Stories in Stone from the Roman Forum - Isabel Lovell

The Story of the Temple of Concord

Alone the aged Camillus stood upon the steps of the Curia, and faced an excited multitude. Below him gathered indignant Patricians; just beyond crowded angry Plebeians. For an officer of the people had attempted to arrest him—the triumphant general, the wise statesman—even as he was sitting on his judgment-seat, and the nobles had quickly come together to protect the venerable dictator. Rome was in a state of peril, and for the fifth time the supreme power had been given to Camillus, conqueror of the Gauls, and again and again defender of his country. Now danger threatened from within Rome itself, and the very foundations of the State were shaken. The Plebeians, claiming a fairer share in the government, had demanded that one of the two consuls be chosen from among their number; the Patricians, fearing a loss of power, had refused to grant this privilege. Then the Plebeians, thinking that Camillus, himself a Patrician, might favour their opponents, would have cast him into prison; but the Patricians, upholding the ancient laws, stood ready to defend their leader to the last. Strife having been thus let loose, tumult now reigned, sweeping through the. Forum like a great wind before the outbreak of the storm. Once more liberty and oppression swayed in the trembling balances of Justice; once more the fate of the nation lay in the hands of this one man. Fearless and determined Camillus stood forth, gazing at the troubled throng; then, lifting his eyes toward the calm heavens, he raised his hands in supplication. Instantly there fell a hush, as intense as the uproar that had gone before; and in that sudden stillness the voice of Camillus, clear and powerful, was heard uttering this solemn vow:

"By all the immortal gods, I, Camillus, swear that if peace be established among the citizens of Rome, a temple shall be raised to the goddess Concordia, whose worship shall be honoured of all men. Heaven and Earth, bear witness to my words!"

Thus spake the old dictator, and thus a new deity was added to the number of the gods—Concordia, goddess of Tranquillity, who bears in her hands the olive branch of peace and the horn of plenty.

In silence Camillus then led the senators to the Curia, where, after grave discussion, the question that had occasioned so much turmoil was peacefully decided in favour of the Plebeians. When from the Rostra Camillus announced this result, cheer after cheer rent the air, blessings and praises were heaped upon his name, and amid these wild rejoicings the people escorted the aged magistrate to his home. And soon, close to Saturn's temple, was raised the Temple of Concord that it might testify that the long and bitter strife between Patrician and Plebeian was ended.

During many years after, this long war in foreign lands occupied the people, who gained thereby much wealth, if not greater wisdom; and ambition becoming the watchword of Roman life, again the rights of the poor were cast aside, and riots and disorders disturbed the city. Yet the people did not lack friends, and more than one brave man lost his life in defence of the poor man's cause. Thus the tribune, Tiberius Gracchus, upon proposing that certain lands be divided among the people, was killed by blows from the enraged senators; and thus his brother, Gaius, upon altering the laws in order that the poor might receive greater justice, was overcome by the nobles, and ended his life rather than fall into their hands. On the day that Gaius Gracchus died, three thousand persons were slain in the fierce fight that took place between the followers of the opposing Senate and the friends of the downtrodden people. Success was with the Senate, and, in memory of the disgraceful victory, the consul, Lucius Opimius, was commanded to rebuild the Temple of Concord. But the people were greatly angered at the thought that a temple built to Concord should remind men of the downfall of their champion, and so one night the inscription on the Temple was changed. Those that entered the Forum the next morning saw, over the entrance of the sacred building, these words, which were a reproof, indeed, from an oppressed people to an unjust government:—

"Discord raises this temple to Concord."

In these evil times Wickedness raced madly for the glittering prizes offered by Power. What Money failed to get, Fraud sought to grasp, and even among Rome's noblest citizens were found traitors to their country. Such a one was Lucius Catiline, born of an old and honoured family, but one of little wealth. Base, yet having a certain bravery; cruel, yet having a certain charm, Catiline pleased many of the people, and, counting on their support, he hoped to be made consul. As a man and as a magistrate, his record was black, yet he dared stand for this high office, so little did honesty and worth count in those last days of the Republic. And his ambition might have been satisfied had his opponent been other than the great orator Cicero, whose speeches against Catiline will be forever famous. So eloquently did Cicero denounce Catiline that the people and the Senate feared him, and in his place elected the orator himself. Thus failing to obtain the honour he desired, Catiline, gathering about him some poor and desperate nobles, headed a bold conspiracy against the State, and not only plotted to murder the consuls, but to fire and plunder the city. Cicero discovered these evil schemes, and, in a speech full of fiery scorn, reported to the Senate, in the presence of Catiline, every detail of the plot. The senators, one and all, turned away in horror from such a wretch as Catiline, who, declared a public enemy, was forced to leave Rome. Before going, however, he met his fellow-conspirators, and, undaunted by ill-fortune, laid new plots. These fresh plans of the traitors being also revealed to Cicero, he ordered that the chief of the remaining conspirators be seized, and that they be summoned to appear at a meeting of the Senate to be held in the Temple of Concord.

