The task of writing a history of our nation from Rome’s earliest days fills me, I confess, with some misgiving, and even were I confident in the value of my work, I should hesitate to say so. I am aware that for historians to make extravagant claims is, and always has been, all too common: every writer on history tends to look down his nose at his less cultivated predecessors, happily persuaded that he will better them in point of style, or bring new facts to light. But however that may be, I shall find satisfaction in contributing – not, I hope, ignobly – to the labour of putting on record the story of the greatest nation in the world. Countless others have written on this theme and it may be that I shall pass unnoticed amongst them; if so, I must comfort myself with the greatness and splendour of my rivals, whose work will rob my own of recognition.
My task, moreover, is an immensely laborious one. I shall have to go back more than seven hundred years, and trace my story from its small beginnings up to these recent times when its ramifications are so vast that any adequate treatment is hardly possible. I am aware, too, that most readers will take less pleasure in my account of how Rome began and in her early history; they will wish to hurry on to more modern times and to read of the period, already a long one, in which the might of an imperial people is beginning to work its own ruin. My own feeling is different; I shall find antiquity a rewarding study, if only because, while I am absorbed in it, I shall be able to turn my eyes from the troubles which for so long have tormented the modern world, and to write without any of that over–anxious consideration which may well plague a writer on contemporary life, even if it does not lead him to conceal the truth.
Events before Rome was born or thought of have come to us in old tales with more of the charm of poetry than of a sound historical record, and such traditions I propose neither to affirm nor refute. There is no reason, I feel, to object when antiquity draws no hard line between the human and the supernatural: it adds dignity to the past, and, if any nation deserves the privilege of claiming a divine ancestry, that nation is our own; and so great is the glory won by the Roman people in their wars that, when they declare that Mars himself was their first parent and father of the man who founded their city, all the nations of the world might well allow the claim as readily as they accept Rome’s imperial dominion.
These, however, are comparatively trivial matters and I set little store by them. I invite the reader’s attention to the much more serious consideration of the kind of lives our ancestors lived, of who were the men, and what the means both in politics and war by which Rome’s power was first acquired and subsequently expanded; I would then have him trace the process of our moral decline, to watch, first, the sinking of the foundations of morality as the old teaching was allowed to lapse, then the rapidly increasing disintegration, then the final collapse of the whole edifice, and the dark dawning of our modern day when we can neither endure our vices nor face the remedies needed to cure them. The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see; and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings; fine things to take as models, base things, rotten through and through, to avoid.
I hope my passion for Rome’s past has not impaired my judgement; for I do honestly believe that no country has ever been greater or purer than ours or richer in good citizens and noble deeds; none has been free for so many generations from the vices of avarice and luxury; nowhere have thrift and plain living been for so long held in such esteem. Indeed, poverty, with us, went hand in hand with contentment. Of late years wealth has made us greedy, and self–indulgence has brought us, through every form of sensual excess, to be, if I may so put it, in love with death both individual and collective.
But bitter comments of this sort are not likely to find favour, even when they have to be made. Let us have no more of them, at least at the beginning of our great story. On the contrary, I should prefer to borrow from the poets and begin with good omens and with prayers to all the host of heaven to grant a successful issue to the work which lies before me.
It is generally accepted that after the fall of Troy the Greeks kept up hostilities against all the Trojans except Aeneas and Antenor. These two men had worked consistently for peace and the restoration of Helen, and for that reason, added to certain personal connections of long standing, they were allowed to go unmolested. Each had various adventures: Antenor joined forces with the Eneti, who had been driven out of Paphlagonia and, having lost their king, Pylaemenes, at Troy, wanted someone to lead them as well as somewhere to settle. He penetrated to the head of the Adriatic and expelled the Euganei, a tribe living between the Alps and the sea, and occupied that territory with a mixed population of Trojans and Eneti. The spot where they landed is called Troy and the neighbouring country the Trojan district. The combined peoples came to be known as Venetians.
Aeneas was forced into exile by similar troubles; he, however, was destined to lay the foundations of a greater future. He went first to Macedonia, then in his search for a new home sailed to Sicily, and from Sicily to the territory of Laurentum. This part of Italy too, like the spot where Antenor landed, is known as Troy. Aeneas’s men in the course of their almost interminable wanderings had lost all they possessed except their ships and their swords; once on shore, they set about scouring the countryside for what they could find, and while thus engaged they were met by a force of armed natives who, under their king Latinus, came hurrying up from the town and the surrounding country to protect themselves from the invaders. There are two versions of what happened next: according to one, there was a fight in which Latinus was beaten; he then came to terms with Aeneas and cemented the alliance by giving him his daughter in marriage. According to the other, the battle was about to begin when Latinus, before the trumpets could sound the charge, came forward with his captains and invited the foreign leaders to a parley. He then asked Aeneas who his men were and where they had come from, why they had left their homes and what was their object in landing on Laurentian territory. He was told in reply that the men were Trojans, their leader Aeneas, the son of Anchises and Venus; that their native town had been burnt to the ground and now they were fugitives in search of some place where they could build a new town to settle in. Latinus, hearing their story, was so deeply impressed by the noble bearing of the strangers and by their leader’s high courage either for peace or war, that he gave Aeneas his hand in pledge of friendship from that moment onward. A treaty was made; the two armies exchanged signs of mutual respect; Aeneas accepted the hospitality of Latinus, who gave him his daughter in marriage, thus further confirming the treaty of alliance by a private and domestic bond solemnly entered into in the presence of the Gods of his hearth.
The Trojans could no longer doubt that at last their travels were over and that they had found a permanent home. They began to build a settlement, which Aeneas named Lavinium after his wife Lavinia. A child was soon born of the marriage: a boy, who was given the name Ascanius.
The Trojans and the Latins were soon jointly involved in war. Turnus, prince of the Rutuli, to whom Latinus’s daughter Lavinia had been pledged before Aeneas’s arrival, angered by the insult of having to step down in favour of a stranger, attacked the combined forces of Aeneas and Latinus. Both sides suffered in the subsequent struggle: the Rutuli were defeated, but the victors lost their leader Latinus. Turnus and his people, in their anxiety for the future, then looked for help to Mezentius, king of the rich and powerful Etruscans, whose seat of government was at Caere, at that time a wealthy town. Mezentius needed little persuasion to join the Rutuli, as from the outset he had been far from pleased by the rise of the new settlement, and now felt that the Trojan power was growing much more rapidly than was safe for its neighbours. In this dangerous situation Aeneas conferred the native name of Latins upon his own people; the sharing of a common name as well as a common polity would, he felt, strengthen the bond between the two peoples. As a result of this step the original settlers were no less loyal to their king Aeneas than were the Trojans themselves. Trojans and Latins were rapidly becoming one people, and this gave Aeneas confidence to make an active move against the Etruscans, in spite of their great strength. Etruria, indeed, had at this time both by sea and land filled the whole length of Italy from the Alps to the Sicilian strait with the noise of her name; none the less Aeneas refused to act on the defensive and marched out to meet the enemy. The Latins were victorious, and for Aeneas the battle was the last of his labours in this world. He lies buried on the river Numicus. Was he man or god? However it be, men call him Jupiter Indiges – the local Jove.
Aeneas’s son Ascanius was still too young for a position of authority; Lavinia, however, was a woman of great character, and acted as regent until Ascanius came of age and was able to assume power as the successor of his father and grandfather. There is some doubt – and no one can pretend to certainty on something so deeply buried in the mists of time – about who precisely this Ascanius was. Was it the one I have been discussing, or was it an elder brother, the son of Creusa, who was born before the sack of Troy and was with Aeneas in his escape from the burning city – the Iulus, in fact, whom the Julian family claim as their eponym? It is at any rate certain that Aeneas was his father, and – whatever the answer to the other question may be – it can be taken as a fact that he left Lavinium to found a new settlement. Lavinium was by then a populous and, for those days, a rich and flourishing town, and Ascanius left it in charge of his mother (or stepmother, if you will) and went off to found his new settlement on the Alban hills. This town, strung out as it was along a ridge, was named Alba Longa. Its foundation took place about thirty years after that of Lavinium; but the Latins had already grown so strong, especially since the defeat of the Etruscans, that neither Mezentius, the Etruscan king, nor any other neighbouring people dared to attack them, even when Aeneas died and the control of things passed temporarily into the hands of a woman, and Ascanius was still a child learning the elements of kingship. By the terms of the treaty between the Latins and Etruscans the river Albula (now the Tiber) became the boundary between the two territories.
Ascanius was succeeded by his son Silvius – ‘born in the woods’ – and he by his son Aeneas Silvius, whose heir was Latinius Silvius. By him several new settlements were made, and given the name of Old Latins. All the kings of Alba subsequently kept the cognomen Silvius. Next in succession to Latinius was Alba; then Atys, then Capys, then Capetus, then Tiberinus – who was drowned crossing the Albula and gave that river the name by which succeeding generations have always known it. Tiberinus was succeeded by Agrippa, Agrippa by his son Romulus Silvius, who was struck by lightning and bequeathed his power to Aventinus. Aventinus was buried on the hill, now a part of the city of Rome, and still bearing his name. Proca, the next king, had two sons, Numitor and Amulius, to the elder of whom, Numitor, he left the hereditary realm of the Silvian family; that, at least, was his intention, but respect for seniority was flouted, the father’s will ignored and Amulius drove out his brother and seized the throne. One act of violence led to another; he proceeded to murder his brother’s male children, and made his niece, Rhea Silvia, a Vestal, ostensibly to do her honour, but actually by condemning her to perpetual virginity to preclude the possibility of issue.
But (I must believe) it was already written in the book of fate that this great city of ours should arise, and the first steps be taken to the founding of the mightiest empire the world has known – next to God’s. The Vestal Virgin was raped and gave birth to twin boys. Mars, she declared, was their father – perhaps she believed it, perhaps she was merely hoping by the pretence to palliate her guilt. Whatever the truth of the matter, neither gods nor men could save her or her babes from the savage hands of the king. The mother was bound and flung into prison; the boys, by the king’s order, were condemned to be drowned in the river. Destiny, however, intervened; the Tiber had overflowed its banks; because of the flooded ground it was impossible to get to the actual river, and the men entrusted to do the deed thought that the flood–water, sluggish though it was, would serve their purpose. Accordingly they made shift to carry out the king’s orders by leaving the infants on the edge of the first flood–water they came to, at the spot where now stands the Ruminal fig–tree – said to have once been known as the fig–tree of Romulus. In those days the country thereabouts was all wild and uncultivated, and the story goes that when the basket in which the infants had been exposed was left high and dry by the receding water, a she–wolf, coming down from the neighbouring hills to quench her thirst, heard the children crying and made her way to where they were. She offered them her teats to suck and treated them with such gentleness that Faustulus, the king’s herdsman, found her licking them with her tongue. Faustulus took them to his hut and gave them to his wife Larentia to nurse. Some think that the origin of this fable was the fact that Larentia was a common whore and was called Wolf by the shepherds.
Such, then, was the birth and upbringing of the twins. By the time they were grown boys, they employed themselves actively on the farm and with the flocks and began to go hunting in the woods; their strength grew with their resolution, until not content only with the chase they took to attacking robbers and sharing their stolen goods with their friends the shepherds. Other young fellows joined them, and they and the shepherds would fleet the time together, now in serious talk, now in jollity.
Even in that remote age the Palatine hill (which got its name from the Arcadian settlement Pallanteum) is supposed to have been the scene of the gay festival of the Lupercalia. The Arcadian Evander, who many years before held that region, is said to have instituted there the old Arcadian practice of holding an annual festival in honour of Lycean Pan (afterwards called Inuus by the Romans), in which young men ran about naked and disported themselves in various pranks and fooleries. The day of the festival was common knowledge, and on one occasion when it was in full swing some brigands, incensed at the loss of their ill–gotten gains, laid a trap for Romulus and Remus. Romulus successfully defended himself, but Remus was caught and handed over to Amulius. The brigands laid a complaint against their prisoner, the main charge being that he and his brother were in the habit of raiding Numitor’s land with an organized gang of ruffians and stealing the cattle. Thereupon Remus was handed over for punishment to Numitor.
Now Faustulus had suspected all along that the boys he was bringing up were of royal blood. He knew that two infants had been exposed by the king’s orders, and the rescue of his own two fitted perfectly in point of time. Hitherto, however, he had been unwilling to declare what he knew, until either a suitable opportunity occurred or circumstances compelled him. Now the truth could no longer be concealed, so in his alarm he told Romulus the whole story; Numitor, too, when he had Remus in custody and was told that the brothers were twins, was set thinking about his grandsons; the young men’s age and character, so different from the lowly born, confirmed his suspicions; and further inquiries led him to the same conclusion, until he was on the point of acknowledging Remus. The net was closing in, and Romulus acted. He was not strong enough for open hostilities, so he instructed a number of the herdsmen to meet at the king’s house by different routes at a preordained time; this was done, and with the help of Remus, at the head of another body of men, the king was surprised and killed. Before the first blows were struck, Numitor gave it out that an enemy had broken into the town and attacked the palace; he then drew off all the men of military age to garrison the inner fortress, and, as soon as he saw Romulus and Remus, their purpose accomplished, coming to congratulate him, he summoned a meeting of the people and laid the facts before it: Amulius’s crime against himself, the birth of his grandsons, and the circumstances attending it, how they were brought up and ultimately recognized, and, finally, the murder of the king for which he himself assumed responsibility. The two brothers marched through the crowd at the head of their men and saluted their grandfather as king, and by a shout of unanimous consent his royal title was confirmed.
Romulus and Remus, after the control of Alba had passed to Numitor in the way I have described, were suddenly seized by an urge to found a new settlement on the spot where they had been left to drown as infants and had been subsequently brought up. There was, in point of fact, already an excess of population at Alba, what with the Albans themselves, the Latins, and the addition of the herdsmen: enough, indeed, to justify the hope that Alba and Lavinium would one day be small places compared with the proposed new settlement. Unhappily the brothers’ plans for the future were marred by the same source which had divided their grandfather and Amulius – jealousy and ambition. A disgraceful quarrel arose from a matter in itself trivial. As the brothers were twins and all question of seniority was thereby precluded, they determined to ask the tutelary gods of the countryside to declare by augury which of them should govern the new town once it was founded, and give his name to it. For this purpose Romulus took the Palatine hill and Remus the Aventine as their respective stations from which to observe the auspices. Remus, the story goes, was the first to receive a sign – six vultures; and no sooner was this made known to the people than double the number of birds appeared to Romulus. The followers of each promptly saluted their master as king, one side basing its claim upon priority, the other upon number. Angry words ensued, followed all too soon by blows, and in the course of the affray Remus was killed. There is another story, a commoner one, according to which Remus, by way of jeering at his brother, jumped over the half–built walls of the new settlement, whereupon Romulus killed him in a fit of rage, adding the threat, ‘So perish whoever else shall overleap my battlements.’
This, then, was how Romulus obtained the sole power. The newly built city was called by its founder’s name.
Romulus’s first act was to fortify the Palatine, the scene of his own upbringing. He offered sacrifice to the gods, using the Alban forms except in the case of Hercules, where he followed the Greek ritual as instituted by Evander. According to the old tale, Hercules after killing Geryon came into these parts driving his oxen. The oxen were exceedingly beautiful, and close to the Tiber, at the spot where he had swum across with them, he came upon a grassy meadow; here, weary with walking, he lay down to rest and allowed the beasts to refresh themselves with the rich pasture. Being drowsy with food and drink he fell asleep, and, while he slept, a shepherd of that region, a fierce giant named Cacus, saw the oxen and was instantly taken by their beauty. Purposing to steal them, he was aware that, if he drove them in the ordinary way into his cave, their tracks could not fail to guide their master thither as soon as he began his search; so choosing the finest from the herd he dragged them backwards by their tails and hid them in his cavern. Hercules awoke at dawn, and casting his eye over the herd noticed that some of the animals were missing. He went at once to the nearest cave on the chance that there were tracks leading into it, but found that they all led outwards, apparently to nowhere. It was very odd; so full of vague misgivings he started driving the remainder of his herd away from this eerie spot. Some of the beasts, naturally enough, missed their companions and began to low, and there came an answering low from the cave. Hercules turned. He walked towards the cave, and Cacus, when he saw him coming, tried to keep him off. But all in vain; Hercules struck him with his club, and the robber, vainly calling upon his friends for help, fell dead.
In those days Evander held sway over that part of the country. He was an exile from the Peloponnese and his position depended less upon sovereign power than upon personal influence; he was revered for his invention of letters – a strange and wonderful thing to the rude uncultivated men amongst whom he dwelt – and, still more, on account of his mother Carmenta, who was supposed to be divine and before the coming of the Sibyl into Italy had been revered by the people of those parts as a prophetess.
On the occasion of which I am writing Evander could not but observe the shepherds who were excitedly mobbing the unknown killer. He joined them, and upon being informed of the crime and its cause, directed his gaze upon the stranger. Seeing him to be of more than human stature and of a preternatural dignity of bearing, he asked him who he was, and, hearing his name and parentage and country, cried: ‘Hercules, son of Jupiter, I bid you welcome. You are the subject of my mother’s prophecy; for she, a true prophet, declared that you would increase the number of the Gods, and that here an altar would be dedicated to you, and the nation destined to be the mightiest in the world would one day name it Greatest of Altars and serve it with your own proper rites.’
