Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 9

THE COMMONWEALTH.

FROM THE BANISHMENT OF TARQUIN TO THE APPOINTMENT OF THE DICTATOR--U.C. 245.

-

The great republic seek that glowed, sublime, With the mixt freedom of a thousand states.--Thomson.

-

1. The regal power being overthrown, a republican form of government was substituted in its room. The senate, however, reserved by far the greatest share of the authority to themselves, and decorated their own body with all the spoils of deposed monarchy. The centuries of the people chose from among the senators, instead of a king, two annual magistrates, whom they called CONSULS,[1] with power equal to that of the regal, and with the same privileges and the same ensigns of authority.

2. Brutus, the deliverer of his country, and Collati'nus, the husband of Lucre'tia, were chosen the first consuls in Rome.

3. But this new republic, however, which seemed so grateful to the people, had like to have been destroyed in its very commencement. A party was formed in favour of Tarquin. Some young men of the principal families in the state, who had been educated about the king, and had shared in all the luxuries and pleasures of the court, undertook to re-establish monarchy. 4. This party secretly increased every day; and what may create surprise, the sons of Bru'tus himself, and the Aqui'lii, the nephews of Collati'nus, were among the number, 5. Tarquin, who was informed of these intrigues in his favour, sent ambassadors from Etru'ria to Rome, under a pretence of reclaiming the estates of the exiles; but, in reality, with a design to give spirit to his faction. 6. The conspiracy was discovered by a slave who had accidentally hid himself in the room where the conspirators used to assemble. 7. Few situations could have been more terribly affecting than that of Bru'tus: a father placed as a judge upon the life and death of his own children, impelled by justice to condemn, and by nature to spare them. 8. The young men pleaded nothing for themselves; but, with conscious guilt, awaited their sentence in silence and agony. 9. The other judges who were present felt all the pangs of nature; Collati'nus wept, and Vale'rius could not repress his sentiments of pity. Brutus, alone, seemed to have lost all the softness of humanity; and, with a stern countenance and a tone of voice that marked his gloomy resolution, demanded of his sons if they could make any defence, to the crimes with which they had been charged. This demand he made three several times; but receiving no answer, he at length turned himself to the executioner: "Now," cried he, "it is your part to perform the rest." 10. Thus saying, he again resumed his seat with an air of determined majesty; nor could all the sentiments of paternal pity, the imploring looks of the people, nor yet the tears of his sons, who were preparing for execution, alter the tenor of his resolution. Bru'tus, unmoved by any motive but the public good, pronounced upon them the sentence of death, and by his office was obliged to see it put in execution. The prisoners were scourged and then beheaded, and Bru'tus beheld the cruel spectacle; but, in spite of his stoic firmness, could not stifle the sentiments of nature which he sacrificed to the necessity of his office.

11. Tarquin's hopes of an insurrection in his favour being thus overset, he now resolved to force himself upon his former throne by foreign assistance. He prevailed upon the _Veians_ to assist him, and, with a considerable army, advanced towards Rome.

[Sidenote: U.C. 246.]

12. The consuls were not remiss in preparations to oppose him. Vale'rius commanded the foot, and Bru'tus being appointed to head the cavalry, went out to meet him on the Roman border. 13. A'runs, the son of Tarquin, who commanded the cavalry for his father, seeing Bru'tus at a distance, resolved, by one great attempt, to decide the fate of the day before the engaging of the armies, when, spurring his horse he flew to him with fury. Bru'tus perceived his approach, and singled out from the ranks, they met with such ungoverned rage, that, eager only to assail, and thoughtless of defending, they both fell dead upon the field together. 14. A bloody battle ensued, with equal slaughter on both sides: but the Romans, remaining in possession of the field of battle, claimed the victory. In consequence, Vale'rius returned in triumph to Rome. 15. In the mean time Tarquin, no way intimidated by his misfortunes, prevailed upon Porsen'na, one of the kings of Etruria, to espouse his cause, and in person to undertake his quarrel. 16. This prince, equally noted for courage and conduct marched directly to Rome, with a numerous army, and laid siege to the city; while the terror of his name and arms filled all ranks of the people with dismay The siege was carried on with vigour; a furious attack was made upon the place; the consuls opposed in vain, and were carried off wounded from the field; while the Romans, flying in great consternation, were pursued by the enemy to the bridge, over which both victors and vanquished were about to enter the city in the confusion. 17. All now appeared lost, when Hora'tius Co'cles, who had been placed there as sentinel to defend it, opposed himself to the torrent of the enemy, and, assisted only by two more, for some time sustained the whole fury of the assault, till the bridge was broken down behind him. When he found the communication thus cut off, plunging with his arms into the torrent of the Tiber, he swam back victorious to his fellow-soldiers, and was received with just applause.[2]

18. Still, however, Porsen'na was determined upon taking the city; and though five hundred of his men were slain in a sally of the Romans, he reduced it to the greatest straits, and turning the siege into a blockade, resolved to take it by famine. 19. The distress of the besieged soon began to be insufferable, and all things seemed to threaten a speedy surrender, when another act of fierce bravery, still superior to that which had saved the city before again brought about its safety and freedom.

