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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE PEACE-LOVING KING

[24] AFTER the disappearance of Romulus, the Romans and Sabines each wished to appoint a new king.

Romulus had been a Roman, so the Sabines said that now it was but just that a Sabine king should rule.

The dispute between the people lasted for a whole year, and then at length it was determined that the new king should be a Sabine, but that the Romans should be allowed to choose him.

Now among the Sabines dwelt a man named Numa Pompilius. He was honoured by the Romans as well as by his own people, for he was both good and wise. He had indeed been known for his wisdom since he was a boy. And if, when he was young, any one ventured to dispute his wisdom, his friends would point to his grey hair, believing there was no need to speak. For the hair of Numa Pomilius had been grey from the day of his birth, and that surely was a sign from the gods to show that he already was and ever would be wise.

Often he was to be seen, a solitary man, walking in the fields and groves which were consecrated to the gods. At other times he would spend long days and weeks alone in desert places.

It was to this strangely quiet, thoughtful man, who was now about forty years old, that the Romans sent ambassadors to beg him to become their king.

Numa Pompilius had no wish to rule. Moreover, he deemed that the people would desire a more warlike king than [25] he was like to be. So he bade the messengers return to Rome, saying: "I should but be, methinks, a laughing-stock, while I should go about to inculcate the worship of the gods and give lessons in the love of justice and the abhorrence of violence and war to a city whose needs are rather for a captain than for a king."

In spite of these words, the ambassadors still urged Numa to return with them to Rome. "Your presence," said they, "will help to put an end to war and discord."

Then the wise man consulted the gods, and they sent a flight of sacred birds as a sign that he should reign in Rome.

So Numa Pompilius set out with the ambassadors, and when he reached the city he called together the people to ask them if they were willing to obey his commands.

They, greeting him as "a holy king, and one beloved of the gods," promised to obey him in all things. Thus, almost against his will, the wise man became king. But being king, he was not the man to shirk the duties belonging to his royal state.

His first act was to dismiss the band of three hundred Celeres, which had formed the life-guard of Romulus, for this king trusted his subjects, and believed that they would safeguard him from danger.

To train the Romans in the love of truth he built on the Capitol a temple to the goddess Fides, or Faith, bidding them invoke this goddess above all others. At the same time he told them ever to remember as they went about their daily work that their promises were as sacred as their oaths.

In the temple no sacrifice of sheep, oxen, or bird was ever offered, for the good king would not have his gifts to the gods stained with blood. Fruits, cakes, corn, these were the offerings he bade the people bring to the temple.

Pompilius himself had loved to work and to walk in the fields, so now he encouraged the Romans to labour in the [26] country, dividing among them a large part of the land which Romulus had conquered.

In these and other ways the king did all he could to curb the fierce passions of his subjects, who, when left to themselves, were swift to turn to war and bloodshed, rather than to peace.

Many of the people reverenced their peace-loving king, but others mocked at his gentle ways.

Even the feasts of the king were more simple than some of the Romans liked, and these discontented ones grumbled at the plain fare of which they were invited to partake.

One day, so the legend runs, the king ordered, as was his custom, a simple meal to be prepared, and to this meal he invited many of his friends.

They came, for the king had asked them, but, as they expected, the food was plain, the plates were of earthenware, and water was served in bottles of stone.

But no sooner had the guests seated themselves at the table than behold! as if by magic, the plain food was changed into the choicest viands, the water became the richest wine, while the earthenware dishes disappeared, and in their place stood plates of silver and of gold.

The guests were startled, yet it pleased them well that the gods should show such favour to their king, for they never doubted that it was thus the gods treated those who honoured them.

Henceforth the people grumbled less, and were more ready to obey their sovereign.

Numa Pompilius ruled for forty-three years, caring, during his long reign, for the welfare of his people.

Even the enemies of Rome did not venture to disturb this good and gentle king. So, while he ruled, the weapons of war were laid aside. The gates of the temple of Janus, too, which were only opened in time of war, remained closed during the reign of Numa Pompilius.

It seemed that the gods did indeed show goodwill to [27] this pious king, for neither sickness nor famine troubled the country as long as he sat upon the throne, and the Romans prospered in all that they undertook.

When he was eighty years of age Numa Pompilius passed away in a death as peaceful as his life.

The Romans mourned his loss, for he had been to them father as well as king.

Quietly they laid his body to rest, beyond the Tiber, on the hill Janiculum which looks toward the west.


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