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The proverbs says that Rome was not built in a day. It was no easy task for the twins to agree just where they should even begin the city. Romulus thought that the Palatine Hill, on which he and his brother had lived, was the most favorable spot for the purpose, while Remus inclined no less decidedly in favor of the Aventine, on which Numitor had fed his flocks. In this emergency, they seem to have asked counsel of their grandfather, and he advised them to settle the question by recourse to augury, a practice of the Etrurians with which they were probably quite familiar, for they had been educated, we are told, at Gabii, the largest of the towns of Latium, where all the knowledge of the region was known to the teachers...
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Copyright © 2016 by Arthur Gilman
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Once Upon a Time
How the Shepherds Began the City
How Corinth Gave Rome a New Dynasty
The Rise of the Commons
How a Proud King Fell
The Roman Runnymede
How the Heroes Fought for a Hundred Years
A Blast from Beyond the North-Wind
How the Republic Overcame its Neighbors
An African Sirocco
The New Pushes the Old—Wars and Conquests
A Futile Effort at Reform
Social and Civil Wars
The Master Spirits of this Age
Progress of the Great Pompey
How the Triumvirs Came to Untimely Ends
How the Republic Became an Empire
Some Manners and Customs of the Roman People
The Roman Reading and Writing
The Roman Republicans Serious and Gay
ONCE UPON A TIME, there lived in a city of Asia Minor, not far from Mount Ida, as old Homer tells us in his grand and beautiful poem, a king who had fifty sons and many daughters. How large his family was, indeed, we cannot say, for the storytellers of the olden time were not very careful to set down the actual and exact truth, their chief object being to give the people something to interest them. That they succeeded well in this respect we know, because the story of this old king and his great family of sons and daughters has been told and retold thousands of times since it was first related, and that was so long ago that the bard himself has sometimes been said never to have lived at all. Still; somebody must have existed who told the wondrous story, and it has always been attributed to a blind poet, to whom the name Homer has been given.
The place in which the old king and his great family lived was Ilium, though it is better known as Troja or Troy, because that is the name that the Roman people used for it in later times. One of the sons of Priam, for that was the name of this king, was Paris, who, though very handsome, was a wayward and troublesome youth. He once journeyed to Greece to find a wife, and there fell in love with a beautiful daughter of Jupiter, named Helen. She was already married to Menelaus, the Prince of Lacedaemonia (brother of another famous hero, Agamemnon), who had most hospitably entertained young Paris, but this did not interfere with his carrying her off to Troy. The wedding journey was made by the roundabout way of Phoenicia and Egypt, but at last the couple reached home with a large amount of treasure taken from the hospitable Menelaus.
This wild adventure led to a war of ten years between the Greeks and King Priam, for the rescue of the beautiful Helen. Menelaus and some of his countrymen at last contrived to conceal themselves in a hollow wooden horse, in which they were taken into Troy. Once inside, it was an easy task to open the gates and let the whole army in also. The city was then taken and burned. Menelaus was naturally one of the first to hasten from the smoking ruins, though he was almost the last to reach his home. He lived afterwards for years in peace, health, and happiness with the beautiful wife who had cost him so much suffering and so many trials to regain.
Among the relatives of King Priam was one Anchises, a descendant of Jupiter, who was very old at the time of the war. He had a valiant son, however, who fought well in the struggle, and the story of his deeds was ever afterwards treasured up among the most precious narratives of all time. This son was named Aeneas, and he was not only a descendant of Jupiter, but also a son of the beautiful goddess Venus. He did not take an active part in the war at its beginning, but in the course of time he and Hector, who was one of the sons of the king, became the most prominent among the defenders of Troy. After the destruction of the city, he went out of it, carrying on his shoulders his aged father, Anchises, and leading by the hand his young son, Ascanius, or Iulus, as he was also called. He bore in his hands his household gods, called the Penates, and began his now celebrated wanderings over the earth. He found a resting-place at last on the farther coast of the Italian peninsula, and there one day he marvellously disappeared in a battle on the banks of the little brook Numicius, where a monument was erected to his memory as “The Father and the Native God.” According to the best accounts, the war of Troy took place nearly twelve hundred years before Christ, and that is some three thousand years ago now. It was before the time of the prophet Eli, of whom we read in the Bible, and long before the ancient days of Samuel and Saul and David and Solomon, who seem so very far removed from our times. There had been long lines of kings and princes in China and India before that time, however, and in the hoary land of Egypt as many as twenty dynasties of sovereigns had reigned and passed away, and a certain sort of civilization had flourished for two or three thousand years, so that the great world was not so young at that time as one might at first think If only there had been books and newspapers in those olden days, what revelations they would make to us now! They would tell us exactly where Troy was, which some of the learned think we do not know, and we might, by their help, separate fact from fiction in the immortal poems and stories that are now our only source of information. It is not for us to say that that would be any better for us than to know merely what we do, for poetry is elevating and entertaining, and stirs the heart; and who could make poetry out of the columns of a newspaper, even though it were as old as the times of the Pharaohs? Let us, then, be thankful for what we have, and take the beginnings of history in the mixed form of truth and fiction, following the lead of learned historians who are and long have been trying to trace the true clue of fact in the labyrinth of poetic story with which it is involved.
