City of the Seven Hills - S. B. Harding

The Family of the Fabii

The family of the Fabii, and, indeed, all the families of Rome, were very different from our own American families, or any others that you may know about. You think of your family as being made up of your father and mother, brothers and sisters, and, it may be, a grandfather or a grandmother who lives with you. You have other relatives, of course, aunts, uncles, and cousins; but perhaps these live far away in some other part of the country, and you may know very little about them. Even if you have a family of cousins living in the same town with you, you do not think of them as belonging to your own family, as your brothers and sisters do.

This was all very different in the city of Rome. There the families were held closer together than with us, and cousins that were so distantly related that we should scarcely think them cousins at all, were all counted in the great family to which their fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers had belonged for centuries before them. This made the families very large, as large, perhaps, as your own would be if you could go back through all your grandfathers to the first one who came to America, and then should gather together all the persons in the country to-day who are related to him, however distantly.

If you will only think for a moment of how many this might be, you will not be surprised to find that the family of the Fabii, counting men, women and children, is supposed to have contained many hundreds of persons. Of course, all these people did not live in the same house, as we think of families doing to-day, for that would have been impossible. But they all bore the name of Fabius, and they all obeyed the head of their family more readily than sons nowadays obey their own fathers.

The Fabii belonged to the patrician class, and were richer and more powerful than any other family in Rome; so, year after year, some one of them was sure to be elected consul. At last, the common people grew weary of this, especially as the Fabii always opposed the tribunes in everything that they wished to do for the good of the people. The, plebeians grew to dislike the Fabii so much that they were willing to do anything to distress and annoy them.

While the people were in this humor, Kaeso Fabius, who was then one of the consuls, led the Roman army against the enemy. He left the city with his horsemen and foot soldiers, and drew up his men before the enemy's camp. He was a good general, and everything was well arranged for the battle, when he gave the signal for the attack; but, at the command, the cavalry alone, who were all patricians or rich men, obeyed and went against the foe. The plebeians, who were the foot soldiers, hated their consuls so much that they stood still and refused to go forward and take their part in the battle. They did this, not because they were afraid to fight, but because they wished to see their consul go back to Rome disgraced by defeat.

Though the Fabii were proud and haughty men, they now saw that they had gone too far in their harshness toward the common people.

When some of Rome's neighbors heard of this trouble at Rome, they agreed that this would be a good time to lead their forces against the city and make an end of the Romans altogether. So, during the next year, another force, from several cities, came marching together against Rome.

The Roman Senate was greatly distressed at this, for one of the consuls was again a Fabius, and they had no way of making sure that the soldiers would not behave in the same way that they had done the year before. Indeed, the soldiers left home with a sullen look, as though they were determined to show their anger again, even at the risk of bringing ruin upon the city. For this reason, the consuls were afraid to trust their men in battle, and when they came near the enemy, they pitched their camp, and fortified it, and quietly kept their soldiers within it.

Day by day, and week by week, the army lay within its camp. The enemies of the Romans now began to think that there was trouble again between the patricians and the people, and that the soldiers had again refused to fight. They were delighted at this, and felt as though the victory was already won. Often they. would come close to the Roman camp and scoff at the soldiers who lay within.

"You pretend to disagree," they would call, mockingly, "so that you may not show how afraid of us you are. Your consuls fear to lead you to battle, for they distrust your courage even more than your obedience."

The Romans could not endure these insults for very long. Soon, the men who had come out of Rome determined not to fight, were begging their consuls to lead them against the enemy. But Fabius did not think that they were ready yet; so he only replied:

"The time has not yet come."

The soldiers were still forced to remain closely in their camp, and listen yet longer to the taunting cries of the enemy, who called "Cowards, cowards," and, at last, threatened to attack the camp itself. Then, when Fabius saw that the Romans could no longer be kept from attacking the enemy who insulted them, he drew the army up and said to them:

"Soldiers, I know that you are able to conquer these men who mock you; but what makes me hesitate to give battle is the doubt whether you will do it, or will stand still in the face of the enemy, as you did last year. I have, therefore, determined not to give the signal for battle until you will swear by the gods that you will return victorious. Our soldiers have once deceived the Roman consuls; the gods they will never deceive."

Then one of the foremost soldiers raised his hand and cried:

"Fabius, I will return victorious from the field or die upon it. If I deceive you, may the anger of Jupiter, Mars, and all the gods be upon me."

Following his example, the whole army took the same oaths. They were then led forth to battle, and, after a hard fight, during which the soldiers were faithful to the last, they defeated the enemy.

After this, the Fabian family tried rather to favor the poorer people than to be harsh and stern in their treatment of them. Kaeso Fabius ordered all the soldiers who were wounded in this battle to be cared for in the houses of the rich; and in the homes of the Fabii, these men were treated more kindly than anywhere else. In this way, little by little, the people forgot their hatred of the Fabii, and began to look upon them as their friends. And the Fabii soon proved that, however proud they might be, they were willing to give everything for the safety of their city.

There came a time when all the enemies of Rome seemed to be taking up arms against her at once, and the people were over-burdened with the preparations for meeting so many enemies, in so many different directions. As the Senate was anxiously discussing the means of meeting the danger, Kaeso Fabius arose, and, speaking for all the Fabian family, he said:

"Fathers, do you attend to the other wars. Appoint the Fabii as the enemies of the Veientians. We pledge ourselves that the honor of the Roman name shall be safe in that quarter. And, as we ask this war for our family, it is our plan to conduct it at our own expense. For the city, which is so burdened with other dangers, should be spared the expense of soldiers and of supplies in this direction."

The Senate accepted this offer with joy and thankfulness, and the next day the Fabii left the town. There were three hundred and six men, all patricians and all Fabii, in this little army. The people, quite forgetting their former dislike of the family, followed them through the streets of the city; and, at the altar of each god, they begged that the brave men might go forth to victory, and return safely to their homes once more.

These prayers, however, were all in vain. No one of that little company ever came back to Rome. They went forth and built a fort facing the lands of their enemies, and they kept them in check for many months. But at last they were surprised and overcome by them, and all of the army of the Fabii were killed.

Only one boy, who had been too young to go with his relatives, remained of that great family of brave men. But this boy became, in time, the head of another Fabian family, which was to win as much honor at Rome as the one that had been destroyed.