Stories From Livy - Alfred J. Church

The Story Of Manlius Of The Twisted Chain

There dwelt in Rome a certain Lucius Manlius, of the kindred of that Manlius that thrust down the Gauls from the Capitol, and men gave him the surname of Imperious by reason of the haughtiness of his temper. This Manlius was made dictator for this one purpose, that he might drive a nail into the wall of the temple of Jupiter. For it had been a custom in old time that whoever was chief magistrate at Rome should drive a nail in this place on the fifteenth day of the month September, to the end that the number of the year might thus be marked, there being in those days but small use of letters and figures; and this nail was driven into the wall that looks toward the temple of Minerva, because Minerva is the goddess of numbers. But in the days of Manlius this custom had been long since forgotten; and when it chanced that a pestilence came upon the city and nothing else availed to stay it (for besides other things stage players were brought from Etruria to make a show that might appease the anger of the gods), certain old men remembered that in former years such plagues had been stayed by the appointing of a dictator to drive in a nail. This Manlius then was thus appointed; but when he had done his office he conceived the purpose of carrying on war against the Hernici, and would have levied an army but that the tribunes of the Commons hindered him.

In the beginning of the next year one of the tribunes, Pomponius by name, brought Manlius to trial, bringing sundry accusations against him. For in the levy that he sought to make he had dealt cruelly with them that answered not to their names, causing some to be beaten with rods and casting others into prison. His surname also was proof sufficient that he was of such a temper as could not be endured in a free state. "And this temper," said the tribune, "he had shown not to strangers only, but even to those that are of his own blood. His own son, a young man uncondemned of any crime, he has banished from the city and from his home, forbidding him to have any converse with his fellows, and compelling him to work after the fashion of a slave. And for what fault in the young man, think ye, that he hath done this thing? Because he is not eloquent or ready of speech. But should not a father, if there be any natural kindness in him, seek to apply remedies to such defects rather than to punish them? Even the brute beasts, if their offspring chance to be ill-shaped, are the more careful to nourish and cherish it. But this Manlius has rather increased the affliction of his son, and made his wits yet slower than they were, extinguishing such natural power as he may have by causing him to dwell among the beasts of the field."

This accusation stirred great anger against the father in all men save only in the son himself. For when the young man knew that an accusation had been made against his father on his account he was much troubled. And that both gods and men might know that he desired to give help to his father rather than to the enemies of his father, he conceived a plan which indeed ill became a citizen and one who would be obedient to the laws, yet still was to be commended for its piety. Girding himself with a knife he came, none knowing his purpose, early in the morning to the city, and went straightway from the gate to the house of Pomponius the tribune. Then he said to the porter, "I must needs speak forthwith with your master. Tell him that Titus Manlius, son of Lucius Manlius, seeks him." The tribune, thinking that the young man had come full of anger against his father, to bring, it might be, some new accusation, commanded that he should be brought into his chamber. When they had greeted one another Manlius said, "I have somewhat to say to thee which thou must hear alone." So the tribune bade all that were present withdraw themselves. This being done Manlius drew his dagger, and standing over the bed, threatened that he would run him through therewith unless he should swear in words that he would himself dictate that he would never hold a meeting of the Commons before which to bring his father to judgment. The tribune, fearing the steel which glittered before his eyes, and knowing that the young man was not only of exceeding strength but also of a very fierce and savage temper, and being himself without arms, sware as he was bidden, and afterward told what had taken place, showing that he had given up his purpose under compulsion. The people took it ill that they could not sit in judgment on a man of so cruel a temper; nevertheless they commended his son for his piety; and all the more because the harshness of his father had not extinguished in him his natural affection. The father indeed escaped not, being brought to trial, and the son reaped from the matter this reward, that in the following year, when the people for the first time, for so it chanced to happen, chose their tribune in the army, he was so chosen, having the second place among six, and this though he had done nothing either at home or abroad which might commend him to their favor.

