Numa Pompilius


by Plutarch

Though the pedigrees of noble families of Rome go back in exact form as
far as Numa Pompilius, yet there is great diversity amongst historians
concerning the time in which he reigned; a certain writer called
Clodius, in a book of his entitled Strictures on Chronology, avers that
the ancient registers of Rome were lost when the city was sacked by the
Gauls, and that those which are now extant were counterfeited, to
flatter and serve the humor of some men who wished to have themselves
derived from some ancient and noble lineage, though in reality with no
claim to it. And though it be commonly reported that Numa was a scholar
and a familiar acquaintance of Pythagoras, yet it is again contradicted
by others, who affirm, that he was acquainted with neither the Greek
language nor learning, and that he was a person of that natural talent
and ability as of himself to attain to virtue, or else that he found
some barbarian instructor superior to Pythagoras. Some affirm, also,
that Pythagoras was not contemporary with Numa, but lived at least five
generations after him; and that some other Pythagoras, a native of
Sparta, who, in the sixteenth Olympiad, in the third year of which Numa
became king, won a prize at the Olympic race, might, in his travel
through Italy, have gained acquaintance with Numa, and assisted him in
the constitution of his kingdom; whence it comes that many Laconian laws
and customs appear amongst the Roman institutions. Yet, in any case,
Numa was descended of the Sabines, who declare themselves to be a colony
of the Lacedaemonians. And chronology, in general, is uncertain;
especially when fixed by the lists of victors in the Olympic games,
which were published at a late period by Hippias the Elean, and rest on
no positive authority. Commencing, however, at a convenient point, we
will proceed to give the most noticeable events that are recorded of the
life of Numa.

It was the thirty-seventh year, counted from the foundation of Rome,
when Romulus, then reigning, did, on the fifth day of the month of July,
called the Caprotine Nones, offer a public sacrifice at the Goat's
Marsh, in presence of the senate and people of Rome. Suddenly the sky
was darkened, a thick cloud of storm and rain settled on the earth; the
common people fled in affright, and were dispersed; and in this
whirlwind Romulus disappeared, his body being never found either living
or dead. A foul suspicion presently attached to the patricians, and
rumors were current among the people as if that they, weary of kingly
government, and exasperated of late by the imperious deportment of
Romulus towards them, had plotted against his life and made him away,
that so they might assume the authority and government into their own
hands. This suspicion they sought to turn aside by decreeing divine
honors to Romulus, as to one not dead but translated to a higher
condition. And Proculus, a man of note, took oath that he saw Romulus
caught up into heaven in his arms and vestments, and heard him, as he
ascended, cry out that they should hereafter style him
by the name of Quirinus.

This trouble, being appeased, was followed by another, about the
election of a new king: for the minds of the original Romans and the new
inhabitants were not as yet grown into that perfect unity of temper, but
that there were diversities of factions amongst the commonalty, and
jealousies and emulations amongst the senators; for though all agreed
that it was necessary to have a king. yet what person or of which
nation, was matter of dispute. For those who had been builders of the
city with Romulus, and had already yielded a share of their lands and
dwellings to the Sabines, were indignant at any pretension on their part
to rule over their benefactors. On the other side, the Sabines could
plausibly allege, that, at their king Tatius's decease, they had
peaceably submitted to the sole command of Romulus; so now their turn
was come to have a king chosen out of their own nation; nor did they
esteem themselves to have combined with the Romans as inferiors, nor to
have contributed less than they to the increase of Rome, which, without
their numbers and association, could scarcely have merited the name of a

Thus did both parties argue and dispute their cause; but lest meanwhile
discord, in the absence of all command, should occasion general
confusion, it was agreed that the hundred and fifty senators should
interchangeably execute the office of supreme magistrate, and each in
succession, with the ensigns of royalty, should offer the solemn
sacrifices and dispatch public business for the space of six hours by
day and six by night; which vicissitude and equal distribution of power
would preclude all rivalry amongst the senators and envy from the
people, when they should behold one, elevated to the degree of a king,
leveled within the space of a day to the condition of a private citizen.
This form of government is termed, by the Romans, interregnum. Nor yet
could they, by this plausible and modest way of rule, escape suspicion
and clamor of the vulgar, as though they were changing the form of
government to an oligarchy, and designing to keep the supreme power in a
sort of wardship under themselves, without ever proceeding to choose a
king. Both parties came at length to the conclusion that the one should
choose a king out of the body of the other; the Romans make choice of a
Sabine, or the Sabines name a Roman; this was esteemed the best
expedient to put an end to all party spirit, and the prince who should
be chosen would have an equal affection to the one party as his electors
and to the other as his kinsmen. The Sabines remitted the choice to the
original Romans, and they, too, on their part, were more inclinable to
receive a Sabine king elected by themselves than to see a Roman exalted
by the Sabines. Consultations being accordingly held, they named Numa
Pompilius, of the Sabine race, a person of that high reputation for
excellence, that, though he were not actually residing at Rome, yet he
was no sooner nominated than accepted by the Sabines, with acclamation
almost greater than that of the electors themselves.

The choice being declared and made known to the people, principal men
of both parties were appointed to visit and entreat him, that he would
accept the administration of the government. Numa resided at a famous
city of the Sabines called Cures, whence the Romans and Sabines gave
themselves the joint name of Quirites. Pomponius, an illustrious
person, was his father, and he the youngest of his four sons, being (as
it had been divinely ordered) born on the twenty-first day of April, the
day of the foundation of Rome. He was endued with a soul rarely
tempered by nature, and disposed to virtue, which he had yet more
subdued by discipline, a severe life, and the study of philosophy; means
which had not only succeeded in expelling the baser passions, but also
the violent and rapacious temper which barbarians are apt to think
highly of; true bravery, in his judgment, was regarded as consisting in
the subjugation of our passions by reason.

