Famous Men of Rome - John Haaren

Manlius Torquatus

Marcus Manlius, who commanded the Roman army at the battle of Allia and who so well defended the Capitol against the Gauls, belonged to a family known as the Manlii. This family gave many brave generals to the Republic. One of them was named Titus Manlius.

Some years after the siege of the Capitol Titus had a remarkable fight with a huge Gaul. The Gauls had come back to make war again upon Rome. Their army was encamped near a bridge on the Anio, a small river a few miles from the city, and the Roman army sent to oppose them was on the other side of the river, waiting for a good opportunity for battle.

Every day a Gaul of gigantic size, who wore round his neck a collar or chain of twisted gold threads, used to come to the bridge to insult the Romans. He would call them cowards who were afraid to fight. One day he dared them to send some one out to fight with him. Manlius at once accepted the challenge, and the two immediately took their places in an open space within sight of both armies.

The Gaul was so tall and strong that the Roman appeared like a boy beside him, and everybody thought the big warrior would have an easy victory. But Titus was very quick in his movements. For a few moments after the fight began he skillfully dodged the furious blows of his opponent. Then he suddenly ran close up to him, sprang under his great shield and plunged his sword deep into the Gaul's body.

The Gaul fell to the ground dead. Then Titus took the golden collar from the dead man's neck and put it on his own. So afterwards he was called Manlius Torquatus, from the word torques, which is Latin for a twisted collar.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Rome by John Haaren


Manlius Torquatus became consul, but he was not much liked by the people, for he was a very stern and severe ruler. During a war which the Romans had with the Latins and some tribes of South Italy, Manlius was in command of the Roman army. He marched to meet the enemy, who were assembled in force at the foot of Mount Vesuvius.

While the two armies were encamped opposite to each other, Manlius ordered that none of his men should fight with any of the Latins until the word for battle was given. Soon after a Latin officer met young Manlius, the consul's son, riding in front of the lines with a troop of his comrades. They entered into conversation about the coming battle, and each boasted of the valor of the soldiers on his own side. At last the Latin officer challenged the young Roman to single combat.

"Wilt thou," he cried, "measure thy strength with mine? It will then be seen how much the Latin horseman excels the Roman."

Manlius accepted the challenge, and in the fight which immediately took place he was the victor. He killed the Latin and, according to the custom of those times, stripped him of his armor and carried it to the Roman camp. Then he went to tell his father what he had done.

"Father," said he, "I present you this armor, which I have taken from the enemy. I hope you will accept it as a proof that I am ready and able to do my duty as a Roman soldier."

Torquatus looked at his son sadly and then said:

"My son, you say you are willing to do your duty as a soldier. But the first duty of a soldier is obedience. This duty you have not performed, for you have just now disobeyed me, your commander. You have fought with the enemy without receiving orders to do so. But you shall not escape punishment because you are my son."

Then turning to his lictors he said:

"Go, bind him to a stake and cut off his head."

At this cruel order loud cries of horror came from the soldiers. Young Manlius threw himself at his father's feet and begged for mercy. But the stern consul turned away from him and ordered the lictors to perform their duty. So the brave young Manlius was led to a stake and bound, and with one stroke of the lictor's axe his head was cut from his body.

Soon afterwards there was a battle between the two armies, and the Romans gained a great victory. But the war continued for some time longer. It ended, however, in the defeat of the Latins. Manlius took possession of one of their towns—the town of Antium, on the Mediterranean coast—and compelled the inhabitants to give up their warships.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Rome by John Haaren


War vessels and galleys in those times had sharp prows made for the purpose of running into and breaking through the sides of other vessels. The prow was a beam, with pointed irons fastened to it, and a metal figure resembling the beak or head of a bird or other animal. This beak was called a rostrum.

naval battle


When the Romans captured the warships of Antium they broke off the beaks and carried them to Rome. There they fastened them as ornaments to the platform in the Forum, from which orators addressed the people. Hence the word rostrum came to mean a platform or pulpit for public speaking, and in this sense it is now used in our own language.