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In this same year, being the three hundred and sixty and fourth from the building of the City, came ambassadors from Clusium asking help of the Romans against the Gauls. Now some men say that these Gauls crossed the Alps and took to themselves the lands which the Etrurians had before possessed, being drawn by the delightsomeness of the things grown therein, especially of wine, a pleasure before unknown to them. And they say also that wine was brought into Gaul by one Aruns of Clusium for the sake of avenging himself upon a certain Lucumo who had taken from him his wife, this Lucumo being a prince in his country, whom there was no hope that he could punish unless he should get help in some such way from foreigners. However this may be, it is certain that the Gauls crossed the Alps before this time by many years, and that they fought many battles with the Etrurians. First, in the days of King Tarquinius the Elder, one Ambigatus that was king of the Celts, who inhabited the third part of Gaul, sent his sister's sons to seek out for themselves new kingdoms, of whom one was directed by the oracle to go towards Germany, and the other by a far more pleasant way to Italy. These then having come to the Alps wondered how they might pass them, the top of them seeming to be joined to the sky. And while they doubted there came tidings how certain others, strangers like to themselves, and that had come seeking lands wherein to dwell, were attacked by the natives of the Salyi. (These strangers were the inhabitants of Phocaea, that had fled from their town when it was besieged by Cyrus king of Persia.) Having helped the Phocæans to build a city, they themselves climbed over the Alps, and, descending on the other side, put to flight the Etrurians near the river Ticinus, and formed a city called Mediolanum.
After these came many companies of Gauls by the same way into Italy, those that were now fighting against Clusium being the nations of the Senones. And the men of Clusium, seeing how great was the multitude of this people, and what manner of men they were, being unlike to any that they had seen before, and of very great stature, and also what arms they carried, were in great fear. Knowing also that the armies of the Etrurians had often been put to flight by them, they determined to send ambassadors to Rome, asking help from the Senate, though, indeed, they had no claim either for friendship or alliance' sake, save only that they had not given succour to their kinsmen of Veii. Help the Senate was not willing to give; but they sent three ambassadors, brothers and sons of Fabius Ambustus, who should say to the Gauls, "In the name of the Senate and Commons of Rome we bid you do no harm to them who are allies and friends of the Roman people, and from whom ye have suffered no wrong. For them, if occasion demand, we must support even by force of arms. Nevertheless it will please us well to be friends rather than enemies of the Gauls, of whom we have now for the first time knowledge."
The message, indeed, was sufficiently gentle, but it was entrusted to men of too fierce a temper, that were, indeed, like to Gauls rather than to Romans. When the Fabii had set forth the commission in an assembly of the Gauls, there was made to them this answer: "We have not, indeed, before heard the name of the Romans, but we believe you to be brave men, seeing that the men of Clusium have sought to you for help. Seeing that ye would stand between us and your allies, and would deal by persuasion rather than by force of arms, we accept your conditions; only let the men of Clusium, seeing that they possess more land than they need, give up that which is over and above to the Gauls. On these terms only will we give peace. Let them answer now in your presence. And if they will not give the land, let them fight with us also in your presence, that ye may tell your countrymen how far we excel all other men in valour." "Nay," said the Romans, "by what right do ye ask land from them that possess it, and threaten war to them that refuse? And what concern have ye, being Gauls, with the men of Etruria?" To this the Gauls made reply in haughty words: "Our right we carry on the points of our swords, for to the brave all things belong."
