Young Folks' History of Rome HTML version

12. The Sack Of Rome, B.C. 390
Rome was left to the enemy, except for the small garrison in the Capitol and for eighty of
the senators, men too old to flee, who devoted themselves to the gods to save the rest,
and, arraying themselves in their robes—some as former consuls, some as priests, some
as generals—sat down with their ivory staves in their hands, in their chairs of state in the
Forum, to await the enemy
In burst the savage Gauls, roaming all over the city till they came to the Forum, where
they stood amazed and awe-struck at the sight of the eighty grand old men motionless in
their chairs. At first they looked at the strange, calm figures as if they were the gods of
the place, until one Gaul, as if desirous of knowing whether they were flesh and blood or
not, stroked the beard of the nearest. The senator, esteeming this an insult, struck the man
on the face with his staff, and this was the sign for the slaughter of them all.
Then the Gauls began to plunder every house, dragging out and killing the few
inhabitants they found there; feasting, revelling, and piling up riches to carry away;
burning and overthrowing the houses. Day after day the little garrison in the Capitol saw
the sight, and wondered if their stock of food would hold out till the Gauls should go
away or till their friends should come to their relief. Yet when the day came round for the
sacrifice to the ancestor of one of these beleaguered men, he boldly went forth to the altar
of his own ruined house on the Quirinal Hill, and made his offering to his forefathers, nor
did one Gaul venture to touch him, seeing that he was performing a religious rite.
The escaped Romans had rested at Ardea, where they found Camillus, and were by him
formed into an army, but he would not take the generalship without authority from what
was left of the Senate, and that was shut up in the Capitol in the midst of the Gauls. A
brave man, however, named Pontius Cominius, declared that he could make his way
through the Gauls by night, and climb up the Capitol and down again by a precipice
which they did not watch because they thought no one could mount it, and that he would
bring back the orders of the Senate. He swam the Tiber by the help of corks, landed at
night in ruined Rome among the sleeping enemy, and climbed up the rock, bringing hope
at last to the worn-out and nearly starving garrison. Quickly they met, recalled the
sentence of banishment against Camillus, and named him Dictator. Pontius, having rested
in the meantime, slid down the rock and made his way back to Ardea safely; but the
broken twigs and torn ivy on the rock showed the Gauls that it had been scaled, and they
resolved that where man had gone man could go. So Brennus told off the most surefooted
mountaineers he could find, and at night, two and two, they crept up the crag, so silently
that no alarm was given, till just as they came to the top, some geese that were kept as
sacred to Juno, and for that reason had been spared in spite of the scarcity, began to
scream and cackle, and thus brought to the spot a brave officer called Marcus Manlius,
who found two Gauls in the act of setting foot on the level ground on the top. With a
sweep of his sword he struck off the hand of one, and with his buckler smote the other on
the head, tumbling them both headlong down, knocking down their fellows in their flight,
and the Capitol was saved.
By way of reward every Roman soldier brought Manlius a few grains of the corn he
received from the common stock and a few drops of wine, while the tribune who was on
guard that night was thrown from the rock.
Foiled thus, and with great numbers of his men dying from the fever that always
prevailed in Rome in summer, Brennus thought of retreating, and offered to leave Rome