Numa Pompilius
Numa Pompilius was the legendary second king of Rome
King of Rome
The King of Rome was the chief magistrate of the Roman Kingdom. According to legend, the first king of Rome was Romulus, who founded the city in 753 BC upon the Palatine Hill. Seven legendary kings are said to have ruled Rome until 509 BC, when the last king was overthrown. These kings ruled for...

, succeeding Romulus
- People:* Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome* Romulus Augustulus, the last Western Roman Emperor* Valerius Romulus , deified son of the Roman emperor Maxentius* Romulus , son of the Western Roman emperor Anthemius...

. What tales are descended to us about him come from Valerius Antias
Valerius Antias
Valerius Antias was an ancient Roman annalist whom Livy mentions as a source. No complete works of his survive but from the sixty-five fragments said to be his in the works of other authors it has been deduced that he wrote a chronicle of ancient Rome in at least seventy-five books...

, an author from the early part of the 1st century BC known through limited mentions of later authors (Plutarch mentions him, Livy seems scarcely to give him any notice), Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Dionysius of Halicarnassus was a Greek historian and teacher of rhetoric, who flourished during the reign of Caesar Augustus. His literary style was Attistic — imitating Classical Attic Greek in its prime.-Life:...

 circa 60BC- later than 7 AD, hagiography-minded Livy (59 BC – 17 AD), critical history-minded Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 (approx 46 AD, approx 125 AD), poetry-inspired Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

 (-43BC, 17 AD).

Life and reign

Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 tells that Numa was the youngest of Pomponius' four sons, born on the day of Rome's founding (traditionally, 21 April 753 BC). He lived a severe life of discipline and banished all luxury from his home. Titus Tatius
Titus Tatius
The traditions of ancient Rome held that Titus Tatius was the Sabine king of Cures, who, after the rape of the Sabine women, attacked Rome and captured the Capitol with the treachery of Tarpeia. The Sabine women, however, convinced Tatius and the Roman king, Romulus, to reconcile and subsequently...

, king of the Sabine
The Sabines were an Italic tribe that lived in the central Appennines of ancient Italy, also inhabiting Latium north of the Anio before the founding of Rome...

s and a colleague of Romulus, married his only daughter, Tatia, to Numa. After 13 years of marriage, Tatia died, precipitating Numa's retirement to the countryside. According to Livy
Titus Livius — known as Livy in English — was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people. Ab Urbe Condita Libri, "Chapters from the Foundation of the City," covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome well before the traditional foundation in 753 BC...

, Numa resided at Cures
Cures, a Sabine town between the left bank of the Tiber and the Via Salaria, about 26 km. from Rome. According to legend, it was from Cures that Titus Tatius led to the Quirinal the Sabine settlers, from whom, after their union with the settlers on the Palatine, the whole Roman people took the...

 immediately before being elected king.

Livy and Plutarch refer to and discredit the story that Numa was instructed in philosophy by Pythagoras
Pythagoras of Samos was an Ionian Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of the religious movement called Pythagoreanism. Most of the information about Pythagoras was written down centuries after he lived, so very little reliable information is known about him...

, as incompatible with dates.

Plutarch reports that some authors credited him with only a single daughter, Pompilia, others also gave him five sons, Pompo (or Pomponius), Pinus, Calpus, Mamercus and Numa, from whom the noble families of the Pomponii, Pinarii, Calpurnii, Aemilii, and Pompilii respectively traced their descent. Other writers believed that this was merely a flattery invented to curry favour with those families. Pompilia, whose mother is variously identified as Numa's first wife Tatia or his second wife Lucretia, supposedly married a certain Marcius and by him gave birth to the future king, Ancus Marcius
Ancus Marcius
Ancus Marcius was the legendary fourth of the Kings of Rome.He was the son of Marcius and Pompilia...


After the death of Romulus, there was an interregnum
An interregnum is a period of discontinuity or "gap" in a government, organization, or social order...

 of one year in which the royal power
Royal Prerogative
The royal prerogative is a body of customary authority, privilege, and immunity, recognized in common law and, sometimes, in civil law jurisdictions possessing a monarchy as belonging to the sovereign alone. It is the means by which some of the executive powers of government, possessed by and...

 was exercised by Senate members in rotation for five days in a row. In 715 BC after much bickering and as the result of a compromise between the Roman (Romulus-originating) and Sabine (Tatius-originating) factions, Numa, himself a Sabine, was elected by the Senate of Rome
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

 to be the next king.

