9 Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, Book I: Preface – 13

Livy (Titus Livius), the great Roman historian, was born at or near Patavium (Padua) in 64 or 59 BCE; he may have lived mostly in Rome but died at Patavium, in 12 or 17 CE.

Livy’s only extant work is part of his history of Rome from the foundation of the city to 9 BCE. Of its 142 books, we have just 35, and short summaries of all the rest except two. The whole work was, long after his death, divided into Decades or series of ten. Books 1–10 we have entire; books 11–20 are lost; books 21–45 are entire, except parts of 41 and 43–45. Of the rest only fragments and the summaries remain. In splendid style Livy, a man of wide sympathies and proud of Rome’s past, presented an uncritical but clear and living narrative of the rise of Rome to greatness.

Excerpts from the Loeb Classical Library edition.

Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita (History of Rome ): Book One


Whether I am likely to accomplish anything worthy of the labour, if I record the achievements of the Roman people from the foundation of the city, I do not really know, nor if I knew would I dare to avouch it; perceiving as I do that the theme1 is not only old but hackneyed, through the constant succession of new historians, who believe either that in their facts they can produce more authentic information, or that in their style they will prove better than the rude attempts of the ancients. Yet, however this shall be, it will be a satisfaction to have done myself as much as lies in me to commemorate the deeds of the foremost people of the world; and if in so vast a company of writers my own reputation should be obscure, my consolation would be the fame and greatness of those whose renown will throw mine into the shade. Moreover, my subject involves infinite labour, seeing that it must be traced back [3] above seven hundred years, and that proceeding from slender beginnings it has so increased as now to be burdened by its own magnitude; and at the same time I doubt not that to most readers the earliest origins and the period immediately succeeding them will give little pleasure, for they will be in haste to reach these modern times, in which the might of a people which has long been very powerful is working its own undoing. I myself, on the contrary, shall seek in this an additional reward for my toil, that I may avert my gaze from the troubles which our age has been witnessing for so many years, so long at least as I am absorbed in the recollection of the brave days of old, free from every care which, even if it could not divert the historian’s mind from the truth, might nevertheless cause it anxiety.1


Such traditions as belong to the time before the city was founded, or rather was presently to be founded, and are rather adorned with poetic legends than based upon trustworthy historical proofs, I purpose neither to affirm nor to refute. It is the privilege of antiquity to mingle divine things with human, and so to add dignity to the beginnings of cities; and if any people ought to be allowed to consecrate their origins and refer them to a divine source, so great is the military glory of the Roman People that when they profess that their Father and the Father of their Founder was none other than Mars, the nations of the earth may well submit to this also with as good a grace as they submit to Rome’s dominion. But to such legends as these, however they shall be regarded and judged, I shall, for my own part, attach no great importance. Here are the questions to which I would have every reader [5] give his close attention—what life and morals were like; through what men and by what policies, in peace and in war, empire was established and enlarged; then let him note how, with the gradual relaxation of discipline, morals first gave way, as it were, then sank lower and lower, and finally began the downward plunge1 which has brought us to the present time, when we can endure neither our vices nor their cure.
What chiefly makes the study of history wholesome and profitable is this, that you behold the lessons of every kind of experience set forth as on a conspicuous monument;2 from these you may choose for yourself and for your own state what to imitate, from these mark for avoidance what is shameful in the conception and shameful in the result. For the rest, either love of the task I have set myself deceives me, or no state was ever greater, none more righteous or richer in good examples, none ever was where avarice and luxury came into the social order so late, or where humble means and thrift were so highly esteemed and so long held in honour. For true it is that the less men’s wealth was, the less was their greed. Of late, riches have brought in avarice, and excessive pleasures the longing to carry wantonness and licence to the point of ruin for oneself and of universal destruction.But complaints are sure to be disagreeable, even when they shall perhaps be necessary; let the beginning, at all events, of so great an enterprise have none. With good omens rather would we begin, and, if historians had the same custom which poets have, [7] with prayers and entreaties to the gods and goddesses, that they might grant us to bring to a successful issue the great task we have undertaken.


