We live in Rome’s shadow, in part. We all know it. Histories have been written and forgotten. Civilisations have built themselves into decay. The legacy of Rome remains. The Eternal City cannot be grudged Her title, say what you will of the deeds and legacy She left. Her struggle to balance Republic and Empire is a conflict the modern world would do well to imbibe, as with the consequences.
Much has been said of the Eternal City, but what did the Romans think? Even this we can never know with impunity, for a people are a complex organism, and nuance is a fine art of dieing in the worlds that modernity left behind. What we do know is that the earlier Romans, like all European peoples, and indeed of all the children of all the races of the world, communicated history in myth and legend. Our peoples once told stories whose words seemed somehow fuller and stronger than the dry facts in those kernels of truth.
So here we shall tell the story of Romulus Magnus, the legendary demigod who founded the City that would rule the world in life and death.
Long ago in a land called Alba Longa there was a king. Numitor was his name, and legend has it that he was a good man. Now as it goes, Numitor had a brother who was not so good – for it seems so often that for every good seed, there is a bad. Amulius was his name, for all the kingly traits of Numitor; Amulius was known to be the opposite. Amulius was conniving, perfidious and underhanded, more than all of this: he was jealous, envious. In fact, you could say he was evil – no one would murmur a disagreement. So it came to pass that Amulius overthrew Numitor. Numitor was banished, made an outlaw. He had no choice but to grovel in the caves outside the city, a fate worse than death.
Amulius sat upon his throne and pondered his ill-gotten gains. Like ever the tyrant before and after, he feared more than anything to have stolen what he had worked hard to steal. For Numitor had a daughter, and her name was Rhea – she was as beautiful as her honoured name. He sentenced her to a punishment befitting her virtue, he thought, and had her sealed away in the Temple of Vesta. There she could never marry, and thus, produce no legitimate heirs of the bloodline that could depose him.
Where the Temple was a holy place, the Gods took pity on Rhea. Perhaps it was Vesta herself who acted as mediator, but what is known and what is told was that Mars himself – the God of War – descended from Heaven. It must have been some lonely night that he acted, for he visited her, and lo and behold, some nine months would pass before she gave birth to twins. This in a Temple where the feet of man could scarcely be said to have trod.
But Amulius, Amulius, befitting the paranoia of a tyrant, had eyes everywhere. He knew that the woman had borne sons without the companionship of man. He had no inkling that it was Mars, defender of the fields, which had conspired against him. Thus did the tyrant seal his fate. Amulius ordered that the boys should be killed – drowned as was the way with children. Yet Mars could not ignore his offspring, his blessing on the face of Earth. He inspired Rhea to hide the twins, to protect them. And then, he led another to bring them to the riverside where they crafted inconspicuous wooden boats and set the twins gently inside.
For some time the infants sailed down the river Tiber, sanctifying it for posterity. It must have been days, but finally they washed up, beached on some forgotten shore. Abandoned, it seemed, and entirely alone, the infants did what infants do – they wailed. They cried and howled. Something in their octave carried, something in their lungs spoke to a wolf that stalked nearby. This was a she-wolf, an animal considered by Mars and his chosen to be quite auspicious. And it must have been by his hand that the she-wolf saw something of herself in the bairns. For on any other day, the wolf – suspicious of humans – would have fled or fought. Instead she lay with the boys as a mother with pups.
She snarled and growled at those that would harm her pups, man and hound alike. Before long she took them by the scruffs and returned to her own den. While the wolf was humanised by the plight of mortal children, something of the immortal animal soul rubbed off on the boys. They grew up wild and vicious as suits the wolf, but cunning and shrewd too. As they grew they played with the she-wolf’s young, they ran and whooped and hollered. They always chased but could never catch the wolves, yet their determination never faltered. Someday they would seize their prize.
So it went until one day the young wolves left poor Romulus and Remus hanging in the dust. The she-wolf did not return, her and her pack had moved on. They caught a foul scent on the wind, for them, the scent of change. Besides, the she-wolf knew the bairns had grown enough to fend for themselves. There the boys wandered about in the fields. Here worked a shepherd named Faustulus, ever vigilant against threats to his flock. Threats such as a gang of wolves. He did not, however, expect to find unclaimed children lolling about on the land he worked. Faustulus approached the children, meaning to ask their names and lineage, but he stopped. The boys were savage, half naked, covered by tatters and furs. He spoke to them, but they did not answer. It was as if they knew no language at all, purely barbarian. More than this, he knew them by their faces.
This was a problem for Faustulus, for being poor, he came with the land. Once he had worked for Numitor, and remembered him fondly, but he had long since been bonded to Amulius. He remembered Numitor’s expulsion, he did, and Rhea too. A crooked, boyish smile worked its way across Faustulus’ face. He had no children of his own, and long had he hoped his wife would bear him sons. The Gods, it appeared, had a different plan. For the man who lived afeard of dieing with no progeny there came the opportunity to raise sons of royalty as his own, to protect the descendants of noble Aeneas.
He brought the boys home, Faustulus did, and sat them at the table. He told no one of their parentage, not even his wife. He contented himself to explain how he had found the stragglers in the field and how they were wild, and must not have parents of their own. His wife grinned her delight, long having feared the fate of the childless. Indeed, it seemed, the Gods had answered both their silent prayers. She hugged the children, and they raised them as their own. The two worked hard to civilise the boys, but the wilderness bred into them would not leave.
Romulus and Remus became respected, indeed feared at times, by the other children. The wilderness had shaped them into fearsome fighters, and they were clever, too – like wolves. Because they were strong and because they were keen, it took no time at all for Romulus to assembled a cadre of followers. Remus too attracted his own crowd. They were born leaders, it seemed. Only Faustulus smiled, for only Faustulus knew the truth – a truth he was content to swallow every night at dinner when the boys began to ask.
Alas alack, none can remain young forever. One morning Romulus and Remus awoke, restless. They were grown men, now, and as it goes with young men they wondered at life outside their little village. There was an aching in their bones, a greatness that could neither be hidden nor explained. For weeks Romulus had wandered about, to all that would listen he spoke of the great wars he would win. And Remus, he spoke nothing of the enchanted cities he would visit.
Now Faustulus knew it was time. It would be wrong to hide their lineage from them. He told them all he had seen, and all that he had heard. The boys listened with wide eyes as they heard of Numitor, of Rhea their mother and how the former had been cast out into the darkness of the caverns, and how the latter had been sealed away in the Vestal Temple. Their response was understandable, if predictable. They trembled with rage. Their lives and all that had happened, had been built upon false pretences. But they were not angry with Faustulus. What else could he have done? They thanked him for all he and she had done and they swore oaths to avenge the evil king and return Numitor to his rightful throne.
