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In this well-known passage of his Antiquitates Romanae, Dionysius of Halicarnassus describes how Romulus and his companions seized and married the Sabine virgins. Romulus justifies his actions by stating that this method of acquiring wives was a Greek custom:


Dionysius' report of a Greek tradition adopted by Romulus is rather enigmatic. It has previously been noted that this passage bears similarity to passages of Plutarch and in particular his description of the Spartan marriage ceremony,(1) This Spartan marriage ceremony does bear some relation to the situation being described by Dionysius in that the women are captured before being married, but other elements of the ceremony--the bride having her hair cut off and being taken in a darkened room--are quite out of place here and would appear to be a peculiarly Spartan tradition. As Plutarch was writing some time after Dionysius, it is not possible for Dionysius to be making a parallel with the ceremony as decribed by Plutarch, but he may have had access to a common source about that ceremony, now lost. However, I would like to suggest that there is another well-known source which may have been the source of the Greek tradition referred to in Dionysius 2.30 that is connected to neither Plutarch nor marriage.

If one considers that it may be not a marriage ceremony that was the Greek tradition which Romulus adopted but rather the violent abduction of wives as part of an act of colonization, then a closer parallel may be found from extant Greek literature, that is, the foundation of Miletus as described by Herodotus 1.146:


Herodotus' Histories had long been known and would have been familiar to Dionysius of Halicarnassus.(2) Dionysius' historical work had much in common with that of his fellow Halicarnassian, who had been a great influence on him.(3) Herodotus was also a source for Pausanias when he came to write his own version of the foundation of Miletus, two centuries after Dionysius wrote his Antiquitates Romanae. Pausanias' version was clearly derived from that of Herodotus.(4) It is quite probable that Herodotus' work was also used as a source by Dionysius, as it was later by Pausanias, and it is quite possible that it is Herodotus' version of the founding of Miletus to which he is referring in Romulus' speech at 2.30.

In 1.146 Herodotus tells us that the Athenian colonists who founded Miletus came into conflict with the Carians who inhabited the region and slaughtered the father, s, husbands, and sons of the Carian women, whom they took in marriage. Remembering this past atrocity, the women of Miletus maintained to Herodotus' time a tradition whereby they would not dine with their husbands or call them by name.

There are several points in common between the foundation of Rome described by Dionysius and this particular version of the foundation of Miletus described by Herodotuss.(5) Both groups are newly arrived from foreign lands and need to find wives.(6) Both groups are high-status settlers,(7) and the cities that they found become famous and prosperous. Both groups take wives from the local population,(8) Both groups use force(9) to achieve these marriages.

It seems, then, that the major difference between these two accounts is that at Miletus the settlers slaughtered the male population in order to achieve their marriages and the women protested for generations to come through certain customs that they adopted. This initial act of murder by the Milesian colonists would be in keeping with Dionysius' image of the Milesians, who according to him were noted for their ruthlessness.(10) In contrast, the Romans, through self-control and diplomacy, negotiated a truce with the Sabines and lived in peace with their women.(11) This emphasizes one of Dionysius' key themes, often repeated in the Antiquitates Romanae, that although the Romans were of Greek origin and followed many Greek customs, through their virtue and restraint they were ultimately superior to the Greeks.(12)

We cannot say with certainty which Greek tradition Dionysius had in mind when he wrote about the foundation of Rome. However, as Dionysius knew and was influenced by Herodotus' works, and there are several similarities between Herodotus' account of the foundation of Miletus and Dionysius' account of the foundation of Rome, it is not unreasonable to think that Dionysius was making reference to this passage of Herodotus.

(*) I am indebted to Mr Simon Northwood of Manchester University for the assistance that he has given me in preparing this article. I am also grateful to Prof. T. Cornell and Dr R. Brock for their useful comments and suggestions.

