Forcible, yes, but not quite in the way you might think it was.
The story of the Rape of the Sabine Women surfaces in a massive history of Rome written by the chronicler Livy. Livy was a contemporary of Emperor Augustus and served as advisor to Claudius, the Imperial grand-nephew. He was fond of recounting past deeds of heroism which told of Rome’s founding, particularly those that promoted the moral qualities of pre-Imperial rulers.
It is probably safe to say that Livy’s departure from Rome coincided with the ascension of Tiberius, no fan of republican sentiments. Before he left, however, Livy’s history was widely accepted as the true chronicle of Rome’s founding.
It was Livy who recounted that Romulus, fresh from an act of fratricide, had staked out a claim on the Tiber River. His group of mostly male followers began to cast about for wives from the neighboring Sabine tribe. The Sabines looked upon these amorous suitors with great suspicion. They were like the monster in Jaws. All they wanted to do was to march around, eat and make little Romans.
More Romans meant greater Roman territorial ambitions. This was anathema.
To lure them into their new city, the Romans conceived of a great festival to the god Neptune equester. Like Poseidon, Neptune ruled the seas. On this day, however, he was the patron deity of horses and the notion of equestrian competition was irresistible in those days just as they are today. Less evident was the sea god’s penchant for fertility–perhaps this aspect of the party had been kept quiet.
In any case, the Sabines arrived in Rome for the festival and were shocked when the hosts seized their daughters. Any attempt to recover the maidens were met with resistance as the battle-hardened Romans fought off those who would try to recapture their new wives. This abduction, or rape as it was called, was a pivotal moment in the history of Rome.
Getting is not always the same as having, as the Romans were finding out. The Sabine women had to be placated. They had to be reconciled to their fate. Livy triumphantly reports that Rome’s founder had a solution, one which might be considered a strict lesson to future rulers. Romulus spoke to each of the Sabine maidens, pointing out their troubles were all due to their parents’ pride. He would offer them something more:
“They would live in honourable wedlock, and share all their property and civil rights, and—dearest of all to human nature—would be the mothers of free men.”
Now invested in Rome’s future, the Sabine women were later reported to have flung themselves in the midst of a battle that ensued between the Sabine fathers and their Roman husbands. The fighting stopped and the Sabines agreed to join with the Romans and form a new nation.
Another lesson perhaps. Join with us or die.
“Be wise, Judah. It’s a Roman world. If you want to live in it, you must become part of it…I tell you, Judah, it’s no accident that one small village on the Tiber was chosen to rule the world…It wasn’t just our legions…No, it was fate that chose us to civilize the world – and we have. Our roads and our ships connect every corner of the earth, Roman law, architecture, literature and the glory of the human race.” — Ben Hur (1959)