Posts Tagged With: heroes

Cloelia: Heroine of Republican Rome

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Though the bravery of Horatius was worthy of legend, at the time it only stalled the army of Lars Porsenna and the Etruscans, intent on taking back the young republic of Rome. He besieged the city and eventually a truce was negotiated. A group of female hostages were given to the Etruscans, among whom was one named Cloelia.

One day, while bathing at the river she and the other women quickly swam back to the Roman side. Although this violated the terms of the truce, Lars Porsenna was so taken by the act of bravery that he allowed Cloelia to choose which hostages he would allow to return back to Rome. Cloelia chose a group of young boys, remembering that Rome would need young men in the future defense of their city.

The Romans honored her act of courage and loyalty by erecting an equestrian statue of her along the Via Sacra. The statue was lost centuries ago, but it was one of the first honorary monuments to be awarded to a woman.

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Horatius Cocles: Hero of Republican Rome

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Another one of Rome’s memorable heroes from the early Republican period is the character of Horatio Cocles, a sixth century Roman soldier who defended Rome against many in a story known as “Horatio at the Bridge.”

Having banished Tarquinius Superbus and his family from the city, the new republic of Rome found itself the target of many surrounding powers, hoping to catch the city at a moment of weakness. Ally to Tarquinius, Lars Porsena led an army against the city of Rome, conquering the outpost on the Janiculum Hill located on the far side for the Tiber.

Seeing the advancing army, Horatio tried to rally the retreating Roman troops to no avail. To buy time, Horatio rushed to the one place the army could cross the Tiber river, the Pons Sublicius. Standing at the far end of the bridge he ordered two friends to destroy the bridge by any means while he held the advancing army off.

While they hacked away Horatio defended the bridge until it collapsed into the rushing water. Then he jumped into the Tiber and swam to the other side to safety. This stalled Lars Porsena and bought the Romans enough time to prepare for a siege, saving the city from a quick capture. He was honored in the city and given as much land as he could plow in a single day. A statue of him was erected near the Forum.

The story of Horatio’s bravery was told to Roman youths as an example of bravery and honor, especially as a soldier. Horatio’s heroic example would later become the subject of a narrative poem by Lord Macaulay (1800-1859).

And, as they passed, beneath their feet

They felt the timbers crack.

But when they turned their faces,

And on the further shore

Saw brave Horatius stand alone.

This is an excerpt from Lord Macaulay’s “Horatius at the Bridge” part of a larger work entitled The Lays of Ancient Rome. You can find the complete poem here.

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The Rape of Lucretia

The Oath of Brutus

The Oath of Brutus

Rome has her fair share of heroes and heroines, all chosen and remembered for displaying the attributes of a true and honorable Roman. Part history, part legend, thses stories have worked their way into the Roman ideology as moralistic folklore.

The story of Lucretia is a bit different, not only the tone of the story, but the outcome. Here, Lucretia becomes a catlyst for political action, one of the few times a woman is placed in that role.

As the story goes, Sextus Tarquinius, son of King Tarquinius Superbus, was on military furlough with a group of men, all claiming their wife was more virtuous than the other. Collantinus claims that his wife Lucretia is by far the most virtuous. They ride out to see what each wife is doing while their husbands are away, only to find each is feasting and enjoying herself. Only Lucretia is diligently at her loom weaving.

Over come by her chastity, Sextus return to Collantinus’s home several days later and forces himself on her. He blackmails her, threatening to kill her than kill a slave, implicating Lucretia in commiting adultery with a slave, dishonoring her husband. Lucretia submits to Sextus, then sends word to her husband and father, both authority figures for a roman woman.

When they arrive, she tells them what Sextus did, and confesses her adultery. She begs Collatinus to pursue Sextus and make him pay for his deeds, which Colantinus promises. Then, rather than live in dishonor as an example to other women, Lucretia stabs herself with a knife.

One of the witnesses, Lucius Junius Brutus, immediately takes up the promise Lucretia asked of them. Here is Brutus’s speech according to Livy, posted by Fordham University. Follow the link for full text.

“By this blood, which was so pure before the crime of the prince, I swear before you, O gods, to chase the King Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, with his criminal wife and all their offspring, by fire, iron, and all the methods I have at my disposal, and never to tolerate Kings in Rome evermore, whether of that family of any other.”

Tarquinius Superbus and his family were chased out of Rome. He sought support from the Etruscans to no avail. By the time the dust from his horse’s hooves settled, Rome was on its way to becoming a Republic.

We’ll be seeing another famous relation of Brutus, once again at the heart of political unrest, in 44 BC.

(Fordham University has a ton of great sources like this one and I’d recommend reading a few if you have an interest!)

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