Here, at break of day, when Cicero arrived with the conspirators, he found the Senate already assembled in large numbers. He entered the Temple leading by the hand the magistrate Lentulus; following came eight other prisoners, closely guarded. Such proof was shown of their guilt that not one among them could gainsay it, and the conspirators realized that their cause was hopeless. Whereupon, Lentulus, giving up his office of his own accord, took off the purple robe that was a sign of his honourable position, and put on the plain toga of the ordinary citizen. Then, until the manner of their punishment should be decided, the traitors were all placed in charge of certain senators, who were ordered to keep them strictly guarded, but not to put them in chains. By this the day was far spent, yet when Cicero passed out from the Temple, he found in the Forum an immense crowd waiting to hear the result of the meeting. So, from the Temple's steps, the great orator spoke to the people, telling them of the danger that had threatened Rome, and explaining to them the actions taken by the Senate. As he left the Forum, he passed through grateful crowds that left him only when he had reached the house of a certain friend. For that night Cicero did not sleep in his own home, where the rites of the Bona Dea were being held—holy ceremonies at which no man was permitted to be present.

Now Cicero was of two minds concerning the punishment of the conspirators; he did not wish to have them die, yet he feared to let them live. So, as he sat in his friend's house, he consulted with a few tried counsellors regarding the prisoners' doom. And, even as they talked, a marvellous thing happened at the sacred ceremonies of the Bona Dea. Just as the Vestal Virgins were ending the worship, and the fire on the altar seemed extinguished, there suddenly shot up from the dying embers a flame of exceeding brightness. All were amazed and terrified, save the priestesses of Vesta, who, turning to Terentia, the wife of Cicero, bade her go at once and seek her husband.

"Tell him," said they, "that the goddess has granted him a sign. Bid him be bold in his wisdom, and both safety and glory shall attend him."

This message from the Vestals decided Cicero; and in the meeting of the Senate, held the next day in the Temple of Concord, he used all the powers of his mighty eloquence to persuade the senators to show no mercy to the traitors. Julius Caesar, then a young man, was bold enough to oppose him, but Cato, and other magistrates, siding with the orator, sentence of death was passed upon the conspirators. Then the triumphant Cicero, at the head of the Senate, went to the house where Lentulus was guarded, and, escorted by many of the principal citizens of Rome, brought him back to the Forum. The frightened people stood in silence while this avenging procession of the nobles passed through the middle of the Forum, and reached the steps that led to the prison. Still in silence, the people watched Cicero as he mounted the fateful stairs and delivered Lentulus into the hands of the executioner. In the lower dungeon of the loathsome Tullianum, this highborn man was strangled to death, and there, one by one, each conspirator met the same dreadful punishment. When all was over, Cicero stood forth upon the Scalae Gemoniae and looked down into the Forum. Among the waiting, trembling people, he saw many that were in sympathy with Catiline, and it was to them, rather than to the multitude, that he announced that the traitors were no more. All scorn and all pride seemed united in Cicero's voice as he uttered the single word "Vixerunt!" they have lived.

As Cicero went to his home that night, the people again accompanied him, but not in respectful quiet, as on the day before. Their glad shouts now rang loudly through the air; they ran, they leaped for joy. The streets were made bright as day by many lamps and torches, placed in the doorways of the houses, in honour of this man that had rescued Rome from such peril; and the women, standing upon the roofs, held aloft yet other lights in order that they might the better behold him. From the lowest to the highest, all gave him praise, and he was hailed by the magistrate Cato as "Father of his Country," a title of honour given to many Romans, but first of all to Cicero.