Hercules gave him his hand and replied that he accepted the inspired words and would himself assist the course of destiny by building and consecrating an altar. A splendid beast was chosen from the herd, and on the new altar sacrifice, for the first time, was offered to Hercules; the rite itself, and the subsequent feast, being administered by members of the two most distinguished local families, the Potitii and Pinarii.
It so happened that the Pinarii were late for the feast. The Potitii were there in time, and were served in consequence with the entrails of the victim; the Pinarii came in only for the remainder. From this circumstance the custom became established that no member of the Pinarian family, throughout its history, was ever served with his portion of entrails at a sacrifice to Hercules. The Potitii were taught by Evander, and furnished the priests of this cult for many generations, until the solemn duty they had so long performed was delegated to public slaves and the family became extinct. This was the only foreign religious rite adopted by Romulus; by so doing he showed, even then, his respect for that immortality which is the prize of valour. His own destiny was already leading him to the same reward.
Having performed with proper ceremony his religious duties, he summoned his subjects and gave them laws, without which the creation of a unified body politic would not have been possible. In his view the rabble over whom he ruled could be induced to respect the law only if he himself adopted certain visible signs of power; he proceeded, therefore, to increase the dignity and impressiveness of his position by various devices, of which the most important was the creation of the twelve lictors to attend his person. Some have fancied that he made the lictors twelve in number because the vultures, in the augury, had been twelve; personally, however, I incline to follow the opinion which finds for this an Etruscan origin. We know that the State Chair – the ‘curule’ chair – and the purple–bordered toga came to us from Etruria; and it is probable that the idea of attendants, as well as, in this case, of their number, came across the border from Etruria too. The number twelve was due to the fact that the twelve Etruscan communities united to elect a king, and each contributed one lictor.
Meanwhile Rome was growing. More and more ground was coming within the circuit of its walls. Indeed, the rapid expansion of the enclosed area was out of proportion to the actual population, and evidently indicated an eye to the future. In antiquity the founder of a new settlement, in order to increase its population, would as a matter of course shark up a lot of homeless and destitute folk and pretend that they were ‘born of earth’ to be his progeny; Romulus now followed a similar course: to help fill his big new town, he threw open, in the ground – now enclosed – between the two copses as you go up the Capitoline hill, a place of asylum for fugitives. Hither fled for refuge all the rag–tag–and–bobtail from the neighbouring peoples: some free, some slaves, and all of them wanting nothing but a fresh start. That mob was the first real addition to the City’s strength, the first step to her future greatness.
Having now adequate numbers, Romulus proceeded to temper strength with policy and turned his attention to social organization. He created a hundred senators – fixing that number either because it was enough for his purpose, or because there were no more than a hundred who were in a position to be made ‘Fathers’, as they were called, or Heads of Clans. The title of ‘fathers’ (patres) undoubtedly was derived from their rank, and their descendants were called ‘patricians’.
Rome was now strong enough to challenge any of her neighbours; but, great though she was, her greatness seemed likely to last only for a single generation. There were not enough women, and that, added to the fact that there was no intermarriage with neighbouring communities, ruled out any hope of maintaining the level of population. Romulus accordingly, on the advice of his senators, sent representatives to the various peoples across his borders to negotiate alliances and the right of intermarriage for the newly established state. The envoys were instructed to point out that cities, like everything else, have to begin small; in course of time, helped by their own worth and the favour of heaven, some, at least, grow rich and famous, and of these Rome would assuredly be one: Gods had blessed her birth, and the valour of her people would not fail in the days to come. The Romans were men, as they were; why, then, be reluctant to intermarry with them?
Romulus’s overtures were nowhere favourably received; it was clear that everyone despised the new community, and at the same time feared, both for themselves and for posterity, the growth of this new power in their midst. More often than not his envoys were dismissed with the question of whether Rome had thrown open her doors to female, as well as to male, runaways and vagabonds, as that would evidently be the most suitable way for Romans to get wives. The young Romans naturally resented this jibe, and a clash seemed inevitable. Romulus, seeing it must come, set the scene for it with elaborate care. Deliberately hiding his resentment, he prepared to celebrate the Consualia, a solemn festival in honour of Neptune, patron of the horse, and sent notice of his intention all over the neighbouring countryside. The better to advertise it, his people lavished upon their preparations for the spectacle all the resources – such as they were in those days – at their command. On the appointed day crowds flocked to Rome, partly, no doubt, out of sheer curiosity to see the new town. The majority were from the neighbouring settlements of Caenina, Crustumium, and Antemnae, but all the Sabines were there too, with their wives and children. Many houses offered hospitable entertainment to the visitors; they were invited to inspect the fortifications, layout, and numerous buildings of the town, and expressed their surprise at the rapidity of its growth. Then the great moment came; the show began, and nobody had eyes or thoughts for anything else. This was the Romans’ opportunity: at a given signal all the able–bodied men burst through the crowd and seized the young women. Most of the girls were the prize of whoever got hold of them first, but a few conspicuously handsome ones had been previously marked down for leading senators, and these were brought to their houses by special gangs. There was one young woman of much greater beauty than the rest; and the story goes that she was seized by a party of men belonging to the household of someone called Thalassius, and in reply to the many questions about whose house they were taking her to, they, to prevent anyone else laying hands upon her, kept shouting, ‘Thalassius, Thalassius!’ This was the origin of the use of this word at weddings.
By this act of violence the fun of the festival broke up in panic. The girls’ unfortunate parents made good their escape, not without bitter comments on the treachery of their hosts and heartfelt prayers to the God to whose festival they had come in all good faith in the solemnity of the occasion, only to be grossly deceived. The young women were no less indignant and as full of foreboding for the future.
Romulus, however, reassured them. Going from one to another he declared that their own parents were really to blame, in that they had been too proud to allow intermarriage with their neighbours; nevertheless, they need not fear; as married women they would share all the fortunes of Rome, all the privileges of the community, and they would be bound to their husbands by the dearest bond of all, their children. He urged them to forget their wrath and give their hearts to those to whom chance had given their bodies. Often, he said, a sense of injury yields in the end to affection, and their husbands would treat them all the more kindly in that they would try, each one of them, not only to fulfil their own part of the bargain but also to make up to their wives for the homes and parents they had lost. The men, too, played their part: they spoke honeyed words and vowed that it was passionate love which had prompted their offence. No plea can better touch a woman’s heart.
The women in course of time lost their resentment; but no sooner had they learned to accept their lot than their parents began to stir up trouble in earnest. To excite sympathy they went about dressed in mourning and pouring out their grief in tears and lamentations. Not content with confining these demonstrations within the walls of their own towns, they marched in mass to the house of Titus Tatius the Sabine king, the greatest name in that part of the country. Official embassies, too, from various settlements, waited upon him.
It seemed to the people of Caenina, Crustumium, and Antemnae, who had been involved in the trouble, that Tatius and the Sabines were unduly dilatory, so the three communities resolved to take action on their own. Of the three, however, Crustumium and Antemnae proved too slow to satisfy the impatient wrath of their partner, with the result that the men of Caenina invaded Roman territory without any support. Scattered groups of them were doing what damage they could, when Romulus, at the head of his troops, appeared upon the scene. A few blows were enough and defeat soon taught them that angry men must also be strong, if they would achieve their purpose. The Romans pursued the routed enemy; Romulus himself cut down their prince and stripped him of his arms, then, their leader dead, took the town at the first assault. The victorious army returned, and Romulus proceeded to dispose of the spoils. Magnificent in action, he was no less eager for popular recognition and applause; he took the armour which he had stripped from the body of the enemy commander, fixed it on a frame made for the purpose, and carried it in his own hands up to the Capitol, where, by an oak which the shepherds regarded as a sacred tree, he laid it down as an offering to Jupiter. At the same time he determined on the site of a plot of ground to be consecrated to the God, and uttered this prayer: ‘Jupiter Feretrius (such was the new title he bestowed), to you I bring these spoils of victory, a king’s armour taken by a king; and within the bounds already clear to my mind’s eye I dedicate to you a holy precinct where, in days to come, following my example, other men shall lay the “spoils of honour”, stripped from the bodies of commanders or kings killed by their own hands.’ Such was the origin of the first temple consecrated in Rome. The gods ordained that Romulus, when he declared that others should bring their spoils thither, should not speak in vain; it was their pleasure, too, that the glory of that offering should not be cheapened by too frequent occurrence. The distinction of winning the ‘spoils of honour’ has been rare indeed: in the countless battles of succeeding years it has been won on two occasions only.
These proceedings on the Capitol had temporarily drawn the Romans from their farms, and a force from Antemnae took the opportunity of making a raid. Once again Roman troops pounced. The scattered groups of raiders were taken by surprise; a single charge sufficed to put them to flight, their town was taken, and Romulus had a double victory to his credit. His wife Hersilia had long been pestered by the young women who had been carried off at the festival, so she took this opportunity, when he was congratulating himself on his success, to ask him to pardon the girls’ parents and allow them to come and live in Rome. It would, she urged, form a strong and valuable bond of union. The request was readily granted.
Romulus’s next move was against the men of Crustumium, who were on the march against him; but the defeat of their neighbours had already undermined their confidence, and they were even more easily broken up. Settlers were sent out both to Antemnae and Crustumium, the fertility of the soil in the latter attracting the greater number of volunteers. On the other hand a number of people, chiefly parents or relatives of the captured women, moved from Crustumium to Rome. The last to attack Rome were the Sabines, and the ensuing struggle was far more serious than the previous ones. The enemy gave no notice of their intentions and acted upon no hasty impulse of revenge or cupidity. Their plans were carefully laid, and backed by treachery. Spurius Tarpeius, the commander of the Roman citadel, had a daughter, a young girl, who, when she had gone outside the walls to fetch water for a sacrifice, was bribed by Tatius, the king of the Sabines, to admit a party of his soldiers into the fortress. Once inside, the men crushed her to death under their shields, to make it look as if they had taken the place by storm – or, it may be, to show by harsh example that there must be no trusting a traitor. There is also a story that this girl had demanded as the price of her services ‘What they had on their shield–arms’. Now the Sabines in those days used to wear on their left arms heavy gold bracelets and fine jewelled rings – so they kept their bargain: paying, however, not, as the girl hoped, with golden bracelets, but with their shields. Some say that after bargaining for what they ‘had on their left arms’ she did actually demand their shields, and, being proved a traitor, was killed, as it were, by the very coin that paid her.
The Sabines were now in possession of the citadel. Next day the Roman troops occupied all the ground between the Palatine and Capitoline hills and there waited till they could tolerate the situation no longer. Fiercely determined to recover the citadel, they pressed forward to the attack. This was the signal for the enemy to move down to meet them. The first blows were struck by the rival champions Mettius Curtius, the Sabine, and Hostius Hostilius of Rome. The Romans were in the worse position, but they were kept going for a time by the great gallantry of Hostius; when he fell, their resistance at once collapsed and they retreated in disorder to the Palatine Old Gate. Romulus himself was swept along by the fugitive rabble, but, as he rode, he waved his sword above his head and shouted, ‘Hear me, O Jupiter! At the bidding of your eagles I laid the foundations of Rome here on the Palatine. Our fortress is in Sabine hands, basely betrayed – thence are they coming sword in hand across the valley against us. Father of Gods and men, suffer them not to set foot on the spot where now we stand. Banish fear from Roman hearts and stop their shameful retreat. I vow a temple here – to you, O Jupiter, Stayer of Flight – that men may remember hereafter that Rome in her trouble was saved by your help.’ It was almost as if he felt that his prayer was granted: a moment later, ‘Turn on them, Romans,’ he cried, ‘and fight once more. Jupiter himself commands it.’ The Romans obeyed what they believed to be the voice from heaven. They rallied, and Romulus thrust his way forward to the van.
Mettius Curtius had led the Sabine advance down the slope from the citadel. He had driven the Roman troops back in disorder over the ground today occupied by the Forum, and nearly reached the gate of the Palatine. ‘Comrades,’ he cried, ‘we have beaten our treacherous hosts – our feeble foes. They know now that catching girls is a different matter from fighting against men!’ The boast had hardly left his lips when Romulus, with a handful of his best and most courageous troops, was on him. The fact that Mettius was mounted proved a disadvantage to him; he turned and galloped off, the Romans in pursuit, and this bold stroke on the part of their leader inspired the Roman troops elsewhere on the field to make a fresh effort and to rout their opponents.
The yells of the pursuers so scared Mettius’s horse that he took the bit between his teeth and plunged with his rider into the swamps. The Sabines were aghast; the imminent threat to their champion for the moment diverted them from the work in hand, and they tried to help him by shouting advice and signalling, until at last by a supreme effort he struggled out to safety. The battle was then renewed in the valley between the two hills, and this time the Romans had the best of it.
This was the moment when the Sabine women, the original cause of the quarrel, played their decisive part. The dreadful situation in which they found themselves banished their natural timidity and gave them courage to intervene. With loosened hair and rent garments they braved the flying spears and thrust their way in a body between the embattled armies. They parted the angry combatants; they be sought their fathers on the one side, their husbands on the other, to spare themselves the curse of shedding kind red blood. ‘We are mothers now,’ they cried; ‘our children are your sons – your grandsons: do not put on them the stain of parricide. If our marriage – if the relationship between you – is hateful to you, turn your anger against us. We are the cause of strife; on our account our husbands and fathers lie wounded or dead, and we would rather die ourselves than live on either widowed or orphaned.’ The effect of the appeal was immediate and profound. Silence fell and not a man moved. A moment later the rival captains stepped forward to conclude a peace. Indeed, they went further: the two states were united under a single government, with Rome as the seat of power. Thus the population of Rome was doubled, and the Romans, as a gesture to the Sabines, called themselves Quirites, after the Sabine town of Cures. In memory of the battle the stretch of shallow water where Curtius and his horse first struggled from the deep swamps into safety, was named Curtius’s Lake.
This happy and unlooked–for end to a bitter war strengthened the bond between the Sabine women and their parents and husbands. Romulus moreover marked his own special awareness of this deepened feeling by giving the women’s names to the thirty wards into which he then divided the population. No doubt there were more than thirty of the women; but it is not known on what principle they were selected to give their names – whether it was by lot, or age, or their own or their husbands’ rank. At the same time three centuries of knights were created, the Ramnenses named after Romulus, the Titienses after Tatius, and the Luceres, the origin of whose name is uncertain. As a result of these measures the joint rule of the two kings was brought into harmony.
Some years later the kinsmen of Tatius offered violence to some Laurentian envoys. The Laurentian people claimed redress under what passed in those days for international law, and Tatius allowed the ties of blood to influence his decision. The result of this was that he drew their revenge upon himself: he was murdered in a riot at Lavinium, whither he had gone to celebrate the annual sacrifice. Romulus is said to have felt less distress at his death than was strictly proper: possibly the joint reign was not, in fact, entirely harmonious; possibly he felt that Tatius deserved what he got. But whatever the reason, he refused to go to war, and, to wipe out the double stain of Tatius’s murder and the insult to the envoys, renewed the pact between Rome and Lavinium.
Thus there was peace with Lavinium, as welcome as it was unexpected; all the same, Rome was at once involved in hostilities with an enemy almost at the city gates. This time it was the men of Fidenae, who, in alarm at the rapid growth of a rival on their very doorstep, decided to take the offensive and to nip its power in the bud. They dispatched a force to devastate the country between the two towns; then, turning left (the other way was barred by the river), carried on their work amongst the farms. The men working on the farms fled in sudden alarm and confusion to the protection of the town, and the arrival of this mob brought the first news of the raid. Romulus acted promptly. With the enemy so close delay was dangerous. He marched out at the head of his troops and took up a position about a mile from Fidenae, where he left a small holding force. Of his main body he ordered a part to lie in ambush where dense undergrowth afforded cover, while with the rest, the greater number, and all his mounted troops he challenged the enemy with a feint attack, riding with his cavalry right up to the gates of Fidenae. The ruse succeeded; the enemy were drawn, and the cavalry skirmish lent an air of genuineness to the subsequent Roman withdrawal of their mounted troops, which deliberately broke discipline as if undecided whether to fight or run. Then, when the Roman foot also began to give way, the deluded enemy came pouring en masse from behind their defences, flung themselves with blind fury upon their retreating enemy, and were led straight into the ambush. Their flanks were promptly attacked by the Roman troops there concealed. At the same moment the standards of the holding force left behind by Romulus were seen to be advancing, and these combined threats proved too much for the Fidenates, who began a hurried retreat before Romulus and his mounted men even had time to wheel to the attack. A moment before, the Fidenates had been following up a feigned withdrawal; now, in good earnest and far greater disorder, they were themselves on the run for the protection of their own walls. But they were not destined to escape: the Romans in hot pursuit burst into the town close on their heels, before the gates could be shut against them.