When the poet Milton sat down to write the history of that part of Britain now called England, as he expressed it, he said: “The beginning of nations, those excepted of whom sacred books have spoken, is to this day unknown. Nor only the beginning, but the deeds also of many succeeding ages, yes, periods of ages, either wholly unknown or obscured or blemished with fables.” Why this is so the great poet did not pretend to tell, but he thought that it might be because people did not know how to write in the first ages, or because their records had been lost in wars and by the sloth and ignorance that followed them. Perhaps men did not think that the records of their own times were worth preserving when they reflected how base and corrupt, how petty and perverse such deeds would appear to those who should come after them. For whatever reason, Milton said that it had come about that some of the stories that seemed to be the oldest were in his day regarded as fables; but that he did not intend to pass them over, because that which one antiquary admitted as true history, another exploded as mere fiction, and narratives that had been once called fables were afterward found to “contain in them many footsteps and reliques of something true,” as what might be read in poets “of the flood and giants, little believed, till undoubted witnesses taught us that all was not feigned.” For such reasons Milton determined to tell over the old stories, if for no other purpose than that they might be of service to the poets and romancers who knew how to use them judiciously. He said that he did not intend even to stop to argue and debate disputed questions, but, “imploring divine assistance,” to relate, “with plain and lightsome brevity,” those things worth noting.
After all this preparation Milton began his history of England at the Flood, hastily recounted the facts to the time of the great Trojan war, and then said that he had arrived at a period when the narrative could not be so hurriedly dispatched. He showed how the old historians had gone back to Troy for the beginnings of the English race, and had chosen a great-grandson of Aeneas, named Brutus, as the one by whom it should be attached to the right royal heroes of Homer’s poem. Thus we see how firm a hold upon the imagination of the world the tale of Troy had after twenty-seven hundred years.
Twenty-five or thirty years before the birth of Christ there was in Rome another poet, named Virgil, writing about the wanderings of Aeneas. He began his beautiful story with these words: “Arms I sing, and the hero, who first, exiled by fate, came from the coast of Troy to Italy and the Lavinian shore.” He then went on to tell in beautiful words the story of the wanderings of his hero,—a tale that has now been read and re-read for nearly two thousand years, by all who have wished to call themselves educated; generations of school-boys, and schoolgirls too, have slowly made their way through the Latin of its twelve books. This was another evidence of the strong hold that the story of Troy had upon men, as well as of the honor in which the heroes, and descent from them, were held.
In the generation after Virgil there arose a graphic writer named Livy, who wrote a long history of Rome, a large portion of which has been preserved to our own day. Like Virgil, Livy traced the origin of the Latin people to Aeneas, and like Milton, he re-told the ancient stories, saying that he had no intention of affirming or refuting the traditions that had come down to his time of what had occurred before the building of the city, though he thought them rather suitable for the fictions of poetry than for the genuine records of the historian. He added, that it was an indulgence conceded to antiquity to blend human things with things divine, in such a way as to make the origin of cities appear more venerable. This principle is much the same as that on which Milton wrote his history, and it seems a very good one. Let us, therefore, follow it.