(1) In his Loeb edition Cary suggests it may be a marriage practice similar to the Spartan marriage ceremony described by Plutarch (Lycurgus 15.3-5) which is being referred to here (p. 401, n. 1). Cary's translation is based on that of Spelman, whose commentary also discusses similarities between this passage and wedding ceremonies described by Plutarch (Cary, pp. 45-6; E. Spelman, The Roman Antiquities of Dionysius Halicarnassensis [London, 1758], pp. 277-80, n. 61). It is interesting to note that Dionysius compares the Sabines to the Spartans in Ant. Rom. 2.49.5 in respect of their liking for war and austere culture, and this may have led Spelman to connect Dionysius' Antiquitates Romanae 2.30 with the Spartan marriage ceremony of Plutarch's Lycurgus 15.

(2) Herodotus' work would also have been familiar to Dionysius' philhellene contemporaries--see C. Schultze in I. S. Moxon, J. D. Smart, and A. J. Woodman (edd.), Past Perspectives (Cambridge, 1986), pp. 121-4.

(3) Dion. Hal. Ad Pomp. 3 praises Herodotus for his choice of historical subject matter. Although Herodotus was Dionysius' major influence, he also owed something to the works of Thucydides, whom he considered to be generally inferior to Herodotus. See S. Usher, `The style of Dionysius of Halicarnassus in the Antiquitates Romanae', ANRW 2.30.1 (1982), 817-38.

(4) Pausanias 7.2.5-6.

(5) There are many myths dealing with the origins of Miletus. As well as the account given in 1.146, Herodotus makes mention of Neleus son of Codrus as founder of Miletus in 9.97; he also describes the Athenians claiming the Ionians as their colonists in 9.106; and the colonization of the Ionian mainland by the Leleges in 1.171. In addition to Herodotus' versions of the origins of Miletus there are several by other authors (discussed by A. G. Dunham, The History of Miletus [London, 1915], pp. 31-43).

(6) This seems to have been the norm as there are very few instances in the literature where it is stated that the colonists took women with them. (Examples where women were included in the first wave of colonization include Herodotus 1.164, Strabo 4.179, and Pausanias 10.10.6-8, and in all these cases there are exceptional circumstances that have led to the inclusion of women; see A. J. Graham, `Religion, women and colonisation', Atti: Centro ricerche e documentazione sull' antichita classica (Rome, 1980-1), 294-314.

(7) In the case of Rome the settlers are ultimately descended from Trojans and other Greeks (Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 1.61-2). At Miletus the colonists were Ionians of the purest blood who started their journey from the Government House of Athens (Hdt. 1.146).

(8) There are very few examples in ancient literature of settlers taking wives from the indigenous population, although one exception is the foundation of Massalia, where Protis, one of the Phocaean leaders, married the local king's daughter and his companions were found wives among the locals (Justin 43 [63] 3 and Aristotle, frag. 549 Rose). However, modem opinion supports the view that the practice of intermarriage was well-established in Greek colonies (see C. Dougherty, The Poetics of Colonization [Oxford, 1993], pp. 61-80, esp. p. 67 n. 28, for a detailed bibliography). There may also be archaeological evidence for intermarriage from the early burials at Pithekoussai (D. Ridgeway, The First Western Greeks [Cambridge, 1992], p. 67). Although this evidence is not in itself conclusive, it has stimulated recent debate on intermarriage and Greek colonization (N. Coldstream, `Mixed marriages at the frontiers of the early Greek world', OJA 12/1 [1993], 89-107).

(9) This in itself is not surprising as colonies were often founded amid violence. See C. Dougherty, `It's murder to found a Greek colony', in C. Dougherty and L. Kurke, Cultural Poetics in Archaic Greece (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 178-98.

(10) Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 7.66.5.

(11) Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 2.45-6.

(12) For example: Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 2.9, 2.16-17, and 2.18-19.

A.M. GREAVES University of Leeds
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Author:GREAVES, A. M.
Publication:The Classical Quarterly
Date:Jul 1, 1998
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