By Ismail Veli…….
Having studied the Roman Empire since I was 6 years old, and spending many years painting miniature soldiers for a diorama battle scene that I had created, when I visited Rome recently I was so inspired by what I could see and feel that I decided to write an account of what I had learned of the Roman Empire and the impact it had on world history. But rather than write about Rome when it became a world power, I felt it important to look into its origins, how the Romans even in its infancy felt that they were destined for greatness, and the events that helped shape that destiny. Most of the events written in this article are from Original Roman and ancient writers like Livy, Polybius, and the historian Peter Connolly, whom I consider great writers.
To claim everything is 100% accurate would be stretching the imagination to the limit. History that goes back around 3000 years will always be a matter of dispute and endless debate. At the end of the article however some information based on DNA finds has been given which completely turns history on its head. The inclusion of modern DNA to archaeological evidence will continue to rewrite history. After all, only a fool will accept everything as a final result. Meanwhile the search for more historic evidence in order to bring the past to light will no doubt continue.
Many events in history have been claimed by historians to have changed world history, but none can compare to the killing by Romulus of his brother Remus in 753 B.C, and certainly the rape of Lucretia in 510 B.C caused such an outrage that it caused an uprising which effectively brought an end to the Roman kings and paved the way for the setting up of a Roman Republic that set into motion centuries of events which completely altered the course of history. Rome was to become the greatest empire the world has ever seen, and its legacy for better or for worse still attracts millions of tourists to Italy to enjoy the immense history that has survived in the form of ancient towns, roads, theatres, stadiums, aqueducts, art, and remains of shopping centres like Trojan’s market that have yet to be matched by many countries in the 21st century. Though the Roman empire collapsed 1500 years ago, it was not until the mid 1800s that medical expertise and knowledge finally caught up with that of Ancient Rome.
The founding of Rome is steeped in legend, but much historical evidence and archaeological finds also point to some confirmation of the founding of settlements of what was to eventually become such a great power. The history of this beginning on the 7 Hills of Rome by the river Tiber is indeed clouded in myths, legends and unsurpassed mystery.
The legend of the Roman people surprisingly starts with the fall of Troy and Aeneas. The burning of Troy led to a massive exodus by the people and after many travels in the Balkans and the Mediterranean sea, they allegedly found a new home north of Rome in what eventually came to be called Etruria, after the Etruscans. According to one legend after a battle with a local King Latinus, Aeneas came to terms and Latinus offered his daughter Lavinia in marriage thus creating an alliance. A town was created by Aeneas to honour his wife. This was called Lavinium. With so much local strife and local confrontation, establishing a foothold was a constant struggle. Aeneas conferred the local name of Latin to his own people and the Trojans and Latin’s amalgamated, thus creating a stronger Latin identity.. When Aeneas died he was reputed to have been buried by the river Numicus, unfortunately his son Ascanius (there is a dispute whether Ascanius or his brother Creusa was the older) was far too young to take over, His mother Lavinia acted as regent and ruled wisely until Ascanius came of age. Ascanius however left and created his own colony in the Alban hills. His town went on to be called Alba Longa. This was established some 30 years after Lavinium. His son Latinius Silvius eventually created new settlements.
One of the Kings that followed is said to have been Tiberinus and after drowning in the river, this drowning is reputed to have given the name to the river Tiber. Eventually two brothers Numitor and Amulius were born to a King named Proca. The younger Amulius drove out his brother and seized the throne, he murdered his brother’s sons and turned his niece Rhea Silva into a Vestal on the pretence that he was honouring her. In effect he was condemning her to perpetual virginity so she would not have any children. The Vestal virgin was raped however and gave birth to twin boys, whom she declared to be the sons of Mars, possibly to hide her shame. Rhea Silver was bound and thrown into prison, while her twin sons were flung into the river Tiber. Fate played a hand and the twins Romulus and Remus were found by a she wolf which suckled and protected the twins as its own cubs. A King’s herdsman name Faustulus found the boys and brought them up on his farm. They grew to be strong and hardy and were followed by their peers for their courage.
Eventually Romulus and Remus grew to manhood and found out about their uncle’s treachery. They eventually grew strong enough to beat Numitor in a battle. Romulus and Remus decided to establish a new settlement on the spot where they had been left to drown and suckled by the she wolf. With no decisive heir, the twin brothers decided that each would create a settlement. Romulus settled on the Palatine and Remus on the Aventine hill. In a heated argument, Remus began to jeer and insult Romulus. Remus jumped over the half built wall of Romulus new settlement and in the fight that ensued Remus was killed. By this act Romulus became sole king and the settlement was named after him.
People from surrounding areas were encouraged to settle on what Romulus claimed was a settlement that was blessed by the Gods and was destined to be a great town. Many men, mostly vagabonds, thieves and the destitute gathered and Rome grew. It became clear however that the growth of any new town without an equal number of women was destined to be reduced. Romulus sent a letter to the King of the Sabine’s that if they were to allow their maidens to marry the Roman men, they would be amply rewarded and blessed with the inevitable growth of a city which was destined for greatness. The Sabine’s scoffed at the offer, as marrying off their young maidens to thieves and vagabonds was not to their liking. Eventually Romulus decided to hold a massive feast on the site below the Palatine, where the Circus Maximus now stands.
They invited all neighbouring people to come and share in a feast which was to show them the wonderful growth and wealth of their new town. While the feast was in full flow, many Roman men sneaked off and kidnapped hundreds of unprotected Sabine women. This outrage infuriated the Sabine’s, and preparation for war began in earnest. Meanwhile the Romans attempted to win over their new wives with gifts and sweet words of love. Many naturally became pregnant which by the standards of the day almost meant that separation was inconceivable. The Sabine army however approached Rome and this resulted in a fierce battle in the area that eventually became the Roman Forum. At the time this was a very marshy and wet area. The overflow from the river Tiber settled on the lower plain of this area. Eventually the Romans were trapped within the citadel which was on the Capitol hill. The Sabine’s found it hard to storm the citadel as it was built on a steep hill protected on all sides by precipitous falls.
The keeper of the gates of the fort was a man by the name of Spurius Tarpeius. The caretaker of such an important role was held in high esteem. His daughter Tarpeia however had other ideas. She approached the Sabine’s and agreed to show them a way into the citadel. Asked what she desired for such a betrayal, she responded by asking for ”what was on the left arms of the warriors”. The Sabine’s in those days often wore rich jewellery on their shield arms. The agreement was reached and Tarpeia led the Sabine’s up a narrow goat track and opened the gates. No sooner had this been done she demanded that the Sabine’s keep their promise and reward her. The Sabine King Titus Tatius ordered all his men to place the shields from their left arms and crush Tarpeia to death. She was thus rewarded by what the Sabine’s had on their left arms and she was then thrown off the steep hill on the southern end of the Capitol. Eventually all traitors were thrown from this spot. This was a reminder that treachery would never be forgotten. Today this area is a park on the side of the Capitol hill and is still called ‘The Tarpeian Rock’.
On entering the citadel a fierce battle ensued which eventfully spilled into what today is the forum. While this was taking place hundreds of Sabine women in a body ran into the forum between the two opposing forces. They screamed at their fathers and brothers to lay down their arms. Killing their husbands would make them widows and make their children orphans they declared. Turning to their husbands they screamed that killing their brothers and fathers would mean the love and eternal bond between husband and wife would never be cemented but marred by the pain and blood of their kinfolk. ”if the relationship between you is hateful to you, turn your anger against us. We are the cause of strife”. This dramatic intervention was a deciding factor in ending the battle. It was agreed thereafter that the Romans and Sabine’s would join in creating a unity based on blood relationship and would rule by a rotating King of Sabine’s and Romans in turn. The Sabine’s then moved to Rome and the size of the town doubled in size.
The amazing thing about this legend is that there was in fact a rotating King of Sabines and Romans which leads many historians to give credence to this story. The Tarpeian rock still has its name and the area of the Circus Maximus is indeed a large area of flat ground where festivals could be held in large sizes. It has also been proven that the area of the forum was indeed marshy. It was later drained to create the centre of the Roman business and market district, with the seat of Roman power-The Senate house- situated on this very spot.
The tragic killing of Remus by his brother Romulus meant that the city took its name from the founder. Thus Rome was born and changed the course of history. Eventually Rome became the centre of the most advanced empire the world had ever seen.
After 250 years of rule by 7 kings, Rome’s destiny was about to change. The Kings were
Romulus 753-715 B.C.
Numa Pompilius 715-673 B.C.
Tullus Hostilius 673-642 B.C.
Ancus Martius 642-617 B.C.
L. Tarquinius Priscus 616-579 B.C.
Servius Tullius 578-535 B.C.
Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud) 534-510 B.C.
The rape of Lucretia
Sadly rape has been used throughout history as a most vile weapon by warring factions in order to subdue, control and humiliate the opposition. One rape in particular, that of Lucretia completely destroyed the rule of Kings in Rome and brought about the formation of a republic which was unprecedented and completely changed the basis of Roman society. This event and its outcome not only changed the destiny of Rome but is still being researched and debated by historians to this day. The year was 510 B.C. Rome was growing, but still not a significant power on the international stage. Its people had been ruled by Kings for nearly 250 years, and their belief that they were destined to be the greatest city in the world was still unshakable. Events were to change Rome’s destiny.
Rome was in a struggle in trying to capture the town of Ardea. While the Romans settled down into quarters waiting for the prolonged struggle ahead, the princes were making the most of their leave by drinking and entertainment with officers of the army. One particular evening was spent in the quarters of Sextus Tarquinius. Collatanius son of Egeria. The subject of wives became the topic. Each praised and believed their own wife to be the most virtuous. As the debate became more heated, Collatinus intervened with a suggestion, ”What need is there of words, when in a few hours we can prove beyond doubt the incomparable superiority of my wife 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”. With that suggestion they rode to Rome to check and conclude their debate. The wives of the royal family were found to be partying in luxury with no thought that their husbands were away fighting and in danger of losing their lives. When they reached the house of Collatinus, in spite of the late hour, Lucretia quickly rose to greet her husband while spinning, and surrounded by her busy maids by a lamplight. Lucretia had proved to have won the contest in womanly virtue. With the utmost of courtesy she greeted her husband and the princes and bid them welcome, and Collatinus pleased with the results, invited his friends to relax while Lucretia and her maids prepared the meal. Lucretia’s beauty entranced them all. In Sextus Tarquinius however her beauty kindled a desire of lust. The evening passed with no incidence.
A few days later, Sextus without anyone’s knowledge returned to the house accompanied by a friend. Lucretia greeted her husband’s friends with the utmost of courtesy, as an honoured royal guest he was escorted to the visitors chamber and Lucretia ordered food to be prepared. When everyone was asleep Sextus drew his sword and made his way to Lucretia’s room. She was fast asleep. He placed his hands on her breasts which startled Lucretia. ”Don’t make a sound”, he warned her ”if you utter a word I will kill you”. Sextus urged his love and asked her to submit, even pleaded for her to give herself to him. The threat of death did not force Lucretia to submit to this intrusion on her body. ‘if death will not move you, dishonour shall’. I will kill you and then cut the throat of your slave and lay his naked body next to yours’. The threat of not only being raped and murdered, but her dignity and that of her family stained with an eternal stigma of having a slave lover was too much for Lucretia to contemplate. Her husband’s honour would be tarnished forever, and possibly force him to commit suicide in order to end his shame. She succumbed and Sextus raped her, then rode away proud of his success. If Sextus thought that was the end of the matter however he was disillusioned.
The unhappy Lucretia immediately wrote to her father and her husband in Ardea to return immediately with a trusted friend as quickly as possible as a terrible thing had happened. Her father came with his friend Valerius Volesus. Her husband came with his friend Brutus (the great ancestor of the same Brutus who participated in the murder of Julius Caesar nearly five hundred years later).
On their return they all found Lucretia in deep distress. Tears streaming from her eyes she greeted her husband. Collatinus asked if she was unwell, to which she replied ‘What can be well with a woman who has lost her honour in your bed? My body 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 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 by all present. They tried to comfort her that she was helpless and therefore innocent. Sextus was the sinner. Her body was violated but not her mind, and there was no guilt on her part. ‘What is due to him, 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, and drove it into her heart, instantly falling forward to her death.
Her husband, father and friends were completely overwhelmed with grief. Brutus drew the bloody knife from Lucretia’s body and swore that the injustice of Lucretia would be their strength in ridding the King Tarquinius, his wicked wife and his children, and that never again shall the Romans support the debauchery of supreme control by Kings. Brutus known for his gentle and placid nature completely astonished his friends. He was taking the lead in trying to overthrow the King and his evil family.
The news of Lucretia’s misfortune spread like wildfire. The people were outraged. A massive uprising followed which effectively drove the Tarquin’s out of Rome. They fled to the Etruscan court of Lars Porsena, King of Clusium. They urged him to support them in restoring Rome to its rightful King. Any acceptance of the newly formed Republic had to be stopped as it would set a precedence and no King would be immune from such a dangerous idea. Lars Porsena agreed to advance on Rome and teach the upstarts a lesson. Etruscan military power would they thought be the deciding factor. This would kill off any ideas of change the Romans were attempting.
As the Etruscan army approached they completely surprised the few Romans on the Janiculum hill, which stood above Rome on the opposite side of the River Tiber. They rushed down to capture the Sublicius bridge which led into Rome. The few Romans that were on duty began to flee, except for one soldier on guard duty. His name was Horatius Cocles (Orazio Coclides). He called on his comrades to stand fast. He told them that the capture of the bridge would in any event be their end, and no escape was possible. He called on his friends to begin cutting down the bridge while he alone would stand on the other side to delay the advance as best he could. The scene of one man standing on the outer side of the bridge with shield and sword ready to stand alone, and die while calling out to the Etruscans to come and fight, had a shock effect of astonishment on the advancing Etruscans. Two friends Spurius Lartius and Titus Herminius ashamed of leaving their friend alone rushed to his side. They stood shoulder to shoulder ready to die. Horatius mocked and challenged the Etruscans Knights to single combat. He mocked them as ‘tyrants and slaves who, careless of their own liberty, were coming to destroy the liberty of others’. After a pause the Etruscans charged, but the time gained by Horatius Cocles was crucial. The bridge began to collapse and Horatius ordered Spurius and Titus to run back. The Bridge collapsed and Horatius in full armour jumped into the Tiber with Etruscan spears hurled at him. He managed to get across safely however, and the Roman Senate rewarded his courage with as much land as he could plough in a day.
The suspense was not over however. With the Etruscan army surrounding Rome, a young aristocrat was determined to attempt an assassination on the Etruscan King Lars Porsena and reduce the morale of the Etruscan army. This young man was Gaius Mucius. His only concern was that if he failed and was captured outside the walls of Rome his countrymen may think he was deserting. Not able to face such a shame he decided to inform and seek approval from the Senate for his audacious plan. The Senate approved and gave their blessing to his courage.
Disguised as an ordinary person, Gaius eventually made his way to the Etruscan camp. Not being certain who the King was, the one thing that confused him was that Porsena’s secretary was dressed the same as the king. In addition many people were greeting him. Not wishing to ask bystanders in case they became suspicious, he decided to take a chance and advanced towards the secretary. Drawing his dagger he killed him. He was quickly captured and dragged before the King. His situation was desperate, but he did not flinch. On being questioned. ‘I am a Roman, my name is Gaius Mucius. I came here to kill you-my enemy’. I have as much courage to die as to kill. It is our Roman way to do and suffer bravely’. Porsena furious at such a statement ordered Gaius to be burnt alive unless he revealed the plot against his life. The following event completely shook the Kings composure. Gaius Mucius cried out ‘See how cheap men hold their bodies when they care only for honour!’ he thrust his right hand into a sacrificial fire burning next to him. He left his hand to burn, seemingly oblivious to the pain. Porsena was shocked by this show of courage. In admiration he ordered him to be released, whereupon Gaius turned to the king and said ‘since you respect courage, I will tell you in gratitude what you could not force from me by threats. There are 300 of us in Rome, all of noble blood who have sworn an attempt on your life in this fashion, until fortune favours one of us to complete the work’. Porsena was shocked and privately concerned that he would have to look over his shoulder at every turn. Gaius was eventually named ‘Scaevola’ or the left handed man, from the loss of his right hand in the fire. According to Livy the Roman writer, Porsena sent messages of a peace pact and eventually peace was agreed among the Etruscan’s and Romans. The Tarquins removal from power was permanent. The word King became a password for Tyranny, and the Roman republic established itself by having 2 consular’s elected every year jointly so as to avoid control by any individual. This system was maintained until 27 B.C. when Octavian became the first emperor of Rome. It’s an irony of history that Brutus who led the revolt to set up the republic in 510 B.C was followed almost five hundred years later by his descendant Marcus Brutus who led the assassination of Julius Caesar. He was encouraged to do so on account that his great descendant had helped create the republic, therefore he felt it his duty to preserve it against the suspected attempts by Caesar to make himself King. History is full of twists and turns. Legend or fact one thing is certain, the events described in this article have left a lasting impact on the thoughts of historians.
Perhaps a few finds may help us all try to understand the events described. Historians have found a definite settlement on the Palatine hill dating to the period corresponding to the legendary period of 753 BC. Many artefacts dating to the period can be seen at the museum at the ‘Baths of Diocleziano’. Homes discovered on the Palatine hill itself have confirmed the date as being from the 8th century. These are open for public viewing. The Tarpeian rock is mentioned in old Roman writings of Livy, and can still be seen a few minutes walk from the Piazza Venezia. The fact of rotating kings of Sabines after the death of Romulus, indicate that there was in fact a fusion of the Romans and Sabines which also gives credence to the story of the Sabine women. The legend that Rome was founded by Aeneas may sound a bit far-fetched but a twist in the discovery of DNA in recent years began to shed some light to this incredible legend.
After years of DNA research into the Etruscan tombs in the region of Tuscany and Umbria north of Rome, and correspondently the area north of Izmir and the area of Troy in Turkey, an amazing discovery was made. There was in fact many similarities and matches that gave conclusive proof that the Etruscans were related to the Trojans. The findings were released at the European Human Genetic Conference in Nice, France in 2007 and caused a massive sensation for lovers of Roman and Ancient history. Though Livy the great Roman writer may have muddied the waters and admitted that accurate dates were hard to determine, historians now accept that the Etruscans were indeed related to the people of Troy. It’s also clear that many Romans were themselves Etruscans. Horatius Cocles the great defender of the Sulpicius bridge did in fact have an Etruscan name. The modern Sulpicius bridge is said to have been built only a short distance from the original wooden bridge. My recent visit (my 4th) to the very sites mentioned in this article left me in complete awe of this aspect of Roman history. The sad aspect of history is that the capture and burning of Rome in 386 B.C (some accounts give a date of 390 B.C) caused immense damage to the library and ancient documents that existed at the time. These would in theory have given much information about the early history of this amazing city. Perhaps the mysticism, myths and legends however add to the interest and mystery that makes history so magical. DNA has added its weight to archaeology in helping us to understand the past with a greater degree of accuracy. No doubt the stories, and legends will continue to astound the human race in perpetuity. If one thing is certain, that is, that Rome has been, and continues to be a source of immense interest for historians and tourists alike.
The magic is far too alluring to ignore. Amen to that.