According to Plutarch, Numa was a cunning and calculating person; he at first refused the offer, however his father and Sabine kinsmen, and the Roman envoys (two senators) banded together to persuade him to accept. Plutarch and Livy recount how Numa, after being summoned by the Senate from Cures, and proferred the tokens of power within a popular surge of enthusiasm requested that prior to his acceptance an augur
The augur was a priest and official in the classical world, especially ancient Rome and Etruria. His main role was to interpret the will of the gods by studying the flight of birds: whether they are flying in groups/alone, what noises they make as they fly, direction of flight and what kind of...

 to divine the opinion of the gods on the prospect of his kingship should be taken. Jupiter was consulted and the omens were favourable. Thus placated by the Roman and Sabine people on the one hand and anointed by the heavens, he took up his position as King of Rome.

According to Plutarch, Numa's very first act was to disband the personal guard of 300 so-called "Celeres" (the "Quick-stepped") that Romulus permanently entertained about himself. Whether self protectory (future Roman history will demonstrate that such guards
Praetorian Guard
The Praetorian Guard was a force of bodyguards used by Roman Emperors. The title was already used during the Roman Republic for the guards of Roman generals, at least since the rise to prominence of the Scipio family around 275 BC...

 were a double-sided weapon), or a sign of humility, or a signal of peace and moderation for all to understand is not certain.

Numa as ruler inspired by the gods themselves

Beyond seeing to having his access to power endorsed by Jupiter, Numa is credited with sustaining a permanent and direct relationship with a variety of deities, mostly of lower order, in the person of the nymph Egeria
The name Egeria may refer to:*Egeria , a mythological water nymph and the wife of Numa Pompilius, second king of Rome*Egeria , also called Aetheria, a fourth century Christian woman who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and wrote a letter about her travels*HMS Egeria, three Royal Navy ships*USS...

 and also some of the Muses, but also when required by circumstances, with the greater powers, and especially Jupiter himself, most of the time guided by Egeria in order to avoid mistakes, misinterpretations or traps.

Numa was later celebrated for his natural daily wisdom and piety; legend says the nymph Egeria
Egeria (mythology)
Egeria was a nymph attributed a legendary role in the early history of Rome as a divine consort and counselor of the Sabine second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, to whom she imparted laws and rituals pertaining to ancient Roman religion...

 taught him to be a wise legislator. According to Livy, Numa pretended that he held nightly consultations with the goddess Egeria on the proper manner of instituting sacred rites for the city. Plutarch suggests that he played on superstition to give himself some awing allure, in order to better bridle the ferocious instincts of early Romans and bend them to more gentle behaviours, such as honoring the gods, abiding by laws, behaving humanely to foes and living proper, respectable lives.

Numa allegedly authored several "sacred books" in which he had written down the teachings and recommendations of the deities, mostly Egeria and the other Muses, he interacted with. Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

, citing Valerius Antias, and Livy mention that he was buried along with these "sacred books" (they don't agree about the numbers of them) at his request, on the ground that what they ordered was entirely known to the priests and that he would rather the rules and rituals they prescribed be kept by a living memory and practice than preserved as relics doomed for forgetfulness and disuse. Of the which about half were thought to be dedicated to the ministry of the several orders of priests (flamines, pontifices, Salii, Fetiales...) he had set up or adapted, and as to the rest, was not recorded precisely. According to Plutarch, these books were recovered some four hundred years later at the occasion of some natural accident that unveiled the tomb, were examined by the Senate, and deemed to be inappropriate for disclosure to the people and hence burned; Dionysius of Halicarnassus hints that they were actually kept as a very close secret by the Pontifices.

Numa is reputed to have constrained two minor gods, Picus
In Roman mythology, Picus was the first king of Latium. He was known for his skill at augury and horsemanship. The witch Circe turned him into a woodpecker for scorning her love. Picus' wife was Canens, a nymph who killed herself after his transformation. They had one son, Faunus.According to...

 and Faunus
In ancient Roman religion and myth, Faunus was the horned god of the forest, plains and fields; when he made cattle fertile he was called Inuus. He came to be equated in literature with the Greek god Pan....

 into delivering some prophecies of things to come.

Numa, supported and prepared by Egeria, is reported to have held a battle of wits with Jupiter himself, in an apparition whereby Numa sought to gain a protective ritual against lightning strokes and thunder.

At a time of a pestilential disease that was playing havoc in the population, a prodigy happened : a shield which had undecipherable letters written on it, came to fall from the sky on the Palatine Hill
Palatine Hill
The Palatine Hill is the centermost of the Seven Hills of Rome and is one of the most ancient parts of the city...

. The which being brought to Numa, he declared that Egeria had enlightened him that this was a token of safeguard from Jupiter, for which he organized due measures of recognition, thus bringing the plague at an immediate end. This shield became a sacred relic of the Romans.

Roman institutions attributed to Numa

One of Numa's first acts was the construction of a temple of Janus
-General:*Janus , the two-faced Roman god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings, and endings*Janus , a moon of Saturn*Janus Patera, a shallow volcanic crater on Io, a moon of Jupiter...

 as an indicator of peace and war. The temple was constructed at the foot of the Argiletum, a road in the city. After securing peace with Rome's neighbours, the doors of the temples were shut. and remained so for all the duration of Numa's reign, a unique case in Roman history.

