Our Little Roman Cousin of Long Ago - Julia D. Cowles

In the Senate

The lessons which a Roman boy learned in school were only a part of his education. Every boy was trained to be a soldier, and much about the government and the politics of Rome was learned by listening to speeches in the Forum. Sons of the Senators were frequently taken to the Senate, that they might listen to the best speakers and orators of the time. This formed an important part of the education of the Roman boy of good birth.

Marcus was not surprised, therefore, when his father said to him one morning at breakfast, "I want you to go with me to the Senate to-day. These are troubled times for Rome, and there are likely to be important speeches by the Senators."

Marcus was ready promptly. He liked to go to the Forum, which was the busiest place in all the great city, and they must pass through the Forum to reach the Senate.

The Forum was a large, open building with beautiful carvings and statues, and it was between two of the seven hills upon which Rome was built. The men of the city gathered there every day to learn the latest news from the war, to listen to political speeches, or to attend to any public business, and it was always a bustling, noisy place.

"Has the army been defeated?" asked Marcus, as he and his father were on their way. "You spoke of trouble," he added.

"No," replied Gaius, "I fear that we have even greater trouble than that on hand. Some of the citizens are trying to stir up rebellion in Rome itself. Listen well to all that is said to-day."

At the entrance to the Senate they met Tullius, and the two boys, as sons of Senators, were allowed to enter the building. They took seats together, where they could hear all that was said.

Presently one of the Senators arose. "It is Cicero," said Tullius eagerly. "Now we shall hear him speak!" For Cicero was one of the greatest orators of Rome, and his writings and orations are studied in schools and colleges to-day.

It was very quiet in the Senate when Cicero began to speak, for all seemed to realize that he had important matters to bring before them. And they were not mistaken. He told them that there was treason in their midst: that traitors were seeking to destroy and betray their city and overthrow the government: and then, raising his right arm, he pointed to one of the Senators named Catiline, and exclaimed, "In the name of the gods, Catiline, how long will you abuse our patience?"

There was a great outcry at this, for Catiline tried to defend himself, but Cicero had learned of his plot, and boldly told the assembled Senators that Catiline was a traitor.

Then there were shouts of "Enemy of Rome," and in the midst of the confusion Catiline left the room and hastened away from the city.

Marcus and Tullius were greatly excited over all this uproar in the usually dignified Senate, and on their way home they denounced Catiline as fiercely, if not as eloquently, as Cicero had done.

That afternoon a group of boys gathered in the garden of Marcus' home. They were all excited over the wars, which were being carried on in the country between the Roman army and the army of an Eastern king. Now they were more than ever excited over Cicero's speech against Catiline.

"I wish I were old enough to fight for Rome," exclaimed Marcus.

"So do I!" shouted the other boys in chorus.

"Since we are not, suppose you whet our appetites, Marcus, by telling us some of your famous war stories," suggested Tullius.

"Yes, yes," echoed the boys. "Tell us some stories, Marcus." And, after a moment, Marcus began:

"About two hundred years ago, Rome had her first battle with Carthage, you will remember. At that time Carthage ruled nearly all the cities that surrounded the Mediterranean Sea, and so the people of Carthage said proudly, 'The Mediterranean is only a lake which belongs to Carthage. No one can so much as wash his hands in it unless he receives permission from us.'

"Of course when the Romans heard this they determined that the Mediterranean should belong to them, or, at least, that Carthage should be made to take back her boast, and war was declared between the two nations.

"I am not going to tell you the history of this war," Marcus continued, "but a story which is part of that history, and which shows the sort of stuff that Romans are made of.

"Rome had no naval fleet to speak of, and her soldiers would not have known how to manage a fleet if they had had one. But the people of Carthage had a big fleet of vessels, and knew how to handle them, too. Their vessels had sails, and besides the sails they had five banks, or rows, of oars, one bank above another, the whole length of the ship. The oars were moved together in perfect time by slaves, who had been trained for this purpose.

"But Roman soldiers are not to be discouraged," said Marcus proudly, "and since they knew that they must fight some of their battles on the water, they began studying how they were to do it.

"The gods always favor the brave, and one day a disabled ship floated ashore close to the Roman camp. Then the army went to work. They studied the ship to see how it was built. They cut down trees in the forest and hewed them into timbers and planks. And that they might have men to manage the ships when they were ready, they set soldiers in banks upon the hillside, who practised the motion of rowing with even strokes.

"At the end of sixty days," declared Marcus, "the Romans had a fleet of vessels ready to sail, and men trained to row them. That was the beginning of the Roman navy, which is now the finest in the world."

"Good, good," cried the boys, when Marcus had finished his spirited story. Marcus flushed with pleasure, and when he looked up, his father stood beside him.

"I am glad to see you boys so well occupied," said Gaius. "And I have some good news to tell you. Word has just been received that our army is victorious, and that the king who has fought against us for so long is dead. Now, indeed, Rome may rejoice."

The boys jumped to their feet and shouted lustily.

"I suppose Pompey will soon return," exclaimed Tullius eagerly, for Pompey was the general in charge of the army, and the return of a victorious general was one of the finest sights to be seen in Rome. It meant a magnificent procession, merry-making, feasting, and rejoicing.

"Good! Good!" exclaimed the boys again and then they scattered to spread the news.

But the boys of Rome were not to see Pompey's triumph quite so soon as they hoped.