Anno Urbis - The Year of the City

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Roman Empire





B.C. 357

Other tribes of the Gauls did not fail to come again and make fresh inroads on the valleys of the Tiber and Anio. Whenever they came, instead of choosing men from the tribes to form an army, as in a war with their neighbors, all the fighting men of the nation turned out to oppose them, generally under a Dictator.

In one of these wars the Gauls came within three miles of Rome, and the two hosts were encamped on the banks of the Anio, with a bridge between them. Along this bridge strutted an enormous Gallic chief, much taller than any of the Romans, boasting himself, and calling on any one of them to come out and fight with him. Again it was a Manlius who distinguished himself. Titus, a young man of that family, begged the Dictator's permission to accept the challenge, and, having gained it, he changed his round knight's shield for the square one of the foot soldiers, and with his short sword came forward on the bridge. The Gaul made a sweep at him with his broadsword, but, slipping within the guard, Manlius stabbed the giant in two places, and as he fell cut off his head, and took the torc, or broad twisted gold collar that was the mark of all Gallic chieftains. Thence the brave youth was called Titus Manlius Torquatus—a surname to make up for that of Capitolinus, which had never been used again.

Roman appenines

The next time the Gauls came, Marcus Valerius, a descendant of the old hero Publicola, was consul, and gained a great victory. It was said that in the midst of the fight a monstrous raven appeared flying over his head, resting now and then on his helmet, but generally pecking at the eyes of the Gauls and flapping its wings in their faces, so that they fled discomfited. Thence he was called Corvus or Corvinus. The Gauls never again came in such force, but a new enemy came against them, namely, the Samnites, a people who dwelt to the south of them. They were of Italian blood, mountaineers of the Southern Apennines, not unlike the Romans in habits, language, and training, and the staunchest enemies they had yet encountered. The war began from an entreaty from the people of Campania to the Romans to defend them from the attacks of the Samnites. For the Campanians, living in the rich plains, whose name is still unchanged, were an idle, languid people, whom the stout men of Samnium could easily overcome. The Romans took their part, and Valerius Corvus gained a victory at Mount Gaurus; but the other consul, Cornelius Cossus, fell into danger, having marched foolishly into a forest, shut in by mountains, and with only one way out through a deep valley, which was guarded by the Samnites. In this almost hopeless danger one of the military tribunes, Publius Decius Mus, discovered a little hill above the enemy's camp, and asked leave to lead a small body of men to seize it, since he would be likely thus to draw off the Samnites, and while they were destroying him, as he fully expected, the Romans could get out of the valley. Hidden by the wood, he gained the hill, and there the Samnites saw him, to their great amazement; and while they were considering whether to attack him, the other Romans were able to march out of the valley. Finding he was not attacked, Decius set guards, and, when night came on, marched down again as quietly as possible to join the army, who were now on the other side of the Samnite camp. Through the midst of this he and his little camp went without alarm, until, about half-way across, one Roman struck his foot against a shield. The noise awoke the Samnites, but Decius caused his men to give a great shout, and this, in the darkness, so confused the enemy that they missed the little body of Romans, who safely gained their own camp. Decius cut short the thanks and joy of the consul by advising him to fall at once on the Samnite camp in its dismay, and this was done; the Samnites were entirely routed, 30,000 killed, and their camp taken. Decius received for his reward a hundred oxen, a white bull with gilded horns, and three crowns—one of gold for courage, one of oak for having saved the lives of his fellow-citizens, and one of grass for having taken the enemy's camp—while all his men were for life to receive a double allowance of corn. Decius offered up the white bull in sacrifice to Mars, and gave the oxen to the companions of his glory.

Afterwards Valerius routed the Samnites again, and his troops brought in 120 standards and 40,000 shields which they had picked up, having been thrown away by the enemy in their flight.

Peace was made for the time; but the Latins, now in alliance with Rome, began to make war on the Samnites. They complained, and the Romans feeling bound to take their part, a great Latin war began. Manlius Torquatus and Decius Mus, the two greatest heroes of Rome, were consuls. As the Latins and Romans were alike in dress, arms, and language, in order to prevent taking friend for foe, strict orders were given that no one should attack a Latin without orders, or go out of his rank, on pain of death. A Latin champion came out boasting, as the two armies lay beneath Mount Vesuvius, then a fair vine-clad hill showing no flame. Young Manlius remembering his father's fame, darted out, fought hand to hand with the Latin, slew him, and brought home his spoils to his father's feet. He had forgotten that his father had only fought after permission was given. The elder Manlius received him with stern grief. He had broken the law of discipline, and he must die. His head was struck off amid the grief and anger of the army. The battle was bravely fought, but it went against the Romans at first. Then Decius, recollecting a vision which had declared that a consul must devote himself for his country, called on Valerius, the Pontifex Maximus, to dedicate him. He took off his armor, put on his purple toga, covered his head with a veil, and standing on a spear, repeated the words of consecration after Valerius, then mounted his horse and rode in among the Latins. They at first made way, but presently closed in and overpowered him with a shower of darts; and thus he gave for his country the life he had once offered for it.

The victory was won, and was so followed up that the Latins were forced to yield to Rome. Some of the cities retained their own laws and magistrates, but others had Romans with their families settled in them, and were called colonies, while the Latin people themselves became Roman citizens in everything but the power of becoming magistrates or voting for them, being, in fact, very much what the earliest plebeians had been before they acquired any rights.

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