselves not merely to the enjoyment of victory but to a certain dogged endurance when things are moving slowly; they must learn to wait for the fulfilment of their hopes, maybe for years; if their work is not finished by the summer’s end, they must learn to face the winter too, and not look around as soon as autumn comes for a comfortable shelter like our summer visitors, the birds. If a passion for hunting can draw a man, whatever the weather – frost or snow – into the woods and hills, surely in the stern stresses of war we can show the same power of physical endurance which is ordinarily elicited by the pleasure of sport? Or are we to think that our soldiers have gone so soft in mind and body that a single winter on active service is intolerable to them? Have they turned sailors – to wage war with an eye on the weather and incapable of bearing heat or cold? Such a charge would fill them with shame and indignation: they would stoutly maintain that they are tough and determined fellows, perfectly capable of fighting a winter campaign as well as a summer one, that they never expected the tribunes to provide a featherbed for effeminate idlers, and remembered, moreover, that the men who long ago created the tribunate had themselves fought their battle in the open, courageously, not without dust and heat. To be worthy of the Roman name and of the valour of your soldiers, you must look beyond the present campaign against Veii, and seek a reputation in the eyes of the world which will stand you in good stead in other wars hereafter; what you do now will – believe me – make a considerable difference to our future reputation: either our neighbours will think that no town which has succeeded in defending itself against us for five minutes need have anything else to fear, or the terror of the Roman name will be such that the world shall know that, once a Roman army has laid a siege to a city, nothing will move it – not the rigours of winter nor the weariness of months and years – that it knows no end but victory and is ready, if a swift and sudden stroke will not serve, to persevere till that victory is achieved. Perseverance is necessary in all kinds of warfare, but most of all in sieges. Few towns can be taken by assault; most are too strongly defended, or built upon impregnable sites; it is time, with its accompanying thirst and hunger, which makes the final breach in the stubborn walls – as it will do at Veii, unless the tribunes turn traitor and the Veientes find in Rome the help which in Etruria they are seeking in vain.
‘The most welcome gift we could give to Veii would be to involve ourselves here in Rome in political dissensions, and then to let the poison of sedition spread to our army in the field. Our enemies – alas – are very different from ourselves: such is the force of control in Veii that neither the prospect of a long and weary siege nor even of the continuance of the monarchy has caused any sort of revolt; Etruria has refused its aid, yet the Veientes have remained calm. And why? Because any rebel will be summarily executed, and no one in that town will be allowed to say the kind of things which here are said with impunity.
‘With us, a deserter or runaway is clubbed to death, but the instigators of desertion and cowardice get a hearing not from an odd traitor or two but from whole armies openly assembled for the purpose. The truth is that the tribunes have poisoned your minds: you have grown accustomed to listen to whatever they say, no matter how treasonable or destructive of the common weal; the tribunate is like a drug and you have found it so sweet that you are willing to ignore any and every crime which lies concealed beneath it. It remains only for these tribunes to repeat their howls of rage before the soldiers in the field, to corrupt the army and urge it to mutiny – and why not, for does not Roman liberty consist in the glorious privilege of snapping our fingers at the Senate and magistrates, and looking with contempt upon law, tradition, established ordinance, and military discipline?’
Appius both in the Senate and at mass meetings outside was already proving himself a match for the tribunes, when a reverse at Veii, whence bad news of that sort was least expected, gave, in a moment, the preponderating weight to his cause, and at the same time drew the contending parties closer together and increased the general determination to press the siege with greater vigour than before. The earthen rampart round the town had already been carried well forward and the mantlets were nearly in contact with the walls, as work on them had been going on almost without intermission during the hours of daylight; unfortunately however they were inadequately guarded at night, with the result that hundreds of men with burning flares made an unexpected sortie and set the whole thing in a blaze. Within an hour weeks of hard work were reduced to ashes, and many who tried in vain to cope with the situation perished either by fire or sword. In Rome the news of the disaster caused universal distress, and in the Senate there was acute anxiety lest, in consequence of it, it should no longer be possible to stop a rising both in the city and in the army – to the great delight of the tribunes who would, no doubt, congratulate themselves on their victory over the government. Happily however the anxiety was rendered needless by a most unexpected offer: all the men who were rated as ‘knights’, but had not been equipped with horses at the state’s expense, determined at a private meeting to present themselves before the Senate, and then, when leave to put their case had been granted, volunteered to serve with their own horses. They received the thanks of the Senate, expressed in highly honourable terms, and as soon as the news of their offer spread through the city, the populace caught the patriotic fervour and mobbed the Senate House, declaring that, as the order of knights had done their duty, it was now up to the ‘order of footsloggers’, too, to offer themselves for voluntary and special service, at Veii or elsewhere. Should it be at Veii, they vowed never to return until the town was taken.
The satisfaction of the Senate knew no bounds: in the case of the knights their gratitude had been expressed officially, through the magistrates; this time the response was wholly spontaneous. No one was summoned to the House to receive an official answer to the offer; the senators did not even remain within the House themselves, but came hurrying out on to the steps, from which they all, individually and personally, conveyed by voice and gesture to the crowds in the square below the national joy at this act of generosity, calling out that by reason of this unlooked–for collaboration Rome was blessed indeed and would for ever remain invincible. Not one of them but was loud in his praises for knights and populace alike; the very day was a red–letter day for the country, since even the generosity and goodwill of the Senate had been surpassed. Tears of joy and mutual congratulation flowed freely, until at last the Senate reassembled and a motion was adopted to convey through the military tribunes at a mass meeting the formal thanks of the country to the new divisions of infantry and cavalry, with the added assurance that the government would not forget their patriotism. They were to be told, moreover, that every man who had volunteered for service would receive pay, including the cavalrymen. This was the first occasion on which cavalrymen served on their own horses.
The army of volunteers then proceeded to Veii, where it repaired the damage done by the fire and put in hand new works as well. In Rome increased care was taken to ensure adequate supplies, in order that troops who had shown such a magnificent spirit should lack for nothing.
The military tribunes for the following year were Gaius Servilius Ahala (for the third time), Quintus Servilius, Lucius Verginius, Quintus Suplicius, Aulus Manlius (for the second time), and Manlius Sergius (for the second time). This year, while everyone’s attention was concentrated upon the operations at Veii, the garrison at Anxur was overwhelmed and the town taken. The disaster was due to neglect: troops were away on leave, Volscians were being indiscriminately admitted for trading purposes, with the result that the sentries at the gates were suddenly and treacherously attacked. Casualties were not heavy, simply because most of the men who were not on the sick list were scattered around the neighbouring towns and villages, doing business like sutlers.
Nor was it much better with the infinitely more important operations at Veii. For one thing, the Roman commanding officers were showing more energy in quarrelling with one another than in pressing forward the siege, and, for another, the strength of the opposition was increased by the unexpected arrival of contingents from Capenae and Falerii, two Etruscan communities which, by reason of their proximity, naturally supposed that if Veii fell they would themselves be the next object of attack. Falerii had, moreover, already incurred the hostility of Rome by her part in the war with Fidenae, so with that additional reason for her present course of action she had engaged in diplomatic exchanges with Veii and bound herself to render assistance. The troops from Falerii appeared on the scene quite suddenly and attacked the Roman position at the point where Manlius Sergius was in command; the effect was alarm and confusion on the grand scale, as the Romans imagined that all Etruria had risen and was about to crush them with a vast and irresistible army. The same erroneous belief roused the troops in Veii to action, with the result that the Romans found themselves caught between two simultaneous thrusts, front and rear. Rapid manoeuvring was of little avail, and they were unable either to contain the Veientes or to repel the assault upon their own defence–lines on the side away from the town. Their only hope was to get reinforcements from the larger camp, for it would then be possible to fight on both fronts simultaneously with some chance of success. It so happened, however, that the man in command of the larger camp was Verginius, and between Sergius and Verginius there was a private feud of great bitterness; Verginius accordingly, on receiving a report that most of his colleagues’ strong points had been stormed and his defences scaled, took no action whatever: if Sergius, he declared, wanted help, he would no doubt ask for it himself. But Sergius was as pig–headed as Verginius was arrogant, and, rather than appear to have asked help from a man he hated, preferred defeat by the enemy to victory gained through the intervention of a compatriot. His force, surrounded as it was, suffered heavy losses, until finally the position was abandoned; a handful of men made their way to Verginius’s camp, the majority of the survivors, with Sergius himself, going on to Rome.
Arrived in Rome, Sergius threw all the blame for his defeat upon his colleague, who was ordered to return to the city for questioning, leaving his subordinate officers in charge. The affair was then debated in the Senate and in the course of the hearing each man abused the other to the top of his bent, the members of the House taking one side or the other as personal considerations prompted them, and few, if any, concerning themselves with the real issue – the national welfare. The leaders of the House finally proposed that, whether the ignominious defeat were due to ill–luck or to incompetence, all the military tribunes should be immediately superseded, without waiting for the normal date of the elections. The new men should take up their duties on 1 October. During the voting on this proposal none of the military tribunes except the two who were primarily concerned raised any objection; those two, however – Sergius and Verginius, the very men on whose account the Senate wanted a clean sweep – first asked to be spared the humiliation and then, when their request was ignored, vetoed the proposal and flatly refused to resign before 13 December, the usual date. At this the people’s tribunes, who had unwillingly kept silent so long as harmony prevailed and everything was going well, promptly returned to the attack and threatened to order the arrest of the military tribunes unless they submitted to the Senate’s authority. Gaius Servilius Ahala intervened: ‘As for you,’ he said, addressing himself to the people’s tribunes, ‘I should much like to prove that your menaces are as illegal as you yourselves are dastardly. To resist the authority of the Senate is a serious crime: very well then; stop trying to find in our disputes an occasion for raising trouble, and my colleagues shall either do as the Senate proposes or I will myself, if they prove obstinate, immediately name a Dictator, to force their resignation.’
These sentiments won universal approval; the Senate was greatly relieved to have found another, and more powerful, instrument for coercing the military tribunes than the people’s tribunes’ miserable threats. Opposition was at an end, and the military tribunes, yielding to the unanimous feeling of the House, held the election for their successors, who were to enter upon office on 13 October. They themselves resigned before that date.
The men elected for the succeeding year were Lucius Valerius Potitus (for the fourth time), Marcus Furius Camillus (for the second time), Manlius Aemilius Mamercus (for the third time), Cnaeus Cornelius Cossus (for the second time), Caeso Fabius Ambustus, and Lucius Julius Julus. It was to be in all respects an eventful year. In the first place, a number of campaigns were simultaneously on hand – at Veii, at Capena, at Falerii, and the operations for the recovery of Anxur. In Rome neither recruitment nor the collection of the war–tax was going altogether smoothly; there was trouble over the co–opting of people’s tribunes, and no little excitement over the trial of Sergius and Verginius. The new military tribunes’ first concern was the raising of troops, and, circumstances being what they were, they did not stop at the enrolment of the younger men but compelled others who were past the age for active service to enlist for home defence. The increase in the number of troops meant a corresponding increase in the money needed to pay them; an attempt was made to collect it from taxation, but this was resented by the older men who were not detailed for service abroad, on the ground that their own task of home defence was just as much military and national service as any other. The tax was, in fact, a serious burden, but the tribunes jumped at the chance to make it appear worse than it was, making violent anti–government speeches in which they asserted that the Senate’s object in paying the troops was simply to ruin by taxation those of the commons whom they failed to get butchered in the field. One campaign was already in its third year, and it was being deliberately misconducted in order to prolong it still further; then troops were being raised for four more, and boys and old men were being dragged from their homes to go on service; summer and winter, nowadays, were all alike – there was no rest left for the wretched commons, and, as the last straw, they were now to be taxed. Poor creatures! –crawling home exhausted, mutilated, decrepit with age, they would find everything gone in their long absence to rack and ruin, only to be faced with the necessity of raising money out of their dwindling resources in order to return to the treasury three times as much as they received in service pay, as if it had been a loan on interest!
What with recruiting and the new tax and other weighty preoccupations, the candidates at the election of people’s tribunes fell short of the required number, whereupon an effort was made to get patricians co–opted into the vacant places. The effort failed, but – as the next best way of invalidating the law – two plebeians, Lacerius and Acutius, were co–opted, undoubtedly through patrician influence. Now it so happened that one of the tribunes for the year was Cnaeus Trebonius, and a man of that name and family was clearly in duty bound to defend the Trebonian law, which forbade co–optation to the tribunate. Accordingly he declared that the military tribunes had illegally forced through a measure which the Senate – unsuccessfully at the time – had once attempted to carry; the Trebonian law had been made nonsense of, in that tribunes, instead of being elected by popular vote, had been co–opted at the dictation of the patricians – in fact, the intolerable position had been reached that the tribunes must now be either patricians themselves or the patricians’ toadies. Bitterly he complained that the tribunate was being torn from their grasp, their sacred laws annulled – and all by the dishonesty of the governing class and the criminal treachery of his colleagues.
In consequence of this outburst feeling was running high not only against the patricians but equally against the tribunes they had co–opted when three other members of the college, Publius Curatius, Marcus Metilius, and Marcus Minucius, in alarm for the security of their own positions, created a diversion by turning upon Sergius and Verginius, the military tribunes of the preceding year, whom they summoned to stand their trial and by that means provided a fresh object for popular rage to vent itself upon; the line they took was that anyone who resented the levy or the tax or the long duration of foreign service, all who grieved over the defeat at Veii or whose homes were in mourning for sons, brothers, or kinsmen, could now, thanks to them, enjoy both the right and the power of avenging their private sorrows, and the sorrows of the country, upon the two guilty men. ‘Sergius and Verginius,’ they said, ‘are responsible for all your troubles. They are as ready to confess their guilt as their accuser is to prove it, as their behaviour shows: each blames the other, who is as great a scoundrel as himself, Verginius taxing Sergius with running away in face of the enemy, and Sergius retorting with an accusation of betrayal. Indeed the conduct of both men has been so near lunacy that it appears more than likely that the whole wretched affair was a put–up job, engineered by the patricians, who first allowed the Veientes to set fire to the siege–works in order to prolong the war, and have now betrayed the army and treacherously surrendered a Roman camp to the men of Falerii. They are doing all they can to ruin us; they want our soldiers to grow old at Veii; they want to prevent the tribunes from bringing proposals before the people for land–distribution, or for anything else that might alleviate their lot, and from getting on with their programme of reform, and obstructing the government’s conspiracy against us, at packed meetings here in Rome.
