The Gauls or Celts were in ancient times spread over the greater part of Western Europe. They inhabited Gaul and the British isles, and had in the time of the Tarquins crossed the Alps and taken possession of Northern Italy. But they now spread farther south, crossed the Apennines, and laid waste with fire and sword the provinces of Central Italy. Rome fell before them, and was reduced to ashes; but the details of its capture are clearly legendary. The common story runs as follows:
The Senones, a tribe of the Gauls, led by their chief Brennus, laid siege to Clusium, the powerful Etruscan city over which Lars Porsena once reigned. Such reputation had Rome gained through her conquests in Etruria, that Clusium applied to her for aid (B.C. 391). The Senate sent three embassadors, sons of the chief pontiff, Fabius Ambustus, to warn the barbarians not to touch an ally of Rome. But the Gauls treated their message with scorn; and the embassadors, forgetting their sacred character, fought in the Clusine ranks. One of the Fabii slew with his own hands a Gallic chieftain, and was recognized while stripping off his armor. Brennus therefore sent to Rome to demand satisfaction. The Roman people not only refused to give it, but elected the three Fabii as Military Tribunes for the following year. On hearing of this insult, the Gauls broke up the siege of Clusium, and hastened southward toward Rome. All the inhabitants fled before them into the towns. They pursued their course without injuring any one, crying to the guards upon the walls of the towns they passed, "Our way lies for Rome" On the news of their approach the Roman army hurried out of the city, and on the 16th of July (B.C. 300), a day ever after regarded as disastrous, they met the Gauls on the Allia, a small river which flows into the Tiber, on its left bank, about eleven miles from Rome. Brennus attacked the Romans on the flank, and threw them into confusion. A general panic seized them: they turned and fled. Some escaped across the Tiber to Veii, and a few reached Rome, but the greater number were slain by the Gauls.
The loss at the Allia had been so great that enough men were not left to guard the walls of the city. It was therefore resolved that those in the vigor of their age should withdraw to the Capitol, taking with them all the provisions in the city; that the priests and Vestal Virgins should convey the objects of religious reverence to Cæré; and that the rest of the population should disperse among the neighboring towns. But the aged senators, who had been Consuls or Censors, seeing that their lives were no longer of any service to the state, sat down in the forum on their curule thrones awaiting death. When the Gauls entered the city they found it desolate and deathlike. They marched on, without seeing a human being till they came to the forum. Here they beheld the aged senators sitting immovable, like beings of another world. For some time they gazed in awe at this strange sight, till at length one of the Gauls ventured to go up to M. Papirius and stroke his white beard. The old man struck him on the head with his ivory sceptre; whereupon the barbarian slew him, and all the rest were massacred. The Gauls now began plundering the city; fires broke out in several quarters; and with the exception of a few houses on the Palatine, which the chiefs kept for their own residence, the whole city was burnt to the ground.
The Capitol was the next object of attack. There was only one steep way leading up to it, and all the assaults of the besiegers were easily repelled. They thereupon turned the siege into a blockade, and for seven months were encamped amid the ruins of Rome. But their numbers were soon thinned by disease, for they had entered Rome in the most unhealthy time of the year, when fevers have always prevailed. The failure of provisions obliged them to ravage the neighboring countries, the people of which began to combine for defense against the marauders. Meantime the scattered Romans took courage. They collected at Veii, and here resolved to recall Camillus from banishment, and appoint him Dictator. In order to obtain the consent of the Senate, a daring youth, named Pontius Cominius, offered to swim across the Tiber and climb the Capitol. He reached the top unperceived by the enemy, obtained the approval of the Senate to the appointment of Camillus, and returned safely to Veii. But next day some Gauls observed the traces of his steps, and in the dead of night they climbed up the same way. The foremost of them had already reached the top, unnoticed by the sentinels and the dogs, when the cries of some geese roused M. Manlius from sleep. These geese were sacred to Juno, and had been spared notwithstanding the gnawings of hunger; and the Romans were now rewarded for their piety. M. Manlius thrust down the Gaul who had clambered up, and gave the alarm. The Capitol was thus saved; and down to latest times M. Manlius was honored as one of the greatest heroes of the early Republic.