He banished all luxury and softness from his own home, and, while
citizens alike and strangers found in him an incorruptible judge and
counselor, in private he devoted himself not to amusement or lucre, but
to the worship of the immortal gods, and the rational contemplation of
their divine power and nature. So famous was he, that Tatius, the
colleague of Romulus, chose him for his son-in-law, and gave him his
only daughter, which, however, did not stimulate his vanity to desire to
dwell with his father-in-law at Rome; he rather chose to inhabit with
his Sabines, and cherish his own father in his old age; and Tatia, also,
preferred the private condition of her husband before the honors and
splendor she might have enjoyed with her father. She is said to have
died after she had been married thirteen years, and then Numa, leaving
the conversation of the town, betook himself to a country life, and in a
solitary manner frequented the groves and fields consecrated to the
gods, passing his life in desert places. And this in particular gave
occasion to the story about the goddess, namely, that Numa did not
retire from human society out of any melancholy or disorder of mind.
but because he had tasted the joys of more elevated intercourse, and,
admitted to celestial wedlock in the love and converse of the goddess
Egeria, had attained to blessedness, and to a divine wisdom.

The story evidently resembles those very ancient fables which the
Phrygians have received and still recount of Attis, the Bithynians of
Herodotus, the Arcadians of Endymion, not to mention several others who
were thought blessed and beloved of the gods; nor does it seem strange
if God, a lover, not of horses or birds, but men, should not disdain to
dwell with the virtuous and converse with the wise and temperate soul,
though it be altogether hard, indeed, to believe, that any god or daemon
is capable of a sensual or bodily love and passion for any human form or
beauty. Though, indeed, the wise Egyptians do not unplausibly make the
distinction, that it may be possible for a divine spirit so to apply
itself to the nature of a woman, as to imbreed in her the first
beginnings of generation, while on the other side they conclude it
impossible for the male kind to have any intercourse or mixture by the
body with any divinity, not considering, however, that what takes place
on the one side, must also take place on the other; intermixture, by
force of terms, is reciprocal. Not that it is otherwise than befitting
to suppose that the gods feel towards men affection, and love, in the
sense of affection, and in the form of care and solicitude for their
virtue and their good dispositions. And, therefore, it was no error of
those who feigned, that Phorbas, Hyacinthus, and Admetus were beloved by
Apollo; or that Hippolytus the Sicyonian was so much in his favor, that,
as often as he sailed from Sicyon to Cirrha, the Pythian prophetess
uttered this heroic verse, expressive of the god's attention and joy:

Now doth Hippolytus return again,
And venture his dear life upon the main.

It is reported, also, that Pan became enamored of Pindar for his verses,
and the divine power rendered honor to Hesiod and Archilochus after
their death for the sake of the Muses; there is a statement, also, that
Aesculapius sojourned with Sophocles in his lifetime, of which many
proofs still exist, and that, when he was dead, another deity took care
for his funeral rites. And so if any credit may be given to these
instances, why should we judge it incongruous, that a like spirit of the
gods should visit Zaleucus, Minos, Zoroaster, Lycurgus, and Numa, the
controllers of kingdoms, and the legislators for commonwealths? Nay, it
may be reasonable to believe, that the gods, with a serious purpose,
assist at the councils and serious debates of such men, to inspire and
direct them; and visit poets and musicians, if at all, in their more
sportive moods; but, for difference of opinion here, as Bacchylides
said, "the road is broad." For there is no absurdity in the account
also given, that Lycurgus and Numa, and other famous lawgivers, having
the task of subduing perverse and refractory multitudes, and of
introducing great innovations, themselves made this pretension to divine
authority, which, if not true, assuredly was expedient for the interests
of those it imposed upon.

Numa was about forty years of age when the ambassadors came to make him
offers of the kingdom; the speakers were Proculus and Velesus, one or
other of whom it had been thought the people would elect as their new
king; the original Romans being for Proculus, and the Sabines for
Velesus. Their speech was very short, supposing that, when they came to
tender a kingdom, there needed little to persuade to an acceptance; but,
contrary to their expectation, they found that they had to use many
reasons and entreaties to induce one, that lived in peace and quietness,
to accept the government of a city whose foundation and increase had
been made, in a manner, in war. In presence of his father and his
kinsman Marcius, he returned answer that "Every alteration of a man's
life is dangerous to him; but madness only could induce one who needs
nothing and is satisfied with everything to quit a life he is
accustomed to; which, whatever else it is deficient in, at any rate has
the advantage of certainty over one wholly doubtful and unknown.
Though, indeed, the difficulties of this government cannot even be
called unknown; Romulus, who first held it, did not escape the suspicion
of having plotted against the life of his colleague Tatius; nor the
senate the like accusation, of having treasonably murdered Romulus. Yet
Romulus had the advantage to be thought divinely born and miraculously
preserved and nurtured. My birth was mortal; I was reared and
instructed by men that are known to you. The very points of my
character that are most commended mark me as unfit to reign,--love of
retirement and of studies inconsistent with business, a passion that has
become inveterate in me for peace, for unwarlike occupations, and for
the society of men whose meetings are but those of worship and of kindly
intercourse, whose lives in general are spent upon their farms and their
pastures. I should but be, methinks, a laughing-stock, while I should
go about to inculcate the worship of the gods, and give lessons in the
love of justice and the abhorrence of violence and war, to a city whose
needs are rather for a captain than for a king."

The Romans, perceiving by these words that he was declining to accept
the kingdom, were the more instant and urgent with him that he would not
forsake and desert them in this condition, and suffer them to relapse,
as they must, into their former sedition and civil discord, there being
no person on whom both parties could accord but on himself. And, at
length, his father and Marcius, taking him aside, persuaded him to
accept a gift so noble in itself, and tendered to him rather from heaven
than from men. "Though," said they, "you neither desire riches, being
content with what you have, nor court the fame of authority, as having
already the more valuable fame of virtue, yet you will consider that
government itself is a service of God, who now calls out into action
your qualities of justice and wisdom, which were not meant to be left
useless and unemployed. Cease, therefore, to avoid and turn your back
upon an office which, to a wise man, is a field for great and honorable
actions, for the magnificent worship of the gods, and for the
introduction of habits of piety, which authority alone can effect
amongst a people. Tatius, though a foreigner, was beloved, and the
memory of Romulus has received divine honors; and who knows but that
this people, being victorious, may be satiated with war, and, content
with the trophies and spoils they have acquired, may be, above all
things, desirous to have a pacific and justice-loving prince, to lead
them to good order and quiet? But if, indeed, their desires are
uncontrollably and madly set on war, were it not better, then, to have
the reins held by such a moderating hand as is able to divert the fury
another way, and that your native city and the whole Sabine nation
should possess in you a bond of good-will and friendship with this young
and growing power?"