First of all, then, it is generally agreed that when Troy was taken vengeance was wreaked upon the other Trojans, but that two, Aeneas and Antenor, were spared all the penalties of war by the Achivi, owing to long-standing claims of hospitality, and because they had always advocated peace and the giving back of Helen. They then experienced various vicissitudes. Antenor, with a company of Eneti who had been expelled from Paphlagonia in a revolution and were looking for a home and a leader—for they had lost their king, Pylaemenes, at Troy1—came to the inmost bay of the Adriatic. There, driving out the Euganei, who dwelt between the sea and the Alps, the Eneti and Trojans took possession of those lands. And in fact the place where they first landed is called Troy, and the district is therefore known as Trojan, while the people as a whole are called the Veneti. Aeneas, driven from home by a similar misfortune, but guided by fate to undertakings of greater consequence, came first to Macedonia; thence was carried, in his quest of a place of settlement, to Sicily; and from Sicily laid his course towards the land of Laurentum. This place too is called Troy. Landing there, the Trojans, as men who, after their all but immeasurable wanderings, had nothing left but their swords and ships, were driving booty from the fields, when King Latinus and the Aborigines, who then occupied that country, rushed down from their city and their fields to repel with arms the violence of the invaders. From this point the tradition follows two [9] lines. Some say that Latinus, having been defeated in the battle, made a peace with Aeneas, and later an alliance of marriage.1 Others maintain that when the opposing lines had been drawn up, Latinus did not wait for the charge to sound, but advanced amidst his chieftains and summoned the captain of the strangers to a parley. He then inquired what men they were, whence they had come, what mishap had caused them to leave their home, and what they sought in landing on the coast of Laurentum. He was told that the people were Trojans and their leader Aeneas, son of Anchises and Venus; that their city had been burnt, and that, driven from home, they were looking for a dwelling-place and a site where they might build a city. Filled with wonder at the renown of the race and the hero, and at his spirit, prepared alike for war or peace, he gave him his right hand in solemn pledge of lasting friendship. The commanders then made a treaty, and the armies saluted each other. Aeneas became a guest in the house of Latinus; there the latter, in the presence of his household gods, added a domestic treaty to the public one, by giving his daughter in marriage to Aeneas. This event removed any doubt in the minds of the Trojans that they had brought their wanderings to an end at last in a permanent and settled habitation. They founded a town, which Aeneas named Lavinium, after his wife In a short time, moreover, there was a male scion of the new marriage, to whom his parents gave the name of Ascanius.


War was then made upon Trojans and Aborigines alike. Turnus was king of the Rutulians, and to him Lavinia had been betrothed before the coming [11] of Aeneas. Indignant that a stranger should be preferred before him, he attacked, at the same time, both Aeneas and Latinus. Neither army came off rejoicing from that battle. The Rutulians were beaten: the victorious Aborigines and Trojans lost their leader Latinus. Then Turnus and the Rutulians, discouraged at their situation, fled for succour to the opulent and powerful Etruscans and their king Mezentius, who held sway in Caere, at that time an important town. Mezentius had been, from the very beginning, far from pleased at the birth of the new city; he now felt that the Trojan state was growing much more rapidly than was altogether safe for its neighbours, and readily united his forces with those of the Rutulians. Aeneas, that he might win the goodwill of the Aborigines to confront so formidable an array, and that all might possess not only the same rights but also the same name, called both nations Latins;1 and from that time on the Aborigines were no less ready and faithful than the Trojans in the service of King Aeneas. Accordingly, trusting to this friendly spirit of the two peoples, which were growing each day more united, and, despite the power of Etruria, which had filled with the glory of her name not only the lands but the sea as well, along the whole extent of Italy from the Alps to the Sicilian Strait, Aeneas declined to defend himself behind his walls, as he might have done, but led out his troops to battle. The fight which ensued was a victory for the Latins: for Aeneas it was, besides, the last of his mortal labours. He lies buried, whether it is fitting and right [13] to term him god or man, on the banks of the river Numicus; men, however, call him Jupiter Indiges.1


Ascanius, Aeneas’ son, was not yet ripe for authority; yet the authority was kept for him, unimpaired, until he arrived at manhood. Meanwhile, under a woman’s regency, the Latin State and the kingdom of his father and his grandfather stood unshaken—so strong was Lavinia’s character—until the boy could claim it. I shall not discuss the question—for who could affirm for certain so ancient a matter?—whether this boy was Ascanius, or an elder brother, born by Creusa while Ilium yet stood, who accompanied his father when he fled from the city, being the same whom the Julian family call lulus and claim as the author of their name. This Ascanius, no matter where born, or of what mother—it is agreed in any case that he was Aeneas’ son—left Lavinium, when its population came to be too large, for it was already a flourishing and wealthy city for those days, to his mother, or stepmother, and founded a new city himself below the Alban Mount. This was known from its position, as it lay stretched out along the ridge, by the name of Alba Longa. From the settlement of Lavinium to the planting of the colony at Alba Longa was an interval of some thirty years. Yet the nation had grown so powerful, in consequence especially of the defeat of the Etruscans, that even when Aeneas died, and even when a woman became its regent and a boy began his apprenticeship as king, neither Mezentius and his Etruscans nor any other neighbours dared to attack them. Peace had been agreed to on these terms, that the River Albula, which men now call the Tiber, should be the boundary [15] between the Etruscans and the Latins. Next Silvius reigned, son of Ascanius, born, as it chanced, in the forest. He begat Aeneas Silvius, and he Latinus Silvius. By him several colonies were planted, and called the Ancient Latins. Thereafter the cognomen Silvius was retained by all who ruled at Alba. From Latinus came Alba, from Alba Atys, from Atys Capys, from Capys Capetus, from Capetus Tiberinus. This last king was drowned in crossing the River Albula, and gave the stream the name which has been current with later generations. Then Agrippa, son of Tiberinus, reigned, and after Agrippa Romulus Silvius was king, having received the power from his father. Upon the death of Romulus by lightning, the kingship passed from him to Aventinus. This king was buried on that hill, which is now a part of the city of Rome, and gave his name to the hill. Proca ruled next. He begat Numitor and Amulius; to Numitor, the elder, he bequeathed the ancient realm of the Silvian family. Yet violence proved more potent than a father’s wishes or respect for seniority. Amulius drove out his brother and ruled in his stead. Adding crime to crime, he destroyed Numitor’s male issue; and Rhea Silvia, his brother’s daughter, he appointed a Vestal under pretence of honouring her, and by consigning her to perpetual virginity, deprived her of the hope of children.


