Famous Men of Rome - John Haaren

The Fabii

At about the time in which Coriolanus lived the family of the Fabii were very powerful in Rome. Among the leaders or chief men of the family at that period were Quintus Fabius, Marcus Fabius, and Cæso Fabius.

In those times the Roman nobles were very rich and powerful. They held all the high offices of government and cared very little about the welfare of the plebeians. Often they treated them very harshly.

The Fabii also treated the plebeians harshly. Once when Quintus Fabius defeated the Volscians in a battle, he sold all the valuable things he took from the enemy and put the money into the public treasury. Such things were called spoils. The Roman generals usually divided the spoils among the soldiers. This was the way the soldiers were paid in those days. But Quintus Fabius would not divide the spoils. So the soldiers were very bitter against him.

But some time afterwards Marcus Fabius was elected consul, and once after a great battle with the Veientians, a people of Etruria, he took the entire care of the poor wounded soldiers and supplied all their wants at his own expense.

The next year his brother Cæso Fabius was consul, and he tried to get the Senate to divide among the poor citizens the lands that had been taken from the Veientians and other people whom the Romans had defeated in war. Often afterwards in the Senate the voice of a Fabius was heard speaking for justice to the plebeians. The common people, therefore, soon loved the whole family of the Fabii instead of hating them as they had before.

The nobles were very angry because the Fabii took the side of the plebeians, and they threatened to do all they could against them. Now the Fabii saw clearly that it would be useless to attempt to fight the nobles, because the nobles had a great deal of power and could do almost whatever they pleased in Rome. Therefore, the Fabii thought that it would be better for them to remove from the city and make a new home for themselves somewhere else. So they resolved to do this, and the place they selected was on the banks of the River Cremera, a few miles from Rome.

At this time the Romans were again at war with the Veientians. These people lived in Veii, a city on the Cremera River. One day, when there was a discussion in the Roman Senate about this war, Cæso Fabius said:

"As you know, we of the house of the Fabii are going to leave Rome and settle on the borders of the country of the Veientians. If you give us permission we will fight those people and try to defeat them for the honor of Rome and the glory of our house. We will ask neither money nor men from the Senate. We will carry on the war with our own men and at our own cost."

The senators were glad of the chance to get rid of the Fabii, and so they at once gave them the permission they asked for. The Fabii then began to make preparations for their departure. There were over three hundred men in addition to women-folk, children, and servants, and when all were ready they marched out of the city to their new home with Cæso Fabius at their head.

At first the Fabii had only a camp on the Cremera River, but afterwards they built a small city, with a strong fortress. Many good Roman soldiers came and joined them, and soon they had a fine army of earnest, devoted men.

The Veientians were soon conquered. Fabius and his brave men defeated them in several battles, and at last the Veientians made up their minds that they had got enough of war. Then they returned to their own city of Veii and remained quiet for a long time. But they declared that they would destroy the Fabii whenever they could get the chance.

Now it was an old custom of the Fabii to have a special worship of the gods on a certain day of every year. Early in the morning of that day all the men of the family would go in a body to a famous temple on a hill near Rome and have religious services for several hours. The men took no arms with them, as it was thought improper to go armed to religious worship.

The Veientians heard of this annual religious service of the Fabii and saw in it a chance for revenge. So they resolved to kill the Fabii the next time they went to the temple for their special service. When the day came the Fabii set out as usual. On their way to the temple they had to go over a road which had high, steep rocks on each side. There a large number of Veientian soldiers hid themselves, and when the unsuspecting Fabii came along a furious attack was made on them from front and rear. Without arms they could not fight very well. They made the best defence they could, but it was useless. They were all killed except one young man who escaped to Rome. Thus the cowardly Veientians had their revenge.