Stories From Early Rome, 29-14 BC
Translated by Gregory Murry, All Rights Reserved
I do not know if a history on the origins of the Roman people will be worth the labor, nor if I did know, would I dare to say. Historians always believe that their work will be more definitive or well-written than previous histories, but in any case, I will enjoy studying the deeds of the world’s most powerful people, and even if others outshine me, I will console myself that I am outdone by truly great and worthy writers.
This study is an immense project, as it spans more than 700 years of history, growing from small beginnings to a subject that requires enormous labor. No doubt, most of my audience will have very little appetite for reading about the origins of the city, and they will skip ahead to recent events, in which a once powerful people have wasted their strength in fighting each other. I, however, seek a different reward, for I will turn my attention away from the evils of our own age and return to our earliest history, completely free from those cares that might affect the soul of an historian, even if they do not deflect him from the truth.
The legends concerning the city’s origin make for good stories but not for very good history (res gestae), and I neither want to confirm nor refute them. In order to dignify our origins, our ancestors mixed the stories of the gods with human history. Yet, if any people should be allowed to claim divine origin, the Romans should. We have won so much glory in war that other nations have little difficulty accepting our claims of divine ancestry, just as they have little difficulty accepting Roman authority itself.
However, I do not consider any of these concerns a matter of great importance; rather, I ask the reader to consider the following: what were the lives and the morals of our ancestors? With what men, what virtues, and what policies was Rome born and its empire increased? Then, let the reader see how we gradually lost our discipline and sunk into moral degeneracy. Then, let the reader see that as we slipped, we began to fall headlong into the abyss, until we reached these times, in which we are neither able to bear our vices nor apply their remedies.
Knowledge of history makes for a healthy mind because it gives us clear historical examples of every type. Thus, individuals and nations should imitate good historical examples and avoid the disgraceful ones, and unless my love for the city deceives me, there has never been a greater, more holy, or more exemplary republic than Rome. Nor has there ever been a city in which greed and luxury were so long kept away or where poverty and thrift were so long considered honorable. The fewer things the Romans had, the less greed they had. Lately, riches have stimulated greed, and large appetites have caused many to lose themselves in luxury and lust.
Nevertheless, these annoying yet necessary criticisms should not grace the preface of such a work. Rather, let me imitate the custom of the poets and ask the gods and goddesses to give success to my words and my work.
The Story of Aeneas
Everyone generally agrees that when Troy was captured, the Greeks spared only two men: Aeneas and Antenor. This was either because they were respecting the ancient law of hospitality or because these two had always desired to return Helen and make peace. Antenor and Aeneas went in separate directions. Antenor became the leader of some Enetian exiles who had been expelled from Paphlagonia in a rebellion and lost their king in the Trojan War. He led them against the Euganei, who lived in northern Italy between the Alps and the Adriatic. After defeating the Euganei, Antenor occupied their lands and named the place Troy, after his homeland. The people were called Venetians.
Aeneas also fled from his homeland, but fate led him on to greater things. First, he landed in Macedonia; then he sought a home in Sicily. After leaving Sicily, he went to Laurentum, which now also bears the name of Troy. Here, the Trojans disembarked, but as they had lost almost all their things in their wanderings except their weapons and ships, they began attacking the surrounding fields. The native Latins and their king (whose name was Latinus) hurried to defend their lands.
There are two different versions of what happened next. According to one, King Latinus was defeated and made peace with Aeneas. According to the other, Latinus asked for a parley just before the two armies clashed in battle.
“Who are you men?” he asked. “What fortune compels you to leave your homes and come to these shores?”
Aeneas replied, “We are Trojans, and I am Aeneas, son of Anchises and the goddess Venus. Our homeland lies in ruins, burnt to the ground by the Greeks. We come here seeking a new home.”
Because Latinus admired the Trojans’ nobility and saw that they were ready for both peace and war, he offered his right hand as a sign of faith and future friendship. The two leaders made a treaty, and the armies exchanged greetings. Latinus welcomed Aeneas as a guest, and Aeneas confirmed the treaty by marrying Latinus’ daughter Lavinia in the sight of their tutelary gods (penates).
The Trojans thus ended their wanderings and found a place to live. They built a city, which Aeneas called Lavinium after his wife. Shortly thereafter, Lavinia gave birth to a baby boy, whom his parents named Ascanius.
Now, Lavinia had already been promised to the King of the Rutuli, who could not bear the thought that a newcomer had been preferred to himself, so he made war on both Aeneas and the Latins. This war was tragic for both sides because the Rutuli were conquered, and the Latins lost their king.
The Rutuli then sought the aid of the Etruscan King Mezentius, who had watched the rise of the Trojans uneasily and thus welcomed a military alliance with the Rutuli. Faced with such an enemy, Aeneas took steps to win over the Latins. In order to bind the two peoples together in both law and name, Aeneas ordered the Trojans to begin calling themselves Latins. From that time on, the Latins were as faithfully devoted to Aeneas as the Trojans were.
Though the Etruscans had a reputation as a powerful nation, Aeneas did not hide behind his city walls; rather, he led his army into the open field and staked his fortune on the combined power of the Trojans and Latins, who were quickly becoming one nation. The Latins did win the battle, but Aeneas was killed. His tomb sits on the banks of the River Numicus, and rightly or wrongly, he is now called Aeneas Jupiter, Friend of the Needy.
At this time, Aeneas’s son Ascanius was not yet old enough to exercise imperium; nevertheless, his mother Lavinia was a powerful woman, and she kept the ancestral throne safe for her son. The records are a little unclear on one point: we do not know whether the Julian house takes its name from this Ascanius [Iulus] or from an older son of Aeneas who was born in Troy and was a companion in his father’s flight. In any case, Ascanius was certainly the son of Aeneas.
In the following years, the city of Lavinium grew wealthy and powerful. After thirty years, Ascanius gave the city to his mother (or his stepmother) and built a new city, which was called Alba Longa because it stretched alongside the Alban hills. The defeat of the Etruscans had so increased the Latins’ power that no one dared to fight them, even during the regency of a woman. The Etruscans and Latins thus had peace, and they marked their border at the river Albula, which is now called the Tiber.
Romulus and Remus
After some years, the throne descended to Numitor, who had many sons. However, his younger brother Amulius decided that force counted for more than their father’s will or respect for his brother’s seniority. He defeated Numitor and took the throne for himself. He then heaped crime upon crime, killing off his nephews and forcing his niece to become a Vestal Virgin, so that under the pretense of honoring her, he might ensure that she could not produce any heirs.
However, I think that at this point, the fates had already ordained Rome’s future greatness. Even though she was a Vestal Virgin, [Numitor’s daughter] Rhea Silvia was raped and gave birth to twins. She claimed the father was Mars, either because she actually believed it or because it would appear less heinous if a god was the author of the crime. Nevertheless, neither gods nor men could save her or her babies from the cruelty of the king, who imprisoned her and ordered the twins to be thrown into the river.
By chance or divine will, the Tiber had just flooded, and standing water surrounded its banks. Because it was hard to get close to the river, the king’s henchmen simply left the children in the nearest pool of water, hoping the tide of the river would carry them away and drown them… but the retreating waters left the children’s floating cradle on dry land, in a spot that was then a vast wilderness. Legend has it that a thirsty she-wolf that had come down from the mountains heard the crying children and ran to them. Stooping down, the she-wolf offered her teats to the crying children, who nursed at her breast. The keeper of the king’s sheep, a man named Faustulus, found this gentle wolf licking the twins with her tongue and took the children to his hut for his wife Larentia to raise. Others believe that the shepherds had nicknamed Larentia “the she-wolf” because she was a whore and that it was this name that gave rise to the legend.
When the children were young boys, they worked on the farm, tended the sheep, and hunted in the woods. Blessed with strong bodies and robust spirits, they not only hunted animals but also attacked bands of thieves and stole their ill-gotten loot. They shared their booty with the other shepherds, who formed a growing band of men engaged in both serious matters and frivolous pursuits.
Even at that time, the Festival of the Lupercalia was held on the Palatine Hill…Here an Arcadian named Evander, who had settled that spot many years before, had instituted a solemn festival in which youths did homage to the god Pan, running about naked for amusement and for sport. Everybody knew when the festival occurred, so some resentful thieves took the opportunity to avenge themselves by ambushing the twins during it. Romulus defended himself, but Remus was taken prisoner and handed over to King Amulius. His captors accused him of other peoples’ crimes, including robbing Numitor’s fields; thus, Remus was handed over to Numitor for punishment.
Now, from the beginning, Faustulus had suspected that he was bringing up the royal descendants, for he knew that the children had been exposed by the order of the king, and he knew that he had found the twins around that same time. However, he did not want to share that information too soon, so he waited for either the proper occasion or some necessity. Necessity came first. Fearing for the life of Remus, Faustulus told Romulus the truth about his birth. By chance, Numitor had heard that his prisoner had a twin brother. When he considered the boys’ ages and thought about how little their characters fit their servile condition, he was reminded of his grandchildren, and he soon realized that Remus was in fact his own grandson. Thus, King Amulius was deceived by everyone.
Romulus did not attack Amulius directly, for he was no match for the king in a contest of naked force. Rather, he ordered his men to approach the city by various routes and converge on it at the same time, while Remus simultaneously led a body of armed men from Numitor’s house. Numitor diverted the Alban army to the citadel by claiming that the enemy had entered the city and was attacking the king. Thus, they were able to surprise the king and kill him.
