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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 17

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 17.—Of the Rape of the Sabine Women, and Other Iniquities Perpetrated in Rome’s Palmiest Days.

But possibly we are to find the reason for this neglect of the Romans by their gods, in the saying of Sallust, that “equity and virtue prevailed among the Romans not more by p. 32 force of laws than of nature.” 112   I presume it is to this inborn equity and goodness of disposition we are to ascribe the rape of the Sabine women.  What, indeed, could be more equitable and virtuous, than to carry off by force, as each man was fit, and without their parents’ consent, girls who were strangers and guests, and who had been decoyed and entrapped by the pretence of a spectacle!  If the Sabines were wrong to deny their daughters when the Romans asked for them, was it not a greater wrong in the Romans to carry them off after that denial?  The Romans might more justly have waged war against the neighboring nation for having refused their daughters in marriage when they first sought them, than for having demanded them back when they had stolen them.  War should have been proclaimed at first; it was then that Mars should have helped his warlike son, that he might by force of arms avenge the injury done him by the refusal of marriage, and might also thus win the women he desired.  There might have been some appearance of “right of war” in a victor carrying off, in virtue of this right, the virgins who had been without any show of right denied him; whereas there was no “right of peace” entitling him to carry off those who were not given to him, and to wage an unjust war with their justly enraged parents.  One happy circumstance was indeed connected with this act of violence, viz., that though it was commemorated by the games of the circus, yet even this did not constitute it a precedent in the city or realm of Rome.  If one would find fault with the results of this act, it must rather be on the ground that the Romans made Romulus a god in spite of his perpetrating this iniquity; for one cannot reproach them with making this deed any kind of precedent for the rape of women.

Again, I presume it was due to this natural equity and virtue, that after the expulsion of King Tarquin, whose son had violated Lucretia, Junius Brutus the consul forced Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, Lucretia’s husband and his own colleague, a good and innocent man, to resign his office and go into banishment, on the one sole charge that he was of the name and blood of the Tarquins.  This injustice was perpetrated with the approval, or at least connivance, of the people, who had themselves raised to the consular office both Collatinus and Brutus.  Another instance of this equity and virtue is found in their treatment of Marcus Camillus.  This eminent man, after he had rapidly conquered the Veians, at that time the most formidable of Rome’s enemies, and who had maintained a ten years’ war, in which the Roman army had suffered the usual calamities attendant on bad generalship, after he had restored security to Rome, which had begun to tremble for its safety, and after he had taken the wealthiest city of the enemy, had charges brought against him by the malice of those that envied his success, and by the insolence of the tribunes of the people; and seeing that the city bore him no gratitude for preserving it, and that he would certainly be condemned, he went into exile, and even in his absence was fined 10,000 asses.  Shortly after, however, his ungrateful country had again to seek his protection from the Gauls.  But I cannot now mention all the shameful and iniquitous acts with which Rome was agitated, when the aristocracy attempted to subject the people, and the people resented their encroachments, and the advocates of either party were actuated rather by the love of victory than by any equitable or virtuous consideration.



Sallust, Cat. Con. ix.  Compare the similar saying of Tacitus regarding the chastity of the Germans:  Plusque ibi boni mores valent, quam alibi bonæ leges  (Germ. xix.).

Next: Chapter 18

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