The Legend of Horatius at the Bridge

This activity has kids making printable Roman helmets, completing a coloring sheet, and memorizing a stanza of Horatius at the Bridge by Thomas Babbington.  We’ll start with the story.


The Legend of Horatius at the Bridge

In 509 BC the army of King Clusium marched on the city of Rome.  The Romans were outclassed and outnumbered and they knew it.  But they went forth from the city gates across the bridge and over the river Tiber to do battle nonetheless.  They fought bravely for hours, but then two leaders of the army were wounded grievously and carried from the field of battle.  When the soldiers saw this their hearts quailed and they broke ranks and fled back toward the bridge which would bring them to the safety of the city walls.

Horatius is so celebrated because he was so selfless.

The ranks of King Clusium followed in pursuit.  The mob at the bridge had slowed to  a trickle and the soldiers were milling about, pushing and shoving and not waiting their turn at the bridge.  Some of King Clusium’s men saw this and realized they could push in and mill across with the rest, hold the gate, and let their own army into the walls.

But one who had not completely lost his head, Horatius, perceived the enemies’ plan.  He called to his friends, “Help me hold the bridge!”  The three lesser officers, Horatius, Spurius, and Herminius stood firm, giving the Romans time to flee to the city while holding back the enemy.  The three men were hard pressed, but held til the last Roman had retreated to the city.  Then Spurius and Herminius began to fall back as well, calling for Horatius to retreat with them.  But Horatius knew the enemy must not be allowed to cross the river.  He called to them to tear up the bridge behind him, while he defended it to the last.

In this depiction of the story of Horatius angels and the goddess of war are helping Horatius.  Painting by Charles Le Brun, 1642.

Spurius and Herminius begged Horatius to come with them.  They all knew if Horatius stayed he would be slain by the enemy, having no where to retreat to.  Horatius stood his ground.  The others resigned themselves to his fate. They tore up the bridge.  When the deed was done, Horatius was still standing, though wounded, so they called to him telling him the bridge was gone. Horatius turned and flung himself into the Tiber, his heavy armor dragging him under.  But he struggled against the waves and laboring hard made it to the Roman side with all his arms.


He was hauled out onto the bank by his friends and carried into the city, for his wounds were so bad that he could not walk.  The citizens cheered his bravery and sacrifice, for all knew that Horatius had gone willingly to his death for them . . . though he did survive in the end by the grace of the gods.  They built him a statue in memorial and showered him with gifts.

The Etruscans and wicked King Clusium did not breach the walls that day, but settled down to a protracted siege. When they had grown tired of that they made a peace treaty with Rome.  The city was saved thanks to one brave man, Horatius at the Bridge.

Roman Soldier Helmets

After the kids were told the story of Horatius we made these Roman soldier helmets from First Palette.


Horatius at the Bridge Coloring Sheet

Next I handed out a printable with a coloring activity of Horatius at the Bridge fending off the enemy.

Horatius at the Bridge

Horatius at the Bridge Poem

While the kids colored we memorized the stanza of the poem Horatius at the Bridge by Thomas Babbington, which is written on the coloring sheet.  The kids got that stanza down very well.

Teaching Tip

  • Having kids work on something hands-on like making the helmets or coloring the picture while you tell the story or memorize the poem is very effective.  You actually keep their attention better than if their hands aren’t busy.

Additional Layers

  • Take the time to teach your kids the meaning behind this stanza of the poem and apply it to your life.
  • Though Horatius didn’t die in defense of his country he was so severely wounded that he never fought again.  His whole life changed.  Discuss how the sacrifices of our modern day soldiers are often very profound even if they don’t actually die in battle.
  • Horatius was a low level officer in the Roman army.  He wasn’t anybody important at all until he saw an opportunity and decided to take a stand.  Talk about how you don’t have to be anybody important in order to step up and make a difference.

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