The Defense of the Bridge
Valerius, as you have seen, received the honors of the first triumph which had ever been awarded by the Roman Republic. By the death of Brutus, also, he was left to rule over the city alone. As he was very rich, he now began to build himself a new and beautiful house.
The people of Rome had never seen so handsome a dwelling built for a private citizen; so they began to grow very uneasy, and began to whisper that perhaps Valerius was going to try to become king in his turn.
These rumors finally came to the ears of the consul; and he hastened to reassure the people, by telling them that he loved Rome too well to make any attempt to change its present system of government, which seemed to him very good indeed.
Tarquin, as we have seen, had first gone to the people of Veii for help; but when he found that they were not strong enough to conquer the Romans, he began to look about him for another ally. As the most powerful man within reach was Porsena, king of Clusium, Tarquin sent a message to him to ask for his aid.
Porsena was delighted to have an excuse for fighting the Romans; and, raising an army, he marched straight towards Rome. At his approach, the people fled, and the senate soon saw that, unless a speedy attempt was made to check him, he would be in their city before they had finished their preparations for defense.
The army was therefore sent out, but was soon driven back towards the Tiber. This river was spanned by a wooden bridge which led right into Rome. The consul at once decided that the bridge must be sacrificed to save the city; and he called for volunteers to stand on the other side and keep Porsena's army at bay while the workmen were cutting it down.
A brave Roman, called Horatius Cocles, or the One-eyed, because he had already lost one eye in battle, was the first to step forward and offer his services, and two other men promptly followed him. These three soldiers took up their post in the narrow road, and the rest of the Romans hewed madly at the bridge.
The two companions of Horatius, turning their heads, saw that the bridge was about to fall; so they darted across it, leaving him to face the armed host alone. But Horatius was too brave to flee, and in spite of the odds against him, he fought on until the bridge crashed down behind him.
Horatius at the Bridge.
As soon as the bridge was gone there was no way for the enemy to cross the river and enter Rome. Horatius, therefore ceased to fight, and, plunging into the Tiber, swam bravely to the other side, where his fellow-citizens received him with many shouts of joy.
In reward for his bravery they gave him a large farm, and erected a statue in his honor, which represented him as he stood alone near the falling bridge, keeping a whole army at bay.