September 08, 2008

Ancus Martius

Many may have heard of Romulus, fewer of Numa his successor, and some of Tarquin the proud the last King of Rome- but there were four lesser known Kings who deserve rescue from oblivion: Tullius Hostilius, Ancus Martius, Tarquin the elder and Servius Tullius are all interesting characters in the history of Rome, even if the likelihood is that none of them ever existed. The stories told about them are significant because they indicate the way that Romans thought that characteristics of the Republic had evolved- they also give us indications of what the Romans thought was essential about various societal practices and the ways in which Livy, whose history I am of course relying on, thought about the origins of civility and society. We have already seen that the origins of society might lie with the reign of Romulus- the origins of civility lie in the later reigns and run into the Republic. Numa, Livy tells us, gave Rome a 'second beggining' (1.19) based on laws instead of wars. I want to concentrate though for a specific reason upon a later King- Numa's nephew and successor but one- Ancus Martius.

Martius is interesting because he is so little covered. The myth of Martius's rule is evidently not as strong as that of Romulus's or Numa's or Tullius's let alone Lucius Tarquin's. In my translation of Livy it occupies barely four pages- and two of those are given to an interesting subject which is the topic of this post. Martius, according to Livy, brought international law to Rome. The form that this took for Livy was the creation of a rite of war- an envoy performed certain ritual acts at the border, in front of a foreign witness, in a foreign city and if they were not heeded, the Romans then declared again through a ritual act, a spear thrown across the border between the foreign city and Rome. The system of performing these rights is convoluted- and the words used are no doubt crucial to what Livy wants us to see. Livy wants us to see that whereas Numa had provided peace with religious ceremony, Martius provided war with an 'equivalent solemn ceremonial' (1.32). Of course that is what he does- but by doing it he reveals something of the nature of his understanding of international law and thus of the ancient world's understanding of international law.

Livy tells us that now this ceremony is in the hands of the Fetials. The Fetials were a college of priests- significantly revived by Octavian (no accident then that here the King of Rome is given a role as their founder and a religious reformer)- whose responsibility was declaring war. If enemy territory was too far away to throw the spear, in later times they would hurl it into the temple of Bellona, goddess of war. What this demonstrates though is the close tie between international law and religion. Whilst reading Livy's account of Ancus Martius, I couldn't hold myself back from an anachronistic reflection on Locke. In chapter 14 of the Two Treatises, Locke characterises a state of war as a state in which the only appeal is one to heaven- there are no judges but God (or in Livy's case, the Gods). Of course what Livy is pointing out is the origins of the international law of his own time- and this is the fascinating thing- like Locke, he sees the origins of international law as lying in that appeal to heaven. Because the Roman state went to war by appealing precisely to heaven- the Fetial priests would invoke Jupiter and Janus as they declared that Rome was aggrieved and wished to fight. Ancus Martius therefore stands at the beggining for Livy of the concept of international law- and international law begins with an appeal from a King to the King of the Gods.

But there is something more to this which I think is interesting. This is a myth. Livy could not have known that this was true- indeed he has already told us that Numa began another ceremony to describe war and peace religiously, by opening and closing the temple of Janus's doors depending on the belligerent status of Rome. Livy though thought it interesting to tell us about both Numa and Martius- and he informs us that both of them died peacefully. I think it is no accident that this is so. What Livy is offering here- and I go back to Octavian's reign to substantiate my point- is a point about social stability in monarchy. Augustus had sought in his reign to reinforce religion- I think what Livy offers in his account of Ancus Martius and Numa is an account of the stability that that might bring. If his account of Romulus is a warning to Augustus, then his account of the two later king is an offer of hope. He is suggesting that to remain in power kings must become servants to ritual- that these customs can solidify and stabilise rule. Its significant that amongst Martius's other acts- Livy says that he founded the first Roman Prison (1.33) - in a sense what Livy is doing is endorsing a program of moral reformation in the 1st century B.C. by describing its effects in the 7th Century B.C.

Livy's career was built on the foundation of civil war- he lived through the wild times when Roman slew Roman. He rejected the Octavianist argument that tyranny could create peace- we have already seen his scepticism about Romulus's ability to do that (another Caesar perhaps!) What we find in Livy's description of Ancus Martius though and of Numa Pompilius is not merely an account of how Roman religious practice began, but an account of the real reason for Roman instability. Pious Kingship succeeded in maintaining stability in a way that violent kingship failed- it was not so much the nature of the government as the nature of its moral reform that mattered. Living at the beggining of the Principate, Livy could agree that the Republic and early Principate were part of a 'process of moral decline'(1.1)- he argued that the society of the Principate was 'in love with death both individually and collectively' but could not prove its trajectory (1.1).

Roman history awaited Tacitus and Suetonius to describe that issue.

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