‘The two accused men have already been condemned in advance by the Senate, by the people, and by their own colleagues – the Senate cashiered them, their colleagues scared them into resigning by the threat of appointing a Dictator, and the people elected successors to take up their duties two months before the normal date, because they knew that it would be all up with the country if these two scoundrels remained in office a day longer. Yet what do they do? Condemned in advance and cut to pieces as they are, they present themselves before you for trial apparently supposing that they have sufficiently paid for their errors simply by taking off their uniforms a couple of months too soon; it does not seem to occur to them that their forced resignation was not a punishment at all – it was merely a precaution to stop them doing further mischief, as is obvious from the fact that their colleagues, too, were forced to resign, though undoubtedly innocent.
‘We ask you, men of Rome, to remember what you felt on the day of the defeat at Veii, when you watched our battered troops stagger in fear and disorder through the City gates – and not a man of them laid the blame on ill luck or angry gods, but only upon their commanding officers. Is there anyone here present who did not on that day damn both of them to hell – head, house, and fortune? And if you then prayed heaven to punish them, it is surely unreasonable not to use your own power against them now. The law allows it and your duty urges it; the gods, remember, never lay hands upon guilty men – they are content to arm the injured with an opportunity for revenge.’
The people, far from deaf to appeals of this sort, condemned both men to pay a fine of 10,000 asses (old currency), ignoring Sergius’s attempt to lay the blame on his luck and the common chances of war, and Verginius’s pathetic appeal not to be made even more unfortunate at home then he had been on the battlefield. Amidst the passions aroused by this trial the question of co–opting tribunes and the evasion of the Trebonian law were almost forgotten.
The tribunes, full of their triumph, immediately rewarded the commons for their condemnation of the two commanders by bringing forward their customary proposal for the distribution of the public domains, and at the same time forbade the collection of the war–tax, in spite of the fact that there were so many armies needing to be paid and that the military situation, though not wholly adverse, was none the less such that in none of the various theatres was there any prospect of rapid success. At Veii the lost position had been retaken and strengthened, under the command of Manlius Aemilius and Caeso Fabius. Marcus Furius at Falerii and Cnaeus Cornelius at Capena had made no contact with the enemy in open country; they had plundered and burnt crops and farms unopposed, but made no attempt against the towns. The Volscian campaign directed by Valerius Potitus looked less promising: after devastating the countryside Potitus had made an unsuccessful assault on the hill–town of Anxur, and, having found the place impregnable, had started to invest it. In short, the conduct of the various campaigns evinced only a very moderate sort of vigour on the part of the men in command; the same, however, cannot be said of the internal conflict in Rome, which was both serious and violent. The action of the tribunes had stopped the collection of the tax: the troops were loudly demanding their pay, but no money was being sent to the commanding officers, and it began to look as if the army, too, would catch the disease of mutiny against authority. Popular resentment against the patricians being thoroughly aroused, the tribunes seized the opportunity of declaring that now was the time to make liberty secure by excluding from the highest office of state men like Sergius and Verginius and transferring it to the honest and capable hands of picked plebeians; but in spite of their protestations they succeeded in procuring the election of only a single plebeian candidate for the military tribuneship, Publius Licinius Calvus. It was a bare assertion of the rights, and all the others were patricians – Publius Manlius, Lucius Titinius, Publius Maelius, Lucius Furius Medullinus, and Lucius Publilius Vulscus.
As for the mass of the people, they were astonished at their success – but not more so than the successful candidate himself who, though an elderly member of the Senate, had never previously held office. Nobody really knows why it was he, rather than anybody else, who was first called to taste the delights of this unprecedented honour; some think he was dug out of his comfortable obscurity through the influence of his relative Cnaeus Cornelius, who as military tribune in the previous year had arranged for the cavalry to be paid three times as much as the infantry; or his success may possibly have been due to a well–timed speech he made, in which, to the great satisfaction of both parties, he urged the burying of the political hatchet. In their triumph at this electoral victory the people’s tribunes withdrew their opposition to the tax, which was thereupon duly collected and the money dispatched to the army. The government’s most serious difficulty was thus removed.
In the Volscian campaign Anxur was soon retaken – a festival was in progress, and the sentries on guard had neglected their duties.
This year was memorable for a winter of great severity with much snow. Roads were blocked and the river closed to traffic. Fortunately there were good supplies of grain in the City, so prices did not rise.
The election of Licinius had been accompanied by no disorders; so quietly had it gone through that the satisfaction of the commons was much more marked than any resentment on the part of the Senate; accordingly, as he showed a similar tact in the conduct of his office, popular ambition was aroused of getting plebeian candidates, at the forthcoming elections too, into the military tribuneship. The ambition was fulfilled, and the only patrician to secure a place was Marcus Veturius; the others – Marcus Pomponius, Cnaeus Duilius, Publilius Volero, Cnaeus Genucius, and Lucius Atilius – were all plebeians and were elected by an almost unanimous vote of the centuries.
For some reason or other – perhaps because of the sudden change from excessive cold to excessive heat – the hard winter was followed by an unhealthy summer. Plague was rife, and neither human beings nor animals were immune. The disease was incurable, its ravages appalling, and in despair of understanding its cause or of foreseeing its end the Senate ordered a consultation of the Sybilline Books. The two officials in charge of such matters performed, for the first time in Rome, the ceremony of the lectisternium or Draping of Couches: to win the favour of Apollo, Latona, and Diana, of Hercules, Mercury and Neptune, for eight successive days three couches, as richly furnished as the times could afford, were left standing out of doors for the divine company to recline on. A similar ceremony was celebrated in private houses: in every street doors were left open and viands of all sorts displayed for the promiscuous use of anyone and everyone; friends and strangers alike were, we are told, invited in and hospitably entertained; men talked with kindliness and courtesy to their bitterest enemies; quarrels were forgotten, no process was served, and even the prisoners in gaol were relieved of their chains – indeed, when the week was over, it seemed a sin to send back to prison the unfortunates whom the gods had thus helped in their distress.
At Veii meanwhile, where Roman troops had to face the united strength of three enemies, the situation was a most dangerous one. Again, as before, contingents from Capena and Falerii arrived without warning to assist in the defence of the town, thus subjecting the Romans in the smaller camps to pressure from three armies simultaneously from three different directions. Their greatest support in this critical position was the knowledge that Sergius and Verginius had been condemned. This time the mistake was not repeated: from the larger camp, where on the previous occasion the fatal delay had occurred, a force was sent round by the shortest route to take the Capenates in the rear as they threatened an assault on the Roman rampart. The ensuing engagement also shook the contingent from Falerii, which was already in some confusion when a well–timed sortie from the camp put it to flight. The victorious Romans pursued the fugitives with great slaughter, and soon afterwards a raiding–party happened to fall in with them and destroyed the few stragglers who still survived. The Veientes, too, suffered heavily, for the gates of the town had been shut to prevent an irruption of the Romans, and many of them were killed outside before they could get through.
It had certainly been an eventful year, and now the elections were approaching. The patricians were almost more anxious about the result of them than they were about the progress of the war, being painfully conscious that they had not merely been forced to share the supreme office of state with their opponents, but had come near to losing it altogether. They agreed, therefore, to put up their most distinguished men as candidates, men whom they felt the people could hardly have the face to reject, and at the same time launched a great campaign of canvassing – almost as if they were all seeking election themselves. Leaving no stone unturned, they rallied heaven and earth to their support – particularly heaven, as they blamed the result of the election of the year before last upon the anger of the gods; in that year, they said, there had been a winter so unbearable that it looked like a divine warning to guilty men; last year warnings had been succeeded by events; the city and countryside had been smitten with plague – obviously by the wrath of heaven which, as the Books of Prophecy indicated, had to be appeased before any relief could be obtained. The conclusion was clear: the presiding deities of Rome were insulted because at an election held under their auspices, the high offices of state were vulgarized and family distinctions ignored.
This policy proved a success, for even apart from the dignity of the candidates people in general were touched in their religious susceptibilities, and the candidates elected were all patricians and mainly the most illustrious amongst them. They were Lucius Valerius Potitus (for the fifth time), Marcus Valerius Maximus, Marcus Furius Camillus (for the third time), Lucius Furius Medullinus (for the third time), Quintus Servilius Fidenas (for the second time), and Quintus Sulpicius Camerinus (for the second time).
The new military tribunes did nothing of any note at Veii, but concentrated their strength on the devastation of the countryside. The two chief commanders, Potitus at Falerii and Camillus at Capena, plundered on a great scale and left untouched nothing that fire or sword could destroy.
Stories meanwhile were coming in of a number of inexplicable and ominous occurrences. Most of the stories, being vouched for only by individuals, were received with incredulity and contempt – moreover, Rome always employed Etruscan soothsayers and because of the war with Etruria there were none, at the time, in the city. One occurrence, however, caused universal anxiety: the lake in the Alban Wood, without any unusual rainfall or other natural cause, rose much above its normal height. The thing was a prodigy, and a mission was dispatched to the Delphic oracle to inquire what the gods might mean by it. Meanwhile, however, an interpreter of the Fates presented himself nearer home in the person of an old man of Veii, who while Roman and Etruscan soldiers were exchanging chaff as they faced each other on their respective guard–posts, suddenly burst into prophecy and declared that Rome would never take Veii until the water in the Alban lake was drained off. The soldiers at first merely laughed, taking what the old fellow said as meaningless gibe; but after a minute or two they began to talk it over, and finally one of them asked a man belonging to the town (the war had gone on so long that Romans and their enemies frequently talked to each other) who the old fellow was who had made the mysterious remark about the Alban lake. The answer was that he was a soothsayer. Now the Roman sentry who had asked the question was of a superstitious turn of mind, so pretending a wish to consult the soothsayer, should he be able to spare the time, about some private puzzle of his own, got him to come out and talk to him. Neither was armed, and they had walked off together some distance in apparently perfect mutual confidence, when the sentry, who was young and strong, suddenly seized his aged companion and carried him bodily to the Roman lines. The Etruscans who saw the act – indeed, it was obvious to everyone – raised a tremendous outcry but could do nothing to stop it.
The soothsayer was taken to headquarters and then sent on to the Senate in Rome, where he was asked to explain what he had meant. In reply he said that the gods must indeed have been angry with Veii on the day when they put it into his mind to reveal the doom which was destined to fall upon his country, and for that reason what he had then been inspired to speak he could not now recall, as if it had never been spoken; for it might well be that it was as great a sin to conceal what the gods wished to be known as to speak what should remain concealed. He went on to say that it was known to Etruscan lore and written in the books of fate that if the Romans drained the water from the Alban lake after it had risen high, then they would be granted victory over Veii; till then, the gods of Veii would never desert her city walls. He then began to explain in detail the proper method of drawing off the water. The Senate felt that the old man’s authority was hardly adequate in a matter of such importance, so they decided to await the return of their mission to Delphi with the answer of the Pythian oracle.
Before its return with instructions how the prodigy at Alba should be met, the new military tribunes began their year of office. They were as follows: Lucius Julius Julus (for the second time), Lucius Furius Medullinus (for the fourth time), Lucius Sergius Fidenas, Aulus Postumius Regillensis, Publius Cornelius Maluginensis, and Aulus Manlius. This year the men of Tarquinii joined the ranks of Rome’s enemies; they knew that the Romans were already engaged on many fronts, against the Volscians at Anxur, where the garrison was under siege, against the Aequians at Labici, where the Roman settlement was being subjected to pressure, not to mention the major struggle with Veii, Capena, and Falerii. They were also well aware that what with political dissensions things were hardly quieter in the City itself. In these circumstances, as the chance of inflicting some damage seemed a good one, light forces from Tarquinii were sent to raid Roman territory in the belief that Rome would either take no countermeasures, to avoid involving herself in further hostilities, or attempt to deal with the raid only with small and inadequate forces. The Romans felt the raid less as a cause for anxiety than as an insult to their pride, and the measures they took to deal with it were not long delayed and cost little effort: Postumius and Julius raised a contingent – not by the normal process of enlistment, which the tribunes refused to allow – but by appealing to men, as good patriots, to volunteer – and, marching by cross–country tracks through the territory of Caere, surprised and crushed the raiders as they were on their way home with their loot. Many were killed, and all were relieved of their luggage. The Roman party returned to Rome with the lost property recovered. The owners of the property were given two days to identify and claim it, then all that remained unidentified – a great deal of it belonged to the enemy – was sold by auction and the proceeds distributed amongst the soldiers.
Operations in the other theatres of war, especially at Veii, were dragging inconclusively on and the Romans, in despair at success by their own unaided efforts, were beginning to turn their thoughts towards help from destiny or heaven, when the mission arrived back from Delphi. The oracle they brought with them agreed with the prophecy of the old soothsayer who had been carried off from Veii. ‘Let not, O Roman,’ (it ran) ‘the Alban water be contained within its lake; let it not flow with its own stream to the sea. Thou shalt draw it out and water thy fields with it; thou shalt disperse it in rivulets and put out its power. Then mayst thou take courage and thrust against the enemy’s walls, remembering that over the city, which for so long thou hast besieged, victory has been granted thee by the fates which are now revealed. When the war is done and thou hast conquered, bring to my temple a rich gift, and restore and celebrate in the fashion of thy fathers the sacred rites thou hast neglected.’
