He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to obtain. — Mark Twain

Story of the Romans - Helene Guerber

The Sacred Geese

Rome was all destroyed except the Capitol, where the little army was intrenched behind the massive walls which had been built with such care by Tarquin. This fortress, as you may remember, was situated on the top of the Capitoline hill, so that the Gauls could not easily become masters of it.

Whenever they tried to scale the steep mountain side, the Romans showered arrows and stones down upon them; and day after day the Gauls remained in their camp at the foot of the Capitol, hoping to starve the Romans into surrender.

The garrison understood that this was the plan which Brennus had made; so, to convince him that it was vain, they threw loaves of bread down into his camp. When the chief of the Gauls saw these strange missiles, he began to doubt the success of his plan; for if the Romans could use bread as stones, they were still far from the point of dying of hunger.

One night, however, a sentinel in the Gallic camp saw a barefooted Roman soldier climbing noiselessly down the steep rock on which the Capitol was built. The man had gone to carry a message to the fugitives from Rome, asking them to come to the army's relief.

The sentinel at once reported to Brennus what he had seen; and the Gallic chief resolved to make a bold attempt to surprise the Romans on the next night. While the weary garrison were sound asleep, the Gauls silently scaled the rocks, following the course which the Roman soldier had taken in coming down.

The barbarians were just climbing over the wall, when an accidental clanking of their armor awoke the sacred geese which were kept in the Capitol. The startled fowls began cackling so loudly that they roused a Roman soldier named Manlius.

As this man glanced toward the wall, he saw the tall form of a barbarian looming up against the sky. To spring forward, and hurl the Gaul down headlong, was but the work of a moment. The man, in falling, struck his companions, whose foothold was anything but secure, and all the Gauls rolled to the foot of the rock, as Manlius gave the alarm.

All hope of surprising the Capitol was now at an end, so Brennus offered to leave Rome, on condition that the senate would give him one thousand pounds of gold. This was a heavy price to pay for a ruined city, but the Romans agreed to give it.

When they brought the precious metal and began to weigh it, they found that the barbarians had placed false weights in the scales, so as to obtain more gold than they were entitled to receive. The Romans complained; but Brennus, instead of listening to them, flung his sword also into the scales, saying, scornfully, "Woe to the vanquished!"

While the Romans stood there hesitating, not knowing what to do, the exiled Camillus entered the city with an army, and came to their aid. When he heard the insolent demands of the barbarians, he bade the senators take back the gold, and proudly exclaimed:

"Rome ransoms itself with the sword, and not with gold!"

Next, he challenged Brennus to fight, and a battle soon took place in which the Gauls were defeated with great slaughter, and driven out of the country. As soon as they were fairly gone, the fugitive Romans began to return, and many were the laments when they beheld their ruined homes.

Instead of wasting time in useless tears, however, they soon set to work to rebuild their dwellings from the stones found in the ruins; and as each citizen placed his house wherever he pleased, the result was very irregular and unsightly.

Manlius, the soldier who saved the Capitol from the barbarians, was rewarded by being given the surname of Capitolinus, and a house and pension. He was so proud of these honors, however, that he soon wanted to become king of Rome. He formed a plot to obtain possession of the city, but this was discovered before it could be carried out.

Manlius Capitolinus was therefore accused of treachery, and arrested. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. Like any other traitor, he was flung from the top of the Tarpeian Rock, and thus he perished at the foot of the mountain which he had once saved from the assault of the Gauls.


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