In the narrative of events for several hundred years after the city of Rome was founded, according to the early traditions, it is difficult to distinguish truth from fiction, though a skilful historian (and many such there have been) is able, by reading history backwards, to make up his mind as to what is probable and what seems to belong only to the realm of myth. It does not, for example, seem probable that Aeneas was the son of the goddess Venus; and it seems clear that a great many of the stories that are mixed with the early history of Rome were written long after the events they pretend to record, in order to account for customs and observances of the later days. Some of these we shall notice as we go on with our pleasant story.
We must now return to Aeneas. After long wanderings and many marvellous adventures, he arrived, as has been said, on the shores of Italy. He was not able to go rapidly about the whole country, as we are in these days by means of our good roads and other modes of communication, but if he could have done this, he would have found that he had fallen upon a land in which the inhabitants had come, as he had, from foreign shores. Some of them were of Greek origin, and others had emigrated from countries just north of Italy, though, as we now know that Asia was the cradle of our race, and especially of that portion of it that has peopled Europe, we suppose that all the dwellers on the boot-shaped peninsula had their origin on that mysterious continent at some early period.
If Aeneas could have gone to the southern part of Italy,—to that part from which travellers now take the steamships for the East at Brindisi, he would have found some of the emigrants from the North. If he had gone to the north of the river Tiber, he would have seen a mixed population enjoying a greater civilization than the others, the aristocracy of which had come also from the northern mountains, though the common people were from Greece or its colonies. These people of Greek descent were called Etruscans, and it has been discovered that they had advanced so far in civilization, that they afterwards gave many of their customs to the city of Rome when it came to power. A confederacy known as the “Twelve Cities of Etruria” became famous afterwards, though no one knows exactly which the twelve were. Probably they changed from time to time; some that belonged to the union at one period, being out of it at another. It will be enough for us to remember that Veii, Clusium, Fidenae, Volsinii, and Tarquinii were of the group of Etruscan cities at a later date.
The central portion of the country to which Aeneas came is that known as Italia, the inhabitants of which were of the same origin as the Greeks. It is said that about sixty years before the Trojan war, King Evander (whose name meant good man and true) brought a company from the land of Arcadia, where the people were supposed to live in a state of ideal innocence and virtue, to Italia, and began a city on the banks of the Tiber, at the foot of the Palatine Hill. Evander was a son of Mercury, and he found that the king of the country he had come to was Turnus, who was also a relative of the immortal gods. Turnus and Evander became fast friends, and it is said that Turnus taught his neighbors the art of writing, which he had himself learned from Hercules, but this is one of the transparent fictions of the story. It may be that he taught them music and the arts of social life, and gave them good laws. What ever became of good Evander we do not know.
The king of the people among whom Aeneas landed was one Latinus, who became a friend of his noble visitor, giving him his daughter Lavinia to wife, though he had previously promised her to Turnus. Aeneas named the town in which he lived Lavinium, in honor of his wife. Turnus was naturally enraged at the loss of his expected bride, and made war upon both Aeneas and Latinus. The Trojan came off victorious, both the other warriors being killed in the struggle. Thus for a short time, Aeneas was left sole king of all those regions, with no one to dispute his title to the throne or his right to his wife; but the pleasure of ruling was not long to be his, for a short time after his accession to power, he was killed in battle on the banks of the Numicius, as has already been related. His son Ascanius left the low and unhealthy site of Lavinium, and founded a city on higher ground, which was called Alba Longa (the long, white city), and the mountain on the side of which it was, the Alban mountain. The new capital of Ascanius became the centre and principal one of thirty cities that arose in the plain, over all of which it seemed to have authority. Among these were Tusculum, Praeneste, Lavinium, and Ardea, places of which subsequent history has much to say.
