Romulus’ State, colonial and religious policy

Here we present selected excerpts from Dionysius of Halicarnassus’ book ‘The Roman Antiquities‘ (The Loeb Classical Library). Dionysius informs us here of Romulus’ State, colonial and religious policy.


“There was yet a third policy of Romulus, which the Greeks ought to have practised above all others, it being, in my opinion, the best of all political measures, as it laid the most solid foundation for the liberty of the Romans and was no slight factor in raising them to their position of supremacy.

It was this: not to slay all the men of military age or to enslave the rest of the population of the cities captured in war or to allow their land to go back to pasturage for sheep, but rather to send settlers thither to possess some part of the country by lot and to make the conquered cities Roman colonies, and even to grant citizenship to some of them. By these and other like measures he made the colony great from a small beginning, as the actual results showed; for the number of those who joined with him in founding Rome did not amount to more than three thousand foot nor quite to three hundred horse, whereas he left behind him when he disappeared from among men forty-six thousand foot and about a thousand horse. Romulus having instituted these measures, not alone the kings who ruled the city after him but also the annual magistrates after them pursued the same policy, with occasional additions, so successfully that the Roman people became inferior in numbers to none of the nations that were accounted the most populous.”

“When I compare the customs of the Greeks with these, I can find no reason to extol either those of the Lacedaemonians or of the Thebans or of the Athenians, who pride themselves most on their wisdom; all of whom, jealous of their noble birth and granting citizenship to none or to very few (I say nothing of the fact that some even expelled foreigners), not only received no advantage from this haughty attitude, but actually suffered the greatest harm because of it. Thus, the Spartans after their defeat at Leuctra, where they lost seventeen hundred men, were no longer able to restore their city to its former position after that calamity, but shamefully abandoned their supremacy. And the Thebans and Athenians through the single disaster at Chaeronea were deprived by the Macedonians not only of the leadership of Greece but at the same time of the liberty they had inherited from their ancestors. But Rome, while engaged in great wars both in Spain and Italy and employed in recovering Sicily and Sardinia, which had revolted, at a time when the situation in Macedonia and Greece had become hostile to her and Carthage was again contending for the supremacy, and when all but a small portion of Italy was not only in open rebellion but was also drawing upon her the Hannibalic war, as it was called,—though surrounded, I say, by so many dangers at one and the same time, Rome was so far from being overcome by these misfortunes that she derived from them a strength even greater than she had had before, being enabled to meet every danger, thanks to the number of her soldiers, and not, as some imagine, to the favour of Fortune; since for all of Fortune’s assistance the city might have been utterly submerged by the single disaster at Cannae, where of six thousand horse only three hundred and seventy survived, and of eighty thousand foot enrolled in the army of the commonwealth little more than three thousand escaped.”

“It is not only these institutions of Romulus that I admire, but also those which I am going to relate. He understood that the good government of cities was due to certain causes which all statesmen prate of but few succeed in making effective: first, the favour of the gods, the enjoyment of which gives success to men’s every enterprise; next, moderation and justice, as a result of which the citizens, being less disposed to injure one another, are more harmonious, and make honour, rather than the most shameful pleasures, the measure of their happiness; and, lastly, bravery in war, which renders the other virtues also useful to their possessors. And he thought that none of these advantages is the effect of chance, but recognized that good laws and the emulation of worthy pursuits render a State pious, temperate, devoted to justice, and brave in war. He took great care, therefore, to encourage these, beginning with the worship of the gods and genii. He established temples, sacred precincts and altars, arranged for the setting up of statues, determined the representations and symbols of the gods, and declared their powers, the beneficent gifts which they have made to mankind, the particular festivals that should be celebrated in honour of each god or genius, the sacrifices with which they delight to be honoured by men, as well as the holidays, festal assemblies, days of rest, and everything alike of that nature, in all of which he followed the best customs in use among the Greeks. But he rejected all the traditional myths concerning the gods that contain blasphemies or calumnies against them, looking upon these as wicked, useless and indecent, and unworthy, not only of the gods, but even of good men; and he accustomed people both to think and to speak the best of the gods and to attribute to them no conduct unworthy of their blessed nature.”

Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Isidoros Aggelos

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