The young men could not be persuaded. Equipping themselves with the crude weapons of old warriors from a forgotten time, they set out toward Alba Longa. Their journey was lengthy, but the strength they had built from chasing wolves assured they reached the gates in full possession of their ferocity, clarity and cunning. With their weapons drawn they stormed the gates and entered the hall of the king. They did not wait to be introduced, nor for Amulius to gain the first word.
“We are Numitor’s rightful heirs!” they boomed.
Trembling, Amulius had no recourse to doubt. He knew their faces, and he knew that they had grown into fine young men. Strong, quick – and they had the fire of youth while Amulius, Amulius had settled.
“You two were supposed to be dead!” Amulius retorted.
“Clearly, we are not!” Remus boasted, “And now you shall pay for what you’ve done!”
“Amulius!” Romulus shouted, “Your time is up!” With that Romulus led the charge with Remus close behind. The two attacked with savagery, overwhelming the old king with ease. Amulius had no choice but to flee. Ignominiously he ran with the twins laughing at his heel. The two were toying with him, Amulius knew, putting on a show. They let him leave, they let him leave because they knew the disgrace of his cowardice was a fate a shade worse than death.
Now the twins searched all around the village, scouring each cave they could find. Finally they found a cave alit by the faintest light. There inside they found Numitor, chained by fear with his back to the sky, staring at the shadows cast on the wall. He jumped, cried out with shock when he saw the boys. With a voice gargled by trepidation he asked: “who are you? How did you find me? Has Amulius sent you to finish what he started?”
“We have already finished what Amulius started,” Romulus said. “My name is Romulus, and this is my brother.”
“I am Remus,” the brother said, “We are sons of Rhea, your daughter.”
“And the father?” Numitor inquired carefully.
The young men looked at each other, and then back to Numitor, “Mars, sir, though few would believe us.” Romulus crossed his arms, “it was Mars that inspired us and protected us for all these years, though we did not always see it.”
Remus smiled, “we drove Amulius out, he can never harm you again. He’ll be laughed out of Alba Longa.”
Perhaps for the first time since his expulsion a smile crept upon the old king’s face. “Rhea? Where is she?”
Now the sons of Mars drew their faces, they thought long and hard before they answered: “she is gone.”
Patiently, Remus told Numitor of the stories Faustulus had given them. Overcome, Numitor could do nothing but weep at the magnitude of all that had come to pass. Grief stricken at the loss of his daughter, overawed that Mars had blessed his family line, grateful that he had been redeemed.
“Come,” Remus urged, “come with us. Your kingdom awaits, it needs her king.” The twin warriors led Numitor away, who struggled at first, not having seen the sun for years for fear of being savaged by Amulius, or worse, that his daughter would pay for his brother’s jealousy. Slowly they trod the way to Alba Longa, and the two brothers remained faithful to their vow. Numitor, rightful king, was again restored to his kingdom.
Romulus and Remus were settled into the city where they integrated well. Although, it must be admitted that something of the wolf and wilderness remained. They men could never settle. This was no problem, however, for having been dethroned once, Numitor was forever plagued by brigands and vandals who wished to test the limits of his power. So it came to pass that Romulus and Remus adopted a hobby especially suited to their wild ways. They lay in wait, lurking like wolves, and they struck at would-be thieves. They despoiled them, slayed them in the streets for all to see and know that Alba Longa would not be challenged. The people, of course, loved the twins, their protectors.
And so it went. In the years that followed the twins lived with Numitor, and he taught them the art of rule, and all the crafts involved. The two proved apt pupils, eagerly learned all Numitor would teach. One day, Numitor realised he had little more to teach them. More than that, wise king Numitor knew that they as well as he were seed of kings, and they would not wait until old Numitor’s death to live their destiny. They would inherit Alba Longa one way or another, sooner or later, but Numitor preferred it be later – after his death as was right for kings.
“You’ve been like sons to me,” Numitor said to them, “but you can’t stay here.” The men were puzzled, scratching their heads. “You were born to be kings, and kings you must be.”
“Where, Sire?” Remus asked, “Where can we go, that our rule would be justly accepted?”
It was Romulus who answered, “We must build our own city, then we can have our own rule!”
Numitor smiled, there was nothing left to say. He had watched the two men and of them, Romulus had a fire unlike anything he had seen before. While Remus was no fool, no slouch nor layabout, it was Romulus that would seize glory. He sent them away with provisions and his blessing.
Roaming, the two brothers carefully scried land and water, looking for the perfect place to build. However, the reality of ambition had seized them both – now every time Romulus would point and thrust his sword to mark a spot, Remus would argue. He would tell Romulus that the site was not worthy of their legacy. And so it went that Remus would suggest a spot and Romulus would laugh, saying that not even rats would gather where Remus had pointed.
Finally Romulus stopped, and Remus saw by his gait and determination that there would be no further argument. Remus took stock of where their trek had carried them, they stood by the banks of the river that had carried them from Amulius’ wrath. Romulus turned back, grinning, “Do you remember the she-wolf?” Romulus asked. Remus nodded, “of course.”
Romulus turned back to the horizon he had been scanning, “our city shall crown the seven hills that the she-wolf hunted. It was there that the wolf saved our lives, it was there we learned to be fierce and quick. It will be there that we become great and mighty.” Remus nodded in agreement, and remembered the hill upon which they had spent the most time. “The headmost hill,” Remus said, “is where we should start. Jupiter smiles upon that hill, I know it.”
“Agreed,” Romulus said, nodding, “the rock on that hill made an excellent lookout. We would always have the high ground. If ever enemies should come, we would see them coming.”
“That,” Remus grinned, “is a city I would give my name to.”
“You?” Romulus cackled, “Who’s going to name a city after you? Who remembered the hills? Who has the stronger sword hand?”
“Let us see, then!” Remus fired back, and the two drew their swords.
For hours they sparred, neither able to outwit the brutality of the other, swift and strong they fought. Finally as day drew to a close, the brothers knew that neither would prevail and that they should each faint from exhaustion before the other would fail. A truce was called.
“The Gods must decide,” the brothers agreed. So the two men climbed a nearby mountain with their eyes peeled wide open, looking for signs. As he reached the peak Remus saw a flock of vultures overhead, of which there were six. “Ah!” he spat, “I shall rule!” Now Romulus laughed and pointed, from his vantage he also saw a flock, of which twelve vultures flew. “Twice your lot is the one I’ve been given, twice over I’ve been chosen to lead!”
“Worthless!” Remus shouted, “It’s just a flock of birds!” Remus smiled, “the Gods favour me, I was always the level headed one.”
“Are you?” Romulus asked, “let us see.”
“What do you mean?” Remus asked, “You saw the signs!”
“We both did,” Romulus chided, “clearly we are not fit for augury! We shall seek the augurs out, we shall tell them what we saw, and they shall tell us whom it is the Gods have blessed!”
