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Among the very old formulas and usages that survived at Rome down to relatively late times, this method of declaring war holds a notable place. It was highly needful to observe all the necessary formalities in beginning hostilities, otherwise the angry gods would turn their favor to the enemy.
[Ancus Marcius, the fourth king of Rome, was at once a man of peace and an efficient soldier; and on the outbreak of a war with the Latins he is said to have instituted the customs which later ages of Romans observed in war.]
Inasmuch as Numa had instituted the religious rites for days of peace, Ancus Marcius desired that the ceremonies relating to war might be transmitted by himself to future 8 ages. Accordingly he borrowed from an ancient folk, the Æquicolæ, the form which the [Roman] heralds still observe, when they make public demand for restitution.
The [Roman] envoy when he comes to the frontier of the offending nations, covers his head with a woolen fillet, and says, —
“Hear, O Jupiter, and hear ye lands (of such and such a nation), let Justice hear! I am a public messenger of the Roman people. Justly and religiously I come, and let my words bear credit!” Then he makes his demands, and follows with a solemn appeal to Jupiter. “If I demand unjustly and impiously that these men and goods [in question] be given to me, the herald of the Roman people, then suffer me never to enjoy again my native country!”
These words he repeats when he crosses the frontiers; he says them also to the first man he meets [on the way]; again when he passes the gate; again on entering the [foreigners’] market-place, some few words in the formula being [then] changed. If the persons he demands are not surrendered after thirty days, he declares war, thus: —
“Hear, O Jupiter and thou too Juno, — Romulus also, and all ye celestial, terrestrial, and infernal gods! Give us ear! I call ye to witness that this nation (naming it) is unjust, and has acted contrary to right. And as for us, we will consult thereon with our elders in our homeland, as to how we may obtain our rights.”
After that the envoy returns to Rome to report, and the king was wont at once to consult with the Senators in some such words as these,
“Concerning such quarrels as to which the ‘pater patratus’1 of the Roman people has conferred with the pater patratus of the [foreign] people, and with that people themselves, touching what they ought to have surrendered or done, and which things they have not surrendered nor done 9 [as they ought]; speak forth,” he said to the senator first questioned, “what think you?”
Then the other said, “I think that [our rights] should be demanded by a just and properly declared war, and for that I give my consent and vote.”
Next the others were asked in order, and when the majority of those present had reached an agreement, the war was resolved upon.
It was customary for the fetialis to carry in his hand a javelin pointed with steel, or burnt at the end and dipped in blood. This he took to the confines of the enemy’s country, and in the presence of at least three persons of adult years, he spoke thus, “Forasmuch as the state of the [enemy here named] has offended against the Roman People, the Quirites; and forasmuch as the Roman People the Quirites have ordered that there should be war [with the enemy] and the Senate of the Roman People has duly voted that war should be made upon the enemy [here named]: I acting for the Roman people declare and make actual war upon the enemy!”
So saying he flung the spear within the hostile confines. After this manner restitution was at that time demanded from the Latins [by Ancus Marcius] and war proclaimed; and the usage then established was adopted by posterity.2
1 The head of the roman heralds (fetiales).
2 When in later ages the Romans had to wage war with nations beyond the seas, they resorted to a very curious fiction in order to keep this old custom. They transferred a spot of ground near the Circus Flaminius to a prisoner from the unfriendly nation; and on this spot, in front of the Temple of Bellona, they set a column. The land could now be accounted hostile territory, and the spear of the fetialis could be hurled upon it. Another example of Roman literalism.
* Livy (59 B.C. to 17 A.D.). Titus Livius a native of Patavium (Padua) is by all odds the leading historian for the Roman Republican period. His entire history in 142 books extended from the foundation of Rome down to 9 B.C. Most unfortunately we possess only 35 of these intact, although Epitomes have been preserved of most of the others. A critical and scrupulously impartial historian Livy was not. He often gives us myths that have obviously no factual value, and again he suppresses or colors such evidence as reflects upon the glory of Rome. On the other hand, his style is “clear, animated, and eloquent,” and often under the legends a little sifting will bring out valuable data; while no Roman who had read through his long narrative could fail to gain a clear 400 grasp upon the long slow process of war and patriotic sacrifice by which the little city by the Tiber rose to world-wide dominion.