City of the Seven Hills - S. B. Harding

The New Rome

It is not an unusual thing for a city to recover after such a misfortune as the sack of Rome, and become greater than before. In our own country such a thing has happened. Your father, perhaps, remembers when the city of Chicago was burned in 1871, and all the country was called upon to send food and clothing to the thousands of people who had lost their homes and all they possessed. But now Chicago is the second city in size in the United States, and all because of ceaseless labor and endeavor since that time. Rome did not recover from her misfortune so rapidly as Chicago did from hers, for she did not receive such generous help from the country around her. You have seen that the neighbors of Rome would have preferred to injure, rather than to aid, the people of the destroyed city. But, thanks to the wisdom and skill of Camillus, and the determination of her people, Rome at length recovered from her misfortune, and became a powerful city once more.

In one way their troubles were a good thing for the Romans. The patricians found it so important, for their own good, that the common people should stay at Rome and help in the work of rebuilding the city that they became willing to give up many of the rights which, before this, they had kept to themselves. It was not many years after the new Rome had been built that a man from the plebeians was elected consul, along with a man of noble birth. This was a great victory for the common people, and it was soon followed up by others. Before a century had passed, from the burning of the city, the plebeians were allowed to hold any office to which a patrician could be elected, and the old distinctions between the classes were entirely removed.

In spite of the fact that Camillus had called their hills "most healthful," Rome was troubled for many years after the rebuilding of the city with much illness among the people. You will remember that the Gauls sickened quickly in Rome; and now, even the citizens themselves, who were used to the climate, sickened and died in great numbers. This indeed was the cause of the death of Camillus himself, after all his long years of fighting on Roman battlefields; and sometimes there was so much sickness among the people that the armies could not be sent out against their enemies as usual.

This trouble was caused partly by a lack of good water in the city. The well-water about Rome, and also the water of the Tiber, was impure; and the cisterns did not furnish enough for the use of the people. The Romans must have felt this need very keenly, for, while they were fighting battles on every side, they set themselves to work to bring in a good supply of water from outside the city, as is now done in all our large towns. Eight miles out from Rome there were hills where pure water could be found in plenty, and they brought this into the city in a passage which they built for it under ground.

Such a passage for water they called an "aqueduct, "and we still use the same word ourselves, having borrowed it from the Romans. The reason that they did not, at first, build their aqueducts above the surface of the ground was that they feared lest, at some time, their enemies might succeed in turning the stream aside, and thus leave the city without water. But as Rome conquered her enemies about her, and the city grew larger and needed a greater supply of water, many new aqueducts were built, and these were built above ground. Even to this day, you can see, near Rome, the remains of some of the great stone troughs sometimes high up in the air on stone arches—in which water was brought from miles away to the city of Rome.

[Illustration] from City of the Seven Hills by S. B. Harding


At this time, also, the Romans began a work which was as great as the building of their aqueducts. This was the making of good roads.

As soon as the Romans began to send out armies to fight with the neighboring cities, they must have seen the need of well-built roads that could be used through all the seasons of the year, and in wet and dry weather alike. Such roads became still more necessary now that the Romans had come to rule lands and cities lying many miles from Rome. So while the Romans were bringing good water into Rome, they began their first long road; and the Iran who led them in building their aqueduct was also foremost in making this road. His name was Appius Claudius, and he was quite as great a man as any of the Roman generals that we are told so much about. Because the road was built under his direction, the Romans named it the "Appian Way," after him, and even to-day what remains of this road is still called by this name.

From the beginning, the Romans built their roads with the greatest care. First, after they had removed the earth to the proper depth, they placed a layer of large flat stones on the ground. Then a layer, nine inches thick, of smaller stones, was laid upon these, and cemented together with lime. Next came a layer, about six inches thick, of still smaller stones, and this too was bound together with cement. And, at last, on top of all, blocks of very hard stone were laid, and fitted closely together, so as to make a perfectly smooth surface on which to drive or walk.