With these reasons and persuasions several auspicious omens are said to
have concurred, and the zeal, also, of his fellow-citizens, who, on
understanding what message the Roman ambassadors had brought him,
entreated him to accompany them, and to accept the kingdom as a means to
unanimity and concord between the nations.

Numa, yielding to these inducements, having first performed divine
sacrifice, proceeded to Rome, being met in his way by the senate and
people, who, with an impatient desire, came forth to receive him; the
women, also, welcomed him with joyful acclamations, and sacrifices were
offered for him in all the temples, and so universal was the joy, that
they seemed to be receiving, not a new king, but a new kingdom. In this
manner he descended into the forum, where Spurius Vettius, whose turn it
was to be interrex at that hour, put it to the vote; and all declared
him king. Then the regalities and robes of authority were brought to
him; but he refused to be invested with them until he had first
consulted and been confirmed by the gods; so, being accompanied by the
priests and augurs, he ascended the Capitol, which at that time the
Romans called the Tarpeian Hill. Then the chief of the augurs covered
Numa's head, and turned his face towards the south, and, standing behind
him, laid his right hand on his head, and prayed, turning his eyes every
way, in expectation of some auspicious signal from the gods. It was
wonderful, meantime, with what silence and devotion the multitude stood
assembled in the forum in similar expectation and suspense, till
auspicious birds appeared and passed on the right. Then Numa,
appareling himself in his royal robes, descended from the hill to the
people, by whom he was received and congratulated with shouts and
acclamations of welcome, as a holy king, and beloved of all the gods.

The first thing he did at his entrance into government was to dismiss
the band of three hundred men which had been Romulus's life-guard,
called by him Celeres, saying, that he would not distrust those who put
confidence in him, nor rule over a people that distrusted him. The next
thing he did was to add to the two priests of Jupiter and Mars a third
in honor of Romulus, whom he called the Flamen Quirinalis. The Romans
anciently called their priests Flamines, by corruption of the word
Pilamines, from a certain cap which they wore, called Pileus. In those
times, Greek words were more mixed with the Latin than at present; thus
also the royal robe, which is called Laena, Juba says, is the same as
the Greek Chlaena; and that the name of Camillus, given to the boy with
both his parents living, who serves in the temple of Jupiter, was taken
from the name given by some Greeks to Mercury, denoting his office of
attendance on the gods.

When Numa had, by such measures, won the favor and affection of the
people, he set himself, without delay, to the task of bringing the hard
and iron Roman temper to somewhat more of gentleness and equity.
Plato's expression of a city in high fever was never more applicable
than to Rome at that time; in its origin formed by daring and warlike
spirits, whom bold and desperate adventure brought thither from every
quarter, it had found in perpetual wars and incursions on its neighbors
its after sustenance and means of growth and in conflict with danger the
source of new strength; like piles, which the blows of the rammer serve
to fix into the ground. Wherefore Numa, judging it no slight
undertaking to mollify and bend to peace the presumptuous and stubborn
spirits of this people, began to operate upon them with the sanctions of
religion. He sacrificed often, and used processions and religious
dances, in which most commonly he officiated in person; by such
combinations of solemnity with refined and humanizing pleasures, seeking
to win over and mitigate their fiery and warlike tempers. At times,
also, he filled their imaginations with religious terrors, professing
that strange apparitions had been seen, and dreadful voices heard; thus
subduing and humbling their minds by a sense of supernatural fears.

This method which Numa used made it believed that he had been much
conversant with Pythagoras; for in the philosophy of the one, as in the
policy of the other, man's relations to the deity occupy a great place.
It is said, also, that the solemnity of his exterior garb and gestures
was adopted by him from the same feeling with Pythagoras. For it is
said of Pythagoras, that he had taught an eagle to come at his call, and
stoop down to him in its flight; and that, as he passed among the people
assembled at the Olympic games, he showed them his golden thigh; besides
many other strange and miraculous seeming practices, on which Timon the
Phliasian wrote the distich,--

Who, of the glory of a juggler proud,
With solemn talk imposed upon the crowd.

In like manner Numa spoke of a certain goddess or mountain nymph that
was in love with him, and met him in secret, as before related; and
professed that he entertained familiar conversation with the Muses, to
whose teaching he ascribed the greatest part of his revelations; and
amongst them, above all, he recommended to the veneration of the Romans
one in particular, whom he named Tacita, the Silent; which he did
perhaps in imitation and honor of the Pythagorean silence. His opinion,
also, of images is very agreeable to the doctrine of Pythagoras; who
conceived of the first principle of being as transcending sense and
passion, invisible and incorrupt, and only to be apprehended by abstract
intelligence. So Numa forbade the Romans to represent God in the form
of man or beast, nor was there any painted or graven image of a deity
admitted amongst them for the space of the first hundred and seventy
years, all which time their temples and chapels were kept free and pure
from images; to such baser objects they deemed it impious to liken the
highest, and all access to God impossible, except by the pure act of the
intellect. His sacrifices, also, had great similitude to the ceremonial
of Pythagoras, for they were not celebrated with effusion of blood, but
consisted of flour, wine, and the least costly offerings. Other
external proofs, too, are urged to show the connection Numa had with
Pythagoras. The comic writer Epicharmus, an ancient author, and of the
school of Pythagoras, in a book of his dedicated to Antenor, records
that Pythagoras was made a freeman of Rome. Again, Numa gave to one of
his four sons the name of Mamercus, which was the name of one of the
sons of Pythagoras; from whence, as they say sprang that ancient
patrician family of the Aemilii, for that the king gave him in sport the
surname of Aemilius, for his engaging and graceful manner in speaking.
I remember, too, that when I was at Rome, I heard many say, that, when
the oracle directed two statues to be raised, one to the wisest, and
another to the most valiant man of Greece, they erected two of brass,
one representing Alcibiades, and the other Pythagoras.