The war fever soon spread to Veii, which, like Fidenae, was an Etruscan town. It was also a close neighbour of Rome, and the danger of such propinquity in the event of Rome proving hostile to all her neighbouring communities was a further exacerbation. Accordingly she sent a raiding force into Roman territory. It was not an organized movement; the raiders took up no regular position, but simply picked up what they could from the countryside and returned without waiting for countermeasures from Rome. The Romans, however, on finding them still in their territory, crossed the Tiber fully prepared for a decisive struggle, and assumed a position with a view to an assault upon the town. At the news of their approach the Veientes took the field, to fight it out in the open rather than be shut up within their walls and forced to stand a siege. In the fight which ensued Romulus used no strategy; the sheer power of his veteran troops sufficed for victory, and he pursued the retreating enemy to the walls of Veii. The town itself was strongly fortified and well sited for defence; Romulus, accordingly, made no attempt to take it, but contented himself on the return march with wasting the cultivated land, more by way of revenge than for what he could take from it. The loss the Veientes suffered from the devastation did as much as their defeat in the field to secure their submission and they sent envoys to Rome to treat for peace. They were mulcted of a part of their territory and granted a truce for a hundred years.
Such is the story of Rome’s military and political achievements during the reign of Romulus. All of them chime well enough with the belief in his divine birth and the divinity ascribed to him after his death. One need but recall the vigour he displayed in recovering his ancestral throne; his wisdom in founding Rome and bringing her to strength by the arts of both war and peace. It was to him and no one else that she owed the power which enabled her to enjoy untroubled tranquillity for the next forty years.
Great though Romulus was, he was better loved by the commons than by the senate, and best of all by the army. He maintained, in peace as well as in war, a personal armed guard of three hundred men, whom he called Celeres – ‘the Swift’.
Such, then, were the deeds of Romulus, and they will never grow old. One day while he was reviewing his troops on the Campus Martius near the marsh of Capra, a storm burst, with violent thunder. A cloud enveloped him, so thick that it hid him from the eyes of everyone present; and from that moment he was never seen again upon earth.
The troops, who had been alarmed by the sudden storm, soon recovered when it passed over and the sun came out again. Then they saw that the throne was empty, and, ready though they were to believe the senators, who had been standing at the king’s side and now declared that he had been carried up on high by a whirlwind, they none the less felt like children bereft of a father and for a long time stood in sorrowful silence. Then a few voices began to proclaim Romulus’s divinity; the cry was taken up, and at last every man present hailed him as a god and son of a god, and prayed to him to be for ever gracious and to protect his children. However, even on this great occasion there were, I believe, a few dissentients who secretly maintained that the king had been torn to pieces by the senators. At all events the story got about, though in veiled terms; but it was not important, as awe, and admiration for Romulus’s greatness, set the seal upon the other version of his end, which was, moreover, given further credit by the timely action of a certain Julius Proculus, a man, we are told, honoured for his wise counsel on weighty matters. The loss of the king had left the people in an uneasy mood and suspicious of the senators, and Proculus, aware of the prevalent temper, conceived the shrewd idea of addressing the Assembly. ‘Romulus,’ he declared, ‘the father of our City, descended from heaven at dawn this morning and appeared to me. In awe and reverence I stood before him, praying for permission to look upon his face without sin. “Go,” he said, “and tell the Romans that by heaven’s will my Rome shall be capital of the world. Let them learn to be soldiers. Let them know, and teach their children, that no power on earth can stand against Roman arms.” Having spoken these words, he was taken up again into the sky.’
Proculus’s story had a most remarkable effect; the army and commons, cruelly distressed at the loss of their king, were much comforted once they were assured of his immortality.
The senators were soon quarrelling over the succession to the throne. It was a rivalry of factions, not of individuals, for Rome was still too young to have produced any men of outstanding eminence. The Sabine element wanted a king of Sabine blood; for there had not been one since the death of Tatius and they were afraid that in consequence, and in spite of their equal political rights, they might lose their title to the sovereignty; the Roman element regarded the prospect of a foreigner on the throne with abhorrence. Despite their differences, however, both parties were united in their desire for a king, neither having yet tasted the sweets of liberty. It was obvious, meanwhile, that many of the neighbouring communities were far from friendly; Rome was without a ruler and her army without a commander, and the senators could not but see in this combination of circumstances a danger of attack. Some form of government there must be; this much was agreed, and, as neither party would yield, the hundred senators determined to exercise a joint control. They divided their number into ten decuries, with one man from each as president; these ten performed the functions of government, though only one carried its insignia and was attended by lictors. His period of power was limited to five days, and it passed to each senator in rotation. The monarchy was in abeyance for a year, and the period of its abeyance was known as the ‘interregnum’, a term still in use.
The populace disliked this turn of events, and complained that it brought them a hundred masters instead of one, an even worse slavery than before. The senators, seeing that the commons were unlikely to continue to submit to any authority other than that of a king, elected, moreover, by themselves, decided to take the initiative by offering what in any case they were sure to lose. Accordingly they recovered the favour of the populace by granting them supreme power, but on condition that their election of a king should be valid only if it were ratified by themselves – thus keeping, in effect, as much power as they gave. The same right is exercised in political affairs today, though it has now become a mere empty form; before the commons vote, the senate ratifies the result, whatever it may be.
The interrex, on the occasion of which I am speaking, called an assembly of the people. ‘Men of Rome,’ he said, ‘may luck and every blessing attend us. Choose your king, for such is the senators’ decision. If the man you choose is a worthy successor to Romulus, the senators will ratify your choice.’ The commons were delighted; determined to show no less generosity than their masters, they passed a resolution that the election should be decided by a decree of the senate.
Numa Pompilius had a great reputation at this time for justice and piety. He lived in the Sabine town of Cures, and was, by the standards of antiquity, deeply learned in all the laws of God and man. It has been said that he owed his learning to Pythagoras of Samos; but this is a mere shot in the dark, and is obviously untrue as it was not till a hundred years later, in the reign of Servius Tullius, that Pythagoras is known to have settled in Southern Italy in the neighbourhood of Metapontum, Heraclea, and Croton, where he formed groups of young men eager to study his philosophy. But even if the dates fitted, how could Pythagoras’s fame have reached the Sabines all the way from the south? What mutually intelligible language could he have used to awaken amongst them the desire for learning? Under whose protection could a man have travelled alone through so many peoples all differing in language and manner of life? No; my own belief is, on the contrary, that Numa’s noble qualities were all his own; it was not foreign learning that made him what he was, but the harsh, austere discipline of the ancient Sabines, most incorruptible of men.
Numa’s name was put forward as successor to the throne, and the senate naturally felt that a Sabine king would unduly increase the influence of the Sabine element in the community; nevertheless, nobody ventured to put forward as a rival candidate either himself or another of his faction, or, indeed, any man at all, either senator or citizen, with the result that there was a unanimous decision to offer Numa the crown. He was therefore summoned to the city, and there expressed the wish that the gods should be consulted on his behalf, as in the case of Romulus who at the founding of Rome had assumed power only after the omens had been duly observed. An augur, whose service on the occasion was afterwards recognized by the grant of a permanent state priesthood, escorted Numa to the citadel, where he took his seat on a stone with his face to the south; the augur with veiled head sat on his left, holding in his right hand the smooth, crook-handled staff called the lituus. Gazing out over the city and the country beyond, he uttered a prayer, and marking with a glance the space of sky from east to west and declaring the southward section to be ‘right’ and the northward section ‘left’ he took an imaginary point full in front of him and as far away as his eyes could reach, transferred the staff to his left hand, placed his right upon Numa’s head and spoke these solemn words: ‘Father Jupiter, if it is Heaven’s will that this man, Numa Pompilius, whose head I touch, should reign in the city of Rome, make clear to us sure signs within those limits I have determined.’ Then he named precisely the nature of the signs he hoped would be sent. Sent they were; and Numa, duly proclaimed king, went down from the hill where the auspices were taken.
Rome had originally been founded by force of arms; the new king now prepared to give the community a second beginning, this time on the solid basis of law and religious observance. These lessons, however, could never be learned while his people were constantly fighting; war, he well knew, was no civilizing influence, and the proud spirit of his people could be tamed only if they learned to lay aside their swords. Accordingly, at the foot of the Argiletum he built the temple of Janus, to serve as a visible sign of the alternations of peace and war: open, it was to signify that the city was in arms; closed, that war against all neighbouring peoples had been brought to a successful conclusion. Since Numa’s reign the temple has twice been closed: once in the consulship of Manlius at the end of the first war with Carthage and again on the occasion (which we ourselves were allowed by heaven to witness) when after the battle of Actium Augustus Caesar brought peace to the world by land and sea. Numa himself closed it after first securing the goodwill of all the neighbouring communities by treaties of alliance.
Rome was now at peace; there was no immediate prospect of attack from outside and the tight rein of constant military discipline was relaxed. In these novel circumstances there was an obvious danger of a general relaxation of the nation’s moral fibre, so to prevent its occurrence Numa decided upon a step which he felt would prove more effective than anything else with a mob as rough and ignorant as the Romans were in those days. This was to inspire them with the fear of the gods. Such a sentiment was unlikely to touch them unless he first prepared them by inventing some sort of marvellous tale; he pretended, therefore, that he was in the habit of meeting the goddess Egeria by night, and that it was her authority which guided him in the establishment of such rites as were most acceptable to the gods and in the appointment of priests to serve each particular duty.
His first act was to divide the year into twelve lunar months; and because twelve lunar months come a few days short of the full solar year, he inserted intercalary months, so that every twenty years the cycle should be completed, the days coming round again to correspond with the position of the sun from which they had started. Secondly, he fixed what came to be known as ‘lawful’ and ‘unlawful’ days – days, that is, when public business might, or might not, be transacted – as he foresaw that it would be convenient to have certain specified times when no measures should be brought before the people. Next he turned his attention to the appointment of priests; most of the religious ceremonies, especially those which are now in the hands of the Flamen Dialis, or priest of Jupiter, he was in the habit of presiding over himself, but he foresaw that in a martial community like Rome future kings were likely to resemble Romulus rather than himself and to be often, in consequence, away from home on active service, and for that reason appointed a Priest of Jupiter on a permanent basis, marking the importance of the office by the grant of special robes and the use of the royal curule chair. This step ensured that the religious duties attached to the royal office should never be allowed to lapse. At the same time two other priesthoods, to Mars and Quirinus, were created.
He further appointed virgin priestesses for the service of Vesta, a cult which originated in Alba and was therefore not foreign to Numa who brought it to Rome. The priestesses were paid out of public funds to enable them to devote their whole time to the temple service, and were invested with special sanctity by the imposition of various observances of which the chief was virginity. The twelve Salii, or Leaping Priests, in the service of Mars Gradivus, were also introduced by Numa; they were given the uniform of an embroidered tunic and bronze breastplate, and their special duty was to carry the ancilia, or sacred shields, one of which was fabled to have fallen from heaven, as they moved through the city chanting their hymns to the triple beat of their ritual dance.
Numa’s next act was to appoint as pontifex the senator Numa Marcius, son of Marcus. He gave him full written instructions for all religious observances, specifying for the various sacrifices the place, the time, and the nature of the victim, and how money was to be raised to meet the cost. He also gave the pontifex the right of decision in all other matters connected with both public and private observances, so that ordinary people might have someone to consult if they needed advice, and to prevent the confusion which might result from neglect of natural religious rites or the adoption of foreign ones. It was the further duty of the pontifex to teach the proper forms for the burial of the dead and the propitiation of the spirits of the departed, and to establish what portents manifested by lightning or other visible signs were to be recognized and acted upon. To elicit information on this subject from a divine source, Numa consecrated on the Aventine an altar to Jupiter Elicius, whom he consulted by augury as to what signs from heaven it should be proper to regard.
By these means the whole population of Rome was given a great many new things to think about and attend to, with the result that everybody was diverted from military preoccupations. They now had serious matters to consider; and believing, as they now did, that the heavenly powers took part in human affairs, they became so much absorbed in the cultivation of religion and so deeply imbued with the sense of their religious duties, that the sanctity of an oath had more power to control their lives than the fear of punishment for law–breaking. Men of all classes took Numa as their unique example and modelled themselves upon him, until the effect of this change of heart was felt even beyond the borders of Roman territory. Once Rome’s neighbours had considered her not so much as a city as an armed camp in their midst threatening the general peace; now they came to revere her so profoundly as a community dedicated wholly to worship, that the mere thought of offering her violence seemed to them like sacrilege.
There was a certain little copse watered summer and winter by a stream of which the spring was in a dark grotto. Numa often visited the copse alone, to meet (as he put it) the goddess Egeria; he accordingly declared it sacred to the Muses, as the spot where they met to converse with his wife. He instituted an annual ceremony dedicated to Troth–keeping, with priests whose duty was to drive in a covered wagon drawn by a pair of horses to the place of celebration and there perform their rites with hands swathed to the fingers, signifying that troth must be religiously preserved and that she dwelt inviolable in a man’s right hand. Many other rites owe their inception to Numa, together with various places, known by the priests as Argei, dedicated to their performance. But the grandest achievement of his reign was, that throughout its course, he remained the jealous guardian of peace even more than of power. Thus two successive kings each, though in opposite ways, added strength to the growing city: Romulus by war, Numa by peace. Romulus reigned thirty–seven years, Numa forty–three. When Numa died, Rome by the twin disciplines of peace and war was as eminent for self–mastery as for military power.
A second interregnum followed Numa’s death; then, by the vote of the people, ratified by the senate, Tullus Hostilius, grandson of the Hostilius who fought the fine action on the lower slopes of the Palatine against the Sabines, was elected to succeed him. He proved a very different man from his predecessor; indeed, in his lust for action he surpassed Romulus himself, driven, as he was, along the path of adventure by his grandfather’s fame and the strength of his own young manhood. In his view, Rome had been allowed to lapse into senility, and his one object was to find cause for renewed military adventure.
It so happened that a series of reciprocal cattle–raids was going on across the borders of Roman and Alban territory (ruled at that time by Gaius Cluilius). From both states envoys were sent almost simultaneously to negotiate the recovery of the stolen property. The Roman party had orders to carry out their instructions immediately they arrived; their demand would certainly be refused, and the refusal would allow Tullus to declare war with a good conscience. The envoys from Alba were less prompt in coming to business; welcomed by Tullus with every mark of gracious hospitality, they attended the state banquet as if nothing were amiss, while the Roman envoys had already made their demand for restitution and replied to Cluilius’s refusal by a declaration of war, to take effect in thirty days. They then returned to Rome and made their report, whereupon Tullus asked the envoys from Alba to state the object of their mission. Not knowing what had happened they replied, not without embarrassment, that the last thing they wanted was to say anything disagreeable to their host; but orders were orders, and it was their duty to declare that they had come to demand restitution of stolen property, and to declare war in the event of a refusal.
‘Tell your king,’ Tullus answered, ‘that the king of Rome calls the gods to witness which of our two peoples was the first to refuse the demand for redress. Our prayer is that the guilty nation may suffer all the misery of the coming war.’
Tullus’s words were duly reported in Alba, and preparations on a grand scale were put in hand by both peoples for a struggle which was to all intents and purposes a civil war. Romans and Albans were both of Trojan stock; Lavinium had been settled by men from Troy, Alba by men from Lavinium, and the Romans sprang from the line of the Alban kings. War between them would be like father against son. Luckily, however, what actually happened made the struggle less grievous than it might have been. No full–scale battle was fought; one only of the two cities was demolished, and the two peoples ended by amalgamating.
The Albans were first in the field and with a large force took up an entrenched position within Roman territory and not more than five miles from the town. The name ‘Cluilius’s Trench’ stuck to the spot for some centuries afterwards, until the actual digging disappeared and the name fell into abeyance. It so happened that Cluilius died while his men were holding this position, and the supreme command was given by the Albans to Mettius Fufetius. Cluilius’s death acted like a tonic upon Tullus; the powers of heaven, he declared, had begun their vengeance on the wicked war–makers. Their king had been the first to suffer; soon the wrath of God would be felt by every man and woman in Alba. With the boast still on his lips, he advanced under cover of darkness past the enemy’s position into Alban territory. The move roused Mettius to action; leaving his entrenchments he made straight for the Roman army, sending in advance a spokesman with orders to propose to Tullus that a conference should be held before engaging; for he was confident, should Tullus agree to meet him, that he could make a suggestion which would prove of equal value to both parties. Tullus did not reject the proposal; nevertheless, in case the conference should prove abortive, he took the precaution of setting his troops in order of battle. The Albans followed suit, and Tullus and Mettius, attended by a few high officers, stepped forward to meet each other between the marshalled armies.