Thus there was great anger stirred up on both sides; and they made ready for battle. And now (for so the destiny of the city of Rome would have it) the ambassadors, setting the law of nations at nought, went into the battle. Nor was this hidden from the Gauls, for not only were the three conspicuous for strength and courage, but one of them, Quintus by name, spurring out before the line, slew a chieftain of the Gauls that had fallen upon the standards of the Etrurians, running him through with his spear. And the Gauls knew him for one of the ambassadors, while he spoiled the body of the arms. Straightway the report of this thing was spread through the whole army, and the signal was given to retreat, for they thought no more of the Clusines, but would have vengeance on the Romans. Some indeed would have had the host march straightway; but the elders prevailed, advising that ambassadors should be sent complaining of the wrong done, and demanding that the Fabii should be given up to them for punishment. So ambassadors were sent, and when these had set forth the matter, the Senate was much displeased with the Fabii, and confessed that the Gauls demanded only that which was within their right. Nevertheless, because the Fabii were men of high degree, favour prevailed against justice. But lest they should be blamed if any misfortune followed, the Senators referred the decision of the matter to an assembly of the people; in which assembly favour and wealth availed so much that the Fabii were not only let go unpunished, but were even chosen with three others to be tribunes of the soldiers for the year to come. When the ambassadors of the Gauls knew what had been done, they were greatly wroth, and returned to their countrymen, having first proclaimed war against Rome. And now, though so great a peril was at hand, none at Rome thought or cared. And indeed it is always thus that they that are doomed to perish have their eyes blinded against that which is coming upon them. For though the Romans had been wont to use all means of help against enemies near at hand, and to appoint a dictator in times of need, yet now, having to deal with an enemy of whom they had had before no experience or knowledge, they neglected all these things. They whose rashness had brought about the war, having the charge of the thing committed to them, used no more diligence in the levying of an army than if they were dealing with one of the nations round about, but made light of the matter. In the meanwhile the Gauls, when they heard that the very men that had set at nought the law of nations had been promoted to great honour, were filled with fury, and forthwith snatching up their standards, marched towards Rome with all speed. And when the inhabitants of the country were terrified at their coming, the dwellers in the cities running to arms, and the countryfolk leaving their homes, the Gauls cried out to them that they were bound for Rome. Nevertheless the report of their coming went before them, messengers from Clusium and from other states hastening to Rome, from whose reports, as also from the great speed of the enemy, there arose great fear among the Romans. These levied an army with all haste and marched forth, meeting the Gauls at the river Allia, where, flowing down from the mountains of Crustumeria in a very deep channel, it is joined to the Tiber, about eleven miles from Rome. There they found the whole country, both in front and on either side, occupied by great multitudes of Gauls, and in an uproar with the loud singing and shouting with which this nation is wont to terrify its enemies.
And now the tribunes of the soldiers, having neither pitched a camp nor made a rampart to be a defence if they should be driven back, nor taken any account of omens, nor offered sacrifice (for they were careless alike of gods and of men), drew up their army in array, extending their line lest they should be surrounded by the multitude of the enemy. But even then, though they so weakened the middle part that their ranks scarce held together, they could not make their front equal to the front of the enemy. There was a little hill on the right hand, and this they occupied with a reserve. Against this reserve Brennus, the king of the Gauls, made his first attack; for seeing that the Romans were few in number, he judged that they must excel in skill, and that the hill had been thus occupied to the end that the Gauls might be assailed from behind while they were fighting with the legions in front. He judged, therefore, that if he could thrust down them that were on this hill his army might easily deal with the Romans on the plain, seeing that they far exceeded them in number. So true is it that on this day the barbarians were superior not in fortune only but also in judgment and skill. As for the Romans, neither the captains nor the soldiers were in anywise worthy of their name. Their souls were wholly possessed with terror, so that, forgetting everything, they fled to Veii, that had belonged to their enemies, and this though the Tiber was in their way, rather than to Rome, to their wives and children. The reserves were defended for a while by the ground whereon they stood, but the rest of the army turned their backs forthwith and fled so soon as they heard the battle shout of the Gauls. For they sought not to come to blows with them, nor even set up a shout in answer; but without making trial of the enemy, nor so much as daring to look at him, fled with all haste. In the battle, indeed, none were slain; but there was great slaughter among the rereward when these were crowded together in such haste and confusion that they hindered one another. Many also were slain on the bank of the Tiber, whither the whole of the left wing of the host had fled, first throwing away their arms; and many also were swallowed up by the river, either not knowing how to swim or from lack of strength, being overburdened by the weight of their coats of mail and other armour. Nevertheless the greater part of the men escaped safe to Veii; but none went from this place to the help of Rome, nor did they so much as send tidings of the battle. As for them that had been set on the right wing, these all went to Rome; and when they were come thither, delayed not even to shut the gate of the city, but fled straightway into the citadel. This battle was fought on the eighteenth day of the month Quintilis; nor was it ever lawful in Rome thereafter to do any public business on that day.
The Gauls were beyond measure astonished that they had vanquished their enemy so easily and in so short a space of time. At the first they stood still in fear, not knowing what had taken place; afterwards they began to fear some stratagem; at last they buried the dead bodies of the slain, and piled together the arms in heaps according to their custom. And now, not perceiving in any place the sign of an enemy, they began to march forward, and came to Rome a little before sunset. But when the horsemen whom they had sent on before brought back tidings that the gates were open, with none to defend them and no soldiers upon the walls, they were not less astonished than before, and came to a halt, fearing lest, in the darkness of the night and in a place whereof they knew nothing, they might fall into some peril. They took up a station, therefore, between Rome and the river Anio, sending scouts about the walls and the gates of the city who should learn what the enemy purposed to do in the great extremity whereunto they had been brought.