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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book V Chapter 40: Invasion of the Gauls. The Vestal Virgins leave Rome.[390 BC]
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Thus they sought to comfort one another -- these aged men doomed to death. Then they turned with words of encouragement to the younger men on their way to the Citadel and Capitol and solemnly commended to their strength and courage all that was left of the fortunes of a City which for 360 years had been victorious in all its wars. As those who were carrying with them all hope and succour finally separated from those who had resolved not to survive the fall of the City. The misery of the scene was heightened by the distress of the women. Their tears, their distracted running about as they followed first their husbands then their sons, their imploring appeals to them not to leave them to their fate, made up a picture in which no element of human misery was wanting. A great many of them actually followed their sons into the Capitol, none forbidding or inviting them, for though to diminish the number of non-combatants would have helped the besieged, it was too inhuman a step to take. Another crowd, mainly of plebeians, for whom there was not room on so small a hill or food enough in the scanty store of corn, poured out of the City in one continuous line and made for the Janiculum. From there they dispersed, some over the country, others towards the neighbouring cities, without any leader or concerted action, each following his own aims, his own ideas and all despairing of the public safety. |
While all this was going on, the Flamen of Quirinus and the Vestal Virgins, without giving a thought to their own property, were deliberating as to which of the sacred things they ought to take with them, and which to leave behind, since they had not strength enough to carry all, and also what place would be the safest for their custody. They thought best to conceal what they could not take in earthen jars and bury them under the chapel next to the Flamen's house, where spitting is now forbidden. The rest they divided amongst them and carried off, taking the road which leads by the Pons Sublicius to the Janiculum. Whilst ascending that hill they were seen by Lucius Albinius, a Roman plebeian who with the rest of the crowd who were unfit for war was leaving the City. Even in that critical hour the distinction between sacred and profane was not forgotten. He had his wife and children with him in a wagon, and it seemed to him an act of impiety for him and his family to be seen in a vehicle whilst the national priests should be trudging along on foot, bearing the sacred vessels of Rome. He ordered his wife and children to get down, put the virgins and their sacred burden in the wagon, and drove them to Caere, their destination.