Still no help came, and the Gauls remained before the Capitol. The Romans suffered from famine, and at length agreed to pay the barbarians 1000 pounds of gold, on condition of their quitting the city and its territory. Brennus brought false weights, and, when the Romans exclaimed against this injustice, the Gallic chief threw his sword also into the scale, crying, "Woe to the vanquished!" But at this very moment Camillus marched into the forum, ordered the gold to be taken away, and drove the Gauls out of the city. Another battle was fought on the road to Gabii, in which the Gauls were completely destroyed, and their leader Brennus taken prisoner. This tale, however, is an invention of Roman vanity. We learn from other sources that the Gauls retreated because their settlements in Northern Italy were attacked by the Venetians; and there can be little doubt that their departure was hastened by a present of Roman gold. The Gauls frequently repeated their inroads, and for many years to come were the constant dread of the Romans.
When the Romans returned to the heap of ruins which was once their city their hearts sank within them. The people shrank from the expense and toil of rebuilding their houses, and loudly demanded that they should all remove to Veii, where the private dwellings and public buildings were still standing. But Camillus and the Patricians strongly urged them not to abandon the homes of their fathers, and they were at length persuaded to remain. The state granted bricks, and stones were fetched from Veii. Within a year the city rose from its ashes; but the streets were narrow and crooked; the houses were frequently built over the sewers; and the city continued to show, down to the great fire of Nero, evident traces of the haste and irregularity with which it had been rebuilt. Rome was now deprived of almost all her subjects, and her territory was reduced to nearly its original limits. The Latins and Hernicans dissolved the League with the Romans, and wars broke out on every side. In these difficulties and dangers Camillus was the soul of the Republic. Again and again he led the Roman legions against their enemies, and always with success. The rapidity with which the Romans recovered their power after so terrible a disaster would seem unaccountable but for the fact that the other nations had also suffered greatly from the inroads of the Gauls, who still continued to ravage Central Italy. Two of their invasions of the Roman territory are commemorated by celebrated legends, which may be related here, though they belong to a later period.
In B.C. 361 the Gauls and Romans were encamped on either bank of the Arno. A gigantic Gaul stepped forth from the ranks and insultingly challenged a Roman knight. T. Manlius, a Roman youth, obtained permission from his general to accept the challenge, slew the giant, and took from the dead body the golden chain (torques) which the barbarian wore around his neck. His comrades gave him the surname of Torquatus, which he handed down to his descendants.
In B.C. 349 another distinguished Roman family earned its surname from a single combat with a Gaul. Here again a Gallic warrior of gigantic size challenged any one of the Romans to single combat. His challenge was accepted by M. Valerius, upon whose helmet a raven perched; and as they fought, the bird flew into the face of the Gaul, striking at him with its beak and flapping his wings. Thus Valerius slew the Gaul, and was called in consequence "Corvus," or the "Raven"
It is now necessary to revert to the internal history of Rome. Great suffering and discontent prevailed. Returning to ruined homes and ravaged lands, the poor citizens had been obliged to borrow money to rebuild their houses and cultivate their farms. The law of debtor and creditor at Rome, as we have already seen, was very severe, and many unfortunate debtors were carried away to bondage. Under these circumstances, M. Manlius, the preserver of the Capitol, came forward as the patron of the poor. This distinguished man had been bitterly disappointed in his claims to honor and gratitude. While Camillus, his personal enemy, who had shared in none of the dangers of the siege, was repeatedly raised to the highest honors of the state, he, who had saved the Capitol, was left to languish in a private station. Neglected by his own order, Manlius turned to the Plebeians. One day he recognized in the forum a soldier who had served with him in the field, and whom a creditor was carrying away in fetters. Manlius paid his debt upon the spot, and swore that, as long as he had a single pound, he would not allow any Roman to be imprisoned for debt. He sold a large part of his property, and applied the proceeds to the liberation of his fellow-citizens from bondage. Supported now by the Plebeians, he came forward as the accuser of his own order, and charged them with appropriating to their own use the gold which had been raised to ransom the city from the Gauls. The Patricians in return accused him, as they had accused Sp. Cassius, of aspiring to the tyranny. When he was brought to trial before the Comitia of the Centuries in the Campus Martius, he proudly showed the spoils of thirty warriors whom he had slain, the forty military distinctions which he had won in battle, and the innumerable scars upon his breast, and then turning toward the Capitol he prayed the immortal gods to remember the man who had saved their temples from destruction. After such an appeal, his condemnation was impossible, and his enemies therefore contrived to break up the assembly. Shortly afterward he was arraigned on the same charges before the Comitia of the Curies in the Peteline Grove. Here he was at once condemned, and was hurled from the Tarpeian Rock. His house, which was on the Capitol, was razed to the ground (B.C. 384).