But to pass by these matters, which are full of uncertainty, and not so
important as to be worth our time to insist on them, the original
constitution of the priests, called Pontifices, is ascribed unto Numa,
and he himself was, it is said, the first of them; and that they have
the name of Pontifices from potens, powerful, because they attend the
service of the gods, who have power and command over all. Others make
the word refer to exceptions of impossible cases; the priests were to
perform all the duties possible to them; if any thing lay beyond their
power, the exception was not to be cavilled at. The most common opinion
is the most absurd, which derives this word from pons, and assigns the
priests the title of bridge-makers. The sacrifices performed on the
bridge were amongst the most sacred and ancient, and the keeping and
repairing of the bridge attached, like any other public sacred office,
to the priesthood. It was accounted not simply unlawful, but a positive
sacrilege, to pull down the wooden bridge; which moreover is said, in
obedience to an oracle, to have been built entirely of timber and
fastened with wooden pins, without nails or cramps of iron. The stone
bridge was built a very long time after, when Aemilius was quaestor, and
they do, indeed, say also that the wooden bridge was not so old as
Numa's time, but was finished by Ancus Marcius, when he was king, who
was the grandson of Numa by his daughter.

The office of Pontifex Maximus, or chief priest, was to declare and
interpret the divine law, or, rather, to preside over sacred rites; he
not only prescribed rules for public ceremony, but regulated the
sacrifices of private persons, not suffering them to vary from
established custom, and giving information to every one of what was
requisite for purposes of worship or supplication. He was also guardian
of the vestal virgins, the institution of whom, and of their perpetual
fire, was attributed to Numa, who, perhaps fancied the charge of pure
and uncorrupted flames would be fitly entrusted to chaste and unpolluted
persons, or that fire, which consumes, but produces nothing, bears all
analogy to the virgin estate. In Greece, wherever a perpetual holy fire
is kept, as at Delphi and Athens, the charge of it is committed, not to
virgins, but widows past the time of marriage. And in case by any
accident it should happen that this fire became extinct, as the holy
lamp was at Athens under the tyranny of Aristion, and at Delphi, when
that temple was burnt by the Medes, as also in the time of the
Mithridatic and Roman civil war, when not only the fire was
extinguished, but the altar demolished, then, afterwards, in kindling
this fire again, it was esteemed an impiety to light it from common
sparks or flame, or from any thing but the pure and unpolluted rays of
the sun, which they usually effect by concave mirrors, of a figure
formed by the revolution of an isoceles rectangular triangle, all the
lines from the circumference of which meeting in a center, by holding it
in the light of the sun they can collect and concentrate all its rays
at this one point of convergence; where the air will now become
rarefied, and any light, dry, combustible matter will kindle as soon as
applied, under the effect of the rays, which here acquire the substance
and active force of fire. Some are of opinion that these vestals had no
other business than the preservation of this fire; but others conceive
that they were keepers of other divine secrets, concealed from all but
themselves, of which we have told all that may lawfully be asked or
told, in the life of Camillus. Gegania and Verenia, it is recorded,
were the names of the first two virgins consecrated and ordained by
Numa; Canuleia and Tarpeia succeeded; Servius afterwards added two, and
the number of four has continued to the present time.

The statutes prescribed by Numa for the vestals were these: that they
should take a vow of virginity for the space of thirty years, the first
ten of which they were to spend in learning their duties, the second ten
in performing them, and the remaining ten in teaching and instructing
others. Thus the whole term being completed, it was lawful for them to
marry, and, leaving the sacred order, to choose any condition of life
that pleased them; but this permission few, as they say, made use of;
and in cases where they did so, it was observed that their change was
not a happy one, but accompanied ever after with regret and melancholy;
so that the greater number, from religious fears and scruples, forbore,
and continued to old age and death in the strict observance
of a single life.

For this condition he compensated by great privileges and prerogatives;
as that they had power to make a will in the lifetime of their father;
that they had a free administration of their own affairs without
guardian or tutor, which was the privilege of women who were the mothers
of three children; when they go abroad, they have the fasces carried
before them; and if in their walks they chance to meet a criminal on his
way to execution, it saves his life, upon oath made that the meeting was
an accidental one, and not concerted or of set purpose. Any one who
presses upon the chair on which they are carried, is put to death. If
these vestals commit any minor fault, they are punishable by the high-
priest only, who scourges the offender, sometimes with her clothes off,
in a dark place, with a curtain drawn between; but she that has broken
her vow is buried alive near the gate called Collina, where a little
mound of earth stands, inside the city, reaching some little distance,
called in Latin agger; under it a narrow room is constructed, to which a
descent is made by stairs; here they prepare a bed, and light a lamp,
and leave a small quantity of victuals, such as bread, water, a pail of
milk, and some oil; that so that body which had been consecrated and
devoted to the most sacred service of religion might not be said to
perish by such a death as famine. The culprit herself is put in a
litter, which they cover over, and tie her down with cords on it, so
that nothing she utters may be heard. They then take her to the forum;
all people silently go out of the way as she passes, and such as follow
accompany the bier with solemn and speechless sorrow; and, indeed, there
is not any spectacle more appalling, nor any day observed by the city
with greater appearance of gloom and sadness. When they come to the
place of execution, the officers loose the cords, and then the high-
priest, lifting his hands to heaven, pronounces certain prayers to
himself before the act; then he brings out the prisoner, being still
covered, and placing her upon the steps that lead down to the cell,
turns away his face with the rest of the priests; the stairs are drawn
up after she has gone down, and a quantity of earth is heaped up over
the entrance to the cell, so as to prevent it from being distinguished
from the rest of the mound. This is the punishment of those who break
their vow of virginity.

It is said, also, that Numa built the temple of Vesta, which was
intended for a repository of the holy fire, of a circular form, not to
represent the figure of the earth, as if that were the same as Vesta,
but that of the general universe, in the center of which the
Pythagoreans place the element of fire, and give it the name of Vesta
and the unit; and do not hold that the earth is immovable, or that it is
situated in the center of the globe, but that it keeps a circular motion
about the seat of fire, and is not in the number of the primary
elements; in this agreeing with the opinion of Plato, who, they say, in
his later life, conceived that the earth held a lateral position, and
that the central and sovereign space was reserved for some nobler body.