In the year following there was a war with the Gauls, who had pitched their camp three miles only from Rome on the other side of the river Anio. A certain Quinctius Pennus, being made dictator, gathered a great army and encamped on the near side, of the river. Now between the two armies there was a bridge, which neither the one nor the other would break down, lest they should seem to fear the enemy. For this bridge many battles were fought; and it could not be told, so equal was the strength on either side, to whom it belonged. At a certain day there came forth a Gaul of exceeding great stature and stood upon the bridge, crying with a loud voice, "Hear now, ye men of Rome, let the bravest man that ye have among you come forth, and let him fight with me; and according as I shall prevail over him, or he prevail over me, so shall we know whether Gauls or Romans are the better in war."

For a long time there was silence among the Roman people, for they were ashamed to refuse the battle, yet were loath to take the very first place in this great peril. Then Titus Manlius, the son of Lucius, came forth, and said to the Dictator, "I would never fight out of my due place in the host without thy bidding, not even though I should see victory clearly assured. But now, if thou wilt suffer me, I would gladly show to that brute beast that shows himself so confidently before the standards of the enemy that I am of the name of Manlius and of the kindred of him that drave down the Gauls from the Capitol." To him the Dictator made answer, "Thou doest well, Manlius, with thy valor and thy piety, both toward thy country and thy father. Go thou and show, the Gods helping thee, that a Roman cannot be conquered." Then his comrades armed the youth, giving him the long shield of a foot soldier and a Spanish sword, which, for its shortness, was well suited for fighting in close combat. Then they led him forward against the Gaul; and even noted how, for scorn of his enemy, the barbarian thrust out his tongue. So the two stood together between the armies, being ill matched, if one would judge by the appearance. The Gaul, indeed, was of exceedingly great stature, and was clad in a garment of many colors, and his arms were painted and inlaid with gold. As for the Roman, he was of the middle stature, such as is commonly to be seen among soldiers, his bearing being without pride, and his arms fitted for use rather than for show. He used no song of defiance, nor leaping from the ground, nor idle shaking of his arms; but kept his courage and wrath silent within his heart, nor showed his fierceness till the combat itself should need it. So they stood, and the two armies regarded them with hope and fear. First the Gaul, being like to some great mass that was ready to crush everything under it, thrusting forward his shield on his left arm, dealt a great blow on the armor of Manlius with his sword, striking with the edge (for the swords of the Gauls had no points), but harming him not, though the sound of it was great. But the Roman, first thrusting aside the shield of the enemy with his own shield, ran in close upon him, so that the man could not strike him—his sword being over long—and so driving his sword pointwise from beneath, smote him twice in the belly and in the groin, so that he fell his whole length upon the ground. And as he lay, he stripped from his body, to which he did no other harm, a chain of twisted gold that the man wore, and threw it, covered with blood as it was, about his own neck. Meanwhile the Gauls stood still for fear and wonder; but the Romans running forth with joy from their ranks to meet their champion, so led him to the Dictator. From this deed Titus Manlius was called "Manlius of the Twisted Chain;" and this name he handed down to his descendants after him.

About twenty years after this deed there was a great war between the Romans and the Latins (for the Latins demanded that one consul should always be of their nation, and, this being denied to them, made war against Rome) and this same Manlius was consul. Now it was needful that there should be discipline of the strictest sort in the army; and also, because the Latins spake the same tongue as did the Romans, and had their arms and all other things that appertained to war the same, the Consuls issued a decree that no man should fight with the enemy, save only at his post in the army.