So they scoured the towns and villages until they found an augur living near a way-shrine. The twins told the Augur their case, and after a protracted silence the Augur nodded his head to Romulus. He neither smiled nor winced, he was confident in his sign and had nothing more to say. Pleased with himself, Romulus returned to the hill with a ploughshare and a small contingent. He began to flatten the earth in preparations for building. Remus followed, angrily, and reminded him; “the words of an old man who watches birds cannot predict the future! The Gods have chosen no one, let the best man win!”
Romulus crossed his arms, “than we shall put it to the test.” At once Romulus descended the hill and went back to Alba Longa and the surrounding towns. He gathered a greater band of men who remembered his strength and cunning. Romulus returned to the headmost hill and began to build houses with a slew of low walls roundabout, having already ploughed the terrain.
Remus came laughing. For while he could not find anyone to follow him on account of the people remembering Romulus to have always been first to strike, he chortled still. “And what is this?” Remus asked.
“It is a wall,” Romulus answered plainly, “around my city.”
Remus mocked, “City? You call this squalid heap of shacks a city? You’d be lying if you called it a village!”
“City,” Romulus repeated coolly.
“And who shall your walls deflect?” Remus asked as he summoned his strength.
By now the people had stopped, they knew the change in the air. What had begun as sibling rivalry had become something more grotesque. Yet the brothers, still wild at heart, could not see that their instincts had gotten the better of them. Remus went on, “your walls are pathetic. Easy to invade.” To prove his point Remus leapt over the wall toward Romulus with a single bound.
Romulus lashed out in blind rage as Remus landing, the impact so fearful that Remus landed on his back, having cracked his head in the fall. “Never! You will never take it from me!” Romulus howled. But Remus, Remus was dead.
At that the people dispersed. It was a bad omen for a man to kill his brother. Such a one could not be trusted, and they had no stomach for cruelty or violence. Romulus, stunned, hung near the fresh corpse of his brother and watched as blood and colour drained from him. For hours he sat, stalwart, trying to convince himself that he did not care. He did, but he could never let anyone know that he had doubts, or that he waivered. Finally he rose, determined that this event should not have passed in vain. Never would Romulus allow his kingdom to let a death pass in vain, having it stand for nothing, nor serve no purpose. From now on, all life and death would have meaning.
Though Romulus was an outcast, he was undeterred. He had a destiny, and he knew it. He sent out word. Those outlaws and fugitives, and those rejected by society could come and people his city. They would people his city and prosper. And of course, there were those who heeded the call. So Romulus found himself, an outcast and a leader of outlaws. And this merry band of misfits wanted to know what city it was they served. Without missing a beat, Romulus would answer:
Now that he had his city, Romulus knew it needed to be established. The low walls and hovels would simply never do. Romulus went to the central hill, considering it to be the most auspicious of the lot, and there he summoned all his belief and faith and offered the whole of it as sacred to Jupiter. To Jove he consecrated his city, and swearing fealty to Mars to ever defend it and its honour. Somewhere in the distance a peel of thunder was heard, and a flash of lightning. Yet there came no rain. And Romulus smiled, knowing that his effort was blessed, his destiny was clear. To complete this work, Romulus and his workers laid furrows about. They tracked the soil with the plough around the Seven Hills of Rome. This would be their boundary, their border. Now they offered a sacrifice, offered blood to Jupiter and let the Earth swallow the blood, nourishing it.
With this done, Romulus addressed the people. “You came here as outcasts,” Romulus told them, “but I have made you brothers! You came here disenchanted, alone, but I have given you purpose!” Romulus turned back to the modest shacks on the hill, seemingly tiny amid the breadth of the seven hills, “this shall be a great city! We may now be a rugged band of men, but our sordid past will be forgotten, and whatever regrets may have had, will be forgotten also! For whatever ills society may have injured us, with me as your King, Rome will bestow glory on the world! For if ever we were made to feel outcasts, having found brotherhood in Rome, we shall see to it that the world endures our favour! We, Rome, shall become the epitome of honour!”
And the people cheered. No more would they be thieves, or murderers, no longer would they be reckoned scum. Romulus had promised to make them virtuous, and more, successful in the eyes of the world. They clamoured, and they asked what next they must do. Romulus was quick to answer: “we build! We expand! But first, we must gain legitimacy. We must be recognised by an established king, from his credence we will garner authority!” His followers were perplexed, but Romulus knew there was only one choice. He would return to Alba Longa, he would seek the blessings of his Grandfather, Numitor. The first and best alliance would be forged, it was already written in their blood, and so it would be.
With his ragged band of men Romulus returned to Alba Longa, where it had all began. Slowly they walked through the city. Romulus mused how little it had changed, and how much a shame it was for a king so kindly as Numitor to have settled upon a stagnant state. Nevertheless, Romulus did his best to appear gracious as he approached the king’s hall. Numitor sat in his seat, aged. Romulus felt his heart sink in his chest to see him so. Such a fate hardly befit a man of his stature. “Romulus,” Numitor croaked, “good of you to come and see this old man.” Frowning, Numitor inclined his head, “where is your brother, Remus?”
For the briefest of moments Romulus was at a loss for words. Finally he settled upon a half-hearted but steady answer, “he died giving his life to Rome.”
“Your city?” Numitor asked, smiling emptily.
“My city,” Romulus responded.
“So why have you come to my city, leaving your own?” Numitor asked.
“I have come to once more seek your blessing, grandfather,” Romulus said. “I want you to recognise Rome. I want her to be seen as a sister city. In times of war and peace, I want us to have a bond, to support and defend each other.”
Numitor nodded his head slowly, “and you shall have it.” The king glanced at Romulus’ entourage, “your band is fearsome looking, rough.”
“It will change,” Romulus promised.
Numitor smiled. “It’s a shame your brother couldn’t come,” the old man said, “but it’s just as well. It is hard to share power. It’s why I sent you two off, you know.”
Romulus nodded. “I know.”
“Now,” Numitor said, “let me see this city of yours. I want to know what I’m getting into with this alliance of yours.”
Romulus smiled. “Come, I will show you.”
The walk was slow for old Numitor, but soon they stood along the tracts Romulus had set, gazing upon seven hills and the modest shacks that adorned but little of the space selected. Numitor nodded his approval. “Very good. Defensible, with access to water. Nearby pasture to feed your people. You’ve done well. Mars was wise when he chose you.”
Romulus smiled, but Numitor continued, “It will not be easy. People will challenge you. Even those you trust. You must see ahead of your opponent, so far down the road that even he cannot see what he will do. You must be cold, ruthless at times, and at other times, generous and wise. You must above all know when to choose: ruthlessness and compassion are choices. They are yours to choose, and to whom and when you shall give them. I learned this lesson in a hard way, learn from the mistakes of those that go before you. Watch and learn, if you are cleverer than your enemy than he shall always betray himself to you. No one is without weakness, and there are none you cannot learn from. They say you were raised like wolves – you must think like one.”