When Numitor saw the twins coming to congratulate him, he gathered an assembly of the people, told them of his brother’s treachery, and recounted the story of his grandchildren, including their birth, their upbringing, and how he had recognized them. Finally, he admitted to being the author of the tyrant’s destruction. The youths paraded through the ranks and saluted their grandfather; then the people elected Numitor king and gave him the imperium.
Romulus and Remus then wanted to build a city at the place where they had been exposed and raised. There were many Albans, Latins, and shepherds who needed a home; thus, the brothers hoped that their new city might grow so large that it would make Alba and Lavinium seem small. However, these pleasant dreams were interrupted by the ancestral curse, the lust for rule (cupido regni), and before long, a shameful dispute ruined this peaceful beginning.
The twins did not know who was older, so in order to decide who should rule the new city and after whom it should be named, they read the auguries of the local gods. For this purpose, Romulus built a temple on the Palatine Hill, and Remus built one on the Aventine. Remus received the first augury: the appearance of six vultures. Just as this news was brought to Romulus, twelve vultures appeared to him.
Each side claimed victory. The supporters of Remus argued that his augury had appeared first; the supporters of Romulus argued that he had seen more birds. The dispute grew so heated that Remus was struck and killed. The more common story is that Remus jumped over Romulus’s newly built walls in order to mock his brother, and the infuriated Romulus killed him, chiding him with the words, “Let the same be done to whomever tries to take my walls.” Either way, Romulus alone received the imperium, and the city was named after him.
Romulus first fortified the Palatine Hill, the spot where he had been raised. He established religious rites to the sacred Alban gods and adopted the rites of the Greek Hercules, which had been instituted by Evander…
Having given due respect to the divine rites, he called the multitude to an assembly and gave them laws, thinking that this was the only way to bind them together as one people. He thought that these uncivilized men would only respect the laws if he adopted the trappings of rule (imperium), so he surrounded himself with symbols of his authority, the most important of which were the twelve lictors. Some think he chose twelve because of the number of birds that had portended his rule, but I think he adopted the custom from the Etruscans, for when the Etruscans made a king, each of the twelve Etruscan nations would give him one lictor.
Meanwhile, the city continued to expand, and Romulus extended the walls in all directions, thereby hoping to populate the city. It was an old custom in growing cities to gather together some lowly-born people and then to claim that they were born from the earth itself. Romulus granted political asylum and accepted both slaves and free men from the surrounding areas, many of whom had fled from their own homelands, eager for a fresh start; this was the first source of Rome’s strength.
When he was satisfied that there were enough people, he organized a senate. He created a hundred senators, either because this number was enough or because there were only one-hundred suitable men for the job. They were given the title of patres, and their children were called patricians.
The Rape of the Sabines
By this point, the Roman military was the equal of its neighbors; but Rome had no women and thus no children, so the Romans feared their power would not last. On the advice of the senate, Romulus sent embassies to the neighboring peoples, requesting alliances and wives.
“Cities,” the ambassadors said, “are born from humble beginnings, but with the help of the gods, cities of virtuous men grow powerful and famous. Rome lacks neither virtuous men nor the aid of the gods; thus, mixing with Romans will not corrupt your bloodlines.”
Not a single city responded favorably to these entreaties since they all despised the Romans and feared Rome’s growing power. Rather, the neighboring cities responded, “Why don’t you grant asylum to female criminals too? That is the only way you are getting equal marriage terms with anyone.”
The Roman youths could not bear this insult and thus prepared for war. Romulus, however, concealed his bitterness and prepared the solemn games in honor of Equestrian Neptune, thinking this the perfect opportunity to secure wives for the Romans. He announced to the neighboring cities that Rome would hold a great spectacle. For their part, the Romans made lavish preparations for it, hoping to draw a large crowd.
Many peoples came to these games, eager to see the new city. Foremost among these were the Caeninenses, Crustomini, and Antemnates. Many Sabines came as well, bringing their wives and children. The Romans invited their guests into their homes and showed them great hospitality; the guests observed the fortifications and houses of the city, marveling at how quickly Rome had grown. Finally came the time for the show. While all eyes were on this spectacle, the signal was given, and the Roman youths proceeded to seize all the virgins in the crowd and drag them off to their houses.
Most of them were carried off willy-nilly; however, some of the patricians had selected certain of the choicest beauties ahead of time and deputed their plebeian clients to carry them off to their homes. One particularly gorgeous woman was carried off by the Thalassi family. People kept asking where they were taking her, and in order to avoid being robbed of their quarry, the plebs carried her away crying out “thalassio.” This is why thalassio is said at weddings.
Overcome by fear, the virgins’ families ran away, condemning the outrage as a violation of hospitality and calling on Neptune to avenge the indignity. Nor did the virgins themselves feel any less despair and indignation.
But Romulus himself went around to all the women and said, “We have only taken you because of the pride of your fathers, who have withheld from us the right of marriage. Let go of your anger, Sabine daughters, for you are to become Roman wives and share in the fortunes of this great city. What’s more? You will become the mothers of free men. So give your souls over to the destiny that fate has given your bodies. Indeed, outrage (iniuria) often blossoms into affection, and these men will treat you better than wives, for they will be as fathers and brothers to you as well.”
The men added flatteries of their own, trying to excuse the deed with protestations of passion and love, which is the best way to persuade women of anything.
Thus, the women relented of their anger, but their relatives put on mourning garb and stirred up the neighboring cities with tears and laments. Nor was their anger limited to their own cities; rather, they sent diplomats to Titus Tatius, King of the Sabines and the most powerful man in those regions. However, the Caeninenses, Crustomini, and Antemnates complained that Tatius and the Sabines acted too slowly, so these three peoples prepared to go to war by themselves. Yet the Caeninenses thought that both the Crustomini and Antemnates were too slow, so they attacked the Roman lands alone. When they were pillaging different parts of the Roman fields, Romulus attacked them with his army and defeated them easily, thus teaching them that anger is useless without numbers. He routed and pursued their army, killed the king in combat, and stripped him of his armor. Having killed the enemy leader, he took the city of Caenina on the first assault. When he returned to Rome with his victorious army, he wanted to show his military prowess to everyone, so he ascended the Capitoline with the enemy king’s armor hung from a litter. He hung the armor on a sacred oak and designated that spot as a temple to Jupiter, renaming him Jupiter Feretri.
He then spoke these words. “I, the victor King Romulus, bring these royal arms to you, and I dedicate a temple in this place. My descendants will bring the spoils of enemy kings to this spot.”
This is the origin of the first temple consecrated in Rome. The gods assured that Romulus’ descendants would fulfill his oath, but none of Rome’s future success would diminish Romulus’ first glory. After so many years and so many wars, these spoils have only been offered two times, so rarely does fortune consider such a prize to be fitting.
While the Romans were busy with the Caeninenses, the Antemnates army took the opportunity to attack. Romulus quickly marched the Roman legion into battle and crushed the Antemnates when they were scattered in the fields. As soon as the Roman legion gave out a war cry and charged, the enemy was routed and their city captured.
While the Romans were rejoicing in their double victory, Romulus’ wife Hersilia, having been worn down by the virgins’ pleas, asked her husband to allow their relatives to come to the city to sue for peace. Romulus immediately granted her request, then, he made war against the Crustomini, who were much less enthusiastic after seeing the defeat of their neighbors. The Romans built colonies in the lands of the Crustomini and Antemnates, and many Romans emigrated there because of the fertility of the soil. Conversely, many of the abducted virgins’ relatives immigrated to Rome from the surrounding areas.
The Sabines proved to be the most dangerous enemy, for they let neither anger nor greed dictate their tactics, nor did they reveal their military preparations until they were ready to move. To this strategy was added a little deceit. A man named Spurius Tarpeius was in charge of the Roman citadel. When his daughter had gone outside the walls to fetch water for some religious ceremonies, Tatius bribed her to let his army into the citadel. Once they had captured the citadel, they killed the girl, either to make it seem as if the citadel had been taken by force or to show that promises were not to be kept with traitors. According to another story, the girl had asked to be paid with everything the Sabines wore on their left arms, the arms with which the Sabines carried their shields. Now, at that time, the Sabines were in the habit of adorning their shield arms with golden bracelets and rings, but instead of giving her these, they crushed her with the shields they carried in those arms instead. Some say that in asking for what was on their left arms, she meant their weapons and that she was going to betray them, but having seen through the fraud, the Sabines paid her back with death instead.
In any case, the Sabines now held the citadel. The next day, the Roman army drew up ranks between the Palatine and Capitoline hills, but the Sabines did not come down from the high ground until the infuriated Romans rushed the citadel. As the armies closed, the Sabine Mettius Curius and the Roman Hostius Hostilius flew in front of the ranks and met each other in single combat. Even though Hostilius was fighting on bad ground, his courage and audacity sustained the Roman cause, but when he was killed, the Romans immediately began to falter.
When the fleeing ranks had reached the old gate of the Palatine, Romulus threw up his arms and invoking heaven, exclaimed, “Jupiter, at the founding of this city, you sent me an augury at this spot. The Sabines have treacherously seized the citadel and having defeated us in battle, they rush into the valley. Father of gods and men, do not let our enemies pass this spot; banish fear from Roman hearts and put a stop to this flight. I vow to build a temple to you at this spot so that future generations might remember what happened here.”
Having cried this out in a loud voice, he acted as if his prayers had been heard and added, “At this place, Romans, Jupiter orders you to stand your ground and fight.”
