The Great Events by Famous Historians/Volume 2/Brennus Burns Rome

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B.C. 388


(Julius Caesar is the first writer who gives us an authentic and enlightening account of the Gauls, whom he divided into three groups. The Gauls were the chief branch of the great original stock of Celts. They were a nomadic people, and from their home in Western Europe they spread to Britain, invaded Spain, and swarmed over the Alps into Italy, and it is from the latter event that this tall, fair, and fighting nation first came into the region of history.

Before the Gauls had come within the borders of Italy, Camillus, the Dictator, had dealt the death-blow to the Etruscan League through his capture and destruction of its stronghold, Veii. But at the very summit of his triumph he lost the grace of his countrymen by demanding a tenth of their spoil taken at Veii, and which he claimed to have vowed to Apollo. It was popularly considered a ruse to increase his private fortune. Furthermore, a counter-claim was brought against him for appropriating bronze gates, which in Rome at that time were nothing less than actual money—bronze being the medium of currency. Camillus went into exile in consequence of the accusation. His parting prayer was that his country might feel his need and call him back. His desire was fulfilled, for soon after "the Gaul was at the gates" under the leadership of the haughty Brennus, who had come upon the Romans at a most opportune moment. This event of the overthrow of the Romans on the Alia has been the occasion for the well-known tale of the cackling of the geese in the temple of Juno, which alarmed the garrison. The episode also gave rise to the saying of the conqueror, Brennus, who, when reproached by his antagonists with using false weights, cast his sword into the scale, crying, "Woe to the conquered!")

At that time no Roman foresaw the calamity which was threatening the empire. Rome had become great, because the country which she had conquered was weak through its oligarchical institutions; the subjects of the other states gladly joined the Romans, because under them their lot was more favorable, and probably because they were kindred nations. But matters went with the Romans as they did with Basilius, who subdued the Armenians when they were threatened by the Turks, and who soon after attacked the whole Greek empire and took away far more than had been gained before.

The expedition of the Gauls into Italy must be regarded as a migration, and not as an invasion for the purpose of conquest: as for the historical account of it, we must adhere to Polybius and Diodorus, who place it shortly before the taking of Rome by the Gauls. We can attach no importance to the statement of Livy that they had come into Italy as early as the time of Tarquinius Priscus, having been driven from their country by a famine. It undoubtedly arose from the fact that some Greek writer, perhaps Timaeus, connected this migration with the settlement of the Phocians at Massilia. It is possible that Livy even here made use of Dionysius; and that the latter followed Timaeus; for as Livy made use of Dionysius in the eighth book, why not also in the fifth? He himself knew very little of Greek history;[1] but Justin's account is here evidently opposed to Livy.

Trogus Pompeius was born in the neighborhood of Massilia, and in writing his forty-third book he obviously made use of native chronicles, for from no other source could he derive the account of the decreta honorifica of the Romans to the Massilians for the friendship which the latter had shown to the Romans during the Gallic war; and from the same source must he have obtained his information about the maritime wars of Massilia against Carthage. Trogus knows nothing of the story that the Gauls assisted the Phocians on their arrival; but according to him, they met with a kind reception among the Ligurians, who continued to inhabit those parts for a long time after. Even the story of the lucumo who is said to have invited the Gauls is opposed to him, and if it were referred to Clusium alone it would be absurd. Polybius places the passage of the Gauls across the Alps about ten or twenty years before the taking of Rome; and Diodorus describes them as advancing toward Rome by an uninterrupted march. It is further stated that Melpum in the country of the Insubrians was destroyed on the same day as Veii: without admitting this coincidence, we have no reason to doubt that the statement is substantially true; and it is made by Cornelius Nepos, who, as a native of Gallia Transpadana, might possess accurate information, and whose chronological accounts were highly esteemed by the Romans.

There was no other passage for the Gauls except either across the Little St. Bernard or across the Simplon; it is not probable that they took the former road, because their country extended only as far as the Ticinus, and if they had come across the Little St. Bernard, they would naturally have occupied also all the country between that mountain and the Ticinus. The Salassi may indeed have been a Gallic people, but it is by no means certain; moreover, between them and the Gauls who had come across the Alps the Laevi also lived; and there can be no doubt that at that time Ligurians still continued to dwell on the Ticinus.