There was yet a farther use of the priests, and that was to give people
directions in the national usages at funeral rites. Numa taught them to
regard these offices, not as a pollution, but as a duty paid to the gods
below, into whose hands the better part of us is transmitted; especially
they were to worship the goddess Libitina, who presided over all the
ceremonies performed at burials; whether they meant hereby Proserpina,
or, as the most learned of the Romans conceive, Venus, not inaptly
attributing the beginning and end of man's life to the agency of one and
the same deity. Numa also prescribed rules for regulating the days of
mourning, according to certain times and ages. As, for example, a child
of three years was not to be mourned for at all; one older, up to ten
years, for as many months as it was years old; and the longest time of
mourning for any person whatsoever was not to exceed the term of ten
months; which was the time appointed for women that lost their husbands
to continue in widowhood. If any married again before that time, by the
laws of Numa she was to sacrifice a cow big with calf.

Numa, also, was founder of several other orders of priests, two of which
I shall mention, the Salii and the Feciales, which are among the
clearest proofs of the devoutness and sanctity of his character. These
Fecials, or guardians of peace, seem to have had their name from their
office, which was to put a stop to disputes by conference and speech;
for it was not allowable to take up arms until they had declared all
hopes of accommodation to be at an end, for in Greek, too, we call it
peace when disputes are settled by words, and not by force. The Romans
commonly dispatched the Fecials, or heralds, to those who had offered
them injury, requesting satisfaction; and, in case they refused, they
then called the gods to witness, and, with imprecations upon themselves
and their country should they be acting unjustly, so declared war;
against their will, or without their consent, it was lawful neither for
soldier nor king to take up arms; the war was begun with them, and, when
they had first handed it over to the commander as a just quarrel, then
his business was to deliberate of the manner and ways to carry it on.
It is believed that the slaughter and destruction which the Gauls made
of the Romans was a judgment on the city for neglect of this religious
proceeding; for that when these barbarians besieged the Clusinians,
Fabius Ambustus was dispatched to their camp to negotiate peace for the
besieged; and, on their returning a rude refusal, Fabius imagined that
his office of ambassador was at an end, and, rashly engaging on the side
of the Clusinians, challenged the bravest of the enemy to a single
combat. It was the fortune of Fabius to kill his adversary, and to take
his spoils; but when the Gauls discovered it, they sent a herald to Rome
to complain against him; since, before war was declared, he had, against
the law of nations, made a breach of the peace. The matter being
debated in the senate, the Fecials were of opinion that Fabius ought to
be consigned into the hands of the Gauls; but he, being forewarned of
their judgment, fled to the people, by whose protection and favor he
escaped the sentence. On this, the Gauls marched with their army to
Rome, where, having taken the Capitol, they sacked the city. The
particulars of all which are fully given in the history of Caminus.

The origin of the Salii is this. In the eighth year of the reign of
Numa, a terrible pestilence, which traversed all Italy, ravaged likewise
the city of Rome; and the citizens being in distress and despondent, a
brazen target, they say, fell from heaven into the hands of Numa who
gave them this marvelous account of it: that Egeria and the Muses had
assured him it was sent from heaven for the cure and safety of the city,
and that, to keep it secure, he was ordered by them to make eleven
others, so like in dimension and form to the original that no thief
should be able to distinguish the true from the counterfeit. He farther
declared, that he was commanded to consecrate to the Muses the place,
and the fields about it, where they had been chiefly wont to meet with
him, and that the spring which watered the field should be hallowed for
the use of the vestal virgins, who were to wash and cleanse the
penetralia of their sanctuary with those holy waters. The truth of all
which was speedily verified by the cessation of the pestilence. Numa
displayed the target to the artificers and bade them show their skill in
making others like it; all despaired, until at length one Mamurius
Veturius, an excellent workman, happily hit upon it, and made all so
exactly the same that Numa himself was at a loss, and could not
distinguish. The keeping of these targets was committed to the charge
of certain priests, called Salii, who did not receive their name, as
some tell the story, from Salius, a dancing-master born in Samothrace,
or at Mantinea, who taught the way of dancing in arms; but more truly
from that jumping dance which the Salii themselves use, when in the
month of March they carry the sacred targets through the city; at which
procession they are habited in short frocks of purple, girt with a broad
belt studded with brass; on their heads they wear a brass helmet, and
carry in their hands short daggers, which they clash every now and then
against the targets. But the chief thing is the dance itself. They
move with much grace, performing, in quick time and close order, various
intricate figures, with a great display of strength and agility. The
targets were called Ancilia from their form; for they are not made
round, nor like proper targets, of a complete circumference, but are cut
out into a wavy line, the ends of which are rounded off and turned in at
the thickest part towards each other; so that their shape is
curvilinear, or, in Greek, ancylon; or the name may come from ancon, the
elbow, on which they are carried. Thus Juba writes, who is eager to
make it Greek. But it might be, for that matter, from its having come
down anecathen, from above; or from its akesis, or cure of diseases; or
auchmon Iysis, because it put an end to a drought; or from its
anaschesis, or relief from calamities, which is the origin of the
Athenian name Anaces, given to Castor and Pollux; if we must, that is,
reduce it to Greek. The reward which Mamurius received for his art was
to be mentioned and commemorated in the verses which the Salii sang, as
they danced in their arms through the city; though some will have it
that they do not say Veturium Mamurium, but Veterem Memoriam, ancient

