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Numa – Pious King of the Romans

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Relief of Numa from the side of the Louvre Museum
Numa, as carved on the facade of the Louvre Museum. Notice the lituus (sacred staff of augury) that he carries in his left hand and the Vestal flame he holds in his right.

It is the happy fate of all good and just men to be praised more after they are dead than when they lived

Plutarch, Life of Numa Pompilius 22

πᾶσι μὲν οὖν ἕπεται τοῖς δικαίοις καὶ ἀγαθοῖς ἀνδράσι μείζων ὁ κατόπιν καὶ μετὰ τὴν τελευτὴν ἔπαινος

Plutarch, Life of Numa Pompilius 22

Parallel – Lycurgus

Important People

  • Pythagoras – the Greek philosopher and mystic mathematician who lived on the southern Italian peninsula and started a school of philosophy obsessed with simple living, observation of the created universe, piety to the gods, and justice to all men.
  • Egeria – the second (and supernatural) wife of Numa, a nymph who taught him much about the simple life and seeking justice
  • Romulus – First king of the Romans, rules before Numa
  • Tullus Hostilius – Third king of the Roman, warlike, he lives up to his name (Hostilius = hostile)

Important Places

  • Rome
    • Capitoline Hill
    • Temple of Vesta – hearth of Rome; secret-keepers
    • Temple of Janus – doors closed in times of peace


  1. Records unclear, hard to trace Numa’s genealogy
    • Sack of the Gauls makes things worse (390 BC)
  2. Romulus taken away
    • Civil strife
    • Interregnum – one patrician per week, rotating in supreme command
  3. People grow tired of this, want a king
    • Romans nominate a Sabine, Sabines ratify: NUMA
    • Numa lives simply at home (i.e. Spartan)
    • Married to his wife for 13 years, after she dies
  4. Numa moves to the country
    • Often wanders in the woods/wilderness
    • Marries the nymph Egeria
    • Plutarch incredulous
  5. @ 40 years old, ambassadors come to offer him kingship
    • Numa refuses
    • “Rome needs a fiery king in his prime to fight its battles”
    • He would urge Romans to “worship the gods, love justice, and reject violence and war”
  6. His father convinces him
    • Take their warlike temper and soften it with piety
    • “good laws and a durable peace”
    • Or at least “control their fury and forge bonds of goodwill and friendship”
  7. Numa accepts
    • Augurs on the Capitoline
    • Disbands Romulus’s bodyguard
    • Adds a flamen for Romulus; now three flamines (flá-mee-neighs) 
      • Jupiter (flamen dialis)
      • Mars (flamen martialis)
      • Romulus (flamen quirinalis)
    • Some etymologies
  8. Religion as a tool to tame the spirit (Pythagorean parallels)
    • Romans couldn’t make images of their gods
    • Sacrificed cereals, not blood of animals (Pythagorean)
    • Pythagoras (like Numa) emphasized “man’s relationship with the gods”
  9. Pontifices
    • Etymologies
    • Pontifex maximus
      • Hierophant – interpreter of the will of the gods
      • Moderator of all religious ceremonies in Rome
    • Vestal Virgins
      • How to relight a sacred flame that has gone out
  10. More on the Vestal Virgins
    • 30 years virginity
    • More rights than the average Roman woman
    • Scourging for minor faults; burial alive for major faults
  11. Temple of Vesta
    • Circular shape
  12. Funerals and Burial
    • Priests tasked with educating the people about this
    • Two other priesthoods: Fetiales and Salii
    • Fetiales
      • Guardians of peace
      • Notion of “Just War”
      • Sack of the Gauls recompense for an unjust war
        • Clusium
        • Fabius Ambustus sent as ambassador, but when refused, immediately takes up arms!
        • Gauls demand Fabius be turned over, before Rome can act, Fabius flees
        • See Life of Camillus
  13. Salii
    • PLAGUE!
    • Bronze shield falls out of the sky
    • Make 11 copies!
    • Etymology of the JUMPING priests (Salii)
    • Description of their shields (ancilia)
    • Not sure what the lyrics are: “Valerium Mamuriam” or “veterem memoriam”
  14. Rest and Quiet as Essential for Worship
    • “Numa did not want his citizens to see or hear any religious observance without giving it their full attention”
    • More Pythagorean parallels
      1. No sacrifice without flour
      2. Turn around once and sit down after praying
    • Plutarch’s understanding of Numa’s maxims
      1. Sitting = confidence and receptivity
  15. Romans grow superstitious under Numa
  16. Fides and Terminus
    • Strongest oath = FAITH
    • Numa marks boundaries of Roman territory
      • something Romulus didn’t do because he was afraid it would provoke war
    • Moves the poor onto farms
  17. Dividing the people by trade/craft
    • Roman guilds combine Sabine and Roman
    • Aside about selling children as slaves
  18. The Calendar Revised
    • One year only 360 days
    • March moved to third place
    • Intercalary month (named Mercedinus)
  19. The origins and etymologies of the names for our months
    • January – Janus (two-faces, brought man from beast to social animal) – transition
    • February – februa (and Lupercalia) – rituals of purification (see Life of Romulus)
    • March – Mars
    • April – from Aphrodite (or aperīre – to open)
    • May – Maïa, mother of Mercury
    • June – Juno
      1. Maiores from May and juniors from June?
    • July – Quintilis – Fifth (re-named under Augustus’s reign after Julius Caesar)
    • August – Sextilis – Sixth (re-named after Augustus’s death after Augustus)
    • September – Seventh
    • October – Eighth
    • November – Ninth
    • December – Tenth
  20. Janus’s temple
    • Only closed five total times
      • Numa – closed for all of his reign “no rumor of war, riot, or revolution”
      • First Punic War
      • Three times under Augustus
    • Numa IS the philosopher-king of whom Plato speaks
      • “brilliant and conspicuous example of a virtuous leader”
  21. Numa’s wives and children
    • Numa died of old age
  22. Numa’s funeral
    • Allies and friends pour into the city
    • The whole city mourns
      1. Senators carry the litter
      1. Priests following in procession
      1. All the people, wailing and mourning
    • NOT cremated, but buried.
    • TWO stone coffins
      • One for body
      • One for sacred books
        • Entrusting sacred things to living memory
    • The kings after Numa (none of whom get their own biography)
      • Last one dies in exile
      • Three of the other four were assassinated
      • The one who reigned right after Numa was his opposite, loving war and “mocking most of the fine things Numa had done”
        • Struck down by a bolt of lightning (cf. Lycurgus’s tomb hit by lightning)
An Ancile, or sacred shield for the Salii, of which Numa made eleven copies.

Helpful External Links

Numa in Paint

English Translation of Numa Online

Pythagoras Podcast in the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps

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