Friday, December 12, 2014

Rape of the Sabine Women: The Growth of Rome

Rape of the Sabine Women by Pietro da Cortona
Rome forged one of the greatest Empires that the world had ever seen. Covering the whole Mediterranean and most of Europe, it became a standard of many empire in the future. Its civilization became the envy of many civilization. Its beginnings, however, was shrouded with legends. The famous story of the twins Romulus and Remus was about the foundation of Rome. It was a story of murder. But the legendary story of growth of Rome was equally heinous and barbaric. The legend of the Rape of the Sabine Women was a story of deception, abduction, and off course, rape.

The legend of the Rape of the Sabine Women was based on the stories laid down by first century BCE writers. Tituts Livius Patavinus or better known as Livy wrote the Ab Urbe Condita Libri or the Books from the Foundation of the City which was about the early history of Rome. Among its topic was the growth of the city of Rome through the rape of the Sabine Women. Another source about the Rape of the Sabine Women was the work of the famous Roman writer Ovid. The Art of Love gave a goory detail of the act of mass rape made by the early Romans towards the women of its neighbors, most from Sabine.

The Rape of the Sabine Women began with a population problem. Romulus’ Rome was the strongest city-state in the area near the Tiber River. But the strength of Rome was in danger of becoming only temporary. One problem was its population. Rome’s population was made of thugs, and outcasts from neighboring cities who went to Rome after Romulus offered sanctuary for them. But most of the ostracized that came were men. With a population of men and few to no women, Rome had a shortage of children that would continue Rome’s dominance. Romulus then tried to look for solutions.

His first answer was intermarriage between Roman men and the women of neighboring city-states. Romulus sent envoys to every nearby cities to offer the idea. But rulers of neighboring countries did not welcome or accept the idea. They would not allow their women to be married off to bunch of men cast off by their cities. They would not allow their daughters to be related to a city of outcasts. In addition, they also realize that if they would denying access to their women would be politically and military advantageous to their side. Rome’s power and greatness would diminish along with its aging population. Without children, Rome would die along its present population. And so, they saw it fit to reject the offer. Envoys sent by Romulus returned to Rome with failure.

Roumulus then began to plan another scheme. If he could not get women by diplomacy, he would get them by force. Along with the men of Rome, Romulus devised a plan to abduct the women of neighboring states. The plan began with a deception of their neighbors. They invited them to attend to a religious celebration of the Roman god of granary, Consualia. By that way, all women would be in one place and made the abduction easier. Families from Caeninenses, Crustumini, and Antemnates arrived in Rome for the festivities. But the largest attendee to the event were from Sabine. Little to the knowledge of the attendees, they were entering a trap.

The culminating event of the festivities was a show that would be watched by all in a theater. Visitors watched the Roman religious spectacle in awe and concentrated on the event. Meanwhile, during the middle of the event, a distraction was made, then a signal was given. Suddenly, at the surprise of many, Roman men charged and grabbed every women that they saw and raped them mercilessly. Ovid described the chaos that ensued:

"Some tore their hair; some swooned away; some wept in silence; some called vainly for their mothers; some sobbed aloud; others seemed stupefied with fear; some stood transfixed; others tried to flee."

The most beautiful women in the crowd was reserved for high officials. Women with exemplary beauty were raped by Senators.

Many men fled back to their home cities in outraged of the women. They felt betrayed and violated. They would never forget and they would not be quiet after the barbaric act. Complains were forwarded to Romulus who simply answered them that it was the result of their denial of the proposal of intermarriage. And so, many cities decided to avenge the treachery by war. The Caeninenses, Crustumini, and Antemnates attack Rome one by one. But all three failed to defeat the strong army of Rome. And so, all hopes of revenge fell to the most affected and the most powerful city that equaled Rome – the Sabines.

Sabine King Titus Tatius led the attack on Rome. King Titus Tatius was successful in capturing Rome by using betrayal. While outside the city, he persuaded the daughter of Roman commander Spurius Tarpeius, Tarpeia, to open the gates of Rome’s capitol for them in exchange for the glittering and rich ornaments that the Sabine wore in their arms. The girl agreed and opened the gates. Sabine warriors flooded in and captured the capitol. Instead of treasure, the Sabines betrayed the treacherous Roman girl with death. They stacked her with shield on the ground until she died by suffocation or by the crushing weight of their shields. Next, the Roman attempted to counter attack and recapture Roman capitol. Romulus forces prepared to face the Sabines in the valley between the Capitoline Hill and the Palatine Hill. King Titus prepared to face the Romans as well. As the two forces faced each other eye to eye in the valley; as the battle was about to start; a group of women appeared and intervened the upcoming battle between the two opposing forces. It was the raped Sabine women. Pregnant already, they surrendered already to the fact that the Romans were their husbands and their children in the womb was their children. As Livy recounted the words of the Sabine women:

"If you are dissatisfied with the relationship between you, and with our marriage, turn your resentment against us; it is we who are the cause of war, of wounds and bloodshed to our husbands and parents: it will be better for us to perish than to live widowed or orphans without one or other of you."

The fathers of the Sabine women were touch as their Roman enemies were as well. Romulus, meanwhile, forgave the parents of the Sabine women. From a request from his wife, Hersilia, Romulus pardoned the fathers of the Sabine women and gave them Roman citizenship.  With the brave act of the Sabine women to come to the battle resulted to the unity of Romans and Sabines. The Sabines joined Rome and formed one state. King Titus Tatius and Romulus ruled together.   

The story of the Rape of the Sabine Women was another story of betrayal in a long line of stories of treachery in Roman history. Although legendary, the Rape of the Sabine women became the source of many tradition of Rome, from marriage to even politics. Marriage practices became influenced by the abduction of the Sabine women. The concept of rule by two consul began. The valley between the Palatine and the Capitoline Hill became the center of government and the area were the majestic Roman Forum was constructed. The story of the Rape of Sabine Women was also a story of brutality and barbaric nature of the Roman people. It showed, that none can stop the will of Rome to get its way. It showed the strong will of Rome which it would show for centuries and would make them one of the largest empire that the world had seen. 

Scullard, H. H. A History of the Roman World: 753 to 146 BC. New York: Routledge, 1980.

Smith, M. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Rape. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2004.

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