Now it chanced that Titus Manlius, son of the Consul, being captain of a squadron of horsemen, rode so far with his squadron (the horsemen being sent out in all directions to spy out the country) that he was scarce the length of a spear's throw from the camp of the enemy, at a certain part where the horsemen of Tusculum had their station. The leader of these horsemen was Metius, a certain man of noble birth and renowned among his countrymen for his valor. This Metius, seeing the Roman horsemen, and Manlius the Consul's son riding in the front, and knowing him who he was (for indeed all the men of note in the two armies were known to each other), cried out, "Are ye minded, ye men of Rome, being but one squadron, to do battle with the Latins and their allies? What are the Consuls doing, and their two armies?" To this Manlius made answer, "They will come in due time; aye, one that is mightier than they, even Jupiter, will come also: Jupiter, who is witness to the treaties which ye have broken. If at the Lake Regillus we fought with you till we were weary, so here also we will give you such entertainment as ye shall little like." Then said Metius, "Art thou willing, then, in the mean while while the day on which ye will make so mighty a stir is yet coming, to fight here with me, that from the issue of our meeting all men may know by how much a Latin horseman is better than a horseman of the Romans?" Thereupon anger, or shame that he should seem to shrink from such combat, or, it may be, the will of fate, that none may escape, stirred the young man's haughty spirit, so that, taking no account of his father's commands or of the decree of the Consuls, he thrust himself headlong into a combat in which it mattered but little whether he was vanquished or no. The other horsemen removed themselves far off to look at the combat, leaving a space of clear ground for the two, who, driving their horses over the plain, met in the midst with their spears levelled. The spear of Metius crossed the horse's neck of Manlius, and the spear of Manlius passed above the head of the Latin. After this they wheeled their horses about, and Manlius, rising first to deal a second blow, smote the horse of the Latin between the ears; and when the horse felt the wound he reared himself upon his hind legs and shook off his rider; and when the man, sorely shaken by so grievous a fall, would have raised himself by help of his shield and spear, the Roman smote him with his spear in the throat, so that the point came out through his ribs, making him fast to the earth. Then Manlius gathered the spoils from the dead man, and rode back to the camp, his squadron following him with great joy. Being come to the camp, he went to the general's tent, knowing not what fate awaited him or whether he had earned praise or punishment. Then he said to his father, "I desired that all men should know that I am truly thy son; and therefore, having been challenged to combat, I fought, and now bring back these spoils from the enemy whom I slew." But the Consul, so soon as he heard these words, turning his face from his son, commanded that the bugle should be sounded and the soldiers called to an assembly. And when the men had come together in great numbers, he said, "Titus Manlius, thou hast had no respect to the authority of the Consuls or to the dignity of thy father, and, disobeying our decree, hast fought with the enemy elsewhere than in thy place, loosening thereby, so far as in thee lay, that military discipline by which up to this time the commonwealth of Rome hath stood and been established. And me thou hast brought into these straits, that I must forget either the commonwealth or myself and my own kindred. Rather, therefore, will we suffer ourselves for our own fault than suffer the commonwealth to suffer for us at so great a loss to itself. Truly we two shall be a warning, sad indeed yet wholesome, to our youth in time to come. As for myself, I am truly troubled, not only by that love for my children which is natural to all men, but also by the valor which, led astray by a false appearance of glory, thou hast shown this day. Nevertheless, seeing that the Consuls' power must either be established for ever by thy death or abolished for ever by thy escape, I judge that thou thyself also, if there is aught of my blood in thee, wilt not refuse to die, and so establish again that military discipline which thou hast weakened by thy misdoing. Go, lictor, bind him to the stake."

All that were present in the assembly stood stricken with terror at so cruel a command, and stood silent, but rather from fear than from obedience, each seeming to see the axe made ready against himself. Thus were they overwhelmed with astonishment, and stood holding their peace. But when the young man's head was smitten off and the blood was seen to pour forth, then, recovering themselves, they cried aloud and spared neither lamentations nor curses. Afterward for the young man they made a soldier's funeral with all the zeal that they could show, covering his body with the spoils of war and burning it on a pile in a place without the rampart of the camp. From that day, when the men would speak of some savage command or exercising of power, they are wont to call it a "Manlian rule." As for Titus Manlius the father, when he came back in triumph to Rome (for the Romans were victorious in the war, as will be told hereafter) the elders only went forth to meet him; the young men, both then and ever afterward, so long as he lived, turned from him with hatred and curses.