But the Fates were resolved, as I suppose, upon the founding of this great City, and the beginning of the mightiest of empires, next after that of Heaven. The Vestal was ravished, and having given birth to twin sons, named Mars as the father of her doubtful offspring, whether actually so believing, or because it seemed less wrong if a god [17] were the author of her fault. But neither gods nor men protected the mother herself or her babes from the king’s cruelty; the priestess he ordered to be manacled and cast into prison, the children to be committed to the river. It happened by singular good fortune that the Tiber having spread beyond its banks into stagnant pools afforded nowhere any access to the regular channel of the river, and the men who brought the twins were led to hope that being infants they might be drowned, no matter how sluggish the stream. So they made shift to discharge the king’s command, by exposing the babes at the nearest point of the overflow, where the fig-tree Ruminalis—formerly, they say, called Romularis—now stands. In those days this was a wild and uninhabited region. The story persists that when the floating basket in which the children had been exposed was left high and dry by the receding water, a she-wolf, coming down out of the surrounding hills to slake her thirst, turned her steps towards the cry of the infants, and with her teats gave them suck so gently, that the keeper of the royal flock found her licking them with her tongue. Tradition assigns to this man the name of Faustulus, and adds that he carried the twins to his hut and gave them to his wife Larentia to rear. Some think that Larentia, having been free with her favours, had got the name of “she-wolf” among the shepherds, and that this gave rise to this marvellous story.1 The boys, thus born and reared, had no sooner attained to youth than they began—yet without neglecting the farmstead or the flocks—to range the glades of the mountains for game. Having in this way gained both strength and resolution, they would now not [19] only face wild beasts, but would attack robbers laden with their spoils, and divide up what they took from them among the shepherds, with whom they shared their toils and pranks, while their band of young men grew larger every day.


They say that the Palatine was even then the scene of the merry festival of the Lupercalia which we have to-day, and that the hill was named Pallantium, from Pallanteum, an Arcadian city, and then Palatium.1 There Evander, an Arcadian of that stock, who had held the place many ages before the time of which I am writing, is said to have established the yearly rite, derived from Arcadia, that youths should run naked about in playful sport, doing honour to Lycaean Pan, whom the Romans afterwards called Inuus. When the young men were occupied in this celebration, the rite being generally known, some robbers who had been angered by the loss of their plunder laid an ambush for them, and although Romulus successfully defended himself, captured Remus and delivered up their prisoner to King Amulius, even lodging a complaint against him. The main charge was that the brothers made raids on the lands of Numitor, and pillaged them, with a band of young fellows which they had got together, like an invading enemy. So Remus was given up to Numitor to be punished. From the very beginning Faustulus had entertained the suspicion that they were children of the royal blood that he was bringing up in his house; for he was aware both that infants had been exposed by order of the king, and that the time when he had himself taken up the children exactly coincided with that event. But he had been unwilling that the [21] matter should be disclosed prematurely, until opportunity offered or necessity compelled. Necessity came first; accordingly, driven by fear, he revealed the facts to Romulus. It chanced that Numitor too, having Remus in custody, and hearing that the brothers were twins, had been reminded, upon considering their age and their far from servile nature, of his grandsons. The inquiries he made led him to the same conclusion, so that he was almost ready to acknowledge Remus. Thus on every hand the toils were woven about the king. Romulus did not assemble his company of youths—for he was not equal to open violence—but commanded his shepherds to come to the palace at an appointed time, some by one way, some by another, and so made his attack upon the king; while from the house of Numitor came Remus, with another party which he had got together, to help his brother. So Romulus slew the king.


