Story of the Romans - Helene Guerber

The Ungrateful Children

Although Servius Tullius was the son of a slave, and had won the crown by a trick, he proved an excellent king. As he had once been poor himself, he was very thoughtful for the lower classes of Rome. He not only helped the poor to pay their debts, but also gave orders that some of the public land should be divided among the plebeians, so that they could support themselves by farming.

Once a slave himself, he also took pity upon the hard life of the Roman slaves, and made laws in their favor. He even said that they should be set free if they served their masters faithfully for a certain length of time, or if they paid a sufficient sum of money.

Slaves who had thus gained their liberty were called freedmen. Although they often stayed in their masters' employ, they were no longer treated as slaves, but were paid for all they did. Little by little the number of these freedmen grew greater, and slavery was no longer considered so terrible, since there was a chance of some time being free.

By order of Servius Tullius, all the Romans came together once in every five years on the Field of Mars. Here they were carefully counted, and every man was called upon to give an exact account of his family and of his property. In this way, the king knew just how many patricians, plebeians, freedmen, and slaves were to be found in Rome; and the process of thus counting the people was called "taking a census."

Before the assembled Romans were allowed to leave the Field of Mars and return to their homes, the priests held a religious ceremony to purify the whole state. This was called a Lustrum. As five years elapsed from one such ceremony to another, the Romans sometimes counted time by lustrums, just as we use the word "decade" instead of ten years.

Servius would probably have made many more reforms in Rome, had he not been forced to lay down the crown with his life, as you will soon see. Although he had no sons to succeed him, he had two grown-up daughters, of very different dispositions. One of them was very gentle and good, while the other was wicked and had a violent temper.

Servius was anxious to settle both these daughters comfortably, so he gave them in marriage to the sons of Tarquin. These young men were also very different in character. One was so cruel and proud that he came to be called Tarquin the Haughty, or Tarquinius Superbus, in order to distinguish him from his father, Tarquin the Elder. To this prince Servius gave his gentle daughter.

The wicked daughter, Tullia, was then provided with a good-natured husband; but she despised him on account of his kindly and gentle ways. Tullia and Tarquinius Superbus were so alike in character and tastes that they soon fell in love with each other and wished to marry.

As they were both married already, it was very wicked for them even to think of such a thing; but they were so bad that they agreed to murder their gentle partners, and then to become husband and wife. This plan was quickly carried out; and, as one wicked deed leads to another, they were no sooner married than they began to plot a second crime.

Both Tarquinius Superbus and Tullia, his wife, were very ambitious, and anxious to occupy the throne; and they soon arranged to murder Servius Tullius, so that they might reign in his stead.

According to the plan which they had made, Tarquin drove off to the senate one day; and there, walking boldly up to Servius Tullius, he publicly claimed the crown. He said that he had the best right to it because he was the true heir of Tarquin the Elder.

Servius paid no heed to this insolent demand, and Tarquin, seeing that his father-in-law did not move, suddenly caught him by the feet, dragged him from the throne, and flung him down the stairs into the street.

This terrible fall stunned the king, and for a while every one thought that he was killed. His friends were about to carry him away, when he slowly opened his eyes. Tarquin, seeing that Servius was not dead, now gave orders to his servants to kill the king, and loudly proclaimed that any one who ventured to interfere should die too.

Frightened by this terrible threat, none of the Romans dared to move, and Servius was killed before their eyes. They did not even venture to touch the bleeding and lifeless body of their murdered king, but left it lying in the middle of the street. Then they obediently followed the cruel Tarquin into the senate house, where he took his place on the vacant throne, as the seventh king of Rome.


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