Melpum must have been situated in the district of Milan. The latter place has an uncommonly happy situation: often as it has been destroyed, it has always been restored, so that it is not impossible that Melpum may have been situated on the very spot afterward occupied by Milan. The Gallic migration undoubtedly passed by like a torrent with irresistible rapidity: how then is it possible to suppose that Melpum resisted them for two centuries, or that they conquered it and yet did not disturb the Etruscans for two hundred years? It would be absurd to believe it, merely to save an uncritical expression of Livy. According to the common chronology, the Triballi, who in the time of Herodotus inhabited the plains, and were afterward expelled by the Gauls, appeared in Thrace twelve years after the taking of Rome—according to a more correct chronology it was only nine years after that event. It was the same movement assuredly which led the Gauls to the countries through which the middle course of the Danube extends, and to the Po; and could the people who came in a few days from Clusium to Rome, and afterward appeared in Apulia, have been sitting quiet in a corner of Italy for two hundred years? If they had remained there because they had not the power to advance, they would have been cut to pieces by the Etruscans. We must therefore look upon it as an established fact, that the migration took place at the late period mentioned by Polybius and Diodorus.

These Gauls were partly Celts, and partly (indeed principally) Belgae or Cymri, as may be perceived from the circumstance that their king, as well as the one who appeared before Delphi, is called Brennus. Brenin, according to Adelung, in his Mithridates, signifies in the language of Wales and Lower Brittany a king. But what caused this whole emigration? The statement of Livy, that the Gauls were compelled by famine to leave their country, is quite in keeping with the nature of all traditions about migrations, such as we find them in Saxo Grammaticus, in Paul Warnefried from the sagas of the Swedes, in the Tyrrhenian traditions of Lydia, and others. However, in the case of a people like the Celts, every specific statement of this kind, in which even the names of their leaders are mentioned, is of no more value than the traditions of other barbarous nations which were unacquainted with the art of writing. It is indeed, well known that the Celts in writing used the Greek alphabet, but they probably employed it only in the transactions of daily life; for we know that they were not allowed to commit their ancient songs to writing.

During the Gallic migration we are again made aware how little we know of the history of Italy generally: our knowledge is limited to Rome, so that we are in the same predicament there, as if of all the historical authorities of the whole German empire we had nothing but the annals of a single imperial city. According to Livy's account, it would seem as if the only object of the Gauls had been to march to Rome; and yet this immigration changed the whole aspect of Italy. After the Gauls had once crossed the Apennines, there was no further obstacle to prevent their marching to the south of Italy by any road they pleased; and it is in fact mentioned that they did proceed farther south. The Umbrians still inhabited the country on the lower Po, in the modern Romagna and Urbino, parts of which were occupied by Liburnians. Polybius says that many people there became tributary to the Gauls, and that this was the case with the Umbrians is quite certain.

The first historical appearance of the Gauls is at Clusium, whither a noble Clusine is said to have invited them for the purpose of taking vengeance on his native city. Whether this account is true, however, must remain undecided, and if there is any truth in it, it is more probable that the offended Clusine went across the Apennines and fetched his avengers. Clusium has not been mentioned since the time of Porsena; the fact of the Clusines soliciting the aid of Rome is a proof how little that northern city of Etruria was concerned about the fate of the southern towns, and makes us even suspect that it was allied with Rome; however, the danger was so great that all jealousy must have been suppressed. The natural road for the Gauls would have been along the Adriatic, then through the country of Umbrians who were tributary to them and already quite broken down, and thence through the Romagna across the Apennines.