After Numa had in this manner instituted these several orders of
priests, he erected, near the temple of Vesta, what is called to this
day Regia, or king's house, where he spent the most part of his time,
performing divine service, instructing the priests, or conversing with
them on sacred subjects. He had another house upon the Mount
Quirinalis, the site of which they show to this day. In all public
processions and solemn prayers, criers were sent before to give notice
to the people that they should forbear their work, and rest. They say
that the Pythagoreans did not allow people to worship and pray to their
gods by the way, but would have them go out from their houses direct,
with their minds set upon the duty, and so Numa, in like manner, wished
that his citizens should neither see nor hear any religious service in a
perfunctory and inattentive manner, but, laying aside all other
occupations, should apply their minds to religion as to a most serious
business; and that the streets should be free from all noises and cries
that accompany manual labor, and clear for the sacred solemnity. Some
traces of this custom remain at Rome to this day, for, when the consul
begins to take auspices or do sacrifice, they call out to the people,
Hoc age, Attend to this, whereby the auditors then present are
admonished to compose and recollect themselves. Many other of his
precepts resemble those of the Pythagoreans. The Pythagoreans said, for
example, "Thou shalt not make a peck-measure thy seat to sit on. Thou
shalt not stir the fire with a sword. When thou goest out upon a
journey, look not behind thee. When thou sacrificest to the celestial
gods, let it be with an odd number, and when to the terrestrial, with
even." The significance of each of which precepts they would not
commonly disclose. So some of Numa's traditions have no obvious
meaning. "Thou shalt not make libation to the gods of wine from an
unpruned vine. No sacrifices shall be performed without meal. Turn
round to pay adoration to the gods; sit after you have worshipped." The
first two directions seem to denote the cultivation and subduing of the
earth as a part of religion; and as to the turning which the worshipers
are to use in divine adoration, it is said to represent the rotatory
motion of the world. But, in my opinion, the meaning rather is, that
the worshiper, since the temples front the east, enters with his back to
the rising sun; there, faces round to the east, and so turns back to the
god of the temple, by this circular movement referring the fulfillment
of his prayer to both divinities. Unless, indeed, this change of
posture may have a mystical meaning, like the Egyptian wheels, and
signify to us the instability of human fortune, and that, in whatever
way God changes and turns our lot and condition, we should rest
contented, and accept it as right and fitting. They say, also, that the
sitting after worship was to be by way of omen of their petitions being
granted, and the blessing they asked assured to them. Again, as
different courses of actions are divided by intervals of rest, they
might seat themselves after the completion of what they had done, to
seek favor of the gods for beginning something else. And this would
very well suit with what we had before; the lawgiver wants to habituate
us to make our petitions to the deity not by the way, and as it were, in
a hurry, when we have other things to do, but with time and leisure to
attend to it. By such discipline and schooling in religion, the city
passed insensibly into such a submissiveness of temper, and stood in
such awe and reverence of the virtue of Numa, that they received, with
an undoubted assurance, whatever he delivered, though never so fabulous,
and thought nothing incredible or impossible from him.

There goes a story that he once invited a great number of citizens to an
entertainment, at which the dishes in which the meat was served were
very homely and plain, and the repast itself poor and ordinary fare; the
guests seated, he began to tell them that the goddess that consulted
with him was then at that time come to him; when on a sudden the room
was furnished with all sorts of costly drinking-vessels, and the tables
loaded with rich meats, and a most sumptuous entertainment. But the
dialogue which is reported to have passed between him and Jupiter
surpasses all the fabulous legends that were ever invented. They say
that before Mount Aventine was inhabited or enclosed within the walls of
the city, two demi-gods, Picus and Faunus, frequented the Springs and
thick shades of that place; which might be two satyrs, or Pans, except
that they went about Italy playing the same sorts of tricks, by skill in
drugs and magic, as are ascribed by the Greeks to the Dactyli of Mount
Ida. Numa contrived one day to surprise these demi-gods, by mixing wine
and honey in the waters of the spring of which they usually drank. On
finding themselves ensnared, they changed themselves into various
shapes, dropping their own form and assuming every kind of unusual and
hideous appearance; but when they saw they were safely entrapped, and in
no possibility of getting free, they revealed to him many secrets and
future events; and particularly a charm for thunder and lightning, still
in use, performed with onions and hair and pilchards. Some say they did
not tell him the charm, but by their magic brought down Jupiter out of
heaven; and that he then, in an angry manner answering the inquiries,
told Numa, that, if he would charm the thunder and lightning, he must do
it with heads. "How," said Numa, "with the heads of onions?" "No,"
replied Jupiter, "of men." But Numa, willing to elude the cruelty of
this receipt, turned it another way, saying, "Your meaning is, the hairs
of men's heads." "No," replied Jupiter, "with living"--"pilchards,"
said Numa, interrupting him. These answers he had learnt from Egeria.
Jupiter returned again to heaven, pacified and ilcos, or propitious.
The place was, in remembrance of him, called Ilicium, from this Greek
word; and the spell in this manner effected.

These stories, laughable as they are, show us the feelings which people
then, by force of habit, entertained towards the deity. And Numa's own
thoughts are said to have been fixed to that degree on divine objects,
that he once, when a message was brought to him that "Enemies are
approaching," answered with a smile, "And I am sacrificing." It was he,
also, that built the temples of Faith and Terminus and taught the Romans
that the name of Faith was the most solemn oath that they could swear.
They still use it; and to the god Terminus, or Boundary, they offer to
this day both public and private sacrifices, upon the borders and stone-
marks of their land; living victims now, though anciently those
sacrifices were solemnized without blood; for Numa reasoned that the god
of boundaries, who watched over peace, and testified to fair dealing,
should have no concern with blood. It is very clear that it was this
king who first prescribed bounds to the territory of Rome; for Romulus
would but have openly betrayed how much he had encroached on his
neighbors' lands, had he ever set limits to his own; for boundaries are,
indeed, a defense to those who choose to observe them, but are only a
testimony against the dishonesty of those who break through them. The
truth is, the portion of lands which the Romans possessed at the
beginning was very narrow, until Romulus enlarged them by war; all whose
acquisitions Numa now divided amongst the indigent commonalty, wishing
to do away with that extreme want which is a compulsion to dishonesty,
and, by turning the people to husbandry, to bring them, as well as their
lands, into better order. For there is no employment that gives so keen
and quick a relish for peace as husbandry and a country life, which
leave in men all that kind of courage that makes them ready to fight in
defense of their own, while it destroys the license that breaks out into
acts of injustice and rapacity. Numa, therefore, hoping agriculture
would be a sort of charm to captivate the affections of his people to
peace, and viewing it rather as a means to moral than to economical
profit, divided all the lands into several parcels, to which he gave the
name of pagus, or parish, and over every one of them he ordained chief
overseers; and, taking a delight sometimes to inspect his colonies in
person, he formed his judgment of every man's habits by the results; of
which being witness himself, he preferred those to honors and
employments who had done well, and by rebukes and reproaches incited the
indolent and careless to improvement. But of all his measures the most
commended was his distribution of the people by their trades into
companies or guilds; for as the city consisted, or rather did not
consist of, but was divided into, two different tribes, the diversity
between which could not be effaced and in the mean time prevented all
unity and caused perpetual tumult and ill-blood, reflecting how hard
substances that do not readily mix when in the lump may, by being beaten
into powder, in that minute form be combined, he resolved to divide the
whole population into a number of small divisions, and thus hoped, by
introducing other distinctions, to obliterate the original and great
distinction, which would be lost among the smaller. So, distinguishing
the whole people by the several arts and trades, he formed the companies
of musicians, goldsmiths, carpenters, dyers, shoemakers, skinners,
braziers, and potters; and all other handicraftsmen he composed and
reduced into a single company, appointing every one their proper courts,
councils, and religious observances. In this manner all factious
distinctions began, for the first time, to pass out of use, no person
any longer being either thought of or spoken of under the notion of a
Sabine or a Roman, a Romulian or a Tatian; and the new division became a
source of general harmony and intermixture.

