Story of the Romans - Helene Guerber

The Disaster at the Caudine Forks

Valerius was not the only Roman who gained a name from meeting a Gaul in single combat. Another was a member of the Manlius family, to which, as you know, the savior of the Capitol belonged.

Manlius, like Valerius, succeeded in killing his enemy, and, as a trophy, he took from the dead body the torque, or necklace of twisted gold, which was generally worn by Gallic chiefs. Because he liked to appear with this ornament around his neck, the Romans surnamed him Torquatus, which means "the man with the necklace."

Torquatus in time was elected consul, and thus had command of the Roman troops. He thought that the soldiers were badly trained, and that the discipline was poor; so he made up his mind to reform the army. He therefore gave strict orders that every soldier should obey promptly, and added that he would put to death any man who ventured to rush into battle without waiting for the signal.

Each Roman soldier was anxious to distinguish himself, and some of the men did not like this command. In the very next battle the general's own son was so eager to begin the fight that he was the first to disobey the orders just given.

Knowing that discipline must be maintained at any price, Torquatus sent for his son as soon as the fighting was over. Then, true to his promise, he had the offender executed in the presence of the whole army.

This example of military justice so awed the Romans that none of them ever dared to disobey their general again. Order and discipline were restored, and the army returned to Rome victorious. There the senate congratulated Torquatus, not only upon his success, but also upon the courage he had shown in keeping his word even at the sacrifice of his own son's life.

The senate never failed to compliment and reward a victorious general, but these same men always considered it a great disgrace when their army was defeated, and they often visited their displeasure upon its unlucky commander.

Therefore, when Spurius Posthumius, one of their consuls, fell into an ambush during a war with the Samnites, they were greatly displeased. The Romans were caught in a mountain defile, called the Caudine Forks, and, being surrounded on all sides, were forced to surrender. Then the whole army had to submit to the humiliation of passing under the yoke, and the consul was made to promise that Rome would never renew the war.

When Posthumius came back to Rome, he was severely reproved by the senators, who were very angry indeed because he had agreed to fight no more. In their wrath, they vowed that his promise to the Samnites should never be kept. Then Posthumius told them that, since they disapproved of his conduct so greatly, they had better bind him hand and foot, and send him back to the Samnites.

Strange to relate, the senate took advantage of this generosity, and Posthumius, bound like a criminal, was led to the Samnite camp. When the enemy heard that, although bound so securely, he had come there only by his own free will, they were struck with admiration for his courage. They knew that the Romans were going to continue the war, but they refused to take vengeance on Posthumius, and sent him home unharmed.

We are told that another Roman, also, showed great patriotism during the wars against the Samnites. This was the consul Decius, who overheard the augurs say that the victory would belong to the army whose commander was generous enough to sacrifice his life for his country's sake.

As soon as the signal was given, therefore, Decius rushed into the very midst of the foe. Without attempting to strike a single blow, or to defend himself, he sank beneath the blows of the enemy.

The soldiers, fired by the example of Decius, fought so bravely for their country's sake that they soon won a brilliant victory, and could return home in triumph.

Many wars were thus waged by the Romans during the years which followed the visit of the Gauls. They took many towns, gradually extended the boundaries of the Roman state, and, after waging three wars against their principal foes, the Samnites, they hoped to have peace.

The Samnites, who had thrice risen up against the Romans, were a powerful people, and were very brave. They lived in the country east and southeast of Latium, and one of their principal towns was Herculaneum, about which you will hear some very interesting things a little later.


Front Matter

The First Settlers
Escape from the Burning City
The Clever Trick
The Boards Are Eaten
The Wolf and the Twins
Romulus Builds Rome
The Maidens Carried Off
Union of Sabines and Romans
Death of Romulus
Strange Signs of the Romans
The Quarrel with Alba
The Horatii and Curiatii
Tarquin and the Eagle
The Roman Youths
The King Outwitted
The Murder of Tarquin
The Ungrateful Children
The Mysterious Books
Tarquin's Poppies
The Oracle of Delphi
The Death of Lucretia
The Stern Father
A Roman Triumph
A Roman Triumph (Cont.)
Defense of the Bridge
The Burnt Hand
The Twin Gods
The Wrongs of the Poor
Fable of the Stomach
The Story of Coriolanus
The Farmer Hero
The New Laws
Death of Virginia
Plans of a Traitor
A School-Teacher Punished
Invasion of the Gauls
The Sacred Geese
Two Heroes of Rome
Disaster at Caudine Forks
Pyrrhus and His Elephants
The Elephants Routed
Ancient Ships
Regulus and the Snake
Hannibal Crosses the Alps
The Romans Defeated
The Inventor Archimedes
The Roman Conquests
Destruction of Carthage
Roman Amusements
The Jewels of Cornelia
Death of Tiberius Gracchus
Caius Gracchus
Jugurtha, King of Numidia
The Barbarians
The Social War
The Flight of Marius
The Proscription Lists
Sertorius and His Doe
Revolt of the Slaves
Pompey's Conquests
Conspiracy of Catiline
Caesar's Conquests
Crossing of the Rubicon
Battle of Pharsalia
The Death of Caesar
The Second Triumvirate
The Vision of Brutus
Antony and Cleopatra
The Poisonous Snake
The Augustan Age
Death of Augustus
Varus Avenged
Death of Germanicus
Tiberius Smothered
The Wild Caligula
Wicked Wives of Claudius
Nero's First Crimes
Christians Persecuted
Nero's Cruelty
Two Short Reigns
The Siege of Jerusalem
The Buried Cities
The Terrible Banquet
The Emperor's Tablets
The Good Trajan
Trajan's Column
The Great Wall
Hadrian's Death
Antoninus Pius
The Model Pagan
Another Cruel Emperor
An Unnatural Son
The Senate of Women
The Gigantic Emperor
Invasion of the Goths
Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra
A Prophecy Fulfulled
First Christian Emperor
Roman Empire Divided
An Emperor's Penance
Sieges of Rome
End of the Western Empire