Mettius was the first to speak. ‘Our king Cluilius,’ he said, ‘told me, if I remember, that we were about to fight over a matter of brigandage and the refusal to restore stolen property in accordance with our treaty; and I have no doubt that you, Tullus, are prepared to retort in similar terms. So be it. If, however, we let specious arguments go and tell each other the truth, we should admit that our two nations, close neighbours and blood relations as we are, have a deeper reason for going to war: I mean, ambition and the love of power. Whether rightly or wrongly I will not venture to say, for that is a question decided, no doubt, by him who undertook to wage this war. As for me, I am only the man the Albans chose to conduct it. But what I would suggest to you, Tullus, is this: you know the strength of the Etruscans who threaten to encircle us, and you know it even better than we, as you are closer to them. They are strong on land, and at sea very strong indeed. Do not forget, when you give the signal for battle, that they will be watching us, ready, when we have worn each other out, to attack us both, victor and vanquished alike. Surely, therefore, unless both our countries are condemned to perdition, we should be able to find a better solution. The assurance of liberty is not, it seems, enough for us, and we are about to gamble for empire or slavery; nevertheless, can we not find some means of deciding the issue between us which, however the fight may go, will at least avoid crippling losses either to you or to ourselves?’
Tullus was not displeased by the proposal, though he was confident of victory and enjoyed a fight as much as any man. Ways and means were therefore considered; a plan was adopted, and a fortunate circumstance provided the means of carrying it out. In each army there were three brothers – triplets – all equally young and active, belonging to the families of the Horatii and Curiatii. That these were their names has never been in doubt, and the story is one of the great stories of ancient times; yet in spite of its celebrity historians have disagreed about which name belonged to which set of brothers. The majority, I find, say that the Horatii were Roman, and I am willing to follow their lead.
To these young men the two rival commanders made their proposal, that they should fight, three against three, as the champions of their countries, the victorious to have dominion over the vanquished: the proposal was accepted; the time and place for the contest were arranged and a solemn agreement entered into by the Romans and Albans to the effect that whichever of the two peoples should prove victorious through the prowess of its champions should be undisputed master of the other. The terms of treaties of course vary according to circumstance, but the form remains constant; on the present occasion, that of the oldest treaty on record, the procedure, we read, was as follows: the ‘fetial’ (priest) approached Tullus, the king. ‘My lord,’ he asked, ‘do you bid me make this compact with the representative of the Alban people?’
‘Then I demand of you, my lord, the holy herb.’
‘Go and pluck it untainted.’
The priest brought from the sacred enclosure a fresh green plant, and said: ‘My lord, do you grant me, with my emblems and companions, the king’s sanction to speak for the people of Rome?’
‘I grant it,’ the king replied, ‘without prejudice to myself and the people of Rome.’
The priest was Marcus Valerius, and he appointed Spurius Fusius, touching his head and hair with the ceremonial leaves, as pater patratus, or ‘spokesman’, whose duty is to pronounce the oath and thus to solemnize the compact. This he does in a long metrical formula, which is not worth the trouble of quoting here. Finally, the terms of the treaty having been read out, ‘Hear me, Jupiter,’ Fusius cried; ‘hear me, Alba, and you who speak on her behalf: from the terms of this compact, as they have been publicly and openly read from these tablets today and clearly understood by us assembled here, the Roman people will never be the first to depart. Should they do so treacherously, and by public consent, then, great Jove, I pray that thou mayst strike them even as I strike this pig, and the more fiercely in that thy power and might are greater than mine.’ He then dispatched the pig with a flint knife. The Albans, on their side, took a similar oath according to their own formula, and the treaty was made.
The six champions now made ready for battle. As they stepped forward into the lists between the two armies their hearts were high, and ringing in their ears were the voices of friends, bidding them remember that their parents, their country, and their country’s gods, their fellow–soldiers and all they loved at home, would be watching their prowess and that all eyes were on their swords. The rival armies were still in position; danger there was none, but every man present was tense with anxiety. The stakes were high; upon the luck or valour of three men hung empire or slavery. In an agony of suspense the onlookers prepared for the spectacle.
The trumpet blared. The brothers drew their swords, and with all the pride of embattled armies advanced to the combat. Careless of death and danger, each thought only of his country’s fate, of the grim choice between lordship and ignominy, which they themselves, and they only, were about to decide. They met. At the flash of steel and the clang of shield on shield a thrill ran through the massed spectators, breathless and speechless while as yet neither side had the advantage. Soon the combatants were locked in a deadly grapple; bodies writhed and twisted, the leaping blades parried and thrust, and blood began to flow. Alba’s three champions were wounded; a Roman fell, then another, stretched across his body and both at the point of death. A cheer burst from the Alban army, as the two Romans went down, while from their adversaries all hope was gone; life seemed to drain from them, as they contemplated the dreadful predicament of their one survivor, surrounded by the three Curiatii.
The young man, though alone, was unhurt. No match for his three opponents together, he was yet confident of his ability to face them singly, and, with this purpose in mind, he took to his heels, sure that they would be after him with such speed as their wounds allowed. Not far from the scene of the first fight he looked back. His three enemies were coming, strung out one behind the other, the foremost almost upon him. He turned and attacked him furiously. A cry rose from the Alban army: ‘Your brother! Save him!’ But it was too late, Horatius had already killed his man and, flushed with triumph, was looking for his next victim. The Romans’ cheer for their young soldier was like the roar of the crowd at the race when luck turns defeat into victory. Horatius pressed on to make an end. He killed his second man before the last, near though he was, could come to his aid.
Now it was one against one; but the two antagonists were far from equally matched in all else that makes for victory. Horatius was unhurt, and elated by his double success; his opponent, exhausted by running and loss of blood, could hardly drag himself along; his brothers had been killed before his eyes; he was a beaten man facing a victorious enemy. What followed cannot be called a fight. ‘I have killed two already,’ the Roman cried, ‘to avenge my brothers’ ghosts. I offer the last to settle our quarrel, that Rome may be mistress of Alba.’ With these proud words he plunged his sword with a downward stroke into the throat of his enemy, now too weak to sustain his shield, and then stripped him where he lay.
The cheering ranks of the Roman army, whose joy was the keener by the narrow escape from disaster, welcomed back their champion. The two sides then buried their dead, a common task but performed with very different feelings by victors and vanquished. Alba was subject now to her Roman mistress. The graves are still to be seen at the place where each man fell: those of the two Romans together, in the direction of Alba; those of the three Albans nearer Rome and at some distance from each other.
Before the troops left their stations, Mettius asked Tullus what, by the terms of the agreement, he now required him to do, and Tullus instructed him to keep his men under arms as they would be a useful reinforcement if Rome should find herself at war with Veii.
At the head of the Roman army on its return to the city marched Horatius, carrying his triple spoils, and it so happened that outside the Capena gate he met his sister, a young girl who had been betrothed to one of the Curiatii. Slung across her brother’s shoulders was a cloak, and she recognized it as the cloak she had made with her own hands for her lover. The sight overcame her: she loosed her hair and, in a voice choked with tears, called her dead lover’s name. That his sister should dare to grieve at the very moment of his own triumph and in the midst of national rejoicing filled Horatius with such uncontrollable rage that he drew his sword and stabbed her to the heart. ‘Take your girl’s love,’ he shouted, ‘and give it to your lover in hell. What is Rome to such as you, or your brothers, living or dead? So perish all Roman women who mourn for an enemy!’
There were none who did not feel the horror of this deed. Horatius, in spite of the great service he had just rendered to his country, was arrested and brought for trial before the king. Tullus shrank from the responsibility of passing the death sentence, which must, in the circumstances, have proved unpopular, so he summoned a mass meeting and informed the populace of his intention to appoint the special officers known as duumvirs, to convict Horatius of treason according to the regular law. The wording of the law was solemn and awe–inspiring: ‘Let the duumvirs,’ it ran, ‘pass judgement for treason. If the prisoner should appeal, let the appeal be weighed. If the conviction is maintained, let the officer of the law veil the prisoner’s head, hang him with a rope on a barren tree, and scourge his body within or without the city walls.’ The duumvirs were duly appointed, and, on the supposition that by the letter of the law they were bound to convict even an innocent man, one of them addressed the prisoner with the words: ‘Publius Horatius, I find you guilty of treason. Lictor, bind his arms.’ The lictor stepped forward and was about to pinion him when Tullus intervened. Tullus was anxious to temper the severity of the law and urged the prisoner to appeal. Horatius did so, and his appeal was submitted to the judgement of the people. In the course of the hearing the decisive factor was the statement of Horatius’s father, to the effect that his daughter deserved her death. Had it been otherwise, he declared, he would have exercised his right to punish his son himself. He then appealed to the people to remember the fine family of children he so recently possessed, and begged them not to leave him wholly bereft. ‘Men of Rome,’ he cried, embracing his son and pointing to the spoils of war set up in the place now known as the ‘Horatian Spears’, ‘have you the heart to see this young soldier, fresh from the joy and pride of victory, bound and beaten and tortured and forced to bend his neck under the yoke? Even the men of Alba might shudder at a sight so shameful. Do your work, lictor! Bind the hands whose sword but yesterday gave Rome dominion! Blindfold our liberator’s eyes – hang him on the barren tree – scourge him within the walls, yes, in sight of the spears he took from the dead hands of his enemies or outside, if you will, amongst the tombs where those same enemies lie! For wherever you take him, the visible reminder of his noble service will surely save him from so foul a punishment.’
The young man’s courage, in the face of this peril as of all others, no less than his father’s moving appeal, had its due effect. Though he was guilty in law, popular admiration of his quality obtained his acquittal. It was felt none the less that something, at any rate, should be done to mitigate the stain of so notorious a murder, so the father was bidden to perform, at the public cost, certain ceremonies which would expiate the crime. These ceremonies, which were duly gone through, became from that day traditional in the Horatian family. After their performance a piece of timber was slung across the roadway and the young Horatius was made to pass beneath it with covered head, as under the ‘yoke’ of submission. The timber is still to be seen – replaced from time to time at the state’s expense – and is known as the Sister’s Beam. The tomb of the murdered girl was built of hewn stone and stands on the spot where she was struck down.
Peace with Alba was not of long duration. Mettius, a man of weak character, was unable to deal with the resentment of his people at what they felt to have been the folly of entrusting the nation’s future to three men. The policy, in itself a good one, had failed, and, in the hope of regaining his popularity, Mettius now had recourse to dubious methods. In war he had wanted peace; now, in peace, he wanted war. Accordingly, as he knew his people, despite their courage, had little military strength, he proceeded to tamper with the neighbouring tribes; these he urged to declare war openly on Rome, intending that his own people, nominally Rome’s allies, should in due course betray her.
The people of Fidenae, a colony of Rome, were induced in concert with Veii to declare war by a promise that Alba would join them. Tullus, at the secession of Fidenae, sent an order to Mettius to join him with his troops, and promptly took the field. Crossing the Anio, he halted at the confluence of the rivers; somewhere between him and Fidenae the Veientian troops had crossed the Tiber, and formed the right wing resting on the river, while the men of Fidenae formed the left, nearer the hills. Tullus stationed his own troops so as to confront the Veientians, and sent the Alban contingent to deal with the Fidenates. Mettius, however, the Alban commander, proved as much coward as traitor: not daring either to stand his ground or openly to desert, he began a cautious withdrawal to the hills. At what he thought to be a sufficient distance he brought up his whole force and deployed it, simply as a ruse for gaining time, until events should make up his mind for him; for his intention was to join the victors.
The Roman troops who had been in touch with the Albans and now found their flank exposed were at a loss to account for their withdrawal; then a messenger galloped up to the king with the report that the Alban army was deserting. It was a critical situation: Tullus (having vowed to create twelve Salian priests and to dedicate shrines to Pallor and Panic) promptly ordered the messenger back into the line. He spoke at the top of his voice so that everything he said might be heard by the enemy, and added that there was no need for alarm as the Albans were obeying his own orders to envelop the Fidenates and attack their unprotected rear. At the same time he ordered the cavalry to raise their spears vertically to form a screen which prevented most of the Roman infantry from seeing the Albans moving off; those who did see them were encouraged by what Tullus had said to fight with greater vigour. It was now the enemy’s turn to be alarmed; Tullus’s loud assertion had been audible enough, and most of the Fidenates understood Latin as emigrants from Rome had settled amongst them in the past. They accordingly beat a retreat, to obviate the danger of being cut off from home by a sudden descent of the Albans from the hills. Tullus attacked, made short work of the Fidenates on the wing, and then turned with increased fury on the Veientians, who were already shaken by their friends’ discomfiture. Their resistance broke and they fled in disorder to the river in their rear. Checked by the river in their efforts to escape, some threw away their arms and plunged blindly into the water while others were caught and killed on the bank before they could make up their minds whether to fight or flee. It was the bloodiest battle that Rome had yet fought.
After the action the Alban troops, who had taken no part whatever in it, marched down from the hills. Mettius congratulated Tullus on his success; Tullus made a courteous reply. He expressed the hope that their luck would hold, and gave orders that the Roman and Alban troops should bivouac together for the night, as on the following day he proposed to offer a lustral sacrifice. At dawn next morning all was ready and he issued to both armies the customary order to assemble. The Albans, who formed the outer lines of the camp, were the first to be summoned by the criers, and took their stand immediately in front of the king, the better to enjoy the novel experience of hearing him address his troops. The Romans had already received instructions to parade armed, and were drawn up around the Albans, the centurions having been cautioned to obey all orders promptly. Tullus then spoke: ‘My men,’ he said, ‘if ever in any war you have had cause to be thankful to God’s mercy and your own valour, it was in yesterday’s action. You were fighting yesterday not against your enemy only; you had a worse and more dangerous foe – the treachery of your friends. I want you now to know the truth: when the Albans withdrew to the hills, it was by no order of mine. When you heard me say that I had given that order, it was a deliberate falsehood, for I did not wish you to know of your allies’ desertion lest you should lose heart, and at the same time I was confident that fear of being surrounded would break the resistance of the enemy. Now the guilt of desertion does not rest upon the Alban troops as a whole: the men merely followed their commander, as you would have done yourselves had I required to shift our position. No: Mettius is the guilty man; Mettius led the movement from the field; Mettius by his machinations started this war; Mettius is the treaty–breaker. I now propose to make such an example of him that nobody will ever be likely to commit such crimes again.’
Armed centurions stepped forward to guard the culprit, and Tullus proceeded: ‘My purpose, men of Alba – and I pray that it may bring happiness and prosperity to us all – is to transfer to Rome the entire population of your city. Your commons shall have Roman citizenship, your nobles the right to be elected senators. We shall be one city, one commonwealth. Long ago the Alban people split into two; let them now be reunited.’
The Alban troops were unarmed and surrounded by armed men; one sentiment, at least, was shared by all of them when they heard these words, and that was fear. Not a man spoke. Tullus turned to Mettius.
‘Mettius Fufetius,’ he said, ‘were you capable of learning loyally to abide by your word, I should have let you live, I should have taught you myself. But you are not capable; no medicine can cure your mind’s disease. So be it: your punishment may teach mankind to hold sacred the honour you have besmirched. Yesterday you could not decide between Fidenae and Rome: doubtless it was a painful division of mind – but today the division of your body will be more painful still.’
Two chariots were brought up, each drawn by four horses. Mettius was tied, spread–eagled, to both of them. At a touch of the whip the two teams sprang forward in opposite directions, carrying with them the fragments of the mangled body still held by the ropes. All eyes were averted from the disgusting spectacle – never, in all our history, repeated. That was the first and last time that fellow–countrymen of ours inflicted a punishment so utterly without regard to the laws of humanity. Save for that one instance we can fairly claim to have been content with more humane forms of punishment than any other nation.
Meanwhile mounted troops had been sent to Alba to deal with the transference of the population, and a force of infantry followed charged with the task of pulling down the buildings of the town. There was no panic when the soldiers marched in; none of the wild confusion of a captured town when a victorious army, forcing its way through smashed gates and over the rubble of battered walls, spreads with yells of triumph through every street and alley dealing universal destruction with fire and sword; none of the horror of a citadel falling to the final assault. On the contrary, there was silence – the silence of despair and the grief which could not speak. All hearts were numbed, all minds bewildered; looking at their possessions, the unhappy people could not decide what to take or what to leave; again and again they asked each other’s advice, now standing distraught before their doors, now wandering aimlessly through the familiar rooms which they would never see again.
Soon the Roman cavalrymen shouted their orders. It was time to leave, and the harsh command could not be disobeyed. On the outskirts of the town was heard the crash of falling masonry; in this direction and that clouds of rising dust darkened the sky. Alba’s hour had come. People hurriedly snatched up what they could of their poor possessions, and the melancholy exodus began; the houses where they had been born and reared, the gods of their hearth, all they held sacred, were left behind for ever. The roads were packed with refugees in an unbroken line; pity at the sight of others as wretched as themselves renewed their tears; women – and men too – sobbed aloud as they passed the august temples where armed soldiers stood on guard, for it seemed they were leaving even their gods in captivity.
As soon as the inhabitants of the town had left, every building, public and private, was levelled to the ground. In a single hour the work of four hundred years lay in utter ruin. Only the temples, by Tullus’s order, were left standing.
A result of the fall of Alba was an increase in the size of Rome. The population was doubled. The Caelian Hill was taken into the city boundaries; and to encourage building that quarter Tullus chose it as the site of a new palace, which became from that time forward his official residence. The number of families of senatorial rank was increased by the admission of some of the Alban nobility, such as the Tullii, Servilii, Quinctii, Geganii, Curiatii, and Cloelii. For the order thus enlarged Tullus built, for their solemn deliberations, the Senate House, which till a generation ago was known as the Curia Hostilia. Finally, ten squadrons of Alban Knights were formed, the old infantry battalions recruited from the same source, and fresh battalions enlisted. Thus all three orders in the commonwealth received an addition to their strength from the newcomers.