Romulus nodded, and he took the lessons to heart. He was ready, and he knew it. Numitor, for his part, returned to Alba Longa and Romulus remained in Rome. Each was confident that they were stronger for their alliance with the other. They were not the only two with confidence. Before long, many, many more men had flocked to Romulus and his young city. So many men came that Romulus soon had to ponder the situation, for he had more men than could be easily managed.
Into three Tribes Romulus divided his men, each according to their skill, so that they could be taxed in peace and enrolled through war. Each Tribe was to be presided over by a Tribune. Each Tribune in turn became warden to ten curiae, or wards. Every one of these curiae had a special officer called a Curio, who reported to the Tribune. To encourage strength and solidarity, Romulus allotted land to each of the Curiae. This land was offered with the proviso that during wartime each Curia would lend one hundred fleet-footed warriors. From this the Romans got the word Century. To this end, each of Romulus’ tribes provided a thousand warriors, and one century of cavalry. These were to come to be called the Celeres, or swift ones. They later formed the royal bodyguard.
With so many men, Rome grew quickly. Buildings were built, and the establishment of traditions were formed. It did not take long for the Curiae to seek to assert themselves. Romulus knew that if Rome was to remain a bastion of unity for the disenfranchised as he intended, he had to tie binds among the tribes. He then chose men from the each Curiae who had come from strong families, whom he believed would perpetrate stronger families. He called these Patres, or fathers. The rest were dubbed Plebeians, or Plebs. These were the bulk of Rome’s entourage: they were freedmen, asylum seekers and those who had been abused by the surrounding cities. They by far outnumbered the Patricians, but they were still Citizens.
So it went. For a long while Rome was undisturbed, allow to begin Her foundations in peace. And as it so often goes, it is during peace time that problems are discovered. In Rome, there were not many women. So Romulus thought. One of his first acts as King was to abolish the abomination of infanticide. Rome needed citizens, and a population curbed by neglect could never grow. He outlawed infanticide, and he allotted a district to house the asylum seekers and freedman that had so readily embraced the Roman dream, seeking liberty from tyrants abroad.
No, no – there were not many women indeed. In those days Rome was a rough place, and She attracted tough men. This was a problem. Romulus was proud and he boasted frequently to his men that they were made of sterner stuff than all of Alba Longa. They could defeat any invading enemy that threatened them… but this was a different enemy. They could not defeat childlessness. What city had ever grown strong without the clamour of children to become strong sons and good daughters?
And the men knew it too. They clamoured for Romulus to think of some stratagem or other until finally, Romulus conceived a plan. He gathered the men to the meeting place on the hill and he addressed them. “Men!” he said, “where are our women!” And the men looked amongst themselves. Romulus smiled and asked again. The men roared back. Romulus grinned, “we are surrounded by women!” He called, as he began to walk back and forth along the front of the throng. “We are a proud city, the start of a new nation! We have only to go and ask, and women would be lucky to have us!” He chuckled, “look at the surrounding towns! They’re swimming in women, they have so many women they’ll beg us to take them off their hands!”
And the men cheered. Only those few Roman women that had come from the start were silent. Romulus set out at once to speak with the rulers of surrounding cities, and he sent trusted envoys to the towns. However, luck was not with them. In Alba Longa, Romulus sat grimly in audience with Numitor who told him, “grandson, the women remember the men that came to make your city. They will not go willingly.” And Romulus left, thinking to himself that ‘perhaps they do not have to come willingly, then, for Rome shall come for them.’
And so it went. Romulus returned home to await the return of his envoys, who came with similar tales. Now the envoys were slow to make their report, fearing admonition, but were surprised when Romulus made no rebuff. He simply said, “I myself received a like story from the King of Alba Longa. But no matter…” One of the Curios present, known to be a bold one, asked; “no matter? It’s a grave matter!”
Romulus glowered for a moment, considering striking the Curio down, but he contented himself to smile and said: “what does every town have that makes the denizens loyal?”
The men talked among themselves, and finally, when Romulus could bear no more he mustered his patience and said, “Festivals, Gentlemen, Games.” The men all murmured their agreement and consent. “Rome has had no Festivals, and Rome has had no Games,” Romulus said smiling, “we are a new city, not firmly established. The other towns and cities know this. Until we have made a show of solidarity, none will take us seriously.”
So it went. Plans were made at once, and plans were underway to usher in the age of Rome with a colossal festival. The men put it to votes, with the popular opinion crying for feats of strength and athleticism. It was a given, Romulus said, to give Roman men the chance to show their vigour. What woman would resist the temptation of a strong man? But there needed to be more. There would be a festival of crops. Rome had the barbarous image of dejected men. Rome had the mission of making barbarians into citizens. Rome had a mission of peace. She had subdued the land, and quelled the thieves. She had ample enough grain, and had developed ways to streamline farming. The art of peace, as well as the art of war needed to be showcased.
So it went. All that remained was to set a date. After some thought, Romulus set the date forward to April 21st, which he held to be the day he set his furrow down and claimed the land as Roman. He again sent envoys out, and, forgetting the earlier entreaties to take wives from the single population, the leaders of nearby settlements grew thirsty for the Festival. Such a promise allowed them to escape the business of the day and enter into leisure.
The Romans waited with bated breath until the stated day. The preparations had been thorough. A great track was cut out for the physical show of talents. A modest, but detailed forum was assembled for the farmers to showcase and sell their goods. A tavern was erected for festival goers to escape the shade, and, as the Romans well knew, for the menfolk to imbibe entirely too much of Rome’s fine wine.
Even at the break of dawn, when the Romans had already risen early to make way, the citizens of the surrounding settlements had arrived in droves. The Romans whispered to themselves about the number of women. More than that, the murmured about the quality of the women. Many were well fed, with flaxen hair, honey lips and milky skin. These were Sabines, noted for their beauty. Treasures, to be sure. And Romulus, quietly, walked among the ranks, reminding his Curios to remind his men to keep an eye on the women especially who walked alone. A woman might stray from walking with her brother, but her husband will always be close by, he reminded them. And for those that are not so discerning by nature, he warned, there will be a signal that will be given that will tell you what to do. No action was to be taken beforehand. At first light Romulus greeted the gathering crowd at the gate and welcomed them to Rome.
The hours were passed in pleasant happenstance. Romulus dedicated the opening of the festival to Jupiter, asking for his blessing on the commencement of Rome and all Her endeavours. The festival goers from away were impressed with his piety and put to ease by the peaceful air the Romans had convoked. By noon, many of the men had found their way to the tavern – and many of the women walked by themselves.