At the beginning of the fray Numitor exclaimed that an enemy had invaded the city and attacked the palace, and drew off the active men of the place to serve as an armed garrison for the defence of the citadel; and when he saw the young men approaching, after they had dispatched the king, to congratulate him, he at once summoned a council, and laid before it his brother’s crimes against himself, the parentage of his grandsons, and how they had been born, reared, and recognised. He then announced the tyrant’s death, and declared himself to be responsible for it. The brothers advanced with their band through the midst of the crowd, and hailed their grandfather king, whereupon such a shout of assent arose from the entire throng as confirmed the new monarch’s title and authority. [23]

The Alban state being thus made over to Numitor, Romulus and Remus were seized with the desire to found a city in the region where they had been exposed and brought up. And in fact the population of Albans and Latins was too large; besides, there were the shepherds. All together, their numbers might easily lead men to hope that Alba would be small, and Lavinium small, compared with the city which they should build. These considerations were interrupted by the curse of their grandsires, the greed of kingly power, and by a shameful quarrel which grew out of it, upon an occasion innocent enough. Since the brothers were twins, and respect for their age could not determine between them, it was agreed that the gods who had those places in their protection should choose by augury who should give the new city its name, who should govern it when built. Romulus took the Palatine for his augural quarter, Remus the Aventine.


Remus  is said to have been the first to receive an augury, from the flight of six vultures. The omen had been already reported when twice that number appeared to Romulus. Thereupon each was saluted king by his own followers, the one party laying claim to the honour from priority, the other from the number of the birds. They then engaged in a battle of words and, angry taunts leading to bloodshed, Remus was struck down in the affray. The commoner story is that Remus leaped over the new walls in mockery of his brother, whereupon Romulus in great anger slew him, and in menacing wise added these words withal, “So perish whoever else shall leap over my walls!”1 Thus Romulus acquired sole power, and the city, thus founded, was called by its founder’s name. [25]
His first act was to fortify the Palatine, on which he had himself been reared. To other gods he sacrificed after the Alban custom, but employed the Greek for Hercules, according to the institution of Evander. The story is as follows: Hercules, after slaying Geryones, was driving off his wondrously beautiful cattle, when, close to the river Tiber, where he had swum across it with the herd before him, he found a green spot, where he could let the cattle rest and refresh themselves with the abundant grass; and being tired from his journey he lay down himself. When he had there fallen into a deep sleep, for he was heavy with food and wine, a shepherd by the name of Cacus, who dwelt hard by and was insolent by reason of his strength, was struck with the beauty of the animals, and wished to drive them off as plunder. But if he had driven the herd into his cave, their tracks would have been enough to guide their owner to the place in his search; he therefore chose out those of the cattle that were most remarkable for their beauty, and turning them the other way, dragged them into the cave by their tails. At daybreak Hercules awoke. Glancing over the herd, and perceiving that a part of their number was lacking, he proceeded to the nearest cave, in case there might be foot-prints leading into it. When he saw that they were all turned outward and yet did not lead to any other place, he was confused and bewildered, and made ready to drive his herd away from that uncanny spot. As the cattle were being driven off, some of them lowed, as usually happens, missing those which had been left behind. They were answered with a low by the cattle shut up in the cave, and this made Hercules turn back. When he came towards the [27] cave, Cacus would have prevented his approach with force, but received a blow from the hero’s club, and calling in vain upon the shepherds to protect him, gave up the ghost. Evander, an exile from the Peloponnese, controlled that region in those days, more through personal influence than sovereign power. He was a man revered for his wonderful invention of letters,1 a new thing to men unacquainted with the arts, and even more revered because of the divinity which men attributed to his mother Carmenta, whom those tribes had admired as a prophetess before the Sibyl’s coming into Italy. Now this Evander was then attracted by the concourse of shepherds, who, crowding excitedly about the stranger, were accusing him as a murderer caught red-handed. When he had been told about the deed and the reason for it, and had marked the bearing of the man and his figure, which was somewhat ampler and more august than a mortal’s, he inquired who he was. Upon learning his name, his father, and his birth-place, he exclaimed, “Hail, Hercules, son of Jupiter! You are he, of whom my mother, truthful interpreter of Heaven, foretold to me that you should be added to the number of the gods, and that an altar should be dedicated to you here which the nation one day to be the most powerful on earth should call the Greatest Altar, and should serve according to your rite.” Hercules gave him his hand, and declared that he accepted the omen, and would fulfil the prophecy by establishing and dedicating an altar. Then and there men took a choice victim from the herd, and for the first time made sacrifice to Hercules. For the ministry and the banquet they employed the Potitii and the Pinarii, being the families [29] of most distinction then living in that region. It fell out that the Potitii were there at the appointed time, and to them were served the inwards; the Pinarii came after the inwards had been eaten, in season for the remainder of the feast. Thence came the custom, which persisted as long as the Pinarian family endured, that they should not partake of the inwards at that sacrifice. The Potitii, instructed by Evander, were priests of this cult for many generations, until, having delegated to public slaves the solemn function of their family, the entire stock of the Potitii died out. This was the only sacred observance, of all those of foreign origin, which Romulus then adopted, honouring even then the immortality won by worth to which his own destiny was leading him.1


