Young Folks' History of Rome HTML version

14. The Devotion Of Decius, B.C. 357
Other tribes of the Gauls did not fail to come again and make fresh inroads on the valleys
of the Tiber and Anio. Whenever they came, instead of choosing men from the tribes to
form an army, as in a war with their neighbors, all the fighting men of the nation turned
out to oppose them, generally under a Dictator.
In one of these wars the Gauls came within three miles of Rome, and the two hosts were
encamped on the banks of the Anio, with a bridge between them. Along this bridge
strutted an enormous Gallic chief, much taller than any of the Romans, boasting himself,
and calling on any one of them to come out and fight with him. Again it was a Manlius
who distinguished himself. Titus, a young man of that family, begged the Dictator's
permission to accept the challenge, and, having gained it, he changed his round knight's
shield for the square one of the foot soldiers, and with his short sword came forward on
the bridge. The Gaul made a sweep at him with his broadsword, but, slipping within the
guard, Manlius stabbed the giant in two places, and as he fell cut off his head, and took
the torc, or broad twisted gold collar that was the mark of all Gallic chieftains. Thence the
brave youth was called Titus Manlius Torquatus—a surname to make up for that of
Capitolinus, which had never been used again.
The next time the Gauls came, Marcus Valerius, a descendant of the old hero Publicola,
was consul, and gained a great victory. It was said that in the midst of the fight a
monstrous raven appeared flying over his head, resting now and then on his helmet, but
generally pecking at the eyes of the Gauls and flapping its wings in their faces, so that
they fled discomfited. Thence he was called Corvus or Corvinus. The Gauls never again
came in such force, but a new enemy came against them, namely, the Samnites, a people
who dwelt to the south of them. They were of Italian blood, mountaineers of the Southern
Apennines, not unlike the Romans in habits, language, and training, and the staunchest
enemies they had yet encountered. The war began from an entreaty from the people of
Campania to the Romans to defend them from the attacks of the Samnites. For the
Campanians, living in the rich plains, whose name is still unchanged, were an idle,
languid people, whom the stout men of Samnium could easily overcome. The Romans
took their part, and Valerius Corvus gained a victory at Mount Gaurus; but the other
consul, Cornelius Cossus, fell into danger, having marched foolishly into a forest, shut in
by mountains, and with only one way out through a deep valley, which was guarded by
the Samnites. In this almost hopeless danger one of the military tribunes, Publius Decius
Mus, discovered a little hill above the enemy's camp, and asked leave to lead a small
body of men to seize it, since he would be likely thus to draw off the Samnites, and while
they were destroying him, as he fully expected, the Romans could get out of the valley.
Hidden by the wood, he gained the hill, and there the Samnites saw him, to their great
amazement; and while they were considering whether to attack him, the other Romans
were able to march out of the valley. Finding he was not attacked, Decius set guards, and,
when night came on, marched down again as quietly as possible to join the army, who
were now on the other side of the Samnite camp. Through the midst of this he and his
little camp went without alarm, until, about half-way across, one Roman struck his foot
against a shield. The noise awoke the Samnites, but Decius caused his men to give a great
shout, and this, in the darkness, so confused the enemy that they missed the little body of
Romans, who safely gained their own camp. Decius cut short the thanks and joy of the
consul by advising him to fall at once on the Samnite camp in its dismay, and this was
done; the Samnites were entirely routed, 30,000 killed, and their camp taken. Decius
received for his reward a hundred oxen, a white bull with gilded horns, and three
crowns—one of gold for courage, one of oak for having saved the lives of his fellow-