The Romans fought as if the command had come from heaven itself. Romulus himself dashed forward to the front of the ranks. Now, Mettius had run out from the citadel, leading the Sabine ranks, scattering the Roman legion, and driving the Romans to the spot where the forum is now. He was nearly at the gates of the Palatine, crying, “We have conquered these treacherous weaklings; now they know how much harder it is to fight against real men than to carry off defenseless girls.”
When he was thus exulting in his victory, Romulus and a band of the most ferocious young Romans set on him. Mettius was at a disadvantage because he was fighting on horseback, and the Romans easily pushed him back. Inspired by the boldness of the king, the Romans beat back the Sabines, pursued them into the valley, and routed their armies. With his horse trembling from the noise of battle, Mettius accidentally rode into a marsh. This distracted the Sabines, who went over to call out encouragement to him. He courageously extracted himself, and the Romans and the Sabines reengaged in battle in the valley, but the Romans now had the upper hand.
At this point, the Sabine virgins, who had been the original cause of the troubles, dared to fling themselves into the midst of the battle and the flying spears. Having conquered their womanly fear, they rent their garments and tore at their hair, and tried to separate the two sides, begging both to let go of their anger.
“Fathers,” they pleaded, “do not shed the blood of our husbands. For you will be murdering your own sons-in-law. Husbands, our fathers are now your fathers as well. Do not stain yourselves and your children with the crime of parricide. If you cannot bear this kinship and our marriage, turn your anger on us. We are the cause of this war. We are responsible for the slaughter of our husbands and our relatives. Better that we should die than live as widows and orphans.”
This appeal moved both the leaders and the multitude, and everyone fell silent. The leaders proceeded to make a treaty, agreeing to bind the two cities into one. They would share the kingship and confer all imperium on the Romans. The city was thus doubled, and the Romans citizens were given the name of Quirites, after the Sabine capital, Cures. They erected a monument to the battle in the place in which Mettius Curtius got his horse out of the marsh and renamed the lake after him.
Thus, misery was changed to happiness, and this episode made the Sabine women more beloved by their husbands and fathers, and most of all by Romulus himself. Thus, when he divided the people into thirty tribes, he gave one Sabine woman’s name to each tribe. There were certainly more than thirty women, yet we don’t know why he chose these thirty. At the same time, he conscripted three companies of knights; the Ramnenses were named after Romulus and the Titienses after Tatius; the origin of the name of the Luceres is unknown. From that point on, the kingdom was jointly and harmoniously ruled by the two kings.
The Death of Romulus
Given Romulus’ accomplishments in peace and war, it seems entirely possible that he might, indeed, have been the son of a god and risen to heaven after his death, for his management of affairs secured nearly forty years of peace and safety for Rome after his death…
One day, Romulus was conducting a review of the army in the Campus Martius. All of a sudden, a loud storm arose, and Romulus was covered by a thick, dense cloud, so that no one in the assembly could see him. When the sun reappeared and had begun to calm the Romans’ fears, they saw that the throne was empty. The senators who had been sitting next to him claimed that he had been taken away (raptum) by the whirlwind, and though the people believed the senators’ story, they remained gloomily silent, so terrified were they of their loss.
Shortly thereafter, the crowd proclaimed Romulus to be a god, son of a god, king and father of the Roman city, and savior of the world, and they prayed for his help. I believe that some historians tacitly imply that the senators killed him and tore him limb-from-limb, for inklings of this tradition remained for some time. Most people, however, believed that he ascended to heaven, no doubt strengthened in their belief by their admiration for the man.
Shortly after these events, one clever Roman named Proculus Julius, a man with enough gravitas to carry authority with the assembly, lent credence to this story. Aware of the city’s deep anxiety over the loss of Romulus and their anger with the senators, Julius claimed, “At the break of day, our father Romulus descended from heaven and allowed me to see him. I stood before him, rapt in terror, begging that I be absolved for looking upon him, when he said, ‘Go, tell the Romans that it is heaven’s will that my Rome be head of all the world. Thus, look to your military, and let your descendants know that no human efforts will be able to resist the Romans. Having spoken these lofty words, he left.” It is amazing how much the Romans trusted this man’s story, and once they were convinced of the immortality of Romulus, they were much less afraid.
Livy then recounts that after the death of Romulus, the Romans elected Numa Pompilius as their king, who was distinguished for his piety and introduced many religious customs in Rome. We pick back up with Livy’s history with the election of Rome’s third king, Tullus Hostilius and the story of the Horatii.
When Numa died, the republic passed into an interregnum. Tullus Hostilius, the grandson of that Hostilius who had famously fought the Sabines in front of the citadel, was elected king by the people and confirmed by the senate. Tullus was not peace-loving like Numa; rather, he was even fiercer than Romulus. He was young and hungry for glory, and he was convinced that the city’s idleness was making it weak, so he tried to start a war; any sort of war would do.
It happened that the Romans had plundered some of the Alban fields, and the Albans had in turn plundered some of the Roman fields. Both sides simultaneously sent diplomats to the other, demanding restitution. Tullus had ordered his diplomats to make their demands immediately because he was sure that the Albans would reject them, and then he would have a legitimate excuse for war. For his part, he prevented the Alban legates from immediately making their demands by receiving them cordially and idling away the time in feasting. Meanwhile, the Romans demanded restitution from the Albans. When the Albans rejected their demands, the Romans declared that war would begin in thirty days. They sent the message to Tullus, who then allowed the Alban diplomats to speak.
The diplomats did not know that war had already been declared, so they said, “We do not intend to say anything displeasing to you, but our superiors compel us to demand the return of our goods. We are ordered to say that if they are not returned, we will declare war.”
Tullus responded, “Tell your king that I call upon the gods to bring ruin on whichever one of us is the first to reject the others’ diplomats.” This news was brought to Alba, and both sides prepared for war.
This war was almost like a civil war between parents and children since both sides were descendants of the Trojans. The Trojans had settled Lavinium. Lavinium had colonized Alba, and Alba had given birth to the Roman kings. This, however, made the war less brutal, for there were no pitched battles, and when the roofs of one side were pulled down, the two people became one.
First, the vast Alban army attacked the Roman fields. They pitched camp about five miles from the city, in a place surrounded by a ditch; for some time after, the ditch was called the Fossa Cluilia after the Alban leader, Gaius Cluilius, until time destroyed both the ditch and the name. During the war, Cluilius died in camp, and the Albans made Mettius Fufetius dictator. Meanwhile, Tullus grew even fiercer, saying the gods had killed Cluilius as a warning: soon they would punish the rest of the Albans with the same fate.
Bypassing the enemy camp at night, the Roman army entered Alban territory. This roused Mettius. He led his army as near to the enemy as possible and requested a parley, saying that Tullus could be sure that what he had to say would be no less useful to the Romans than to the Albans. Tullus accepted the proposal, but he drew his army into ranks just in case the talks came to nothing.
After both sides had instructed their men to stay in place, the leaders and a few noblemen advanced into the middle.
Then Mettius said, “I seem to have heard our king say that we are fighting this war over some stolen property. Doubtless, you claim the same thing, Tullus. But the truth of the matter is that this war is really a contest for empire. I will not second-guess my king’s decision, but now I am the leader of the Albans, and I want to give you a warning, Tullus: we are surrounded on all sides by the mighty Etruscans. Remember, when you give the sign to start the fight, the Etruscans will be watching this spectacle, and after we have weakened each other, they will attack us both. If we are not content with certain liberty, if we must roll the dice and risk slavery to win empire, by all means, let us do it. But, for god’s sake, let’s avoid ruin and bloodshed.”
Even though he was a much fiercer man and had more hope of victory, Tullus agreed, and fortune itself soon provided the method. It happened by chance that both armies contained sets of triplets who were similar in both age and strength. We know that they were called the Horatii and Curiatii, though we don’t know which brothers were Roman and which brothers were Alban, even though this is the most famous story from all antiquity. Many historians say that the Horatii were Romans, so we will go with the majority opinion.
The kings made a treaty agreeing that the triplets would battle to the death in a sword fight and the winning side would be granted imperium…
Having made this treaty, the two ferocious sets of triplets seized their weapons and entered the space between the armies, with the exhortations of their respective sides ringing in their ears. Both sides exhorted their champions to remember that their countrymen, their kinsmen, and the gods of their fathers were watching their actions. Both sides watched the battle in front of their camps, freed from present danger but not from the fear in their hearts, for the fates of their respective empires hung in the balance.
The sign was given, and the youths ran at each other like two little armies, carrying the burdens of the larger armies in their souls. Neither side paid any attention to the danger, for their only thought was to win an empire for their country and avoid delivering it into slavery: everything depended on them.
At the first clash, their arms rattled and their swords gleamed, and the spectators were overwhelmed with awe. Neither side immediately gained the upper hand, and the crowd soon quieted as their spirits sank. Bodies clashed, spears flew, and at last blood was drawn; two Romans had fallen dead, one on top of the other. All three Albans were wounded. The Albans shouted for joy; the Romans sunk in despair, dismayed by the new odds.
Fortunately, the last Roman was unharmed. He knew that he could not fight all three of his opponents simultaneously, but he thought he could beat them one at a time. Thus, he fled from the spot, thinking that each of his opponents would chase him as their various wounds would allow and arrive at him one by one. Having run some distance, he turned and saw that there was a gap between each of his pursuers, so he reentered the fray, and killed the first attacker, amidst the shouts of the Alban army exhorting the straggling Curiatii to come to their brother’s aid. Then, Horatius closed with the second. Seeing this unexpected turn of events, the Romans lifted the spirits of their champion with their war cry; and he hurried to finish the fight. The third brother was not far off, but Horatius killed his adversary before the third brother could arrive. The untouched Horatius drew strength from his two victories; the third Curiatii practically gave up in despair, for he was wounded and tired, and the sight of his brothers’ dead body took all the fight out of him. In a moment, Horatius had him on the ground.
Exalting over his defeated opponent, Horatius crowed, “I dedicated the first two for my slain brothers, this third I consecrate to the cause of this fight: that Romans might rule over Albans.”
He then struck his sword into the throat of his opponent, who could barely lift his own shield to defend himself. Then Horatius stripped his enemy’s weapons and armor.
All the Romans’ fear turned to joy, as they cheered and congratulated the surviving brother. The two sides then turned their attention to burying their champions, though with very different spirits, for the one side had enlarged its empire, and the other side was given over to a foreign power. The graves still stand at the place where the men fell, the two Romans closer to Alba and the three Albans at some distance towards Rome.
Before the armies dispersed, Mettius asked Tullus for his commands. Tullus ordered the Albans to remain in arms, which they would need if there was a war with the Veientes. Then, both armies returned to their homes. Horatius led the army home, carrying the arms of the triplets he had killed.
Now, Horatius had one sister, who had been betrothed to one of the Curiatii. She was awaiting the army’s return in front of the Capena Gate, and recognizing that the cloak her brother was carrying over his shoulder belonged to her betrothed (for she had made it with her own hands), she tore at her hair and tearfully cried out the dead man’s name. This infuriated the fierce young Horatii, who pulled out his sword and ran the girl through, angrily exclaiming, “Since you have forsaken your brother and your fatherland, go to live with your beloved husband among the dead. So let it be done to any Roman who mourns for the enemy.”
Everyone considered this a savage crime, though somewhat excusable given the young man’s recent accomplishments. Nevertheless, he was taken to be judged by the king. Tullus did not want the common people to think him ungrateful by condemning and executing this man, so he convoked an assembly and appointed two men to judge the case. If Horatius were found guilty, he was to be whipped and then taken outside the walls to be hung from a tree. The judges did not think they had the right to absolve even harmless persons, so they proclaimed Horatius guilty of treason, condemned him to punishment, and told the lictor to bind his hands.
While the lictor was binding the noose, Horatius appealed the verdict to the Assembly of the People. His father spoke on his behalf with these words, “Men of the Assembly. Do not condemn my son to death, for my daughter has been justly slain. Indeed, were her death not just, I would have taken the right of a father and executed the boy myself. Consider my fate, men of Rome. Just a short time ago, I was the father of a large family. Now, you are about to take away my last child.”
Then the father tearfully embraced his son and pointed to the spoils that his son had taken from the Curiatii, which were fixed on the place that is now called the Pila Horatia. “Roman citizens,” he pleaded, “look at the man whom you have just cheered in victory. Can you bear to see him bound, whipped, and tortured? Can you bear to see him hanging from the gallows? Even Alban eyes could hardly bring themselves to look upon such a shameful spectacle. Go then, lictor. Bind the hands that have just won an empire for the Roman people. Cover the head that has just liberated the city. Whip his body in the city—in plain sight of the spoils of his enemy. Or if you cannot, whip him outside of the city, amongst the graves of the Curiatii. Where can you take this youth where his glories will not vindicate so disgraceful a punishment?”
The people could not bear the father’s tears or bring themselves to execute so courageous a youth, so they let him go, though it was more in admiration of his virtues than because of the justness of his case. In order to expiate such a manifest murder with some little offering, the father was ordered to make some expiation for his son at the public expense. Having made a few little sacrifices, he put up a beam over the street, and made his son walk under it with his head covered as if in a yoke. Today, this beam, which is known as the sister’s beam, is kept up at the public expense. They built a stone grave for the sister at the spot where she died.
Tarquin the Proud
After the story of the Horatii, Livy recounts the reigns of the next three kings of Rome: Ancus Marcius, Priscus Tarquin, and Servius Tullius. According to Livy, Servius was the child of a captured Latin princess and was given in marriage to a daughter of the Roman king, Priscus Tarquin. When the king died, Servius’ mother-in-law engineered his election as king by the senate (without the involvement of the Roman people).
Livy describes Servius as a wise king who ruled for more than four decades, extended the franchise to the plebs, and instituted the census. Nevertheless, Servius faced the hostile ambitions of his predecessor’s son: Lucius Tarquin, later known as Tarquin the Proud. 
Although Servius had been the undisputed ruler for some time, he had heard that Lucius Tarquin was complaining that he did not rule by the consent of the people, so Servius secured his popularity with the plebs by dividing some seized lands amongst them. Then he dared to ask the people whether or not they commanded him to reign, and he was proclaimed king with as much support as any previous king had ever had.
Yet this did not diminish Tarquin’s hope of becoming king, rather he desired it all the more, for he sensed that the patricians were unhappy about the distribution of land, so he took every opportunity to criticize Servius in front of the patricians and increase his influence in the senate. In all of this, he was inflamed by the restless spirit of youth and prodded by his wife Tullia, who was herself a restless woman.
Indeed, his wicked seizure of power would make for a good tragic play, yet because of it, the Romans tired of kingship and won a more complete liberty, for Tarquin’s reign would be the last that might arise from such evil.
This Lucius Tarquin was either the grandson or, more likely, the son of King Priscus Tarquin. He had a brother named Arruns, who was a gentle youth. He and his brother were married to Servius’ daughters, both of whom also had very different characters. Fortune had given the wicked sister to Arruns, thereby preventing the vicious pair from joining in matrimony until the Roman people had grown accustomed to the changes Servius had made to the constitution. At least, that is what I believe.
The wicked daughter, Tullia, was annoyed that her husband neither acted boldly nor lusted for power, so she turned all her attentions on Lucius, whom she admired as a man worthy of his royal blood. Tullia despised her sister because though she had got herself a real man for a husband, she lacked the boldness to be a real woman.
Lucius Tarquin and Tullia thus found themselves drawn together by their common natures: Tullia made Lucius ready for any wickedness, but she alone was the cause of all the troubles.
She used to meet Lucius in secret and criticize their respective spouses. “Wouldn’t it be better,” she mused, “for me to be a widow and you a widower than to remain tied down to these lazy spouses and thereby lose our own youthful vigor? If the gods had given me a real man for a husband, I would see to it that he would soon wield my father’s power.”
In this way, she filled the young man with her own boldness, and they soon conspired to kill their respective spouses and marry each other. Servius did not exactly approve of this union, but he did not explicitly forbid it either.
Thus, Servius found himself beset by problems in his old age, as his daughter flitted from one crime to the next. At each step she egged her husband on, spurring him to the next crime by arguing that if they did not carry it through, their previous crimes would have been in vain.
“I was not looking for a mere husband or a partner in servitude,” she claimed, “I need a man who thinks himself worthy of a kingdom. Who remembers that he is the son of Priscus Tarquin and who wants to actually have a throne, not just dream about it.”
“If you are the man I think I married, I shall call you both husband and king. If you are less than that, I made a poor trade, for my current husband is a criminal as well as a coward. What will you do, then? You are not from Corinth, nor from Tarquin like your father. You do not need to struggle for a foreign kingdom. The Tarquin name makes you king. Your ancestral gods proclaim it. The image of your father impressed upon your face affirms it. Will you disappoint your city? Why do you allow the young nobles to consider you their king, if you are not going to do anything about it? Return, in that case, to Tarquin or Corinth and to the house of your ancestors, for you are a coward like your brother, not a king like your father.”
Chiding him with complaints like this, she incited Tarquin to wicked deeds, for she herself was greedy for power.
Roused by his wife’s womanly frenzies, Tarquin went around to various senators, mainly those of the lesser houses. He reminded them of the benefits his father had bestowed on them and asked for their favor in return, binding the youths to him with gifts. Thus, he mainly increased his support by bribing senators and criticizing the king.
At last, seeing that the time for action was at hand, he came into the forum with a body of armed men. As everyone was shaking with fear, he sat on the royal throne in front of the senate house and announced that the senators were to gather in the presence of King Tarquin. A group quickly assembled, some of whom had been prepared for the coup beforehand, others who feared harm if they did not come, thinking that Servius’ power would soon be at an end.
Tarquin began by criticizing Servius. “Your so-called king,” he proclaimed, “is a slave who was born of slaves. He received the throne as a gift from his wife after the disgraceful death of his father-in-law. He did not observe the customary interregnum and has neither been elected by the assembly nor by the people, nor has he been confirmed by the authority of the senate. This slave has won his throne illegally, and held onto it by exploiting the divisions of the patricians and by bribing the mob. He has placed all the republic’s burdens on the backs of the wealthy, burdens that heretofore have been jointly born by all of the republic. The census that he has instituted is a sham, meant to stir up the resentment of the poor against the wealthy, whose fortunes he will one day give over to the rabble to secure his power.”
When a breathless messenger finally got word to Servius, he immediately went to the entrance of the senate and called out in a loud voice, “What are you doing here, Tarquin? With what audacity have you dared to assemble the senate and sit on my throne while I still live?”
Tarquin responded fiercely, “I am sitting on the throne of my father, for the son of a king is a much fitter ruler than the child of slaves, and I have tolerated your fraud long enough.”
