Rome: Horatius Cocles at the Bridge

Publius Horatius Cocles was an officer in the Roman army during the war against Lars Porsena, king of the Etruscans. Lars Porsena was about to attack Rome, but he was blocked by the river Tiber. The Romans knew that at all costs they had to keep the Etruscans from crossing the bridge over the Tiber.

Horatius was one of the soldiers standing guard when the Etruscans launched their assault. Terrified, the other Roman soldiers fled in a panic, and only two remained with Horatius, who quickly devised a plan.

"Comrades," he shouted, "I will go out onto the bridge and fight off the Etruscans while you stay behind and destroy the bridge, chopping at it with your axes and then setting fire to what is left."

"But what will happen to you?" the men shouted. "You will have no means of escape!"

"There is no time to argue," Horatius replied. He then rushed forward, screaming a cry of victory. The Etruscans were amazed and for a moment they retreated, but then they began to rush back onto the bridge. It was a narrow bridge, however, and that gave Horatius the chance to slay one Etruscan after another, hurling their bodies down into the river's swirling waters. He smelled the smoke from behind him and looked back to see that his comrades had completed their task; he could already feel the bridge weakening beneath his feet. "O Father Tiber, great god of the river," he cried out, "protect me!"

As he spoke, the bridge collapsed, and Horatius plunged into the waters below. Everyone was certain he would die! By some miracle, though, he survived. As if borne by invisible hands, he was carried safely to the Roman shore, having stopped the Etruscan invasion. Horatius' bravery was never forgotten.