From that moment the captured soothsayer was held in the highest esteem, and the military tribunes Cornelius and Postumius employed him to direct the ritual expiation of the prodigy and the ceremonies for appeasing the angry gods. It was finally discovered that the ‘neglect of sacred rites’ – or, rather, the improper celebration of a festival – of which the gods accused them consisted simply in the fact that the magistrates who had announced the date for the Latin Festival and the solemn sacrifice on the Alban Mount had done so improperly and had not been elected with due observance of the formalities. There was one way, and one way only, to put this right, namely to procure the resignation of the military tribunes, who were the magistrates concerned, to take the auspices afresh and to enter, for the time being, upon an interregnum. This was done by a resolution of the Senate, and the office of interrex was held by three men in succession: Lucius Valerius, Quintus Servilius Fidenas, and Marcus Furius Camillus. The whole period was marked by continuous disturbances, the tribunes refusing to allow any election to go through until it had been agreed that a majority of the new military tribunes should be plebeians.
About this time the Etruscan communities held a conference at the shrine of Voltumna. Envoys from Capena and Falerii pressed for the union of all Etruria in a common effort to raise the siege of Veii, but the council replied that a similar request had been refused on a previous occasion because it was not felt that a people who had omitted to ask advice in a matter of such importance had the right to demand assistance. Now, however, the situation had changed, and it was their own difficulties which precluded them from sending aid; for in the greater part of Etruria there were now new settlers of strange nationality with whom their relations were ambivalent and far from comfortable. Nevertheless they were willing, out of regard for the pressing dangers of men of their own name and blood, to offer no objection if any of their fighting men should volunteer for that service. It was said in Rome that the number of such volunteers was very large, and for that reason, naturally enough, domestic quarrels began to lose their intensity in face of a common peril.
It caused the Senate but little annoyance when the centuries of the Knights, whose privilege it was to lead the voting at elections, returned as military tribune Publius Licinius Calvus – a man of proved moderation but now too old for active work – though he had not presented himself as a candidate. It was clear that all who had been his colleagues during his year of office would also be re-elected – namely Lucius Titinius, Publius Manlius, Publius Maelius, Cnaeus Genucius, and Lucius Atilius. But before their election was formally declared at an assembly of the tribes, Calvus obtained the permission of the interrex to make a public statement. ‘Fellow citizens,’ he said, ‘you have not forgotten our former tenure of office, and I know therefore that in this election you are looking for what our country most needs in the coming year – an omen of concord. Now my colleagues are the same men as they always were, though the better by experience; but I am not the same – in me you see but the name and shadow of Publius Licinius. My strength is gone; I am hard of hearing and half blind; the edge of my mind is blunted. See then’ – here he laid his hand upon his son – ‘the true copy and reflection of the man who was the first plebeian to be raised by your suffrages to the military tribuneship. Take him in my stead; my own principles governed his upbringing, and I dedicate him now to the country’s service as my representative. I did not seek the honour you have offered me – my son does seek it; I ask you therefore to grant it to him, and to my prayers.’
The old man’s request was not refused, and his son – Publius Licinius like his father – was declared military tribune with consular powers together with the others I have already mentioned.
Titinius and Genucius took command of the operations against the forces of Falerii and Capena; unfortunately, however, they showed more dash than tactical ability and fell plump into a trap. Genucius atoned for his reckless incompetence by an honourable death, fighting in the van; his colleague Titinius withdrew his badly shaken troops to some high ground where he was able to reorganize, but refused to risk a full–scale engagement on the flat country below. The incident was only a minor defeat, but it might have been very serious indeed, and the moral effect of it was tremendous; in Rome, where exaggerated reports were current, there was something like panic; the army at Veii was in not much better case, and when the rumour ran round that the two commanding officers and their whole force had perished, while the victorious troops of Capena and Falerii together with the combined might of all Etruria were already close at hand, the men could with difficulty be restrained from taking to their heels. The rumours in Rome were more alarming still: people believed that the camp at Veii was being stormed and that another enemy army was marching on the City; the walls were hastily manned, and women, called from their houses by the noise and excitement in the streets, flocked to the temples to pray that, if the sacred rites had been duly renewed and the signs from heaven answered as piety demanded, destruction might be averted from their homes and holy places, that the walls of Rome might be suffered to stand and the horrors of war turned against Veii.
And now the Games having been held, the Latin Festival duly celebrated, and the water drained from the Alban lake, the doom of Veii was at hand. Marcus Furius Camillus, the man destined to destroy that city and to save his country, was appointed Dictator and named Publius Cornelius Scipio his Master of Horse. Immediately the whole aspect of things changed with the change of command: courage and hope were renewed, the fortune of the City seemed to take on a new lease of life. Camillus’s first act was to punish in accordance with martial law the men who had deserted during the panic at Veii – an act which taught troops to know something worse than the enemy to fear; he then fixed a date for enrolling new recruits and after a hurried visit to Veii to strengthen the army’s morale returned to Rome to superintend the enlistment. There was no attempt to avoid service; even the Latins and Hernici promised to send contingents to the support of Rome, and were formally thanked in the Senate by Camillus, who then, when all was ready for the coming campaign, vowed in accordance with the Senate’s decree that if he captured Veii he would celebrate the Votive Games and restore and rededicate the temple of Mater Matuta which was first consecrated many years before by King Servius Tullius.
There was more hope than confidence in the City when Camillus and his troops left for the front. The first clash occurred in the neighbourhood of Nepete, against the forces of Falerii and Capena. It was brilliantly successful, and good generalship was followed, as it usually is, by good fortune. Defeat of the enemy in the field was crowned by the capture of his camp; a mass of valuable material was taken, most of which was given for disposal to the quaestor, only a small proportion being distributed amongst the men. The army then proceeded to Veii, where Camillus increased the number of redoubts and by giving out that no one was to fight without orders put a stop to the frequent and somewhat pointless skirmishes which took place between the town walls and the Roman stockade. The men who had been employing themselves in this way were turned on to digging. Of the digging operations, by far the most important and laborious was the construction of a tunnel to lead up into the central fortress of the town; this work was now begun, and to keep it going without intermission the men engaged upon it were divided into six parties, working six hours each in rotation – as continuous labour underground would soon have broken them up. The orders were that digging should go on day and night until the tunnel was complete and a way opened into the enemy citadel.
In course of time Camillus began to realize that victory was within his grasp and that a town of great wealth was about to fall into his hands. He knew that it would yield more in plunder than all the previous campaigns put together, and he was anxious neither, on the one hand, to alienate his troops by giving them an insufficiently generous share, nor, on the other, by an over–lavish distribution to get on the wrong side of the Senate. Accordingly he wrote to the Senate to ask what they wished him to do, now that, as he expressed it, by the favour of God, the stout–heartedness of his men, and his own skilful tactics Veii would soon be in the power of Rome. The Senate was divided on the question: the aged Licinius, who, we are told, was first called upon by his son to speak, proposed a public announcement to the effect that whoever wanted a share in the plunder should go to Veii and get it; but Appius Claudius strongly objected to such a suggestion: in his view a free gift on that scale would be not only unprecedented but unfair and ill–advised, and he accordingly urged that, if people had suddenly found something evil in the established custom of paying captured enemy assets into the treasury (which was in any case depleted by the expenses of war), the money should be used for paying the troops, thereby relieving the commons of some of their burden. Every family would feel the benefit, and city idlers would be prevented from laying greedy fingers on a prize that should go by rights to men who had fought bravely for their country; for it was only human nature that the quicker a man was to seek the lion’s share of danger and hard work, the slower he would be to snatch what he could find for his own enrichment.
Licinius countered by arguing that this money would be a constant cause of suspicion and hatred and would inevitably give rise to public prosecutions, and so to sedition and the seeds of revolution; it would be better, in his view, to make a gift of it, as he had suggested, and thus conciliate the commons, who were already bled white by many years of taxation; it would be a real relief to them, and they would feel that they had got something at long last from a war which had taken the best years of their life. After all, there was more pleasure and satisfaction in what a man took with his own hand and carried home than in ten times the value of it doled out to him at the whim of another. Even the Dictator wanted to avoid the invidious task of making a decision in this affair and applied to the Senate for instructions; so now the Senate should refer the question to the commons and let every man keep whatever the fortune of war gave him.
Licinius’s proposal seemed the safer of the two, as it would range the Senate on the side of the commons, and a proclamation was accordingly issued, that anyone who pleased might go to Camillus and the army at Veii to claim his share in the plunder. Thousands took advantage of it, and swarmed into the camp.
The crisis in the long campaign had now come. Camillus left his headquarters and took the auspices; then he ordered all troops to stand to. ‘Pythian Apollo,’ he prayed, ‘led by you and inspired by your holy breath, I go forward to the destruction of Veii, and I vow to you a tenth part of the spoils. Queen Juno, to you too I pray, that you may leave this town where now you dwell and follow our victorious arms into our City of Rome, your future home, which will receive you in a temple worthy of your greatness.’
From every direction and with overwhelming numbers Roman troops moved forward to the assault, to distract attention from the more imminent danger from the tunnel. No one in the town was yet aware that foreign oracles, and even their own soothsayers, had already foretold their doom; none knew that gods had been invited to a share in their spoils and in answer to prayer were even then turning their divine eyes towards new homes in the temples of their enemies; ignorant as yet that their last day had come, without the least suspicion of the dreadful truth that their defences were already undermined and that at any moment enemy troops would be in the citadel, the doomed citizens seized their swords and ran to defend the walls, puzzled at what might be the significance of this sudden, wild, and apparently reckless assault, when for weeks past not a single Roman soldier had moved from his post.
There is an old story that while the king of Veii was offering sacrifice, a priest declared that he who carved up the victim’s entrails would be victorious in the war; the priest’s words were overheard by some of the Roman soldiers in the tunnel, who thereupon opened it, snatched the entrails, and took them to Camillus. Personally I am content, as a historian, if in things which happened so many centuries ago probabilities are accepted as truth; this tale, which is too much like a romantic stage–play to be taken seriously, I feel is hardly worth attention either for affirmation or denial.
In readiness for the decisive stroke the tunnel had been filled with picked men, and now, without warning, it discharged them into the temple of Juno on the citadel. The enemy, who were manning the walls against the threat from outside, were attacked from behind; bolts were wrenched off the gates; buildings were set on fire as women and slaves on the roof flung stones and tiles at the assailants. A fearful din arose: yells of triumph, shrieks of terror, wailing of women, and the pitiful crying of children; in an instant of time the defenders were flung from the walls and the town gates opened; Roman troops came pouring through, or climbed the now defenceless walls; everything was overrun, in every street the battle raged. After terrible slaughter resistance began to slacken, and Camillus gave the order to spare all who were not carrying arms. No more blood was shed, the unarmed began to give themselves up and the Roman troops, with Camillus’s leave, dispersed to sack the town. The story goes that when the plunder was brought to him and he saw that it was more in quantity and greater in value than he had either hoped or expected, he raised his hands and prayed that, if any god or man thought his luck, and the luck of Rome, to be excessive, he might be allowed to appease the envy it aroused with the least possible inconvenience to himself or hurt to the general welfare of Rome. Tradition goes on to say that while he was uttering this prayer he turned round and happened to trip – which was taken, by those who were wise after the event, as an omen of his subsequent condemnation and of the capture of Rome, a disaster which occurred a few years later. So ended that famous day, of which every hour was spent in the killing of Rome’s enemies and the sacking of a wealthy city.
Next day, all the free-born townsfolk were sold, by Camillus’s orders, into slavery. The proceeds of the sale was the only money which went to the treasury, but the commons were aggrieved about it none the less; for the loot which they brought home individually they gave the credit not to the commander–in–chief who had referred to the Senate a matter he ought to have decided independently, in order, as they felt, to get support for his own meanness, nor yet to the Senate itself, but to the two Licinii – to the elder for his generous proposal on their behalf, and to the younger for procuring a vote upon it.
When all property of value belonging to men had been taken from Veii, work began on the removal of what belonged to the gods – the temple treasures and the divine images themselves. It was done with the deepest reverence; young soldiers were specially chosen for the task of conveying Queen Juno to Rome; having washed their bodies and dressed themselves in white, they entered her temple in awe, and shrank at first from what seemed the sacrilege of laying hands upon an image, which the Etruscan religion forbade anyone except the holder of a certain hereditary priesthood to touch. Suddenly one of them said: ‘Juno, do you want to go to Rome?’ Whether the question was divinely inspired or merely a young man’s joke, who knows? but his companions all declared that the statue nodded its head in reply. We are told, too, that words were uttered, signifying assent. In any case – fables apart – she was moved from her place with only the slightest application of mechanical power, and was light and easy to transport – almost as if she came of her own free will – and was taken undamaged to her eternal dwelling–place on the Aventine, whither the Dictator had called her in his prayer. And there Camillus afterwards dedicated to her the temple he had vowed.
Such was the fall of Veii, the wealthiest city of Etruria. Even her final destruction witnessed to her greatness, for after a siege of ten summers and ten winters, during which she inflicted worse losses than she suffered, even when her destined hour had come she fell by a stratagem and not by direct assault.
The scenes in Rome when the great news arrived beggar description. Not that the City was unprepared for it – the evil omens had been averted, the soothsayers’ prophecies and the oracle from Delphi were common knowledge; all that human wisdom could do had been done in the appointment to the supreme command of Camillus, the world’s greatest general: nevertheless, simply because of the length of the war with its constantly varying fortune and many defeats, victory, when it came, seemed like a gift from heaven, and the joy it caused was beyond belief. Women, without waiting for a word from the government, flocked to the temples and thanked the gods for their mercies; the Senate decreed a public thanksgiving to last four days – longer than ever before. The return of Camillus drew greater crowds than had ever been seen on such an occasion in the past, people of all ranks in society pouring through the city gates to meet him; and the official celebration of his Triumph left in its splendour all previous ones in the shade. Riding into Rome in a chariot drawn by white horses he was the cynosure of every eye – and indeed in doing so he was felt to be guilty of a certain anti–republican arrogance, and even of impiety. Might there not be sin, people wondered, in giving a man those dazzling steeds and thus making him equal with Jupiter or the God of the Sun? It was this disquieting thought that rendered the celebration, for all its magnificence, not wholly acceptable.