A great clamor arose from supporters of both sides, and a mass of people rushed to the senate, as it was now clear that whoever won this fight would win the throne. For Tarquin, there was no going back.
The younger and stronger Tarquin seized Servius around the waist, dragged him out of the senate house, and threw him down the steps; then he went back into the senate to bring the senators to obedience. The king’s companions fled, and without his royal escort, the wounded Servius was caught and killed by Tarquin’s henchmen. It is believed that this was done on the advice of Tullia, for this wickedness would be entirely in keeping with her character.
It is also agreed that Tullia rode a chariot to the forum, ignored the assembly of patricians who were there, called her husband out of the senate house, and was the first to salute him as king. Tarquin ordered her to get off the streets, so she departed by chariot. When she came to the top of Cyprus Street, where the temple of Diana used to stand, and the chariot was turning right to go up the Esquiline Hill, her terrified charioteer stopped the horses abruptly and pointed to the dead body of Servius lying in the street.
Tradition has it that the ghosts of her murdered relatives stirred Tullia into a frenzy. “Drive over it,” she ordered, and her driver did, splattering blood all over the chariot and on Tullia herself, who shamelessly carried it back to her house and to her household gods. The anger of these gods, however, would one day avenge her crimes. The spot where this outrage occurred is now called the Street of the Crime.
Servius Tullius had reigned forty-four years, and even a wise and moderate successor would have had a hard time bettering him. Indeed, Servius carries a particular glory in Roman history as the last just and legitimate king. Though he exercised a moderate and mild imperium, some authorities claim he planned to lay his power down completely because he did not approve of monarchy in principle, but Tarquin committed his wicked insurrection before Servius could do so.
Lucius Tarquin thus began his reign. He was called Tarquin the Proud, a nickname which he surely deserved. He began his reign by forbidding Servius burial, pointing out that Romulus, the father of all Romans, had not been buried. He killed all of Servius’ supporters and surrounded himself with an armed guard, so as to prevent anyone from taking the throne from himself in the same way he had taken it from Servius. Neither the people nor the senate ever elected him, and therefore having no right to rule, he ruled by force. Since he could not hope to safeguard his reign by winning the city’s love (caritas), he ruled by fear. To inspire fear, he judged capital crimes by himself and used this power to kill and exile his opponents and seize the goods of both enemies and neutral parties alike.
He greatly diminished the number of senators, thinking a smaller senate would be less esteemed and less able to restrict his own power. He was the first king in Roman history who did not consult the senate on important matters; rather, he only asked advice from his own circle of advisors. He made war, peace, treaties, and alliances by himself and with whomever he wanted, never on the orders of the people or the senate. He made friends and marriage alliances with the other Latin peoples so that they might protect him from his own citizens. He gave his daughter to Octavius Mamilius of Tusculum, who was from a well respected Latin family that was allegedly descended from Ulysses and Circe. By this marriage, Tarquin won over many of Mamilius’ relatives and friends.
Tarquin held great authority among the Latin nobles, so one day he ordered them to an assembly at the Grove of Ferentina, telling them that he wanted to discuss some matters of common interest. The group met at dawn on the appointed day, but Tarquin did not arrive until just before dusk. While they were waiting for Tarquin, a Latin king named Turnus criticised him in a speech.
“Little wonder that the Romans call him Tarquin the Proud, even though they only whisper it secretly. What could be more prideful than to play these games with the whole of the Latin nation? He was the one who called this meeting and asked us to travel far from our homes, yet he himself has not come. This is clearly a ruse to test our patience, so that if we accept this outrage, he might know that he can oppress us all. Do you not see that he wants to extend his imperium over the Latins? I won’t say whether his own citizens were wise to give him imperium. Indeed, I will not say whether they gave it to him at all or whether he seized it by murder. In any case, the Latins should not let this foreigner have imperium over us. His own people are sick of him; for he kills, exiles, and robs one after another. Should we Latins expect any better treatment from this man? Listen to me. Let us go back to our homes. Let’s not give this assembly any more of our time than Tarquin has.”
While all these words were being uttered by a man who had himself won power in his own land through sedition and crime, Tarquin arrived. This put a stop to Turnus’ speech. Everyone turned away from Turnus and saluted Tarquin. With the assembly quiet, the men standing near Tarquin asked him to explain the reason for his delay. “I apologize for my lateness,” he said, “I have been mediating a dispute between father and son. We will attend to the business at hand tomorrow.”
Turnus did not take this news quietly. He left the meeting with a parting shot, saying “Nothing should be quicker than settling a dispute between father and son. It can be done with a few words. Tell the son to obey his father or suffer the consequences.”
Tarquin pretended to be unfazed by Turnus’ remark, but he immediately began thinking about how to kill Turnus and thereby terrorize the Latins in the same way he had terrorized his own people. However, Tarquin could not put Turnus to death on his own public authority, so he destroyed his innocent opponent with false accusations, for that night, he bribed one of Turnus’ slaves to let a number of swords and arms be secretly smuggled into Turnus’ lodging.
The next day, Tarquin rose a little before dawn and summoned the Latin princes. Acting as if he had just discovered something disturbing, he claimed, “The gods themselves must have delayed me yesterday to keep us all safe. I have been informed that Turnus plans to kill us all and take the imperium for himself. He would have done it yesterday at the assembly had I arrived earlier. That is why he was so bothered by my absence; it prevented him from carrying out his plan. There is no doubt, if my informants speak the truth, that Turnus will come to the assembly today with armed men, for he has amassed a great number of swords. Let’s go together to Turnus’ lodgings; there, we can quickly determine whether these reports are true.”
Several things made the story plausible: the plot was the sort of thing that might be expected of the ferocious Turnus, he had made that speech the previous day, and Tarquin’s late arrival could account for the delay of the massacre. The Latin princes were inclined to trust Tarquin, but prepared to disbelieve him if the swords were not discovered.
Having come to the place, the guards surrounded Turnus and awoke him from his slumber. They also seized his servants, who were preparing to put up a fight. They found swords in every corner of the lodgings, which was enough to convince the Latins of Turnus’ guilt. They put him in chains, called the assembly, and brought forth the evidence. The Latin princes were furious, and they condemned Turnus to death without even giving him a trial, subjecting him to a novel form of capital punishment: he was laid on a raft, weighted with stones, and then thrown headlong into the water. This punishment was carried out on the suggestion of Tarquin himself.
At the assembly, Tarquin praised the Latins, “You have done right in executing this man. Now, I want to speak of a different matter. It is in my power to exercise an ancient right. Because all the Latins come from Alba, Alba once had the power to make a federation of all the Latin peoples. However, Alba’s powers were transferred to Rome under Tullus Hostilius, so this power now resides in Rome. It is in all of our interests that this alliance be renewed, for then you Latins will share in the fortunes of the Roman people rather than be afraid that we Romans will devastate your lands as we did during the reign of Ancus and my own father.”
The Latins were easily persuaded by this, even though Rome was to be the preeminent state in the alliance, for the Latin princes were all in agreement with Tarquin, who had just given a fresh warning of the dangers of opposing him. In accordance with the renewal of the treaty, Latins of military age assembled at the Ferentina Grove. In order to prevent the Latins from retaining their own commanders and insignia, he mixed the Roman and Latin ranks into new legions, doubled their size, and placed a centurion in charge of each.
Though Tarquin was an unjust king, he was not a bad military commander, and his military prowess would have rivalled other kings if the same degeneracy he showed in other things had not overshadowed his military glory. He started a war with the Volscians that ended up lasting two hundred years. During this war, the Romans seized the town of Suessa Pometia. Tarquin’s share of the booty came to forty silver talents, and he decided to use it to build a bigger temple to Jupiter, one that might be worthy of the king of gods and men, worthy of the Roman imperium, and worthy of Rome itself.
His next war went more slowly than he hoped, for his opponents, the Gabii, repelled his first attempt to besiege their town, so he withdrew from the walls. Disappointed by this defeat, he proceeded to conquer the Gabii in a most un-Roman way: by fraud and deceit. First, he pretended that he was done with the war, acting as if he was only concerned with laying the foundations of Jupiter’s temple and with other works in the city. Then, he had his youngest son Sextus pretend to defect to the Gabii, fooling them with fake complaints about his father’s intolerable cruelty.
“My father,” Sextus complained, “has begun to tyrannize his own family now. He is tired of his many children and freedmen, so he is preparing to kill us all just as he has killed all the senators, lest he leave behind descendants or heirs to the throne. I myself just barely slipped past the man’s swords and spears. Now, I am only safe amongst you, my father’s enemies.”
“Do not be deceived,” he continued, “his war with you is not over. He is simply waiting for you to drop your guard, so that he can invade your lands. But if a refugee like myself is not welcome here, I will go to beg at the doors of all the Latin nations until I find a people who know how to protect a child from the cruelty of his father. Perhaps, I will even find a people ready to wage war against such a tyrant.”
The Gabii were worried that he would leave in anger, so they welcomed him, assuring him with conciliatory words. “Do not be amazed that your father would do such things. After committing so many crimes against the city and his allies, he has finally done the same to his family. If he ran out of victims, he would probably have to turn his blade on himself, so wild a man is he. We are grateful that you have come. With your help, our armies will be at the gates of Rome in no time.”