But the Apennines which separate Tuscany from the Romagna are very difficult to cross, especially for sumpter-horses; as therefore the Gauls could not enter Etruria on that side—which the Etruscans had intentionally allowed to grow wild—and as they had been convinced of this in an unsuccessful attempt, they crossed the Apennines in the neighborhood of Clusium, and appeared before that city. Clusium was the great bulwark of the valley of the Tiber; and if it were taken, the roads along the Tiber and the Arno would be open, and the Gauls might reach Arezzo from the rear: the Romans therefore looked upon the fate of Clusium as decisive of their own. The Clusines sued for a treaty with the mighty city of Rome, and the Romans were wise enough readily to accept the offer: they sent ambassadors to the Gauls, ordering them to withdraw. According to a very probable account, the Gauls had demanded of the Clusines a division of their territory as the condition of peace, and not, as was customary with the Romans, as a tax upon a people already subdued: if this is correct, the Romans sent the embassy confiding in their own strength. But the Gauls scorned the ambassadors, and the latter, allowing themselves to be carried away by their warlike disposition, joined the Etruscans in a fight against the Gauls. This was probably only an insignificant and isolated engagement. Such is the account of Livy, who goes on to say that the Gauls, as soon as they perceived this violation in the law of nations, gave the signal for a retreat, and, having called upon the gods to avenge the wrong, marched against Rome.

This is evidently a mere fiction, for a barbarous nation like the Gauls cannot possibly have had such ideas, nor was there in reality any violation of the law of nations, as the Romans stood in no kind of connection with the Gauls. But it was a natural feeling with the Romans to look upon the fall of their city as the consequence of a nefas which no human power could resist. Roman vanity also is at work here, inasmuch as the Roman ambassadors are said to have so distinguished themselves that they were recognized by the barbarians among the hosts of Etruscans. Now, according to another tradition directly opposed to these statements, the Gauls sent to Rome to demand the surrender of those ambassadors: as the senate was hesitating and left the decision to the people, the latter not only rejected the demand, but appointed the same ambassadors to the office of military tribunes, whereupon the Gauls with all their forces at once marched toward Rome.

Livy here again speaks of the populus as the people to whom the senate left the decision: this must have been the patricians only, for they alone had the right to decide upon the fate of the members of their own order. It is not fair to accuse the Romans on that occasion of dishonesty; but this account assuredly originated with later writers, who transferred to barbarians the right belonging to a nation standing in a legal relation to another. The statement that the three ambassadors, all of whom were Fabii, were appointed military tribunes, is not even the usual one, for there is another in Diodorus, who must here have used Roman authorities written in Greek, that is, Fabius; since he calls the Cærites [Greek: Kairioi] and not [Greek: Agullaioi]. He speaks of a single ambassador, who being a son of a military tribune fought against the Gauls. This is at least a sign how uncertain history yet is. The battle on the Alia was fought on the 16th of July; the military tribunes entered upon their office on the first of that month; and the distance between Clusium and Rome is only three good days' marches. It is impossible to restore the true history, but we can discern what is fabulous from what is really historical.

An innumerable host of Gauls now marched from Clusium toward Rome. For a long time the Gauls were most formidable to the Romans, as well as to all other nations with whom they came in contact, even as far east as the Ukraine; as to Rome, we see this as late as the Cisalpine war of the year A.U. 527. Polybius and Diodorus are our best guides in seeking for information about the manners of the Gauls, for in the time of Caesar they had already become changed. In the description of their persons we partly recognize the modern Gael, or the inhabitants of the Highlands of Scotland: huge bodies, blue eyes, bristly hair; even their dress and armor are those of the Highlanders, for they wore the checked and variegated tartans; their arms consisted of the broad, unpointed battle-sword, the same weapon as the claymore among the Highlanders. They had a vast number of horns, which were used in the Highlands for many centuries after, and threw themselves upon the enemy in immense irregular masses with terrible fury, those standing behind impelling those stationed in front, whereby they became irresistible by the tactics of those times.

The Romans ought to have used against them their phalanx and doubled it, until they were accustomed to this enemy and were enabled by their greater skill to repel them. If the Romans had been able to withstand their first shock, the Gauls would have easily been thrown into disorder, and put to flight. The Gauls who were subsequently conquered by the Romans were the descendants of such as were born in Italy, and had lost much of their courage and strength. The Goths under Vitiges, not fifty years after the immigration of Theodoric into Italy, were cowards, and unable to resist the twenty thousand men of Belisarius: showing how easily barbarians degenerate in such climates.