The ceremony over, Camillus contracted for the building of Juno’s temple on the Aventine, consecrated a shrine to Mater Matuta, and resigned his office – his duties to religion and to the State being all accomplished.
The question of the gift to Apollo now came up for discussion. Camillus recalled the fact that he had vowed to Apollo a tenth part of the plunder taken from Veii, and the priests gave it as their opinion that the people were in duty bound to discharge this obligation; but it was not easy to find a way of getting individuals to produce the various articles of value they had taken so that they could be assessed for the due contribution. Recourse was finally had to what seemed least likely to cause hard feelings: everyone, namely, who wished to discharge the obligation on himself and his family, was asked to value personally his own bit of the plunder and to pay into the treasury a tenth of the sum. The money thus received was to cover the cost of a golden gift to Apollo, worthy of his godhead and of the splendour of his temple – such a gift, in fact, as the people of Rome need not be ashamed of. But even this failed to satisfy the commons and increased their hostility towards Camillus.
It was at this juncture that Volscian and Aequian envoys arrived in Rome to negotiate a peace. Peace was granted them – less because of the justice of their request than because Rome was weary of the long war and would be glad to see an end to it.
For the year that followed the fall of Veii six military tribunes were elected; they were the two Cornelii, Cossus and Scipio, Marcus Valerius Maximus (for the second time), Caeso Fabius Ambustus (for the third time), Lucius Furius Medullinus (for the fifth time), and Quintus Servilius (for the third time). Lots were drawn and the direction of the war with Falerii fell to the Cornelii, and of the war with Capena to Valerius and Servilius. No attempt was made against the two towns either by siege or direct attack, the Roman armies confining themselves to depredations on the countryside, where they stripped every acre of land bare of its produce, fruit or grain. This brought the people of Capena to their knees; they asked for peace and it was granted them, so that the campaign at Falerii was now the only one that remained on hand.
In Rome meanwhile anti-government agitation reached a new intensity. The government in an attempt to appease it had proposed to send three thousand settlers into Volscian territory, and the special commissioners had assigned about two acres of land to each family; the people concerned, however, felt this to be totally inadequate, and a mere sop to their expectation of much greater things. To them it seemed both absurd and unfair that commoners should be sent into exile amongst the Volscians when the beautiful town of Veii with its cultivated lands, richer and more extensive than those of Rome, was only a few miles away. Simply as a town they preferred it to Rome: it had better amenities of all kinds – a better situation, finer houses, and more splendid temples. This was, in fact, the first stirrings of the movement for the migration to Veii – a movement which gathered many more supporters after the capture of Rome by the Gauls. On the present occasion the idea was that Veii should be taken over by half the commons together with half the Senate, in the belief that both towns could become Roman and form, as it were, a single polity; but this suggestion was violently opposed by the aristocratic party – they would sooner die, they declared, than see any such thing brought to the vote. If in one city the opposing parties were perpetually at each other’s throats, what would it be like in two? How could anyone possibly prefer the vanquished to the victor, or bear to see captured Veii rise to a greatness she never achieved in her years of security and independence? ‘We may be abandoned by our fellow–citizens,’ they bitterly exclaimed, ‘but no force in the world will ever drive us to leave our homes and friends – never shall we follow Sicinius, the author of this monstrous proposal, to see him found the City of Veii, or abandon God’s son, the divine Romulus, father and founder of Rome.’
The quarrel led to ugly scenes: the patricians had induced some of the tribunes to support them, and the only thing which restrained the mob from actual violence was the action of the leading senators, who, every time the savage yells which signalled a riot arose, were the first to confront the surging mass and to inform them calmly that, if they wanted victims, they were ready to their hands. The age and rank of these men had due effect, and the mob, shrinking from doing violence to those who had held positions of such consequence, were shamed into controlling their rage against others as well.
Camillus meanwhile was constantly addressing the people at mass meetings all over the city. ‘No wonder,’ he said, ‘the country has gone raving mad. Under a solemn obligation, as you all are, to discharge your vow, you think of anything rather than of your duty to make your peace with God. I say nothing of your two penny–halfpenny contribution – that is your own personal affair and does not involve the State; but I cannot, for very shame, pass over in silence the fact that the tenth part owed to Apollo should be supposed to consist only of moveable property, while no mention is made of the town itself and of the lands belonging to it, all of which should of course be included.’
Camillus’s point was a nice one, and the Senate, unable to reach an agreement, referred it to the priests, who after further consultation with Camillus pronounced the opinion that all property which before the vow was made had belonged to the Veientes and had subsequently come into the possession of Rome was liable to the charge of a tenth of its value for the purpose of the gift to Apollo. This, of course, included the town and its lands. Money accordingly was drawn from the treasury and the military tribunes were instructed to buy gold; and when it proved that there was not enough gold to be had, the women of Rome met to discuss the situation, and, agreeing unanimously to promise the military tribunes the gold they wanted, proceeded to bring all their personal ornaments to the treasury. Nothing had ever given the Senate greater satisfaction, and we are told that in recognition of this munificent gift it gave the women the privilege of driving to games and festivals in four–wheeled carriages and of using ordinary carriages at all times – working days or holidays. When all the gold objects had been received and their value assessed for payment, it was decided that Apollo’s gift should take the form of a gold mixing–bowl, to be carried to his temple in Delphi.
No sooner were men’s minds at rest on the score of their religious obligations than the people’s tribunes began to stir up trouble again, doing all they could to incite the mob against the government leaders, and particularly against Camillus, who, they declared, by devoting all the assets of Veii either to the State or to religious purposes had frittered them away to nothing. Their attacks, to be sure, were confined to the absent, as they lacked the impudence to abuse any who faced them squarely. As soon as it became clear that the dispute would not be settled that year, they began to work for the re–election of the tribunes who supported the migration to Veii, while the patricians exerted themselves in the interest of those who opposed it. The result, on balance, was that most of the same men were returned.
At the elections for the military tribuneship the senatorial party made every effort to procure the return of Camillus, ostensibly as a tried soldier to meet the military needs of the moment, but in reality because they wanted a man capable of resisting the anti–government measure to distribute the territory of Veii. Their efforts were successful. With Camillus were elected Lucius Furius Medullinus (for the sixth time), Gaius Aemilius, Lucius Valerius Publicola, Spurius Postuminus, and Publius Cornelius (for the second time).
At the beginning of the year the people’s tribunes waited for Camillus to leave Rome for Falerii – where he had been given charge of operations – before they made any fresh move. But they were slow to get to work and people began to lose interest, while Camillus, their doughtiest antagonist, increased his reputation at Falerii by a series of successes. At the outset of the campaign the enemy were unwilling to leave their defences, but Camillus by burning their farmhouses and devastating their crops forced them to come out into the open. Not liking to advance too far, they took up a position about a mile from the town where they fancied they would be safe from attack simply because the place was awkward to get at, all the tracks in the vicinity being rough and broken and either very narrow or very steep. Cam–illus, however, used as a guide a prisoner he had picked up in the neighbourhood, and breaking camp round about midnight presented himself at dawn in a commanding position. He then started to dig in, a third of his men working while the rest stood to arms; an attempt by the enemy to stop the work was easily repulsed – indeed they were completely shattered and took to their heels in panic, running straight past their camp, which lay between them and Falerii, in a wild scramble to reach the safety of the town. Many were killed or wounded before they could get through the gates. Camillus took over the abandoned camp and turned over to the quaestors everything of value found in it: this the troops violently resented, but discipline was good and they could not but admire the strict honesty of their commander however much they might disapprove of it.
Siege operations then began, diversified by occasional sorties against the Roman strong-points and a few skirmishes. Time went on, and there seemed little chance of a decision either way; the besieged had laid in grain and other necessaries before the campaign began and were better supplied than the besiegers, so it appeared not unlikely to be as protracted a business as the siege of Veii had not a stroke of luck brought unexpected victory and at the same time an opportunity for Camillus to prove once again his nobler qualities as a soldier.
Schoolmasters in Falerii used to have charge of their pupils both in and out of school hours, and, as in Greece today, one man was entrusted with the care of a number of boys. The children of the leading families were, naturally enough, taught by the best available scholar. Now this man had been in the habit during peacetime of taking his boys outside the town walls for play and exercise, and had continued to do so in spite of the fact that his country was at war, going sometimes a shorter, sometimes a longer distance and distracting the boys’ attention by talk on various subjects. One day he saw his chance for a longer stroll than usual, and took his young charges right through the enemy outposts to the Roman camp and, finally, to Camillus’s headquarters. Such treachery was bad enough, but what he said was even more revolting: ‘These boys’ parents,’ he coolly observed, ‘control our affairs. I have delivered them into your hands. So Falerii is now yours.’
‘Neither my people,’ Camillus replied, ‘nor I, who command their army, happen to share your tastes. You are a scoundrel and your offer is worthy of you. As political entities, there is no bond of union between Rome and Falerii, but we are bound together none the less, and always shall be, by the bonds of a common humanity. War has its laws as peace has, and we have learned to wage war with decency no less than with courage. We have drawn the sword not against children, who even in the sack of cities are spared, but against men, armed like ourselves, who without injury or provocation attacked us at Veii. Those men, your countrymen, you have done your best to humble by this vile and unprecedented act; but I shall bring them low, as I brought Veii low, by the Roman arts of courage, persistence, and arms.’
Camillus had the traitor stripped and his hands tied behind his back; then, telling the boys to escort him home, gave each of them a stick with which to beat him back into the town. A crowd gathered to see the sight, and later, when the magistrates had called a meeting of the council to discuss this odd turn of events, the feelings of the whole population were completely changed: where once fierce hatred and savage rage had made even the destruction of Veii seem a better fate than the tame capitulation of Capena, there was now a unanimous demand for peace. In street and council chamber people talked of nothing but of Roman honour and the justice of Camillus; by universal consent representatives were sent to him, and were allowed to proceed to Rome to lay the submission of Falerii before the Senate. We read that they addressed the Senate in the following terms: ‘Gentlemen, the victory over us which you and your general have won neither God nor man could grudge you. We admit our defeat, and surrender to you in the belief – than which nothing can do more honour to the victor – that we shall live better lives under your government than under our own. From this war two things have emerged which humanity would do well to lay to heart: you preferred honour to an easy victory; we respond to that noble choice by an unforced submission. We now recognize your sway. Our gates are open: arms, hostages, the town itself are at your disposal. You will have no cause to regret your trust in us, nor we to repent of accepting your dominion.’
Camillus received the formal thanks both of Falerii and of Rome. Falerii was laid under tribute for a sum to cover the cost of the army’s pay for the year, thus relieving the Roman people of the war–tax. The war was over, and the Roman troops returned to the City.
Camillus’s fame now rested upon a finer achievement than when the team of white horses had drawn his triumphal chariot through the streets of Rome, for this time he entered the City in all the glory of a victory won by justice and honour. The Senate was uneasy about the obligation he had incurred by his vow, and though he did not mention the matter himself, such was their respect for him that they could not rest till it was cleared up; accordingly they entrusted three men, Lucius Valerius, Lucius Sergius, and Aulus Manlius, with the duty of carrying the gift – a golden bowl – to Apollo’s temple at Delphi. Sailing in a warship, unescorted, they were captured by pirates near the Sicilian narrows and taken to their stronghold at Liparae. The people of Liparae lived by a sort of communal piracy, sharing out any prizes they took, but it so happened that their chieftain that year, a man named Timasitheus, had, unlike his countrymen, something of the Roman in his character. The men he had captured were envoys and he respected that title, just as he respected the reason for their mission and the god to whom the gift was being conveyed; he succeeded moreover in inspiring his people (for more often than not the masses will take their cue from their leader) with a proper sense of the solemnity of the occasion, so that he was able to entertain the three envoys as guests of the State, convoy them to Delphi, and ensure their safe return to Rome.
In recognition of this act he was made, by decree of the Senate, an Honorary Guest of the Roman People – not to mention other and more tangible rewards.
In the course of this year a campaign was fought against the Aequians, but so indecisively that no one in Rome, or even in the opposing armies, could say who had won and who had lost. The Roman commanders were two of the military tribunes, Gaius Aemilius and Spurius Postumius; at first they acted jointly, but after a successful engagement they decided to take separate spheres of action. Aemilius accordingly garrisoned Verrugo and Postumius undertook to do what damage he could to the countryside in general. The recent success had made him careless, and his men were straggling along more or less as they pleased when they were suddenly attacked by the Aequians and forced to take refuge in considerable confusion among the neighbouring hills, whence the alarm was communicated to the other army in Verrugo. Postumius told his men, who at the moment were safe enough, in no uncertain terms what he thought of their conduct – of their disgraceful panic and precipitate retreat from a contemptible enemy who trusted his heels more than his sword – and was answered by a spontaneous and universal admission of guilt. Every word, the men declared, was justified – but they would soon put things right and see to it that the enemy’s triumph was short–lived. The Aequian camp was in full view below them, and they demanded, as one man, to be allowed to attack it immediately, professing their willingness to suffer any punishment their commander could inflict if they failed to take it before dark. Postumius commended their change of heart and ordered them after eating and resting to be ready at the fourth watch.
But the Aequians were not to be caught unawares. They were already watching the track to Verrugo, to prevent the Romans making their escape that way under cover of darkness; thus they encountered Postumius on his way down from the hill before dawn broke. The moon was still up, giving adequate light, and when the fight began the noise of it carried to Verrugo, where it caused the utmost consternation. The men all supposed that Postumius’s camp was being overwhelmed, and neither orders nor appeals from Aemilius could do anything to stop them from taking to their heels and making, each man for himself, for Tusculum, whence the rumour soon reached Rome that Postumius and his army had been destroyed.
Postumius, however, as soon as daylight had convinced him that there was no fear of falling into a trap if he followed up the advantage he had already gained, rode down his lines and reminded his troops of their protestations of the previous night. The men’s response was magnificent, and they returned to the attack with such vigour that all resistance was broken; the Aequians fled, and the slaughter which ensued was more like the rage of vengeance than the customary valour of soldiers in action. The whole force was wiped out. Thus Rome had been frighted with false fire; the depressing news from Tusculum was followed by a laurelled dispatch from Postumius announcing his victory and the destruction of the Aequian army.