Sextus was admitted to the public meetings, where he won favor by agreeing with the things that the older and more knowledgeable Gabii said. However, on many occasions, he said something like the following, “You ought to listen to me, Gabii. I know the strength of both yourselves and the Romans. The Roman people hate their king; indeed, even his own family hates him. It would be smart to make war on them now.”
When he had thus incited the Gabii, he began going on little military expeditions into Roman territory. Everything he said and did was calculated to deceive the Gabii and increase their empty faith in him until at last, the Gabii chose him as their commander.
The multitude was completely unaware of Sextus’ bad faith, and when he won a number of little skirmishes, the Gabii grew convinced that he was a gift from the gods themselves. He endured the same rigors as other soldiers and distributed the booty so generously and with such charity that he became just as powerful amongst the Gabii as his father was in Rome.
When he perceived that his men were ready to follow him anywhere and that the Gabii would agree to anything he suggested, he sent a messenger to his father for orders. Tarquin did not trust his son, so he said nothing in response to the messenger. Acting as though he were deliberating, Tarquin silently walked into his garden and struck the heads off the tallest poppies with his walking stick.
The messenger followed but soon grew weary of awaiting a response, so he returned to Sextus, reporting, “Your father did not say a word, though whether out of anger or his usual arrogance, I do not know. All he did was to walk in the garden and strike the heads of the tallest poppies with his stick.”
Sextus immediately understood his father’s silent commands and obeyed them by inciting the Gabii to kill some of the foremost men of their city. Many were killed by legal means; those who could not be found guilty of even trumped-up charges were killed secretly. Some were allowed to flee; others were ordered into exile. The goods of both the exiled and the executed were seized and divided amongst the people. Sextus doled out these private benefits to sweeten the bitter pill of public calamity, but once the Gabii had lost most of their foremost citizens, he betrayed them to the Roman king without any fight at all.
Having conquered the Gabii, Tarquin made peace with the Aequians and renewed the treaty with the Tuscans. Then he turned his attention to domestic affairs. The most important of these projects concerned completing the temple that his father had vowed to Jupiter, for he wanted to leave behind a monument to his reign and his name…The king’s plans for the temple grew ever more elaborate, and the cost quickly became more than he could afford on his own; in fact, he could not even pay for the foundations by himself…
Nevertheless, Tarquin was intent on finishing the temple, so he summoned workers from everywhere in Tuscany. To complete the work, he used money from the public treasury and even conscripted the plebs to work on it, this in addition to their military service. This labor, however, was not as big a burden to the plebs as Tarquin’s later projects: namely, constructing the seats of the circus and digging out the sewer system (cloaca maxima). Yet, no modern work can equal either of these in scale and magnificence. After the plebs were finished with these labors, he sent them out to establish colonies, both to expand his empire and to avoid the burden of an idle multitude in the city. He sent colonists to Signia and Circeii to serve as buffer states.
Around this time, the court was terrified by the appearance of a bad omen: a snake slithering out from a wooden column at the palace. The king was not afraid of the snake, but the omen filled him with worry and anxiety. He could not use the Tuscan soothsayers (who were only summoned for public omens) to interpret his own private portent, so he sent two of his sons to journey through unknown lands to visit the famous Oracle at Delphi.
Titus and Arruns undertook the journey, taking their cousin Lucius Junius Brutus as their companion. Now, Brutus was a man who was much cleverer than he let on. When he had heard that his uncle Tarquin was murdering noble Romans (even Brutus’s own brother), he feigned stupidity so that the king might have nothing to fear from him. He also refrained from amassing a fortune which the king might covet. He knew that there was no safety in the laws, so he let Tarquin do whatever he wanted with his property and defended himself from his uncle by allowing others to disrespect him; he even let people call him Brutus (a name that means stupid). However, the name was like his cloak; in reality, he was simply waiting for his chance to show his courage and liberate the Roman people.
Thus, the Tarquins took him to Delphi more as their jester than as their companion. It is said that he brought a gift for Apollo, a gold staff enclosed in a wooden one, which was meant to symbolize his own character. After the brothers had carried out their father’s request, they were overwhelmed by a desire to know which brother would inherit the throne. Out of the deep abyss came a voice that said the imperium of Rome would go to the one who kissed his mother first. As Sextus had remained at Rome, the Tarquin brothers commanded everyone to keep silent about the prophecy. As for themselves, they cast lots to decide which of them would go to Rome to kiss their mother first.
Brutus, however, thought the prophecy meant something else, and falling to the ground as if he had stumbled, he touched his lips to Mother Earth. Then they returned to Rome, which was preparing for war with the Rutuli.
The Rape of Lucretia
The Rutuli were a wealthy people who held the region of Ardea. Their wealth was the cause of the war, for Tarquin had exhausted his funds in building public works and sought to enrich himself and quell his own unpopularity by looting the Rutuli. He tried to seize the territory quickly, but when this failed, he besieged them instead.
In wars such as these, which are long but not especially fierce, soldiers are granted frequent leave, especially if they are nobles. Thus, Tarquin’s sons wasted much time in laziness, banquets, and merrymaking. During one of Sextus’ drinking parties, a debate arose over who had the best wife. Each man praised his wife in many ways, and the dispute grew heated, whereat Sextus’ cousin Collatinus claimed that he could show the superiority of his wife Lucretia in a matter of hours.
“We are young, yet,” he challenged his comrades, “Let us ride home and drop in unexpectedly on our wives. What we see them doing when we are not there will show us their true characters.”
They all enthusiastically agreed.
Arriving in Rome just after dark, they found most of their wives wasting their time in feasting and luxury with other nobles; Lucretia, however, was not. When they reached her house in Collatia, they found her sitting amongst her ladies-in-waiting and spinning wool by lamp light. Thus, Lucretia was clearly the victor in this contest of womanly virtue.
She welcomed her husband and the other Tarquins and invited them all to dine. At dinner, both the beauty and presumed chastity of Lucretia pricked Sextus with an evil desire to defile her. He did nothing at that time, and after dinner, they returned to camp.
A few days later, Sextus showed back up at Collatinus’ house. Lucretia welcomed him warmly and fed him dinner; then he was given a room in the guest quarters. After Sextus saw that all the guards were asleep, he drew his sword and snuck into the sleeping Lucretia’s bedchamber.
While he held her down with one hand, he pressed his blade against her with the other, threatening, “Keep your mouth shut, Lucretia. I am Sextus Tarquin. I have a blade in my hand, and if you make a sound, I will slit your throat.”
The terrified Lucretia awoke to the threat of imminent death; indeed, there was no help in sight.
Tarquin confessed his love. He begged. He threatened. He pleaded. He said anything he could think of to sway a woman’s heart. When he saw that not even the fear of death could move her, he threatened her with shame.
“If you do not let me have my way with you,” he hissed, “I will kill you and strangle your manservant. Then I will place your nude bodies together in your bed, so it will seem that you have been justly slain in the filthy act of adultery.”
This threat finally conquered Lucretia’s chastity, and Tarquin took her feminine honor. After he left, the miserable Lucretia sent messengers to her father at Rome and to her husband at Ardea, telling them to come at once and bring one trusted friend, for a horrible thing had happened, and it demanded action. By chance, her husband brought Junius Brutus, who was just then returning to Rome from Delphi.
They found the unhappy woman sitting in a small room. At their arrival, she burst into tears.
“Are you well?” the men asked.
“Hardly,” she responded, “for how can a defiled woman be well? Another man has stained your sheets, Collatinus. His traces still remain there. Yet though my body has been violated, my soul is yet pure. Death will be witness to my innocence. Give me your word, men; punish the man who raped me, for it was Sextus Tarquin. A few days ago he came here as my guest, but last night he came as my enemy. He has taken my happiness from me; now you must take away his. Promise me, as you are men; Sextus must pay.”
As they promised this, they tried to console her. “It is not your fault. Sextus alone has committed a crime. Only the mind can sin, and a woman who does not consent cannot be at fault.”
But she could not be consoled. “You men,” she said, “will see to it that Sextus gets what he deserves. I absolve myself from this sin. I do not ask pardon, but no unchaste woman will ever choose to live because of my example.”
With these words, she pulled out a dagger that she had hidden under her clothes and stabbed it into her heart, dying on the spot.
Her husband and father cried out in sorrow, but Brutus bent down and took the bloody dagger from Lucretia’s wound. Holding it in front of himself, he vowed “With the gods as my witness, I swear by this most chaste blood that I will drive out Lucius Tarquin, together with his wicked wife and all of his wicked family. I will spare them neither sword nor fire nor anything in my power. No Tarquin, nor any man, will ever rule Rome as king again.”
He then handed the blade to Collatinus. The other men were awestruck at the change that had come over Brutus, wondering where this man had come from. Brutus made them swear to avenge Lucretia, and all of their grief was thereby turned to anger. He then called them to abolish the kingship, and they followed him as their leader.
They carried Lucretia’s body out of the house and into the forum, inciting the people to rebellion with news of this atrocity. Moved to tears by the sadness of Lucretia’s father, the people each added their own complaints of royal wickedness
Brutus, however, chastised them. “Stop your lamenting and complaining and act like real men,” he said. “Act like true Romans. Pick up your weapons and fight your enemies.”
The fiercest youths immediately heeded Brutus’ call, and the rest soon followed. Some of the men stood guard at the gates of Collatia to prevent anyone from bringing word of the uprising to the king; the others set out for Rome. When they arrived there, this mob of armed men threw everyone into a panic, which only died down when the people realized that the mob was composed of some of the leading men of Rome and that something important was afoot. Lucretia’s rape raised just as much uproar in Rome as it had in Collatia, and people hurried to the forum from all corners of the city. The crier then summoned them to hear the Tribune of the Celeres, which office Brutus happened to be holding at the time. Brutus delivered an oration that amazed all those who had hitherto considered him an imbecile.
