"Woe To The Vanquished"

Context: Titus Livius was a protégé of the Roman emperor Augustus and the greatest prose writer of his time; his Annals of the Roman People, now generally called his History of Rome, ran to 142 books. About one third of it remains today. According to Livy, the first significant step taken by Rome toward the conquest of all Italy was its capture of Veii; this was a powerful Etruscan city located some twelve miles north of Rome. The Roman leader Marcus Furius Camillus, it is said, managed to build a tunnel under the city walls and into the citadel. After Veii had fallen, however, his troubles were not over. The siege had lasted ten years, from 405–396 B.C. The Romans, occupying Veii, now found themselves also besieged–this time by the Gauls. When the Gauls invaded Italy, the Romans had panicked. At Rome they managed to hold the citadel, but much of the city was sacked and burned. Fortunately for the Romans, the Gauls were not prepared to undertake a siege. The defenders at Veii gathered strength; Camillus, now at Ardea, was declared dictator and asked to return. At Rome, famine began to take its toll on both sides, and the Gauls were suffering from an epidemic. When Camillus arrived with his forces, he routed the Gauls with his first charge; when they reorganized eight miles away, he fell upon them again and "annihilation of the enemy was so complete that not even a witness of the carnage survived." Camillus had barely been in time to save the honor of Rome. The city's defenders had concluded an armistice with the Gauls, who taunted them with their lack of food and urged them to surrender; and although they knew Camillus was gathering fresh troops and hastening to their defense, the Romans gave in to hints that the enemy could be bought off:

. . . the Roman soldiers were so exhausted from day and night sentry duty and weakened by hunger that as they marched to their posts they were hardly able to support the weight of their armor. After they had looked day after day in vain for help to arrive from the dictator, all hope disappeared along with their food supply. The senate was convened and the duty of bargaining for peace was assigned to the military tribunes. An agreement was reached between the tribune Quintus Sulpicius and Brennus the Gallic chieftain, and the ransom price of the nation destined soon to rule the world was fixed at a thousand pounds of gold. Insult was added to this penalty which in itself was so degrading: when the tribune objected that the Gauls had brought false weights a Gaul derisively added his sword to the scale, with the words so intolerable to Roman ears, "Woe to the vanquished."