The Gauls Attack Rome (387 b.c.)

 

The Gauls advance to Rome (5.39)  
The Gauls for their part were almost dumb with astonishment at so sudden and extraordinary a victory. At first they did not dare to move from the spot, as though puzzled by what had happened, then they began to fear a surprise, at last they began to despoil the dead, and, as their custom is, to pile up the arms in heaps. Finally, as no hostile movement was anywhere visible, they commenced their march and reached Rome shortly before sunset. The cavalry, who had ridden on in front, reported that the gates were not shut, there were no pickets on guard in front of them, no troops on the walls. This second surprise, as extraordinary as the previous one, held them back, and fearing a nocturnal conflict in the streets of an unknown City, they halted and bivouacked between Rome and the Anio. Reconnoitring parties were sent out to examine the circuit of the walls and the other gates, and to ascertain what plans their enemies were forming in their desperate plight. As for the Romans, since the greater number had fled f
rom the field in the direction of Veii instead of Rome, it was universally believed that the only survivors were those who had found refuge in Rome, and the mourning for all who were lost, whether living or dead, filled the whole City with the cries of lamentation. But the sounds of private grief were stifled by the general terror when it was announced that the enemy were at hand. Presently the yells and wild war-whoops of the squadrons were heard as they rode round the walls. All the time until the next day's dawn the citizens were in such a state of suspense that they expected from moment to moment an attack on the City. They expected it first when the enemy approached the walls, for they would have remained at the Alia had not this been their object; then just before sunset they thought the enemy would attack because there was not much daylight left; and then when night was fallen they imagined that the attack was delayed till then to create!
all the greater terror. Finally, the approach of the next day deprived them of their senses; the entrance of the enemy's standards within the gates was the dreadful climax to fears that had known no respite.

 

Some Romans Defend the Citadel; Others Flee the City
But all through that night and the following day the citizens afforded an utter contrast to those who had fled in such terror at the Alia. Realising the hopelessness of attempting any defence of the City with the small numbers that were left, they decided that the men of military age and the able-bodied amongst the senators should, with their wives and children, withdraw into the Citadel and the Capitol, and after getting in stores of arms and provisions, should from that fortified position defend their gods, themselves, and the great name of Rome. The Flamen and priestesses of Vesta were to carry the sacred things of the State far away from the bloodshed and the fire, and their sacred cult should not be abandoned as long as a single person survived to observe it. If only the Citadel and the Capitol, the abode of gods; if only the senate, the guiding mind of the national policy; if only the men of military age survived the impending ruin of the City, then the loss of the crowd of old men left behind in the City could be easily borne; in any case, they were certain to perish. To reconcile the aged plebeians to their fate, the men who had been consuls and enjoyed triumphs gave out that they would meet their fate side by side with them, and not burden the scanty force of fighting men with bodies too weak to carry arms or defend their country.
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Thus they sought to comfort one another these aged men doomed to death. Then they turned with words of encouragement to the younger men on their way to the Citadel and Capitol, and solemnly commended to their strength and courage all that was left of the fortunes of a City which for 360 years had been victorious in all its wars. As those who were carrying with them all hope and succour finally separated from those who had resolved not to survive the fall of the City the misery of the scene was heightened by the distress of the women. Their tears, their distracted running about as they followed first their husbands then their sons, their imploring appeals to them not to leave them to their fate, made up a picture in which no element of human misery was wanting. A great many of them actually followed their sons into the Capitol, none forbidding or inviting them, for though to diminish the number of non combatants would have helped the besieged, it was too inhuman a step to take.!
Another crowd, mainly of plebeians, for whom there was not room on so small a hill or food enough in the scanty store of corn, poured out of the City in one continuous line and made for the Janiculum. From there they dispersed, some over the country, others towards the neighbouring cities, without any leader or concerted action, each following his own aims, his own ideas. and all despairing of the public safety. While all this was going on, the Flamen of Quirinus and the Vestal virgins, without giving a thought to their own property, were deliberating as to which of the sacred things they ought to take with them, and which to leave behind, since they had not strength enough to carry all, and also what place would be the safest for their custody. They thought best to conceal what they could not take in earthen jars and bury them under the chapel next to the Flamen's house, where spitting is now forbidden. The rest they divided amongst them and carried off, taking the road which leads by the Pons Sublicius t o
the Janiculum. Whilst ascending that hill they were seen by L. Albinius, a Roman plebeian who with the rest of the crowd who were unfit for war was leaving the City. Even in that critical hour the distinction between sacred and profane was not forgotten. He had his wife and children with him in a wagon, and it seemed to him an act of impiety for him and his family to be seen in a vehicle whilst the national priests should be trudging along on foot, bearing the sacred vessels of Rome. He ordered his wife and children to get down, put the virgins and their sacred burden in the wagon, and drove them to Caere, their destination.

