Lars Porsena And The Legend Of Gaius Mucius Scaevola

In 509 BC the Roman monarchy was overthrown, and in 508 BCE the young republic found itself at war with the Etruscan city of Clusium. Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the deposed Roman king, had sought help from Lars Porsena, arguing that people across Italy might follow Romes lead, if left unpunished. Lars Porsena agreed to restore Tarquinius to power and promptly put Rome under siege.

Gaius Mucius Cordus, a young Roman nobleman, thought it to be shameful that despite being finally free from tyranny, the Roman people were besieged by an enemy. He thus asked the Senate for permission to sneak into the enemy camp and kill the king. Hiding a sword under his dress he crossed the river and entered the enemy camp. The Etruscan troops were in the process of being paid when he arrived, and mistaking the secretary for the king, he slew him instead. He was caught and taken in front of the king, where he declared:

I am a Roman citizen, men call me Gaius Mucius. I am your enemy, and as an enemy I would have slain you; I can die as resolutely as I could kill: both to do and to endure valiantly is the Roman way. Nor am I the only one to carry this resolution against you: behind me is a long line of men who are seeking the same honour. Gird yourself therefore, if you think it worth your while, for a struggle in which you must fight for your life from hour to hour with an armed foe always at your door. Such is the war we, the Roman youths, declare on you. Fear no serried ranks, no battle; it will be between yourself alone and a single enemy at a time.

The Etruscan king ordered the prisoner to be flung into the flames, unless he would immediately reveal the plot with which he threatened him with. Mucius, then, thrust his hand into the fire and let it burn with no sensation, exclaiming:

Look, that you may see how cheap they hold their bodies whose eyes are fixed upon renown!

The king was impressed by Mucius bravery and ordered him to be set free.

Do you go free,” he said, “who have dared to harm yourself more than me. I would invoke success upon your valour, were that valour exerted for my country; since that may not be, I release you from the penalties of war and dismiss you scathless and uninjured.

Mucius then revealed, that he was just one of 300 Roman youths with the intention of killing the king, and it would be only a matter of time when one of them succeeds.

After releasing Mucius, Porsena decided it was not worth to risk his life fighting the Roman people. He sent envoys to Rome, in order to negotiate a peace between the two cities. He proposed – no doubt knowing that the Romans would refuse – that the Tarquinii should be restored to power. He also asked for a number of hostages, the latter of which the Romans agreed to by giving him a number of young boys and girls.

Mucius was afterwards known as Scaevola, i.e “left handed”. He was also granted farming land on the right-bank of the Tiber, which became known as Mucia Prata, i.e Mucian Meadows.