Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

How the Gauls Bent the Pride of Rome

One July day, long, long ago, under a blue and cloudless sky, a host of fierce, wild warriors passed through the sunny lands of Italy. These warriors were fair and tall. Their eyes were blue, their hair and moustaches long and rough. They were gaily dressed and gleamed with gold. The huge swords and shields which they carried were decorated with gold, gold collars were about their necks, gold bracelets upon their arms, and from their shoulders hung cloaks of brightly checked and striped cloth.

These warriors were the Gauls. As they passed onward the people of Italy fled before them in terror, and towns shut their gates against them. But the vast host swept on, leaving the people in peace. "We march to Rome!" they cried. "It is against the Romans alone that we fight; all others are our friends."

Onward the Gauls marched, seventy thousand strong But not until they were within twelve miles of Rome did they meet the Roman army. Here, where the little river Allier throws itself into the Tiber, a great battle took place.

Chanting a wild war song, the Gauls threw themselves upon the Romans, ere they had time to form in battle array. The Roman Legions could not stand against the onslaught. They broke, they fled. Many rushed into the river and found death there, many were slain before they reached it. A few fled even to Rome, carrying with them the news of defeat and slaughter, the news that the barbarians were at the very gates.

Wild despair seized the people of Rome. They knew not what to do. The city was filled with the sounds of mourning, with the weeping of children, with the cries of women wailing for their dead, while men rushed hither and thither in terror, forgetting even to shut the gates. Soon the streets were full of men, women, and children who fled, carrying with them what they held most precious, hiding in haste what they could not take.

But it was chiefly the old and the feeble who fled. Many of the young men remained and gathered together into the Capitol or citadel. This fortress rose above the town, and was very strong, for it was guarded on three sides by rocks which it was impossible to climb. It was surrounded, too, by high, thick walls. Here as much food as could be collected was hurriedly carried, and here the young men shut themselves in, resolving to die rather than yield.

Soon the city which had been noisy with sounds of grief and terror sank again into silence. The streets were empty and deserted, save for a few old men of noble birth who disdained to flee. These dressed themselves in their most splendid robes. Then each one, taking an ivory staff in his hand, seated himself in an ivory chair in the middle of his hall to await the coming of the enemy.

But not for three days after the battle did the Gauls arrive. For they had stayed to plunder the Roman baggage, to drink and carouse when, had they but known it, the gates of Rome stood open wide and all its treasures at their mercy. When at last they came, passed through these open gates, and into the deserted streets, the silence and the loneliness struck fear to the hearts of the rough soldiers of Gaul.

They clung together, moving warily, fearing a sudden attack from an unseen enemy. But presently gathering courage, they strayed through the open doors of the silent palaces. Here they saw, sitting motionless, old men with long white beards. Their faces were so noble, their dresses so splendid, that the Gauls were abashed.

Who and what were these silent figures? Were they gods? Were they statues? The wild barbarians dared not touch them. They dared hardly whisper in their presence. At length a Gaul more bold than his fellows put out his hand and stroked the long white beard of the silent Roman near him.

Instantly the old eyes flashed fire, the arm that had so often wielded a sword flew upward, and the Gaul fell to the ground stunned from the blow of the ivory staff.

It was a signal for slaughter. With wild cries the Gauls fell upon the old men, and slew them where they sat. Then through all the city they rushed, robbing and burning. But although the city with its palaces was at their mercy, the Gauls could not dislodge the Romans from their Capitol.

For seven months the siege went on, the Gauls hoping that hunger would force the Romans to yield. But instead of that, hunger and disease weakened the besiegers themselves. For in their first wild attack upon the city they had burned and destroyed much of the food it held. Now they had to suffer for their own ruthless waste. There was hunger, there was death both without and within the fortress.

At length one day a Gaul, passing beneath the rock upon which the Capitol was built, discovered a way by which one man at a time could climb to the top. He told his general of the discovery and led him to the spot.