The Sacrifice of Rome’s Old Noblemen (5.41)
After all the arrangements that circumstances permitted had been made for the defence of the Capitol, the old men returned to their respective homes and, fully prepared to die, awaited the coming of the enemy. Those who had filled curule offices resolved to meet their fate wearing the insignia of their former rank and honour and distinctions. They put on the splendid dress which they wore when conducting the chariots of the gods or riding in triumph through the City, and thus arrayed, they seated themselves in their ivory chairs in front of their houses. Some writers record that, led by M. Fabius, the Pontifex Maximus, they recited the solemn formula in which they devoted themselves to death for their country and the Quirites. As the Gauls were refreshed by a night's rest after a battle which had at no point been seriously contested, and as they were not now taking the City by assault or storm, their entrance the next day was not marked by any signs of excitement or anger.

 

Gallic Invaders Enter Rome

Passing the Colline gate, which was standing open, they came to the Forum and gazed round at the temples and at the Citadel, which alone wore any appearance of war. They left there a small body to guard against any attack from the Citadel or Capitol whilst they were scattered, and then they dispersed in quest of plunder through streets in which they did not meet a soul. Some poured in a body into all the houses near, others made for the most distant ones, expecting to find them untouched and full of spoils. Appalled by the very desolation of the place and dreading lest some stratagem should surprise the stragglers, they returned to the neighbourhood of the Forum in close order. The houses of the plebeians were barricaded, the halls of the patricians stood open, but they felt greater hesitation about entering the open houses than those which were closed. They gazed with feelings of real veneration upon the men who were seated in the porticoes of their mansions, not only because of the superhuman magnificence of their apparel and their whole bearing and demeanour, but also because of the majestic expression of their countenances, wearing the very aspect of gods. So they stood, gazing at them as if they were statues, till, as it is asserted, one of the patricians, M. Papirius, roused the passion of a Gaul, who began to stroke his beard which in those days was universally worn long by smiting him on the head with his ivory staff. He was the first to be killed, the others were butchered in their chairs. After this slaughter of the magnates, no living being was thenceforth spared; the houses were rifled, and then set on fire.
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Now-whether it was that the Gauls were not all animated by a passion for the destruction of the City, or whether their chiefs had decided on the one hand to present the spectacle of a few fires as a means of intimidating the besieged into surrender from a desire to save their homes, and on the other, by abstaining from a universal conflagration, hold what remained of the City as a pledge by which to weaken their enemies' determination-certain it is that the fires were far from being so indiscriminate or so extensive as might be expected on the first day of a captured city. As the Romans beheld from the Citadel the City filled with the enemy who were running about in all the streets, while some new disaster was constantly occurring, first in one quarter then in another, they could no longer control their eyes and ears, let alone their thoughts and feelings. In whatever direction their attention was drawn by the shouts of the enemy, the shrieks of the women and boys, the roar of the flames, and the crash of houses falling in, thither they turned their eyes and minds as though set by Fortune to be spectators of their country's fall, powerless to protect anything left of all they possessed beyond their lives. Above all others who have ever stood a siege were they to be pitied, cut off as they were from the land of their birth and seeing all that had been theirs in the possession of the enemy. The day which had been spent in such misery was succeeded by a night not one whit more restful, this again by a day of anguish, there was not a single hour free from the sight of some ever fresh calamity. And yet, though, weighed down and overwhelmed with so many misfortunes, they had watched everything laid low in flame and ruin, they did not for a moment relax their determination to defend by their courage the one spot still left to freedom, the hill which they held, however small and poor it might be. At length, as this state of things went on day by day, they became as it were hardened to misery, and turned their thoughts from the circumstances round them to their arms and the sword in their right hand, which they gazed upon as the only things left to give them hope.