Ascanius was successful in founding a long line of sovereigns, who reigned in Alba for three hundred years, until there arose one Numitor who was dispossessed of his throne by a younger brother named Amulius. One bad act usually leads to another, and this case was no exception to the rule, for when Amulius had taken his brother’s throne, he still feared that the rightful children might interfere with the enjoyment of his power. Though he supported Numitor in comfort, he cruelly killed his son and shut his daughter up in a temple. This daughter was called Silvia, or, sometimes, Rhea Silvia. Wicked men are not able generally to enjoy the fruits of their evil doings long, and, in the course of time, the daughter of the dethroned Numitor became the mother of a beautiful pair of twin boys, (their father being the god of war, Mars,) who proved the avengers of their grandfather. Not immediately, however. The detestable usurper determined to throw the mother and her babes into the river Tiber, and thus make an end of them, as well as of all danger to him from them. It happened that the river was at the time overflowing its banks, and though the poor mother was drowned, the cradle of the twins was caught on the shallow ground at the foot of the Palatine Hill, at the very place where the good Evander had begun his city so long before. There the waifs were found by one of the king’s shepherds, after they had been, strangely enough, taken care of for a while by a she-wolf, which gave them milk, and a woodpecker, which supplied them with other food. Faustulus was the name of this shepherd, and he took them to his wife Laurentia, though she already had twelve others to care for. The brothers, who were named Romulus and Remus, grew up on the sides of the Palatine Hill to be strong and handsome men, and showed themselves born leaders among the other shepherds, as they attended to their daily duties or fought the wild animals that troubled the flocks.
The grandfather of the twins fed his herds on the Aventine Hill, nearer the river Tiber, just across a little valley, and a quarrel arose between his shepherds and those of Faustulus, in the course of which Remus was captured and taken before Numitor. The old man thus discovered the relationship that existed between him and the twins who had so long been lost. In consequence of the discovery of their origin, and the right to the throne that was their father’s, they arose against their unworthy uncle, and with the aid of their followers, put him to death and placed Numitor in supreme authority, where he rightfully belonged. The twins had become attached to the place in which they had spent their youth, and preferred to live there rather than to go to Alba with their royal grandfather. He therefore granted to them that portion of his possessions, and there they determined to found a city.
Thus we have the origin of the Roman people. We see how the early traditions “mixed human things with things divine,” as Livy said had been done to make the origin of the city more respectable; how Aeneas, the far-back ancestor, was descended from Jupiter himself, and how he was a son of Venus, the goddess of love. How Romulus and Remus, the actual founders, were children of the god of war, and thus naturally fitted to be the builders of a nation that was to be strong and to conquer all known peoples on earth. The effort to ascribe to their nation an origin that should appear venerable to all who believed the stories of the gods and goddesses, was remarkably successful, and there is no doubt that it gave inspiration to the Roman people long after the worship of those divinities had become a matter of form, if not even of ridicule.
This was not all that was done, however, to establish the faith in the old stories in the minds of the people. In some way that it is not easy to explain, the names of the first heroes were fixed upon certain localities, just as those of the famous British hero, King Arthur, have long been fixed upon places in Brittany, Cornwall, and Southern Scotland. We find at a little place called Metapontem, the tools used by Epeus in making the wooden horse that was taken into Troy. The bow and arrows of Hercules were preserved at Thurii, near Sybaris; the tomb of Philoctetes, who inherited these weapons of the hero, was at Macalla, in Bruttium, not far from Crotona, where Pythagoras had lived; the head of the Calydonian Boar was at Beneventum, east of Capua, and the Erymanthian Boar’s tusks were at Cumae, celebrated for its Sibyl; the armor of Diomede, one of the Trojan heroes, was at Luceria, in the vicinity of Cannae; the cup of Ulysses and the tomb of Elpenor were at Circei, on the coast; the ships of Aeneas and his Penates were at Lavinium, fifteen miles south of Rome; and the tomb of the hero himself was at a spot between Ardea and Lavinium, on the banks of the brook Numicius. Most men are interested in relics of olden times, and these, so many and of such great attractiveness, were doubtless strong proofs to the average Roman, ready to think well of his ancestors, that tradition told a true story.