The people’s tribunes having failed as yet to carry their proposals, the commons worked hard to procure the re-election of the supporters of the measure to migrate to Veii, while the patricians were no less active in their efforts to thwart them. But in spite of senatorial opposition the commons got the tribunes they wanted. The Senate avenged this set-back by decreeing the election of consuls, a move they knew the commons would bitterly resent. For fifteen years military tribunes had been at the head of government; the succession was broken, and Lucius Lucretius Flavus was elected to the consulship with Servius Sulpicius Camerinus as his colleague.
The beginning of the year saw an all-out effort on the part of the tribunes to push through their bill, as the college was now unanimous in support of it. Precisely for that reason the consuls offered an equally vigorous resistance, and while public attention was all focused upon the struggle, Vitellia, a Roman settlement in Aequian territory, was attacked and taken. A gate had been treacherously opened one night, but as the opposite quarter of the town was unwatched most of the settlers made their escape through, so to speak, the back door, and got safely to Rome. The consul Lucretius, to whose lot it fell to deal with the situation, marched from Rome, successfully engaged the enemy, and returned to the City only to find a more serious conflict awaiting him. Aulus Verginius and Quintus Pomponius, who had been tribunes two years previously, had been summoned for trial. All the patricians agreed that the Senate was bound in honour to defend them, as the sole ground on which the prosecution rested was the fact that they had vetoed the proposed measure of the other tribunes to curry favour with the Senate; there was not a word about maladministration or any complaint of their personal conduct. But the Senate’s support proved less strong than popular resentment, with the disgraceful result that the two innocent men were found guilty and ordered to pay a fine of 10,000 asses each. The Senate was indignant; Camillus openly denounced the criminal lunacy of the commons not only in turning against their own representative magistrates but in failing to see that their dishonest verdict had virtually robbed the tribunate of the veto, and that, the veto gone, the tribunate itself was undermined. They were deceived, he said, if they imagined that the Senate would tolerate the unbridled excesses of that magistracy, and if the lawless behaviour of some tribunes could no longer be held in check by their more level–headed colleagues, the Senate would find another weapon to deal with it. He also attacked the consuls for letting down the two tribunes who had supported the Senate and had relied, naturally enough, upon government protection.
These frank expressions of opinion, delivered in public speeches, fanned the ever-increasing flame of popular anger, but Camillus, undeterred, continued to press the Senate to make a stand against the proposed migration to Veii. ‘When it comes to a vote,’ he said, ‘I beg you to enter the Forum in the spirit of men who know they will be fighting for their hearths and altars, for their native soil and the temples of their gods. As for myself– if I may without offence remember my own reputation when Rome’s life is at stake – it would be an honour to see a town I captured thronged with people, to have a constant reminder of what I once achieved, to feast my eyes from hour to hour upon the city which adorned my triumph, to have all men following in the footsteps of my fame; nevertheless religion forbids that a town which God has abandoned should be inhabited by men: it is a sin to think that our people should ever live on captive soil or exchange victorious Rome for vanquished Veii.’
The Senate was deeply moved. On the day the proposal was put to the vote all members, old and young alike, went in a body to the Forum, where they scattered in search of their fellow–tribesmen and besought them with tears in their eyes not to desert their native city, for which they and their fathers had fought with such courage and success; pointing to the Capitol and the Temple of Vesta and the other holy places, they begged that no one should let the people of Rome be hounded from its native soil and household gods and driven like a wandering exile into a city of its enemies, a tragedy indeed to make one wish that Veii had never fallen – if only to prevent the abandonment of Rome. This was canvassing with a difference: no force was brought to bear – only entreaties; and for this reason, added to the fact that the gods were frequently mentioned, it proved successful. The consciences of most people were touched, and the proposed measure was defeated by a majority of one tribe. The Senate was so delighted by the victory that on the following day it issued a decree, on the consul’s motion, granting some three and a half acres of land from the estates of Veii to every plebeian – not heads of families only, but including in the number of recipients all free-born members of each household. Such a prospect would, it was hoped, encourage them to rear children.
This generosity put the commons into a sufficiently amiable frame of mind not to object to another consular election. It was accordingly held and Lucius Valerius Potitus and Marcus Manlius, later surnamed Capitolinus, were elected. The new consuls proceeded to celebrate the Great Games which had been vowed by Camillus during the war with Veii, and the same year saw the consecration of the temple to Juno, which had also been vowed by Camillus on the same occasion. It is said that the women of Rome, in particular, attended the ceremony with deep devotion.
A campaign was fought on Algidus with the Aequians: it was of little importance, the enemy running away almost before they could be got at. Of the two consuls Valerius, who showed the greater perseverance in pursuing – and killing – the fugitives, was awarded a Triumph, Manlius an Ovation only. A fresh quarrel arose this year –this time with Volsinii. A dry and excessively hot season had caused famine and disease in the neighbourhood of Rome, and it was in consequence not possible to send out an expeditionary force, a fact which, not unnaturally, acted as a tonic on Volsinii. The people of the place joined forces with Sappinum and, full of confidence, invaded Roman territory. War was then declared on both towns.
The censor Gaius Julius died about this time and Marcus Cornelius was appointed to fill the vacant place. There was felt later to have been a sort of impiety in this, as it was during that five–year period that Rome was captured. In any case it has never happened since that a new censor has been appointed in the place of one who has died. The consuls, too, fell ill, and it was decided to carry on the government through an interrex. The Senate accordingly instructed the consuls to hand in their resignations, and Camillus was made interrex. As his successor Camillus appointed Publius Cornelius Scipio, who, in his turn, appointed Lucius Valerius Potitus. Potitus presided at the election of six military tribunes, to ensure having enough magistrates to carry things on even if some of their number fell sick. On i July the new military tribunes took up their duties; they were Lucius Lucretius, Servius Sulpicius, Marcus Aemilius, Lucius Furius Medullinus (for the seventh time), Furius Agrippa, and Gaius Aemilius (for the second time).
The campaign against Volsinii fell to the command of Lucretius and Aemilius; that against Sappinum to Agrippa and Sulpicius. Fighting started at Volsinii, where there was little real opposition in spite of the enemy’s immense numbers; a single thrust sufficed to break them up, and 8,000 men, cut off by Roman cavalry, laid down their arms. News of the defeat deterred the men of Sappinum from risking a battle, and they withdrew for protection within the defences of the town. Roman troops roamed unmolested over the territories of both Sappinum and Volsinii, taking what they pleased, until the people of the latter place got sick of it and asked for terms. They were granted a twenty-years’ armistice on condition of restoring Roman property and meeting the cost of the army’s pay for the year’s service.
About this time a plebeian named Caedicius told the tribunes that in the New Road where the shrine now stands above the temple of Vesta, he had heard, in the silence of the night, a voice. The Voice was something more than human, and ‘Tell the magistrates,’ it said, ‘that the Gauls are coming.’ The tale was more or less laughed off, partly because Caedicius, who told it, was a person of no consequence, and partly because the Gauls lived a long way off and were therefore little known. Nevertheless the Voice was a warning from heaven –doom was drawing near, but the warning was ignored. As if this were not enough, a further folly deprived Rome of Camillus, the one man who might have saved her. While still in mourning for the death of his young son, he had been indicted by the tribune Apuleius on a charge of mishandling the plunder taken in Veii; following the summons, he called to his house his fellow–tribesmen and dependants (who formed no small part of the commons) and after sounding them on their attitude towards his case received the reply that though they were prepared to contribute between them the amount of any fine which might be imposed, they could not admit his innocence. He accordingly went into exile, with the prayer that if he were innocent and wrongfully accused, the gods might speedily cause his ungrateful country bitterly to regret that he had gone. He was fined – in absence – 15,000 asses.
The man whose presence would certainly – if anything in life is certain – have made the capture of Rome impossible was gone, and calamity was drawing nearer and nearer to the doomed city. It was at this juncture that a mission from Clusium arrived to ask for assistance against the Gauls.
There is a tradition that it was the lure of Italian fruits and especially of wine, a pleasure then new to them, that drew the Gauls to cross the Alps and settle in regions previously cultivated by the Etruscans. Arruns of Clusium, the story goes, had sent wine into their country deliberately to entice them over, as he wanted his revenge for the seduction of his wife by his ward Lucumo, a man in too powerful a position to be punished except by the help of foreigners called in for the purpose. It was he who guided the Gallic hordes over the Alps and suggested the attack on Clusium. Now I have no wish to deny that Gauls were brought to Clusium by Arruns, or some other citizen of that town, but it is, none the less, generally agreed that these were by no means the first Gauls to cross the Alps. Two hundred years before the attack on Clusium and the capture of Rome, men of this race came over into Italy, and long before the clash with Clusium Gallic armies had frequently fought with the peoples between the Alps and the Apennines. Before the days of Roman domination Etruscan influence, both by land and sea, stretched over a wide area: how great their power was on the upper and lower seas (which make Italy a peninsula) is proved by the names of those seas, one being known by all Italian peoples as the Tuscan – the inclusive designation of the race – and the other as the Hadriatic, from the Etruscan settlement of Hatria. The Greeks know them as the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic seas.
On each side of the Apennines they built twelve towns, the first twelve on the southern side towards the Lower Sea, and later the second twelve north of the range, thus possessing themselves of all the country beyond the Po as far as the Alps with the exception of the little corner where the Venetians live around the shores of their gulf. The Alpine tribes have pretty certainly the same origin, especially the Raetians, though the latter have been so barbarized by their wild surroundings that they have retained nothing of their original character except their speech, and even that has become debased.
The following account has come down to us of the Gallic migration. During the reign of Tarquinius Priscus in Rome the Celts, one of the three Gallic peoples, were dominated by the Bituriges, and their king was consequently a member of that tribe. At the time we are concerned with the king was one Ambitgatus, who by his personal qualities, aided by the good luck which blessed both himself and his subjects, had attained to very considerable power; indeed under his rule Gaul became so rich and populous that the effective control of such large numbers was a matter of serious difficulty. The king therefore, being now an old man and wishing to relieve his kingdom of the burdensome excess of the population, announced his intention of sending his two nephews, Bellovesus and Segovesus, both of them adventurous young men, out into the world to find such new homes as the gods by signs from heaven might point the way to; he was willing to give them as many followers as they thought would ensure their ability to overcome any opposition they might encounter. The gods were duly consulted, with the result that to Segovesus were assigned the Hercynian uplands in South Germany while Bellovesus was granted the much pleasanter road into Italy; whereupon collecting the surplus population – Bituriges, Arverni, Senones, Aedui, Ambarri, Carnutes, Aulerci – he set out with a vast host, some mounted, some on foot, and reached the territory of the Tricastini at the foot of the Alps.
There in front of him stood the mountains. I am not surprised that they seemed an insuperable barrier, for as yet no track had led a traveller over them – at any rate within recorded time, unless one likes to believe the fabled exploits of Hercules. There, then, stood the Gallic host, brought to a halt by the towering wall, and looking for a way over those skiey peaks into another world. Another consideration also delayed them, for they had heard that a strange people – actually the Massilienses, who had sailed from Phocaea – were seeking for somewhere to settle and were in conflict with the Salui. The superstitious Gauls took this as an omen of their own success and helped the strangers to such effect that they were enabled to establish themselves, without serious opposition, at the spot where they had disembarked; they then themselves crossed the Alps by the Taurine passes and the pass of Duria, defeated the Etruscans near the river Ticinus, and, having learnt that they were in what was known as the territory of the Insubres, the same name as one of the cantons of the Aedui, took it as another favourable omen and founded the town of Mediolanium.1
Later another wave, this time of the Cenomanni, followed in their footsteps, and crossing, under the leadership of Etitovius, by the same pass and without opposition from Bellovesus, settled near where the towns of Brixia and Verona are today. After them came the Libui, then the Salluvii who settled on the Ticinus, near the ancient tribe of the Laevi Ligures. Then the Boii and Lingones came over by the Poenine pass, and finding all the country between the Alps and the Po already occupied, crossed the river on rafts and expelled not the Etruscans only but the Umbrians as well; they did not, however, pass south of the Apennines.
At the time of which we are speaking the Senones, who had been the last tribe to migrate, held all the country from the Utens to the Aesis, and I understand that it was this tribe which came to Clusium and later to Rome – though it is not certain whether they came alone or with the support of the other Gallic tribes on the Italian side of the Alps.
The plight of Clusium was a most alarming one: strange men in thousands were at the gates, men the like of whom the townsfolk had never seen, outlandish warriors armed with strange weapons, who were rumoured already to have scattered the Etruscan legions on both sides of the Po; it was a terrible situation, and in spite of the fact that the people of Clusium had no official ties with Rome or reason to expect her friendship, except perhaps that they had refused assistance to their kinsmen of Veii, they sent a mission to ask help from the Senate. Military aid was not granted, but the three sons of Marcus Fabius Ambustus were sent to remonstrate with the Gauls in the Senate’s name and to ask them not to molest a people who had done them no wrong and were, moreover, friends and allies of Rome. Rome, they added, would be bound to protect them, even by force, should the need arise, though it would be better, if possible, to avoid recourse to arms and to become acquainted with the new immigrants in a peaceful manner.
The object of the mission was wholly conciliatory; unhappily, however, the envoys themselves behaved more like savage Gauls than civilized Romans. To their statement in the Council the Gauls gave the following answer: ‘This is the first time we have heard of Rome, but we can believe none the less that you Romans are men of worth, for Clusium would never otherwise have sought your help in time of trouble. You say you prefer to help your friends by negotiation rather than by force, and you offer us peace. We, for our part, need land, but we are prepared to accept your offer on condition that the people of Clusium cede to us a portion of their territory – for they have more than they can manage. You can have peace on no other terms. We wish to receive our answer in your presence; should it be a refusal, then you will see us fight, and thus be in a position to tell your compatriots by how much the Gauls exceed all other men in valour.’
