Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 5.21-25

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[21] After Publius Valerius, surnamed Publicola, had been appointed to the same magistracy for the third time, and with him Marcus Horatius Pulvillus for the second time, the king of the Clusians in Tyrrhenia, named Lars and surnamed Porsenna, declared war on the Romans. He had promised the Tarquinii, who had fled to him, that he would either effect a reconciliation between them and the Romans upon the terms that they should return home and receive back the sovereignty, or that he would recover and restore to them the possessions of which they had been deprived; but upon sending ambassadors the year before to Rome with appeals mingled with threats, he had not only failed to obtain a reconciliation and return for the exiles, the senate basing its refusal on the curses and oaths by which they had bound themselves not to receive them, but he had also failed to recover their possessions, the persons to whom they had been distributed and allotted refusing to restore them. 2 And declaring that he was insulted by the Romans and treated outrageously in that he could obtain neither one of his demands, this arrogant man, whose mind was corrupted by both his wealth and possessions and the greatness of his power, thought he now had excellent grounds for overthrowing the power of the Romans, a thing which he had long since been desiring to do, and he accordingly declared war against them. 3 He was assisted in this war by Octavius Mamilius, the son-in‑law of Tarquinius, who was eager to display all possible zeal and marched out of Tusculum at the head of all the Camerini and Antemnates, who were of the Latin nation and had already openly revolted from the Romans; and from among the other Latin peoples that were not willing to make open war upon an allied and powerful state, unless for compelling reasons, he attracted numerous volunteers by his personal influence.

[22] The Roman consuls, being informed of these things, in the first place ordered all the husbandmen to remove their effects, cattle, and slaves from the fields to the neighbouring mountains, in the fastnesses of which they constructed forts sufficiently strong to protect those who flee thither. After that they strengthened with more effectual fortifications and guards the hill called Janiculum, which is a high mount near Rome lying on the other side of the river Tiber, taking care above all things that such an advantageous position should not serve the enemy as an outpost against the city; and they stored their supplies for the war there. Affairs inside the city they conducted in a more democratic manner, introducing many beneficent measures in behalf of the poor, lest these, induced by private advantage to betray the public interest, should go over to the tyrants. 2 Thus they had a vote passed that they should be exempt from all the public taxes which they had paid while the city was under the kings, and also from all contributions for military purposes and wars, looking upon it as a great advantage to the state merely to make use of their persons in defending the country. And with their army long since disciplined and ready for action, they were encamped in the field that lies before the city.

3 But King Porsena, advancing with his forces, took the Janiculum by storm, having terrified those who were guarding it, and placed there a garrison of Tyrrhenians. After this he proceeded against the city in expectation of reducing that also without any trouble; but when he came near the bridge and saw the Romans drawn up before the river, he prepared for battle, thinking to overwhelm them with his numbers, and led on his army with great contempt of the enemy. 4 His left wing was commanded by the sons of Tarquinius, Sextus and Titus, who had with them the Roman exiles together with the choicest troops from the city of Gabii and no small force of foreigners and mercenaries; the right was led by Mamilius, the son-in‑law of Tarquinius, and here were arrayed the Latins who had revolted from the Romans; King Porsena had taken his place in the centre of the battle-line. 5 On the side of the Romans the right wing was commanded by Spurius Larcius and Titus Herminius, who stood opposite to the Tarquinii; the left by Marcus Valerius, brother to Publicola, one of the consuls, and Titus Lucretius, the consul of the previous year, who were to engage Mamilius and the Latins; the centre of the line between the wings was commanded by the two consuls.

[23] When the armies engaged, they both fought bravely and sustained the shock for a considerable time, the Romans having the advantage of their enemies in both experience and endurance, and the Tyrrhenians and Latins being much superior in numbers. But when many had fallen on both sides, fear fell upon the Romans, and first upon those who occupied the left wing, when they saw their two commanders, Valerius and Lucretius, carried off the field wounded; and then those also who were stationed on the right wing, though they were already victorious over the forces commanded by the Tarquinii, were seized by the same terror upon seeing the flight of the others. 2 While they were all fleeing to the city and endeavouring to force their way in a body over a single bridge, the enemy made a strong attack upon them; and the city came very near being taken by storm, and would surely have fallen if the pursuers had entered it at the same time with those who fled. Those who checked the enemy's attack and saved the whole army were three in number, two of them older men, Spurius Larcius and Titus Herminius, who commanded the right wing, and one a younger man, Publius Horatius, who was called Cocles from an injury to his sight, and one of his eyes having been struck out in a battle, and was the fairest of men in philosophical appearance and the bravest in spirit. 3 This man was nephew to Marcus Horatius, one of the consuls, and traced his descent from Marcus Horatius, one of the triplets who conquered the Alban triplets when the two cities, having become involved in war over the leadership, agreed not to risk a decision with all their forces, but with three men on each side, as I have related in one of the earlier books. 4 These three men, then, all alone, with their backs to the bridge, barred the passage of the enemy for a considerable time and stood their ground, though pelted by many foes with all sorts of missiles and struck with swords in hand-to‑hand conflict, till the whole army had crossed the river.

[24] When they judged their own men to be safe, two of them, Herminius and Larcius, their defensive arms being now rendered useless by the continual blows they had received, began to retreat gradually. But Horatius alone, though not only the consuls but the rest of the citizens as well, solicitous above all things that such a man should be saved to his country and his parents, called to him from the city to retire, could not be prevailed upon, but remained where he had first taken his stand, and directed Herminius and Larcius to tell the consuls, as from him, to cut away the bridge in all haste at the end next the city (there was but one bridge in those days, which was built of wood and fastened together with the timbers alone, without iron, which the Romans preserve even to my day in the same condition), and to bid them, when the greater part of the bridge had been broken down and little of it remained, to give him notice of it by some signals or by shouting in a louder voice than usual; the rest, he said, would be his concern. 2 Having given these instructions to the two men, he stood upon the bridge itself, and when the enemy advanced upon him, he struck some of them with his sword and beat down others with his shield, repulsing all who attempted to rush upon the bridge. For the pursuers, looking upon him as a madman who was courting death, dared no longer come to grips with him. At the same time it was not easy for them even to come near him, since he had the river as a defence on the right and left, and in front of him a heap of arms and dead bodies. But standing massed at a distance, they hurled spears, javelins, and large stones at him, and those who were not supplied with these threw the swords and bucklers of the slain. 3 But he fought on, making use of their own weapons against them, and hurling these into the crowd, he was bound, as may well be supposed, to find some mark every time. Finally, when he was overwhelmed with missiles and had a great number of wounds in many parts of his body, and one in particular inflicted by a spear which, passing straight through one of his buttocks above the hip-joint, weakened him with the pain and impeded his steps, he heard those behind him shouting out that the greater part of the bridge was broken down. Thereupon he leaped with his arms into the river and swimming across the stream with great difficulty (for the current, being divided by the piles, ran swift and formed large eddies), he emerged upon the shore without having lost any of his arms in swimming.

[25] This deed gained him immortal glory. For the Romans immediately crowned him and conducted him into the city with songs, as one of the heroes; and all the inhabitants poured out of their houses, desiring to catch the last sight of him while he was yet alive, since they supposed he would soon succumb to his wounds. 2 And when he escaped death, the people erected a bronze statue of him fully armed in the principal part of the Forum and gave him as much of the public land as he himself could plough round in one day with a yoke of oxen. Besides these things bestowed upon him by the public, every person, both man and woman, at a time when they were all most sorely oppressed by a dreadful scarcity of provisions, gave him a day's ratio of food; and the number of people amounted to more than three hundred thousand in all. 3 Thus Horatius, who had shown so great valour upon that occasion, occupied as enviable a position as any Roman who ever lived, but he was rendered useless by his lameness for further services to the state; and because of this misfortune he obtained neither the consulship nor any military command either. 4 This was one man, therefore, who for the wonderful deed he performed for the Romans in that engagement deserves as great praise as any of those who have ever won renown for valour. And besides him there was also Gaius Mucius, surnamed Cordus, a man of distinguished ancestry, who also undertook to perform a great deed; but of him I shall speak a little later, after first relating in what dire circumstances the state found itself at that time.


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