He is also much to be commended for the repeal, or rather amendment, of
that law which gives power to fathers to sell their children; he
exempted such as were married, conditionally that it had been with the
liking and consent of their parents; for it seemed a hard thing that a
woman who had given herself in marriage to a man whom she judged free
should afterwards find herself living with a slave.

He attempted, also, the formation of a calendar, not with absolute
exactness, yet not without some scientific knowledge. During the reign
of Romulus, they had let their months run on without any certain or
equal term; some of them contained twenty days, others thirty-five,
others more; they had no sort of knowledge of the inequality in the
motions of the sun and moon; they only kept to the one rule that the
whole course of the year contained three hundred and sixty days. Numa,
calculating the difference between the lunar and the solar' year at
eleven days, for that the moon completed her anniversary course in three
hundred and fifty-four days, and the sun in three hundred and sixty-
five, to remedy this incongruity doubled the eleven days, and every
other year added an intercalary month, to follow February, consisting of
twenty-two days, and called by the Romans the month Mercedinus. This
amendment, however, itself, in course of time, came to need other
amendments. He also altered the order of the months; for March, which
was reckoned the first, he put into the third place; and January, which
was the eleventh, he made the first; and February, which was the twelfth
and last, the second. Many will have it, that it was Numa, also, who
added the two months of January and February; for in the beginning they
had had a year of ten months; as there are barbarians who count only
three; the Arcadians, in Greece, had but four; the Acarnanians, six.
The Egyptian year at first, they say, was of one month; afterwards, of
four; and so, though they live in the newest of all countries, they have
the credit of being a more ancient nation than any; and reckon, in their
genealogies, a prodigious number of years, counting months, that is, as
years. That the Romans, at first, comprehended the whole year within
ten, and not twelve months, plainly appears by the name of the last,
December, meaning the tenth month; and that March was the first is
likewise evident, for the fifth month after it was called Quintilis, and
the sixth Sextilis, and so the rest; whereas, if January and February
had, in this account, preceded March, Quintilis would have been fifth in
name and seventh in reckoning. It was also natural, that March,
dedicated to Mars, should be Romulus's first, and April, named from
Venus, or Aphrodite, his second month; in it they sacrifice to Venus,
and the women bathe on the calends, or first day of it, with myrtle
garlands on their heads. But others, because of its being p and not ph,
will not allow of the derivation of this word from Aphrodite, but
say it is called April from aperio, Latin for to open, because that this
month is high spring, and opens and discloses the buds and flowers. The
next is called May, from Maia, the mother of Mercury, to whom it is
sacred; then June follows, so called from Juno; some, however, derive
them from the two ages, old and young, majores being their name for
older, and juniores for younger men. To the other months they gave
denominations according to their order; so the fifth was called
Quintilis, Sextilis the sixth, and the rest, September, October,
November, and December. Afterwards Quintilis received the name of
Julius, from Caesar who defeated Pompey; as also Sextilis that of
Augustus, from the second Caesar, who had that title. Domitian, also,
in imitation, gave the two other following months his own names, of
Germanicus and Domitianus; but, on his being slain, they recovered their
ancient denominations of September and October. The two last are the
only ones that have kept their names throughout without any alteration.
Of the months which were added or transposed in their order by Numa,
February comes from februa; and is as much as Purification month; in it
they make offerings to the dead, and celebrate the Lupercalia, which, in
most points, resembles a purification. January was so called from
Janus, and precedence given to it by Numa before March, which was
dedicated to the god Mars; because, as I conceive, he wished to take
every opportunity of intimating that the arts and studies of peace are
to be preferred before those of war. For this Janus, whether in remote
antiquity he were a demi-god or a king, was certainly a great lover of
civil and social unity, and one who reclaimed men from brutal and savage
living; for which reason they figure him with two faces, to represent
the two states and conditions out of the one of which he brought
mankind, to lead them into the other. His temple at Rome has two gates,
which they call the gates of war, because they stand open in the time of
war, and shut in the times of peace; of which latter there was very
seldom an example, for, as the Roman empire was enlarged and extended,
it was so encompassed with barbarous nations and enemies to be resisted,
that it was seldom or never at peace. Only in the time of Augustus
Caesar, after he had overcome Antony, this temple was shut; as likewise
once before, when Marcus Atilius and Titus Manlius were consuls; but
then it was not long before, wars breaking out, the gates were again
opened. But, during the reign of Numa, those gates were never seen open
a single day, but continued constantly shut for a space of forty-three
years together; such an entire and universal cessation of war existed.
For not only had the people of Rome itself been softened and charmed
into a peaceful temper by the just and mild rule of a pacific prince,
but even the neighboring cities, as if some salubrious and gentle air
had blown from Rome upon them, began to experience a change of feeling,
and partook in the general longing for the sweets of peace and order,
and for life employed in the quiet tillage of soil, bringing up of
children, and worship of the gods. Festival days and sports, and the
secure and peaceful interchange of friendly visits and hospitalities
prevailed all through the whole of Italy. The love of virtue and
justice flowed from Numa's wisdom as from a fountain, and the serenity
of his spirit diffused itself, like a calm, on all sides; so that the
hyperboles of poets were flat and tame to express what then existed;
as that

Over the iron shield the spiders hang their threads,

or that

Rust eats the pointed spear and double-edged sword.
No more is heard the trumpet's brazen roar,
Sweet sleep is banished from our eyes no more.