Gauls Attack the Citadel (5.43)
For some days the Gauls had been making useless war merely upon the houses of the City. Now that they saw nothing surviving amidst the ashes and ruin of the captured City except an armed foe whom all these disasters had failed to appal, and who would entertain no thought of surrender unless force were employed, they determined as a last resort to make an assault on the Citadel. At daybreak the signal was given and the whole of their number formed up in the Forum. Raising their battle-shout and locking their shields together over their heads, they advanced. The Romans awaited the attack without excitement or fear, the detachments were strengthened to guard all the approaches, and in whatever direction they saw the enemy advancing, there they posted a picked body of men and allowed the enemy to climb up, for the steeper the ground they got on to, the easier they thought it would be to fling them down the slope. About midway up the hill the Gauls halted; then from the higher ground, which of itself almost hurled them against the enemy, the Romans charged, and routed the Gauls with such loss and overthrow that they never again attempted that mode of fighting either with detachments or in full strength. All hope, therefore, of forcing a passage by direct assault being laid aside, they made preparations for a blockade. Up to that time they had never thought of one; all the corn in the City had been destroyed in the conflagrations, whilst that in the fields around had been hastily carried off to Veii since the occupation of the City. So the Gauls decided to divide their forces; one division was to invest the Citadel, the other to forage amongst the neighbouring States so that they could supply corn to those who were keeping up the investment.

 

Some Gauls to Ardea: Rome’s Camillus Eager

It was Fortune herself who led the Gauls after they left the City to Ardea, that they might have some experience of Roman courage. Camillus was living there as an exile, grieving more over his country's fortunes than his own, eating his heart out in reproaches to gods and men, asking in indignant wonder where the men were with whom he had taken Veii and Falerii; men whose valour in all their wars was greater even than their success. Suddenly he heard that the Gaulish army was approaching, and that the Ardeates were engaged in anxious deliberation about it. He had generally avoided the council meetings, but now, seized with an inspiration nothing short of divine, he hastened to the assembled councillors and addressed them as follows:
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"Men of Ardea! friends of old, and now my fellow-citizens-for this your kindness has granted, this my fortunes have compelled-let none of you imagine that I have come here in forgetfulness of my position. The force of circumstances and the common danger constrain every man to contribute what help he can to meet the crisis. When shall I ever be able to show my gratitude for all the obligations you have conferred if I fail in my duty now? When shall I ever be of any use to you if not in war? It was by that that I held my position in my native City as having never known defeat; in times of peace my ungrateful countrymen banished me. Now the chance is offered to you, men of Ardea, of proving your gratitude for all the kindness that Rome has shown you-you have not forgotten how great it is, nor need I bring it up against those who so well remember it-the chance of winning for your city a vast reputation for war at the expense of our common foe. Those who are coming here in loose and disorderly fashion are a race to whom nature has given bodies and minds distinguished by bulk rather than by resolution and endurance. It is for this reason that they bring into every battle a terrifying appearance rather than real force. Take the disaster of Rome as a proof. They captured the City because it lay open to them; a small force repelled them from the Citadel and Capitol. Already the irksomeness of an investment has proved too much for them, they are giving it up and wandering through the fields in straggling parties. When they are gorged with food and the wine they drink so greedily, they throw themselves down like wild beasts, on the approach of night, in all directions by the streams, without entrenching themselves, or setting any outposts or pickets on guard. And now after their success they are more careless than ever. If it is your intention to defend your walls and not to allow all this country to become a second Gaul, seize your arms and muster in force by the first watch and follow me to what will be a massacre, not a battle. If I do not deliver them, whilst enchained by sleep, into your hands to be slaughtered like cattle, I am ready to accept the same fate in Ardea which I met with in Rome."