When Romulus had duly attended to the worship of the gods, he called the people together and gave them the rules of law, since nothing else but law could unite them into a single body politic. But these, he was persuaded, would only appear binding in the eyes of a rustic people in case he should invest his own person with majesty, by adopting emblems of authority. He therefore put on a more august state in every way, and especially by the assumption of twelve lictors.2 Some think the twelve birds which had given him an augury of kingship led him to choose this number. For my part, I am content to share the opinion of those who derive from the neighbouring Etruscans (whence were borrowed the curule chair and purple-bordered toga) not only the type of attendants but their number as well—a number which the Etruscans themselves are thought to have chosen because each [31] of the twelve cities which united to elect the king contributed one lictor.

Meanwhile the City was expanding and reaching out its walls to include one place after another, for they built their defences with an eye rather to the population which they hoped one day to have than to the numbers they had then. Next, lest his big City should be empty, Romulus resorted to a plan for increasing the inhabitants which had long been employed by the founders of cities, who gather about them an obscure and lowly multitude and pretend that the earth has raised up sons to them. In the place which is now enclosed, between the two groves as you go up the hill,1 he opened a sanctuary. Thither fled, from the surrounding peoples, a miscellaneous rabble, without distinction of bond or free, eager for new conditions; and these constituted the first advance in power towards that greatness at which Romulus aimed. He had now no reason to be dissatisfied with his strength, and proceeded to add policy to strength. He appointed a hundred senators, whether because this number seemed to him sufficient, or because there were no more than a hundred who could be designated Fathers.2 At all events, they received the designation of fathers from their rank, and their descendants were called patricians.


Rome was now strong enough to hold her own in war with any of the adjacent states; but owing to the want of women a single generation was likely to see the end of her greatness, since she had neither prospect of posterity at home nor the right of intermarriage with her neighbours. So, on the advice of the senate, Romulus sent envoys round among all the neighbouring nations to solicit for the new people [33] an alliance and the privilege of intermarrying, Cities, they argued, as well as all other things, take their rise from the lowliest beginnings. As time goes on, those which are aided by their own worth and by the favour of Heaven achieve great power and renown. They said they were well assured that Rome’s origin had been blessed with the favour of Heaven, and that worth would not be lacking; their neighbours should not be reluctant to mingle their stock and their blood with the Romans, who were as truly men as they were. Nowhere did the embassy obtain a friendly hearing. In fact men spurned, at the same time that they feared, both for themselves and their descendants, that great power which was then growing up in their midst; and the envoys were frequently asked, on being dismissed, if they had opened a sanctuary for women as well as for men, for in that way only would they obtain suitable wives. This was a bitter insult to the young Romans, and the matter seemed certain to end in violence. Expressly to afford a fitting time and place for this, Romulus, concealing his resentment, made ready solemn games in honour of the equestrian Neptune, which he called Consualia.1 He then bade proclaim the spectacle to the surrounding peoples, and his subjects prepared to celebrate it with all the resources within their knowledge and power, that they might cause the occasion to be noised abroad and eagerly expected. Many people—for they were also eager to see the new city—gathered for the festival, especially those who lived nearest, the inhabitants of Caenina, Crustumium, and Antemnae. The Sabines, [35] too, came with all their people, including their children and wives. They were hospitably entertained in every house, and when they had looked at the site of the city, its walls, and its numerous buildings, they marvelled that Rome had so rapidly grown great. When the time came for the show, and people’s thoughts and eyes were busy with it, the preconcerted attack began. At a given signal the young Romans darted this way and that, to seize and carry off the maidens. In most cases these were taken by the men in whose path they chanced to be. Some, of exceptional beauty, had been marked out for the chief senators, and were carried off to their houses by plebeians to whom the office had been entrusted. One, who far excelled the rest in mien and loveliness, was seized, the story relates, by the gang of a certain Thalassius. Being repeatedly asked for whom they were bearing her off, they kept shouting that no one should touch her, for they were taking her to Thalassius, and this was the origin of the wedding-cry.1 The sports broke up in a panic, and the parents of the maidens fled sorrowing. They charged the Romans with the crime of violating hospitality, and invoked the gods to whose solemn games they had come, deceived in violation of religion and honour. The stolen maidens were no more hopeful of their plight, nor less indignant. But Romulus himself went amongst them and explained that the pride of their parents had caused this deed, when they had refused their neighbours the right to intermarry; nevertheless the daughters should be wedded and become co-partners in all the possessions of the Romans, in their citizenship and, dearest privilege of all to the human race, in their children; [37] only let them moderate their anger, and give their hearts to those to whom fortune had given their persons. A sense of injury had often given place to affection, and they would find their husbands the kinder for this reason, that every man would earnestly endeavour not only to be a good husband, but also to console his wife for the home and parents she had lost. His arguments were seconded by the wooing of the men, who excused their act on the score of passion and love, the most moving of all pleas to a woman’s heart.