Tullus soon felt strong enough to declare war on the Sabines, who at that period were the most populous and powerful nation in Italy, the Etruscans excepted. There were grievances on both sides, and neither had succeeded in getting redress. Tullus had lodged frequent complaints of the seizure in a crowded market, at the shrine of Feronia, of Roman citizens who had gone to do business there; the Sabines retorted that the Romans were the first offenders, in that they had arrested and detained in Rome Sabine refugees who had sought sanctuary.
The Sabines had not forgotten that a part of their manpower had been transferred to Rome long ago by Tatius, and they were well aware of the recent addition to Roman strength which had followed her defeat of Alba. They began, in consequence, to look round for external aid. Across the border lay Etruria, and the nearest Etruscan town was Veii. In Veii war had left certain smouldering resentments, always a rich soil for revolt, and a number of men volunteered to serve; a few paupers and vagabonds were also persuaded by the prospect of pay. But no regular assistance of any kind was forthcoming, and the government at Veii held firmly to the truce made long before with Romulus.
On both sides preparations for war were now in full swing, and it was becoming plain that the advantage would lie with whoever made the first move. It was Tullus who struck. He invaded Sabine territory, and a bloody battle was fought at a place called Mantrap Wood. The engagement ended in a Roman victory, due, more than to anything else, to the strength of their recently augmented cavalry, whose rapid charge flung the Sabines into such disorder that they were unable without severe losses either to reorganize or to extricate themselves by a withdrawal.
Just at the moment when, after the defeat of the Sabines, Tullus and Rome were more prosperous and respected than ever before, a disturbing thing happened: a shower of stones (or so it was reported to the king and Senate) had fallen on the Alban Mount. A party was sent to investigate this improbable story, which turned out to be true; for before the very eyes of the investigators stones in large numbers fell from the sky and lay on the ground like drifted hail. At the same time a great voice seemed to issue from the grove on the top of the hill, bidding the Albans return to the religion of their fathers which they had allowed to fall into abeyance as if the gods of Alba had been left alone in their abandoned shrines, while their people turned faithlessly to the deities of Rome or forgot religion altogether in anger at their fate. These strange events affected the Romans too: by the advice of their soothsayers – or perhaps even as a direct result of the mysterious voice from the hill–top – they decreed a nine–day public holiday for religious observance, and it was agreed that a similar festival should be held regularly in future should the phenomenon be repeated.
Not long afterwards there was an outbreak of the plague. The king’s heart was always set upon war, and for a time he allowed no respite from military service in spite of the obvious reluctance of his subjects in their present unhappy circumstances. Moreover, he professed to believe that men of military age would keep healthier under arms than idling at home. However he finally fell ill himself, and protracted sickness caused him to change his mind. With the loss of his physical strength his proud spirit was so broken that he seemed to become another man: he who had once thought preoccupation with religion utterly unworthy of a king, suddenly found himself wide open as it were to the influence of every sort of superstition, great or small, and doing his best to inspire his subjects with a similar sense of the presence and power of the supernatural. Everyone in Rome was soon agreed that a return to the state of things under Numa was now their only resource, and that the only way of getting rid of the plague was to pray to heaven for pardon and peace. The story goes that Tullus found in the commentaries of Numa, which he was turning over one day, a reference to certain secret rites in honour of Jupiter Elicius. He performed these rites, unknown to anybody. Apparently, however, his procedure was incorrect, for not only was he denied any divine manifestation, but cruelly punished for his error. Jupiter was angry; the palace was struck by lightning, and Tullus perished in the flames. He had won great glory as a soldier, and reigned thirty–two years.
In accordance with long–standing custom, power, on the death of Tullus, reverted to the senate, who named an interrex. At the subsequent election the people’s choice, ratified by the senate, fell upon Ancus Marcius, the grandson on the mother’s side of Numa Pompilius. Ancus was deeply conscious of his grandfather’s noble record, and well aware that the splendid achievements of his predecessor Tullus had fallen seriously short in one respect: the neglect or misconduct of religious observances. In the belief, therefore, that nothing was more important than the restoration of the national religion in the form established by Numa, he instructed the pontifex to copy out from his commentaries the details of all the various ceremonies and to display the document in public. To the war–weary Romans the prospect of peace seemed assured, and both they and their neighbours began to hope that the new king was to prove a second Numa. This was the Latins’ opportunity. There had been a treaty between Rome and Latium in Tullus’s reign, but now the Latins felt that they might in the changed circumstances be a match for their old enemy. Accordingly they raided Roman territory, and to the subsequent demand for restitution returned a haughty answer, convinced that Ancus was no soldier and would play the king only amongst his shrines and altars. However, there was more than one side to Ancus’s character; he had in him something of Numa and something of Romulus too. He well understood the value of a policy of peace when Rome was young and her people still somewhat wild; but at the same time he knew that he could not himself enjoy without injury the tranquillity which, in Numa’s reign, had brought such benefits. Hostile peoples were already beginning to prick him to see how much he would stand, and the result was not to his credit. Times were difficult, and called for a Tullus rather than a Numa. In one respect, however, Ancus did follow Numa’s lead, though with a difference. Numa had established religious observances in time of peace; Ancus provided war with an equivalent solemn ceremonial of its own. It was not enough, he thought, that wars should be fought; he believed that they should also be formally declared, and for this purpose he adopted from the ancient tribe of the Aequicolae the legal formalities (now in the hands of the fetials) by which a state demands redress for a hostile act. The procedure was as follows: when the envoy arrives at the frontier of the state from which satisfaction is sought, he covers his head with a woollen cap and says: ‘Hear me, Jupiter! Hear me, land of So–and–so! Hear me, O righteousness! I am the accredited spokesman of the Roman people. I come as their envoy in the name of justice and religion, and ask credence for my words.’ The particular demands follow and the envoy, calling Jupiter to witness, proceeds: ‘If my demand for the restitution of those men, or those goods, be contrary to religion and justice, then never let me be a citizen of my country.’ The formula, with only minor changes, is repeated when the envoy crosses the frontier, to the first man he subsequently meets, when he passes through the gate of the town, and when he enters the public square. If his demand is refused, after thirty–three days (the statutory number) war is declared in the following form: ‘Hear, Jupiter; hear, Janus Quirinus; hear, all ye gods in heaven, on earth, and under the earth: I call you to witness that the people of So–and–so are unjust and refuse reparation. But concerning these things we will consult the elders of our country, how we may obtain our due.’ The envoy then returns to Rome for consultation. The formula in which the king asked the opinion of the elders was approximately this: ‘Of the goods, or suits, or causes, concerning which the representative of the Roman people has made demands of the representative of the Ancient Latins, and of the people of the Ancient Latins, which goods or suits or causes they have failed to restore, or settle, or satisfy, all of them requiring restoration or settlement or satisfaction: speak, what think you?’ The person thus first addressed replied: ‘I hold that those things be sought by means of just and righteous war. Thus I give my vote and my consent.’ The same question was put to the others in rotation, and if a majority voted in favour, war was agreed upon. The fetial thereupon proceeded to the enemy frontier carrying a spear with a head either of iron or hardened wood, and in the presence of not less than three men of military age made the following proclamation: ‘Whereas the peoples of the Ancient Latins and the men of Priscus Latinus have committed acts and offences against the Roman people, and whereas the Roman people have commanded that there be war with the Ancient Latins, and the Senate of the Roman people has ordained, consented, and voted that there be war with the Ancient Latins: I therefore and the Roman people hereby declare and make war on the peoples of the Ancient Latins and the men of the Ancient Latins.’
The formal declaration made, the spear was thrown across the frontier. It was in this form that redress was demanded of the Latins on the occasion of which we are speaking and war declared. The same formal procedure was adopted by subsequent generations.
Religious matters were now left by Ancus in the hands of the various orders of priests while he himself raised fresh troops and marched to the Latin town of Politorium, which he took by assault. The inhabitants he transferred bodily to Rome; former kings had increased the size of Rome by the absorption of conquered peoples; so the policy was not without precedent. The Palatine hill was where the Romans first settled; on one side of it were the Capitol and Citadel, subsequently occupied by the Sabines, and on the other lay the Caelian hill, occupied by the Albans; the Aventine was assigned to the newcomers, and they were joined soon after by others from the captured towns of Tellenae and Ficana.
Politorium, denuded of its people, was later reoccupied, and again attacked by Rome. This time, to prevent it from becoming a regular place of refuge for their enemies, the Romans saw fit to raze it to the ground. The war dragged on, until at last all the Latin troops were forced back from Medullia; the town was well fortified and strongly garrisoned; from a position outside the fortifications the Latins on several occasions came to close grips with the Romans, and a number of engagements were fought without decisive results. Finally, however, Ancus, by an all–out effort, was successful in a pitched battle. He took the town and returned to Rome with an immense quantity of plunder. Once again, thousands more Latins were given Roman citizenship and made to settle in the quarter where the Altar of Murcia stands, thus connecting the Aventine hill with the Palatine. The Janiculum, too, was brought within the compass of the city, not because the additional area was needed but as a precaution against its use as a stronghold by some hostile power. It was decided not only to fortify it but also to facilitate communication with the rest of Rome by building a pile bridge (the first ever to be constructed) across the Tiber. It was Ancus, too, who considerably strengthened the defences on the more accessible side of the city by the construction of the so–called Quirites’ Trench.
One result of these enormous additions to the population was an increase in certain criminal activities, the dividing line between right and wrong becoming somewhat blurred. To meet this unhappy state of affairs and to discourage the further growth of lawlessness, the Prison was built in the centre of the city, just above the Forum. Beyond the city boundaries Roman territory was also enlarged during Ancus’s reign; the Maesian Forest was taken from the Veientes, thus extending Roman dominion to the sea; Ostia was founded at the mouth of the Tiber; salt–works were constructed in its neighbourhood; and to mark a period of successful military adventure important additions were made to the temple of Jupiter Feretrius.
In the course of this reign a man named Lucumo left Tarquinii where he was born and came to settle in Rome. He was ambitious and wealthy and hoped to rise to a position of eminence there, such as his native town was never likely to afford him; for though born at Tarquinii he was by blood an alien, being the son of Demaratus of Corinth. Demaratus had been forced by political troubles to leave his country, and happened to settle in Tarquinii, where he married and had two sons, Lucumo and Arruns. Lucumo survived his father and inherited all his property; Arruns predeceased him, leaving his wife pregnant. Demaratus was unaware that his daughter–in–law was about to have a child, so when shortly afterwards he himself died too, he had made no provision in his will for his grandson. The child, thus deprived of his inheritance, was named Egerius – the Needy One. Lucumo, on the contrary, the sole heir of his father’s property, became in time as proud as he was wealthy, and his self–confidence was further increased by his marriage to Tanaquil, an aristocratic young woman who was not of a sort to put up with humbler circumstances in her married life than those she had been previously accustomed to. The Etruscans of Tarquinii despised Lucumo as the son of foreign refugees, and to Tanaquil the indignity of his position soon became intolerable; wholly bent upon seeing her husband enjoy the respect he deserved, she smothered all feelings of natural affection for her native town and determined to abandon it for ever. For the purpose she had in mind she decided that the most suitable place was Rome: Rome was a young and rising community; there would be opportunities for an active and courageous man in a place where all advancement came swiftly and depended upon ability. After all, King Tatius had been a foreigner – a Sabine; Numa had been called to the throne from his native Cures; Ancus had had a Sabine mother and no ancestor of noble blood with the single exception of Numa. Tanaquil had no difficulty in persuading her husband: he was already set upon improving his position, and the prospect of leaving Tarquinii – the birthplace of his mother only – caused him no distress. So they packed their belongings and left for Rome.
The pair had reached Janiculum and were sitting together in their carriage, when an eagle dropped gently down and snatched off the cap which Lucumo was wearing. Up went the bird with a great clangour of wings until, a minute later, it swooped down again and, as if it had been sent by heaven for that very purpose, neatly replaced the cap on Lucumo’s head, and then vanished into the blue. Tanaquil, like most Etruscans, was well skilled in celestial prodigies, and joyfully accepted the omen. Flinging her arms round her husband’s neck, she told him that no fortune was too high to hope for. ‘Only consider,’ she cried, ‘from what quarter of the sky the eagle came, what god sent it as his messenger! Did it not declare its message by coming to your head – the highest part of you? Did it not take the crown, as it were, from a human head, only to restore it by heaven’s approval, where it belongs?’ Thus dreaming upon future greatness, Lucumo and Tanaquil drove on into Rome, where they bought a house, and Lucumo took the name of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus.
In Rome Lucumo soon began to attract attention as a wealthy stranger, and wasted no opportunity of advancing himself. Hospitable, free with his money, and always ready with a kindly word, he made friends rapidly, and it was not long before his reputation got as far as the palace. Once known to the king, he was quick to improve the acquaintance, serving him with such liberality and adroitness that he was soon admitted into intimacy and consulted upon every matter of private interest or national importance, both in peace and war, until he became indispensable and was even named in the king’s will as guardian of his children.
Ancus reigned twenty–four years. His fame as both soldier and administrator was unsurpassed by any previous occupant of the throne. His sons were on the verge of manhood, and for this reason Tarquin (as we shall now call Lucumo) was anxious that the election of a successor to the throne should be held at the earliest possible moment. A date was announced, and a few days before it Tarquin sent the two boys out of town on a hunting expedition. He is said to have been the first to canvass personally for votes, and to have delivered a public speech designed to win popular support. It was not without precedent, he declared, that he, a foreigner, aspired to the throne: were he the first to do so, there might well be surprise, or even anger; but he was not the first, but the third. Tatius had been not a foreigner only, but an enemy; and Numa was actually asked to accept the crown when he showed no signs of wanting it and knew nothing of Rome. ‘Whereas I,’ Tarquin continued, ‘so soon as ever I was master of my fortunes, settled amongst you here with my wife and all my property, and here in Rome I have spent more years of active public life than in the town where I was born. The laws of Rome, the religion of Rome I have learned in peace and war from no negligible teacher – King Ancus himself. I have vied with all men in my defence and duty to the king, and not the king himself has surpassed me in generosity to others.’
Tarquin’s claims were not unjustified and he secured the popular vote by an overwhelming majority. In most ways he was a man of outstanding character and ability; nevertheless after his accession he employed the same sort of means of assuring his position as he had employed to gain it. He was always something of a schemer, and it was as much to strengthen his own hold upon the throne as to increase the political influence of the Senate that he now added to that body a hundred new members, subsequently known as representing the ‘lesser families’; owing their promotion to the king, these new members naturally constituted a party of ‘king’s men’, supporting him in everything.
Tarquin’s first campaign was against the Latins. He captured Apiolae, and returned to Rome with more plunder than what report had led people to expect; he celebrated public games on a scale more elaborate and opulent than any of his predecessors. It was on this occasion that our Circus Maximus was originally planned. On the ground marked out for it special places were assigned to Senators and knights to erect their stands in – or ‘decks’ as they were called. These stands were supported on props and raised twelve feet from the ground. Horses and boxers, mostly from Etruria, provided the entertainment. From then onward the games became an annual institution, and were called the Roman, or Greek, games. Tarquin also made grants of land round the Forum to be used as private building sites, and built shops and porticoes. His project of enclosing the whole city in a stone wall was, however, interrupted by a clash with the Sabines. The trouble began so unexpectedly that the enemy was across the Anio before Roman troops could make any move to stop him, and there were some moments of acute anxiety. For a while the fighting was indecisive, with heavy losses on both sides; then the Sabines withdrew, giving Rome a breathing space in which to make fresh preparations. Tarquin seized his chance, and determined to make good what he felt to be the chief weakness of the Roman army, the inadequate number of mounted troops. For this purpose he proposed to reinforce the Ramnes, Titienses, and Luceres, the centuries originally enrolled by Romulus, with additional formations, to be distinguished by his own name. Now Romulus, before acting in this matter, had obtained the sanction of the auguries; and in consequence of this a certain distinguished augur, named Attius Navius, declared that no change or innovation could possibly be made until the birds had given their consent. Tarquin was very angry. ‘Ho ho!’ he cried with a contemptuous laugh; ‘then I would ask you, holy sir, to declare by your gift of prophecy if what I am thinking of at this moment can be done.’ His object, the story goes, was to ridicule the whole business of omens; but Navius was unperturbed. He took the auspices, and replied that the thought in the king’s mind would, indeed, be realized. ‘Very well,’ said Tarquin; ‘I was thinking that you would cut a whetstone in half with a razor. Get them, and do what those birds of yours declare can be done.’ Believe it or not: without a moment’s delay Navius did it. A statue of Navius, with the head covered, once stood on the spot where this occurred – on the steps of the Senate House, on the left–hand side. The whetstone too is supposed to have been preserved here, to remind posterity of the miracle. But whatever we may think of this story, the fact remains that the importance attached to augury and the augural priesthood increased to such an extent that to take the auspices was henceforward an essential preliminary to any serious undertaking in peace or in war: not only army parades or popular assemblies, but matters of vital concern to the commonwealth were postponed, if the birds refused their assent. Tarquin, on this occasion, made no change in the organization of the centuries of knights, but contented himself with doubling their number, so that the original three centuries now contained 1800 men. The recruits were known as ‘posterior’, or ‘secondary’, knights of the three centuries – Ramnes, Tities, and Luceres. We speak of the ‘six centuries’ today because of the doubling of the numbers they originally comprised.
