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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book I Chapter 54: Conquest of Gabii (Cont.)
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He was admitted to the meetings of the national council. Whilst expressing his agreement with the elders of Gabii on other subjects, on which they were better informed, he was continually urging them to war, and claimed to speak with special authority, because he was acquainted with the strength of each nation, and knew that the king's tyranny which even his own children had found insupportable, was certainly detested by his subjects. So after gradually working up the leaders of the Gabinians to revolt, he went in person with some of the most eager of the young men on foraging and plundering expeditions. By playing the hypocrite both in speech and action, he gained their mistaken confidence more and more; at last he was chosen as commander in the war. Whilst the mass of the population were unaware of what was intended, skirmishes took place between Rome and Gabii in which the advantage generally rested with the latter, until the Gabinians from the highest to the lowest firmly believed that Sextus Tarquin had been sent by heaven to be their leader. As for the soldiers, he became so endeared to them by sharing all their toils and dangers, and by a lavish distribution of the plunder, that the elder Tarquin was not more powerful in Rome than his son was in Gabii. |
When he thought himself strong enough to succeed in anything that he might attempt, he sent one of his friends to his father at Rome to ask what he wished him to do now that the gods had given him sole and absolute power in Gabii. To this messenger no verbal reply was given, because, I believe, he mistrusted him. The king went into the palace-garden, deep in thought, his son's messenger following him. As he walked along in silence it is said that he struck off the tallest poppy-heads with his stick. Tired of asking and waiting for an answer, and feeling his mission to be a failure, the messenger returned to Gabii, and reported what he had said and seen, adding that the king, whether through temper or personal aversion or the arrogance which was natural to him, had not uttered a single word. When it had become clear to Sextus what his father meant him to understand by his mysterious silent action, he proceeded to get rid of the foremost men of the State by traducing some of them to the people, whilst others fell victims to their own unpopularity. Many were publicly executed, some against whom no plausible charges could be brought were secretly assassinated. Some were allowed to seek safety in flight, or were driven into exile; the property of these as well as of those who had been put to death was distributed in grants and bribes. The gratification felt by each who received a share blunted the sense of the public mischief that was being wrought, until, deprived of all counsel and help, the State of Gabii was surrendered to the Roman king without a single battle.
Event: War of Rome and Gabii