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The Rape of the Sabine Women

 


 
 
 
 
 
 

 

          "The rape of the Sabine Women" is the common name of an incident from Roman mythology, in which the men of Rome committed a mass abduction of young women from the other cities in the region.  It has been a frequent subject of artists, particularly during the Renaissance and post-Renaissance eras.
          Use of the word "rape" comes from the conventional translation of the Latin word used in the ancient accounts of the incident: raptio. Modern scholars tend to interpret the word as "abduction" as opposed to (sexual) violation.  Controversy remains, however, as to how the acts committed against the women should be judged.

Story:
          The Rape occurred in the early history of Rome, shortly after its founding by Romulus and his mostly male followers.  Seeking wives in order to establish families, the Romans negotiated unsuccessfully with the Sabines, who populated the surrounding area.  The Sabines feared the emergence of a rival society and refused to allow their women to marry the Romans.  Consequently, the Romans planned to abduct Sabine women during a festival of Neptune Equester.  They planned and announced a marvelous festival to attract people from all nearby towns.  According to Livy, many people from Rome's neighboring towns attended, including folk from the Caeninenses, Crustumini, and Antemnates, and many of the Sabines.  At the festival, Romulus gave a signal, at which the Romans grabbed the Sabine women and fought off the Sabine men.  The indignant abductees were soon implored by Romulus to accept Roman husbands.
          Livy claims that no direct sexual assault took place, albeit the fuller evidence, when compared with the later history, suggests a seduction based on promises by the Romans (promises which were inadequate, in any event) and then betrayal of those promises.  Livy says that Romulus offered them free choice and promised civic and property rights to women.  According to Livy, Romulus spoke to them each in person, declaring "that what was done was owing to the pride of their fathers, who had refused to grant the privilege of marriage to their neighbours; but notwithstanding, they should be joined in lawful wedlock, participate in all their possessions and civil privileges, and, than which nothing can be dearer to the human heart, in their common children."  This did not include the men being responsible for meeting the needs of the children.

War with Sabines and other tribes:
          Outraged at the occurrence, the king of the Caeninenses entered upon Roman territory with his army.  Romulus and the Romans met the Caeninenses in battle, killed their king, and routed their army.  Romulus later attacked Caenina and took it upon the first assault.  Returning to Rome, he dedicated a temple to Jupiter Feretrius (according to Livy, the first temple dedicated in Rome) and offered the spoils of the enemy king as spolia opima.  According to the Fasti Triumphales, Romulus celebrated a triumph over the Caeninenses on 1 March 752 BC.
          At the same time, the army of the Antemnates invaded Roman territory.  The Romans retaliated, and the Antemnates were defeated in battle and their town captured.  According to the Fasti Triumphales, Romulus celebrated a second triumph in 752 BC over the Antemnates.
          The Crustumini also started a war, but they too were defeated and their town captured.
          Roman colonists subsequently were sent to Antemnae and Crustumerium by Romulus, and many citizens of those towns also migrated to Rome (particularly the families of the captured women).
          The Sabines themselves finally declared war, led into battle by their king, Titus Tatius.  Tatius almost succeeded in capturing Rome, thanks to the treason of Tarpeia, daughter of Spurius Tarpeius, governor of the citadel on the Capitoline Hill.  She opened the city gates for the Sabines in return for "what they bore on their arms", thinking she would receive their golden bracelets.  Instead, the Sabines crushed her to death with their shields, and her body was thrown from a rock known ever since by her name, the Tarpeian Rock.
          The Romans attacked the Sabines, who now held the citadel.  The Roman advance was led by Hostus Hostilius, the Sabine defence by Mettus Curtius.  Hostus fell in battle, and the Roman line gave way.  They retreated to the gate of the Palatium.  Romulus rallied his men by promising to build a temple to Jupiter Stator on the site.  He then led them back into battle.  Mettus Curtius was unhorsed and fled on foot, and the Romans appeared to be winning.

          At this point, however, the Sabine women intervened:

    [They], from the outrage on whom the war originated, with hair dishevelled and garments rent, the timidity of their sex being overcome by such dreadful scenes, had the courage to throw themselves amid the flying weapons, and making a rush across, to part the incensed armies, and assuage their fury; imploring their fathers on the one side, their husbands on the other, "that as fathers-in-law and sons-in-law they would not contaminate each other with impious blood, nor stain their offspring with parricide, the one their grandchildren, the other their children.  If you are dissatisfied with the affinity between you, if with our marriages, turn your resentment against us; we are the cause of war, we of wounds and of bloodshed to our husbands and parents.  It were better that we perish than live widowed or fatherless without one or other of you."

          The battle came to an end, and the Sabines agreed to unite in one nation with the Romans.  Titus Tatius jointly ruled with Romulus until Tatius's death five years later.
          The new Sabine residents of Rome settled on the Capitoline Hill, which they had captured in the battle.

          Scholars have cited parallels between The Rape of the Sabine Women, the Æsir–Vanir War in Norse mythology, and the Mahabharata from Hindu mythology, providing support for a Proto-Indo-European "war of the functions."  Regarding these parallels, J. P. Mallory states:

    Basically, the parallels concern the presence of first-(magico-juridical) and second-(warrior) function representatives on the victorious side of a war that ultimately subdues and incorporates third function characters, for example, the Sabine women or the Norse Vanir.  Indeed, the Iliad itself has also been examined in a similar light.  The ultimate structure of the myth, then, is that the three estates of Proto-Indo-European society were fused only after a war between the first two against the third.

Information was taken from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia at this URL:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rape_of_the_Sabine_Women

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