Young Folks' History of Rome HTML version

6. The War With Porsena
From the time of the flight of the Tarquins, Rome was governed by two consuls, who
wore all the tokens of royalty except the crown. Tarquin fled into Etruria, whence his
grandfather had come, and thence tried to obtain admission into Rome. The two young
sons of Brutus and the nephews of Collatinus were drawn into a plot for bringing them
back again, and on its discovery were brought before the two consuls. Their guilt was
proved, and their father sternly asked what they had to say in their defence. They only
wept, and so did Collatinus and many of the senators, crying out, "Banish them, banish
them." Brutus, however, as if unmoved, bade the executioners do their office. The whole
Senate shrieked to hear a father thus condemn his own children, but he was resolute, and
actually looked on while the young men were first scourged and then beheaded.
Collatinus put off the further judgment in hopes to save his nephews, and Brutus told
them that he had put them to death by his own power as a father, but that he left the rest
to the voice of the people, and they were sent into banishment. Even Collatinus was
thought to have acted weakly, and was sent into exile—so determined were the Romans
to have no one among them who would not uphold their decrees to the utmost. Tarquin
advanced to the walls and cut down all the growing corn around the Campus Martius and
threw it into the Tiber; there it formed a heap round which an island was afterwards
formed. Brutus himself and his cousin Aruns Tarquin soon after killed one another in
single combat in a battle outside the walls, and all the women of Rome mourned for him
as for a father.
Tarquin found a friend in the Etruscan king called Lars Porsena, who brought an army to
besiege Rome and restore him to the throne. He advanced towards the gate called
Janiculum upon the Tiber, and drove the Romans out of the fort on the other side the
river. The Romans then retreated across the bridge, placing three men to guard it until all
should be gone over and it could be broken down
There stood the brave three—Horatius, Lartius, and Herminius—guarding the bridge
while their fellow-citizens were fleeing across it, three men against a whole army. At last
the weapons of Lartius and Herminius were broken down, and Horatius bade them hasten
over the bridge while it could still bear their weight. He himself fought on till he was
wounded in the thigh, and the last timbers of the bridge were falling into the stream. Then
spreading out his arms, he called upon Father Tiber to receive him, leapt into the river
and swam across amid a shower of arrows, one of which put out his eye, and he was lame
for life. A statue of him "halting on his thigh" was set up in the temple of Vulcan, and he
was rewarded with as much land as one yoke of oxen could plough in a day, and the
300,000 citizens of Rome each gave him a day's provision of corn.
Porsena then blockaded the city, and when the Romans were nearly starving he sent them
word that he would give them food if they would receive their old masters; but they made
answer that hunger was better than slavery, and still held out. In the midst of their
distress, a young man named Caius Mucius came and begged leave of the consuls to
cross the Tiber and go to attempt something to deliver his country. They gave leave, and
creeping through the Etruscan camp he came into the king's tent just as Porsena was
watching his troops pass by in full order. One of his counsellors was sitting beside him so
richly dressed that Mucius did not know which was king, and leaping towards them, he
stabbed the counsellor to the heart. He was seized at once and dragged before the king,
who fiercely asked who he was, and what he meant by such a crime.