31. The Early Days of Rome. While the Greeks were thus wasting their powers, a city was growing strong in Italy which was one day to rule over the civilized world.

Like Greece, Italy is a peninsula. On the map it looks much like a boot, with the large island of Sicily

lying just opposite the toe, as if it were a football being kicked off into space. But unlike Greece, Italy has only a few good harbors, and so, although the blue Mediterranean lies on one side and the narrow Adriatic Sea on the other, her people in ancient times were not a race of sailors.

Few countries in the whole world are more beautiful than "sunny Italy." On the north rise, like a gigantic wall, the snow-capped Alps, a natural barrier against fierce nations. At their foot stretches the great plain of the river Po. This plain has always been famous for its fertility, and to-day, with mile upon mile of vineyards and fruit trees, it is one of the world's garden spots.

Down through the peninsula, like a sharp backbone, rise the steep summits of the Apennines, mountains wild and picturesque. But on either side along the coast are small yet wbnderfully green plains arid valleys through which, shining beneath the clear Italian sun, roll streams like the Arno and the Tiber.

In the plain of the Tiber lived in ancient days a people called Latins, and the region. itself was called Latium. The Latins were only a simple country people who knew little save how to till the soil and to fight bravely when attacked by their neighbors, who were often hostile.

Among their numerous little towns one was built upon a hill beside the Tiber. Close at hand were six other low hills. At first only a country village, Rome was destined to outstrip all her neighbors and rivals and to grow into that mighty "Eternal City" which even yet stands majestically upon her "hilltops seven."

In some things the early Romans were like the Greeks. Their language, called Latin, resembled Greek in many ways. They also worshiped gods and goddesses, some of whom were very similar to those of Greece. These indeed were called by different names, but later, when the two nations came together, it was generally agreed that they were the very same deities.

In other ways, however, the Romans turned out to be of entirely different stuff. As they rose to power they proved to be a stern, practical people who excelled in war and in government. For music, poetry, and learning they cared little until Greek fashions became popular among them.

32. What the Roman Myths Tell. Yet the Romans also had their stories and myths of heroes. These could not indeed equal the beautiful fancies of the Greeks, but a great many of them told of the courage in war and virtue in peace of their ancestors. These stern hut inspiring tales show clearly what kind of people the early Romans were.

The Romans thought that their city had been founded by a hero named Romulus, after whom it was named. They loved to tell how he and his twin brother, Remus, were seized in infancy by their wicked uncle and set adrift in their cradle on the river Tiber. But the twins were found by a she-wolf who protected them as her own cubs. Thus they became fierce and strong beyond all men. Later, with the aid of brave comrades whom they gathered around them, they were able to punish their cruel uncle, and Romulus built upon one of the seven famous hills a village which men said was the beginning of the "Eternal City."

According to the myths, Romulus was the first king of Rome. Six others followed, but the last, Tarquin the Proud, was so haughty and cruel that the Romans drove him out and vowed they would have no more kings. Every year after that time the people came together in their assembly and elected two officers, called "consuls,"

who ruled them with the advice of a body of wise and venerable men called the "senate." Thus Rome became a "republic," as we say, but in times of great danger those officers were set aside and all power given to some strong soldier, called a "dictator." He might rule for six months, but never longer, lest he should wish to become a true king like Tarquin.

The Roman myths told how the wicked Tarquin family had tried to reconquer Rome. They fled to powerful neighboring cities and persuaded their rulers to send strong armies to make the Romans take them back as kings. But against great odds the Romans bravely defended their liberty. Once it was said the invaders almost took the city by surprise. But a sturdy captain named Horatius took his stand on the narrow bridge which crossed the Tiber, and with his good sword held it against the whole army while the Romans broke it down behind him. Then he plunged into the swift stream and, though wounded, swam safely across.

Another famous story tells how once, when the Roman army had been defeated and surrounded by its enemies, all seemed lost. In despair the people turned to a brave but poor old soldier named Cincinnatus as the one man who might save the state. It was voted that he should be dictator.

When the messengers of the senate went to inform him they found him plowing on his little farm across the Tiber. At. their command he left the plow and became ruler of Rome. Ordering every man who was able to bear arms to follow him, he marched forth and by a skillfully planned night attack not only freed the Roman army but overthrew and subdued the enemy. Then he returned, laid down his power, and went back to his plow as if nothing had happened.

Still a third tale is that of Coriolanus, a brave Roman general who had been exiled because he tried to oppress the poor. In anger he went over to the enemies of Rome, and at the head of one of their armies soon had the city at his mercy. Though the foremost men of Rome begged Coriolanus to spare his own fatherland, he sternly refused. But when his mother, his wife, and his children entreated him with tears he could not withstand their prayer. Knowing that he must pay for his tenderness with his life, he led his army back to their own country.

Though these and other similar tales are of course not entirely true, they do help us to see how it was that the Romans gradually conquered their neighbors and made Rome the strongest city in Italy.

33. The Plebeians Struggle for Their Rights. But before Rome could conquer other nations she had to learn how to rule herself. A fierce struggle began between the rich and noble citizens, the "patricians" as they were called, and the poor "plebeians" or "plebs." The patricians thought that they alone should have all the power. The poor who could not pay their debts were often sold into slavery. At first the plebeians were not allowed to vote or to hold office.

Again and again the Forum, as the central square of the city was called, was the scene of angry disturbance by the plebs. But though the patricians sometimes pretended to give in, yet the people could not obtain their full rights.

At last the poor plebeians could stand it no longer. So one day, when they had been summoned to join the army, they all marched away to a hill, about three miles from Rome, called the "Sacred Mount." They declared that if they could not have justice they never would return, but would found there a city of their own.

