Famous Men of Rome - John Haaren



In the mountains east of Latium there lived a rather wild people called Æquians, who were very often at war with Rome. After some time of peace and good conduct these people suddenly began to plunder the rich farms of the Romans. This was about four hundred and fifty years before the birth of Christ and not long after the Veientians had destroyed the Fabian family. As soon as the Roman Senate heard what the Æquians were doing it sent messengers to the Æquian king to complain of the wrong. The messengers found the king in his camp, sitting near a huge oak tree. But when they spoke to him he answered them rudely, saying:

"I am too busy now with other matters. Go tell your message to the oak yonder!"

This made the messengers very angry, and one of the them said:

"We shall tell it to the oak, but we shall tell it also to the gods and call them to witness how you have broken the peace! And they shall be on our side when we come to punish you and your people for the crimes you have committed against us."

And it is said that the angry messengers did tell the message to the oak, and to all the other trees around, and boldly shouted that war would come from this insult to Rome.

Then the messengers returned to Rome and told the Senate how they had been insulted by the Æquian king. The Senate at once declared war against the Æquians and ordered the Consul Minucius to lead an army against them.

The Romans easily won a few battles at first. Then the Æquians began to retreat as if they did not mean to fight any more. The Romans followed swiftly, until they were drawn into a narrow valley on each side of which were high, rocky hills. It was a trap, and the Romans knew it before they had marched very far from the entrance.

The Æquian king then closed up the valley with strong barricades and placed his troops at the entrance and along the hills, so that the Romans could not get out.

In the valley there was very little grass for the horses and no food for the men, so that if the Romans were not soon relieved both they and their horses would die of hunger.


But luckily for the Romans a few of their horsemen had managed to get out of the valley before the Æquians closed it. These horsemen rode as fast as they could to Rome and told the Senate how Minucius and his soldiers were placed. What was to be done? No one seemed to know at first, but after a good deal of discussion, a senator said:

"Let us make Lucius Quinctius dictator. He is the only man who can save us."

The Senate agreed to this, and so Lucius Quinctius was chosen dictator. A dictator had more power than the Senate or the consuls. All his commands had to be obeyed just as if he were a king. But there was not a dictator always. A dictator was appointed only when there was some great danger, and he held office only for six months.

Lucius Quinctius belonged to a noble family. He was a great soldier and had won many battles for his country. He had such beautiful, long, curly hair that the people called him Cincinnatus,   which means curly-haired, and this is the name by which he is known in history.

At the time Cincinnatus was appointed dictator he lived on a small farm outside of Rome. He worked on the farm himself, and when the messengers from the Senate came to tell him that he had been chosen dictator they found him ploughing in one of his fields. He left his plough where it stood and hastened to Rome, where he was welcomed by all the people.

The first thing he did was to raise a new army. He gave orders that every man of suitable age should buckle on his sword and be ready in a few hours to march to the help of Minucius and his soldiers.

Before evening Cincinnatus and his army marched out of the city for the Alban Hills, where the Romans were shut up. They reached the place in the early morning and formed in a line all around the hills. The Æquians then found themselves hemmed in on every side between two Roman armies—the army of Minucius and the army of Cincinnatus. They fought as well as they could, but they were quickly overpowered, so that they could do nothing but cry to the Roman commander to spare their lives.

Cincinnatus spared their lives, but he made them pass under the yoke. The yoke was formed of two spears, fixed upright in the ground, and a third fastened across near the top from one to the other. Cincinnatus made the Æquians lay down their arms and pass out, every man of them, under the yoke of spears. They had to bend their heads as they did so, for the spears were not very long, and the one on the top was only a few feet from the ground. The yoke was set up between two lines of Roman soldiers, and as the Æquians passed under it the Romans jeered at them and taunted them.

Having to pass under the yoke was regarded as the greatest disgrace that could happen to soldiers. Many much preferred to suffer death. The practice has given to our language the word subjugate, meaning to subdue or conquer, from the Latin words sub, under, and jugum, a yoke.

Passing under a Yoke


When the soldiers of Consul Minucius came out of the valley they shouted for joy and crowded around Cincinnatus, thanking him as their deliverer and protector. "Let us give Cincinnatus a golden crown!" they cried; but the great general only smiled, shook his head, and gave the order for the homeward march.

Great was the rejoicing in Rome when the news of the victory was received. The Senate ordered that there should be a general holiday and a grand parade through the city. And so the victorious army marched into Rome amid the shouts and cheers of the people.

Cincinnatus rode in a splendid chariot drawn by six handsome black horses. He wore the dress of dictator of Rome, and on his head was a laurel wreath. Behind his chariot the Æquian king and his chiefs walked, looking very humble and forlorn. Following them were slaves laden with the arms and other valuable things taken from the enemy's camp. With bugles and trumpets gayly sounding, the parade went through the city. The chariot of Cincinnatus was followed by a throng of people cheering and crying, "Hail to the Dictator! Hail to the Conqueror!" Flowers were showered upon him and thrown before his chariot wheels.

A few days afterward Cincinnatus gave up the office of dictator and went back to his little farm.