The death of Manlius, however, was only a temporary check to the Plebeian cause. A few years afterward the contest came to a crisis. In B.C. 376 C. Licinius Stolo and his kinsman L. Sextius, being Tribunes of the Plebs, determined to give the Plebeians an equal share in the political power, to deprive the Patricians of the exclusive use of the public land, and to remove the present distress of the Plebeians. For this purpose they brought forward three laws, which are celebrated in history under the name of THE LICINIAN ROGATIONS. These were:
I. That in future Consuls, and not Military Tribunes, should be appointed, and that one of the two Consuls must be a Plebeian.
II. That no citizen should possess more than 500 jugera of the public land, nor should feed upon the public pastures more than 100 head of large and 500 of small cattle, under penalty of a heavy fine.
III. That the interest already paid for borrowed money should be deducted from the principal, and that the remainder should be repaid in three yearly instalments.
These great reforms naturally excited the most violent opposition, and the Patricians induced some of the Plebeians to put their veto upon the measures of their colleagues. But Licinius and Sextius were not to be baffled in this way, and they exercised their veto by preventing the Comitia of the Centuries from electing any magistrates for the next year. Hence no Consuls, Military Tribunes, Censors, or Quæstors could be appointed; and the Tribunes of the Plebs and the Ædiles, who were elected by the Comitia of the Tribes, were the only magistrates in the state. For five years did this state of things continue. C. Licinius and L. Sextius were re-elected annually, and prevented the Comitia of the Centuries from appointing any magistrates. At the end of this time they allowed Military Tribunes to be chosen in consequence of a war with the Latins; but so far were they from yielding any of their demands, that to their former Rogations they now added another: That the care of the Sibylline books, instead of being intrusted to two men (duumviri), both Patricians, should be given to ten men (decemviri), half of whom should be Plebeians.
Five years more did the struggle last; but the firmness of the Tribunes at length prevailed. In B.C. 367 the Licinian Rogations were passed, and L. Sextius was elected the first Plebeian Consul for the next year. But the Patricians made one last effort to evade the law. By the Roman constitution, the Consuls, after being elected by the Comitia Centuriata, received the Imperium, or sovereign power, from the Comitia Curiata. The Patricians thus had it in their power to nullify the election of the Centuries by refusing the Imperium. This they did when L. Sextius was elected Consul; and they made Camillus, the great champion of their order, Dictator, to support them in their new struggle. But the old hero saw that it was too late, and determined to bring about a reconciliation between the two orders. A compromise was effected. The Imperium was conferred upon L. Sextius; but the judicial duties were taken away from the Consuls, and given to a new magistrate called Prætor. Camillus vowed to the goddess Concord a temple for his success.
The long struggle between the Patricians and Plebeians was thus brought to a virtual close. The Patricians still clung obstinately to the exclusive privileges which they still possessed; but when the Plebeians had once obtained a share in the Consulship, it was evident that their participation in the other offices of the state could not be much longer delayed. We may therefore anticipate the course of events by narrating in this place that the first Plebeian Dictator was C. Marcius Rutilus in B.C. 356; that the same man was the first Plebeian Censor five years afterward (B.C. 351); that the Prætorship was thrown open to the Plebeians in B.C. 336; and that the Lex Ogulnia in B.C. 300, which increased the number of the Pontiffs from four to eight, and that of the Augurs from four to nine, also enacted that four of the Pontiffs and five of the Augurs should be taken from the Plebeians.
About thirty years after the Licinian Rogations, another important reform, which abridged still farther the privileges of the Patricians, was effected by the PUBLILIAN LAWS, proposed by the Dictator Q. Publilius Philo in B.C. 339. These were:
I. That the Resolutions of the Plebs should be binding on all the Quirites, thus giving to the Plebiscita passed at the Comitia of the Tribes the same force as the Laws passed at the Comitia of the Centuries.
II. That all laws passed at the Comitia of the Centuries should receive previously the sanction of the Curies; so that the Curies were now deprived of all power over the Centuries.
III. That one of the Censors must be a Plebeian.
The first of these laws seems to be little move than a re-enactment of one of the Valerian and Horatian laws, passed after the expulsion of the Decemvirs; but it is probable that the latter had never been really carried into effect. Even the Publilian Law upon this subject seems to have been evaded; and it was accordingly enacted again by the Dictator Q. Hortensius in B.C. 286. In this year the last Secession of the Plebeians took place, and the LEX HORTENSIA is always mentioned as the law which gave to Plebiscita passed at the Comitia of the Tribes the full power of laws binding upon the whole nation. From this time we hear of no more civil dissensions till the times of the Gracchi, a hundred and fifty years afterward, and the Lex Hortensia may therefore be regarded as the termination of the long struggle between the two orders.