Another, surprising, creation attributed to Numa was the cult of Terminus, a god for boundaries; through this rite, which involved sacrifices at private properties boundaries and landmarks, Numa reportedly sought to instill in Romans the respect of lawful property and non-violent relationships with neighbours; the cult of Terminus, preached Numa, involved absence of violence and murder, and that god was testimony to justice and keeper of peace, in a somehow comparable, more moral rather than legal mode, way to one of the roles of Vegoia
Vegoia is a nymph and/or sibyl in the Etruscan religious framework that is vested with the responsibility of writing some parts of their large and complex set of sacred books, of initiating the Etruscan people to the arts, rules and rituals of land marking, and of...

 in the neighbouring Etruscans'religious system; setting official boundaries to the territory of Rome, which Romulus had never wanted, was also, presumably with the same concern of preserving peace, also decided by Numa.

Recognizing the paramount importance of the sacred shield descended from the skies, King Numa had eleven matching shields made, so perfect that no one, even Numa, could distinguish the original any longer. These shields were the ancilia, the sacred shields of Jupiter, which were carried each year in a procession by the Salii
In ancient Roman religion, the Salii were the "leaping priests" of Mars supposed to have been introduced by King Numa Pompilius. They were twelve patrician youths, dressed as archaic warriors: an embroidered tunic, a breastplate, a short red cloak , a sword, and a spiked headdress called an apex...

 priests. Numa also established the office and duties of Pontifex Maximus
Pontifex Maximus
The Pontifex Maximus was the high priest of the College of Pontiffs in ancient Rome. This was the most important position in the ancient Roman religion, open only to patricians until 254 BC, when a plebeian first occupied this post...

 and instituted (Plutarch's version) the flamen
In ancient Roman religion, a flamen was a priest assigned to one of fifteen deities with official cults during the Roman Republic. The most important three were the flamines maiores , who served the three chief Roman gods of the Archaic Triad. The remaining twelve were the flamines minores...

 of Quirinus, in honour of Romulus, in addition to those of Jupiter and Mars that already existed. Numa also brought the Vestal Virgins to Rome from Alba Longa
Alba Longa
Alba Longa – in Italian sources occasionally written Albalonga – was an ancient city of Latium in central Italy southeast of Rome in the Alban Hills. Founder and head of the Latin League, it was destroyed by Rome around the middle of the 7th century BC. In legend, Romulus and Remus, founders of...

.; Plutarch adds that they were then at the number of two, were later augmented to four by Servius Tullius and stayed so through the ages.

By tradition, Numa promulgated a calendar reform that adjusted the solar and lunar years, introducing the months of January and February.

In other Roman institutions established by Numa, Plutarch thought he detected a Laconia
Laconia , also known as Lacedaemonia, is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the southeastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. Its administrative capital is Sparti...

n influence, attributing the connection to the Sabine culture of Numa, for "Numa was descended of the Sabines, who declare themselves to be a colony of the Lacedaemonians."

Numa was credited with dividing the immediate territory of Rome into pagi and establishing the traditional occupational guilds of Rome:
"So, distinguishing the whole people by the several arts and trades, he formed the companies of musicians, goldsmiths, carpenters, dyers, shoemakers, skinners, braziers, and potters; and all other handicraftsmen he composed and reduced into a single company, appointing every one their proper courts, councils, and religious observances." (Plutarch)

Plutarch, in like manner, tells of the early religion of the Romans, that it was imageless and spiritual. He says Numa "forbade the Romans to represent the deity in the form either of man or of beast. Nor was there among them formerly any image or statue of the Divine Being; during the first one hundred and seventy years they built temples, indeed, and other sacred domes, but placed in them no figure of any kind; persuaded that it is impious to represent things Divine by what is perishable, and that we can have no conception of God but by the understanding".

Numa Pompilius died in 673 BC of old age.

He was succeeded by Tullus Hostilius
Tullus Hostilius
Tullus Hostilius was the legendary third of the Kings of Rome. He succeeded Numa Pompilius, and was succeeded by Ancus Marcius...



  • Plutarch
    Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

    , Parallel Lives
    Parallel Lives
    Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, commonly called Parallel Lives or Plutarch's Lives, is a series of biographies of famous men, arranged in tandem to illuminate their common moral virtues or failings, written in the late 1st century...

    , Life of Numa Pompilius.
  • Livy
    Titus Livius — known as Livy in English — was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people. Ab Urbe Condita Libri, "Chapters from the Foundation of the City," covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome well before the traditional foundation in 753 BC...

    , Ab urbe condita
    Ab urbe condita
    Ab urbe condita is Latin for "from the founding of the City ", traditionally set in 753 BC. AUC is a year-numbering system used by some ancient Roman historians to identify particular Roman years...

    , Liber 1


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