Is it any wonder that roads built with such care have lasted for two thousand years?

[Illustration] from City of the Seven Hills by S. B. Harding


This building of roads and bringing of water into the city was not a small thing for the Romans to do, as perhaps it may seem now, when well-paved streets and waterworks are to be found in almost every large city. The Romans did this when such things were only beginning to be thought of by men, and they did it so well that they set an example which the whole world has been glad to follow ever since. They saw what they needed, then they thought out the best way to meet their wants, and then, last of all, they were willing to work hard and long in order to do well whatever they undertook. It is this as much as anything else which made the Romans become one of the greatest peoples that the world has ever seen. They thought well and worked hard, whether it was in fighting battles or building roads, and in the end this made them the masters of the world.

The Romans not only thought things out for themselves, however; they were always ready to learn from others as well. Whatever they saw that seemed good to them, they borrowed and made part of themselves. They learned from the Etruscans a great deal of that knowledge of building which they used in constructing their temples and aqueducts. When, for the first time, they went to war with an enemy beyond the sea, the Romans learned how to build war-vessels from a ship of the enemy which was wrecked on their shores. When the Romans found that the short, straight sword, which the people of Spain used, was better than their own, they armed their soldiers with that. And when they found that the Greeks were better poets and artists than they were, the Romans took them to be their teachers in poetry and in art.

But, besides the power of the Romans to think, to work, and to learn from others, there was something else that made their city strong. This was the love and devotion of her people. The best of the Romans were willing to die for her, and did die for her, not only by going into battle and laying down their lives there, but in other ways as well.

Old writers tell us that once a great chasm, or hole, many feet deep, suddenly opened in the Forum at Rome. This must have been caused by an earthquake, such as those which often occur even now in Italy, and sometimes in our own land. The Romans were greatly distressed by this chasm, and they tried to fill it by throwing earth into it. But, in spite of all their efforts, the opening would not be closed. Then they could only look upon the chasm as a work of the gods, and they asked the priests the meaning of it, and how it might be filled. The priests replied:

"Search out what is the most precious thing of the Roman people, for that is what must be thrown into the chasm in order to satisfy the gods and make sure that the city will last forever."

Then, as they questioned among themselves—what this "most precious thing of the Roman people" might he, Marcus Curtius, a youth who had done great deeds in war, exclaimed:

"Can you doubt what this means? Is there any greater good for Romans than arms and bravery? This is what the gods demand; and I will devote myself as a sacrifice to them, so that my country may never perish."

Then he put on his richest armor and mounted his horse and rode to the edge of the chasm, while the people of Rome crowded the Forum and stood watching. When he had prayed to the gods, Curtius leaped his horse into the opening, and horse and rider disappeared from sight. After that the chasm closed, and all that was left to show where the opening had been was a little pool of water, which the Romans named the Curtian lake, in honor of this youth who had so willingly and gladly sacrificed himself to the gods for the good of the Roman people.

At another time, a Roman named Decius Mus did something very much like this act of Curtius: Decius was consul, and was leading the army in battle when he saw that the Romans were giving way and the enemy was pressing on to victory.

"Valerius," he cried, to the chief priest who stood by him, "we have need of the aid of the gods. Come! tell me the words by which I may offer myself a sacrifice for my soldiers."

Then, with his head covered and leaning on a spear, he repeated these words after the priest:

"Janus, Jupiter, Father Mars, and all ye gods under whose power we and our enemies are: I pray you that you will grant strength to the Roman people, that they may strike the enemies of the Romans with terror, dismay and death. I devote the soldiers of the enemy together with myself to the gods of the dead, for the sake of the soldiers of Rome."

He then mounted his horse, and rushed into the midst of the enemy, where he fell pierced by many weapons. The Roman soldiers, who followed him in his attack, were victorious; and they thought that the gods had given them the victory because their consul had offered himself as a sacrifice for them,