Camillus Attacks Gauls at Ardea (5.45)
Friends and foes were alike persuaded that nowhere else was there at that time so great a master of war. After the council broke up they refreshed themselves and waited eagerly for the signal to be given. When it was given in the silence of the night they were at the gates ready for Camillus. After marching no great distance from the city they came upon the camp of the Gauls, unprotected, as he had said, and carelessly open on every side. They raised a tremendous shout and rushed in; there was no battle, it was everywhere sheer massacre; the Gauls, defenceless and dissolved in sleep, were butchered as they lay. Those in the furthest part of the camp, however, startled from their lairs, and not knowing whence or what the attack was, fled in terror, and some actually rushed, unawares, amongst their assailants. A considerable number were carried into the neighbourhood of Antium, where they were surrounded by the townsmen. A similar slaughter of Etruscans took place in the district of Veii. So far were these people from feeling sympathy with a City which for almost four centuries had been their neighbour, and was now crushed by an enemy never seen or heard of before, that they chose that time for making forays into Roman territory, and after loading themselves with plunder, intended to attack Veii, the bulwark and only surviving hope of the Roman name. The Roman soldiers at Veii had seen them dispersed through the fields, and afterwards, with their forces collected, driving their booty in front of them. Their first feelings were those of despair, then indignation and rage took possession of them. "Are even the Etruscans," they exclaimed, "from whom we have diverted the arms of Gaul on to ourselves, to find amusement in our disasters?" With difficulty they restrained themselves from attacking them. Caedicius, a centurion whom they had placed in command, induced them to defer operations till nightfall. The only thing lacking was a commander like Camillus, in all other respects the ordering of the attack and the success achieved were the same as if he had been present. Not content with this, they made some prisoners who had survived the night's massacre act as as guides, and, led by them, surprised another body of Tuscans at the salt works and inflicted a still greater loss upon them. Exultant at this double victory they returned to Veii.

ROME: Gauls Continue Siege (5.46)
During these days there was little going on in Rome; the investment was maintained for the most part with great slackness; both sides were keeping quiet, the Gauls being mainly intent on preventing any of the enemy from slipping through their lines. Suddenly a Roman warrior drew upon himself the admiration of foes and friends alike. The Fabian house had an annual sacrifice on the Quirinal, and C. Fabius Dorsuo, wearing his toga in the "Gabine cincture," and bearing in his hands the sacred vessels, came down from the Capitol, passed through the middle of the hostile pickets, unmoved by either challenge or threat, and reached the Quirinal. There he duly performed all the solemn rites and returned with the same composed expression and gait, feeling sure of the divine blessing, since not even the fear of death had made him neglect the worship of the gods; finally he re entered the Capitol and rejoined his comrades. Either the Gauls were stupefied at his extraordinary boldness, or else they were restrained by religious feelings, for as a nation they are by no means inattentive to the claims of religion.

 

VEII: Roman Support Grows – Camillus Dictator

At Veii there was a steady accession of strength as well as courage. Not only were the Romans who had been dispersed by the defeat and the capture of the City gathering there, but volunteers from Latium also flocked to the place that they might be in for a share of the booty. The time now seemed ripe for the recovery of their native City out of the hands of the enemy. But though the body was strong it lacked a head. The very place reminded men of Camillus, the majority of the soldiers had fought successfully under his auspices and leadership, and Caedicius declared that he would give neither gods nor men any pretext for terminating his command; he would rather himself, remembering his subordinate rank, ask for a commander-in-chief. It was decided by general consent that Camillus should be invited from Ardea, but the senate was to be consulted first; to such an extent was everything regulated by reverence for law; the proper distinctions of things were observed, even though the things themselves were almost lost.  Frightful risk would have to be incurred in passing through the enemies' outposts. Pontius Cominius, a fine soldier, offered himself for the task. Supporting himself on a cork float, he was carried down the Tiber to the City. Selecting the nearest way from the bank of the river, he scaled a precipitous rock which, owing to its steepness, the enemy had left unguarded, and found his way into the Capitol. On being brought before the supreme magistrates he delivered his instructions from the army. After receiving the decree of the senate, which was to the effect that after being recalled from exile by the comitia curiata, Camillus should be forthwith nominated Dictator by order of the people, and the soldiers should have the commander they wanted, the messenger returned by the same route and made the best of his way to Veii. A deputation was sent to Ardea to conduct Camillus to Veii. The law was passed in the comitia curiata annulling his banishment and nominating him Dictator, and it is, I think, more likely that he did not start from Ardea until he learnt that this law had been passed, because he could not change his domicile without the sanction of the people, nor could he take the auspices in the name of the army until he had been duly nominated Dictator.