Roman men took their chance and began to mingle. Romulus had instructed them to use their charm to get what they wanted. However, it seemed, Rome had not yet learned charm. Many of the men were spurned. Although there were some women who, upon seeing Rome’s potential for wealth – in her grain, her crops and, admittedly, in the strength of her men – agreed to become Roman wives, believing they could live a better life. Those Roman men who won their brides through diplomacy had promised the women a better lot in life, that they would be entitled to better rights, and would hold more sway than they ever would in lesser cities.
Other Roman men were not so gifted at words, and so when the noontide sun reached her zenith and the men from away were largely drunk, Romulus gave his prearranged signal. The Romans swarmed through the crowds and carried away the choicest of would-be brides to their new homes. Naturally, there was a great uproar, and the men, too drunk, could not do anything to stop the seizure of their wives.
In Rome, the ensuing weeks were marked by the lamentations of the women who had been taken. The occasional quietude between the wailing of kidnapped brides was marked by the almost deafening silence of those women who had chosen to become Roman brides. And the men, not knowing what to do with themselves in their new domestic bliss, took to what they did know. They fought. Romulus encouraged the men to channel their aggression into games, which soon began to resemble military drills. Rome was a nation of warriors, the leader reminded his men, and it ought not be forgotten.
However, for whatever gains the men made in their training, the women wailed on. Eventually, though, some began to quiet themselves. In the end, the wailing was slowly subsumed by a practised, if negligent, acceptance. That acceptance eventually gave rise to a sense of familiarity. The still Sabine women marvelled at how the brides who had chosen their lot openly called themselves Roman. Moreover, they were at a loss to understand how the men let them. It was as if it had always been this way. The men loved and cared for their women, even the brutes who had carried their wives away in sacks slung over broad shoulders turned out to be slightly less brutish in their homes.
This led the last of the Sabine women to accept that their lot was good. They joined the newly Roman women in their domestic aptitudes. And there it was, as if by magic, the new Roman city began to thrive. With the women running the households the men were freed up to attend their business, and the efficiency of the system grew strong.
Now, the Romans, ever confident, had forgotten about the seizure of the Sabine women. However those men who returned to the countryside, to the towns and cities, they had not forgotten. For them, the echoes of last year’s lamentations were louder than the shrieks of shock and horror that had issued out from the Festival of the Ruse. This issuant memory haunted the men, it robbed their sleep, maddened them. Something had to be done. Such an insult could not go unpunished. It was an insult to men, they thought, it was an insult to the Gods. It was a travesty. An abomination.
A confederation of affected cities bandied together and began to make plans to attack. They rallied forces and made plans. They sharpened swords and hardened shields. Helmets were donned and sandals were strapped. The world was going to war with Rome.
Except for one thing.
The Sabines, who had lost the most were slowest to move. They had lost much, and were weakened, and more than this – they were afraid of what they might lose in a conflict with the city that now held half their women hostage. So they stalled. They recalled their Spartan legacy and on each day the rest of the confederation planned to attack, they claimed an important omen or augur prevented their charge.
Three towns decided to take the charge. None would accuse them of lacking courage, virtus as it was called then, but fewer still would accuse them of thinking ahead. Three townships with their paltry band of ragamuffin warriors arrived at Romulus’ door one morning to make their demands.
It was the town of Caenina that was first to march. Romulus laughed at them from behind his walls, remembering the dark days when he had his brother Remus to fight with. Remus had been thrice the man that led the Caeninids, and Romulus had still killed him. This, however, he kept to himself and instead walked at the head of his Century to meet the band.
The Caeninids steeled themselves and attacked, and the Romans quickly subdued them. The combat was close, fierce and violent. The savagery of the Roman force was appalling, and watching the fate of the Caeninids, the two townships that had accompanied her lost heart and fled at once. The Caeninids followed suit and tried to flee, but the Romans pursued them to their very own town. Here the prince of Caenina came forward. They all knew it was their last stand. The prince came forward to face Romulus, and Romulus awaited his response.
“You dare come into our settlement?” the prince asked, “to break the peace?”
“Peace?” Romulus asked, “this is war! When I awoke this morning it was to your band of wretches. Today, I shall take your land. When I offered you peace, you traded me an insult, and on this day Rome learned that in this world She shall take what she needs!”
The prince steeled himself and met Romulus in personal combat. The battle was quick. Effortlessly Romulus deflected each of the prince’s blows, and finally, when the prince tired, Romulus drove his sword up into the heart of the prince and let him bleed out before all his subjects. Then, as the prince collapsed, drowning on his own blood as he bled to death, Romulus kept silence. When the last throe of death grew still he knelt beside his conquered enemy. There and then Romulus stripped the prince of his armour, seized his sword, and rose up.
“These,” he boomed, “are the spoils of war! From now on, what your dead leave behind becomes our tribute!”
And with that, the Caeninids knew they were defeated. The soldiers of the town laid down their arms and knelt before Romulus. Rome, it seemed, had acquired her first annexation. Her first colony. He ordered his company of Centurions to remain and garrison there, to put down any uprisings and to ensure that the women and children were cared for and well fed, reminding them that the future of Rome depended on wives and children to bear the burden of Her legacy.
Romulus returned to Rome alone to make preparations. Romulus knew that at this moment Antemnae and Crustumerium were preparing an assault. He would not let them have the upper hand, and so he gathered and ordered forces to prepare a pre-emptive strike.
Trusted advisors led the Centuries to the two towns, and the two towns were taken in like manner. Following their orders, Rome’s ambassadors offered terms of surrender. The towns would remain under Roman control. However, a concession was made. The families of those women Rome had abducted could move into the city and become citizens, earning exemptions from tribute and tax. This would encourage future peace, for the towns would know that with so many of their citizens living in the greater city, that their future was Roman.
So it went. While this occurred, Romulus remained in Rome. He knew his actions would finally provoke the Sabines into action. How could it not? The Sabines, now, in addition to being fair and handsome, were also numerous and clever. They would have by now realised their folly, that had they joined the three towns their forces might have harried Romulus and his City. But they hadn’t.
Thus it remained for Romulus to ponder, ‘how would they strike?”
Romulus pondered this as he toured his city. Eventually, Romulus saw Tarpeia, daughter of the commander in charge of the citadel. Normally she stayed close to her father, who had yet to find her a suitable husband. At this, Romulus was perplexed, but his vexation did not last. The commander was an ambitious man. Ambition could easily be made a weakness. There was nothing to be done now, but Romulus vowed to cook up a suitable punishment for her as a message to all future traitors.
Though while Romulus had discovered the Sabines’ plans, he was too late. A signal issued forth from the citadel, and the Romans knew at once that they had been foiled by a bribe. At this time, another blast issued from outside Rome. Romulus rushed to the gates to see that the Sabine army had arrived. Romulus nodded, half in approval, and half in acknowledgement that the forthcoming battle would be hard fought.
