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From Readings in Ancient History, Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, Volume II. Rome and the West, by William Stearns Davis; Allyn and Bacon; Boston; 1913; pp. 15, 399-400.


509 B.C.


Livy,* “History,” book II, chap. 5.

This story is the best illustration of the “old Roman discipline, ”its unrelenting severity, and its subordination of all private feelings to the demands of public duty. It is ascribed to the year 509 B.C.

[An unsuccessful plot to restore the Tarquin dynasty was discovered, and some of the most prominent youths of Rome were implicated in it, including the sons of Brutus the Consul, the highest magistrate of the city.

The traitors were condemned to capital punishment. Their doom was the more memorable, because the duties of the consular office imposed upon [Brutus] the father the task of punishing his own children. He who ought not even to have witnessed their fate, was ordained by fortune to exact their punishment. A number of [other] young men of high rank stood tied to the stake for the requital of their crimes, but the consul’s sons attracted the most attention from the spectators: [although exasperation with their treason destroyed much of the popular pity].

The consuls seated themselves in their tribunal. The lictors then, fulfilling their office, stripped the criminals naked, beat them with the rods and smote off their heads. During all this time their father presented a touching sight indeed, in his looks and his whole general manner: for now and again the feelings of a parent, even as he superintended the public execution, would burst forth to plain view.


Biographical Note

*  Livy (59 B.C. to 17 A.D.). Titus Livius a native of Patavium (Padua) is by all odds the leading historian for the Roman Republican period. His entire history in 142 books extended from the foundation of Rome down to 9 B.C. Most unfortunately we possess only 35 of these intact, although Epitomes have been preserved of most of the others. A critical and scrupulously impartial historian Livy was not. He often gives us myths that have obviously no factual value, and again he suppresses or colors such evidence as reflects upon the glory of Rome. On the other hand, his style is “clear, animated, and eloquent,” and often under the legends a little sifting will bring out valuable data; while no Roman who had read through his long narrative could fail to gain a clear 400 grasp upon the long slow process of war and patriotic sacrifice by which the little city by the Tiber rose to world-wide dominion.


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