The Gauls, moreover, were terrible on account of their inhuman cruelty, for, wherever they settled, the original towns and their inhabitants completely disappeared from the face of the earth. In their own country they had the feudal system and a priestly government: the Druids were their only rulers, who avenged the oppressed people on the lords, but in their turn became tyrants: all the people were in the condition of serfs, a proof that the Gauls, in their own country too, were the conquerors who had subdued an earlier population. We always find mention of the wealth of the Gauls in gold, and yet France has no rivers that carry gold-sand, and the Pyrenees were then no longer in their possession: the gold must therefore have been obtained by barter. Much may be exaggeration; and the fact of some noble individuals wearing gold chains was probably transferred by ancient poets to the whole nation, since popular poetry takes great liberty, especially in such embellishments.

Pliny states that previous to the Gallic calamity the census amounted to one hundred and fifty thousand persons, which probably refers only to men entitled to vote in the assemblies, and does not comprise women, children, slaves, and strangers. If this be correct, the number of citizens was enormous; but it must not be supposed to include the inhabitants of the city only, the population of which was doubtless much smaller. The statement of Diodorus that all men were called to arms to resist the Gauls, and that the number amounted to forty thousand, is by no means improbable: according to the testimony of Polybius, Latins and Hernicans also were enlisted. Another account makes the Romans take the field against the Gauls with twenty-four thousand men, that is, with four field legions and four civic legions: the field legions were formed only of plebeians, and served, according to the order of the classes, probably in maniples; the civic legions contained all those who belonged neither to the patricians nor to the plebeians, that is, all the aerarii, proletarii, freedmen, and artisans who had never before faced an enemy. They were certainly not armed with the pilum, nor drawn up in maniples; but used pikes and were employed in phalanxes.

Now as for the field legions, each consisted half of Latins and half of Romans, there being in each maniple one century of Roman and one of Latins. There were at that time four legions, and as a legion, including the reserve troops, contained three thousand men, the total is twelve thousand; now the account which mentions twenty-four thousand men must have presumed that there were four field legions and four irregular civic ones. There would accordingly have been no more than six thousand plebeians, and, even if the legions were all made up of Romans, only twelve thousand; if in addition to these we take twelve thousand irregular troops and sixteen thousand allies, the number of forty thousand would be completed. In this case, the population of Rome would not have been as large as that of Athens in the Peloponnesian war, and this is indeed very probable. The cavalry is not included in this calculation: but forty thousand must be taken as the maximum of the whole army. There seems to be no exaggeration in this statement, and the battle on the Alia, speaking generally, is an historical event.

It is surprising that the Romans did not appoint a dictator to command in the battle; it cannot be said indeed that they regarded this war as an ordinary one, for in that case they would not have raised so great a force, but they cannot have comprehended the danger in all its greatness. New swarms continued to come across the Alps; the Senones also now appeared to seek habitations for themselves; they, like the Germans in after-times, demanded land, as they found the Insubrians, Boians, and others already settled; the latter had taken up their abode in Umbria, but only until they should find a more extensive and suitable territory.

The Romans committed the great mistake of fighting with their hurriedly collected troops a battle against an enemy who had hitherto been invincible. The hills along which the right wing is said to have been drawn up are no longer discernible, and they were probably nothing but little mounds of earth: at any rate it was senseless to draw up a long line against the immense mass of enemies. The Gauls, on the other hand, were enabled without any difficulty to turn off to the left. They proceeded to a higher part of the river, where it was more easily fordable, and with great prudence threw themselves with all their force upon the right wing, consisting of the civic legions. The latter at first resisted, but not long; and when they fled, the whole remaining line, which until then seems to have been useless and inactive, was seized with a panic.

Terror preceded the Gauls as they laid waste everything on their way, and this paralyzed the courage of the Romans, instead of rousing them to a desperate resistance. The Romans therefore were defeated on the Alia in the most inglorious manner. The Gauls had taken them in their rear, and cut off their return to Rome. A portion fled toward the Tiber, where some effected a retreat across the river, and others were drowned; another part escaped into a forest. The loss of life must have been prodigious, and it is inconceivable how Livy could have attached so much importance to the mere disgrace. If the Roman army had not been almost annihilated, it would not have been necessary to give up the defence of the city, as was done, for the city was left undefended and deserted by all. Many fled to Veii instead of returning to Rome: only a few, who had escaped along the high road, entered the city by the Colline gate.