The resentment of the brides was already much diminished at the very moment when their parents, in mourning garb and with tears and lamentations, were attempting to arouse their states to action. Nor did they confine their complaints to their home towns, but thronged from every side to the house of Titus Tatius, king of the Sabines; and thither, too, came official embassies, for the name of Tatius was the greatest in all that country. The men of Caenina, Crustumium, and Antemnae, were those who had had a share in the wrong. It seemed to them that Tatius and the Sabines were procrastinating, and without waiting for them these three tribes arranged for a joint campaign. But even the Crustuminians and Antemnates moved too slowly to satisfy the burning anger of the Caeninenses, and accordingly that nation invaded alone the Roman territory. But while they were dispersed and engaged in pillage, Romulus appeared with his troops and taught them, by an easy victory, how ineffectual is anger without strength. Their army he broke and routed, and pursued it as it fled; their king he killed [39] in battle and despoiled; their city, once their leader was slain, he captured at the first assault. He then led his victorious army back, and being not more splendid in his deeds than willing to display them, he arranged the spoils of the enemy’s dead commander upon a frame, suitably fashioned for the purpose, and, carrying it himself, mounted the Capitol. Having there deposited his burden, by an oak which the shepherds held sacred, at the same time as he made his offering he marked out the limits of a temple to Jupiter, and bestowed a title upon him. “Jupiter Feretrius,” he said, “to thee I, victorious Romulus, myself a king, bring the panoply of a king, and dedicate a sacred precinct within the bounds which I have even now marked off in my mind, to be a seat for the spoils of honour which men shall bear hither in time to come, following my example, when they have slain kings and commanders of the enemy.” This was the origin of the first temple that was consecrated in Rome.1 It pleased Heaven, in the sequel, that while the founder’s words should not be in vain, when he declared that men should bring spoils thither in the after time, yet the glory of that gift should not be staled by a multitude of partakers. Twice only since then, in all these years with their many wars, have the spoils of honour been won; so rarely have men had the good fortune to attain to that distinction.2


While the Romans were thus occupied in the City, the army of the Antemnates seized the opportunity afforded by their absence, and made an inroad upon their territory; but so swiftly was the Roman [41]levy led against them that they, too, were taken off b.c. 753–717 their guard while scattered about in the fields. They were therefore routed at the first charge and shout, and their town was taken. As Romulus was exulting in his double victory, his wife Hersilia, beset with entreaties by the captive women, begged him to forgive their parents and receive them into the state; which would, in that case, gain in strength by harmony. He readily granted her request. He then set out to meet the Crustuminians, who were marching to attack him. They offered even less resistance than their allies had done, for their ardour had been quenched by the defeats of the others. Colonies were sent out to both places, though most of the colonists preferred to enrol for Crustumium on account of the fertility of its soil. On the other hand, many persons left Crustumium and came to live in Rome, chiefly parents and kinsmen of the captured women.
The last to attack Rome were the Sabines, and this war was by far the gravest of all, for passion and greed were not their motives, nor did they parade war before they made it. To their prudence they even added deception. Spurius Tarpeius commanded the Roman citadel. This man’s maiden daughter was bribed with gold by Tatius to admit armed men into the fortress: she happened at that time to have gone outside the walls to fetch water for a sacrifice.1 Once within, they threw their shields upon her and killed her so, whether to make it appear that the citadel had been taken by assault, or to set an example, that no one might anywhere keep faith with a traitor. There is also a legend that because most of the Sabines wore heavy golden [43] bracelets on their left arms and magnificent jewelled rings, she had stipulated for what they had on their left arms, and that they had therefore heaped their shields upon her, instead of gifts of gold. Some say that, in virtue of the compact that they should give her what they wore on their arms, she flatly demanded their shields and, her treachery being perceived, forfeited her life to the bargain she herself had struck.1


