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Richard's Writings > The Birth of Rome > Chapter 16: Men Who Count

Synopsis of Chapter 16: Men Who Count

The first Census tallies are totalled. Servius Tullius divides the population into five classes, based on wealth. The Comitia Curiata is expanded from 30 to 100 and becomes the Senate. Old Marcus Junius retires with honors, and his son takes his Senate seat. Young Marcus marries the daughter of Lucius Tarquinius, who recently fell in battle. Servius Tullius announces his plans to build a wall around the seven hills, and the people begin construction with good cheer.

Excerpt from Chapter 16: Men Who Count

"One of the traditions you hold dear is the tale of Romulus building his wall around the original city on the Palatine. Legend holds that he took up his plow and cut a furrow all around the rim of the hilltop, to mark where he would build his walls. People of Roma, behold!"

He gestured with deliberate theatrics towards a figure standing in profile on the Campus Martius at the northern foot of the Capitoline. The foot of the Capitoline raised him above the level of the plain, and the people in the front ranks could see that he was a muscular young man dressed only in a loincloth, standing behind a plow drawn by a team of oxen. A description of the sight quickly circulated through the crowd, all the way up to the people standing near the distant garden plots.

"There stands our Romulus!" cried Servius Tullius. "I have designated him to plow a course around the seven hills of our city. I invite you to walk with him as he works, to watch his labors and applaud his progress. Look upon Romulus, the founder of your city, who has returned to us to help us safeguard that city from the dangers without. Watch him cut the furrow with his plow. Upon this course we will build our walls. Yes, Quirites, it is time our families have the protection of stout, stone walls."

A cheer went up, as much for Romulus as for good, stout walls. Tullius continued.

"In the days ahead I will call upon all of you to help me build these walls. Walls that will protect our wives and daughters, walls that will protect our homes and fortunes, walls that will keep Roma safe for centuries to come! Are you with me? Will you help me build these walls? Will you help me keep Roma from harm?"

A greater cheer rose up from the assembly, for Romans appreciated good oratory, and that last speech had a cadence and a growing crescendo that educated ears appreciated. Servius Tullius smiled. He knew they were not necessarily agreeing to the project, but he had warned them what he was going to expect from them and that was enough for now.

The man behind the plow cut a furrow northeast towards the Quirinal, then up a path used by the people who lived upon the Quirinal to descend to the plain. The incline was not too extreme for the team of powerful oxen and they eventually reached the crest of the hill. There, along the west rim of the Quirinal and in full view of the people assembled on the plain below, he cut a furrow all along the rim as it bent to the northeast again. He continued on this course for a considerable distance, leaving the cluster of Quirinal dwellings far behind, and then cut his furrow in a long arc until he was facing due south and continued along a southerly course for a very long distance.

The people assembled in their classes had been formally dismissed by Servius Tullius, and many rushed up to the top of the escarpment to watch their Romulus plow his wall. Some expected a wall to actually rise up out of the furrow, such was the power of myth. A huge crowd soon walked alongside the plowman and self-appointed monitors cleared the way ahead of him. Many of the people knew him, of course, but today he belonged to no one family; today he was Romulus in the flesh.

It was tiring work. Romulus paused for refreshment, and people rushed forward to offer him delicacies, and provide water for his oxen. Then he slung the plow straps over his shoulders once again, picked up the reigns, and went back to work. The furrow continued due south for a very long time, behind the dwellings perched upon the Quirinal, the Viminal, the Cispius, Esquiline and Oppius, until the plow reached a point where the escarpment bent back towards the east. This portion of the wall was the most critical of all, for unlike the free-standing hills of Roma, the hills that jutted from the escarpment were backed only by the foothills of the Alban Hills, the same range that swung around to the southeast to include the Latin city of Alba Longa and its volcanic crater lake. It was from this direction that the Sabines of Tibur had originally attacked the city, thirty nine years ago. The walls that defend this stretch of the city would have to be built especially high and strong.

Many of the by-standers had turned back by now, filled with sufficient spectacle for one day, while others were not willing to venture too close to the ancient burial grounds. These cemeteries had been dedicated on the escarpment many generations ago, when their tribal ancestors chose to entomb their dead in little beehive shaped crypts, instead of cremate their dead according to modern standards of sanitation. Parents sometimes frightened their children with superstitious stories of shades who did not rest peacefully, but lived on as lemurs, unhappy spirits who might assume solid form after a feast of blood, and who could only be consoled by an offering of black beans and a salt cake made from the first ears of wheat of the season. It was said that Remus still walked among them, never at peace after his foul murder by his brother, Romulus. Some people preferred to keep their distance from this modern-day Romulus as he plowed past the ancient burial grounds, for who knew if the lemur of Remus might take out his wrath on this reincarnation of his brother, and everyone else within range. And nightfall was approaching. Even the plowman got spooked. He would finish tomorrow.


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