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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 6

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 6.—That Not Even the Romans, When They Took Cities, Spared the Conquered in Their Temples.

Why, then, need our argument take note of the many nations who have waged wars with one another, and have nowhere spared the conquered in the temples of their gods?  Let us look at the practice of the Romans themselves; let us, I say, recall and review the Romans, whose chief praise it has been “to spare the vanquished and subdue the proud,” and that they preferred “rather to forgive than to revenge an injury;” 46 and among so many and great cities which they have stormed, taken, and overthrown for the extension of their dominion, let us be told what temples they were accustomed to exempt, so that whoever took refuge in them was free.  Or have they really done this, and has the fact been suppressed by the historians of these events?  Is it to be believed, that men who sought out with the greatest eagerness points they could praise, would omit those which, in their own estimation, are the most signal proofs of piety?  Marcus Marcellus, a distinguished Roman, who took Syracuse, a most splendidly adorned city, is reported to have bewailed its coming ruin, and to have shed his own tears over it before he spilt its blood.  He took steps also to preserve the chastity even of his enemy.  For before he gave orders for the storming of the city, he issued an edict forbidding the violation of any free person.  Yet the city was sacked according to the custom of war; nor do we anywhere read, that even by so chaste and gentle a commander orders were given that no one should be injured who had fled to this or that temple.  And this certainly would by no means have been omitted, when neither his weeping nor his edict preservative of chastity could be passed in silence.  Fabius, the conqueror of the city of Tarentum, is praised for abstaining from making booty of the images.  For when his secretary proposed the question to him, what he wished done with p. 5 the statues of the gods, which had been taken in large numbers, he veiled his moderation under a joke.  For he asked of what sort they were; and when they reported to him that there were not only many large images, but some of them armed, “Oh,” says he, “let us leave with the Tarentines their angry gods.”  Seeing, then, that the writers of Roman history could not pass in silence, neither the weeping of the one general nor the laughing of the other, neither the chaste pity of the one nor the facetious moderation of the other, on what occasion would it be omitted, if, for the honor of any of their enemy’s gods, they had shown this particular form of leniency, that in any temple slaughter or captivity was prohibited?


Footnotes

4:46

Sallust, Cat. Conj. ix.


Next: Chapter 7

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