City of the Seven Hills - S. B. Harding

Rebuilding the City

The stories go on to tell us that, before the Gauls got well away from Rome, Camillus arrived at last and defeated them, and took back the gold which had been given them as a ransom. It is likely however, that this is only what the Romans wished could have happened, and not what really took place.

But, whether the Roman gold went with the Gauls or not, a very much heavier trouble had fallen upon the city, for the town was in ashes, and the people were scattered far and wide. It had taken hundreds of years to build Rome, and but a few months to destroy it. How the men and women must have mourned as they came back from their hiding-places and saw only heaps of stone and ashes where they had left their streets and homes! Only the Capitol lifted its head in the midst of the blackened ruins, bearing its buildings and temples unharmed.

Those who were in the greatest despair, as they gazed at the ruined town, were the common people. They had lost all of the little which they had possessed; and, as they looked at the ruins around the Capitol, they shrank from the task that they saw before them. Rome must be begun anew; and what toil it meant for them only to clear the ground and make ready for the work of building! And, after that was done, the greatest work would yet remain, the gathering of the material and the building of the houses.

Many of the people had returned from Veii, where they had been living in the well-built houses of that city, and they thought of them with regret.

"Why should we remain here, O Romans," cried the leaders of the people, "and toil at this great work? A home awaits us in Veii, ready built and with most fertile fields around it. That city was conquered by us from our enemies; let us make use of it now in our great need."

Then the people, looking at the ruins about them, cried:

"Yes, let us go! Let us begin anew in Veii!"

But they did not go. When Camillus heard of the plans of the people, he went to them, with the whole Senate following after him, and he spoke to them with these words:

"What is this that you think of doing, O Romans? Why have we struggled to recover our city from the Gauls, if we ourselves desert it as soon as it is recovered? Shall we now leave the Capitol, which the Romans and the gods still held, while the Gauls lay camped in the city? Shall even the citadel be deserted, now that the Gauls are fled and the Romans victorious? We possess a city founded by the gods; not a spot is there in it that is not full of them. Will you forsake them all by leaving Rome? Shall the Virgins forsake thee, O Vesta, and the priests of Rome become Veientians? Has our native soil so slight a hold on us, or this earth which we call mother? Does our love of country lie merely in the surface, and in the timber of our houses? For my part, I will confess to you, that, while I have been absent from my city, whenever it came into my thoughts, all these occurred to me, the hills, the plains, the Tiber, the face of the country, so familiar to my eyes, and this sky, under which I have been born and educated. May all these now, by your love of them, induce you to remain, rather than that they should cause you grief and regret after having left them. Not without good reason did gods and men choose this place for founding a city, these most healthful hills, and this large river bearing the fruits of the inland country to us, and ours to the sea, this place in the center of Italy. The very size of our city before it was destroyed is a proof of its good situation. Where is the wisdom of your giving this up, now that you have proved it, to make trial of another city into which good fortune may not follow you? Here is the Capitol, which it was foretold should become the chief seat of empire. Here is the fire of Vesta. Here are the shields of Mars, let down from heaven. Here are all the gods, who will be favorable to you if you stay."

In spite of the speech of Camillus, however, the people still hesitated, and the Senators even could not quite decide what it would be best for them to do. But, as the Senate was still discussing the matter, an officer marched through the Forum with his soldiers, and called out:

"Standard-bearer, fix your standard. Let us halt here."

His words reached the ears of the Senators as they sat, in anxious quiet, in the Senate-house nearby. It seemed to them like a message from the gods, commanding them to remain at Rome. They came out of the Senate-house, therefore, exclaiming that "they accepted the omen"; and the common people, when they were told of the occurrence, allowed themselves to be persuaded to remain.

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


Then the Senate ordered that Veii should be destroyed, so that the people should never again be tempted to leave Rome; and the materials were brought from Veii to Rome, and used in building the city anew. The Senate also gave the people liberty to take wood and stone for building free of charge, and to build their houses wherever they could find a place. So, within a year, the city was rebuilt, after a fashion; but the houses at first were poor and mean, and the work was done so hurriedly that no attention was paid even to the course of the streets. This made the streets of the new Rome very narrow and crooked, as they wound about among the buildings; and even the sewers, which before the Gauls came had followed the line of the streets, were now built over with private houses.

The Romans were not allowed to rebuild their city in peace, however. All the peoples around them began to take advantage of their weakness to prevent them from growing strong and powerful once more. As we read the old stories, we wonder whether the Romans would have ever succeeded in restoring their city if it had not been for Camillus. He led them against their enemies many times, and always with success; and often he gained the victory for them more by the enemy's fear of him than by the size of his armies or the strength of their arms.

At last, Camillus had grown to be an old man of eighty years, and when a call to battle came he feared that he was no longer fit to lead the Romans to victory. The citizens, however, would not allow him to retire from the command; for his mind was still clear and strong, and they thought that that was worth more than youth and strength of body.

So Camillus went forth from Rome, with another man Lucius Furius—for a companion in command; and he led his men cautiously to the seat of the war. The enemy had more men than Camillus had, and were awaiting him in a city which had belonged to the Romans before the coining of the Gauls. When they saw the Romans approaching, they came out and offered to give battle immediately; for they thought that, by doing this, they would give Camillus less chance to plan his battle skillfully. But Camillus was too wise in the art of war to be caught in any such way, and he prepared to keep his men from battle until he saw a good chance for victory.

This made the enemy all the more eager, and they came close to the Roman camp and began digging trenches and preparing for battle as though daring them to fight. This was hard for the Roman soldiers to bear, even though they were so few in number compared with the enemy. In their anger, they began to think that Camillus was holding them back more because of the weakness and fears of age, than from carefulness for their safety and for the victory. The other general, the young Furius, was of this opinion also, and did not hesitate to say what he thought among the soldiers.

"Wars are the business of young men," he said, "and it ought to be so, for, in the best condition of the body, the mind is strongest also. Why should Camillus now hold his men quiet in the trenches when formerly he used to carry camps and cities at the first onset? What increase does he expect to his own strength; what falling off does he hope for in the enemy? Camillus has had a goodly share of years, as well as of glory. Shall we now allow the strength of the state to suffer because his body sinks into old age?"

When the soldiers, excited by these words, demanded battle, Furius went to Camillus, and said:

"Camillus, we cannot withstand the violence of our soldiers, and the enemy insults us in a way not to be endured. Do you, who are but one man, yield to all, and allow us to do as we wish, that the victory may be ours the sooner."

Then the old Camillus replied:

"Whatever wars have been fought, up to this day, under my single care, have not proved either my judgment or my good fortune to be wanting. But now I have a companion in my office of general, who is my equal in command and my superior in the vigor of youth. I have been accustomed to rule the violence of my army, not to be ruled by it. But with my companion's power I cannot interfere. You may do Lucius Furius, that which you think best, for the interest of Rome. I beg only one thing, and that is, that, in consideration of my years, I may not be placed in the front rank. Whatever duties of war an old man may discharge, in these I shall not be found wanting. And I pray the immortal gods that no misfortune may come upon the Romans to prove that my plan would have been the better one."

Then the Romans were drawn up in battle order and advanced to the attack, leaving Camillus, as he had desired, with some reserve troops in the camp. The old general first posted strong guards about the camp, and then stood anxiously watching the advance of the Romans.

As he had feared, he did not see them gain a victory. At first, the enemy seemed to give way, and the Romans followed eagerly. But when the retreating soldiers had drawn them on to where the ground was difficult, they suddenly faced about, and others of their men joined them, and they attacked the Romans at a disadvantage. It was not long before Camillus, from the high ground from which he watched the battle, saw the Roman line break and the soldiers turn and fly toward his camp.

Then Camillus commanded his men to lift him on his horse, and, calling to his troops, he led them out against the enemy. When he met the Romans rushing blindly back, he cried:

"Is this the battle that you called for so eagerly, soldiers? Why turn your faces toward the camp? Not a man of you shall my camp receive, except as victor! Having followed another leader, now follow Camillus, and conquer as you have done before, when I lead."

At this the soldiers halted, stopped at first by shame. Then when they saw their old general, whom they had followed to so many victories, go forward against the enemy in the front rank, they turned and joined him, with shouts and renewed courage. And once more Camillus led them on to victory.

You would think that, after this battle, Camillus would be angry with Lucius Furius. But this was not the case. He seemed to wish to forget that it was the bad judgment of Furius that had brought on the battle, and to remember only that he had fought with the greatest bravery through it all.

"This day," said Camillus, "will be a lesson to him not to prefer his own plans to better ones."

So, when Camillus was appointed general for a new war soon after this, he chose this same Lucius Furius as his companion in command; and they went out together, once more, in friendliness and good fellowship.

Do you remember when, in his earlier days, Camillus could not remain at Rome because he could not live without quarreling with his fellow-citizens? Now you see him forgiving* a real injury, and showing only kindness to the man who had scorned him in his old age. Camillus had learned something better, during his long life, than how to lead his soldiers to victory; for he knew how, at the last, to return good for evil, and to make a friend of one who might have been his enemy.

Camillus lived for some years longer, and when he died the people felt as though they had lost a second Romulus; for he had almost founded their city a second time, by persuading them to remain in it after the retreat of the Gauls, and by protecting them from their enemies while they rebuilt their dwellings. The wisdom of his desire to remain at Rome was seen even before his death, for the city had already sprung up in a vigorous new growth; and we now believe, as Camillus did then, that nowhere else could Rome have grown to be the great city which it finally became.