Hostilities with the Sabines were now resumed. The striking–power of Rome had been increased by the expansion of the cavalry, but in what followed it was strategy that played the decisive part. A stack of dry timber which had been lying on the bank of the Anio was set alight and the blazing logs thrown into the water. A good wind kept them burning, and many were carried down by the stream and became lodged amongst the piles of the bridge, which they set on fire. This was alarming enough for the Sabines while they were fighting, but worse when their resistance broke; for the burning bridge prevented their retreat, and large numbers of them escaped the enemy only to perish in the river. Their equipment floated down the Tiber to Rome, where it was recognized for what it was and brought the news of victory almost before a messenger could get through. Reports of the engagement say that particular distinction was won by the Roman cavalry; they were posted on the wings, and at a critical moment when the infantry in the centre was being forced back, saved the day by a simultaneous charge on both the enemy flanks. Such was the vigour of their assault, that the Sabines were not only checked in their triumphant advance, but compelled to retreat in confusion.
A part of the routed army tried to reach the hills; a few men got there, but most of the fugitives, as I have said, were driven by the Roman cavalry into the river. Tarquin decided to press his advantage; having dispatched the plunder and prisoners to Rome, and made, as an offering to the god Vulcan, a huge bonfire of captured equipment, he moved forward into Sabine territory. The unfortunate Sabines had no time to think of how best to meet this second threat. Beaten once, they had little hope of success in a further battle; nevertheless they took the field with such forces as they could scrape together, and the inevitable result was another defeat. This time, all was up with them, and they sued for peace. Collatia and the territory south and west of it were taken from them, and Egerius, the king’s nephew, was left to garrison the town. I have read that the formal procedure at the surrender of Collatia was as follows: the king asked: ‘Are you the accredited representatives of Collatia, sent to surrender yourselves and the people of Collatia?’
‘Are the people of Collatia free to make their own decisions?’
‘Do you surrender yourselves and the people of Collatia, together with the town, lands, water, boundary–stones, shrines, utensils, and all you possess for the service of your gods and of yourselves, into my hands and the hands of the Roman people?’
‘I receive the surrender.’
The war over, Tarquin made his triumphal entry into Rome. His final campaign was against the Ancient Latins. No major battle was fought, and large forces were never engaged. The issue was decided piecemeal. One town after another was attacked and taken: Corniculum, Ficulea, Cameria, Crustumerium, Ameriola, Medullia, Nomentum – all of them settlements either of the Ancient Latins or of peoples who had joined their cause. Tarquin’s success was complete, and peace was made.
However, it was peace with a difference; for the king set his people with such enthusiasm to various civic undertakings that they had even less leisure than they had had during the wars. The building of the stone wall, interrupted by the Sabine war, for the protection of those parts of Rome which were as yet unfortified, was resumed; the low–lying areas of the town around the Forum, and the valleys between the hills, where flood–water usually collected, were drained by sewers leading down into the Tiber; and, finally, the foundations of the temple of Jupiter on the Capitol were laid. Tarquin had bound himself, during the Sabine war, by a solemn vow to build this temple: one cannot but feel that in some way he already foresaw the future splendour of that famous place.
In the palace about this time there occurred a very odd thing, which was to have remarkable consequences. A little boy named Servius Tullius was lying asleep, when his head burst into flames. Many people saw it happen. The noise and excitement caused by such an extraordinary event came to the ears of the king and queen, and brought them hurrying to the spot. A servant ran for water and was about to throw it on the flames, when the queen stopped him, declaring, so soon as she could make herself heard, that the child must on no account be disturbed, but allowed to sleep till he awoke of his own accord. A few minutes later he opened his eyes, and the fire went out.
Tanaquil took her husband aside, where they could not be overheard. ‘Listen,’ she said; ‘this child we are bringing up as if he were no better than a beggar – believe me, he will one day prove a light in our darkness, a prop to our house in the day of its affliction. We must see that he is taught and tended from now onward with every care, as one through whom will come great glory to our family and to Rome.’
The story goes that from that instant the child was treated like a prince of the blood and received a prince’s education. It was the will of heaven, and all went well: he grew in time to be a man of truly royal nature, and when Tarquin was looking for a son–in–law, he could find no one in Rome comparable in any way to young Servius; so to Servius he betrothed his daughter.
However we may try to account for this singular honour, the fact of it does, at least, make it impossible to believe that either Servius or his mother was ever a slave. There is another and, to me, more credible account of the matter, namely that a Servius Tullius was prince of Corniculum and was killed when the town was taken; his wife, who was pregnant at the time of his death, was recognized amongst the other prisoners, and the queen at Rome, as a tribute to her rank, spared her the shame of slavery and allowed her to live in the palace, where she gave birth to her son. This generous act led to a friendship between the two women, and the little boy, growing up from infancy in the palace, soon made himself beloved and was generally recognized as a person of importance. The story that he was the child of a slave–woman sprang merely from the fact that his unfortunate mother had been a prisoner of war.
The respect in which young Servius Tullius was held not only by the king but by all ranks of Roman society grew rapidly, until he became one of the most distinguished people in the state. About the thirty–eighth year of Tarquin’s reign trouble began. The two sons of Tarquin’s predecessor Ancus had always bitterly resented the trickery by which Tarquin had got them out of the country, when he was their guardian, and robbed them of their rights; it was bad enough in their view, that a mere immigrant, not even of native Italian blood, should be king of Rome, but the future prospect was more intolerable still. For now, it seemed, even after Tarquin’s death, the throne, instead of reverting to them, its rightful heirs, was to sink into the hands of slaves – an abyss indeed. Servius, the slave–woman’s son, was to possess the power which a hundred years before had been enjoyed by Romulus – Romulus, the son of a god and himself divine. If foreigners and slaves could rule in Rome while sons of Ancus still lived, it would be not only an insult to the blood royal but a disgrace to the Roman name. The violence of their resentment suggested a desperate remedy: only the sword could save Rome from her shame.
Tarquin himself, not Servius, was their intended victim, and that for good reason: first, because the king, if he survived, would have more power to avenge the murder than a subject would have; secondly because, if Servius were killed, the king would certainly choose some other son–in–law, who would ultimately inherit the throne. They laid their plans accordingly to murder the king, and picked two country fellows, both desperate characters, to do the deed.
These men – they were shepherds – armed with the rough, country tools they were accustomed to use, presented themselves at the entrance–court of the palace, where they started brawling, or pretending to brawl, and raised such a racket that all the attendants came crowding round them to see what the matter was. One after the other the two ruffians appealed to the king at the top of their voices, until their shouts penetrated to the inner rooms and they were summoned into the king’s presence. For a while they tried to shout each other down, until the king’s lictor had had enough of it; he managed to stop them and told them to say what they had to say one at a time. Then the first, according to plan, started to put his case, and while the king was listening to him, the other, from behind, split his skull with an axe. Leaving the weapon in the wound, both men then made a dash for the door.
Hardly had the dying Tarquin been lifted by his attendants before the fugitives were caught by the lictors. There was an uproar; excited crowds gathered, eager to know what the trouble was. Tanaquil ordered the palace gates to be closed; then, getting rid of all who might observe what she was about, she began to prepare remedies for the wound, as if there were still hope of saving the king’s life, at the same time taking certain other precautions in case her plan should fail. A few minutes later she sent for Servius. Seizing his hand, she directed his gaze to the king, now at the point of death, and begged him not to leave the murder unavenged or allow herself to be a creature of contempt in the eyes of those who hated her. ‘Servius,’ she cried, ‘the throne is yours, if you are a man. It shall never be theirs who have done this deed of blood. Rise to your true stature; follow the gods who long ago by the circlet of heavenly fire declared that your head should wear the crown. Let the memory of those flames, assuredly divine, rouse you to act. Now is the time – now you must awake indeed. The king and I were foreigners, yet the throne was ours. Forget your origins, and remember only what you are – your manhood. What? The sudden shock has numbed your wits? What matter? – do as I bid you, and all will be well.’
Meanwhile the noise and excitement in the street were getting out of hand. The queen hurried to an upper room of the palace (which was near the temple of Jupiter Stator) and, flinging open a window which looked out on the New Street, began to address the crowd. She urged them to be calm: the king, she declared, had been stunned by a blow – it was a surface–wound only. Already he had recovered consciousness; the wound had been cleaned and examined, and there was every reason for confidence. Without any doubt they would soon see him again for themselves. Meanwhile, she begged them to give their loyal obedience to Servius, who would see justice done and in all other ways deputize for the king.
Servius now began to appear in public wearing the white and purple robe of royalty and preceded by lictors; he sat on the king’s seat of justice listening to suits, some of which he settled out of hand, while others he pretended that he would refer to the king. Thus for a number of days he concealed Tarquin’s death, and by making it appear to the public that he was acting merely as the king’s deputy, continued, in fact, to strengthen his own position. Ancus’s sons, on the arrest of their hired assassins and the report that Tarquin was alive and Servius in an almost impregnable position, retired to Suessia Pometia, where they lived in voluntary exile.
Servius then proceeded to personal as well as public measures to strengthen his hold upon the throne. It was not unlikely that Tarquin’s sons, Lucius and Arruns, would resent his authority just as Ancus’s sons had resented Tarquin’s; so to obviate this danger, he married his two daughters to the young princes. But alas! fate is omnipotent and men are powerless to turn it aside. Nothing Servius could do prevented jealousy of his power from growing, even amongst members of his own household, to such a pitch that the palace was soon a hot–bed of intrigue and treachery.
A fresh upheaval was, however, most opportunely prevented by a war with Veii, the period of truce having expired, and other Etruscan communities. Servius proved a very able and successful commander; his victory over exceedingly powerful enemy forces was complete, and on his return to Rome there was no reason to doubt the loyalty of any section of society. His position was assured.
It was at this time that he undertook what was by far his most important service to the community; comparable, though in a different sphere, with the work of Numa. Numa had concerned himself with the proper establishment of religion; the political reputation of Servius rests upon his organization of society according to a fixed scale of rank and fortune. He originated the census, a measure of the highest utility to a state destined, as Rome was, to future preeminence; for by means of it public service, in peace as well as in war, could thenceforward be regularly organized on the basis of property; every man’s contribution could be in proportion to his means. The population was divided into classes and ‘centuries’ according to a scale based on the census, and suitable for both peace and war. The scale was as follows:
1. Of those whose property was rated at a capital value of 100,000 asses1 or more, 80 centuries were formed, 40 of ‘seniors’ and 40 of ‘juniors’. This whole group was known as the First Class. The seniors were for civil defence, the juniors for service in the field. All were required to equip themselves with helmet, round shield, greaves, and breast–plate. The defensive armour was of bronze. Their weapons of offence were the sword and spear. To this class were attached two centuries of engineers, whose duty was the construction and maintenance of the siege–engines on active service. They were unarmed.
2. The Second Class comprised those whose property was rated between 100,000 and 75,000. From these 20 centuries – senior and junior – were formed, and required to provide the same equipment as Class I, save that the breast–plate was omitted and the long substituted for the round shield.
3. The Third Class. Property rating, 50,000. Same number of centuries, senior and junior as before. Same equipment, but with omission of the greaves.
4. The Fourth Class. Rating 25,000. Same number of centuries. Equipment: spear and javelin only.
5. The Fifth Class. Rating 11,000. This class comprised 30, not 20, centuries. Equipment: slings and stones. Rated with them were the buglers and trumpeters – two centuries.
6. Those assessed under 11,000 – the remainder of the population – were formed into a single century, exempt from military service.
These first five classes provided for the equipment of the infantry, graded according to property. There remained the reorganization of the cavalry, or ‘knights’. Twelve centuries were enrolled, consisting of the most prominent and wealthy citizens. Six other centuries were also formed (Romulus had formed three) and called by the old names which had long been consecrated to their use. Each century had a grant from the treasury of 10,000 asses for the purchase of horses, with a further grant, levied on rich widows, of 2,000 a year for their feeding and maintenance.
The poor were thus exempted from contributions, and all financial burdens were shifted on to the shoulders of the rich. The latter were then compensated by political privilege: manhood suffrage with equal rights for all, which had obtained ever since the days of Romulus, was abolished, and replaced by a sliding scale. This had the effect of giving every man nominally a vote, while leaving all power actually in the hands of the Knights and the First Class. The procedure, when a vote was required, was to call first upon the Knights, then upon the eighty centuries of the First Class. In the rare case of disagreement, the Second Class was then asked to vote; that, in general, proved sufficient, and it was hardly ever necessary to go further – certainly not as far as the lowest orders.
The fact that the present organization, as it exists since the increase in the number of the tribes to thirty–five and the doubling of their members by the junior and senior centuries, does not correspond to the total established by Servius Tullius, need cause no surprise. Servius divided the city, taking in the built–over hills, into four regions, which he named ‘tribes’ – a word derived, I suppose, from ‘tribute’; for it was also planned by Servius to have the ‘contribution’ of each citizen fairly apportioned on the basis of the census. These tribes bore no relation to the number or distribution of the centuries.
To expedite the completion of the census, a law was passed punishing with imprisonment or death all who failed to register. Thereupon the king issued a proclamation that all Roman citizens of all classes should present themselves, by centuries, in the Campus Martius at daybreak. There, with the sacrifice of a pig, a sheep, and an ox, the act of lustral purification was performed, the ceremony being termed the ‘lustral close’, as the final act of the whole business of the census. On that first occasion 80,000 names are said to have been registered; according to Fabius Pictor, our oldest authority, that was the number of men capable of bearing arms.
The population of Rome was by now so great that Servius decided to extend the city boundaries. He took in, accordingly, two more hills, the Quirinal and the Viminal, and subsequently added to the area of the Esquiline, which he made fashionable by residing in that quarter himself. The city defences he strengthened by constructing trenches, earthworks, and a wall. This involved extending the ‘pomerium’ – a term which needs some comment. By derivation the word is taken to mean the strip of ground ‘behind the wall’; more properly, however, it signifies the strip on both sides of the wall: this ground the ancient Etruscans used to consecrate with augural ceremonies when a new town was to be founded. It was a narrow strip, precisely defined in width and following the course which the town wall would follow when it was built; its purpose was to keep the walls, on their inner side, clear of all buildings (which nowadays are, as a rule, actually joined to them), and at the same time to leave, on the outer side of the walls, an area unpolluted by the use of man. The whole strip, then, which it was felt to be impious to build over, on the one side, or to cultivate on the other, was called ‘pomerium’ by the Romans –just as much because the walls were behind it, as because it was behind the walls. Whenever, with the growth of the city, it was proposed to increase the area enclosed within the walls, this strip of consecrated ground was pushed outward accordingly.
Rome was now in a highly flourishing condition. The size of the city had been increased; internal affairs were satisfactorily settled to meet all demands both in peace and war. In these circumstances the king devised a project which he hoped would serve the double purpose of adding something to the architectural splendour of the city, and of extending her influence without the perpetual recourse to arms. By the time of which we are speaking, the temple of Diana in Ephesus was already famous, and report had it that the building had been erected as a joint enterprise of the Asian communities. Servius deliberately cultivated personal friendship with the Latin nobles and good public relations with their country, and then began, whenever opportunity offered, to praise in their presence, in glowing terms, the harmony of feeling and unity of worship amongst the townships of Asia, until, by continually harping upon the same theme, he at last carried his point, and a temple of Diana was built in Rome by the Latin peoples in association with the Romans. This was an admission that the long struggle for supremacy was over: Rome, by common consent, was the capital city. The Latins indeed had been defeated so often in this struggle that they had apparently ceased to concern themselves with it; there was, however, one man – a Sabine – who saw, or thought he saw, a chance of recovering power without involving his country in war. On one of the farms in the Sabine country there was a heifer of astonishing size and beauty, a truly marvellous creature remembered for many subsequent generations by its horns, which were hung in the vestibule of the temple of Diana. It had acquired, very properly, a certain numinous value, as if it were hardly of this earth, and prophecies were made to the effect that imperial power would belong to the nation whose citizens offered it in sacrifice to Diana. This prediction came to the knowledge of the temple priest.
Now the Sabine I was speaking of, on the first suitable opportunity, drove the heifer to Diana’s temple in Rome and led her to the altar. The Roman priest in attendance regarded with admiration the great beast of which he had heard so much – and, at the same time, he had not forgotten the prophecy.
‘Stranger,’ he said, ‘what can you be thinking of? Surely you do not mean to sacrifice to Diana without first performing the act of purification? You must bathe yourself, before the ceremony, in a living stream. Down there in the valley the Tiber flows.’
