The first dispute between Rome and Carthage was about their possession in the island of Sicily; and the war thus begun had lasted eight years, when it was resolved to send an army to fight the Carthaginians on their own shores. The army and fleet were placed under the command of the two consuls, Lucius Manlius and Marcus Attilius Regulus. On the way, there was a great sea-fight with the Carthaginian fleet, and this was the first naval battle that the Romans ever gained. It made the way to Africa free; but the soldiers, who had never been so far from home before, murmured, for they expected to meet not only human enemies, but monstrous serpents, lions, elephants, asses with horns, and dog-headed monsters, to have a scorching sun overhead, and a noisome marsh under their feet. However, Regulus sternly put a stop to all murmurs, by making it known that disaffection would be punished by death, and the army safely landed, and set up a fortification at Clypea, and plundered the whole country round. Orders here came from Rome that Manlius should return thither, but that Regulus should remain to carry on the war. This was a great grief to him. He was a very poor man, with nothing of his own but a little farm of seven acres, and the person whom he had employed to cultivate it had died in his absence; a hired laborer had undertaken the care of it, but had been unfaithful, and had run away with his tools and his cattle, so that he was afraid that, unless he could return quickly, his wife and children would starve. However, the Senate engaged to provide for his family, and he remained, making expeditions into the country round, in the course of which the Romans really did fall in with a serpent, as monstrous as their imagination had depicted. It was said to be 120 feet long, and dwelt upon the banks of the river Bagrada, where it used to devour the Roman soldiers as they went to fetch water. It had such tough scales that they were obliged to attack it with their engines meant for battering city walls; and only succeeded with much difficulty in destroying it.
The country was most beautiful, covered with fertile corn-fields and full of rich fruit-trees, and all the rich Carthaginians had country-houses and gardens, which were made delicious with fountains, trees, land flowers. The Roman soldiers, plain, hardy, fierce, and pitiless, did, it must be feared, cruel damage among these peaceful scenes; they boasted of having sacked 300 villages, and mercy was not yet known to them. The Carthaginian army, though strong in horsemen and in elephants, kept upon the hills and did nothing to save the country, and the wild desert tribes of Numidians came rushing in to plunder what the Romans had left. The Carthaginians sent to offer terms of peace; but Regulus, who had become uplifted by his conquests, made such demands that the messengers remonstrated.
He answered, "Men who are good for anything should either conquer or submit to their betters;" and he sent them rudely away, like a stern old Roman as he was.
His merit was that he had no more mercy on himself than on others.
The Carthaginians were driven to extremity, and made horrible offerings to Moloch, giving the little children of the noblest families to be dropped into the fire between the brazen hands of his statue, and grown-up people of the noblest families rushed in of their own accord, hoping thus to propitiate their gods, and obtain safety for their country. Their time was not yet fully come, and a respite was granted to them. They had sent, in their distress, to hire soldiers in Greece, and among these came a Spartan, named Xanthippus, who at once took the command, and led the army out to battle, with a long line of elephants ranged in front of them, and with clouds of horsemen hovering on the wings, The Romans had not yet learnt the best mode of fighting with elephants, namely, to leave lanes in their columns where these huge beasts might advance harmlessly; instead of which, the ranks were thrust and trampled down by the creatures' bulk, and they suffered a terrible defeat; Regulus himself was seized by the horsemen, and dragged into Carthage, where the victors feasted and rejoiced through half the night, and testified their thanks to Moloch by offering in his fires the bravest of their captives.
Regulus himself was not, however, one of these victims. He was kept a close prisoner for two years, pining and sickening in his loneliness, while in the meantime the war continued, and at last a victory so decisive was gained by the Romans, that the people of Carthage were discouraged, and resolved to ask terms of peace.
They thought that no one would be so readily listened to at Rome as Regulus, and they therefore sent him there with their envoys, having first made him swear that he would come back to his prison if there should neither be peace nor an exchange of prisoners. They little knew how much more a true-hearted Roman cared for his city than for himself--for his word than for his life.
Worn and dejected, the captive warrior came to the outside of the gates of his own city, and there paused, refusing to enter. "I am no longer a Roman citizen," he said; "I am but the barbarians'
slave, and the Senate may not give audience to strangers within the walls."
His wife Marcia ran out to greet him, with his two sons, but he did not look up, and received their caresses as one beneath their notice, as a mere slave, and he continued, in spite of all entreaty, to remain outside the city, and would not even go to the little farm he had loved so well.