As we read the histories of other nations than our own, we are struck by the strangeness of many of the circumstances. They appear foreign (or “outlandish,” as our great-grandparents used to say), and it is difficult to put ourselves in the places of the people we read of, especially if they belong to ancient times. Perhaps the names of persons and places give us as much trouble as any thing. It seems to us, perhaps, that the Romans gave their children too many names, and they often added to them themselves when they had grown up. They did not always write their names out in full; sometimes they called each other by only one of them, and at others by several. Marcus Tullius Cicero was sometimes addressed as “Tullius” and is often mentioned in old books as “Tully”; and he was also “M. Tullius Cicero.” It was as if we were to write “G. Washington Tudela,” and call Mr. Tudela familiarly “Washington.” This would cause no confusion at the time, but it might be difficult for his descendants to identify “Washington” as Mr. Tudela, if, years after his death, they were to read of him under his middle name only. The Greeks were much more simple, and each of them had but one name, though they freely used nicknames to describe peculiarities or defects. The Latins and Etruscans seem to have had at first only one name apiece, but the Sabines had two, and in later times the Sabine system was generally followed. A Roman boy had, therefore, a given name and a family name, which were indispensable; but he might have two others, descriptive of some peculiarity or remarkable event in his life—as “Scaevola,” left-handed; “Cato,” or “Sapiens,” wise; “Coriolanus,” of Corioli. “Appius Claudius Sabinus Regillensis” means Appius of the Claudian family of Regillum, in the country of the Sabines. “Lucius Cornelius Scipio Africanus” means Lucius, of the Cornelian family, and of the particular branch of the Scipios who won fame in Africa. These were called the praenomen (forename), nomen (name), cognomen (surname), and agnomen (added name).
THE PROVERBS SAYS THAT Rome was not built in a day. It was no easy task for the twins to agree just where they should even begin the city. Romulus thought that the Palatine Hill, on which he and his brother had lived, was the most favorable spot for the purpose, while Remus inclined no less decidedly in favor of the Aventine, on which Numitor had fed his flocks. In this emergency, they seem to have asked counsel of their grandfather, and he advised them to settle the question by recourse to augury, a practice of the Etrurians with which they were probably quite familiar, for they had been educated, we are told, at Gabii, the largest of the towns of Latium, where all the knowledge of the region was known to the teachers.
Following this advice, the brothers took up positions at a given time on the respective hills, surrounded by their followers; those of Romulus being known as the Quintilii, and those of Remus as the Fabii. Thus, in anxious expectation, they waited for the passage of certain birds which was to settle the question between them. We can imagine them as they waited. The two hills are still to be seen in the city, and probably the two groups were about half a mile apart. On one side of them rolled the muddy waters of the Tiber, from which they had been snatched when infants, and around them rose the other elevations over which the “seven-hilled” city of the future was destined to spread. From morning to evening they patiently watched, but in vain. Through the long April night, too, they held their posts, and as the sun of the second day rose over the Coelian Hill, Remus beheld with exultation six vultures swiftly flying through the air, and thought that surely fortune had decided in his favor. The vulture was a bird seldom seen, and one that never did damage to crops or cattle, and for this reason its appearance was looked upon as a good augury. The passage of the six vultures did not, however, settle this dispute, as Numitor expected it would, for Romulus, when he heard that Remus had seen six, asserted that twelve had flown by him. His followers supported this claim, and determined that the city should be begun on the Palatine Hill. It is said that this hill, from which our word palace has come, received its name from the town of Pallantium, in Arcadia, from which Evander came to Italy.
The twenty-first of April was a festal day among the shepherds, and it was chosen as the one on which the new city should be begun (753 B.C.). In the morning of the day, it was customary, so they say, for the country people to purify themselves by fire and smoke, by sprinkling themselves with spring water, by formal washing of their hands, and by drinking milk mixed with grape-juice. During the day they offered sacrifices, consisting of cakes, milk, and other eatables, to Pales, the god of the shepherds. Three times, with faces turned to the east, a long prayer was repeated to Pales, asking blessings upon the flocks and herds, and pardon for any offences committed against the nymphs of the streams, the dryads of the woods, and the other deities of the Italian Olympus. This over, bonfires of hay and straw were lighted, music was made with cymbal and flute, and shepherds and sheep were purified by passing through the flames. A feast followed, the simple folk lying on benches of turf, and indulging in generous draughts of their homely wines, such, probably, as the visitor to-day may regale himself with in the same region. Towards evening, the flocks were fed, the stables were cleansed and sprinkled with water with laurel brooms, and laurel boughs were hung about them as adornments. Sulphur, incense, rosemary, and fir-wood were burned, and the smoke made to pass through the stalls to purify them, and even the flocks themselves were submitted to the same cleansing fumes.
The beginning of a city in the olden time was a serious matter, and Romulus felt the solemnity of the acts in which he was about to engage. He sent men to Etruria, from which land the religious customs of the Romans largely came, to obtain for him the minute details of the rites suitable for the occasion.