When the three envoys asked by what sort of justice they demanded land, under threat of violence, from its rightful owners, and what business Gauls had to be in Etruria anyway, they received the haughty reply that all things belonged to the brave who carried justice on the point of their swords. Passions were aroused and a fight began – and then it was that the envoys took their fatal step. Urged by the evil star which even then had risen over Rome, they broke the law of nations and took up arms. To conceal the crime was impossible; strangers as they were, their Roman valour was all too obvious – the valour of three of Rome’s finest and most blue–blooded fighting men, laying about them in the Etruscan van. Quintus Fabius, riding ahead of the line straight for the Gallic chieftain as he was making for the Etruscan standards, killed him with a spear-thrust through the side and began to strip him of his armour. It was then that the Gauls realized who he was, and word was passed through their ranks that he was the envoy from Rome. At once the trumpets sounded the retreat; the quarrel with Clusium was forgotten and the anger of the barbarian army was turned upon Rome. Some urged an immediate march upon the City, but more cautious counsels prevailed and envoys were sent to lodge a complaint against the breach of international law and to demand the surrender of the Fabii. The Senate, having listened to what the Gallic envoys had to say, by no means approved the conduct of their own envoys; but though they admitted to themselves that the demand was a fair one, they refused, where three men of such rank were concerned, to take what they really knew to be the proper action: their own interests as the governing elders prevented them. Accordingly, to avoid the responsibility for any losses which might result from a clash with the Gauls they referred the envoys’ demands to the people for decision, with the result that the three guilty men, whose punishment was supposed to be under discussion, were elected as military tribunes with consular powers for the following year: such was the influence on the mind of the populace of wealth and position. The Gallic envoys were naturally – and rightly – indignant, and before leaving the City openly threatened war. In addition to the three Fabii, Quintus Sulpicius Lagus, Quintus Servilius (for the fourth time), and Publius Cornelius Maluginensis were elected military tribunes.
Calamity of unprecedented magnitude was drawing near, but no adequate steps were taken to meet it. The nation which so often before – against Fidenae or Veii or other familiar enemies – had as a final resource in its hour of danger appointed a Dictator to save it, now that a strange foe, of whose power it knew nothing either directly or by hearsay, was on the march from the Atlantic Ocean and the furthest shores of the world, instituted no extraordinary command and looked for no special means of self-preservation. How true it is that destiny blinds men’s eyes, when she is determined that her gathering might shall meet no check! The military tribunes, whose reckless conduct had been responsible for the war, were in supreme command; recruiting they carried out coolly and casually, with no more care than for any other campaign, even going so far as to play down the gravity of the danger. The Gauls, for their part, wasted no time; the instant they knew of the insult to their embassy and the promotion to command of the men who had violated the unwritten law of all mankind, they flamed into the uncontrollable anger which is characteristic of their race, and set forward, with terrible speed, on the path to Rome. Terrified townships rushed to arms as the avengers went roaring by; men fled from the fields for their lives; and from all the immense host, covering miles of ground with its straggling masses of horse and foot, the cry went up ‘To Rome!’
Rumour had preceded them and messages from Clusium and elsewhere had already reached the City, but in spite of warnings the sheer speed of the Gallic advance was a frightful thing. The Roman army, moving with all the haste of a mass emergency levy, had covered hardly eleven miles before it met the invaders at the spot where the river Allia descends in a deep gully from the hills of Crustumerium and joins the Tiber not far south of the road. The ground in front and on both sides was already swarming with enemy soldiers, and the air was loud with the dreadful din of the fierce war-songs and discordant shouts of a people whose very life is wild adventure.
The Roman commanders had taken no precautions – no regular defensive position had been chosen, no fortifications prepared to give shelter in case of need; without sign from the flight of birds or the entrails of beasts – the very gods, to say nothing of men, forgotten – they drew up their line on as broad a front as they could, hoping not to be outflanked by the enemy’s superior numbers; but the hope was vain, even though they stretched it so thin that the centre was weakened and hardly held. The reserves were ordered to a position on some high ground a little to the right, and the fact that they were there, and the subsequent attack upon them, though it started the panic in the main body of the Roman army, also enabled some of them to escape with their lives; for Brennus, the Gallic chieftain, suspected a trap when he saw the numbers opposed to him so much smaller than he had expected, and, supposing the high ground to have been occupied with the purpose of delivering an attack, by the reserves posted there, upon the flank and rear while he was engaged in a straight fight with the legionaries, changed his tactics and made his first move against the reserves, confident that, should he succeed in dislodging them, his immensely superior numbers would give him an easy victory elsewhere. Alas, not good fortune only, but good generalship was on the barbarian side.
In the lines of the legionaries – officers and men alike – there was no trace of the old Roman manhood. They fled in panic, so blinded to everything but saving their skins that, in spite of the fact that the Tiber lay in their way, most of them tried to get to Veii, once an enemy town, instead of making for their own homes in Rome. As for the reserves, they found safety, though not for long, in their stronger position; but the main body of the army, at the first sound of the Gallic war-cry on their flank and in their rear, hardly waited even to see their strange enemy from the ends of the earth; they made no attempt at resistance; they had not courage even to answer his shouted challenge, but fled before they had lost a single man. None fell fighting; they were cut down from behind as they struggled to force a way to safety through the heaving mass of their fellow-fugitives. Near the bank of the river there was a dreadful slaughter; the whole left wing of the army had gone that way and had flung away their arms in the desperate hope of getting over. Many could not swim and many others in their exhausted state were dragged under water by the weight of their equipment and drowned. More than half reached Veii alive, but sent no message to Rome of their defeat – far less any assistance to her in her peril. The men on the right wing, who had been further from the river and closer to the hills, all made for Rome, where without even closing the gates behind them they took refuge in the Citadel.
The Gauls could hardly believe their eyes, so easy, so miraculously swift their victory had been. For a while they stood rooted to the spot, hardly realizing what had happened; then after a moment of fear lest the whole thing were a trap, they began to collect the arms and equipment of the dead and to pile them, as their manner is, in heaps. Finally, when no sign of an enemy was anywhere to be seen, they marched, and shortly before sunset reached the vicinity of Rome. Mounted men were sent forward to reconnoitre: the gates stood open, not a sentry was on guard; no soldiers manned the walls. Once more the astonishing truth held them spellbound. Yet still the night might have hidden terrors – and the city was totally unknown; so after a further reconnaissance of the walls and the other gates to discover, if it were possible, their enemy’s intention in his desperate plight, they encamped somewhere between the city and the Anio.
As more than half the Roman army had taken refuge in Veii, it was universally believed in Rome itself that the rest, who had made their way home, were the only survivors. Rome was indeed a city of lamentation – of mourning for the living and the dead alike. Then news came that the Gauls were at the gates; the anguish of personal bereavement was forgotten in a wave of panic, and all too soon cries like the howling of wolves and barbaric songs could be heard, as the Gallic squadrons rode hither and thither close outside the walls. All the time between then and the following dawn was filled with unbearable suspense. When would the assault come? Again and again they believed it to be imminent: they expected it on the first appearance of the Gauls – for why had they marched on the city, and not stayed at the Allia, unless this had been their intention? They expected it at sunset – because there was little daylight left, and surely it would come before dark. Then, when darkness had fallen, they thought it had been deliberately postponed in order to multiply its terrors. But the night passed, and dawn, when it drew near, made them almost desperate; and then at last, hard upon this long-drawn-out and insupportable anxiety, came the thing itself, and the enemy entered the gates.
During that night and the following day Rome showed little resemblance to her fugitive army on the Allia. As there was no hope of defending the city with the handful of available troops, the decision was taken to withdraw all men capable of bearing arms together with the women and children and able-bodied senators into the fortress on the Capitol; from that stronghold, properly armed and provisioned, it was their intention to make a last stand for themselves, for their gods and for the Roman name. The priest and priestesses of Vesta were ordered to remove their sacred emblems to some spot far away from bloodshed and burning, and their cult was not to be abandoned till there were none left alive to observe its rites. It was felt that if the Citadel, home of the city’s tutelary gods, could survive the impending ruin – if the few men still able to fight, if the Senate, fountain–head of true government, could escape the general disaster, it would be tolerable to leave in the city below the aged and useless, who had not, in any case, much longer to live. It was a stern decision, and to make it easier for the commons to bear, the old aristocrats who long before had served as consuls or celebrated their Triumphs said that they would die side by side with their humble compatriots, and never consent to burden the inadequate stores of the fighting few with bodies which could no longer bear arms in the country’s defence. To tell each other of this noble resolve was the only consolation of the doomed men, who then turned to address words of encouragement to the young and vigorous whom they were seeing on their way to the Capitol, and to commend to the valour of their youth whatever good fortune might yet remain for a city which for three hundred and sixty years had never been defeated.
The time came to part – these to the Capitol with the future in their hands, those to the death to which their own resolve not to survive the city’s fall had condemned them. It was a cruel separation, but even more heart-rending was the plight of the women who, weeping and torn by love and loyalty, did not know which way to go, but followed now husbands, now sons, in grief and bewilderment at the terrible choice they had had imposed upon them. Most, in the end, went with their sons to the Citadel – they were not encouraged to do so, but no one tried to stop them, as it would have been inhuman to reduce deliberately the number of non–combatants in the Citadel, as purely military considerations required. Thousands more – mostly plebeians – who could neither have been lodged nor fed on the small and inadequately provisioned hill, streamed in an unbroken line from the city towards the Janiculum, whence some scattered over the countryside while others made for neighbouring towns – a rabble without leader or common aim. For them, Rome was already dead; each was his own counsellor and followed where his hopes led him. Meanwhile the priest of Quirinus and the Vestal Virgins, careless of their personal belongings, were discussing the fate of the sacred objects in their care – what to take and what to leave, as they had not the means to carry all away, and where what they could not take might be safely deposited. The best course, they thought, would be to store them in jars and bury them in the shrine near the priest’s house (at the spot where spitting is now considered sacrilegious); the rest they managed between them to carry along the road which leads over the pile-bridge to the Janiculum. On the slope of the hill they were noticed by a man of humble birth named Albinius, who was driving his wife and family in a cart, amongst the rabble of other non-combatants escaping from the city. Even at such a moment Albinius could remember the difference between what was due to God and what to man, and feeling it to be an impious thing that he and his family should be seen driving while priestesses of the state toiled along on foot carrying the nation’s sacred emblems, he told his wife to get out of the cart with her little boys, took up the Vestals and their burdens instead, and drove them to their destination in Caere.
In Rome everything possible in the circumstances had now been done to prepare for the defence of the Citadel, and the grey-haired senators had gone home to await, unflinching, the coming of the enemy. It was the wish of those who had held the highest offices of state to dress for death in the outward signs of such rank as they had enjoyed or service they had rendered in the days of their former fortunes; so putting on the ceremonial robes of the dignitaries who at the Circensian Games escort the chariots of the gods, or of generals who enter the City in triumph, they took their seats, each in the courtyard of his house, on the ivory-inlaid chairs of the curule magistrates, having first – we are told – repeated after Marcus Folius the Pontifex Maximus a solemn vow to offer themselves as a sacrifice for their country and the Roman people.
A night having passed without action, the Gauls found their lust for fighting much abated. At no time had they met with any serious resistance, and there was no need now to take the city by assault. When therefore they entered on the following day, it was coolly and calmly enough. The Colline Gate was open, and they made their way to the Forum, looking with curiosity at the temples and at the Citadel, the only place to give the impression of a city at war. They left a reasonably strong guard in case of attack from the fortified heights and then dispersed in search of plunder; finding the streets empty, crowds of them broke into the first houses they came to; others went further a field, presumably supposing that buildings more remote from the Forum would offer richer prizes, but there the very silence and solitude made them uneasy, separated as they were from their companions, and suggested the possibility of a trap, so that they soon returned, keeping close together, to the neighbourhood of the Forum. Here they found the humbler houses locked and barred but the mansions of the nobility open; the former they were ready enough to break into, but it was a long time before they could bring themselves to enter the latter: something akin to awe held them back at what met their gaze – those figures seated in the open courtyards, the robes and decorations august beyond reckoning, the majesty expressed in those grave, calm eyes like the majesty of gods. They might have been statues in some holy place, and for a while the Gallic warriors stood entranced; then, on an impulse, one of them touched the beard of a certain Marcus Papirius – it was long, as was the fashion of those days – and the Roman struck him on the head with his ivory staff. That was the beginning: the barbarian flamed into anger and killed him, and the others were butchered where they sat. From that moment no mercy was shown; houses were ransacked and the empty shells set on fire.
The extent of the conflagration was, however, unexpectedly limited. Some of the Gauls may have been against the indiscriminate destruction of the city; or possibly it was their leaders’ policy, first, to start a few fires in the hope that the besieged in the Citadel might be driven to surrender by the fear of losing their beloved homes, and, secondly, to leave a portion of the city intact and to use it as a sort of pledge or security – or lever – to induce the Romans to accept their terms. In any case the havoc wrought by the fire was on the first day by no means universal – or even widespread – and much less than might have been expected in the circumstances.
For the Romans beleagured in the Citadel the full horror was almost too great to realize; they could hardly believe their eyes or ears as they looked down on the barbaric foe roaming in hordes through the familiar streets, while every moment, everywhere and anywhere, some new terror was enacted: fear gripped them in a thousand shapes; now here, now there, the yells of triumph, women’s screams or the crying of children, the roar of flames or the long rumbling crash of falling masonry forced them to turn unwilling eyes upon some fresh calamity, as if fate had made them spectators of the nightmare stage-scene of their country’s ruin, helpless to save anything they possessed but their own useless bodies. Never before had beleaguered men been in a plight so pitiful – not shut within their city, but excluded from it, they saw all that they loved in the power of their enemies.
The night which followed was as bad as the day. Another dawn came, and brought with each succeeding moment the sight of some new disaster; yet nothing could break the determination of the little garrison, under its almost intolerable weight of anguish, to hold out to the end: even if the whole city were burnt to dust before their eyes, they were resolved to play the man and defend the one spot which still was free – the hill where they stood, however small, however ill-provided. Thus day after day the tale of disaster went on, until sheer familiarity with suffering dulled the sense of what they had lost. Their one remaining hope was in their shields and swords.
