More than two thousand years ago Rome was ruled over by some kings called the Tarquins. As they were wicked men, the Roman people rose up against them, and drove them out of the city. The banished kings then went to Tuscany, where Lars Porsena took up their cause, and gathering an army together, went to help them force an entrance into Rome again.The city could only be entered by crossing the river Tiber, and there was but one wooden bridge over which the army could pass. Then the leader of the Romans, who was called the Consul, cried out to his followers to destroy the bridge.
“But,” he added sadly, “I fear they will be upon us before we have time to hew it down.”
At this a Roman called Horatius came forward and offered to stand at the farther end of the bridge, to keep the Tuscans at bay while it was being destroyed.
“The pathway is so narrow,” said he, “that if two others will help me, we can stop the whole army from advancing. So who will keep the bridge with me?”
Two other brave Romans, called Spurius Lartius and Titus Herminius, at once answered the call of their comrade, and these three gallant men went to defend the passage, while the rest hastened to destroy the bridge.
When the Tuscans saw the three men standing ready to meet the whole army, they laughed aloud in scorn. But their laughter was soon changed to wrath and despair, as one after the other they and their chiefs were quickly laid low at the feet of the dauntless Romans.
Meanwhile the supports of the bridge were destroyed. The Consul shouted to the three heroes to hasten across before the ruin fell into the water beneath. Lartius and Herminius just succeeded in getting safely to the farther bank, but Horatius remained facing the foe until the last beam fell. Then with a cry he leapt into the foaming stream, and although badly wounded and heavy with his armour, he managed to rejoin his comrades on dry land, to the joy of the whole city. During his gallant fight, a dart from an enemy’s arrow had put out one eye, and because of this he was given the surname of Cocles, which means one-eyed.