“My name,” the Sabine general boomed, “is Titus Tatius. We have control of your citadel. You have no choice but to meet us, on our terms. Come. Or lose face, sacrifice your honour!”
Romulus summoned his troops, which he had assembled in the training grounds. In formation they marched to meet the Sabine army. Romulus knew that Sabine warriors were being garrisoned in his citadel, so he ordered that the rear flank guard the marching Centuries. This was called the rear guard. And true enough, as Romulus and his troops assembled on the open field, the Sabine remnants chased them from within the city.
The Sabines had underestimated the strength of the remaining Centuries, and as a result, were unable to harry Rome from the rear. Although fierce combat at the rear flank ensured, neither Rome nor the Sabines gained an advantage. With their forces divided and Romulus advancing, Tatius turned and led his army back to their own camp. There he intended to fight Rome on more even ground, where the home field advantage would be theirs.
As Tatius had predicted, Romulus, ever aggressive, led the pursuit. As Rome advanced, Tatius realised that he had underestimated the dogged, wolfish determination Rome could muster. Before long Tatius realised he had no choice but to cross the swampland that filled the area outside Rome. It was a dank, insalubrious pit that they faced, and here a warrior named Mettius Curtis sacrificed his own horse to the muck to thwart the Roman march. The thrashing horse bought the Sabines a few hundred feet of distance between the advancing Roman force.
But several hundred feet was not enough. Romulus shouted a taunt, a promise, to Tatius; “there is nowhere you can run, Tatius! I chased wolves as a boy, and you are not nearly so swift! I will chase your trail to the ends of the Earth!”
Tatius kept a grim silence as they hastened their retreat to home field. Soon, as they approached their city, the Sabines turned to face the Romans. It was a hasty formation, and Rome, still marching, prepared in ken. Their numbers were near equal. Their arms, sharp, their helmets glistened and their resolve, strong.
It was uncertain how long the ensuing fight occurred. As Romulus traded blows with Tatius himself he was reminded of the quarrel he had with Remus years ago. This quickened his pace, and he was soon set to overwhelm Tatius, who, nearly equal to Romulus, lacked the former’s canine savagery. However, the Roman cohort did not fare so well. They were far from home, there was no relief. And for every Sabine a Roman slew, another took his place – their reinforcements were immediate, and it was uncertain how long Caenina, Crustumerium and Antemnae would take to send aid.
The Romans, therefore, began to waiver. It was the first time they had showed signs of distress, and this gave strength to the Sabine army. It was at about that time that Romulus had Tatius in his grasp, meaning to strangle him to death like a common thief. However, the cry of anguish issuing from one of his dying Tribunes caused him to lose his nerve. He saw the distress of his tribes and released his grasp on the wheezing Tatius. Seeing this, the Romans redoubled their efforts, but Romulus knew that if something did not happen the Romans should either have to surrender or else stage an unsustainable victory. He turned his gaze to heaven and begged Jupiter to turn the tide of the war, promising to build and fortify a temple to his honour should he indulge his favoured Romans.
Perhaps it was Jupiter who intervened, for as Romulus concluded his prayer, sword in hand, the Sabine brides of Rome arrived at the battlefield. Some held cooking knifes, but most were unarmed. The soldiers were stunned. The battlefield was no place for a woman, much less a legion of them! Taking advantage of their shock, the wives took their stand between the two armies. For a moment, there was a stalemate. The women were something both Romans and Sabines held in common, something precious to them.
The women pleaded to each side. For the women, as they were quick to remind the men, had fathers on one side of the battlefield, with brothers and nephews, and still yet they had husbands on the other side. They had come to love their husbands, and had made peace with their lot. Why couldn’t the Sabine men do the same? Rome had offered peace to the towns they conquered, generosities to the families they had affected. The same would happen for the Sabines, they were sure.
Tatius baulked, “have you forgotten how it was you came to Rome?”
And several of the women answered that they could never forget, but they could also never forget the opportunities Rome had offered them, nor the generosities or kindness. Tatius was stunned, but unconvinced. It was then that the women made clear their intentions. “If one man swings his sword, it shall cut through the women they are fighting for, and what then shall you win?”
The war was over. The women had won, surprising everyone involved. Romulus extended his hand to Tatius, who, reluctantly but with respect, shook it. The women hugged their fathers and brothers, kissed their mothers and sisters. Roman and Sabine men laid down their arms and began to talk. Romulus and his generals followed Tatius to their meeting hall. It was here that Rome had made her second alliance. A joint settlement was to be achieved, Romulus and Tatius would rule the sector as co-equals. For a time, there would be peace.
Romulus returned to Rome. He had not forgotten about Tarpeia. He had her rounded up, for although she had flown the coop and tried to hide in one of the surrounding towns, Romulus had eyes and ears in every town. She was brought before him, and Romulus, grim, asked her; “what am I to do with you?” She pleaded, of course, but to no avail. Romulus made himself deaf to her pleas. “You are Roman, and your loyalty is to us! You betrayed your city and your kin! You have no place in the city that sheltered you. We shall see if Nature shall take you back when we give you to her!” Romulus directed his men to look toward the massive rock face Remus had pointed out so long ago. It overlooked much, and the fall was steep. “Tarpeia wanted payment for her betrayal. We shall pay her in full. This shall be her rock, and for all time Tarpeia’s Rock shall be where traitors think about their crimes as they wait to be taken by the earth!” And with that Tarpeia was hurled from the rock face, to her death. How much time she had to think about her crimes can be argued, but her end, and the end of traitors to come, was quite clear. It ended with a resounding splatter of blood and brains – a compelling reason to think twice about betraying your people.
Years went by. Romulus and Tatius never became friends, per say, but they developed a respect for one another. In a way, Romulus found himself thinking of childhood memories. As it were, they hunted robbers and malcontents together. Setting ambushes for ne’er-do-wells and degenerates. Romulus continued to maintain peace in Rome, presiding over sacrifices to Jupiter the God King and Mars the Father of Rome. The economy was stable, the people were fed. By and large, the old scars of the Sabine war had healed and the peoples of the region all traded amicably.
However, no peace can last forever, it was Rome’s destiny to enforce peace, but not to keep it. Word came to Romulus as he sat, as was his custom, overlooking the hills of Rome as morning shed her light, that riots had broken out at nearby Lavinium. The story was that envoys from Laurentum had been mishandled by Tatius’ kinsmen during an event. They called for a hearing, and, choosing the way of nepotism, Tatius aligned himself with family – right or wrong. When news of his decision spread the foreign diplomats began to stir conflict, and the Sabines arrived to settle the dispute. The ensuing riot had taken Tatius’ life. The Sabines were without their accomplished ruler. Now they looked to Rome for justice.