That evening the general called his officers together. "We believed it impossible to climb the rock," he said, "but we have discovered a way. Where one man can go, an army can go."

Gladly and eagerly the Gauls set forth. The night was dark. One by o e they followed each other, clinging to roots and branches of trees and shrubs, finding a scanty foothold among rocks and boulders, till at length, after tremendous efforts, the foremost reached the top, arid crouched close beneath the bottom of the wall. Here the wall was low, for the rock was so steep that no attack from this side seemed possible. So secure, indeed, did the Romans feel that the sentinels were fast asleep. Even the lean, hungry dogs, which prowled about the citadel searching vainly for food, gave no warning.

Another and another man reached the top. The Gauls at length began to scale the wall, and lest the famished dogs should bark they threw some bread to them. The hungry creatures darted upon it and began to devour it greedily. All danger seemed over; the first by man was about to leap into the fortress, when suddenly a flock of geese, aroused by the smell of food, began to make a loud cackling and flapping of wings. These geese were held sacred to the goddess Juno, and so, although the garrison were starving, they had been spared.

[Illustration] from History of France by H. E. Marshall


Thus it was by a few geese that the Capitol was saved, for their loud cackling awakened the sleeping sentinels.

A soldier named Marcus Manlius was the first to awake. Seizing his weapons he called loudly to his comrades and rushed to meet the foe. With a blow of his spear he felled one Gaul to the ground, at the same time dashing his shield in the face of a second. Backward fell the Gaul upon his comrade behind, hurling him headlong down the cliff.

In a few minutes all the garrison were awake. With stones and spears they fell upon the besiegers, who, crashing one upon the other, were hurled pell mell down the cliff in utter rout. Of all those who had painfully struggled up the height but few regained the camp alive.

The Capitol was saved, but the siege went on; famine and pestilence still did their work both within and without the walls. In vain the besieged looked for help.

No help came to them. They ate everything, even to the leather of their boots, suffering untold agonies of hunger. Still they would not give in.

Then the Gauls, well knowing that the garrison were starving, offered terms of peace. The Romans proudly refused, and to prove that they were not starving threw their last loaves of bread down among the enemy.

But at length even Roman pride could hold out no longer, and peace was signed. The Romans agreed to give the Gauls a large sum of money, and to provide them with food on their journey homeward. They also gave up some of the Roman territory and promised when they rebuilt the city to leave one gate forever open, in memory of the victory of the Gauls.

All the gold in the city was gathered to pay the ransom, but when it came to be weighed, it seemed not enough. Then the Romans fiercely accused the Gauls of treachery. "The weights are false," they cried.

In answer, the leader of the Gauls drew his sword and flung it into the scale, crying, "Woe to the vanquished!" It was as if he meant to show how impossible it was to outweigh the strength of his sword.

Stung by the taunt, many of the Romans wished to break off the peace and fight once more, this time till death. But the wiser among them said: "Let be. The shame lies not in giving more than we promised; it lies in giving at all. Let us suffer, in silence, insults which we can neither avoid nor avenge."

So the price was paid, the siege ended, and the Gauls marched away, leaving the Romans to rebuild their ruined city.

This siege of Rome took place nearly four hundred years before Christ, and it is perhaps the greatest feat accomplished by these ancient Gauls. And I have told you the story because the Gauls were the ancient inhabitants of France; but in those days the Gauls were a race, not a nation. They belonged to a race of people who were found not only in the country we now call France, but in Italy, Spain, and Portugal. They were to be found eastward as far as the isles of Greece and Asia Minor, northward almost to the shores of the Baltic, westward to the isles of Britain and of Scotia.

They were a wild and warlike people. Like the ancient dwellers in Britain, they were Druids; they worshipped the sun and the stars and held the mistletoe to be sacred. Like the ancient Britons, many of them dyed their bodies blue. They wore their hair long. They were great talkers, loving to hear news and to listen to the tales of minstrels.

And for many a day after the taking of Rome there was told in the firelight the marvelous tale of how the Gauls had bent the pride of Rome.