The Gauls by this time had become aware that a final effort was necessary if they were to achieve their object. For several days they had been directing their fury only against bricks and mortar. Rome was a heap of smouldering ruins, but something remained – the armed men in the Citadel; and when the Gauls saw that, in spite of everything, they remained unshaken and would never yield to anything but force, they resolved to attempt an assault. At dawn, therefore, on a given signal the whole vast horde assembled in the Forum; then, roaring out their challenge, they locked shields and moved up the slope of the Capitol.
The Romans remained calm. Guards were strengthened at every possible point of approach; where the thrust seemed to be coming, the best troops were stationed to meet it. Then they waited, letting the enemy climb, and confident that the steeper the slope he reached the more easily they could hurl him back. About half-way up the attackers paused, and the Romans, from the heights above them, charged; the steepness of the descent itself made the weight of their impact irresistible, and the Gallic masses were flung back and down with such severe losses that a similar attempt, with either a part or the whole of their forces, was never made again. Disappointed, therefore, of their hopes of a direct assault, they prepared for a siege. For them the decision was an unfortunate one, for, not having thought of it before, they had destroyed in the fires all the city’s store of grain, while what had not yet been brought in had been smuggled during the past few days into Veii; their solution of the difficulty was to employ a part of their force to invest the Citadel, while the remainder supplied it by raiding the territory of neighbouring peoples.
Destiny had decreed that the Gauls were still to feel the true meaning of Roman valour, for when the raiders started on their mission Rome’s lucky star led them to Ardea, where Camillus was living in exile, more grieved by the misfortunes of his country than by his own. Growing, as he felt, old and useless, filled with resentment against gods and men, he was asking in the bitterness of his heart where now were the men who had stormed Veii and Falerii – the men whose courage in every fight had been greater even than their success, when suddenly he heard the news that a Gallic army was near. The men of Ardea, he knew, were in anxious consultation, and it had not been his custom to assist at their deliberations; but now, like a man inspired, he burst into the Council chamber. ‘Men of Ardea,’ he cried, ‘old friends – fellow-citizens as now you are, for your kindness and my misfortunes would have it so – I beg you not to think I have forgotten my station in thus thrusting myself upon you. We are all of us in peril, and every man must contribute what he can to get us out of it. When shall I prove my gratitude for all you have done for me, if I hang back now? When will you need me, if not on the battlefield? At home it was by war I won my place; unbeaten in the field, I was hounded out in time of peace by my ungrateful countrymen. My friends, your chance has come: you can show your gratitude to Rome for all the services she did you long ago – how great you yourselves remember – nay, you do, and I would not reproach you – and this town of yours can win glory from our common enemy. That enemy is near – his disordered columns are close upon us. They are big men – brave men too – at a pinch – but unsteady. Always they bring more smoke than fire – much terror but little strength. See what happened at Rome: the city lay wide open, and they walked in – but now a handful of men in the Citadel are holding them. Already they are sick of the siege, and are off – anywhere, everywhere – roaming the countryside; crammed with food and soused in drink they lie at night like animals on the bank of some stream – unprotected, unguarded, no watches set – and a taste of success has now made them more reckless than ever. Do you wish to save your city – to prevent this country from being overrun? Very well, then: arm yourselves early tonight, every man of you, and follow me – you shall slit their throats as they lie! If I don’t give them to you to slaughter in their sleep like cattle, let me be scorned in Ardea as once I was scorned in Rome.’
Whatever their personal feelings for Camillus, everyone in Ardea knew well enough that as a soldier he had no living equal, so when the council had been adjourned they dined and rested, and then waited for his signal. It was given, and in the early hours of darkness they marched through the silent town to the gates, where Camillus awaited them. All went as Camillus had foretold: not far beyond the walls they came upon the Gallic encampment –completely unguarded – and flung themselves upon it with a yell of triumph. There was no resistance; unarmed men were killed in their sleep, and in a few minutes the whole place resembled a slaughterhouse. Some at the far side awoke in time, sprang up and ran for it, not knowing who or what had hit them; blind panic carried not a few straight into the arms of the enemy. Most, however, got to the neighbourhood of Antium, where they roamed about till the Antiates came out and rounded them up.
Similar punishment was inflicted upon the Etruscans near Veii. Nor was it less deserved, for these men had shown so little sympathy with a city which for nearly four hundred years had been their neighbour and was now under the heel of a strange and barbarous enemy that they had actually chosen that moment to raid Roman territory and, enriched at Rome’s expense, were even meditating an attack on the garrison in Veii, the last hope of the Roman name. The Roman soldiers had noticed a certain amount of activity in the neighbourhood; then they had seen Etruscan columns driving off the cattle they had stolen – and the Etruscan camp, too, was in sight, not far from the town. Their first reaction was to be sorry for themselves, but self–pity soon gave way to indignation, and finally to rage at the thought that Etruscans, whom Rome had saved at her own expense from a Gallic invasion, should gaily take advantage of their misfortunes. It was all they could do not to rush immediately to the attack, but the centurion Caedicius, whom they had made their commander, managed to check them, and operations were postponed till after nightfall. They were a complete success: all that was lacking was a general like Camillus; in everything else things followed the same plan, and with the same result. Further, on the following night they got some prisoners who had survived the general massacre to guide them to another Etruscan contingent near the Salt works, and a second surprise attack was equally successful and even more bloody.
In Rome meanwhile the siege operations were more or less at a standstill; neither side showed any activity, and the Gauls’ only anxiety seemed to be to prevent any of the Romans from slipping through their lines. It was in these circumstances that a young Roman soldier performed a feat which won the admiration of friend and foe alike. There used to be an annual sacrifice on the Quirinal, and the duty of celebrating it belonged to the family of the Fabii. Determined not to allow the ceremony to lapse, Gaius Fabius Dorsuo risked his life to perform it: wearing a toga girt up in ceremonial fashion and carrying the sacred vessels, he made his way down the slope of the Capitol and through the enemy pickets, ignoring challenges and threats, to the Quirinal, where with due solemnity, omitting nothing, he performed the rite, and with the same firm step, the same resolute face, returned by the same way to his companions on the Capitol, sure that the gods would favour one who had not neglected to serve them even for the fear of death. The Gauls did nothing to stop him; perhaps they were too much astonished by his incredible audacity, perhaps even touched (for the religious sentiment is strong in them) by a sort of awe.
The situation in Veii was now rapidly improving; the strength of the garrison as well as its confidence was increased by the accession not only of Romans who had been rendered homeless by the defeat and capture of the City, but also of numbers of volunteers from Latium who saw a chance of a share in the plunder; it was felt, therefore, that the time was ripe for an attempt to recover Rome. But who was to lead them? They had the body, but not, so to speak, the brains. Now no one could be in Veii without thinking of Camillus, and many of the troops there had already fought, and won, under Camillus’s command; Caedicius, moreover, presented no obstacle, for though nothing on earth would make him resign his authority against his will, he was prepared on his own initiative to remember his rank and demand the appointment of a general. It was therefore unanimously resolved to send to Ardea and invite Camillus to undertake the command, but not before the Senate in Rome had been consulted – for even in their almost desperate plight they still preserved a proper respect for form and were unwilling to overstep their constitutional rights.
To get a message to the Senate meant passing at great risk through the Gallic outposts, and an enterprising young soldier named Pontius Cominus volunteered for the task. Floating on a life–buoy down the river to Rome, he took the shortest way to the Capitol up and over a bluff so steep that the Gauls had never thought of watching it; he was then taken to the magistrates, to whom he delivered the army’s message. The Senate passed its resolution: ‘that Camillus’ (it ran) ‘by vote of the curiate assembly, in accordance with the people’s will, be forthwith named Dictator, and the soldiers have the commander whom they desire.’ Cominus hurried back to Veii by the same route, and a mission was at once dispatched to fetch Camillus from Ardea. It may be, however – and I myself prefer to believe – that Camillus did not leave Ardea until he knew that the Senate’s resolution had been passed, as he could not change his place of residence without the people’s authorization, and could not assume command of the army until he had been appointed Dictator. That would mean that the resolution was passed in the curiate assembly and that he was named Dictator in his absence.
During these transactions in Veii the Citadel in Rome passed through a brief period of extreme danger from an attempted surprise. It may be that the messenger from Veii had left footprints, and the Gauls had noticed them, or possibly they had observed, in the ordinary course of their duties, that the rocky ascent near the shrine of Carmenta was easily practicable. In any case, one starlit night, they made the attempt. Having first sent an unarmed man to reconnoitre the route, they began the climb. It was something of a scramble: at the awkward spots a man would get a purchase for his feet on a comrade below him, then haul him up in his turn – weapons were passed up from hand to hand as the lie of the rocks allowed – until by pushing and pulling one another they reached the top. What is more, they accomplished the climb so quietly that the Romans on guard never heard a sound, and even the dogs – who are normally aroused by the least noise in the night – noticed nothing. It was the geese that saved them – Juno’s sacred geese, which in spite of the dearth of provisions had not been killed. The cackling of the birds and the clapping of their wings awoke Marcus Manlius – a distinguished officer who had been consul three years before – and he, seizing his sword and giving the alarm, hurried, without waiting for the support of his bewildered comrades, straight to the point of danger. One Gaul was already up, but Manlius with a blow from the boss of his shield toppled him headlong down the cliff. The falling body carried others with it; panic spread; many more who dropped their weapons to get a better grip of the rocks were killed by Manlius, and soon more Roman troops were on the scene, tumbling the climbers down with javelins and stones, until every man of them was dislodged and sent hurtling to the bottom of the cliff.
When the excitement had died down, the garrison was undisturbed for the remainder of the night – so far as the phrase can be used of men in such a situation, unable, as they were, to think even of the past peril without a shudder. At dawn next morning the bugle summoned all ranks to parade before the military tribunes, to be rewarded – or punished – for the events of the night before. Manlius, having been commended for his brave conduct, was given presents not only by the commanding officers but by the troops as well, every one of them agreeing to take to his house in the Citadel half a pound of flour and a gill of wine. That may sound a small thing, but, in the light of the general scarcity the fact that the men in order to show their appreciation of a comrade were willing to go short of necessary supplies, was a signal proof of their affectionate regard. The sentries who had been on guard and had failed to observe the enemy’s ascent were then called. It was the intention of Sulpicius, one of the officers in command, to punish all of them with death, in the ‘military manner’; but he was induced to change his mind by the unanimous protest of the troops, who insisted that one man only had been to blame. The rest were accordingly spared, and the single culprit, whose guilt was beyond doubt, was flung from the rock. Both verdict and punishment were universally approved. The memory of that night of peril led the Romans to keep a stricter watch; the Gauls, too, began to tighten their precautions, as it was common knowledge that messages were passing between Veii and Rome.
In both armies it was hunger that now caused more distress than anything else. The Gauls had disease as well to contend with, as the position they occupied on low ground between hills was an unhealthy one, and rendered more so by the parched conditions of the earth after the conflagrations, and the heat, and the choking clouds of ashes and dust whenever the wind blew. Such conditions were intolerable to a people accustomed to a wet, cold climate; the heat stifled them, infection spread, and they were soon dying like cattle. Before long the survivors had not the energy to bury the dead separately, but piled the corpses in heaps and burnt them. The spot where they burnt them came afterwards to be known as the Gallic Pyres.
About this time an armistice was agreed to and the commanders allowed the troops to communicate with each other. Gallic soldiers used frequently in talking to tell the Romans that they knew they were starving and ought therefore to surrender, and the story goes that the Romans, to make them believe that they were not, threw loaves of bread from various points in their lines down into the Gallic outposts. None the less the time soon came when hunger could no longer be either concealed or endured. Camillus was raising troops at Ardea, where, after instructing his Master of Horse, Lucius Valerius, to bring up his men from Veii, he was busy training a force fit to deal with the Gauls on equal terms – while the beleaguered army on the Capitol waited and hoped. It was a terrible time: ordinary military duties were by now almost beyond their strength; they had survived all other ills that flesh is heir to, but one enemy – famine – which nature herself has made invincible, remained. Day after day they looked to see if help from Camillus was near; but at last when hope as well as food began to fail, and they were too weak to carry the weight of their equipment when they went on duty, they admitted that they must either surrender, or buy the enemy off on the best terms they could get – for the Gauls were already letting it be known pretty clearly that they would accept no very great sum to abandon the siege. The Senate accordingly met, and the military tribunes were authorized to arrange the terms; Quintus Sulpicius conferred with the Gallic chieftain Brennus and together they agreed upon the price, one thousand pounds’ weight of gold – the price of a nation soon to rule the world. Insult was added to what was already sufficiently disgraceful, for the weights which the Gauls brought for weighing the metal were heavier than standard, and when the Roman commander objected the insolent barbarian flung his sword into the scale, saying ‘Woe to the vanquished!’ – words intolerable to Roman ears.
Nevertheless it was neither God’s purpose nor man’s that the Romans – of all people – should owe their lives to a cash payment. The argument about the weights had unduly protracted the weighing–out of the gold, and it so happened that before it was finished and the infamous bargain completed, Camillus himself appeared upon the scene.
He ordered the gold to be removed and the Gauls to leave, and answered their indignant remonstrances by denying the existence of any valid agreement; such agreement as there was had, he pointed out, been entered into after his appointment as Dictator and by an inferior magistrate acting without his instructions. The Gauls, therefore, must prepare to fight. He then ordered his troops to pile their baggage and get ready for action. ‘It is your duty,’ he said, ‘to recover your country not by gold but by the sword. You will be fighting with all you love before your eyes: the temples of the gods, your wives and children, the soil of your native land scarred with the ravages of war, and everything which honour and truth call upon you to defend, or recover, or avenge.’