The Roman Senate, as he would not come in to them, came out to hold their meeting in the Campagna.
The ambassadors spoke first, then Regulus, standing up, said, as one repeating a task, "Conscript fathers, being a slave to the Carthaginians, I come on the part of my masters to treat with you concerning peace, and an exchange of prisoners." He then turned to go away with the ambassadors, as a stranger might not be present at the deliberations of the Senate. His old friends pressed him to stay and give his opinion as a senator who had twice been consul; but he refused to degrade that dignity by claiming it, slave as he was. But, at the command of his Carthaginian masters, he remained, though not taking his seat.
Then he spoke. He told the senators to persevere in the war. He said he had seen the distress of Carthage, and that a peace would be only to her advantage, not to that of Rome, and therefore he strongly advised that the war should continue. Then, as to the exchange of prisoners, the Carthaginian generals, who were in the hands of the Romans, were in full health and strength, whilst he himself was too much broken down to be fit for service again, and indeed he believed that his enemies had given him a slow poison, and that he could not live long. Thus he insisted that no exchange of prisoners should be made.
It was wonderful, even to Romans, to hear a man thus pleading against himself, and their chief priest came forward, and declared that, as his oath had been wrested from him by force, he was not bound by it to return to his captivity. But Regulus was too noble to listen to this for a moment. "Have you resolved to dishonor me?"
he said. "I am not ignorant that death and the extremest tortures are preparing for me; but what are these to the shame of an infamous action, or the wounds of a guilty mind? Slave as I am to Carthage, I have still the spirit of a Roman. I have sworn to return. It is my duty to go; let the gods take care of the rest."
The Senate decided to follow the advice of Regulus, though they bitterly regretted his sacrifice. His wife wept and entreated in vain that they would detain him; they could merely repeat their permission to him to remain; but nothing could prevail with him to break his word, and he turned back to the chains and death he expected as calmly as if he had been returning to his home. This was in the year B.C. 249.
"Let the gods take care of the rest," said the Roman; the gods whom alone he knew, and through whom he ignorantly worshiped the true God, whose Light was shining out even in this heathen's truth and constancy. How his trust was fulfilled is not known. The Senate, after the next victory, gave two Carthaginian generals to his wife and sons to hold as pledges for his good treatment; but when tidings arrived that Regulus was dead, Marcia began to treat them both with savage cruelty, though one of them assured her that he had been careful to have her husband well used. Horrible stories were told that Regulus had been put out in the sun with his eyelids cut off, rolled down a hill in a barrel with spikes, killed by being constantly kept awake, or else crucified. Marcia seems to have heard, and perhaps believed in these horrors, and avenged them on her unhappy captives till one had died, and the Senate sent for her sons and severely reprimanded them. They declared it was their mother's doing, not theirs, and thenceforth were careful of the comfort of the remaining prisoner.
It may thus be hoped that the frightful tale of Regulus' sufferings was but formed by report acting on the fancy of a vindictive woman, and that Regulus was permitted to die in peace of the disease brought on far more probably by the climate and imprisonment, than by the poison to which he ascribed it. It is not the tortures he may have endured that make him one of the noblest characters of history, but the resolution that would neither let him save himself at the risk of his country's prosperity, nor forfeit the word that he had pledged.
THE RABBI WHO FOUND THE DIADEM
Translated from the Talmud by Dr. A. S. Isaacs
Great was the alarm in the palace of Rome, which soon spread throughout the entire city. The empress had lost her costly diadem, and it could not be found. They searched in every direction, but all in vain. Half distracted, for the mishap boded no good to her or her house, the empress redoubled her exertions to regain her precious possession, but without result. As a last resource it was proclaimed in the public streets: "The empress has lost a precious diadem.
Whoever restores it within thirty days shall receive a princely reward. But he who delays, and brings it after thirty days, shall lose his head."
In those times all nationalities flocked toward Rome; all classes and creeds could be met in its stately halls and crowded thoroughfares.
Among the rest was a rabbi, a learned sage from the East, who loved goodness, and lived a righteous life in the stir and turmoil of the Western world. It chanced one night as he was strolling up and down, in busy meditation, beneath the clear, moonlit sky, he saw the diadem sparkling at his feet. He seized it quickly, brought it to his dwelling, where he guarded it carefully until the thirty days had expired, when he resolved to return it to the owner.