The stranger was a religious man, and the warning went home. Unwilling to omit any part of the proper ritual, lest the event should fail to correspond with the prophecy, he hurried down to the river. During his absence the Roman priest sacrificed the heifer himself. All Rome, including the king, was delighted.
There was no doubt that by this time Servius had a definite prescriptive right to the throne. None the less he determined still further to strengthen his position. Young Tarquin was spreading malignant gossip about his never having received the popular vote, and Servius was well aware of what he was saying. Accordingly, to conciliate the goodwill of the commons, he first distributed land captured in war amongst private holders, and then took the bold step of demanding the people’s vote upon his title to the throne. He was declared king by an overwhelming and unprecedented majority.
Tarquin was undismayed by Servius’s success: indeed, his hopes of gaining the throne burned more hotly than before. One reason for this was that he knew that the distribution of land had been disapproved by the Senate, a fact which would enable him to vilify Servius and increase his own influence in that body; another was his own character, for he was by nature ambitious, and his wife, Tullia, was not of the sort to let his ambition sleep. In ancient Greece more than one royal house was guilty of crime which became the stuff of tragedy: now Rome was to follow the same path – but not in vain; for that very guilt was to hasten the coming of liberty and the hatred of kings, and to ensure that the throne it won should never again be occupied.
Tarquin – or Lucius Tarquinius, son or grandson (more probably the former) of Tarquinius Priscus – had a brother called Arruns, a mild–mannered young man. The two brothers, as I mentioned before, had married Servius’s daughters, both of them named Tullia but in character diametrically opposed to each other. By what I cannot but feel was the luck of Rome, it so happened that the two fiercely ambitious ones, Tarquin and the younger Tullia, did not, in the first instance, become man and wife; for Rome was thereby granted a period of reprieve; Servius’s reign lasted a few years longer, and Roman civilization was able to advance.
The younger Tullia was bitterly humiliated by the weakness of her husband Arruns, and fiercely resented his lack of ambition and fire. It was to Tarquin that the whole passion of her nature turned; Tarquin was her hero, Tarquin her ideal of a true man and a true prince. Her sister she despised for failing to support with a woman’s courage the husband she did not deserve. There is a magnetic power in evil; like draws towards like, and so it was with Tarquin and the younger Tullia.
It was the woman who took the first step along the road of crime. Whispers passed between her and her sister’s husband; their secret meetings grew more frequent, their talk less guarded. Soon she was pouring into his ears the frankest abuse of her sister and Arruns, while Tarquin, though one was his brother and the other his brother’s wife, let her talk on. ‘You and I,’ she said, ‘would have been better single than bound in a marriage so incongruous and absurd, where each of us is forced by a cowardly partner to fritter our lives away in hopeless inactivity. Ah! if God had but given me the husband I deserve, I should soon see in my own house that royalty which I now see in my father’s!’
The bold words struck an answering fire. Two deaths soon followed, one close upon the other, and Tarquin found himself a widower, Tullia a widow. The guilty pair were then married – the king not preventing, but hardly approving, the match.
From that day onward Servius, now an old man, lived in ever increasing danger. His wicked daughter soon found that one crime must lead to another; lest the two murders should prove to have been committed in vain, she gave her husband no rest by day or night. ‘Did I want a man,’ she urged, ‘simply that I might call him husband, simply to endure slavery with him in silence? No! I wanted a man who knew he was worthy of a crown, who remembered that his father was a king, who would sooner reign now than languish in hope. If you are indeed the man I think I married, I salute you as my husband and my king; if not, it had been better for me to stay as I was than to marry not a criminal only but a coward. Come! Do your work! You are no stranger, as your father was, from Corinth or Tarquinii. No need for you to struggle for a foreign throne: it is yours already; the guardian gods of your hearth and home proclaim you king! Your father’s bust, his palace, his royal seat, his name and yours – in these is your title. You dare not? Then why continue to play the cheat? Why let men look on you as a prince? It were better to slink back to Tarquinii or Corinth – like your brother, not your father; – better to be humble again, as your ancestors were humble long ago.’
His wife’s taunts pricked young Tarquin to action. To Tullia the thought of Tanaquil’s success was torture. She was determined to emulate it: if Tanaquil, a foreigner, had had influence enough twice in succession to confer the crown – first on her husband, then on her son–in–law – it was intolerable to feel that she herself, a princess of the blood, should count for nothing in the making, or unmaking, of kings. Tarquin could not stand against her maniacal ambition. Soon he was about his business: in and out of the houses of patrician families – the ‘lesser’ families especially – he began to solicit their support; he reminded them of the favours his father had done them, and urged them to show their gratitude; to the younger men he offered money as a bait; he vilified Servius, and promised heaven on earth, should he succeed. Support for him increased; everywhere his influence grew, until at last, when he judged the moment had come, he forced his way with an armed guard into the Forum. It was like a bolt from the blue. But worse was to come: taking his seat on the king’s chair in front of the Senate House, he ordered a crier to summon the senators to appear before King Tarquin. They came immediately – some by prearrangement, others because they dared not keep away, for fear of the consequences. All were profoundly shaken by the sudden and extraordinary turn of events, and convinced that Servius was doomed.
Before the assembled senators Tarquin proceeded to blacken the king’s name and pour contempt upon his origin: he was a slave and the son of a slave; after his father’s shameful death he had usurped the throne. The customary interregnum had been ignored; no election had been held; not the people’s vote, duly ratified by the Senate, but a woman’s gift had put the sceptre in his hands. Base–born himself, and basely crowned, he had made friends with the riff–raff of the gutter where he belonged; hating the nobility to which he could not aspire, he had robbed the rich of their property and given it to vagabonds. All the burdens once shared by the community at large he had laid upon the shoulders of the wealthy and distinguished; the sole object of the census had been to make rich men’s fortunes known and therefore envied – when it was not to plunder them for presents to the poor.
While Tarquin was still speaking, a report got through to Servius, who in anger and alarm at once hurried to the scene. Standing in the forecourt of the Curia, he loudly interrupted the speaker.
‘Tarquin,’ he cried, ‘what is the meaning of this? How have you dared, while I live, to summon the Senate and to sit in my chair?’
‘The chair is my father’s,’ was the insolent reply. ‘A king’s son is a better heir to the throne than a slave. We have let you mock and insult your masters long enough.’
Confusion followed. Some roared for Tarquin, some for Servius. The mob rushed the Senate House; a struggle was imminent, and it was clear that possession of the throne would depend upon the issue.
Tarquin had gone too far to turn back, and it was now all or nothing for him. Young and vigorous as he was, he seized the aged Servius, carried him bodily from the House and flung him down the steps into the street. Then he returned to quell the senators. The king’s servants and retinue fled. While he himself was making his way, half–stunned and unattended, to the palace, he was caught and killed by Tarquin’s assassins. It is thought that the deed was done at Tullia’s suggestion: and such a crime was not, at least, inconsistent with her character. All agree that she drove into the Forum in an open carriage in a most brazen manner, and, calling her husband from the Senate House, was the first to hail him as King. Tarquin told her to go home, as the crowd might be dangerous; so she started off, and at the top of Cyprus street, where the shrine of Diana stood until recently, her driver was turning to the right to climb the Urbian hill on the way to the Esquiline, when he pulled up short in sudden terror and pointed to Servius’s body lying mutilated on the road. There followed an act of bestial inhumanity – history preserves the memory of it in the name of the street, the Street of Crime. The story goes that the crazed woman, driven to frenzy by the avenging ghosts of her sister and husband, drove the carriage over her father’s body. Blood from the corpse stained her clothes and spattered the carriage, so that a grim relic of the murdered man was brought by those gory wheels to the house where she and her husband lived. The guardian gods of that house did not forget; they were to see to it, in their anger at the bad beginning of the reign, that as bad an end should follow.
The reign of Servius Tullius lasted forty–four years. It was a good reign, and even the best and most moderate successor would not easily have emulated it. One of its most notable marks was the fact that with Servius true kingship came to an end; never again was a Roman king to rule in accordance with humanity and justice. Nevertheless, however mild and moderate his rule he intended, according to some writers, to abdicate in favour of a republican government, simply because he disapproved in principle of monarchy; but treachery within his family circle prevented him from carrying his purpose into effect.
Now began the reign of Tarquinius Superbus – Tarquin the Proud. His conduct merited the name. In spite of the ties of kin, he refused Servius the rite of burial, saying, in brutal jest, that Romulus’s body had not been buried either. He executed the leading senators who he thought had supported Servius. Well aware that his treachery and violence might form a precedent to his own disadvantage, he employed a bodyguard. His anxiety was justified; for he had usurped by force the throne to which he had no title whatever: the people had not elected him, the Senate had not sanctioned his accession. Without hope of his subjects’ affection, he could rule only by fear; and to make himself feared as widely as possible he began the practice of trying capital causes without consultation and by his own sole authority. He was thus enabled to punish with death, exile, or confiscation of property not only such men as he happened to suspect or dislike, but also innocent people from whose conviction he had nothing to gain but their money. Those of senatorial rank were the worst sufferers from this procedure; their numbers were reduced, and no new appointments made, in the hope, no doubt, that sheer numerical weakness might bring the order into contempt, and the surviving members be readier to acquiesce in political impotence. Tarquin was the first king to break the established tradition of consulting the Senate on all matters of public business, and to govern by the mere authority of himself and his household. In questions of war and peace he was his own sole master; he made and unmade treaties and alliances with whom he pleased without any reference whatever either to the commons or to the Senate. He made particular efforts to win the friendship of the Latins, in the hope that any power or influence he could obtain abroad might give him greater security at home. With this in view he went beyond mere official friendly relations with the Latin nobility, and married his daughter to Octavius Mamilius of Tusculum, by far the most distinguished bearer of the Latin name, and descended, we are told, from Ulysses and the goddess Circe. By this marriage he attached to his interest Mamilius’s numerous relatives and friends.
His influence with the leaders of Latin society was soon very great, and this gave him confidence for his next move. Declaring that he had certain matters of common interest to discuss, he summoned them to a conference at the Grove of Ferentina. On the appointed day a great number of them assembled at dawn. Tarquin was late: he did, indeed, put in an appearance on the right day, but not much before sunset. All day, while the Latins were waiting for him, various subjects were discussed, and a certain Turnus Herdonius, of Aricia, had a deal to say in disparagement of the absent Tarquin.
‘No wonder,’ his arguments ran, ‘that Rome has called Tarquin the Proud!’ (The name was already current, though as yet none dared more than to whisper it.) ‘It could hardly be better justified than by his present behaviour, which is a deliberate insult to our country. We, the heads of the chief families of Latium, have been made to travel many miles to attend this meeting – and he who convened us does not even take the trouble to be present. Why – it’s as plain as a pikestaff: he wants to see how much we will put up with, and then, if he finds us submissive enough, he will stamp on us. A blind man could see he covets the sovereignty of Latium. If his own people were right to entrust him with power – if indeed it was entrusted, and not stolen, rather, by a murderous thief – then we, you may say, should do no less. Even so, I would remind you that he is a foreigner. But what are the facts? His own people are sick of him; they are weary of the continual slitting of throats, exiles, confiscations that are going on in Rome. And, if that is true of Rome, could we in Latium expect anything better? Take my advice, and go home – all of you. Do not trouble to keep your appointment here any more than he has.’
Turnus, who had acquired some influence in Latium as an inveterate trouble–maker, was in the full flow of his eloquence, when Tarquin’s unexpected arrival cut him short. The audience turned their backs on the orator to pay their respects to the king. There was silence, and Tarquin, advised to give some reason for being so late, said that he had been asked to settle a dispute between a father and son and that hoping to reconcile them he had been unavoidably delayed. ‘And as that little business,’ he added, ‘has left us no more time today I will wait till tomorrow to deal with the matters I proposed to discuss.’
The excuse was not good enough for the angry Turnus. ‘No dispute,’ he is said to have replied, ‘is more quickly settled than one between father and son: all one need say is, “obey your father – or take the consequences”.’
With this parting shot Turnus took himself off.
Tarquin was more disturbed by this incident than he himself allowed to appear, and promptly considered ways and means of getting rid of Turnus. It would be politic, he felt, to make the Latins as much afraid of him as the Romans were. He was not as yet in a position openly to order his execution, so he decided to attain his object by having him convicted on a trumped–up charge. For this purpose he managed to persuade certain political enemies of Turnus to bribe one of his slaves to allow a large number of weapons to be smuggled into his lodging. It was done within the course of the night; and very early on the following morning Tarquin sent for certain distinguished members of the Latin nobility and pretended to have received alarming news, adding that his late arrival on the previous day had turned out to be a piece of extraordinary good luck, and had saved them all. ‘Turnus,’ he went on, ‘is, I am told, planning to assassinate me and the leading men in all the towns of Latium. His aim is the monarchy. He would have acted yesterday at the conference, had it not been for the absence of his chief victim – myself. He was obliged to wait, and his consequent disappointment was the reason for the bitter language he used against me. I am convinced, if the information I have is true, that when we assemble at dawn tomorrow he will be there to attack us. He will be well armed and strongly supported, for a great many weapons have, I learn, been conveyed to his inn. The truth or falsehood of this can be proved in a moment: come with me to his rooms, and we can see for ourselves.’
Several things contributed to make the story plausible: the reckless plot was typical of Turnus; then there was his speech at the conference, and, lastly, Tarquin’s late arrival, which seemed a reasonable explanation of the postponement of the massacre. Consequently they were all predisposed to believe it, though they still needed the evidence of the weapons before accepting the other charges.
When they reached the inn, Turnus was still asleep. He was awakened and surrounded by guards. Some loyal slaves who offered resistance were seized. Weapons were found hidden in every corner of the building. Further proof was not needed, and Turnus was arrested.
Amid great excitement the Latins were immediately called upon to meet. The weapons found in the inn were produced as evidence, and so strong was the feeling against Turnus that he was convicted out of hand, without even the chance of defending himself. He was bound underneath a hurdle weighted with stones and flung into the water – a form of punishment which was a new invention of Tarquin’s.
After the execution the Latins were again summoned to Tarquin’s presence. ‘Gentlemen,’ he said, ‘I congratulate you. Turnus was a traitor; he was caught in the act, and you have given him his just reward.
‘Now I would remind you that an ancient treaty between Rome and Latium is still in existence, and that I could act upon it if I so wished. By that treaty the whole Alban community, together with all settlements founded by the Alban people, were brought by Tullus under the dominion of Rome. You Latins are of Alban descent and therefore bound by the terms of that treaty. However, it is my belief that everybody’s interest would be better served if the old treaty were brought up to date in such a way as to allow the peoples of Latium to share the prosperity of Rome, instead of being forced to dread a repetition of the miseries – the destruction of towns, the devastation of the countryside – which they suffered during the reigns of Ancus and my father.’
The Latins were quick to see the force of this, in spite of the fact that the treaty was more favourable to the Roman interest than to their own. Moreover it was obvious that the most influential amongst them took Tarquin’s view of the matter – not to mention that the recent fate of Turnus was evidence of what would happen to anyone who ventured to oppose him. The treaty was accordingly revised, and a proclamation was issued to the effect that the Latins of military age should present themselves, fully armed, on a day fixed for the purpose at the Grove of Ferentina. In accordance with the edict men from all the Latin communities duly assembled. Tarquin then proceeded to take certain precautions: seeing it was inadvisable to allow them independent command, with their own general officers and their own standards, he reorganized the army units, so that each company should consist of Roman and Latin troops in equal numbers, under the command of a Roman centurion.
However lawless and tyrannical Tarquin may have been as monarch in his own country, as a war leader he did fine work. Indeed, his fame as a soldier might have equalled that of his predecessors, had not his degeneracy in other things obscured its lustre. It was Tarquin who began the long, two hundred years of war with the Volscians. From them he took by storm the town of Suessa Pometia, where the sale of captured material realized forty talents of silver. This sum he allocated to the building of the Temple of Jupiter, which he had conceived on a magnificent scale, worthy of the king of gods and men, of the might of Rome, and of the majesty of the place where it was to stand. He was next engaged in hostilities with the neighbouring town of Gabii. This time, progress was slower than he expected: his assault proved abortive; the subsequent siege operations failed, and he was forced to retire; so he finally had recourse to the un–Roman, and disgraceful, method of deceit and treachery.
Pretending to have abandoned hostilities in order to devote himself to laying the foundation of the temple of Jupiter and to various other improvements in the city, he arranged for Sextus, the youngest of his three sons, to go to Gabii in the assumed character of a fugitive from the intolerable cruelty of his father. On his arrival in the town Sextus began to pour out his complaints: Tarquin, he declared, had ceased to persecute strangers and was now turning his lust for dominion against his own family; he had too many children, and was heartily sick of them; his one desire was to leave no descendants, no heir to his throne, and before long was likely to repeat in his own home what he had already done in the Senate, and leave it a desert and a solitude. ‘I myself,’ he continued, ‘escaped with my life through the bristling weapons of my father’s guard; and I knew that nowhere but in the homes of the tyrant’s enemies should I be able to find safety. Make no mistake: the suspension of hostilities is a feint only; war still awaits you, and as soon as he thinks fit Tarquin will attack you unawares. You have no room in Gabii for suppliants? Very well then; I will try my luck through the whole of Latium; I will visit in turn Volscians, Aequians, Hernicans – seeking and seeking until I find some friend who knows how to protect a son from a father’s impious savagery. Who knows but I may find, too, some spark of true manhood, some readiness to take up arms against the proudest of kings and the most insolent of peoples?’