The patricians could see their white tents on the hillside and knew that they meant what they said. So they agreed that if the plebs would return they might choose officers from among themselves, called "tribunes," who should have the power to protect them from wrong. Thinking that now at last all would be well, the plebs yielded and trudged back to Rome.

Thereafter the piebs every year chose their tribunes. If any unjust law was proposed, or any officer undertook to do anything wrong to plebeians, a tribune stepped forward and, raising his hand, said solemnly in Latin; "Veto," which means, "I forbid." Then the action had to be given up.

The right of the people to have tribunes or protectors was a great gain, but still things did not go well. One trouble was that the laws of Rome had not been put in writing, and the people seldom knew what they were. Since all the officers of the city were patricians, they always decided that the laws were in favor of their class, and no one could gainsay them.

After a long struggle it was finally agreed that ten men should be named to write down the laws. Meanwhile, the ten men were to have full power over the city, and all the regular officers, including the consuls and tribunes, were to be suspended.

After many months the laws were at last agreed upon. Engraved upon twelve tablets, they were set up in the Forum so that all men might see them. Stern and cruel old laws they were, as we should think, but it was at least a great advantage that everybody might learn them.

But when "the Ten" had written down the laws they would not give up their power. Instead, they began to rule cruelly, and one of them especially, a proud patrician named Appius Claudius, hired rough soldiers to frighten people, and acted like a tyrant. Finally, after a wicked deed by Appius Claudius, there was a terrible riot in the Forum. The people rose in fury and with loud calls for their tribunes threw stones and mud at the cruel ruler. Then the plebeians again marched away to the Sacred Hill, vowing never to return.

Only after "the Ten" had been put to death and their tribunes given back were the people willing again to be Romans.

34. The Gauls Take Rome. A people who are thus quarreling among themselves can scarcely hope to be successful against outside enemies. While all this was going on, the Romans had hardly been able to hold their own in their continual wars with their neighbors. At last came a terrible disaster.

A fierce, wild people from the north, called the Gauls, suddenly attacked Rome. Outlandish in speech and dress and huge in stature, these savage warriors spread terror throughout Italy. They defeated the Roman army, destroyed the city, and massacred all who could not escape.

According to stories later told in Rome, however, the Gauls could not capture the Capitol, which was held by some brave Roman soldiers. Once they nearly succeeded. A daring messenger had managed to climb up the steep side of the Capitoline Hill to bring news to the garrison. The Gauls saw his footprints and planned to take the garrison by surprise. At dead of night they stealthily made their way up the steep path, each man, by means of his weapons, helping to draw up the one following.

No one saw them. But just as they were near the top, the sacred geese which were kept in the temple of Juno cackled. A strong Roman captain, named Marcus Manlius, was awakened just in time. He rushed to the head of the path, slew a huge Gaul who was scrambling up, and hurled another down headlong upon his comrades. Other Romans sprang to his aid, and thus "the geese saved Rome."

Finally the Gauls, who, though fierce and impetuous in attack, lacked patience, grew tired of the siege. In return for a large sum of gold they agreed to go home. But it is said that when the Romans objected to the way in which the tribute was being weighed, the chief of the Gauls roughly threw his sword into the scales, exclaiming, "Woe to the conquered!" So the Romans had to pay down still more gold to counterbalance the heavy Gallic sword.

Thus the Romans got back the ruins of their city. A people less stout-hearted might have been so discouraged that they could not recover. These brave Italians, however, soon rebuilt their homes.

Yet the old quarrel between patricians and plebeians immediately broke out again. Once more there were bitter struggles, and for a time almost all government came to an end. Finally, however, it was decided that all Romans should be practically equal. Henceforth there was little difference between patricians and plebeians save in name.

Thus united, Rome once more became strong, and as a result of many hard battles conquered the rest of Italy.


The Leading Facts. 1. Like Greece, Italy is a peninsula, but without many good harbors. 2. At first Rome was only a little village on the river Tiber in the district called Latium. 3. The early Romans resembled the Greeks in many ways, but were much more stern and practical. 4. Their myths were nearly all about war and about brave deeds, like those of Horatius and Cincinnatus. 5. The myths tell how the Romans drove out their kings and set up a republic. 6. In early Rome there were fierce quarrels between the noble patricians and the poor plebeians. 7. The plebeians finally forced the patricians to give them full rights. 8. While the quarrels were going on, the savage Gauls captured and destroyed Rome. 9. After they withdrew, Rome became stronger than ever.

Study Questions. 1. How does Italy resemble Greece? 2. What differences do you see between Italy and Greece? 3. Locate Latium. 4. In what ways did the early Romans resemble the Greeks? 5. What do the myths and stories of the Romans show about their character? 6. Tell the story of Romulus and Remus; of Horatius; of Cincinnatus; of Coriolanus. 7. How was Rome governed? 8. Why did the patricians and the plebeians quarrel.? 9. How did the plebeians compel the patricians to grant them their rights? 10. What concessions did the patricians make? 11. Who were the Gauls? 12. How was it that they could capture Rome? 13. Tell the story of their attack on the Capitol as if you were a Gaul who took part. 14. Why were the Gauls willing to leave Rome? 15. Why was Rome stronger than ever after the departure of the Gauls?

Suggested Readings. Tappan, The Story of the Roman People, 1-72; Yonge, oung Folks' History of Rome, 13-150; Harding, The City of the Seven Hills, 7-124; Guerber, The Story of the Romans; Haaren and Poland, Famous Men of Rome.

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© 2000 by Lynn Waterman