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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 15

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 15.—What Manner of Life and Death the Roman Kings Had.

And what was the end of the kings themselves?  Of Romulus, a flattering legend tells us that he was assumed into heaven.  But certain Roman historians relate that he was torn in pieces by the senate for his ferocity, and that a man, Julius Proculus, was suborned to give out that Romulus had appeared to him, and through him commanded the Roman people to worship him as a god; and that in this way the people, who were beginning to resent the action of the senate, were quieted and pacified.  For an eclipse of the sun had also happened; and this was attributed to the divine power of Romulus by the ignorant multitude, who did not know that it was brought about by the fixed laws of the sun’s course:  though this grief of the sun might rather have been considered proof that Romulus had been slain, and that the crime was indicated by this deprivation of the sun’s light; as, in truth, was the case when the Lord was crucified through the cruelty and impiety of the Jews.  For it is sufficiently demonstrated that this latter obscuration of the sun did not occur by the natural laws of the heavenly bodies, because it was then the Jewish Passover, which is held only at full moon, whereas natural eclipses of the sun happen only at the last quarter of the moon.  Cicero, too, shows plainly enough that the apotheosis of Romulus was imaginary rather than real, when, even while he is praising him in one of Scipio’s remarks in the De Republica, he says:  “Such a reputation had he acquired, that when he suddenly disappeared during an eclipse of the sun, he was supposed to have been assumed into the number of the gods, which could be supposed of no mortal who had not the highest reputation for virtue.” 147   By these words, “he suddenly disappeared,” we are to understand that he was mysteriously made away with by the violence either of the tempest or of a murderous assault.  For their other writers speak not only of an eclipse, but of a sudden storm also, which certainly either afforded opportunity for the crime, or itself made an end of Romulus.  And of Tullus Hostilius, who was the third king of Rome, and who was himself destroyed by lightning, Cicero in the same book says, that “he was not supposed to have been deified by this death, possibly because the Romans were unwilling to vulgarize the promotion they were assured or persuaded of in the case of Romulus, lest they should bring it into contempt by gratuitously assigning it to all and sundry.”  In one of his invectives, 148 too, he says, in round terms, “The founder of this city, Romulus, we have raised to immortality and divinity by kindly celebrating his services;” implying that his deification was not real, but reputed, and called so by courtesy on account of his virtues.  In the dialogue Hortensius, too, while speaking of the regular eclipses of the sun, he says that they “produce the same darkness as covered the death of Romulus, which happened during an eclipse of the sun.”  Here you see he does not at all shrink from speaking of his “death,” for Cicero was more of a reasoner than an eulogist.

The other kings of Rome, too, with the exception of Numa Pompilius and Ancus Marcius, who died natural deaths, what horrible ends they had!  Tullus Hostilius, the conqueror and destroyer of Alba, was, as I said, himself and all his house consumed by lightning.  Priscus Tarquinius was slain by his predecessor’s sons.  Servius Tullius was foully murdered by his son-in-law Tarquinius Superbus, who succeeded him on the throne.  Nor did so flagrant a parricide committed against Rome’s best king drive from their altars and shrines those gods who were said to have been moved by Paris’ adultery to treat poor Troy in this style, and abandon it to the fire and sword of the Greeks.  Nay, the very Tarquin who had murdered, was allowed to succeed his father-in-law.  And this infamous parricide, during the reign he had secured by murder, was allowed to triumph in many victorious wars, and to build the Capitol from their spoils; the gods meanwhile not departing, but p. 52 abiding, and abetting, and suffering their king Jupiter to preside and reign over them in that very splendid Capitol, the work of a parricide.  For he did not build the Capitol in the days of his innocence, and then suffer banishment for subsequent crimes; but to that reign during which he built the Capitol, he won his way by unnatural crime.  And when he was afterwards banished by the Romans, and forbidden the city, it was not for his own but his son’s wickedness in the affair of Lucretia,—a crime perpetrated not only without his cognizance, but in his absence.  For at that time he was besieging Ardea, and fighting Rome’s battles; and we cannot say what he would have done had he been aware of his son’s crime.  Notwithstanding, though his opinion was neither inquired into nor ascertained, the people stripped him of royalty; and when he returned to Rome with his army, it was admitted, but he was excluded, abandoned by his troops, and the gates shut in his face.  And yet, after he had appealed to the neighboring states, and tormented the Romans with calamitous but unsuccessful wars, and when he was deserted by the ally on whom he most depended, despairing of regaining the kingdom, he lived a retired and quiet life for fourteen years, as it is reported, in Tusculum, a Roman town, where he grew old in his wife’s company, and at last terminated his days in a much more desirable fashion than his father-in-law, who had perished by the hand of his son-in-law; his own daughter abetting, if report be true.  And this Tarquin the Romans called, not the Cruel, nor the Infamous, but the Proud; their own pride perhaps resenting his tyrannical airs.  So little did they make of his murdering their best king, his own father-in-law, that they elected him their own king.  I wonder if it was not even more criminal in them to reward so bountifully so great a criminal.  And yet there was no word of the gods abandoning the altars; unless, perhaps, some one will say in defence of the gods, that they remained at Rome for the purpose of punishing the Romans, rather than of aiding and profiting them, seducing them by empty victories, and wearing them out by severe wars.  Such was the life of the Romans under the kings during the much-praised epoch of the state which extends to the expulsion of Tarquinius Superbus in the 243d year, during which all those victories, which were bought with so much blood and such disasters, hardly pushed Rome’s dominion twenty miles from the city; a territory which would by no means bear comparison with that of any petty Gætulian state.



Cicero, De Rep. ii. 10.


Contra Cat.iii. 2.

Next: Chapter 16

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