At the proper moment he began the Etrurian ceremonies, by digging a circular pit down to the hard clay, into which were cast with great solemnity some of the first-fruits of the season, and also handfuls of earth, each man throwing in a little from the country from which he had come. The pit was then filled up, and over it an altar was erected, upon the hearth of which a fire was kindled. Thus the centre of the new city was settled and consecrated. Romulus then harnessed a white cow and a snow-white bull to a plow with a brazen share, and holding the handle himself, traced the line of the future walls with a furrow (called the pomoerium), carrying the plow over the places where gates were to be left, and causing those who followed to see that every furrow as it fell was turned inwards toward the city. As he plowed, Romulus uttered the following prayer:
Do thou, Jupiter, aid me as I found this city; and Mavors [that is, Mars, the god of war and protector of agriculture], my father, and Vesta, my mother, and all other, ye deities, whom it is a religious duty to invoke, attend; let this work of mine rise under your auspices. Long may be its duration; may its sway be that of an all-ruling land; and under it may be both the rising and the setting of the day.
It is said that Jupiter sent thunder from one side of the heavens and lightnings from the other, and that the people rejoiced in the omens as good and went on cheerfully building the walls. The poet Ovid says that the work of superintending the building was given to one Celer, who was told by Romulus to let no one pass over the furrow of the plow. Remus, ignorant of this, began to scoff at the lowly beginning, and was immediately struck down by Celer with a spade. Romulus bore the death of his brother “like a Roman,” with great fortitude, and, swallowing down his rising tears, exclaimed: “So let it happen to all who pass over my walls!”
Plutarch, who is very fond of tracing the origin of words, says that Celer rushed away from Rome, fearing vengeance, and did not rest until he had reached the limits of Etruria, and that his name became the synonym for quickness, so that men swift of foot were called Celeres by the Romans, just as we still speak of “celerity,” meaning rapidity of motion. Thus the walls of the new city were laid in blood.
In one respect early Rome was like our own country, for Plutarch says that it was proclaimed an asylum to which any who were oppressed might resort and be safe; but it was more, for all who had incurred the vengeance of the law were also taken in and protected from punishment. Romulus is said to have erected in a wood a temple to a god called Asylaeus, where he “received and protected all, delivering none back— neither the servant to his master, the debtor to his creditor, nor the murderer into the hands of the magistrate; saying it was a privileged place, and they could so maintain it by an order of the holy oracle; insomuch that the city grew presently very populous.” It was men, of course, who took advantage of this asylum, for who ever heard of women who would rush in great numbers to such a place? Rome was a colony of bachelors, and some of them pretty poor characters too, so that there did not seem to be a very good chance that they could find women willing to become their wives. Romulus, like many an ardent lover since, evidently thought that all was fair in love and war, and, after failing in all his efforts to lead the neighboring peoples to allow the Roman men to marry their women, he gave it out that he had discovered the altar of the god Consus, who presided over secret deliberations,—a very suitable divinity to come up at the juncture,—and that he intended to celebrate his feast.
Consus was honored on the twenty-first of August, and this celebration would come, therefore, just four months after the foundation of the city. There were horse and chariot races, and libations which were poured into the flames that consumed the sacrifices. The people of the country around Rome were invited to take part in the novel festivities, and they were nothing loth to come, for they had considerable curiosity to see what sort of a city had so quickly grown up on the Palatine Hill. They felt no solicitude, though perhaps some might have thought of the haughtiness with which they had refused the offers of matrimony made to their maidens. Still, it was safe, they thought, to attend a fair under the protection of religion, and so they went,—they and their wives and their daughters.
At a signal from Romulus, when the games were at the most exciting stage, and the strangers were scattered about among the Romans, each follower of Romulus siezed the maiden that he had selected, and carried her off. It is said that as the men made the siezure, they cried out, “Talasia!” which means spinning, and that at all marriages in Rome afterwards, that word formed the refrain of a song, sung as the bride was approaching her husband’s house. We cannot imagine the disturbance with which the festival broke up, as the distracted strangers found out that they were the victims of a trick, and that their loved daughters had been taken from them. They called in vain upon the god in whose honor they had come, and they listened with suppressed threats of vengeance to Romulus, as he boldly went about among them telling them that it was owing to their pride that this calamity had fallen upon them, but that all would now be well with their daughters. Each new husband would, he said, be the better guardian of his bride, because he would have to take the place with her of family and home as well as of husband.