He proceeded to the palace, and, undismayed at sight of long lines of soldiery and officials, asked for an audience with the empress.
"What dost thou mean by this?" she inquired, when he told her his story and gave her the diadem. "Why didst thou delay until this hour? Dost thou know the penalty? Thy head must be forfeited."
"I delayed until now," the rabbi answered calmly, "so that thou mightst know that I return thy diadem, not for the sake of the reward, still less out of fear of punishment; but solely to comply with the Divine command not to withhold from another the property which belongs to him."
"Blessed be thy God!" the empress answered, and dismissed the rabbi without further reproof; for had he not done right for right's sake?
HOW LIVIA WON THE BROOCH
By Beatrice Harraden
It was the day before the public games in Rome, in the year 123 B.C., and a tall man of magnificent appearance and strength was standing outside the Temple of Hercules, talking to a young girl whose face bore some resemblance to his own. The people passing by looked at them, and said, half aloud, "There stands the gladiator Naevus. I wonder how he will bear himself in the Public Games on the morrow?"
And another man, who was talking eagerly with his companion, stopped when he caught sight of the gladiator (who was a well-known figure in Rome), and said, in a loud voice, "That is the man I told you about, Fabricius. A fine fellow, is he not? To-morrow he will fight with the new hero, Lucius And, of course, he will be victorious, as usual. If he disappoints my hopes, I shall lose a great deal of money."
"You have plenty to spare!" laughed his friend, as they passed on together.
The gladiator did not take the slightest notice of any remarks which were made about him; indeed, it was doubtful whether he heard them, being engaged in earnest conversation with the young girl, his daughter.
"Do not be anxious about me, Marcella," he said, seeing that the tears were falling from her eyes. "I shall be victorious, as I have always been, and then, child, I shall buy your freedom, together with my own, and we shall leave Rome, and return to Sicily."
"Nay, father," she answered, between her sobs, "I never doubted your strength, but my heart is full of fears for you; and yet I am proud when I hear every one praising you. Last night my master Claudius gave a great banquet, and when I came to hand round the ewer of rose-water, I heard the guests say that Naevus was the strongest and finest gladiator that Rome had ever known. My master Claudius and two of the guests praised the new man Lucius, but the others would not hear a word in his favour."
The gladiator smiled.
"You shall be proud of me to-morrow, Marcella," he said, "I have just been offering up my prayers to the god Hercules; and in the name of Hercules I promise you, child, that I shall conquer the new man Lucius, and that to-morrow's combat shall be my last fight. So you may go home in peace. You look tired, child. Ah! it is a bitter thing to be a slave! But courage, Marcella; a few days more of slavery, and then we shall be free. For this end I have fought in the arena; and this hope has given me strength and skill."
She took from her neck a piece of fine cord, to which was attached a tiny stone. She put it in his great hand.
"Father," she said pleadingly, "the Greek physician gave this to me. He told me it was an Eastern charm to keep the lives of those who wore it. Will you wear it on the morrow?"
He laughingly assented, and the two walked together as far as the Forum, where they parted.
But Marcella was not proud any more; she was sad.
She had had many a dream of freedom, but she would have gladly given up all chances of realizing that dream, if only to feel that her father's life was not in danger. She would have gladly been a slave ten times over rather than that he should risk his life in those fearful contests.
Marcella, who was a slave in the house of Claudius Flaccus, a great Roman noble, now hastened home to her duties. Her little mistress Livia, Claudius' only daughter, wondered to see her looking so pale and sad.
"Why, you should be glad like I am, Marcella," she cried, as she showed the slave-maiden the necklace of pearls that she had just finished stringing. "See, Marcella! I shall wear these to-morrow when we go to the Circus Maximus. And what do you think? My father has promised me a brooch of precious stones if the new gladiator, Lucius, is successful to-morrow. Oh, how I hope he will be!"
Marcella tried to restrain her tears, but it was of no avail. She threw herself on the couch, and buried her face in the soft cushions, and wept as if her heart would break. Her little mistress Livia bent over her, and tried to comfort her.
"Marcella," she whispered, "it was unkind of me to say that. I forgot about your father. Please forgive me, Marcella, for I do love you, although you are only a slave. And I do not want the brooch; I should not like to wear it now. Please, Marcella, do not cry any more."
The slave raised her head and smiled through her tears.