Romulus heard the story of the Sabine messenger as well as the Laurentian dispatch. He weighed their accounts carefully and dismissed them, informing them that he would send word of his decision after he had prayed over the matter. With the dignitaries gone, Romulus turned his attention to the Tarpeian rock. He considered the nature of fealty and politics, and moreso, the careful balance of tribes living under his midst that had become sufficiently Roman. If he sided with the Sabines in this matter, he would have been no better than the dead Tatius. However, siding with the Lavinians could alienate the Sabines. Choosing his words carefully, he maintained his alliance with Lavinium. He did this under the auspice that the Lavinians had broken no law, and that while the outcome was poor, the Lavinian diplomats should not have been mishandled. There were murmurs from the leaderless Sabines but no more. Peace resumed.
So years bled into years. Under Romulus’ guidance the expansion of Rome continued. There was the battle against Fidenae. The Fidenates had grown jealous of Roman power and begun harassing the outskirts of Rome’s country, settlements and merchants. This brought Romulus to action swiftly and decisively. He set a trap for the Fidenates and destroyed their army. Predictably they attempted a retreat, but Romulus and his men followed them home and strong-armed the gatekeepers even as they managed the gates. So it went that Rome had annexed yet another territory.
Then there was the city of Veii, peopled by Etruscans, who also tested the growing city’s mettle. By that time Rome had become prosperous, and cities far more confident than Fidenae had begun to take notice. And while Rome extended generous peace to towns and cities She conquered after war, few wished to undergo the initial strain of being conquered. Some had sought Rome out personally. Not Veii.
Romulus had tolerated the skirmishes for a time. He had attempted diplomatic means. As it were, Romulus was not so young and brash as he once were. Age had taught him a singular respect for peace that Veii did not see to share. Nevertheless, despite his feelings of peace, Romulus still knew war.
Romulus assembled his army, such a one that was far more impressive and numerous than that which he had used to smash the Sabines years ago. For all their bluster, the men of Veii, when met on the field, could do little to harry Romulus’ far better conditioned men. The pursuit of course, as it always did, brought them back to Veii. Here the Romans imagined that they would easily conquer the city. However Romulus knew something that the common soldiers did not. Veii was old. The city had stood for many generations, and many generations had added to the fortifications. Walls that could not be scaled by hand and foot were guarded by arch towers. Men with snares were standing by along the ramparts who would harry any Roman who would dare the futile climb. In short, Rome had not yet developed the technology necessary to overcome them. But they would, Romulus assured his men.
They were at an impasse. But not for long. Romulus surveyed the surrounding. Veii was a modest town, it had a granary, but this was only for storage and not production. Surrounding the town was farmland and pasture. Above it all was the hot Italic sun. The land was very dry. Romulus inclined his head and addressed the gatekeeper, “are you sure you won’t let us in?” he asked.
“Why would we let you in when you cannot break in?” the gatekeeper asked, with false bravado.
Romulus gave a playful shrug of his shoulders. “No particular reason, I suppose,” the great warlord said as he turned to his men. “Take what you can carry,” he said of the carelessly abandoned farmlands, “burn the rest.”
There arose a great panic in the city as Veii watched the Romans set fire to their wheeled carts, absconding with their sacks of grain. They watched as the Roman soldiers went wild, hacking away at vineyards, destroying crops, burning outbuildings.
It was a last ditch effort, but soldiers that had been regarrisoned to defend the city issued forth to attempt to dissuade the Romans. However, they were tired from their retreat and demoralised by the destruction Rome had inflicted in so short a time. By this time the leader of Veii appeared at the rampart to negotiate terms. One of Romulus’ men readied his bow, but Romulus stayed his hand.
“If you will not give me your city,” Romulus began, “I will give your city back to Gaia. We shall see what she does with it!”
Negotiations ensued, even as the Romans rampaged on. In the end, Romulus made his terms clear, “I have seen your defences. The next time I come here, I will smash them. Make no mistake, we will return if we so much as see a citizen of Veii inside of nine miles from here up the Tiber.” And that was the end of it.
This would be the last great skirmish Romulus would engage in over the course of his remaining years. What remained of that career was dismally political, and saw the fiery red of Romulus’ beard turn a pale silver. As time went on, Rome’s reputation spread, and the immediate threat to Her presence shrank, dwindled away. Romulus was dismayed to see how complacent peace had made the Tribunes and young Senate. While the soldiers, so far from the world of politics, sang their songs of former glories, the Senate waged endless wars of words that accomplished nothing.
Romulus grew disenchanted and withdrew from the political sphere, allowing his Senators to continue their babble unabated. He knew he could end their quibbling with a word, if need be. Instead he began to wander the countryside as old men do, and think about the past. He also considered the future.
It was in April one year that he found himself by the banks of the river Tiber, reminiscing. To the day he had ruled for 37 years. He still remembered the earlier times of adventure and battle, and he yearned to relive that glory. But, as it goes, a river may surge, but will always embrace a calm. So it seemed to be with men. His ruminations were interrupted.
He felt a change in the air and looked up to see the figure of a man, girt in travelling robes and wearing a hood. “Hail, stranger,” Romulus said, neither introducing himself nor alluding to his heroic stature. “Well met,” the stranger replied with a voice Romulus found to be eerily familiar.
“Who goes there?” Romulus asked, “I must say I’ve grown quite accustomed to my solitary walks along the river, I hadn’t expected to find company here today. Much less the company of an obvious foreigner.”
“Foreigner, you say?” the stranger asked, chuckling, clearly amused with the presumption. “Am I a foreigner?”
“If you were not, I would know you,” Romulus assured him, “I know everyone from the City.”
“Perhaps I am not from the City,” the stranger rebuffed.
“Then you are a foreigner,” Romulus replied.
“Is that any way to greet the father of your country?” the stranger asked, stepping forward.
“Father?” Romulus asked, confused.
“Listen Romulus,” the stranger said, keeping a safe distance, “I know you. I know your deeds, I know your past, and what’s more, I know your legacy.”
Romulus stood, “who are you?” he demanded. “Show yourself! Show me your face!”
The stranger obliged him, and Romulus found himself looking upon the face of a man. Yet, he knew at once it was no mere man. He had heard the voice before, and he had seen the eyes that looked back at him.
“Do you remember me?” the familiar stranger asked.
Romulus nodded slowly, and the stranger beckoned to a pair of small, dilapidated wooden boats on the shore. “Then you shall remember the manner in which I brought you to this river?” the stranger continued, to which Romulus nodded, still slowly. “I have brought you back again,” the stranger, who Romulus knew to be Mars, continued, “as I brought you to this world, I shall bring you to another.”
Romulus shook his head slowly and Mars went on, “as you have spoken to me before every battle, I have spoken to my father who rules over peace as I war.” Mars inclined his head, “your work must go on, but not here, and not in the grave. My blood is your blood, and my blood is Jupiter’s. You shall take your place amongst the Gods, and Rome shall became your arm.”
