Horatius Cocles

That is, Horatius the "one-eyed," a hero of the old Roman lays, is said to have defended the Sublician bridge along with Sp. Lartius and T. Herminius against the whole Etruscan army under Porsena, while the Romans broke down the bridge behind them. When the work was nearly finished, Horatius sent back his two companions, and withstood alone the attacks of the foe, till the crash of the falling timbers and the shouts of the Romans announced that the bridge was destroyed. Then he prayed to father Tiberinus to take him and his arms in charge, and forthwith plunged into the stream and swam across to the city in safety amid the arrows of the enemy.

The state raised a statue to his honor, which was placed in the Comitium, and allowed him as much land as he could plow round in one day. The citizens, too, when the famine was raging, deprived themselves of food to support him. This statue was afterwards struck by lightning, and the Etruscan haruspices, who had been consulted respecting the prodigy, envious of the glory of Rome, caused it to be placed on a lower spot, where the sun never shone upon it. But their treachery was discovered; they were put to death, and the statue was placed in a higher spot on the Vulcanal above the Comitium, which brought good fortune to the state. This story is related by A. Gellius1 and explains the fact why some writers speak of the statue being in the Comitium, and others in the Vulcanal. The statue still existed in the time of Pliny2 — an irrefragable proof of the truth of the story. Few legends in Roman story were more celebrated than this gallant deed of Horatius, and almost all Roman writers tell us,

"How well Horatius kept the bridge
In the brave days of old."

Polybius relates3 the legend differently. According to his description, Horatius defended the bridge alone, and perished in the river. Mr. Macauley observes,4 with much probability, that it is likely that there were two old Roman lays about the defense of the bridge; and that, while the story which Livy has transmitted to us was preferred by the multitude, the other, which ascribed the whole glory to Horatius alone, may have been the favorite of the Horatian house.5



  1. iv, 5.
  2. Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia xxxiv, 5. s. 11.
  3. vi, 55.
  4. Lays of Ancient Rome, p. 43.
  5. Compare Niebuhr, i, p. 542.


  • Aurelius Victor. The Lives of the Illustrious Romans, iii, 11.
  • Cicero. De Legibus ii, 10.
  • Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Roman Antiquities v, 24, 25.
  • Livy. The History of Rome ii, 10.
  • Plutarch. Poplicola, 16.
  • Seneca. Epistulae, 120 ff.
  • Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
  • Valerius Maximus, iii, 2.1.

This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.