Horatius Cocles

P. Horatius Cocles was an officer in the early Roman Republican army, who famously defended the Pons Sublicius from the invading army of Etruscan King Lars Porsena of Clusium in the late 6th c. BC.

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Horatius defends the bridge by James McConnell, 1983.

Friends in High Places

In 506 BC, Tarquin the Proud, king of Rome, was driven out of the city and went for help to Lars Porsena, king of the nearby Etruscan town of Clusium. Porsena marched on Rome at the head of an army. Concentrating his forces on the West side of the Tiber, Porsena assaulted the Janiculum hill and seized it. He then left an Etruscan garrison to hold it and advanced towards the Pons Sublicius, the only bridge across the Tiber. The Romans awaited Porsena in front of the bridge. The Romans were commancded by M. Valerius Volusus and T. Lucretius Tricipitinus. Porsena had the Romans outnumbered and intended to intimidate them into retreat. After both of the Roman commanders were carried off the field, the Romans began to panic and ran for the bridge. The enemy pursued.

Horatius at the Bridge

Three brave Romans now defended the Pons Sublicius; Spurius Lartius, Titus Herminius and Horatius Cocles. They withstood the Etruscan attacks until the Roman troops had all crossed. They then held the bridge while the Romans behind them chopped it down. His companions, Lartius and Herminius, escaped back over the bridge before it fell into the river. Horatius himself jumped fully armoured into the River Tiber and swam back safely to the Roman side of the river.

Horatius was awarded a crown for his valour and conducted into the city by a singing crowd joined by a grateful city. Horatius was now disabled and so could no longer serve in the army or hold public office, but he was provided with as much of the public land as he himself could plow in one day with a yoke of oxen and each citizen of Rome was obligated to gave him one day’s ration of food. He would also be honored with a bronze statue in the comitium.

Horatius at the Bridge, Charles Le Brun, 1642-43.