Be that as it may, the Sabines held the citadel. Next day the Roman army was drawn up, and covered the ground between the Palatine Hill and the Capitoline, but the Sabines would not come down till rage and eagerness to regain the citadel had goaded their enemy into marching up the slope against them. Two champions led the fighting, the Sabine Mettius Curtius on the one side, and the Roman Hostius Hostilius on the other. Hostius held the Romans firm, despite their disadvantage of position, by the reckless courage he displayed in the thick of the fray. But when he fell, the Roman line gave way at once and fled towards the old gate of the Palatine. Romulus himself was swept along in the crowd of the fugitives, till lifting his sword and shield to heaven, he cried, “O Jupiter, it was thy omen that directed me when I laid here on the Palatine the first foundations of my City. The fortress is already bought by a crime and in the possession of the Sabines, whence they are come, sword in hand, across the valley to seek us here. But do thou, father of gods and men, keep them back from this spot at least; deliver the Romans from their terror, and stay their shameful flight! I here vow to thee, Jupiter the Stayer, a temple, to be a [45] memorial to our descendants how the City was saved b.c. by thy present help.” Having uttered this prayer he exclaimed, as if he had perceived that it was heard, “Here, Romans, Jupiter Optimus Maximus commands us to stand and renew the fight!” The Romans did stand, as though directed by a voice from Heaven, Romulus himself rushing into the forefront of the battle. Mettius Curtius, on the Sabine side, had led the charge down from the citadel, and driven the Romans in disorder over all that ground which the Forum occupies. He was not now far from the gate of the Palatine, shouting, “We have beaten our faithless hosts, our cowardly enemies! They know now how great is the difference between carrying off maidens and fighting with men!” While he pronounced this boast a band of gallant youths, led on by Romulus, assailed him. It chanced that Mettius was fighting on horseback at the time, and was therefore the more easily put to flight. As he fled, the Romans followed; and the rest of their army, too, fired by the reckless daring of their king, drove the Sabines before them. Mettius plunged into a swamp, his horse becoming unmanageable in the din of the pursuit, and even the Sabines were drawn off from the general engagement by the danger to so great a man. As for Mettius, heartened by the gestures and shouts of his followers and the encouragement of the throng, he made his escape; and the Romans and the Sabines renewed their battle in the valley that lies between the two hills. But the advantage rested with the Romans.


Then the Sabine women, whose wrong had given rise to the war, with loosened hair and torn [47]garments, their woman’s timidity lost in a sense of their misfortune, dared to go amongst the flying missiles, and rushing in from the side, to part the hostile forces and disarm them of their anger, beseeching their fathers on this side, on that their husbands, that fathers-in-law and sons-in-law should not stain themselves with impious bloodshed, nor pollute with parricide the suppliants’ children, grandsons to one party and sons to the other. “If you regret,” they continued, “the relationship that unites you, if you regret the marriage-tie, turn your anger against us; we are the cause of war, the cause of wounds, and even death to both our husbands and our parents. It will be better for us to perish than to live, lacking either of you, as widows or as orphans.” It was a touching plea, not only to the rank and file, but to their leaders as well. A stillness fell on them, and a sudden hush. Then the leaders came forward to make a truce, and not only did they agree on peace, but they made one people out of the two. They shared the sovereignty, but all authority was transferred to Rome. In this way the population was doubled, and that some concession might after all be granted the Sabines, the citizens were named Quirites, from the town of Cures.1 As a reminder of this battle they gave the name of Curtian Lake to the pool where the horse of Curtius first emerged from the deep swamp and brought his rider to safety.2

The sudden exchange of so unhappy a war for a joyful peace endeared the Sabine women even more to their husbands and parents, and above all to [49] Romulus himself. And so, when he divided the people into thirty curiae, he named these wards after the women.1 Undoubtedly the number of the women was somewhat greater than this, but tradition does not tell whether it was their age, their own or their husbands’ rank, or the casting of lots, that determined which of them should give their names to the wards. At the same time there were formed three centuries of knights: the Ramnenses were named after Romulus; the Titienses after Titus Tatius; the name and origin of the Luceres are alike obscure.2 From this time forth the two kings ruled not only jointly but in harmony.


Some years later the kinsmen of King Tatius maltreated the envoys of the Laurentians, and when their fellow-citizens sought redress under the law of nations, Titus yielded to his partiality for his relations and to their entreaties. In consequence of this he drew down their punishment upon himself, for at Lavinium, whither he had gone to the annual sacrifice, a mob came together and killed him. This act is said to have awakened less resentment than was proper in Romulus, whether owing to the disloyalty that attends a divided rule, or because he thought Tatius had been not unjustly slain. He therefore declined to go to war; but yet, in order that he might atone for the insults to the envoys and the murder of the king, he caused the covenant between Rome and Lavinium to be renewed.

Thus with the Laurentians peace was preserved against all expectation; but another war broke out, much nearer, and indeed almost at the city gates. The men of Fidenae, perceiving the growth of a power which they thought too near themselves for [51] safety, did not wait till its promised strength should be realized, but began war themselves. Arming the young men, they sent them to ravage the land between the City and Fidenae. Thence they turned to the left—for the Tiber stopped them on the right—and by their devastations struck terror into the farmers, whose sudden stampede from the fields into the City brought the first tidings of war. Romulus led forth his army on the instant, for delay was impossible with the enemy so near, and pitched his camp a mile from Fidenae. Leaving there a small guard, he marched out with all his forces. A part of his men he ordered to lie in ambush, on this side and on that, where thick underbrush afforded cover; advancing with the greater part of the infantry and all the cavalry, and delivering a disorderly and provoking attack, in which the horsemen galloped almost up to the gates, he accomplished his purpose of drawing out the enemy. For the flight, too, which had next to be feigned, the cavalry engagement afforded a favourable pretext. And when not only the cavalry began to waver, as if undecided whether to fight or run, but the infantry also fell back, the city gates were quickly thronged by the enemy, who poured out and hurled themselves against the Roman line, and in the ardour of attack and pursuit were drawn on to the place of ambuscade. There the Romans suddenly sprang out and assailed the enemy’s flanks, while, to add to their terror, the standards of the detachment which had been left on guard were seen advancing from the camp; thus threatened by so many dangers the men of Fidenae scarcely afforded time for Romulus and those whom they had seen riding off with him to wheel about, before they [53] broke and ran, and in far greater disorder than that of the pretended fugitives whom they had just been chasing—for the flight was a real one this time—sought to regain the town. But the Fidenates did not escape their foes; the Romans followed close upon their heels, and before the gates could be shut burst into the city, as though they both formed but a single army.