The brides were soon comforted, but their parents put on mourning for them and went up and down through the neighborhood exciting the inhabitants against the city of Romulus. Success crowned their efforts, and it was not long before Titus Tatius, king of the Sabines, from among whose people most of the stolen virgins had been taken, found himself at the head of an army sufficient to attack the warlike citizens of the Palatine. He was not so prompt, however, as his neighbors, and two armies from Latin cities had been collected and sent against Romulus, and had been met and overcome by him, before his arrangements were completed; the people being admitted to Rome as citizens, and thus adding to the already increasing power of the community.
The Romans had a citadel on the Capitoline Hill, and Tatius desired to win it. The guardian was named Tarpeius, and he had a daughter, Tarpeia, who was so much attracted by the golden ornaments worn by the Sabines, that she promised to open the citadel to them if each soldier would give his bracelet to her. This was promised, and as each entered he threw his golden ornament upon the poor maiden, until she fell beneath the weight and died, for they wished to show that they hated treachery though willing to profit by it. Her name was fixed upon the steep rock of the Capitoline Hill from which traitors were in after years thrown.
We now have the Sabines on one hill and the Romans on another, with a swampy plain of small extent between them, where the forum was afterward built. The Romans wished to retake the Capitoline Hill (which was also called the Hill of Saturn), and a battle was fought the next day in the valley. It is said that two men began the fight, Mettus Curtius, representing the Sabines, and Hostus Hostilius, the Romans, and that though the Roman was killed, Curtius was chased into the swamp, where his horse was mired, and all his efforts with whip and spur to get him out proving ineffectual, he left the faithful beast and saved himself with difficulty. The swamp was ever after known as Lacus Curtius, and this story might be taken as the true origin of its name (for lacus in Latin meant a marsh as well as a lake), if it were not that there are two other accounts of the reason for it. One story is that in the year 362 B.C.—that is, some four centuries after the battle we have just related, the earth in the forum gave way, and all efforts to fill it proving unsuccessful, the oracles were appealed to. They replied that the spot could not be made firm until that on which Rome’s greatness was based had been cast into the chasm, but that then the state would prosper. In the midst of the doubting that followed this announcement, the gallant youth, Curtius, came forward, declaring that the city had no greater treasure than a brave citizen in arms, upon which he immediately leaped into the abyss with his horse. Thereupon the earth closed over the sacrifice. This is the story that Livy prefers. The third is simply to the effect that while one Curtius was consul, in the year 445 B.C., the earth at the spot was struck by lightning, and was afterwards ceremoniously enclosed by him at the command of the senate. This is a good example of the sort of myth that the learned call aetiological—that is, myths that have grown up to account for certain facts or customs. The story of the carrying off of the Sabine women is one of this kind, for it seems to have originated in a desire to account for certain incidents in the marriage ceremonies of the Romans. We cannot believe either, though it is reasonable to suppose that some event occurred which was the basis of the tradition told in connection with the history of different periods. We shall find that, in the year 390, all the records of Roman history were destroyed by certain barbarians who burned the city, and that therefore we have tradition only upon which to base the history before that date. We may reasonably believe, however, that at some time the marshy ground in the forum gave way, as ground often does, and that there was difficulty in filling up the chasm. A grand opportunity was thus offered for a good story-teller to build up a romance, or to touch up the early history with an interesting tale of heroism. The temptation to do this would have been very strong to an imaginative writer.
The Sabines gained the first advantage in the present struggle, and it seemed as though fortune was about to desert the Romans, when Romulus commended their cause to Jupiter in a prayer in which he vowed to erect an altar to him as Jupiter Stator—that is, “Stayer,” if he would stay the flight of the Romans. The strife was then begun with new vigor, and in the midst of the din and carnage the Sabine women, who had by this time become attached to their husbands, rushed between the fierce men and urged them not to make them widows or fatherless, which was the sad alternative presented to them. “Make us not twice captives!” they exclaimed. Their appeal resulted in peace, and the two peoples agreed to form one nation, the ruler of which should be alternately a Roman and a Sabine, though at first Romulus and Tatius ruled jointly. The women became thus dearer to the whole community, and the feast called Matronalia was established in their honor, when wives received presents from their husbands and girls from their lovers.