Gauls’ Surprise Attack on Citadel:  Manlius’ Heroism (5.47)
While these proceedings were taking place at Veii, the Citadel and Capitol of Rome were in imminent danger. The Gauls had either noticed the footprints left by the messenger from Veii, or had themselves discovered a comparatively easy ascent up the cliff to the temple of Carmentis. Choosing a night when there was a faint glimmer of light, they sent an unarmed man in advance to try the road; then handing one another their arms where the path was difficult, and supporting each other or dragging each other up as the ground required, they finally reached the summit. So silent had their movements been that not only were they unnoticed by the sentinels, but they did not even wake the dogs, an animal peculiarly sensitive to nocturnal sounds. But they did not escape the notice of the geese, which were sacred to Juno and had been left untouched in spite of the extremely scanty supply of food. This proved the safety of the garrison, for their clamour and the noise of their wings aroused M. Manlius, the distinguished soldier, who had been consul three years before. He snatched up his weapons and ran to call the rest to arms, and while the rest hung back he struck with the boss of his shield a Gaul who had got a foothold on the summit and knocked him down. He fell on those behind and upset them, and Manlius slew others who had laid aside their weapons and were clinging to the rocks with their hands. By this time others had joined him, and they began to dislodge the enemy with volleys of stones and javelins till the whole body fell helplessly down to the bottom. When the uproar had died away, the remainder of the night was given to sleep, as far as was possible under such disturbing circumstances, whilst their peril, though past, still made them anxious.
At daybreak the soldiers were summoned by sound of trumpet to a council in the presence of the tribunes, when the due rewards for good conduct and for bad would be awarded. First, Manlius was commended for his bravery, and rewarded not by the tribunes alone but by the soldiers as a body, for every man brought to him at his quarters, which were in the Citadel, half a pound of meal and a quarter of a pint of wine. This does not sound much, but the scarcity made it an overwhelming proof of the affection felt for him, since each stinted himself of food and contributed in honour of that one man what had to be taken from his necessaries of life. Next, the sentinels who had been on duty at the spot where the enemy had climbed up without their noticing it were called forward. Q. Sulpicius, the consular tribune, declared that he should punish them all by martial law. He was, however, deterred from this course by the shouts of the soldiers, who all agreed in throwing the blame upon one man. As there was no doubt of his guilt, he was amidst general approval flung from the top of the cliff. A stricter watch was now kept on both sides; by the Gauls because it had become known that messengers were passing between Rome and Veii; by the Romans, who had not forgotten the danger they were in that night.

Famine Oppresses the Besieged Romans (5.48)
But the greatest of all the evils arising from the siege and the war was the famine which began to afflict both armies, whilst the Gauls were also visited with pestilence. They had their camp on low-lying ground between the hills, which had been scorched by the fires and was full of malaria, and the least breath of wind raised not dust only but ashes. Accustomed as a nation to wet and cold, they could not stand this at all, and tortured as they were by heat and suffocation, disease became rife among them, and they died off like sheep. They soon grew weary of burying their dead singly, so they piled the bodies into heaps and burned them indiscriminately, and made the locality notorious; it was afterwards known as the Busta Gallica. Subsequently a truce was made with the Romans, and with the sanction of the commanders, the soldiers held conversations with each other. The Gauls were continually bringing up the famine and calling upon them to yield to necessity and surrender. To remove this impression it is said that bread was thrown in many places from the Capitol into the enemies' pickets. But soon the famine could neither be concealed nor endured any longer. So, at the very time that the Dictator was raising his own levy at Ardea, and ordering his Master of the Horse, L. Valerius, to withdraw his army from Veii, and making preparations for a sufficient force with which to attack the enemy on equal terms, the army of the Capitol, worn out with incessant duty, but still superior to all human ills, had nature not made famine alone insuperable by them, were day by day eagerly watching for signs of any help from the Dictator. At last not only food but hope failed them. Whenever the sentinels went on duty, their feeble frames almost crushed by the weight of their armour, the army insisted that they should either surrender or purchase their ransom on the best terms they could, for the Gauls were throwing out unmistakable hints that they could be induced to abandon the siege for a moderate consideration.