Rome was exhausted, her power shattered, her legions defenceless, and her warlike allies had partly been beaten in the same battle, and were partly awaiting the fearful enemy in their own countries. At Rome it was believed that the whole army was destroyed, for nothing was known of those who had reached Veii. In the city itself there were only old men, women, and children, so that there was no possibility of defending it. It is, however, inconceivable that the gates should have been left open, and that the Gauls, from fear of a stratagem, should have encamped for several days outside the gates. A more probable account is that the gates were shut and barricaded. We may form a vivid conception of the condition of Rome after this battle, by comparing it with that of Moscow before the conflagration: the people were convinced that a long defence was impossible, since there was probably a want of provisions.

Livy gives a false notion of the evacuation of the city, as if the defenceless citizens had remained immovable in their consternation, and only a few had been received into the Capitol. The determination, in fact, was to defend the Capitol, and the tribune Sulpicius had taken refuge there, with about one thousand men. There was on the Capitol an ancient well which still exists, and without which the garrison would soon have perished. This well remained unknown to all antiquaries, till I discovered it by means of information gathered from the people who live there. Its depth in the rock descends to the level of the Tiber, but the water is now not fit to drink. The Capitol was a rock which had been hewn steep, and thereby made inaccessible, but a clivus, closed by gates both below and above, led up from the Forum and the Sacred Way. The rock, indeed, was not so steep as in later times, as is clear from the account of the attempt to storm it; but the Capitol was nevertheless very strong. Whether some few remained in the city, as at Moscow, who in their stupefaction did not consider what kind of enemy they had before them, cannot be decided. The narrative is very beautiful, and reminds us of the taking of the Acropolis of Athens by the Persians, where, likewise, the old men allowed themselves to be cut down by the Persians.

Notwithstanding the improbability of the matter, I am inclined to believe that a number of aged patricians—their number may not be exactly historical—sat down in the Forum, in their official robes, on their curule chairs, and that the chief pontiff devoted them to death. Such devotions are a well-known Roman custom. It is certainly not improbable that the Gauls were amazed when they found the city deserted, and only these old men sitting immovable, that they took them for statues or supernatural visions, and did nothing to them, until one of them struck a Gaul who touched him, whereupon all were slaughtered. To commit suicide was repugnant to the customs of the Romans, who were guided in many things by feelings more correct and more resembling our own, than many other ancient nations. The old men, indeed, had given up the hope of their country being saved; but the Capitol might be maintained, and the survivors preferred dying in the attempt of self-defence to taking refuge at Veii, where after all they could not have maintained themselves in the end.

The sacred treasures were removed to Caere, and the hope of the Romans now was that the barbarians would be tired of the long siege. Provisions for a time had been conveyed to the Capitol, where a couple of thousand men may have been assembled, and where all buildings, temples, as well as public and private houses, were used as habitations. The Gauls made fearful havoc at Rome, even more fearful than the Spaniards and Germans did in the year 1527. Soldiers plunder, and when they find no human beings they engage in the work of destruction; and fires break out, as at Moscow, without the existence of any intention to cause a conflagration. The whole city was changed into a heap of ashes, with the exception of a few houses on the Palatine, which were occupied by the leaders of the Gauls. It is astonishing to find, nevertheless, that a few monuments of the preceding period, such as statues, situated at some distance from the Capitol, are mentioned as having been preserved; but we must remember that travertino is tolerably fireproof. That Rome was burned down is certain; and when it was rebuilt, not even the ancient streets were restored.