Romulus continued to live on the Palatine among the Romans, and Tatius on the Quirinal, where the Sabines also lived. Each people adopted some of the fashions and customs of the other, and they all met for the transaction of business in the Forum Romanum, which was in the valley of the Curtian Lake, between the hills. For a time this arrangement was carried on in peace, and the united nation grew in numbers and power. After five years, however, Tatius was slain by some of the inhabitants of Lavinium, and Romulus was left sole ruler until his death.
Under him the nation grew still more rapidly, and others were made subject to it, all of which good fortune was attributed to his prowess and skill. Romulus became after a while somewhat arrogant. He dressed in scarlet, received his people lying on a couch of state, and surrounded himself with a body of young soldiers called Celeres, from the swiftness with which they executed his orders. It was a suspicious fact that all at once, at a time when the people had become dissatisfied with his actions, Romulus disappeared (717 B.C.). Like Evander, he went, no one knew where, though one of his friends presented himself in the forum and assured the people under oath that one day, as he was going along the road, he met Romulus coming toward him, dressed in shining armor, and looking comelier than ever. Proculus, for that was the friend’s name, was struck with awe and filled with religious dread, but asked the king why he had left the people to bereavement, endless sorrow, and wicked surmises, for it had been rumored that the senators had made away with him. Romulus replied that it pleased the gods that, after having built a city destined to be the greatest in the world for empire and glory, he should return to heaven, but that Proculus might tell the Romans that they would attain the height of power by exercising temperance and fortitude, in which effort he would sustain them and remain their propitious god Quirinus. An altar was accordingly erected to the king’s honor, and a festival called the Quirinalia was annually celebrated on the seventeenth of February, the day on which he is said to have been received into the number of the gods.
Romulus left the people organized into two great divisions, Patricians and Clients: the former being the Populus Romanus, or Roman People, and possessing the only political rights; and the others being entirely dependent upon them. The Patricians were divided into three tribes—the Romans (Ramnes), the Etruscans (Luceres), and the Sabines (Tities, from Tatius). Another body, not yet organized, called Plebeians, or Plebs, was composed of inhabitants of conquered towns and refugees. These, though not slaves, had no political rights. Each tribe was divided into ten Curiae, and the thirty Curiae composed the Comitia Curiata, which was the sovereign assembly of the Patricians, authorized to choose the king and to decide all cases affecting the lives of the citizens. A number of men of mature age, known as the Patres, composed the Senate, which Romulus formed to assist him in the government. This body consisted of one hundred members until the union with the Sabines, when it was doubled, the Etruscans not being represented until a later time. The army was called a Legion, and was composed of a contribution of a thousand foot-soldiers and a hundred cavalry (Equites, Knights) from each tribe.
A year passed after the death of Romulus before another king was chosen, and the people complained that they had a hundred sovereigns instead of one, because the senate governed, and that not always with justness. It was finally agreed that the Romans should choose a king, but that he should be a Sabine. The choice fell upon Numa Pompilius, a man learned in all laws, human and divine, and two ambassadors were accordingly sent to him at his home at Cures, to offer the kingdom to him. The ambassadors were politely received by the good man, but he assured them that he did not wish to change his condition; that every alteration in life is dangerous to a man; that madness only could induce one who needed nothing to quit the life to which he was accustomed; that he, a man of peace, was not fitted to direct a people whose progress had been gained by war; and that he feared that he might prove a laughing-stock to the people if he were to go about teaching them the worship of the gods and the offices of peace when they wanted a king to lead them to war. The more he declined, the more the people wished him to accept, and at last his father argued with him that a martial people needed one who should teach them moderation and religion; that he ought to recognize the fact that the gods were calling him to a large sphere of usefulness. These arguments proved sufficient, and Numa accepted the crown. After making the appropriate offerings to the gods, he set out for Rome, and was met by the populace coming forth to receive him with joyful acclamations. Sacrifices were offered in the temples, and with impressive ceremonies the new authority was joyfully entrusted to him (715 B.C.).
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