For, during the whole reign of Numa, there was neither war, nor
sedition, nor innovation in the state, nor any envy or ill-will to his
person, nor plot or conspiracy from views of ambition. Either fear of
the gods that were thought to watch over him, or reverence for his
virtue, or a divine felicity of fortune that in his days preserved human
innocence, made his reign, by whatever means, a living example and
verification of that saying which Plato, long afterwards, ventured to
pronounce, that the sole and only hope of respite or remedy for human
evils was in some happy conjunction of events, which should unite in a
single person the power of a king and the wisdom of a philosopher, so as
to elevate virtue to control and mastery over vice. The wise man is
blessed in himself, and blessed also are the auditors who can hear and
receive those words which flow from his mouth; and perhaps, too, there
is no need of compulsion or menaces to affect the multitude, for the
mere sight itself of a shining and conspicuous example of virtue in the
life of their prince will bring them spontaneously to virtue, and to a
conformity with that blameless and blessed life of good will and mutual
concord, supported by temperance and justice, which is the highest
benefit that human means can confer; and he is the truest ruler who can
best introduce it into the hearts and practice of his subjects. It is
the praise of Numa that no one seems ever to have discerned this so
clearly as he.

As to his children and wives, there is a diversity of reports by several
authors; some will have it that he never had any other wife than Tatia,
nor more children than one daughter called Pompilia; others will have it
that he left also four sons, namely, Pompo, Pinus, Calpus, and Mamercus,
every one of whom had issue, and from them descended the noble and
illustrious families of Pomponii, Pinarii, Calpurnii, and Mamerci, which
for this reason took also the surname of Rex, or King. But there is a
third set of writers who say that these pedigrees are but a piece of
flattery used by writers, who, to gain favor with these great
families, made them fictitious genealogies from the lineage of Numa; and
that Pompilia was not the daughter of Tatia, but Lucretia, another wife
whom he married after he came to his kingdom; however, all of them agree
in opinion that she was married to the son of that Marcius who persuaded
him to accept the government, and accompanied him to Rome where, as a
mark of honor, he was chosen into the senate, and, after the death of
Numa, standing in competition with Tullus Hostilius for the kingdom, and
being disappointed of the election, in discontent killed himself; his
son Marcius, however, who had married Pompilia, continuing at Rome, was
the father of Ancus Marcius, who succeeded Tullus Hostilius in the
kingdom, and was but five years of age when Numa died.

Numa lived something above eighty years, and then, as Piso writes, was
not taken out of the world by a sudden or acute disease, but died of old
age and by a gradual and gentle decline. At his funeral all the glories
of his life were consummated, when all the neighboring states in
alliance and amity with Rome met to honor and grace the rites of his
interment with garlands and public presents; the senators carried the
bier on which his corpse was laid, and the priests followed and
accompanied the solemn procession; while a general crowd, in which women
and children took part, followed with such cries and weeping as if they
had bewailed the death and loss of some most dear relation taken away in
the flower of age, and not of an old and worn-out king. It is said that
his body, by his particular command, was not burnt, but that they made,
in conformity with his order, two stone coffins, and buried both under
the hill Janiculum, in one of which his body was laid, and in the other
his sacred books, which, as the Greek legislators their tables, he had
written out for himself, but had so long inculcated the contents of
them, whilst he lived, into the minds and hearts of the priests, that
their understandings became fully possessed with the whole spirit and
purpose of them; and he, therefore, bade that they should be buried with
his body, as though such holy precepts could not without irreverence be
left to circulate in mere lifeless writings. For this very reason, they
say, the Pythagoreans bade that their precepts should not be committed
to paper, but rather preserved in the living memories of those who were
worthy to receive them; and when some of their out-of-the-way and
abstruse geometrical processes had been divulged to an unworthy person,
they said the gods threatened to punish this wickedness and profanity by
a signal and wide-spreading calamity. With these several instances,
concurring to show a similarity in the lives of Numa and Pythagoras, we
may easily pardon those who seek to establish the fact of a real
acquaintance between them.

Valerius Antias writes that the books which were buried in the aforesaid
chest or coffin of stone were twelve volumes of holy writ and twelve
others of Greek philosophy, and that about four hundred years
afterwards, when P. Cornelius and M. Baebius were consuls, in a time of
heavy rains, a violent torrent washed away the earth, and dislodged the
chests of stone; and, their covers falling off, one of them was found
wholly empty, without the least relic of any human body; in the other
were the books before mentioned, which the praetor Petilius having read
and perused, made oath in the senate, that, in his opinion, it was not
fit for their contents to be made public to the people; whereupon the
volumes were all carried to the Comitium, and there burnt.

It is the fortune of all good men that their virtue rises in glory after
their deaths, and that the envy which evil men conceive against them
never outlives them long; some have the happiness even to see it die
before them; but in Numa's case, also, the fortunes of the succeeding
kings served as foils to set off the brightness of his reputation. For
after him there were five kings, the last of whom ended his old age in
banishment, being deposed from his crown; of the other four, three were
assassinated and murdered by treason; the other, who was Tullus
Hostilius, that immediately succeeded Numa, derided his virtues, and
especially his devotion to religious worship, as a cowardly and mean-
spirited occupation, and diverted the minds of the people to war; but
was checked in these youthful insolences, and was himself driven by an
acute and tormenting disease into superstitions wholly different from
Numa's piety, and left others also to participate in these terrors when
he died by the stroke of a thunderbolt.

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