THE 3rd of August is the day when Ancient Romans would truss up a live dog spreadeagle on a cross and carry it through the streets of the Eternal City ... as an admonition to other dogs not to fall asleep on guard duty. In the same procession, geese were decked out in gold and purple, and carried in honor ... for saving Rome from the Gauls in 390 BC.
This was the "supplicia canum" ... roughly "let this be a lesson to all dogs."
Romans generally loved dogs and even erected tombs to them (see photo) but the Gallic Siege of Rome so traumatized Romans that they never forgot how guard dogs let them down ... and how a flock of sacred geese saved the city.
The Gauls had not only crossed the Rubicon, they had also defeated a Roman legion led by a swaggering but inept general ... and marched on Rome in June 390 BC.
Residents of the city fled in disarray ... all able-bodied residents, that is.
The elderly, invalids, the infirm and women heavy with child were led up the steep slope of the Capitoline Hill by the few brave soldiers who had stayed behind ... to the temples of Jupiter and Juno, where priests shared their accommodations and foodstuffs.
Among the huddled humanity atop the hill were the Vestal Virgins who ... of course ... were sworn never to leave the city lest the Sacred Flame go out.
Amidst the mad scramble up the hill ... the Gauls battering down the gates of the city ... the Vestal Virgins had maintained a modicum of decorum and had solemnly brought the Sacred Flame with them, chanting and burning incense as everyone else panicked.
The Gauls took their time sacking the city ... content in the knowledge that sooner or later the defenders atop the hill would relent from hunger and thirst ... upon which time the temple treasures would be theirs for the taking.
Indeed, food and water were quickly gone as the siege stretched into the final days of July 390 BC.
Everyone was dying of hunger and thirst ... except for the Sacred Flock of Geese at the Temple of Juno who continued to be pampered with grain and water by the priestesses.
The mob eyed the fat geese greedily ... but the priestesses stood firm ... reminding them that Juno would protect the city only as long as the city protected her Sacred Geese.
Things looked dire when, on the night before the 3rd of August 390 BC, the besieged refugees were so weak that they fell into a stupor ... they were dying ... and the Gauls saw that their chance had arrived.
The Gauls stealthily scaled the undefended Tarpeian Rock side of the hill ... content in the knowledge that the Roman guards and even the watch dogs had fallen asleep.
But the Gauls hadn't counted on the Sacred Geese ... who squawked loud enough to wake the dead ... and roused the guards, who quickly hurled the invaders from their siege ladders.
As dawn broke, the defenders saw clouds of dust on the horizon ... every available legion from the provinces was rushing to defend Mother Rome.
This time it was the Gauls who retreated in disarray ... dropping most of their loot and fleeing in disarray.
By nightfall, Roman soldiers had retaken the city and were feeding the starving residents ... and the Vestal Virgins were putting the Sacred Flame back into its temple niche in the Forum temple.
The defenders were henceforth heralded as heroes of Rome ....
... all except for the night watchmen and the guard dogs ... who were hurled from the Tarpeian Rock to their deaths.
Every August 3rd after that the Sacred Geese were honored ... and a dog was symbolically crucified.
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