1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Numa Pompilius

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22194361911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 19 — Numa Pompilius

NUMA POMPILIUS, second legendary king of Rome (715–672 B.C.), was a Sabine, a native of Cures, and his wife was the daughter of Titus Tatius, the Sabine colleague of Romulus. He was elected by the Roman people at the close of a year's interregnum, during which the sovereignty had been exercised by the members of the senate in rotation. Nearly all the early religious institutions of Rome were attributed to him. He set up the worship of Terminus (the god of landmarks), appointed the festival of Fides (Faith), built the temple of Janus, reorganized the calendar and fixed days of business and holiday. He instituted the flamens (sacred priests) of Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus; the virgins of Vesta, to keep the sacred fire burning on the hearth of the city; the Salii, to guard the shield that fell from heaven; the pontifices and augurs, to arrange the rites and interpret the will of the gods; he also divided the handicraftsmen into nine gilds. He derived his inspiration from his wife, the nymph Egeria, whom he used to meet by night in her sacred grove. After a long and peaceful reign, during which the gates of Janus were closed, Numa died and was succeeded by the warlike Tullus Hostilius. Livy (xl. 29) tells a curious story of two stone chests, bearing inscriptions in Greek and Latin, which were found at the foot of the Janiculum (181 B.C.), one purporting to contain the body of Numa and the other his books. The first when opened was found to be empty, but the second contained fourteen books relating to philosophy and pontifical law, which were publicly burned as tending to undermine the established religion.

No single legislator can really be considered responsible for all the institutions ascribed to Numa; they are essentially Italian, and older than Rome itself. Even Roman tradition itself wavers; e.g. the fetiales are variously attributed to Tullus Hostilius and Ancus Marcius. The supposed law-books, which were to all appearance new when discovered, were clearly forgeries.

See Livy i. 18-21; Plutarch, Numa; Dion. Halic. ii. 58-76; Cicero, De republica, ii. 13-15. For criticism: Schwegler, Rŏmische Geschichte, bk. xi.; Sir G. Cornewall Lewis, Credibility of early Roman History, ch. xi.; W. Ihne, Hist. of Rome, i.; E. Pais, Storia di Roma, i. (1898), where Numa is identified with Titus Tatius and made out to be a river god, Numicius, closely connected with Aeneas; J. B. Carter, The Religion of Numa (1906); O. Gilbert, Geschichte und Topographie der Stadt Rom im Altertum (1883–1885); and Rome: Ancient History.