Catiline, the chief of the conspirators, having raised an army, now gave battle to the Roman forces. He fought with the fury of despair, but when he saw that all was lost, he rushed head-long into the thickest of the fight, and fell, sword in hand. And thus ended the greatest conspiracy that ever threatened Rome.

The Temple of Concord, like that of Castor and Pollux, was rebuilt by Tiberius during the reign of Augustus. Again remembering his dead brother, Tiberius caused the name of Drusus to be placed beside his own in the Temple's new inscription. Livia, the mother of these brothers, gave a fine altar and other gifts to this Temple, and Tiberius further adorned the building with a large number of beautiful statues and paintings. Many rich and rare things were kept there, and soon the Temple became famous, not only for its beauty, but also for the wealth it contained. Among its wonders were four elephants in obsidian, a stone nothing else than a thick, blackish glass made by Nature herself from sand melted in great volcanoes. This stone was much liked by the Emperor Augustus, and some of his statues were made of it.

Another marvel among the highly prized treasures of this Temple was an emerald, which, it is said, once belonged to the Grecian king, Polycrates. Now this monarch was blessed with good fortune far beyond his fellows; all that he undertook prospered; all that he wished came to pass. It so happened that Polycrates had a friend in the wise Amasis, king of Egypt, who, hearing of his unfailing success, sent a letter of warning to the too favoured Grecian. "Beware, O Polycrates, of ever smiling skies," wrote Amasis. "Beware, O royal friend, of the jealous anger of the gods! Darkness and light, joy and sorrow, bring man the surest happiness; Consider, I pray thee, and, before it be too late, deprive thyself of something dear to thy heart. Cast it from thee in such a manner that never more shall man's eyes rest upon it. Thus shalt thou prove that thy ambitions are but human; thus shall the weight of sorrow keep thee safely near the earth, and prevent thee from rising to those dangerous heights whereon dwell the gods, and unto which no man may attain and live."

Now when Polycrates read this letter, he perceived that the words of Amasis were full of wisdom, and he determined to do even as his friend had counselled. So he considered within himself which of all his treasures he held most precious, and at length he decided that his dearest possession was a signet-ring, an emerald curiously carved and set in gold finely wrought. Then Polycrates went forth in a great ship, and when he was very far from land, he stood upon the prow, took the ring from off his finger, and, with a prayer to the gods, flung it from him into the deep. This done, the king returned to his magnificent home, and there gave himself up to sorrow.

A few days later a fisherman, drawing in his net, found an exceeding large fish, and, thinking to please the king, brought it as a gift to Polycrates. "For," said the fisherman, "surely such a fish is worthy only the greatness of Polycrates,", which speech flattered the king, who forthwith invited the fisherman to sup with him.

Now as the cooks were preparing this fish, they discovered within it the signet-ring of the king, and going before him in all haste, they joyfully restored it to their royal master.

Then Polycrates, replying to the letter of Amasis, told him what had happened, and that all had been in vain. Whereupon Amasis grieved greatly over his friend, for he saw that Polycrates could not escape his fate. And, in truth, not many years passed before the Grecian king's fortune fell, for he died a miserable death at the hands of his enemies.

Over the entrance of this Temple were placed statues of Victory, and in its marble threshold, as an emblem of concord, was graven the wand of Mercury. Now Mercury, Jupiter's clever son, played one day a trick upon Apollo, and stole his fine oxen. To atone for this, the repentant Mercury gave Apollo his lyre, and in affectionate exchange received the Sun-god's wand—a wand of peace, by whose virtues the bitterest of enemies were reconciled. On his way through a wooded glen, Mercury came by chance upon two serpents, angrily writhing in deadly fight. And, curious to test his new possession, Mercury touched the serpents with his wand, whereupon they quietly coiled themselves around it, their heads meeting lovingly together at the top. Thus he that crossed the inner threshold of the Temple of Concord, first passed over the sign that showed two enemies reconciled—over the caduceus, * fit symbol of the cause in remembrance of which the sacred building had been erected.

To-day only the foundation marks the place where the beautiful Temple of Concord once stood. With the other temples, this sacred building has fallen into ruins, and, like the rest, its delicately carved marbles have been taken away or thrown into the lime-kiln. One thing, however, is still clearly to be seen, one thing has out-lasted the general destruction—Mercury's wand upon the threshold still tells its story of peace, and still reminds men of the end of the bitter struggle between the Patricians and Plebeians of Rome.