“Gentlemen and plebs of Rome,” he said, “the son of your king is a lustful and violent man. He has forced himself on the noble and chaste matron Lucretia. In shame, she has taken her own life. In shame, her father hangs his head in sorrow, more for the cause of her death than the death itself.”
“Your king,” he continued, “is a proud and arrogant man. He has set the plebs to digging ditches for his sewers. He has made you, you Romans who are the conquerors of all the surrounding nations, into workmen and stonecutters. He has most shamefully taken his throne from his father-in-law, whose dead body his wife crushed under the wheels of her chariot. Let the vengeance of the gods rain down on the Tarquins for these atrocities. Let us, Romans, be rid of kings forever. Let us be rid of Tarquin. Let us be rid of his whole stinking brood. Now is the time to live free, Romans.”
Having incited the crowd, Brutus and a group of volunteers marched to the army in Ardea to incite them to insurrection. He left Lucretia’s father, then serving as prefect of the city, in charge at Rome. During these tumults, Tullia fled her home and was cursed by everyone she passed, who invoked the fury of her murdered victims.
When news of the uprising reached camp, the frightened king went to Rome to put down the rebellion. Brutus heard of the king’s route and changed his own, in order to avoid him on the road. Thus, Brutus reached Ardea about the same time that Tarquin reached Rome. At Rome, Tarquin found the gates closed against him and a sentence of exile passed on his person. Brutus, on the other hand, was welcomed jubilantly by the army, which expelled the king’s sons from camp. Two sons followed their father into exile in Etruria. Sextus went to the Gabii, which he thought of as his own kingdom, but they killed him on account of the old feuds that his murders and thefts had stirred up.
Lucius Tarquin the Proud reigned twenty-five years. By this point, Rome had been ruled by kings for 244 years. The prefect of the city then elected Brutus and Collatinus as the first two consuls in the Assembly of the Centuries, in accordance with the regulations of Servius Tullius.
The Sons of Brutus
From this point on, I shall write the history of a free Roman people, recording their deeds in peace and war, their annually elected officials, and the imperium of their laws, which thenceforth were more powerful than any one man. Indeed, the insolence of the last king made this liberty even sweeter.
Tarquin’s predecessors had all been praiseworthy rulers who expanded the city and added new homes for the population that they themselves had increased. Though Brutus won true glory by expelling Tarquin, he would have done the public a disservice had he seized power from any of Tarquin’s predecessors. In that case, liberty would have come too soon. What would have happened if the hordes of shepherds who made up the plebs would have been given liberty along with their sanctuary? Without the fear of a king, they would have fought with the patres, tearing the city in two before the bonds of kinship and love of the land had united the plebs and patres into one people. The rule of kings moderated this and brought tranquility. It nurtured Rome until it was ready for liberty, which at the beginning of the republic consisted mainly in the limited term of the consuls. For the consuls were as powerful as the kings, they ruled by the same oaths as the kings, and they carried the same insignia as the kings. The only difference was that they were elected for a year alone, and only one of them was allowed to bear the fasces, so as not to double the people’s terror. Collatinus allowed Brutus to have the fasces first, and Brutus was careful to guard the liberty that he had fought so hard to win.
Though the people supported the new constitution, Brutus compelled them to swear an oath that no Roman would ever let a king reign, lest they later be enticed by Tarquin’s bribery. He refilled the ranks of the depleted senate with Roman knights, calling the old senators patres and the new ones conscripti; this brought concord to the city, uniting the patricians and the plebs.
Then he turned his attention to religion. To forestall the need for the king in religious matters, he made a ‘little king’ to perform all the sacred rites that the Roman kings had previously done in person, but placed him under the power of the high priest, lest the name ‘king’ threaten Roman liberty.
Indeed, at this point the Romans got a little carried away. The citizens quickly grew jealous of Collatinus himself, who had committed no offense beyond bearing the name Tarquin, for the citizens thought the Tarquins had reigned too long. First there had been Priscus, but the Tarquin claim had not been forgotten during the reign of Servius Tullius, and Tarquin the Proud stole the hereditary kingship back by wickedness and force. Now that Tarquin had been overthrown, the imperium was in the hands of Collatinus Tarquin. Because the Romans knew that the Tarquins did not know how to live as private citizens, they considered Collatinus’ name itself a threat to their liberty.
The murmuring against Collatinus started gradually and then spread throughout the city. Eventually, Brutus had to call the plebs to a meeting. First, he made them recite the oath promising never to allow a king at Rome nor any man who was a threat to its liberty, to do all in their power to prevent it, and to condemn no action that might avert it.
He proclaimed, “For the love of the republic, I cannot remain silent. I cannot believe that having won your liberty from the Tarquins, you Romans not only let the family remain in the city, but give the imperium to one of their line. Does this not put our liberty in danger? Only you, Collatinus Tarquin, can free us from this fear. It is true. Let’s confess it. You have helped to throw out the kings. Now, banish their name, the name you yourself bear. Renounce your power. On my authority, you will be provided with whatever you need. Go away, my friend. Free your city from this fear, even though it be an empty one. For your fellow citizens are persuaded that the tyranny of the Tarquins will only depart when all the Tarquins are gone.”
The stunned Collatinus said nothing at first. Before he could speak, the nobles who were sitting next to him began to repeat Brutus’ demands, which at first did not persuade him. Collatinus was only finally convinced by the entreaties of his father-in-law, Lucretius, who was older and of greater dignity.
Lucretius said to him, “Do what they are asking of you. For it is the will of the people of Rome. You might be banished anyways at the end of your term as consul. If that happens, you will not only lose your homeland, you will lose your goods as well.”
So Collatinus abdicated and moved to Lavinium. The Assembly of the Centuries replaced him with Publius Valerius, who had helped to overthrow the king. On the advice of the senate, Brutus exiled all the Tarquins.
Everyone knew that war with the Tarquins was coming, though it did not come as fast as the Romans expected, and they did not foresee the treachery that almost cost them their liberty.
A few of the youths that had once surrounded the Tarquin princes still remained in Rome. These young men had grown accustomed to living licentiously, and now that the law had made everyone equal, they complained that the liberty of others meant slavery for them. A king might be swayed, they reasoned, but the law could not. A king might show mercy to his friends, but the law was deaf and inexorable. The law was more useful for the weak than the powerful. A man who broke it could expect no mercy. Given the errors of human judgment, trying to live by innocence alone was a dangerous proposition.
While this disease was eating away at their souls, the king’s ambassadors arrived. These ambassadors said nothing publically about the restoration of the monarchy; they only asked for the return of Tarquin’s goods. The senate heard them and consulted on the matter for several days, unsure whether to deny the request and give the Tarquins a cause for war or to grant it and give the Tarquins the means to make war. Meanwhile, the ambassadors were making other plans. While they were openly asking for the return of Tarquin’s goods, they were secretly conspiring to return him to power, visiting the city’s noble youths, giving them letters from Tarquin, and laying out a plan to admit the former king into the city at night.
Tarquin’s ambassadors first approached the Aquilii and Vitellii brothers, the latter of whose sister was married to Brutus and had two adolescent children by him: Titus and Tiberius. Along with a number of other noble youths, these two boys were brought into the conspiracy, under the influence of their uncles.
Meanwhile, the senate had decided to return Tarquin’s goods to him, so the ambassadors remained in the city to secure transport, all the while plotting their conspiracy. At last, they convinced the conspirators in Rome to give letters of good faith to Tarquin in order to convince him that their promises were not empty. These letters were a manifest crime, and it was these letters that gave the game away.
On the day before they were to leave, the ambassadors dined with the conspirators at the Vitellii house, and after having dismissed those who were not in on the conspiracy, they laid their final plans. One of the servants in the household was already suspicious but had been waiting to reveal his suspicions until he could prove them. Hearing that the letters had been signed, he immediately took the information to the consuls, who quietly marched to the house, seized the letters, and arrested the traitors. They were in a quandary about what to do with the king’s am-bassadors. It seemed as if they should be treated as enemies, yet the Romans decided to honor their diplomatic immunity.
The senate angrily decided to reverse its decision, and it distributed the king’s goods to the plebs, with the hope that having taken them, the plebs would forever lose any hope of reconciling with him…
Having disposed of Tarquin’s goods, they condemned the traitors and carried out their sentences. This was most remarkable because the duties of the consulship forced a father to carry out capital punishment on his own sons. Thus, it was Brutus’ fortune to preside over a spectacle that no father should even have to watch. Many of the city’s foremost youths stood bound to the stake, but they may as well have been common criminals, for everyone’s eyes were on the consul’s children. The Romans were not so much distressed by the penalty as by the crime. How could these boys betray their newly-liberated country, their father the liberator, and the consulship that was held by their own family? How could they hand over patres, plebs, and all things sacred to an arrogant, exiled, and hostile king?
The consuls sent the lictors to execute the punishment and then sat down in their seats. The boys were stripped nude, beaten with rods, and then decapitated with an axe. Brutus’ face betrayed his anguish, but his soul was intent on seeing the punishment carried out.
We pick up with Livy’s history in 458 BC, fifty-one years after the establishment of the Roman Republic. As the story of Cincinnatus begins, a rival army threatens Rome with destruction.
A great force of Aequians marched nearly to the walls of the city and despoiled the fields. This greatly disturbed the people, and terror overtook the city. Then, the plebs seized their arms, and two large armies were levied…one of which was led by the consul Nautius. Pitching his camp at Eretrum, he led several small expeditions and night raids in which he laid such waste to the enemy’s fields that Rome’s lands seemed untouched by comparison.
The other army was led by the consul Minucius, who did not have as much luck and did not wage the war with as much vigor. He pitched his camp near the enemy, but feared to leave it, even before any misfortune had befallen him. When the Aequians sensed this fear, they grew bolder. One night, they surrounded the Roman camp and put it under siege, but not before five Roman knights managed to escape and bring the news to Rome, which received it with shock and dismay, almost as if the city itself was besieged. Nautius was summoned home, but he did not seem to be the man to save the city, so the people elected Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus as dictator.
You who care only for riches and think that great honor and virtue must be accompanied with great wealth should listen to this story, for Rome’s last hope was a poor farmer who had a mere three acres of land. When the senate’s messengers came to him at his farm across the Tiber, he was hard at work, either plowing his fields or digging a ditch.
“Salve,” he greeted them, “What service might I be to the republic?”
“Put your toga on,” they replied, “and come to the senate. You have been named dictator. Hopefully, this will turn out well for both you and the republic.”
Cincinnatus ordered his wife to fetch his toga quickly, and he cleaned his sweaty and grimy face. When he was dressed, the messengers explained the dire situation, congratulated him on being named dictator, and summoned him to the city. He was supplied with a vessel at the public expense, and when he entered Rome, he was greeted by his three sons, some neighbors and friends, and most of the senators. Surrounded by this crowd, the lictors led him to his house. There was also an immense crowd of plebs, who were not happy about the dictator, for they thought that the power granted to Cincinnatus was excessive, and they were afraid of what he might do with it.
Nothing was done that night except keeping watch.
Shortly before dawn the next day, Cincinnatus appointed Lucius Tarquitius as Master of the Horse. Tarquitius was a patrician, but had served as a foot soldier on account of his poverty. Nevertheless, he was considered the best Roman soldier. Cincinnatus entered the forum, proclaimed a cessation of public business, ordered the taverns closed, and forbid the conducting of any private business. He ordered all men of military age to arm themselves, procure five days rations, find twelve large stakes and then come to the Campus Martius before sundown. The older men were to cook food for their younger comrades. Everyone ran here and there, carrying out the dictator’s edict.
Cincinnatus drew up his ranks so as to be able to both march and fight if need be, personally leading the legions while Tarquitius led the cavalry. Cincinnatus urged both ranks to move quickly, so that the army might reach the enemy by nightfall.
“The consul and Roman army have been besieged for three days,” he warned the soldiers, “and we do not know what another day might bring, for great affairs often hinge on good timing.”
The soldiers thus urged each other on. “Hurry, standard bearer,” they called.
“Follow, soldiers,” he replied.
They reached the enemy in the middle of the night. Then the dictator rode round the enemy camp to see its shape and size as well as he could in the dark. He ordered that the baggage be thrown into one pile and the infantry ready their arms and stakes. The Romans surrounded the enemy camp, then the dictator ordered everyone to make a big war cry, dig a ditch in front of themselves, and fix their stakes. This war cry could be heard in both the enemy camp, where it created great fear, and Minucius’ camp, where it created great joy. Seeing that help had come, the besieged Romans ventured out beyond their stations. Minucius thought the battle had already begun, so he ordered his men to take up their arms and follow him.
Thus, a clamor arose from Minucius’ army, and the dictator realized that the fight was on. The Aequians turned to fight Minucius’ army in order to prevent them from breaking out; this gave Cincinnatus a free hand, and by dawn, he had the enemy completely surrounded. The Aequians could barely hold up against one army by this point, much less two. At this moment, Cincinnatus attacked and started a second front. Pressed hard on both their interior and exterior, the Aequians asked for terms from the consul, begging to be allowed to retreat. Minucius told them to ask Cincinnatus.
The angry Cincinnatus wanted to shame them, so he ordered their commander and all the other leading men to be led to him in chains and the town of Corbio to be emptied. He did not make the Aequians pay with their blood, but to show that they had been conquered, he made them retreat under a giant yoke constructed out of spears.
The Aequians had left without their baggage, and the Romans found a rich booty in their camp. Cincinnatus gave all the booty to his own soldiers, scolding the consul and his army with these words, “You will get none of this booty, soldiers. You will not make prey of an enemy whose prey you nearly were. And you, Lucius Minucius, until you start acting like a consul, you will command these legions as a staff officer.” Minucius gave up his consulship, though Cincinnatus ordered him to remain with the army.
At that time, the Romans were more obedient to authority than they are today, and they valued what Cincinnatus had done for them more than they detested the shame he had imposed on them. Thus, they decreed that the dictator should receive a one-pound crown of gold, and they saluted him as their patron when he left camp. At Rome, Cincinnatus led his ranks in a triumph, with the enemy leaders and standards in front of the chariots and the booty-laden army behind. People laid out suppers for the soldiers, and the suppers were followed by triumphal songs and solemn games. By universal consent, the city gave freedom to Lucius Maximilius Tusculano. The dictator would have immediately laid down his power if it were not for the need to try Marcus Volscius. Fear of the dictator prevented the tribunes from impeding this trial, and Volscius was condemned and sent into exile in Lanuvium. Cincinnatus had been granted dictatorial powers for sixth months, but after sixteen days, he gave up his powers and [returned to his farm].
 A region in modern day Turkey.
 The story of Aeneas is almost certainly the stuff of legend, but the city of Troy did exist, and it was destroyed sometime during the 13th century BC. Thus, the story of Aeneas refers to approximately that time period.
 The penates were the gods who watched over individual households.
 The Latin word imperium refers to the formal power to command. It can refer to political and military power given to individuals or to the power of one nation over another. Imperium is the root of the modern English word “empire.”
 The house of the Julii was an old patrician family. This is the family from which Julius Caesar was descended.
 Virgil adopts the latter story for the Aeneid; in that poem Ascanius is the son of the Trojan princess Creusa, and he accompanies his father in his wanderings.
 A vestal virgin was a priestess of the goddess Vesta. They took vows of celibacy.
 The founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus is traditionally dated to 753 BC.
 Arcadia is a region in central Greece.
 Pan is the ancient Greek god of shepherds and mountain wilds. He is traditionally represented as a faun, a being with a human head and torso but goat-like legs. Arcadia was the traditional home of Pan, whose Roman name was Lupercus and who was often depicted as a sexual dynamo with an oversized phallus. Thus, he was the patron of the festival of the Lupercalia, in which youths ran around naked, engaging in a sort of fertility ritual.
 The Romans believed that the will of the gods could be interpreted by reading the omens: normally either the flight paths of birds or the entrails of an animal. A modern equivalent might be Tarot cards or palm reading.
 The lictors originally functioned as the king’s bodyguard. They had the authority to carry the fasces, a bundle of sticks with an axe sticking out, as a symbol of the imperium, or authority to rule. Later, lictors were assigned to all the Roman magistrates who held imperium.
 Literally, fathers.
 This story is traditionally called the Rape of the Sabines, but the reader should note that the Latin term from which it is derived, raptus, means abduction, not rape. There really is no perfect Latin equivalent for our word rape.
 Groups from nearby cities.
 Iniuria can mean injury, outrage, or what we might call sexual assault.
 One of the seven hills of Rome.
 A citadel is a fortress that protects a town.
 An interregnum is a period between reigns when there is no king.
 A neighboring city.
 The legislative body that consisted of all Roman citizens.
 Tarquin the Proud ruled from 535 BC to 509 BC, the latter of which is the date that is traditionally given for the establishment of the Roman republic.
 Actually, simple math would suggest that it is more likely that he was Priscus Tarquin’s grandson.
 Tarquin’s claim here is dubious.
 According to Livy, the people of Rome believed that Romulus had ascended into heaven on a whirlwind; thus, he had not had a burial. Livy means his audience to understand that Tarquin was making a particularly tasteless joke here.
 Ulysses was the semi-legendary Greek hero, whose wanderings after the Trojan War are recounted by Homer in the Odyssey. Circe was a demi-goddess who enchanted Ulysses’ crew.
 It is impossible to give a modern equivalent to this amount, but inasmuch as a talent was equivalent to about 70 pounds, forty talents of silver would have represented a substantial amount.
 A region to the north of Rome.
 In ancient Rome, a circus was a stadium designed for chariot races. It was in the shape of a circle (actually more like an oval); hence the name circus.
 Delphi was a sacred site in Greece, famous for the priestess, or oracle, who supposedly channeled the god Apollo to give prophecies. The oracle, however, was famous for giving vague prophecies that were often misinterpreted by the hearers.
 This story recounts an episode that we would certainly call a rape; yet, even the Latin word that Livy uses for this story, stupra, does not quite approximate our modern word rape, as it can refer both to forcible violation and to adultery.
 A city about 15 miles from Rome.
 The Assembly of the Centuries was the popular assembly of the time. It had been organized by Servius Tullius.
 In Ancient Rome, the dictatorship was an office that gave the holder absolute power. It was only supposed to be used during emergencies and only supposed to be held for a limited time.
 The Campus Martius was the field on the far side of the Tiber on which the Romans performed their military exercises.