“How shall I leave Her?” Romulus asked.
“You will make one last stand,” Mars said, “your Senate is corrupt. There are conspirators that want your blood. We shall let them think they have it, but the Gods have smiled in your favour, their poison will not reach you.”
Mars turned away, still speaking, “speak with your wife before you go. Tell her what you will.”
“I will not leave her,” Romulus stated plainly.
“You would deny the Gods?” Mars asked.
“The Gods would not ask me to deny my wife, whom They gave me,” Romulus quipped.
“I have always appreciated your wit and your will, Son, I will make arrangements, and we shall see what comes of it.”
So Romulus returned to his house, a modest house for a king – he had chosen to remain in the first house he had built in Rome. It was a house dwarfed by newer, increasingly populated homes. Nevertheless, it was his, and he had been proud to have claimed it. Inside he found his wife Hersilia, mending tunics and dresses. He kissed her on each cheek and looked her in the eyes. “I have business at the Senate.”
Hersilia rolled her eyes, “always,” she muttered.
“Perhaps not for long,” Romulus mused and walked away. “I shall see you shortly,” he added as he left.
Hersilia was left alone to ponder his cryptic parting words. She turned to their household Lares and Penantes and began to pray.
Now Romulus walked to the Senate, uncertain as to how Mars’ words would play out. A great hush fell upon the Senators at his approach. This served only to make to the great warlord laugh, “what?” he asked, “if I didn’t know any better I’d say you fine gentlemen were plotting something!”
“Plotting?” one of the Senators’ baulked, “only the betterment of Rome.”
“Ah…” Romulus said, freely belittling them, “and what marvellous concoctions have you come up with? How shall you better my city?”
“Our city,” another Senator said, “needs to revitalise grain production and optimise trade routes.”
“Our city,” another quipped, “needs to improve the roads.”
“Our city,” another chimed in, “needs to consolidate taxes and constituent funds for building projects.
And so it went, with Romulus nodding slowly, facetiously. “There are some things you’ve left out,” Romulus said.
“Like what?” a Senator asked rising to the tone of Romulus’ condescension with an arrogance to rival the king’s.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Romulus smiled, “like Roman honour, and Roman glory. I see a Senate that grows fat on taxes while obligations to the Gods suffers, while bored soldiers are forced to sing songs and be told where to go by farmhands.” Romulus nodded, “my City was built on the promise that man can be better than what he was, that he can be more than a man.”
“Men can be whatever they choose,” another Senator said, “unless they choose to be Romulus.”
Romulus scowled and he shook his head, “clearly you wise gentlemen cannot benefit from my counsel, I shall take my leave of you.”
“And do what?” one of the senators chortled, “there’s no one left for you to fight.”
“There are entire worlds left for us to find, Senators,” Romulus said, “someday my city will spread across the face of the earth.”
With that Romulus left and went to the encampment of Campus Martius, where he discussed matters of honour and dignity with his soldiers as he so often had before. Naturally the flow of conversation returned to the battles they had fought, and the enemies they had vanquished, the rebellions they had squashed. Martial things.
Finally a soldier asked if he could speak his mind, and Romulus nodded. “Lord, when will we fight again? I’m an old soldier, I don’t want to die in my bed, I want to live on my feet! I don’t want Dis Pater to take me. I want Mars to bless me.”
The skies had begun to darken and grow grey, fat and heavy with rain. It was as if the heavens observed the dour mood of the soldiers and gave it back to them. In the distance, there was the faint rumble of thunder. The soldiers paid it no mind, but Romulus did.
Romulus grinned. It seemed to him that his riddle was answered. He rose up and grasped at his sheathed sword. The men watched with bated breath. “ You miss it, don’t you? The glory? I miss it, too! Rome was never built to stagnate, never built to rot!” He nodded, “mark my words, as long as Rome has Her faithful soldiers, Mars will never let us die! You have fought with honour, but I’ll tell you that Mars has yet to show us half the destiny that the fates and augurs have concealed!”
The men began to cheer, and Romulus knew that those soldiers were not alone. There were those in the crowd that did not cheer. There were Senators, soldiers of peacetime, that had come to observe. The Senate did not want another war, they did not want Rome to expand – it would be too expensive they claimed. And now Romulus knew his conspirators.
Before the soldiers knew what was happening the traitors rushed at him. What happened next came about as quickly as the peel of lightning that struck the ground near the camp and the thunder that sent the troops sprawling. Another bolt of lightning struck amid the camp, blinding everyone. Soldiers slew the traitors in a quick and merciless bloodbath, even blinded by the storm. And when that storm was gone, so was Romulus.
The one or two politicians that escaped claimed that Romulus, who meant to lead Rome into ruin, had been killed by the victorious senate – ripped apart and made unrecognisable. But the soldiers, who far outweighed those politicians in both numbers and respect, swore otherwise. Romulus had been assumed into Heaven by Jupiter. And for the Roman Citizens who had come from poverty and into prevalence, those words were Gospel. Of course, these rumours were seemingly confirmed by the fact that Romulus’ wife had disappeared during the same violent storm that had taken Romulus.
In the land of the Sabines nearby, whispers surfaced that Romulus and Hersilia had appeared as their God and Goddess Quirinus and Hora. There, apparently, they had blessed their successor Numa Pompilius to lead both Roman and Sabine. Numa’s first act as king was to install a priest to conduct worship for the deified king. And in Rome, the Romans considered the story of Romulus, and it was decided that their City was blessed, their people chosen by the Gods to rule. So Rome would bide her time, grow strong, and, history tells us, she followed Romulus’ prophecy – often without even knowing it.
There is more to tell. For a story is never concluded, and for every story that we tell, a hundred spins remain. For Roman glory has never faded, and words of Her deeds cover the face of the Earth many hundreds of years after her buildings passed ownership to the sons of other tribes. We know much of what Rome did, and we may wonder at what She did that we know nothing of. We may wonder still at what She might have been, had circumstances changed. But what we know is that Romulus’ legend ended so that Rome’s could begin. Was he a myth, or a man? A slice of both, perhaps. For it was said in olden times that Romans had preserved, much to their expense, the house in which they believed the old king lived. Many Romans, therefore, believed in Romulus – and the subtle layers of truth in his tale certainly remind us of the national character Rome would take. And this leaves me with my final question: what people and persons shall we be remembered by, when we tell future generations of our lands and peoples?
Hopefully you have enjoyed reading as I have enjoyed writing. If you feel I have missed any point in my work, if you wish me to clarify anything, or if you feel compelled to bring something to my attention: please, do write me below. I am open to criticism and suggestion, or even idle banter. I appreciate your patronage.
(rhymes with) Seax