OMG: Those Sobbin’ Women

After Romulus and Remus (and a fairly long poem called the Aeneid which is neither memorable nor interesting and suspiciously Greek) the most important legend of founding of Rome is the Rape of the Sabine Women. And no, this post will not be rated R. Get your mind out of the gutter. At this time, rape did not mean anything sexual, but rather was derived from the Latin word “rapito” meaning abduction or kidnapping. Despite this, Renaissance artists still liked to portray this scene with nude figures locked in passionate “struggles.” I’m looking at you, Giambologna.

As the myth goes, shortly after Romulus founded Rome and conveniently gained a band of followers who had never existed until the moment he needed them, he realized that a large band of men, while all well and good, does not a population sustain. He needed to find some women, fast. So he tried to negotiate with the nearby Sabines to allow Roman men to intermarry with Sabine women. Of course, the Sabines saw no reason to help the Romans grow so they could take over the world, and said no.

Romulus was not happy about this, and started making up gods to complain to. Of course, these were really just Greek gods with new names slapped on, but since it was pretty hard to top the Greeks for myth making, the Romans didn’t even try. Unfortunately, Neptune (Poseidon) failed to smite the Sabines, so Romulus decided to do it himself. He declared a festival in honor of Neptune Equester (Poseidon on a horse) and invited all of the neighboring tribes to celebrate it too. And as soon as everyone was gathered, relaxed, and more than a little bit drunk, the Romans grabbed the women, fought of the men, and ran.

Because the Romans are stodgy, moral, and no fun, there was absolutely no hanky-panky with the now abducted women. Instead Romulus very carefully told each woman that she had a choice, and if she wanted to marry a Roman she would be granted civic and property rights, the same as her husband (whatever happened to that?). Of course, having just been abducted, the women didn’t have too high an opinion of the Roman men, but somehow they all accepted.

This pissed off the Sabine men, and they decided to over-run Rome with their armies before they had a chance to breed like rabbits. The governor of Capitoline hill’s daughter, Tarpeia, agreed to open the city gates to them in exchange for “what they bore on their arms”. She expected gold bracelets, instead they crushed her to death with their shields, proving Romulus wasn’t the only tricky bastard out there. (The poor girl only wanted her property rights.)

The Romans tried to retake the Capitoline hill, failed, promised to build a temple to Jupiter, and tried again—this time with divine right on their side. The Sabine men were just about to promise to build a bigger temple when the women put their foot down. Running between the two battling groups, they said “enough is enough.” If the Sabine fathers wanted to fight the Roman husbands, they could damn well do it in a civilized fashion by out-drinking each other on the holidays. And thus, the tension between in-laws was born. Mostly reconciled, the Sabines and Romans merged into one big happy kingdom.

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