City of the Seven Hills - S. B. Harding

The Gauls in Rome

Meanwhile, all was terror and dismay in Rome. Only a handful of men had returned out of the army that had marched out on the day of the battle. But the Romans had not only to sorrow for the dead; they had also to fear for the living; for the men who remained in Rome were too few to defend the wide extent of the city walls against the attack of these fierce barbarians.

So, without making any attempt to defend the wall, the Romans determined to make their stand on the Capitol. This was a rocky hill, in the midst of the city, and it was well fitted for defense. Its sides were so steep, except on the one side up which the road wound, that it seemed as though no enemy could climb them. Upon it was a well, to give them water; and there, too, were the temples of the gods, to protect and encourage the Romans in their defense.

While the Gauls gathered their spoil and feasted, the Romans hastened to bring provisions to this place and prepare it to withstand a siege. Not all of the people, however, could find refuge here. No one was wanted on the Capitol who could not do his share in its defense; the women and the children, and the people untrained to arms, would only have taken the food from the mouths of those who labored to save the most sacred part of the city.

So, while the Capitol was being made ready, great numbers of the people went out of the city, and sought refuge in the hills on the other side of the Tiber, and in the neighboring cities. With them went the Vestal Virgins, carrying the sacred fire from the altar, and the vessels used in the worship of the gods. And the Romans loved to tell, in later days, how a poor plebeian, who was flying with his goods and family, met the Vestals as they were toiling along the road on foot; and, seeing their weariness, he bade his wife and children get down from his cart, that he might take up the holy maidens and carry them to a place of safety.

There were some of the Romans, however, who could not fight, and yet who would not leave the city. These were the old patricians, who were too feeble to bear arms and be useful in the citadel, but who could not bear the thought of leaving their homes and wandering in exile, while the city they loved was laid in ashes by the barbarous Gauls. They determined, therefore, to make a sacrifice of themselves to the gods for the good of their country. They were men who in their earlier years had been consuls, or had filled other high offices in the city, Now they put on their robes of state, and seated themselves in their ivory chairs in the Forum, and awaited calmly the coming of the enemy.

When, at last, the Gauls entered the city, they passed wonderingly from street to street through the empty town, seeking the enemy who awaited them only in the citadel above. When they came to the Forum, they were struck with amazement at the sight of so many noble-appearing old men, sitting there in perfect order and silence. On their part, the old men neither rose at their coming, nor so much as turned their eyes towards them, but sat gazing at one another quietly, and showing no sign of fear.

For a while, the Gauls stood wondering at the strange sight, and did not approach or touch the Romans, for they seemed more like an assembly of the gods than men. But, at last, a Gaul who was bolder than the rest drew near to one of the old men, and, putting forth his hand, he gently stroked his long, white beard. Perhaps he intended no harm; the old Roman, however, took this for an insult, and, raising the long staff which he carried in his hand, he struck the Gaul a heavy blow with this over the head.

Then the anger of the Gauls flamed up, and the old men were put to death; but this they had expected when they prepared themselves as a sacrifice to the gods. The houses of the city were then broken into by the Gauls, and robbed of the goods that had been left in them. At last, fire was set to the city, and soon its streets and buildings were a mere mass of smoldering ashes.

But even then, the Gauls could not take the Capitol. The great rock was steep and well-defended, and they soon found that they could not force their way to the top. They were obliged to settle down in the ruined city and besiege the Romans. This, however, was not the kind of fighting they were used to; they always found it unpleasant to sit still before an enemy and try to starve him into surrender. Indeed, in this case, there was some danger that they might starve themselves; for they soon used up all the provisions that had been left in the town, and then, from day to-day, they had to send out parts of their army to gather in food from the surrounding country.

One of these parties wandered, on one such trip, as far as the town where Camillus was then living, in exile from his native city. Though he had been badly treated by the Romans, Camillus was grieved at the misfortunes that had come upon his city. When the Gauls came into his neighborhood, instead of planning how to escape them, he tried rather to punish them for what they had done to Rome; and, taking the young men of the city, Camillus fell upon the camp of the Gauls by night, and destroyed them entirely.

When the news of this act reached those Romans who had taken refuge in Veii, they began to recover from their terror, and to plan for the rescue of Rome. But first they must have a leader; and where, they asked, could they find a better one than Camillus, who had captured Veii for them, and had just shown them how to overcome the Gauls?

Before Camillus could become their general, however, he had to be recalled from exile, and appointed to be their leader by the Senate. What was left of the Senate was besieged on the Capitol at Rome; so the men at Veii sent a youth to that place with messages to the Senate, asking that they would recall Camillus and appoint him to command them.

This messenger boldly traveled the greater part of the way to Rome by day, but he waited until night to draw near to the city. Then he passed the river by swimming, with pieces of cork under his garments to hold him up, and approached the Capitol. Here, at a place which the Gauls had left unguarded, he managed to scramble tip its rocky side, and reach the top in safety. Then he delivered his message to the Senate, and they granted his request gladly, and named Camillus, Dictator. After that the youth returned as he had come, bearing his message back to Camillus and to the men at Veii.

The next day some of the Gauls at Rome found the marks of hands and feet where the messenger had climbed the side of the Capitol. Then they said to one another:

"Where it is easy for one man to get up, it will not be hard for many, one after another."

So the next night they made the attempt. Sending an unarmed man ahead to try the way, they followed in his steps, passing their weapons from one to another, and drawing each other up over the steep places. In this way, they reached the top, and reached it unnoticed by the Romans. The sentinels were fast asleep, and even the dogs were quiet and gave no alarm.

But the sacred geese that were kept near the temple of Juno were more watchful. As the enemy approached their enclosure, they cackled loudly and flapped their wings, and this awoke an officer named Marcus Manlius, who was sleeping nearby. At once, Manlius snatched up his arms, and, shouting to awake his comrades, he rushed to the spot where the first Gauls were just climbing over the wall of the citadel. One of them he slew with his sword, and another, at the same time, he struck full in the face with his shield, and hurled him headlong from the rock; and this man, as he fell, threw down others who were below him. And now Manlius's companions had joined him, and spears and stones fell thick and fast upon the climbing enemy; and soon the last of the attacking party was dashed to ruin at the foot of the rock, and the citadel was saved.

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


After this, the siege continued for many months, and it bore heavily on the Gauls and the Romans alike. Both sides reached the limit of their endurance at last. It was the time of the year which was most unhealthy in Rome—the late summer and autumn and many of the Gauls fell sick and died, for they were used to a colder and more healthy climate.

The Romans were in a still worse condition, for their food was giving out. Even when Marcus Manlius had saved the Capitol, the Romans could do no kinder thing for him in return than to give him each half a pound of corn and half a pint of wine, taking this from the nourishment of their own bodies that he might be rewarded.. Now there was not even this to give, and they had looked long and vainly for Camillus and the promised help from Veii. They were wearied with constant watching; and their bodies, weakened by hunger, could scarcely bear the weight of their arms.

So, at last, when the Gauls offered to break up the siege, and leave Rome in return for a thousand pounds of gold, the Romans were ready to consent. Then they brought out the gold to the Gauls for settlement; but, as the Gauls weighed it in the scales, the Romans charged them with balancing the scales unfairly. The only answer of the Gallic chief to this charge was to unbuckle his heavy sword from his waist, and throw it

belt, scabbard, and all—into the scale with the weights; and when the Romans indignantly asked the meaning of this, he calmly replied:

"What should it mean but woe to the conquered?"

The Romans could do nothing but add the gold to make up the extra weight. They were conquered, indeed.