This is a chapter of Stories from Roman History, by Ethel Mary Wilmot-Buxton.
This loyal throne of kings,Shakespeare, Richard II
this seat of Mars.
When Numa died, the Romans, who were tired of peace, chose as king the warlike Tullus Hostilius, who at once attacked the rival state of Alba Longa, the head of the Latin League. This league was an alliance made between all the cities of Latium, and, of these, Rome was eager to be the chief in place of Alba.
Now at this time, by far the most powerful nation of Italy was that of the Etruscans, many of whose cities were strong enough to threaten the towns of Latium with instant capture. When he realized this, Mettius, the Alban leader, having led out his forces against those of the invading Tullus, reminded the latter that the Etruscans would only wait for them to begin to fight, in order to come down and crush both conqueror and conquered.
“Let us, therefore,” said he, “decide in some way, without much bloodshed on the part of each people, which of the two shall rule the other.”
It so happened that there were in the opposing armies two sets of brothers, exactly equal both in age and strength. The Alban brothers were called the Curiatii, and the Romans, the Horatii, and it was arranged that they should fight with the sword, each for his own country, and that side with whom lay the victory should rule over the other.
So an open space was made between the armies, and the three Horatii advanced to meet the three Curiatii.
The signal was given, and both armies held their breath in suspense as the young men closed in fight.
Then a shout of joy rose up from the Alban side as two of the Romans fell one upon the other in death, while all three of the Curiatii were only wounded. These three now threw themselves upon Horatius, and at first it seemed as if he had no chance against them. But, being quite unhurt, he pretended to run away, thinking that they, weary and bleeding from their wounds, would follow him at long intervals.
This is exactly what occurred. Looking back he saw one of his foes not far behind him, and at once rushed back and killed him. The Albans shouted to the third to go to the aid of the second, but, before he could come up with him, he was already slain. The third, spent with wounds and running, fell an easy prey, and Horatius was left victor on the field.
The dismayed Albans at once put themselves under the command of Tullus, who bade Mettius keep his men under arms in case he needed their help against the Etruscans and then turned back towards Rome.
The victorious Horatius marched in front of the army, bearing the armor of the three slain foes, but, when he was about to enter the city, a terrible thing happened. His sister, who was betrothed to one of the dead Curiatii, coming out to meet her betrothed, recognized her lover’s military cloak upon his shoulders, and at once began to lament and to call upon his name with many tears.
The fury of the triumphant Horatius was roused when he found that she thought of her own private grief in the midst of public rejoicing. Drawing his sword, he stabbed the maiden to the heart, saying, “So let every Roman woman depart who shall mourn for an enemy!”
The Romans were divided between admiration for the service he had done them on the battlefield and horror at this act of cruelty.
Justice must be done, however, and Horatius was found guilty of murder and condemned to be hanged upon a barren tree outside the bounds of the city. By the king’s advice he appealed to the people, that is, he made them his judges as to whether this sentence was to be carried out.
The Romans were much moved by the words of the aged father of Horatius, who reminded them of the glorious deeds he had so lately done, and who declared, moreover, that his daughter had been justly slain. They decreed that their hero was to go free of punishment, but his father set up a little beam across the road and made his son go under it with covered head as though beneath the yoke. This remained for many a long day, under the name of the Sister’s Beam; and the whole story illustrates the ancient and important custom of granting an appeal to the people against the sentence of a magistrate.
Meantime, the Albans, still furious at their subjection to Rome, were called out by Tullus to help him against the people of a neighboring city which had revolted against him. But the treacherous Mettius betrayed his trust and called off his men at the most critical point of the battle. With the utmost difficulty, Tullus managed to win the day and then took a terrible revenge on his faithless allies.
Mettius was bound to two chariots and torn to pieces by forcing in opposite directions the horses yoked to them; the whole population of Alba was transplanted to Rome, and the city was almost entirely destroyed.
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When Tullus, after making Rome the chief city in Latium, was struck dead by a thunderbolt, Ancus Marcius was chosen king. He was the grandson of Numa the Peaceful, and the Latins, thinking he would follow in the steps of his grandfather, at once seized the opportunity to invade the Roman territory. But Ancus combined the courage and daring of Tullus with the wisdom of Numa. He conquered several of the Latin cities and received their inhabitants as Roman citizens; and then, realizing that Rome must grow in size and strength if she would keep her high position, he set to work to build.
The first bridge over the Tiber was built by him, a great trench was made around the Aventine Hill, a prison was erected for the terror of evildoers, and, chief of all, the seaport of Ostia was founded at the mouth of the Tiber, where a flourishing trade was begun with other countries. Evidently, his reign marks a period of conquest and defense, and also the beginnings of commerce for Rome.
The legend which tells of the fifth king of Rome shows that in some way the influence of the Etruscans had made itself felt in the city.
A certain rich Etruscan lord, named Tarquin, left the city of his birth and migrated with his wife to Rome. As they drove into the city an eagle, swooping gently down with outspread wings, carried off his felt cap. It fluttered overhead for a while, and then, replacing it upon his brow, sailed away into the sky.
His wife at once declared that this was a happy omen and meant that the gods were about to place a crown upon her husband’s head. Full of hopes and ambitions, they made themselves a home within the town, and soon the report of Tarquin, and of his generosity and kindness, was carried to the king, who made him guardian of his children.
Tarquin soon won the hearts of the Roman people so completely that, when Ancus died, he easily persuaded them to make him king, instead of the young princes. He did much to increase the welfare of Rome, and in his time, says the legend, the valleys between the seven hills were drained by sewers, one of which was so large that a cart loaded with hay could be driven up it. He also marked out the circus, or race course, from which the citizens could watch the games, which took place regularly every year.
Tarquin and his wife had two sons of their own, but one day, as the queen was entering the palace, she saw asleep upon the steps a little slave boy, whose head suddenly appeared to have been set on fire. A servant was about to throw water over him, when the queen prevented her and waited quietly for the child to wake of his own accord. When he opened his eyes, the mysterious fire vanished.
Then the queen told her husband what she had seen, and bade him bring up the boy as his own son, saying, “This child will hereafter be a light to our fortunes when they are doubtful and a defense to our palace when in distress.”
So the boy, whose name was Servius Tullius, grew up in the palace like a royal prince and was held in such love and honor by all the people that it was clear whom they would wish to have for king after Tarquin was dead.
Now when the two sons of Ancus saw this, they were very angry, for they hoped to have won the crown for themselves when Tarquin was no more. So they made a plot to kill the king and to take his place by force. Two shepherds of evil character were sent by them to the palace, where they pretended to have a quarrel and to call upon the king to decide between them. They were brought before him and, while he was giving all his attention to the one who spoke first, the other struck him down with his axe.
Then both rushed away from the palace. But before the sons of Ancus could go further in their scheme, the queen had saved the throne for Servius. Although her husband was killed almost at once by the blow he had received, she pretended that he was only slightly hurt and that meantime he wished Servius Tullius to act for him in every way. Not until the new king was thus firmly established in the city did the Romans discover that Tarquin was already dead.
Servius made some notable reforms. First, he arranged all the people in certain classes, according to their incomes, for purposes of taxation and warfare. Next, when he found that the population had outgrown the limits of the old city, he built a wall about five miles around, enclosing all the seven hills, and thus greatly enlarged the boundaries of Rome.
Lastly, by persuading all the chief of the Latin cities to join the Romans in building a temple to Diana at Rome, he made it clear that that city was the head of the Latin League.
In order that there might be no dispute about the succession to the throne, Servius had married his two daughters to the sons of Tarquin, who bore their father’s name. One of these women was proud and fierce, the other was gentle and meek. The characters of the two princes were just as unlike, so the king hoped to make things right by marrying the fierce Tullia to the gentle Tarquin, and her meek sister to the high-spirited prince. This did not answer at all, for these fierce souls slew, one her husband, the other his wife, and then mated with one another. Then they determined to seize the throne during the lifetime of the king.
Hastening to the Senate House, Tarquin the Proud seated himself on the royal throne at its entrance, and when King Servius advanced and asked him how he dared to do this thing, he answered him with fierce words, reproached him with being the son of a slave, and ended by hurling him down the steep flight of steps.
The poor old man tried to stagger home, but on his way he was killed by the servants of the wicked Tarquin. His body was left on the public road, and over it drove that same day the chariot of Tullia, his daughter. So that that road was called the “Accursed Way” from that time.
Tarquin the Proud, though he did much to beautify Rome with the temples he built and to increase her glory by his conquests of the Latin tribes, never succeeded in winning the hearts of his people.
They hated both him and his son for their selfishness and tyranny, and when the latter threatened Lucretia, the good and virtuous wife of a Roman noble, with such cruelty that she preferred to kill herself rather than fall into his hands, they would no longer have Tarquin for their king.
One of those who saw Lucretia die was a grim and silent man named Brutus, the nephew of the king. A short time before, he with the two sons of Tarquin had visited the temple of Apollo, at Delphi, in Greece, to consult the oracle as to who should have the chief power in Rome. This oracle was supposed to be the voice of the god, speaking through the lips of a priestess who sat within the temple on a tripod, or three-legged stool, and answered the questions put to Apollo. Her answer on this occasion was as follows: “He who shall first kiss his mother shall be the chief man in Rome.”
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On hearing this, the three men hastened back to Italy; but just as Brutus was landing he stumbled, and in his fall kissed “Mother Earth,” and so fulfilled the conditions spoken by the oracle.
He it was who now took the lead in driving out the Tarquins. Passing the knife, red with Lucretia’s blood, from hand to hand, he made the citizens swear a solemn oath never again to call any man their king. Tarquin and his son were driven from the city, and the legendary period of royal power came to an end.
During the time of these seven kings, Rome had grown up from a tiny settlement of shepherds to a large, well-ordered, and strongly fortified city, containing some fine buildings and engaged in commerce with foreign powers from its harbor town of Ostia. The next step was to extend her sway over other parts of Italy; for, so far, except for a few Latin colonies, her power was limited to the space included by her own four walls.