Romulus – Part 13

December 19, 2017
10 mins read

Editor’s Note:  This is the thirteenth chapter of Romulus, by Jacob Abbott (published 1902).

(Continued from Part 12)

XIII.  Conclusion

After the termination of the Sabine war, Romulus continued to reign many years, and his reign, although no very exact and systematic history of it was recorded at the time, seems to have presented the usual variety of incidents and vicissitudes; and yet, notwithstanding occasional and partial reverses, the city, and the kingdom connected with it, made rapid progress in wealth and population.

For four or five years after the union of the Sabines with the Romans, Titus Tatius was in some way or other associated with Romulus in the government of the united kingdom. Romulus, during all this time, had his house and his court on the Palatine hill, where the city had been originally built, and where most of the Romans lived. The head-quarters of the Sabine chieftain were, on the other hand, upon the Capitoline hill, which was the place on which the citadel was situated that his troops had taken possession of in the course of the war, and which it seems they continued to occupy after the peace. The space between the two hills was set apart as a market-place, or forum, as it was called in their language,—that place being designated for the purpose on account of its central and convenient situation. When afterward that portion of the city became filled as it did with magnificent streets and imposing architectural edifices, the space which Romulus had set apart for a market remained an open public square, and as it was the scene in which transpired some of the most remarkable events connected with Roman history, it became renowned throughout the world under the name of the Roman Forum.

In consequence of the union of the Romans and the Sabines, and of the rapid growth of the city in population and power which followed, the Roman state began soon to rise to so high a position in relation to the surrounding cities and kingdoms, as soon to take precedence of them altogether. This was owing, however, in part undoubtedly, to the character of the men who governed at Rome. The measures which they adopted in founding the city, and in sustaining it through the first years of its existence, as described in the foregoing chapters, were all of a very extraordinary character, and evinced very extraordinary qualities in the men who devised them. These measures were bold, comprehensive and sagacious, and they were carried out with a certain combination of courage and magnanimity which always gives to those who possess it, and who are in a position to exercise it on a commanding scale, great ascendency over the minds of men. They who possess these qualities generally feel their power, and are usually not slow to assert it. A singular and striking instance of this occurred not many years after the peace with the Sabines. There was a city at some distance from Rome called Cameria, whose inhabitants were a lawless horde, and occasionally parties of them made incursions, as was said, into the surrounding countries, for plunder. The Roman Senate sent word to the government of the city that such accusations were made against them, and very coolly cited them to appear at Rome for trial. The Camerians of course refused to come. The Senate then declared war against them, and sent an army to take possession of the city, proceeding to act in the case precisely as if [298] the Roman government constituted a judicial tribunal, having authority to exercise jurisdiction, and to enforce law and order, among all the nations around them. In fact, Rome continued to assert and to maintain this authority over a wider and wider circle every year, until in the course of some centuries after Romulus’s day, she made herself the arbiter of the world.

Titus Tatius shared the supreme power with Romulus at Rome for several years, and the two monarchs continued during this time to exercise their joint power in a much more harmonious manner than would have been supposed possible. At length, however, causes of disagreement began to occur, and in the end open dissension took place, in the course of which Tatius came to his end in a very sudden and remarkable manner. A party of soldiers from Rome, it seems, had been committing some deed of violence at Lavinium, the ancient city which Æneas had built when he first arrived in Latium. The people of Lavinium complained to Romulus against these marauders. It happened, however, that the guilty men were chiefly Sabines, and in the discussions which took place at Rome afterward in relation to the affair, Tatius took their part, and endeavored to shield them, while Romulus seemed disposed to give them up to the Lavinians for punishment. “They are robbers and murderers,” said Romulus, “and we ought not to shield them from the penalty due to their crimes.” “They are Roman citizens,” said Tatius, “and we must not give them up to a foreign state.” The controversy became warm; parties were formed; and at last the exasperation became so great that when the Lavinian envoys, who had come to Rome to demand the punishment of the robbers, were returning home, a gang of Tatius’s men intercepted them on the way and killed them.

This of course increased the excitement and the difficulty in a tenfold degree. Romulus immediately sent to Lavinium to express his deep regret at what had occurred, and his readiness to do everything in his power to expiate the offense which his countrymen had committed. He would arrest these murderers, he said, and send them to Lavinium, and he would come himself, with Tatius, to Lavinium, and there make an expiatory offering to the gods, in attestation of the abhorrence which they both felt for so atrocious a crime as waylaying and murdering the embassadors of a friendly city. Tatius was compelled to assent to these measures, though he yielded very reluctantly. He could not openly defend such a deed as the murder of the envoys; and so he consented to accompany Romulus to Lavinium, to make the offering, but he secretly arranged a plan for rescuing the murderers from the Lavinians, after they had been given up. Accordingly, while he and Romulus were at Lavinium offering the sacrifices, news came that the murderers of the envoys, on their way from Rome to Lavinium, had been rescued and allowed to escape. This news so exasperated the people of Lavinium against Tatius, for they considered him as unquestionably the secret author and contriver of the deed, that they rose upon him at the festival, and murdered him with the butcher knives and spits which had been used for slaughtering and roasting the animals. They then formed a grand procession and escorted Romulus out of the city in safety with loud acclamations.

The government of Lavinium, as soon as the excitement of the scene was over, fearing the resentment which they very naturally supposed Romulus would feel at the murder of his colleague, seized the ringleaders of the riot, and sent them bound to Rome, to place them at the disposal of the Roman government. Romulus sent them back unharmed, directing them to say to the Lavinian government, that he considered the death of Tatius, though inflicted in a mode lawless and unjustifiable, as nevertheless, in itself, only a just expiation for the murder of the Lavinian ambassadors, which Tatius had instigated or authorized.

The Sabines of Rome were for a time greatly exasperated at these occurrences, but Romulus succeeded in gradually quieting and calming them, and they finally acquiesced in his decision. Romulus thus became once more the sole and undisputed master of Rome.

After this the progress of the city in wealth and prosperity, from year to year, was steady and sure, interrupted, it is true, by occasional and temporary reverses, but with no real retrocession at any time. Causes of disagreement arose from time to time with neighboring states, and, in such cases, Romulus always first sent a summons to the party implicated, whether king or people, citing them to appear and answer for their conduct before the Roman Senate. If they refused to come, he sent an armed force against them, as if he were simply enforcing the jurisdiction of a tribunal of justice. The result usually was that the refractory state was compelled to submit, and its territories were added to those of the kingdom of Rome. Thus the boundaries of the new empire were widening and extending every year.

Romulus paid great attention, in the meantime, to everything pertaining to the internal organization of the state, so as to bring every part of the national administration into the best possible condition. The municipal police, the tribunals of justice, the social institutions and laws of the industrial classes, the discipline of the troops, the enlargement and increase of the fortifications of the city, and the supply of arms, and stores, and munitions of war,—and every other subject, in fact, connected with the welfare and prosperity of the city,—occupied his thoughts in every interval of peace and tranquility. In consequence of the exertions which he made, and the measures which he adopted, order and system prevailed more and more in every department, and the community became every year better organized, and more and more consolidated; so that the capacity of the city to receive accessions to the population increased even faster than accessions were made. In a word, the solid foundations were laid of that vast superstructure, which, in subsequent ages, became the wonder of the world.

Notwithstanding, however, all this increasing greatness and prosperity, Romulus was not without rivals and enemies, even among his own people at Rome. The leading senators became, at last, envious and jealous of his power. They said that he himself grew imperious and domineering in spirit, as he grew older, and manifested a pride and haughtiness of demeanor which excited their ill-will. He assumed too much authority, they said, in the management of public affairs, as if he were an absolute and despotic sovereign. He wore a purple robe on public occasions, as a badge of royalty. He organized a body-guard of three hundred young troopers, who rode before him whenever he moved about the city; and in all respects assumed such pomp and parade in his demeanor, and exercised such a degree of arbitrary power in his acts, as made him many enemies. The whole Senate became, at length, greatly disaffected.

At last one day, on occasion of a great review which took place at a little distance from the city, there came up a sudden shower, attended with thunder and lightning, and the violence of the tempest was such as to compel the soldiers to retire precipitately from the ground in search of some place of shelter. Romulus was left with a number of senators who were at that time attending upon him, alone, on the shore of a little lake which was near the place that had been chosen for the parade. After a short time the senators themselves came away from the ground, and returned to the city; but Romulus was not with them. The story which they told was that in the middle of the tempest, Romulus had been suddenly enveloped in a flame which seemed to come down in a bright flash of lightning from the clouds, and immediately afterward had been taken up in the flame to heaven.

This strange story was but half believed even at first, by the people, and very soon rumors began to circulate in the city that Romulus had been murdered by the senators who were around him at the time of the shower,—they having seized the occasion afforded by the momentary absence of his guards, and by their solitary position. There were various surmises in respect to the disposal which the assassins had made of the body. The most obvious supposition was that it had been sunk in the lake. There was, however, a horrible report circulated that the senators had disposed of it by cutting it up into small pieces, and conveying it away, each taking a portion, under their robes.

Of course these rumors produced great agitation and excitement throughout the city. The current of public sentiment set strongly against the senators. Still as nothing could be positively ascertained in respect to the transaction, the mystery seemed to grow more dark and dreadful every day, and the public mind was becoming more and more deeply agitated. At length, however, the mystery was suddenly explained by a revelation, which, whatever may be thought of it at the present day, was then entirely satisfactory to the whole community.

One of the most prominent and distinguished of the senators, named Proculus, one who it seems had not been present among the other senators in attendance upon Romulus at the time when he disappeared, came forward one day before a grand assembly which had been convened for the purpose, and announced to them in the most solemn manner, that the spirit of Romulus had appeared to him in a visible form, and had assured him that the story which the other senators had told of the ascension of their chieftain to heaven in a flame of fire was really true. “I was journeying,” said Proculus, “in a solitary place, when Romulus appeared to me. At first I was exceedingly terrified. The form of the vision was taller than that of a mortal man, and it was clothed in armor of the most resplendent brightness. As soon as I had in some measure recovered my composure I spoke to it. ‘Why,’ said I, ‘have you left us so suddenly? and especially why did you leave us at such a time, and in such a way, as to bring suspicion and reproach on the Roman senators?’ ‘I left you,’ said he, ‘because it pleased the gods to call me back again to heaven, whence I originally came. It was no longer necessary for me to remain on earth, for Rome is now established, and her future greatness and glory are sure. Go back to Rome and communicate this to the people. Tell them that if they continue industrious, virtuous, and brave, the time will come when their city will be the mistress of the world; and that I, no longer its king, am henceforth to be its tutelar divinity.’ ”

The people of Rome were overjoyed to hear this communication. Their doubts and suspicions were now all removed; the senators at once recovered their good standing in the public regard, and all was once more peace and harmony. Altars were immediately erected to Romulus, and the whole population of the city joined in making sacrifices and in paying other divine honors to his memory.

The declaration of Proculus that he had seen the spirit of Romulus, and his report of the conversation which the spirit had addressed to him, constituted proof of the highest kind, according to the ideas which prevailed in those ancient days. In modern times, however, there is no faith in such a story, and the truth in respect to the end of Romulus can now never be known.

After the death of Romulus the senators undertook to govern the State themselves, holding the supreme power one by one, in regular rotation. This plan was, however, not found to succeed, and after an interregnum of about a year, the people elected another king.

Raised in a home filled with books on Western civilization, P.G. Mantel became a lover of history at an early age. An amateur writer of verse, he makes himself useful as an editor for Men of the West.

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