20. Mu'tius, a youth of undaunted courage, was resolved to rid his country of an enemy that so continued to oppress it; and, for this purpose, disguised in the habit of an Etru'rian peasant, entered the camp of the enemy, resolving to die or to kill the king. 21. With this resolution he made up to the place where Porsen'na was paying his troops, with a secretary by his side; but mistaking the latter for the king, he stabbed him to the heart, and was immediately apprehended and brought into the royal presence. 22. Upon Porsen'na's demanding who he was, and the cause of so heinous an action, Mu'tius, without reserve, informed him of his country and his design, and at the same time thrusting his right hand into a fire that was burning upon the altar before him, "You see," cried he, "how little I regard the severest punishment your cruelty can inflict. A Roman knows not only how to act, but how to suffer; I am not the only person you have to fear; three hundred Roman youths, like me, have conspired your destruction; therefore prepare for their attempts." 23. Porsen'na, amazed at so much intrepidity, had too noble a mind not to acknowledge merit, though found in an enemy; he therefore ordered him to be safely conducted back to Rome, and offered the besieged conditions of peace.[3] 24. These were readily accepted on their side, being neither hard nor disgraceful, except that twenty hostages were demanded; ten young men, and as many virgins, of the best families in Rome. 25. But even in this instance also, as if the gentler sex were resolved to be sharers in the desperate valour of the times, Cle'lia, one of the hostages, escaping from her guards, and pointing out the way to the rest of her female companions, swam over the Tiber on horseback, amidst showers of darts from the enemy, and presented herself to the consul. 26. This magistrate, fearing the consequences of detaining her, sent her back; upon which Porsen'na, not to be outdone in generosity, not only gave her liberty, but permitted her to choose such of the hostages of the opposite sex as she should think fit, to attend her. 27. On her part, she, with all the modesty of a Roman virgin, chose only such as were under fourteen, alleging, that their tender age was least capable of sustaining the rigours of slavery.[4] 28. The year after the departure of Porsen'na, the Sab'ines invading the Roman territories, committed great devastations. The war that ensued was long and bloody; but at length the Sab'ines were compelled to purchase a peace, with corn, money, and the cession of part of their territory.

29. Tarquin, by means of his son-in-law, Man'lius, once more stirred up the Latins to espouse his interest, and took the most convenient opportunity when the plebeians were at variance with the senators concerning the payment of their debts.[5] These refused to go to war, unless their debts were remitted upon their return: so that the consuls, finding their authority insufficient, offered the people to elect a temporary magistrate, who should have absolute power, not only over all ranks of the state, but even over the laws themselves. To this the plebeians readily consented, willing to give up their own power for the sake of abridging that of their superiors. 30. In consequence of this, Lar'tius was created the first dictator of Rome, for so was this high office called, being nominated to it by his colleague in the consulship. 31. Thus the people, who could not bear the very name of king, readily submitted to a magistrate possessed of much greater power; so much do the names of things mislead us, and so little is any form of government irksome to the people, when it coincides with their prejudices.

-

Questions for Examination.

1. What form of government was substituted for the regal?

2. Who were the first consuls?

3. Did this new government appear stable at its commencement?

4. Was this party formidable, and who were the most remarkable of its members?

5. What share had Tarquin in this conspiracy?

6. By what means was it discovered?

7. In what unhappy situation was Brutus placed?

8. What had the criminals to say in extenuation of their offences?

9. What effect had this scene on the judges?

10. Did not paternal affection cause him to relent?

11. What measures did Tarquin next pursue?

12. What steps were taken to resist him?

13. What remarkable event attended the meeting of the armies?

14. Did this decide the fate of the day?

15. Did Tarquin relinquish his hopes?

16. In what manner did Porsenna attempt the restoration of Tarquin?

17. By what heroic action was the city saved?

18. Did Porsenna persevere in his attempt?

19. What was the consequence?

20. What was this act of heroism?

21. Did he succeed?

22. What followed?

23. How did Porsenna act on the occasion?

24. Were these conditions accepted?

25. What remarkable circumstance attended the delivery of the hostages?

26. How did the consul act on the occasion?

27. Whom did she choose?

28. What happened after the departure of Porsenna?

29. What measures did Tarquin next resort to?

30. What was the consequence?

31. What inference may be drawn from this?

-

FOOTNOTES:

[1] These were first called Prætors, next Judices, and afterwards Consuls: a Consulendo, from their consulting the good of the Common wealth. They had the royal ornaments, as the golden crown, sceptre, purple robes, lictors, and the ivory and curule chairs. The crowns and sceptres were, however, used only on extraordinary days of triumph.--See Introduction.

[2] For this heroic act, Hora'tius was crowned on his return; his status was erected in the temple of Vulcan; as much land was given him as a plough could surround with a furrow in one day, and a tax was voluntarily imposed to make him a present in some degree suitable to the service he had performed.

[3] From this time he obtained the additional name of Scævola, or left-handed, from his having lost the use of his right hand by the fire.

[4] National pride induced the Romans to conceal the fact that the city was surrendered to Porsenna; Tacitus, however, expressly declares that it was, and Pliny informs us of the severe conditions imposed by the conqueror; one of the articles prohibited them from using iron except for the purposes of agriculture. Plutarch, in his Roman Questions, declares that there was a time when the Romans paid a tenth of their produce to the Etrurians, but that they were freed from the disgraceful tribute by Hercules; this tradition appears to refer to the conquest of the city by Porsenna.

[5] Besides this, by his emissaries, he engaged the meaner sort of citizens and the slaves in a conspiracy. The former were, at an appointed time, to seize the ramparts, and the latter to murder their masters at the same instant. The gates were then to be opened to the Tar'quins, who were to enter Rome while it was yet reeking with the blood of the senators. This conspiracy was discovered to the consul by two of Tarquin's principal agents.

Oliver Goldsmith