Virtue above all and swift justice in Romulus’ State

Here we present selected excerpts from Dionysius of Halicarnassus’ book ‘The Roman Antiquities‘ (The Loeb Classical Library). Dionysius informs us here of the general character of Romulus’ government. 

“Observing that the means by which the whole body of citizens, the greater part of whom are hard to guide, can be induced to lead a life of moderation, to prefer justice to gain, to cultivate perseverance in hardships, and to look upon nothing as more valuable than virtue, is not oral instruction, but the habitual practice of such employments as lead to each virtue, and knowing that the great mass of men come to practise them through necessity rather than choice, and hence, if there is nothing to restrain them, return to their natural disposition, he appointed slaves and foreigners to exercise those trades that are sedentary and mechanical and promote shameful passions, looking upon them as the destroyers and corrupters both of the bodies and souls of all who practise them; and such trades were for a very long time held in disgrace by the Romans and were carried on by none of the native-born citizens. The only employments he left to free men were two, agriculture and warfare; for he observed that men so employed become masters of their appetite, are less entangled in illicit love affairs, and follow that kind of covetousness only which leads them, not to injure one another, but to enrich themselves at the expense of the enemy. But, as he regarded each of these occupations, when separate from the other, as incomplete and conducive to fault-finding, instead of appointing one part ot the men to till the land and the other to lay waste the enemy’s country, according to the practice of the Lacedaemonians, he ordered the same persons to exercise the employments both of husbandmen and soldiers. In time of peace he accustomed them to remain at their tasks in the country, except when it was necessary for them to come to market, upon which occasions they were to meet in the city in order to traffic, and to that end he appointed every ninth day for the markets; and when war came he taught them to perform the duties of soldiers and not to yield to others either in the hardships or advantages that war brought. For he divided equally among them the lands, slaves and money that he took from the enemy, and thus caused them to take part cheerfully in his campaigns.


In the case of wrongs committed by the citizens against one another he did not permit the trials to be delayed, but caused them to be held promptly, sometimes deciding the suits himself and sometimes referring them to others; and he proportioned the punishment to the magnitude of the crime. Observing, also, that nothing restrains men from all evil actions so effectually as fear, he contrived many things to inspire it, such as the place where he sat in judgment in the most conspicuous part of the Forum, the very formidable appearance of the soldiers who attended him, three hundred in number, and the rods and axes borne by twelve men, who scourged in the Forum those whose offences deserved it and beheaded others in public who were guilty of the greatest crimes. Such, then, was the general character of the government established by Romulus; the details I have mentioned are sufficient to enable one to form a judgment of the rest.”

Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Isidoros Aggelos

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