From Fidenae the war-spirit, by a kind of contagion, spread to the Veientes, whose hostility was aroused by their kinship with the Fidenates, Etruscans like themselves, and was intensified by the danger which lay in their very proximity to Rome, if her arms should be directed against all her neighbours. They made an incursion into Roman territory which more resembled a marauding expedition than a regular campaign; and so, without having entrenched a camp or waited for the enemy’s army, they carried off their booty from the fields and brought it back to Veii. The Romans, on the contrary, not finding their enemy in the fields, crossed the Tiber, ready and eager for a decisive struggle. When the Veientes heard that they were making a camp, and would be advancing against their city, they went out to meet them, preferring to settle the quarrel in the field of battle rather than to be shut up and compelled to fight for their homes and their town. Without employing strategy to aid his forces, the Roman king won the battle by the sheer strength of his seasoned army, and routing his enemies, pursued them to their walls. But the city was strongly fortified, besides the protection afforded by its site, and he refrained from attacking it. Their fields, indeed, he laid waste as he returned, more in [55]revenge than from a desire for booty, and this disaster, following upon their defeat, induced the Veientes to send envoys to Rome and sue for peace. They were deprived of a part of their land, and a truce was granted them for a hundred years.

Such were the principal achievements of the reign of Romulus, at home and in the field, nor is any of them incompatible with the belief in his divine origin and the divinity which was ascribed to the king after his death, whether one considers his spirit in recovering the kingdom of his ancestors, or his wisdom in founding the City and in strengthening it by warlike and peaceful measures. For it was to him, assuredly, that Rome owed the vigour which enabled her to enjoy an untroubled peace for the next forty years. Nevertheless, he was more liked by the commons than by the senate, and was preeminently dear to the hearts of his soldiers. Of these he had three hundred for a bodyguard, to whom he gave the name of Celeres,1 and kept them by him, not only in war, but also in time of peace.


When these deathless deeds had been done, as the king was holding a muster in the Campus Martius, near the swamp of Capra, for the purpose of reviewing the army, suddenly a storm came up, with loud claps of thunder, and enveloped him in a cloud so thick as to hide him from the sight of the assembly; and from that moment Romulus was no more on earth.2 The Roman soldiers at length recovered from their panic, when this hour of wild confusion had been succeeded by a sunny calm; but when they saw that the royal seat was empty, although they readily believed the assertion of the senators, who had been standing next to Romulus, [57] that he had been caught up on high in the blast, they nevertheless remained for some time sorrowful and silent, as if filled with the fear of orphanhood. Then, when a few men had taken the initiative, they all with one accord hailed Romulus as a god and a god’s son, the King and Father of the Roman City, and with prayers besought his favour that he would graciously be pleased forever to protect his children. There were some, I believe, even then who secretly asserted that the king had been rent in pieces by the hands of the senators, for this rumour, too, got abroad, but in very obscure terms; the other version obtained currency, owing to men’s admiration for the hero and the intensity of their panic. And the shrewd device of one man is also said to have gained new credit for the story. This was Proculus Julius, who, when the people were distracted with the loss of their king and in no friendly mood towards the senate, being, as tradition tells, weighty in council, were the matter never so important, addressed the assembly as follows: “Quirites, the Father of this City, Romulus, descended suddenly from the sky at dawn this morning and appeared to me. Covered with confusion, I stood reverently before him, praying that it might be vouchsafed me to look upon his face without sin.1 ‘Go,’ said he, ‘and declare to the Romans the will of Heaven that my Rome shall be the capital of the world; so let them cherish the art of war, and let them know and teach their children that no human strength can resist Roman arms.’ So saying,” he concluded, “Romulus departed on high.” It is wonderful what credence the people placed in that man’s tale, and how the grief for the loss of Romulus, which the plebeians [59]and the army felt, was quieted by the assurance of his immortality.




Gender and Sexuality in Ancient Rome Copyright © by Jody Valentine. All Rights Reserved.

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