 

Capitulation & Salvation of Rome

A meeting of the senate was now held, and the consular tribunes were empowered to make terms. A conference took place between Q. Sulpicius, the consular tribune, and Brennus, the Gaulish chieftain, and an agreement was arrived at by which 1000 lbs. of gold was fixed as the ransom of a people destined ere long to rule the world. This humiliation was great enough as it was, but it was aggravated by the despicable meanness of the Gauls, who produced unjust weights, and when the tribune protested, the insolent Gaul threw his sword into the scale, with an exclamation intolerable to Roman ears, "Woe to the vanquished!"
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But gods and men alike prevented the Romans from living as a ransomed people. By a dispensation of Fortune it came about that before the infamous ransom was completed and all the gold weighed out, whilst the dispute was still going on, the Dictator appeared on the scene and ordered the gold to be carried away and the Gauls to move off. As they declined to do so, and protested that a definite compact had been made, he informed them that when he was once appointed Dictator no compact was valid which was made by an inferior magistrate without his sanction. He then warned the Gauls to prepare for battle, and ordered his men to pile their baggage into a heap, get their weapons ready, and win their country back by steel, not by gold. They must keep before their eyes the temples of the gods, their wives and children, and their country's soil, disfigured by the ravages of war everything, in a word, which it was their duty to defend, to recover or to avenge. He then drew up his men in the best formation that the nature of the ground, naturally uneven and now half burnt, admitted, and made every provision that his military skill suggested for securing the advantage of position and movement for his men. The Gauls, alarmed at the turn things had taken, seized their weapons and rushed upon the Romans with more rage than method. Fortune had now turned, divine aid and human skill were on the side of Rome. At the very first encounter the Gauls were routed as easily as they had conquered at the Alia. In a second and more sustained battle at the eighth milestone on the road to Gabii, where they had rallied from their flight, they were again defeated under the generalship and auspices of Camillus. Here the carnage was complete; the camp was taken, and not a single man was left to carry tidings of the disaster.

 

Restoration at Rome

After thus recovering his country from the enemy, the Dictator returned in triumph to the City, and amongst the homely jests which soldiers are wont to bandy, he was called in no idle words of praise, "A Romulus," "The Father of his country," "The Second Founder of the City." He had saved his country in war, and now that peace was restored, he proved, beyond all doubt, to be its saviour again, when he prevented the migration to Veii. The tribunes of the plebs were urging this course more strongly than ever now that the City was burnt, and the plebs were themselves more in favour of it. This movement and the pressing appeal which the senate made to him not to abandon the republic while the position of affairs was so doubtful, determined him not to lay down his dictatorship after his triumph.
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As he was most scrupulous in discharging religious obligations, the very first measures he introduced into the senate were those relating to the immortal gods. He got the senate to pass a resolution containing the following provisions: All the temples, so far as they had been in possession of the enemy, were to be restored and purified, and their boundaries marked out afresh; the ceremonies of purification were to be ascertained from the sacred books by the duumvirs. Friendly relations as between State and State were to be established with the people of Caere, because they had sheltered the sacred treasures of Rome and her priests, and by this kindly act had prevented any interruption to the divine worship. Capitoline Games were to be instituted, because Jupiter Optimus Maximus had protected his dwelling-place and the Citadel of Rome in the time of danger, and the Dictator was to form a college of priests for that object from amongst those who were living on the Capitol and in the Citadel. Mention was also made of offering propitiation for the neglect of the nocturnal Voice which was heard announcing disaster before the war began, and orders were given for a temple to be built in the Nova Via to Aius Locutius. The gold which had been rescued from the Gauls and that which during the confusion had been brought from the other temples, had been collected in the temple of Jupiter. As no one remembered what proportion ought to be returned to the other temples, the whole was declared sacred, and ordered to be deposited under the throne of Jupiter. The religious feeling of the citizens had already been shown in the fact that when there was not sufficient gold in the treasury to make up the sum agreed upon with the Gauls, they accepted the contribution of the matrons, to avoid touching that which was sacred. The matrons received public thanks, and the distinction was conferred upon them of having funeral orations pronounced over them as in the case of men. !
It was not till after those matters were disposed of which concerned the gods, and which therefore were within the province of the senate, that Camillus' attention was drawn to the tribunes, who were making incessant harangues to persuade the plebs to leave the ruins and migrate to Veii, which was ready for them. At last he went up to the Assembly, followed by the whole of the senate, and delivered the following speech: