Wednesday, September 29, 2010
The Rape of the Sabine Women occurred in the early history of Rome, shortly after its foundation by Romulus and his mostly male followers. Seeking wives in order to found families, Romulus devised a festival of Neptune Equester and proclaimed the festival amongst Rome's neighbors. At the height of the festival Romulus gave a signal, at which the Romans grabbed the Sabine women and fought off the Sabine men. The indignant abductees were implored by Romulus to accept their new Roman husbands.
Romulus offered them free choice and promised civic and property rights to women. According to Livy he spoke to them each in person, "and pointed out to them that it was all owing to the pride of their parents in denying the right of intermarriage to their neighbors. They would live in honorable wedlock, and share all their property and civil rights, and — dearest of all to human nature — would be the mothers of free men."
Outraged at the occurrence, the king of the Caeninenses entered upon Roman territory with his army. Romulus and the Romans met the Caeninenses in battle, killed their king, and routed their army. Romulus subsequently attacked Caenina and took it at the first assault. Returning to Rome, Romulus dedicated a temple to Jupiter Feretrius (according to Livy, the first temple dedicated in Rome) and offered the spoils of the enemy king as spolia opima. According to the Fasti Triumphales, Romulus celebrated a triumph over the Caeninenses on 1 March 752 BC.
At the same time, the army of the Antemnates made an incursion into Roman territory. The Romans retaliated, and the Antemnates were defeated in battle and their town conquered. According to the Fasti Triumphales, Romulus celebrated a second triumph in 752 BC over the Antemnates.
The Crustumini also commenced hostilities, but their town too was captured by the Romans.
Roman colonies were subsequently sent to Antemnae and Crustumerium by Romulus, and many citizens of those towns also migrated to Rome (particularly the families of the captured women).
The Sabines also went to war with the Romans, led by their king Titus Tatius. When Tatius attacked Rome, he almost succeeded in capturing the city because of the treason of Tarpeia, daughter of Spurius Tarpeius, governor of the citadel on the Capitoline Hill. She opened the city gates for the Sabines in return for 'what they bore on their arms.' She believed that she would receive their golden bracelets. Instead, the Sabines crushed her to death with their shields, and she was thrown from the rock which since bore her name, the Tarpeian Rock.
The Roman forces attacked the Sabines, who were now in possession of the citadel. The Roman advance was led by Hostus Hostilius, and the Sabine front by Mettus Curtius. When the former fell, the Roman line gave way, and they retreated to the gate of the Palatium. There Romulus gathered his men and, promising to build a temple to Jupiter Stator on that site, led the Romans back to battle.
The battle continued. Mettus Curtius was unhorsed and fled the battle, and the Romans gained the upper hand.
At that point the women intervened in the battle to reconcile the warring parties:
They went boldly into the midst of the flying missiles . . . running across the space between the two armies they tried to stop any further fighting and calm the excited passions by appealing to their fathers in the one army and their husbands in the other . . . "If," they cried, "you are weary of these ties of kindred, these marriage-bonds, then turn your anger upon us; it is we who are the cause of the war, it is we who have wounded and slain our husbands and fathers. Better for us to perish rather than live without one or the other of you, as widows or as orphans."
Following the reconciliation, the Sabines agreed to form one nation with the Romans and the Sabine king, Titus Tatius, jointly ruled Rome with Romulus until Tatius' death five years later.
Jacques-Louis David painted the other end of the story, when the women intervene to reconcile the warring parties. The Intervention of the Sabine Women was completed in 1799. It is in the Louvre Museum.