The men of Gabii gave Sextus a friendly welcome, knowing as they did, that any show of indifference would provoke him to leave the town at once. In their view, they declared, there was no cause for surprise that Tarquin should be treating his children as brutally as he had treated first the Romans and then his allies – brutality was his nature, and for lack of other objects he would end by exercising it against himself. For their part, they were glad Sextus had come, and it would not be long before, with him to help them, the scene of battle would shift from the gates of Gabii to the walls of Rome.
Sextus was soon admitted to the councils of state, where he made it his business to express agreement on all matters of local politics which the men of Gabii might be expected to understand better than himself. On one issue, however – war with Rome – he took the lead. The advisability of this he urged repeatedly, pointing out that he was specially competent to do so because of his knowledge of the resources of both parties, and of his certainty that Tarquin, whose arrogance even his own children found insufferable, had brought upon himself the hatred of all his subjects.
Sextus’s words gradually took effect, and the leading men in Gabii were soon in favour of reopening hostilities. Sextus himself meanwhile with small bodies of picked troops began a series of raids on Roman territory; everything he said or did was so nicely calculated to deceive, that confidence in him grew and grew, until he was finally appointed commander of the armed forces. War was declared; minor engagements took place, nearly always to the advantage of Gabii. Of what was really happening nobody had the smallest suspicion, and the result of these apparent successes was that everyone in Gabii, from the highest to the lowest, was soon convinced that Sextus had been sent from heaven to lead them to victory. The common soldiers, too, finding him ready to share their dangers and hardships, and generous in distributing plunder, came to love him with such devotion that his influence in Gabii was as great as his father’s was in Rome.
At last he was to feel that he had the town, as it were, in his pocket, and was ready for anything. Accordingly he sent a confidential messenger to Rome, to ask his father what step he should next take, his power in Gabii being, by God’s grace, by this time absolute. Tarquin, I suppose, was not sure of the messenger’s good faith: in any case, he said not a word in reply to his question, but with a thoughtful air went out into the garden. The man followed him, and Tarquin, strolling up and down in silence, began knocking off poppy–heads with his stick. The messenger at last wearied of putting his question and waiting for the reply, so he returned to Gabii supposing his mission to have failed. He told Sextus what he had said and what he had seen his father do: the king, he declared, whether from anger, or hatred, or natural arrogance, had not uttered a single word. Sextus realized that though his father had not spoken, he had, by his action, indirectly expressed his meaning clearly enough; so he proceeded at once to act upon his murderous instructions. All the influential men in Gabii were got rid of – some being brought to public trial, others executed for no better reason than that they were generally disliked. Many were openly put to death; some, against whom any charge would be inconvenient to attempt to prove, were secretly assassinated. A few were either allowed, or forced, to leave the country, and their property was confiscated as in the case of those who had been executed. The confiscations enriched the more fortunate – those, namely, to whom Sextus chose to be generous – with the result that in the sweetness of personal gain public calamity was forgotten, until at long last the whole community, such as it now remained, with none to advise or help it, passed without a struggle into Tarquin’s hands.
Tarquin’s next move was to make peace with the Aequians and to renew his treaty with Etruria. This done, he turned his attention to home affairs. His first concern was the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline, which he hoped to leave as a memorial of the royal house of the Tarquins – of the father who had made the vow, and of the son who had fulfilled it. It was his wish that the whole area where the temple was to stand should be sacred to no god but Jupiter, so in order to clear it of other religious associations he proposed to ‘exaugurate’, or secularize, a number of places of worship, some containing sacred buildings, others an altar only, which had been originally vowed by King Tatius at the crisis of his battle with Romulus, and subsequently consecrated with the proper ceremonies. The new work was hardly begun, when, we are told, heaven itself was moved to give a sign of the future greatness of Rome’s dominion: for when the auguries were taken, the birds allowed the secularization of all the places of worship except the shrine of Terminus. The fact that of all the gods Terminus alone was not moved from his place or called to leave the ground which was consecrated to his worship, was taken to portend the stability and permanence of everything Roman. Hard upon this happy augury came another strange event, which seemed to foretell the grandeur of our empire: a man’s head with the features intact was discovered by the workmen who were digging the foundations of the temple. This meant without any doubt that on this spot would stand the imperial citadel of the capital city of the world. Nothing could be plainer – and such was the interpretation put upon the discovery not only by the Roman soothsayers but also by those who were specially brought from Etruria for consultation.
In view of all this, Tarquin became more extravagant in his ideas – so much so that the money raised from the sale of material captured at Pometia, which was intended to carry the building up to the roof, hardly covered the cost of the foundations. This inclines me to accept the statement of Fabius – who is, moreover, the older authority – that the money was not more than forty talents, rather than the statement of Piso, who writes that 40,000 pounds’ weight of silver was put aside for this work. A huge sum like that could hardly be expected from material taken from a single town in those days, and it would be more than enough for the foundations of any of the most splendid buildings even of the present time.
Tarquin’s chief interest was now the completion of the temple. Builders and engineers were brought in from all over Etruria, and the project involved the use not only of public funds but also of a large number of labourers from the poorer classes. The work was hard in itself, and came as an addition to their regular military duties; but it was an honourable burden with a solemn and religious significance, and they were not, on the whole, unwilling to bear it; but it was a very different matter when they were put on to other tasks less spectacular but more laborious still, such as the construction of the tiers of seats in the Circus and the excavation of the Cloaca Maxima, or Great Sewer, designed to carry off the sewage of the entire city by an underground pipe–line. The magnitude of both these projects could hardly be equalled by any work even of modern times. It was Tarquin’s view that an idle proletariat was a burden on the state, so in addition to the major works I have mentioned he made use of some of the surplus population by sending settlers out to Signia and Circeii. This had the further advantages of increasing the extent of Roman territory and of providing points of resistance against future attack either by land or sea.
About this time an alarming and ominous event occurred: a snake slid out from a crack in a wooden pillar in the palace. Everyone ran from it in a fright; even the king was scared, though in his case it was not fear so much as foreboding. About signs and omens of public import the custom had always been to consult only Etruscan soothsayers; this, however, was a different matter: it was in the king’s own house that the portentous sight had been seen; and that, Tarquin felt, justified the unusual step of sending to Delphi, to consult the most famous oracle in the world. Unwilling to entrust the answer of the oracle to anybody else, he sent on the mission two of his sons, Titus and Arruns, who accordingly set out for Greece through country which Roman feet had seldom trod and over seas which Roman ships had never sailed. With them went Lucius Junius Brutus, son of the king’s sister Tarquinia.
Now Brutus had deliberately assumed a mask to hide his true character. When he learned of the murder by Tarquin of the Roman aristocrats, one of the victims being his own brother, he had come to the conclusion that the only way of saving himself was to appear in the king’s eyes as a person of no account. If there were nothing in his character for Tarquin to fear, and nothing in his fortune to covet, then the sheer contempt in which he was held would be a better protection than his own rights could ever be. Accordingly he pretended to be a half–wit and made no protest at the seizure by Tarquin of everything he possessed. He even submitted to being known publicly as the ‘Dullard’ (which is what his name signifies), that under cover of that opprobrious title the great spirit which gave Rome her freedom might be able to bide its time. On this occasion he was taken by Arruns and Titus to Delphi less as a companion than as a butt for their amusement; and he is said to have carried with him, as his gift to Apollo, a rod of gold inserted into a hollow stick of cornel–wood – symbolic, it may be, of his own character.
The three young men reached Delphi, and carried out the king’s instructions. That done, Titus and Arruns found themselves unable to resist putting a further question to the oracle. Which of them, they asked, would be the next king of Rome? From the depths of the cavern came the mysterious answer: ‘He who shall be the first to kiss his mother shall hold in Rome supreme authority.’ Titus and Arruns were determined to keep the prophecy absolutely secret, to prevent their other brother, Tarquin, who had been left in Rome, from knowing anything about it. Thus he, at any rate, would be out of the running. For themselves, they drew lots to determine which of them, on their return, should kiss his mother first.
Brutus, however, interpreted the words of Apollo’s priestess in a different way. Pretending to trip, he fell flat on his face, and his lips touched the Earth – the mother of all living things.
Back in Rome, they found vigorous preparations in progress for war with the Rutuli. The chief town of the Rutuli was Ardea, and they were a people, for that place and period, of very considerable wealth. Their wealth was, indeed, the reason for Tarquin’s preparations: he needed money to repair the drain on his resources resulting from his ambitious schemes of public building and he knew, moreover, that the commons were growing ever more restive, not only in view of his tyrannical behaviour generally but also, and especially, because they had been so long employed in manual labour such as belonged properly to slaves, and the distribution of plunder from a captured town would do much to soften their resentment.
The attempt was made to take Ardea by assault. It failed; siege operations were begun, and the army settled down into permanent quarters. With little prospect of any decisive action, the war looked like being a long one, and in these circumstances leave was granted, quite naturally, with considerable freedom, especially to officers. Indeed, the young princes, at any rate, spent most of their leisure enjoying themselves in entertainments on the most lavish scale. They were drinking one day in the quarters of Sextus Tarquinius – Collatinus, son of Egerius, was also present – when someone chanced to mention the subject of wives. Each of them, of course, extravagantly praised his own; and the rivalry got hotter and hotter, until Collatinus suddenly cried: ‘Stop! What need is there of words, when in a few hours we can prove beyond doubt the incomparable superiority of my Lucretia? We are all young and strong: why shouldn’t we ride to Rome and see with our own eyes what kind of women our wives are? There is no better evidence, I assure you, than what a man finds when he enters his wife’s room unexpectedly.’
They had all drunk a good deal, and the proposal appealed to them; so they mounted their horses and galloped off to Rome. They reached the city as dusk was falling; and there the wives of the royal princes were found enjoying themselves with a group of young friends at a dinner–party, in the greatest luxury. The riders then went on to Collatia, where they found Lucretia very differently employed: it was already late at night, but there, in the hall of her house, surrounded by her busy maid–servants, she was still hard at work by lamplight upon her spinning. Which wife had won the contest in womanly virtue was no longer in doubt.
With all courtesy Lucretia rose to bid her husband and the princes welcome, and Collatinus, pleased with his success, invited his friends to sup with him. It was at that fatal supper that Lucretia’s beauty, and proven chastity, kindled in Sextus Tarquinius the flame of lust, and determined him to debauch her.
Nothing further occurred that night. The little jaunt was over, and the young men rode back to camp.
A few days later Sextus, without Collatinus’s knowledge, returned with one companion to Collatia, where he was hospitably welcomed in Lucretia’s house, and, after supper, escorted, like the honoured visitor he was thought to be, to the guest–chamber. Here he waited till the house was asleep, and then, when all was quiet, he drew his sword and made his way to Lucretia’s room determined to rape her. She was asleep. Laying his left hand on her breast, ‘Lucretia,’ he whispered, ‘not a sound! I am Sextus Tarquinius. I am armed – if you utter a word, I will kill you.’ Lucretia opened her eyes in terror; death was imminent, no help at hand. Sextus urged his love, begged her to submit, pleaded, threatened, used every weapon that might conquer a woman’s heart. But all in vain; not even the fear of death could bend her will. ‘If death will not move you,’ Sextus cried, ‘dishonour shall. I will kill you first, then cut the throat of a slave and lay his naked body by your side. Will they not believe that you have been caught in adultery with a servant – and paid the price?’ Even the most resolute chastity could not have stood against this dreadful threat.
Lucretia yielded. Sextus enjoyed her, and rode away, proud of his success.
The unhappy girl wrote to her father in Rome and to her husband in Ardea, urging them both to come at once with a trusted friend – and quickly, for a frightful thing had happened. Her father came with Valerius, Volesus’s son, her husband with Brutus, with whom he was returning to Rome when he was met by the messenger. They found Lucretia sitting in her room, in deep distress. Tears rose to her eyes as they entered, and to her husband’s question, ‘Is it well with you?’ she answered, ‘No. What can be well with a woman who has lost her honour? In your bed, Collatinus, is the impress of another man. My body only has been violated. My heart is innocent, and death will be my witness. Give me your solemn promise that the adulterer shall be punished – he is Sextus Tarquinius. He it is who last night came as my enemy disguised as my guest, and took his pleasure of me. That pleasure will be my death – and his, too, if you are men.’
The promise was given. One after another they tried to comfort her. They told her she was helpless, and therefore innocent; that he alone was guilty. It was the mind, they said, that sinned, not the body: without intention there could never be guilt.
‘What is due to him,’ Lucretia said, ‘is for you to decide. As for me, I am innocent of fault, but I will take my punishment. Never shall Lucretia provide a precedent for unchaste women to escape what they deserve.’ With these words she drew a knife from under her robe, drove it into her heart, and fell forward, dead.
Her father and husband were overwhelmed with grief. While they stood weeping helplessly, Brutus drew the bloody knife from Lucretia’s body, and holding it before him cried: ‘By this girl’s blood – none more chaste till a tyrant wronged her – and by the gods, I swear that with sword and fire, and whatever else can lend strength to my arm, I will pursue Lucius Tarquinius the Proud, his wicked wife, and all his children, and never again will I let them or any other man be King in Rome.’
He put the knife into Collatinus’s hands, then passed it to Lucretius, then to Valerius. All looked at him in astonishment: a miracle had happened – he was a changed man. Obedient to his command, they swore their oath. Grief was forgotten in the sudden surge of anger, and when Brutus called upon them to make war, from that instant, upon the tyrant’s throne, they took him for their leader.
Lucretia’s body was carried from the house into the public square. Crowds gathered, as crowds will, to gape and wonder – and the sight was unexpected enough, and horrible enough, to attract them. Anger at the criminal brutality of the king’s son and sympathy with the father’s grief stirred every heart; and when Brutus cried out that it was time for deeds not tears, and urged them, like true Romans, to take up arms against the tyrants who had dared to treat them as a vanquished enemy, not a man amongst them could resist the call. The boldest spirits offered themselves at once for service; the rest soon followed their lead. Lucretia’s father was left to hold Collatia; guards were posted to prevent news of the rising from reaching the palace, and with Brutus in command the armed populace began their march on Rome.
In the city the first effect of their appearance was alarm and confusion, but the sight of Brutus, and others of equal distinction, at the head of the mob, soon convinced people that this was, at least, no mere popular demonstration. Moreover the horrible story of Lucretia had had hardly less effect in Rome than in Collatia. In a moment the Forum was packed, and the crowds, by Brutus’s order, were immediately summoned to attend the Tribune of Knights – an office held at the time by Brutus himself. There, publicly throwing off the mask under which he had hitherto concealed his real character and feelings, he made a speech painting in vivid colours the brutal and unbridled lust of Sextus Tarquinius, the hideous rape of the innocent Lucretia and her pitiful death, and the bereavement of her father, for whom the cause of her death was an even bitterer and more dreadful thing than the death itself. He went on to speak of the king’s arrogant and tyrannical behaviour; of the sufferings of the commons condemned to labour underground clearing or constructing ditches and sewers; of gallant Romans – soldiers who had beaten in battle all neighbouring peoples – robbed of their swords and turned into stone–cutters and artisans. He reminded them of the foul murder of Servius Tullius, of the daughter who drove her carriage over her father’s corpse, in violation of the most sacred of relationships– a crime which God alone could punish. Doubtless he told them of other, and worse, things, brought to his mind in the heat of the moment and by the sense of this latest outrage, which still lived in his eye and pressed upon his heart; but a mere historian can hardly record them.
The effect of his words was immediate: the populace took fire, and were brought to demand the abrogation of the king’s authority and the exile of himself and his family.
With an armed body of volunteers Brutus then marched for Ardea to rouse the army to revolt. Lucretius, who some time previously had been appointed by the king Prefect of the City, was left in command in Rome. Tullia fled from the palace during the disturbances; where–ever she went she was met with curses; everyone, men and women alike, called down upon her head the vengeance of the furies who punish sinners against the sacred ties of blood.
When news of the rebellion reached Ardea, the king immediately started for Rome, to restore order. Brutus got wind of his approach, and changed his route to avoid meeting him, finally reaching Ardea almost at the same moment as Tarquin arrived at Rome. Tarquin found the city gates shut against him and his exile decreed. Brutus the Liberator was enthusiastically welcomed by the troops, and Tarquin’s sons were expelled from the camp. Two of them followed their father into exile at Caere in Etruria. Sextus Tarquinius went to Gabii – his own territory, as he doubtless hoped; but his previous record there of robbery and violence had made him many enemies, who now took their revenge and assassinated him.
Tarquin the Proud reigned for twenty–five years. The whole period of monarchical government, from the founding of Rome to its liberation, was 244 years. After the liberation two consuls were elected by popular vote, under the presidency of the Prefect of the City; the voting was by ‘centuries’, according to the classification of Servius Tullius. The two consuls were Lucius Junius Brutus and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus.