The inhabitants of Gaul, who dwelt in the country we now call France, were tall, fair, blue-eyed warriors. Long before the time of which I am going to tell you, they had crossed the Alps and made themselves masters of Northern Italy.
Now, in 389 b.c. , they turned to the south, crossed the Apennines, and came pouring down into the valleys of Etruria. The city of Clusium, only a few days' march from Rome, was the first to attract the barbarians.
There was peace at this time between Rome and Etruria, and the inhabitants of Clusium, in fear of the fierce-looking Gallic warriors, besought Rome to come to their aid.
The Senate at once sent three patricians as ambassadors to the Gauls, warning them not to attack the allies of Rome.
But the haughty barbarians, heedless of the ambassadors' words, at once demanded from the Etruscans land on which they and their families might settle. When their request was refused, they began to fight.
Now the Roman ambassadors had no right to join in the battle, for just as they were protected by their mission from being attacked, so they were forbidden to attack others.
But forgetting, in their anger with the Gauls, that they were ambassadors, the three Romans joined in the defence of Clusium, and unfortunately slew one of the Gallic chiefs and took his armour.
Brennus, the King of the Gauls, was so angry with the envoys that he at once withdrew from Clusium, and marched with his whole army through the valley of the Tiber toward Rome. He was determined to punish the city for the folly of her ambassadors.
The Romans at once marched out to meet the enemy, and in July, 390 b.c. , near the Allia, about ten miles from Rome, a terrible battle was fought.
Although the Roman army was but forty thousand strong, while the barbarians numbered seventy thousand, yet the Romans had no fear. Against such uncouth foes they were sure to win the victory. Thus in their insolence and pride spoke the warriors of Rome.
But the battle day—it was the 18th of the month—was one that was never to be forgotten by the Roman legions.
Shouting their strange, fierce war-cries, the Gauls rushed upon the foe, while the Romans, dismayed at the wild appearance of the gigantic Gauls, and distracted by their war-cries, were seized with sudden panic. Without even attempting to fight, they turned and fled.
Pursued by the terrible barbarians, many of the fugitives plunged in despair into the river Tiber, and were drowned by the weight of their armour; many others were overtaken and slain. Only a remnant of the army reached Rome, for most of the fugitives who escaped took refuge at Veii.
The Gauls themselves were astonished at their easily won victory, for the fame of the Roman legions had reached even these barbarous tribes.
In Rome the Battle of Allia was henceforth a name of ill omen, nor would the Romans ever undertake a new adventure on the 18th of July, lest it should be doomed to failure, by the evil influence of that fatal day. For many long years, the Romans, who feared no other foe, trembled at the name of the barbarians.