The Farmer Hero
The Romans were so warlike a people that they were hardly ever at peace. As soon as one battle was ended, they prepared for the next, and after defeating one people they immediately tried their arms against another.
When not busy making war abroad, they often quarreled at home; for, as you have already heard, the patricians and plebeians were too jealous of each other to agree for any length of time. In all this fighting, many soldiers were slain, and when the people of Veii once began to rise up against Rome, the senate was dismayed to find that there was no army ready to meet them.
In this time of danger, a noble patrician, named Fabius, stood up in the senate, and said that he and his family would at once arm, and go forth and fight for the city. Early the next day, three hundred and six men, all related to one another, and all bearing the name of Fabius, marched out of Rome to meet the foe.
In the first battle the Fabii won a glorious victory; but later on in the campaign they were led into an ambush, and were all slain. When the news of their death was brought into the city the people burst into tears, and the gate through which they had passed was called the Unlucky.
The day of their death was marked in the Roman calendar as also unlucky, and the people publicly mourned the loss of such good and brave men, who had left only a few little children, too young to bear arms, for the defense of their country.
The Romans, however, soon won a great victory over the people of Veii, and the two cities made a long truce. But the wars with other peoples still went on, and among the worst enemies of Rome were the Æquians. On one occasion the Roman troops were led by a consul who had not had much experience. Before long his camp was surrounded by the Æquians, and his army was in great danger of suffering the same fate as the Fabii.
Five horsemen, however, managed to escape, and hurried to warn the senate of the army's peril. The people were horrified at these tidings, and, knowing that the second consul was no more of a general than the first, insisted that a dictator should be chosen.
Only one man seemed able to help them. This was Cincinnatus, an old soldier who had retired to a farm, where he spent all his time in plowing, sowing, and reaping. A party of senators went in search of him, and found him plowing in his fields.
In haste they told him of the army's danger, and implored him to take charge of the city, and do all he could to save the lives of their brave countrymen. Cincinnatus was weary of warfare, and would have preferred to remain on his farm; but as soon as he heard this news, he left his oxen standing in the furrow, and went back to Rome with the senators.
Arrived in the Forum, he called the citizens to arms. He bade every able-bodied man be on the Field of Mars before sundown, fully armed, and carrying enough food to last him five days. The Romans were so glad to have a good leader that they hastened to obey him; and, as the sun sank beneath the horizon, Cincinnatus, the new dictator, marched out of Rome, at the head of a little army of determined men.
By walking all night, Cincinnatus brought his men in the rear of the Æquians, who, at dawn, found that the tables were turned, and that they were now between two armies of angry Romans.
They soon saw that resistance would be useless, and, without striking a single blow, offered to surrender. Cincinnatus gladly accepted their offers of peace, but let them go only after they had given up their arms and spoil, and had gone through a ceremony called "passing under the yoke." This was considered a great disgrace, and the Æquians would never have submitted to it had they not been compelled to do so in order to save their lives.
The yoke was made by standing up two spears in the ground, and tying a third across their tops. The Roman soldiers were drawn up in two long lines facing each other, and the enemy marched between them and under the yoke, a prey to the taunts, and even to the blows, of their conquerors.
After thus rescuing the Roman army from certain death, Cincinnatus brought them back to the city, and enjoyed the honors of a triumph. Then, seeing that his country no longer needed him, he laid aside the title of dictator, which he had borne for only a few days. Joyfully hastening back to his farm, he took up his plowing where he had dropped it; and he went on living as quietly and simply as if he had never been called upon to serve as dictator, and to receive the honors of a grand triumph.
This man is admired quite as much for his simplicity and contentment as for his ability and courage. He was greatly esteemed by the Romans, and in this country his memory has been honored by giving his name to the thriving city of Cincinnati.