A little after 400 B.C., masses of Gauls invaded northern Italy: their own lands couldn’t support them anymore. So they took land belonging to several cities friendly to Rome, but ruled by Etruscans. The Gauls were ready to wage war for these lands, but not yet committed to war.
Responding to appeals from their allies, the Romans sent three Fabian blue-bloods north to broker a peace deal. Those three peace commissioners urged the Italian cities to fight, raised and led an army against the Gauls, attacked them, and killed their king. That was a violation of international law that even the barbarous Gauls couldn’t tolerate. But instead of declaring war, they demanded that Rome turn the peace commissioners over to them for punishment.
The Roman Senate refused even to listen to the Gauls’ demands for justice. The Gauls snatched up their weapons and marched on Rome. Experts in the Roman army decided to ignore it. Then, when the huge Gaulish host actually came within sight of the city, the experts shifted to Plan B–panic.
The Gauls captured the undefended city–no one was left but a small garrison on the Capitoline Hill–and burned it into rubble. Eventually the Romans recaptured their city and had to rebuild it. Rome was a long time recovering from this.
How many easily avoidable errors of judgment led to this catastrophe? The best and the brightest of Rome made them all.
Stupidity, injustice, and arrogance–our own country should take warning from this.