The Gauls were now encamped in the city. At first they attempted to storm the clivus, but were repelled with great loss, which is surprising, since we know that at an earlier time the Romans succeeded in storming it against Appius Herdonius. Afterward they discovered the footsteps of a messenger who had been sent from Veii, in order that the State might be taken care of in due form; for the Romans in the Capitol were patricians, and represented the curies and the Government, whereas those assembled at Veii represented the tribes, but had no leaders. The latter had resolved to recall Camillus, and raise him to the dictatorship. For this reason Pontius Cominius had been sent to Rome to obtain the sanction of the senate and the curies. This was quite in the spirit of the ancient times. If the curies had interdicted him aqua et igni, they alone could recall him, if they previously obtained a resolution of the senate authorizing them to do so; but if he had gone into voluntary exile, and had given up his Roman franchise by becoming a citizen of Ardea before a sentence had been passed upon him by the centuries, it was again in the power of the curies alone, he being a patrician, to recall him as a citizen; and otherwise he could not have become dictator, nor could he have regarded himself as such.

It was the time of the dog-days when the Gauls came to Rome, and as the summer at Rome is always pestilential, especially during the two months and a half before the first of September, the unavoidable consequence must have been, as Livy relates, that the barbarians, bivouacking on the ruins of the city in the open air, were attacked by disease and carried off, like the army of Frederick Barbarossa when encamped before the castle of St. Angelo. The whole army of the Gauls, however, was not in the city, but only as many as were necessary to blockade the garrison of the Capitol; the rest were scattered far and wide over the face of the country, and were ravaging all the unprotected places and isolated farms in Latium; many an ancient town, which is no longer mentioned after this time, may have been destroyed by the Gauls. None but fortified places like Ostia, which could obtain supplies by sea, made a successful resistance, for the Gauls were unacquainted with the art of besieging.

The Ardeatans, whose territory was likewise invaded by the Gauls, opposed them, under the command of Camillus; the Etruscans would seem to have endeavored to avail themselves of the opportunity of recovering Veii, for we are told that the Romans at Veii, commanded by Caedicius, gained a battle against them, and that, encouraged by this success, they began to entertain a hope of regaining Rome, since by this victory they got possession of arms.

A Roman of the name of Fabius Dorso is said to have offered up, in broad daylight, a gentilician sacrifice on the Quirinal; and the astonished Gauls are said to have done him no harm—a tradition which is not improbable.

The provisions in the Capitol were exhausted, but the Gauls themselves being seized with epidemic diseases became tired of their conquests, and were not inclined to settle in a country so far away from their own home. They once more attempted to take the Capitol by storm, having observed that the messenger from Veii had ascended the rock, and come down again near the Porta Carmentalis, below Araceli. The ancient rock is now covered with rubbish, and no longer discernible. The besieged did not think of a storm on that side; it may be that formerly there had in that part been a wall, which had become decayed; and in southern countries an abundant vegetation always springs up between the stones, and if this had actually been neglected it cannot have been very difficult to climb up. The Gauls had already gained a firm footing, as there was no wall at the top—the rock which they stormed was not the Tarpeian, but the Arx—when Manlius, who lived there, was roused by the screaming of the geese: he came to the spot and thrust down those who were climbing up.

This rendered the Gauls still more inclined to commence negotiations; they were, moreover, called back by an inroad of some Alpine tribes into Lombardy, where they had left their wives and children: they offered to depart if the Romans would pay them a ransom of a thousand pounds of gold, to be taken no doubt from the Capitoline treasury. Considering the value of money at that time, the sum was enormous: in the time of Theodosius, indeed, there were people at Rome who possessed several hundredweight of gold, nay, one is said to have had an annual revenue of two hundredweight. There can be no doubt that the Gauls received the sum they demanded, and quitted Rome; that in weighing it they scornfully imposed upon the Romans is very possible, and the vae victis too may be true: we ourselves have seen similar things before the year 1813.

But there can be no truth in the story told by Livy, that while they were disputing Camillus appeared with an army and stopped the proceedings, because the military tribunes had had no right to conclude the treaty. He is there said to have driven the Gauls from the city, and afterward in a twofold battle to have so completely defeated them that not even a messenger escaped. Beaufort, inspired by Gallic patriotism, has most excellently shown what a complete fable this story is. To attempt to disguise the misfortunes of our forefathers by substituting fables in their place is mere childishness. This charge does not affect Livy, indeed, for he copied only what others had written before him; but he did not allow his own conviction to appear as he generally does, for he treats the whole of the early history with a sort of irony, half believing, half disbelieving it.

