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Richard's Writings > The Birth of Rome > Chapter 9: Sabine Attack

Synopsis of Chapter 9: Sabine Attack

Warriors from a Sabine tribe come out of the foothills and attack the city. Marcus Junius organizes the defense. Scouts follow the survivors back to their camp. Marcus attacks the Sabine camp and takes them by surprise, winning a complete victory. Lucumo then leads an attack on the Sabine city and wins the day. He celebrates the first triumph, then shows mercy and allows the Sabine tribesmen to go home.

Excerpt from Chapter 9: Sabine Attack

"Alexon, take the reds and go straight up the valley between the Quirinal and the Viminal. If you meet resistance, withdraw and hold. Don't let them get down into the valley. I'll take the blues up the Esquiline by way of the Velia. Lukos! Have your greens form a line here at their flag. Varius! Reinforce the greens with your whites, and form the other phalanxes behind them. If they get past us on the hill, you must stop them here. Tell Pollio I am taking his blues, but he is to stay here and add spine to the defensive line. Move!"

"Reds! To me!" Alexon shouted, running off to the left, followed by the red flag and soldiers who wore red caps under their helmets. By now every soldier had a bronze helmet, bronze facing for their shield, and iron tips for their spears. Marcus ran off to the right, followed by the blue flag and his troops. They climbed the slope of the Velia, past the spot that once was dominated by his construction command tent. From the Velia there was a narrow band of land that ran up to the Esquiline. Marcus could hear the sounds of fighting and saw activity off to his right. The enemy was ransacking the homes on the Oppius.

Marcus stopped his men and had them form in line, four rows deep.

"Remember your training," Marcus spoke to his troops calmly. "Like the sea breaking upon a cliff. Stay calm and keep in line. It's time to teach them the cost of trespassing. Trumpeter, let them know we're here."

The trumpeter sounded "prepare to advance" and it had the desired effect. Sabine tribesmen interrupted their pillage and swarmed into the streets, looking for the source of the call. The trumpeter gave another call, and the tribesmen responded as if the command had been for them. In small groups the herd began to run towards the line of Roman soldiers, yelling and hooting to bolster their confidence as they neared the wall of shields.

"Last two rows, prepare to throw javelins." The last two rows raised their spears at an angle, their fists along side their helmets. "Last row, ready to throw. Throw! Next row, ready to throw. Throw!"

One wave of missiles arced into the air and plunged into the pressing horde of tribesmen. A second wave swooshed out of the sky and thudded into human flesh. Men went down with spears broken beneath them, shafts embedded upright, some impaled through their necks or legs or pierced clear through, trying to crawl to the safety of the sides. But many more escaped the spears and plunged on.

The Sabines threw themselves on the Roman line and died. Two rows of spears reached beyond the shields and caught the tribesmen before they could even make contact with the line. They had never seen anything like a phalanx. The Romans buckled under the impact, but the line held. The enemy impaled themselves upon the shafts by their own momentum, pushed from behind and unable to escape the death awaiting them, and as each spear was wrest from the hands that held it a sword was drawn instead. The tribesmen fought as individuals, screaming for courage, just as the drill masters had said they would, and none of them had helmets, few spears. They tended to slash their swords uselessly on the round shields, while the Romans thrust forward with their double edged blades and thrust and thrust again. Many of the Sabines carried shields as well, but often left themselves vulnerable from one side or another for a quick stab to the belly.

The Romans fought in complete silence, which alone frightened the tribesmen, but worse was the furious anger on every Roman face. Stern eyes peered out from the darkness between the cheek guards of every Roman helmet. None of them yet knew the fate of their friends and families, and they wouldn't be able to find out until they finished these bastards! So they fought with a fury, and never tired.

"By my command, thrust step!" Marcus shouted. "Phalanx ready! Thrust! Step! Thrust! Step!" The phalanx advanced, and nothing could stop it. The soldiers found their drilling had not included how to step over the fallen bodies as they advanced, or the difficulty of keeping with the cadence when your sword was caught by the suction of an enemy belly. But they adapted quickly. The Sabines withdrew, step by step, some still fighting, most looking for opportunities to escape. Then their last bit of courage failed, and they broke and ran. The Romans were tempted to chase after them, but discipline and training and long hours of routine kept them in line, despite their natural impulses.

Marcus shouted, "Halt!" He issued orders quickly and calmly, always in command, his mind enlightened by the short battle. His two best centurions were to take their centuries and pursue the fleeing tribesmen. If they met opposition they were to disengage and withdraw, but keep the enemy in view. Another two centuries were to look for survivors and report the extent of damage to the families on the Oppius. Contact him immediately if they returned for another fight, but Marcus felt sure they were done for the day. Marcus then took the rest of the phalanx and returned at the double to the Forum.


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