It was no place for military manoeuvre: the city was half in ruins and the ground, in any case, uneven and rough; but Camillus in his dispositions made the best of his opportunities, such as they were, and used all his experience to give the initial advantage to his own men. The Gauls were taken by surprise; arming themselves hurriedly, they attacked, but with more fire than judgement. Luck had turned at last; human skill, aided by the powers of heaven, was fighting on the side of Rome, and the invaders were scattered at the first encounter with as little effort as had gone to their victory on the Allia. A second, and more regular, engagement was fought later eight miles out on the road to Gabbi, where the Gauls had reorganized, and resulted in another victory for Camillus. This time it was bloody and complete: the Gallic camp was taken, and the army annihilated. Camillus returned in triumph to Rome, his victorious troops roaring out their bawdy songs and saluting their commander by the well–merited titles of another Romulus, father of his country and second founder of Rome.
For Camillus it was not enough to have saved Rome from her enemies; for beyond doubt he saved her a second time now that the war was won by preventing the migration to Veii in spite of powerful opposition, both from the tribunes who, since the havoc wrought by the fires, had been more urgently pressing it, and of the people themselves who were increasingly inclined to favour it, even without the tribunes’ lead. It was that reason combined with strong pressure from the Senate to stand by his country at this moment of anxious indecision that determined Camillus not to resign the Dictatorship after the celebration of his triumph. His first act, in accordance with his character as a man with the strictest sense of his religious duties, was to procure a decree of the Senate authorizing first, that all sacred buildings having been in possession of the enemy should be restored and purified – together with a re-definition of their boundaries – and that the formula of purification should be sought in the Sybilline Books by two officials appointed for the purpose; secondly, that a Treaty of Friendship and Hospitality should be made with the people of Caere in recognition of the fact that they had given asylum to Roman priests and the sacred objects of Roman religion, thereby ensuring the continuity of religious observance and worship; thirdly, that the Capitoline Games should be held, to celebrate the preservation in a time of peril, by Jupiter Greatest and Best, of his own temple and of the Citadel of Rome, the directors of the Games to be chosen by the Dictator Camillus from those who lived on the Capitol. Mention was also made of the need to expiate the guilt of ignoring the mysterious Voice which had been heard in the night prophesying disaster before the war, and for that purpose a shrine was to be built on the New Road, dedicated to the God of Utterance; the gold which had been saved from the Gauls, together with what had been taken, during the alarm, from various temples and deposited in the shrine of Jupiter, as no one could now remember precisely where it belonged, was all to be considered sacred to Jupiter and placed underneath his throne. The public sense of what was fitting in this connection had already been notably exemplified; for when it was found that there was not enough gold in the treasury to pay the Gauls the agreed sum, contributions from the women had been accepted, to avoid touching what was consecrated. The women who had contributed were formally thanked and were further granted the privilege, hitherto confined to men, of having laudatory orations pronounced at their funerals.
Camillus felt that the demands of religion were now satisfied and that he had done all that could be done through the agency of the Senate. Only then, as the tribunes were still holding continual mass meetings at which they urged the abandonment of the ruins of Rome and the migration to Veii which stood, as it were, all ready to receive them, did he make his final appeal. Escorted by the whole body of senators, he came before the people, mounted the speaker’s platform and delivered the following address:
‘Men of Rome, these contentions with the tribunes are so little to my taste that all the time I was in Ardea the sole comfort of my bitter exile was the fact that I was well away from the scene of them, and because of these same wretched disputes I had intended never to return – no, not though Senate and people invited me home again a thousand times. What now has forced me to come back to you is the change not in my own feelings but in your situation: the question was no longer whether or not I personally should live in my native city, but whether the city should herself remain on the spot of earth which is her own. Even now I should gladly stand aloof and hold my tongue, were not the issue at stake a national issue, to shirk which, while life remains, is for any man a crime but for me worse than a crime – a sin. Why did we save Rome from the hands of our enemies, if we are to desert her now? When the victorious Gauls had the city in their power, the gods of Rome and the men of Rome still clung to the Capitol and the Citadel – and shall we now, in the hour of victory, voluntarily abandon even those strongholds which we held through the days of peril? Shall victory make Rome more desolate than defeat? Even were there no sacred cults coeval with Rome and handed down from generation to generation, so manifest at this time has been the power of God working for our deliverance that I, for one, cannot believe that any man could slack his duties of worship and thanksgiving. Only consider the course of our history during these latter years: you will find that when we followed God’s guidance all was well; when we scorned it, all was ill. Remember the war with Veii – so long, so hard – and how it ended only when we obeyed the divine injunction and drained the Alban lake. And what of this unprecedented calamity which has just befallen us? It never showed its ugly head till we disregarded the voice from heaven warning us that the Gauls were coming – till our envoys violated the law of nations and we, who should have punished that crime, were again so careless of our duty to God as to let it pass. That is why we suffered defeat; that is why Rome was captured, and offered us again for gold; that is why we have been so punished by gods and men as to be an example to the world.
‘Evil times came – and then we remembered our religion: we sought the protection of our gods on the Capitol, by the seat of Jupiter Greatest and Best; having lost all we possessed, we buried our holy things, or took them away to other towns, where no enemy would see them; though abandoned by gods and men, we never ceased to worship. Therefore it is that heaven has given us back our city and restored to us victory and the old martial glory we had forfeited, turning the horror of defeat and death upon the enemy who, in his blind avarice for more gold, was disloyal to his compact and his plighted word. As you consider these manifest instances of the effect upon human destiny of obedience or of disobedience to the divine, can you not understand the heinousness of the sin which, though we have barely as yet won to shore from the shipwreck brought on us by our former guilt, we are preparing to commit? We have a city founded with all due rites of auspice and augury; not a stone of her streets but is permeated by our sense of the divine; for our annual sacrifices not the days only are fixed, but the places too, where they may be performed: men of Rome, would you desert your gods – the tutelary spirits which guard your families, and those the nation prays to as its saviours? Would you leave them all? Contrast this wicked thought with what Fabius did, that noble young soldier, only the other day during the siege – a deed which won the admiration of the enemy no less than your own – when braving the Gallic spears he made his way from the Citadel to the Quirinal, to celebrate there the annual sacrifice of his clan! Can you wish to abandon in time of peace our national ceremonies and our country’s gods, when you allowed no interruption of family rites even in war? Are the pontiffs and flamens to care less for the religion of our country than one man has shown himself to care for the tutelary deity of his clan?
‘It may be said perhaps that we shall perform these duties in Veii – or send our priests to perform them here. But in neither case could the proper sanctities be preserved. I cannot now make mention of all our gods, or of all our rites – but think, for instance, of Jupiter’s Feast: how could his couch be decked anywhere but on the Capitol? What of Vesta’s eternal fires, or of the image preserved in her shrine as a pledge of Rome’s dominion? What of the sacred shields of Mars and of Quirinus, our Father? All these things you would leave behind on unconsecrated ground – sanctities as old as Rome, or older. How different we are from the men of long ago! Our fathers entrusted to us the celebration of certain sacrifices on the Alban Mount and in Lavinium: to transfer them – from enemy towns, as they were then – to Rome was felt to be impious – yet now you would take others of our own into an enemy town. How is that possible without sin? Remember, I beg you, how often some rite has to be performed afresh because by negligence or chance some portion of the ancient ritual has been omitted; why, only the other day, after the prodigy of the Alban Lake, it was the renewed, and perfect, performance of the holy ritual – that and nothing else – which saved our country in the struggle with Veii. Moreover, as if we still had some sense of the ancient pieties, we have given other men’s deities a home amongst us, and instituted new cults of our own: Queen Juno was brought from Veii and given her temple on the Aventine – and what a day that was! Who can forget the crowds and the passionate joy of our women? We have agreed to build a shrine to the God of Utterance because of the celestial Voice which was heard in the New Road; to our other annual festivals we have added the Capitoline Games, and by the Senate’s authority a new board has been set up to administer them: but what was the need of all these undertakings if we meant to leave Rome when the Gauls did – or if our remaining on the Capitol all those months of the siege was no wish of our own, but due simply to fear of the enemy?
‘I speak of holy rites and holy places, but what of the priests? Surely it has occurred to you what sacrilege you are proposing to commit. The Vestal Virgins have their place – their own place, from which nothing but the capture of the City has ever moved them; the Flamen of Jupiter is forbidden by our religion to spend even one night outside the City walls – yet you would make them, one and all, go and live for ever in Veii. Ah, Vesta! Shall thy Virgins desert thee? Shall the Flamen of Jupiter live abroad night after night and stain himself and our country with so deep a sin?
‘Remember, too, our public functions, nearly all of which we transact, after due ceremony, within the pomerium, and to what oblivion and neglect we are condemning them. The Meeting of the Curies, to deal with questions of war, the Meeting of the Centuries for the election of consuls or military tribunes – where with the proper rites can these be held but in the places tradition has made sacred? Either, I suppose, we shall transfer them to Veii, or else the people will come here, to a city deserted by gods and men, just to vote at elections – a convenient alternative indeed!
‘Perhaps you will reply that, in spite of all I have said, to go is still a necessity: circumstances compel it – Rome is rubble and ashes, Veii stands unharmed: we cannot lay the burden of rebuilding upon our helpless and impoverished people. But I think you know even without my telling you that such an argument is only an attempt to justify yourselves, aware, as you are, that this question of migrating to Veii was discussed before the invasion, while every house, every temple and public building of Rome was still as perfect as on the day it was built. But oh! what a gulf there is, in this whole business, between the tribunes and me! As for them, they believe that even if the migration was inadvisable then, it is inescapable now; I, on the contrary – and do not be surprised till you understand my meaning – am convinced that even if it was right to consider going while Rome still stood, to abandon her ruins now would be grievously wrong. And why? Because then the reason for our going to live in a captured city would have been our victory – something for ourselves and our posterity to be proud of; but now such a removal is for us a wretched and shameful thing – the Gauls, not we, will glory in it, for it will be only too clear that we have not left our native city as conquerors, but lost it by defeat. The world will think that the rout on the Allia, the capture of Rome, and the siege of the Capitol have forced upon us the bitter necessity of deserting our beloved homes and of condemning ourselves to flee as exiles from a spot we had not the strength to defend. Must it be seen that Gauls could tumble Rome to the ground, while Romans are too weak to lift her up again? And suppose they come back, with a second army – for everyone knows that their numbers are almost beyond belief: suppose they want to settle here, in this city they captured and which you deserted – what could you do but let them? Or maybe your old enemies the Aequians or Volscians might take it into their heads to do the same – and how would you like to change nationalities with them? Surely you would rather Rome were your own wilderness than built again to house your enemies – a thing which in my view at least would be an outrage to the deepest feelings upon which patriotism rests. I cannot believe that you would commit so shameful a crime simply because you shrink from the labour of restoring these ruins; even if it were impossible to build here anything better or bigger than Romulus’s Hut, surely it would be nobler to live like country shepherds amongst everything we hold sacred than to go into universal exile, deserting the gods of our hearths and homes. Those herdsmen long ago and that rabble of refugees, when there was nothing here but forest and swamp, made short work enough of building a new town – but we today, when the temples are still standing and the Capitol and Citadel intact, cannot bring ourselves to rebuild what the fires have destroyed! Shall we refuse as a nation to do what any one of us would have done if his own house had been burned down?
‘Suppose some fool, or some knave, should set Veii on fire – suppose the wind spread the flames and half the town were destroyed – what should we do then? Move on to Fidenae, or Gabii, or anywhere else we could find? So it seems – if indeed the soil of our native city and the earth we call our mother have so weak a hold upon us that our love of country is co–extensive with timber and stone. Men of Rome, I do not like to recall the wrong you did me, but I confess to you that whenever, in my absence, I thought of my country, what I saw in my mind’s eye were these hills and plains, the Tiber and this beloved countryside, and the familiar sky under which I was born and bred. I can but hope that the love of these things will move you now to stay, and that the loss of them will not, in after years, tear your hearts with vain regret. Not without reason did gods and men choose this spot for the site of our City – the salubrious hills, the river to bring us produce from the inland regions and sea–borne commerce from abroad, the sea itself, near enough for convenience yet not so near as to bring danger from foreign fleets, our situation in the very heart of Italy – all these advantages make it of all places in the world the best for a city destined to grow great. The proof is the actual greatness – now – of a city which is still comparatively young; Rome, my friends, is 365 years old, and throughout those years you have been at war with many ancient peoples, yet – not to speak of single enemies – not the united strength of the powerful townships of the Aequians and Volscians, not the combined might of the armies and navies of Etruria, whose vast domains occupy the breadth of Italy from sea to sea, has ever been a match for you in war. What then in the devil’s name makes you want to try elsewhere, when such has been your fortune here? Should you go, I grant you may take your brave hearts with you, but never the Luck of Rome. Here is the Capitol, where, in the days of old, the human head was found and men were told that on that spot would be the world’s head and the seat of empire; here, when the Capitol was to be cleared of other shrines for the sake of Jupiter’s temple, the two deities Juventas and Terminus refused, to the great joy of the men of those days, to be moved; here are the fires of Vesta, the sacred shields which fell from heaven, and all our gods who, if you stay, will assuredly bless your staying.’
Camillus’s oration is said to have moved his hearers, especially those parts of it which touched upon religion, but it was not decisive; what finally settled the matter was the chance remark of a centurion on duty. Soon after Camillus had ended, the Senate was holding a debate in the Curia Hostilia, and some soldiers returning from guard-duty happened to pass through the Forum; as they reached the Comitium, their centurion gave the order to halt, adding, ‘we might as well stop here’. The words were heard in the Senate House; the senators hurried out exclaiming that they accepted the omen, and the crowd in the street signified its approval. The proposal for the migration was rejected, and the rebuilding of the city began.
The work of reconstruction was ill-planned. Tiles were supplied at the state’s expense; permission to cut timber and quarry stone was granted without any restrictions except a guarantee that the particular structure should be completed within the year. All work was hurried and nobody bothered to see that the streets were straight; individual property rights were ignored, and buildings went up wherever there was room for them. This explains why the ancient sewers, which originally followed the line of the streets, now run in many places under private houses, and why the general lay-out of Rome is more like a squatters’ settlement than a properly planned city.