According to another account in Diodorus, the Gauls besieged a town allied with Rome—its name seems to be mis-written, but is probably intended for Vulsinii—and the Romans relieved it and took back from the Gauls the gold which they had paid them; but this siege of Vulsinii is quite unknown to Livy. A third account in Strabo and also mentioned by Diodorus does not allow this honor to the Romans, but states that the Caerites pursued the Gauls, attacked them in the country of the Sabines, and completely annihilated them. In like manner the Greeks endeavored to disguise the fact that the Gauls took the money from the Delphic treasury, and that in a quite historical period (Olymp. 120). The true explanation is undoubtedly the one found in Polybius, that the Gauls were induced to quit Rome by an insurrection of the Alpine tribes, after it had experienced the extremity of humiliation.

Whatever the enemy had taken as booty was consumed; they had not made any conquests, but only indulged in plunder and devastation; they had been staying at Rome for seven or eight months, and could have gained nothing further than the Capitol and the very money which they received without taking that fortress. The account of Polybius throws light upon many discrepant statements, and all of them, not even excepting Livy's fairy-tale-like embellishment, may be explained by means of it. The Romans attempted to prove that the Gauls had actually been defeated, by relating that the gold afterward taken from the Gauls and buried in the Capitol was double the sum paid to them as a ransom; but it is much more probable that the Romans paid their ransom out of the treasury of the temple of the Capitoline Jupiter and of other temples, and that afterward double this sum was made up by a tax; which agrees with a statement in the history of Manlius, that a tax was imposed for the purpose of raising the Gallic ransom: surely this could not have been done at the time of the siege, when the Romans were scattered in all parts of the country, but must have taken place afterward for the purpose of restoring the money that had been taken. Now if at a later time there actually existed in the Capitol such a quantity of gold, it is clear that it was believed to be a proof that the Gauls had not kept the gold which was paid to them.

Even as late as the time of Cicero and Caesar, the spot was shown at Rome in the Carinae, where the Gauls had heaped up and burned their dead; it was called busta Gallica, which was corrupted in the Middle Ages into Protogallo, whence the church which was built there was in reality called S. Andreas in bustis Gallicis, or, according to the later Latinity, in busta Gallica—busta Gallica not being declined.

The Gauls departed with their gold, which the Romans had been compelled to pay on account of the famine that prevailed in the Capitol, which was so great that they pulled the leather from their shields and cooked it, just as was done during the siege of Jerusalem. The Gauls were certainly not destroyed. Justin has preserved the remarkable statement that the same Gauls who sacked Rome went to Apulia, and there offered for money their assistance to the elder Dionysius of Syracuse. From this important statement it is at any rate clear that they traversed all Italy, and then probably returned along the shore of the Adriatic: their devastations extended over many parts of Italy, and there is no doubt that the Æquians received their death-blow at that time, for henceforth we hear no more of the hostilities of the Æquians against Rome. Praeneste, on the other hand, which must formerly have been subject to the Æquians, now appears as an independent town. The Æquians, who inhabited small and easily destructible towns, must have been annihilated during the progress of the Gauls.

There is nothing so strange in the history of Livy as his view of the consequences of the Gallic calamity; he must have conceived it as a transitory storm by which Rome was humbled but not broken. The army, according to him, was only scattered, and the Romans appear afterward just as they had been before, as if the preceding period had only been an evil dream, and as if there had been nothing to do but to rebuild the city. But assuredly the devastation must have been tremendous throughout the Roman territory: for eight months the barbarians had been ravaging the country, every trace of cultivation, every farmer's house, all the temples and public buildings were destroyed; the walls of the city had been purposely pulled down, a large number of its inhabitants were led into slavery, the rest were living in great misery at Veii; and what they had saved scarcely sufficed to buy their bread. In this condition they returned to Rome. Camillus as dictator is called a second Romulus, and to him is due the glory of not having despaired in those distressing circumstances.


  1. Comp. Hist. of Rome, vol. iii. n. 485.