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Richard's Writings > The Birth of Rome > Chapter 4: A Proposal from the Etruscan League

Synopsis of Chapter 4: A Proposal from the Etruscan League

The Etruscan League chose Marcus Junius to deliver their proposal. They thought the message would be better received if it was delivered by someone who lived in one of the villages that dominated the vital Tiber River crossing. The Etruscans offered to supply engineers and materials to the Latin and Sabine tribes who lived in the hilltop villages, and help them build a strong and united city. In return, the city would police the essential trade route that ran through the Latin territory to the south. After first delivering the proposal to the tribal leaders, Marcus was asked to speak to an assembly of the whole people (below). Work began on the first great project, draining the swamps, with Marcus and Cneve acting as interpreters between the Etruscan engineers and the Roman labor teams. This put them in a key position of leadership that would be long remembered.

Excerpt from Chapter 4: A Proposal from the Etruscan League

It was the eighth hour of the day. Under blue skies and a cool early afternoon sun, the valley between the Aventine and Palatine hills filled with people, perhaps every man, woman and child in the area for ten miles around. They sat on the grassy slopes on both sides and filled the valley with the murmur of their conversations. On the flatter grassland of the valley itself stood the heads of the clan families, the pater familias, the fathers. Opposite them, facing south, stood the twelve representatives of the Etruscan League, calm and self-contained. The enormous crowd marveled at how their white togas appeared to glow in the light shining straight up the valley. Marcus stood with them, notable in his plain oatmeal tunic.

A man in a saffron tunic of better weave than normally seen in these villages stepped forward. He raised his hand palm forward and said, "I am Ancus Marcius, first among equals of the family-fathers on the Palatine. I have been asked by the other clan fathers to speak on their behalf as well. We have given you bread and salt and have taken you into our homes. We are interested in what you have to say to us."

Marcus stepped forward and projected his voice to the crowd, with Cneve at his side to translate his words for the Etruscan representatives.

"People of the Seven Hills, you all know me. I am Marcus Junius, a son of the Palatine. I was the swiftest of foot in the games a few seasons ago. I speak for the august body you see standing behind me because I am one of you and speak as you speak, but what I have to say to you today are the words of the great and powerful Etruscan League. Hear me! For they offer us a wonderful opportunity.

"Mothers, how many of you cried because your children died of the swamp fever? Fathers, I know how you have mourned when your bloodline ends due to these senseless deaths. I feel your pain. My own father was taken away by the swamp gas, and I mourn him to this very day. But I say to you, we can end this tragedy! Our friends to the north will help us! This man on my left is King Spurie Lusinies of Volaterrea. His city saved the Umbrian cities at the mouth of the River Po. How? They knew how to drain the swamps and build an irrigation system, and he will put his experts to work for us. But only if you say so.

"Our friends to the north have the tools to cut and shape stone. They will give us these tools. They know how to fashion temples and roads and elegant homes. They will show us how. They will help us drain the fever swamps that surround our hills and show us how to pave our meeting place below the Capitoline with stone. Imagine that, my mothers and fathers, a Forum made of stone! All we need to do is ask!

"We have long recognized that we need a bridge across the Tiber for our carts and wagons. They will show us how to build one. King Viba of Veii, this man to my right, has generously agreed to give us a portion of the salt works to help fund our projects. He also intends to ask King Amulius of Alba Longa to give us the right to quarry tufa stone for our building projects. King Amulius would not treat with us. But with King Viba's help, we may be able to obtain in quantity that wondrous material that cuts like cheese, then hardens to iron.

"All this they will do for us, our friends to the north, and what do they ask of us in return? Simply that we grow up. Yes, I say, grow up! It is time we take our place among the cities of Italia. It is time we unite our peoples and fulfill our destiny. It is time we reach out to our distant Latin and Sabine brethren, standing as we do at the crossroads between the north and the south. With our leadership, we can all live together in peace and prosperity for all. What say you, people of the Septimontium?"

The people rose as one to their feet and roared their approval. Marcus turned away and noticed in passing a gleam of approval in the eyes of many of the Etruscan party. Cneve smiled and touched his shoulder. The man in the saffron tunic, Ancus Marcius, raised both his arms and waited for the crowd to quiet.

"We have heard the words of our esteemed neighbors to the north, and we thank them for their interest in our well being." He turned toward the Etruscan representatives. "We appreciate the great gifts you offer us. We will all now retire and the clan fathers will consider what we have heard today. We will speak with you again in the near future." Facing the crowd again he bellowed, "This meeting is now at an end!"


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