The Capitoline Geese

Young Audience / Tales.

It’s December – honor to the children and the wonderful stories that are passed down from generation to generation.

This story is almost true – I didn’t make it up at all, it was told by Titus Livius.

It would work terribly well in connection with the splendid game of the unbearable geese – Untitled Goose Game. – I say this, I say nothing – I say this: at random.

We are in 390 before Jesus Christ.
Rome is just beginning to “be Rome” – but already it has many enemies.

The story takes place in theses very old times when the Romans had a hard time to repel the barbarians – among these barbarians, the worst, the most aggressive of that time were the Gauls.

Brennus managed to terrorize the patricians & that’s another story, still celebrated nowadays by the rugby players who fight for the Brennus Shield.

At that time, Rome was not at all the huge and very catholic city that it has become.
It was known, in particular, for its 7 hills.
Each hill had its own particularity.
– if you wanted to call yourself master of Rome, you had to conquer those 7 hills.

On the Capitoline Hill, the Romans had built the Temple of Jupiter.

Capitoline Hill

The Gauls were settled in the plain, between the hills. They had met almost no resistance. They had looted, burned and slaughtered everything they could find.

In front of them, isolated by the heights of the Tarpeian Rock, they saw the temple of Jupiter.
Taking the Capitol meant wiping Rome off the face of the earth – burning its major temple and its patron god.

The Gauls were victorious – they had time. Settled at the foot of the hills, they rested and regained their strength, while the few Roman troops, isolated and scattered, were exhausted and starving.

They had to fear assaults and never let their guard down – yes, that’s easy to say when assaults are conducted early.
But after several days of watching, when the food supply is so low that you don’t even want to look at it anymore, it becomes much harder to stay awake.
The Romans relied on their dogs to warn them of an attack.

Their dogs, who kept watch with them, just like them, and howled for death when the enemy moved.

Finally a very dark night enveloped Rome.
In single file, the Gauls approached the Capitoline hill.
These barbarians were trained to make no noise.
They had hung their swords on their backs – the climb would be almost easy.

Tarpeian Rock – Rome

They passed through a narrow pass of the hill – at the top, everything was asleep – Romans on watch had not been able to resist the fatigue, the night and the absolute silence that prevailed. The men and their dogs.

The first Gaulish soldier passed the parapet.
In front of him, hardly visible, the immense esplanade which allowed access to the Temple.
One after the other, the Gauls went up – it was necessary to advance.

Still without a sound, the first soldiers advanced on the esplanade. They could barely make out some of the men on guard, collapsed from sleep.

They went forward to slit the throats of these easy prey.

When the first body collapsed on the ground, suddenly on the esplanade, all hell broke loose.

This tiny noise had not woken the dogs – but the sacred geese of the Capitol.
They all began to shout, to whistle, to cackle, they panicked among themselves and ran in all directions, they charged straight at the intruders who no longer understood what was happening, they attacked, screamed, flew, white feathers sprang up everywhere.
They woke up the Romans – Marcus Manlius, hearing them, immediately armed himself – he understood the situation in a flash.

They are lost except if he succeeds in preventing the whole Gallic army from passing by the pass.
He rushes to the end of the esplanade, he runs as fast as he can while calling all Rome to arms.

It is with his shield that he manages to unhook a Gallic which was about to set foot on the Capitol. The fight was tough – but he managed to push the barbarian who, in his fall, dragged all the others who were climbing behind him.
Other Roman soldiers, understanding where the danger came from, rushed to his side, and all together, they threw stone after stone at the barbarians.

Those who were on the esplanade were cut to pieces, slaughtered and thrown over the ramparts.

The night was bloody – and the morning sun illuminated a massacre.
But Rome was saved – Jupiter had not been defiled.

The bugle sounded – all men gathered on the esplanade. It was the hour of reckoning.
The sleeping sentinels were to be punished with death.
How they managed to accuse only one of them, I cannot say.
But only one sentry was found guilty. The man was thrown off the Tarpeian Rock, and his corpse went to rot with those of the Gauls.

Marcus Manlius received Roman honors. And, more than that, each of the men gave him a little flour and a little wine – even though famine was already eating away at them all.

The geese of Juno were definitely sacred, respected, adored – and every year one of the geese of the Capitol was carried in triumph, on a luxurious litter.
As for the dogs… I might as well not say what happened to them – they too were rewarded – but for having slept instead of saving the Capitol. It was an atrocious reward, which lasted for a long time while Rome dominated the world.

The war was far from over – but the Gauls no longer attempted to take the Capitol.

Brennus waited for the Romans to exhaust themselves.

He wanted the gold.
He got the gold.
And Rome did not forget that the Gauls had to be broken to become a stable Empire.

The world would not have been the one we know, if the Gauls of Brennus had exterminated Rome before Rome expanded into an Empire as immense as it was long.

Frankly, since the most famous characters in this story are geese – that they have made it through centuries and centuries, it would be a shame to forget about the Capitol geese if, by accident, Altair existed and played with geese.

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Featured Image : Henri-Paul Motte – Les oies du Capitole – 1889

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