What determined the choice of these false gods was not so much reason as adulation. They did not think their demigod Plato worthy of a shrine, for all his efforts to check by argument those spiritual passions which corrupt men’s morals unless they are carefully controlled. Yet, they set their Romulus above many of their gods, though in the light of their own esoteric doctrine he should be regarded only as an inferior divinity.
They even assigned to him a flamen of a priestly class, ranking, as the tassel on their caps revealed, so high in Roman worship that only three gods were so honored: Jupiter, with the Dial flamen; Mars, with the Martial; and Romulus, with the Quirinal. His fellow citizens called him Quirinus after their indulgent hearts had given him a place in heaven. Thereby, Romulus stood higher in their esteem than Neptune and Pluto, Jupiter’s brothers; higher than Saturn himself, their sire. Accordingly, they alloted to his service the same high priesthood they had allotted to Jupiter, as well as to Mars, his reputed father, presumably for his sake.
If the Romans had received a rule of life from their gods, they would not have been obliged to borrow the laws of Solon from the Athenians, as they did some [three hundred] years after Rome was founded. However, they did not retain these laws in the form they received them, but sought to improve them by appropriate changes. Though Lycurgus imagined that he had framed a constitution for the Spartans by Apollo’s bidding, the Romans very wisely rejected the tale and refused to accept their laws from that source.
Numa Pompilius, who reigned next after Romulus, is reported to have framed a body of rules, however inadequate, for the government of the State, and to these he added many regulations concerning religious worship. Yet, no one ever said that he received those laws from divine hands. From all this, it appears that the gods had no concern for the many vices in thought, life, and conduct into which their worshipers might fall, and which, as their own sages assure us, may cause great states to fall even though the cities survive intact. In fact, the gods, as pointed out above, contributed by every means to swell the flood of vice.
It may be argued that the reason why the gods did not legislate for the Roman people was that, as Sallust says: ‘By nature more than by laws, justice and morality flourish among the Romans.’ I presume, then, that it was this natural justice and morality that explains the rape of the Sabine women! What could be more just and moral than that other people’s daughters should be decoyed under pretense of a circus and then, not by parental consent, but by violence, be snatched away by anyone who could! If the Sabines did wrong in refusing to surrender their daughters upon demand how much greater was the wrong in seizing them when not surrendered?
It was more just, one must suppose, to go to war with a people for refusing to give their daughters in marriage to their countrymen and neighbors who had requested them, than with a people who demanded that their stolen daughters be restored! So, the first kind of war would be declared; and Mars would come to the aid of his son, battling to avenge with arms the affront of the wives denied. By that strategy he would win the women he desired. I suppose, by some imaginary right of war, a victor might justly carry away wives unjustly denied. Certainly, by no known right of peace could Romulus seize women who were refused, and wage an iniquitous war against their justly indignant parents.
However, one rather fortunate circumstance redeems that notorious rape. The games of the circus remained as an institution to commemorate the infamous fraud, but the precedent set by that crime met with no applause in the city and land of the Romans. The Romans made a greater mistake by making Romulus a god for themselves after his part in that shameful event than by allowing his rape of women to receive approval in any law or custom.
I presume that the same sense of justice and morality’ explains another fact. After the expulsion of King Tarquin and his sons, one of whom raped Lucretia by violence, the consul Junius Brutus compelled L. Tarquinius Collatinus, Lucretia’s husband, his colleague and a man above reproach, to resign his office and remove himself from the city. Because of his name and kinship with the Tarquins, he was allowed to reside there no longer. This crime he perpetrated with the connivance, or at least sufferance, of the very people who had conferred the consulship both on Collatinus and on Brutus himself.
Once more I take it that it was that same inborn disposition to ‘justice and morality’ that sealed the fate of Camillus. In the course of a ten-year struggle with Veii, the Roman people’s bitterest foe, the Roman army fought badly and was repeatedly shattered. Rome itself was on the point of panic, fearing for its safety. Then M. Camillus, one of the most remarkable men of his time came forward, and conquered and captured their flourishing city with remarkable ease. But, his bravery aroused the envy of detractors and stung the pride of the tribunes of the people, who declared him guilty of misconduct. The incredible ingratitude of the city he had saved chilled him to the marrow, and, feeling certain of condemnation, he betook himself into voluntary exile. In his absence he was even fined ten thousand copper asses. Not long after this, he once more saved his ungrateful country, this time from the Gauls.
It would be wearisome to rehearse all the immorality and injustice that kept that Roman state in turmoil, while the aristocracy did their utmost to keep the people under, and the people struggled against subjection, with the leaders of both sides swayed more by a desire to gain party advantage than by any thought of what was right and good.
Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII