Prosperity is the measure or touchstone of virtue, for it is less difficult to bear misfortune than to remain uncorrupted by pleasure. — Tacitus

Story of Rome - Mary Macgregor

The Sacred Birds

The grandsons of Numitor could no longer live as shepherds on Mount Palatine, which they had learned to love. Nor could they dwell quietly in Alba, for all their lives they had been used to live free among the mountains, nor had they been subject to any king.

So the princes made up their minds to leave Alba, and to build a city for themselves on the hills they loved.

But the brothers could not agree on which hill to build their city, Romulus choosing the Palatine, Remus the Aventine.

Not knowing how to settle their dispute, they asked Numitor to help them. He bade them, as the custom was, to appeal to augury—that is, to watch for a sign or omen from the gods. These signs were given in many different forms, sometimes by the flight of birds, as happened now.

The princes determined to follow their grandfather's advice. Romulus went to Mount Palatine, Remus to Mount Aventine, and patient through one long day they watched for a sign.

But no sign appeared. The slow hours passed, and night drew on apace, yet still the brothers never stirred.

Then, as darkness faded before the dawn, Remus saw, far off, dark, moving shapes. Were the gods going to be gracious, the prince wondered, and after so many hours send a sign?

Nearer and nearer drew the dark shapes.

'Ah!' Remus cried sharply, 'it is a good omen.' For now he could see that the moving forms were six vultures winging their way toward the west. These birds were sacred to the gods, and did no harm to corn, fruit, or cattle, nor would they, indeed, wound any living thing.

Swiftly Remus bade a messenger to go tell his brother of the good omen vouchsafed to him. But even as his messenger sped to do his will, Remus was crestfallen. For before him stood one of the servants of Romulus to tell him that his brother, too, had seen a flight of vultures, but while Remus had seen six birds, Romulus had seen twelve.

What was to be done? It seemed now that the brothers were not thinking on which hill the city should stand, but of which of them should build the city. Remus believed that the augury proclaimed him as the founder of the new city. Romulus was sure that it was he who was intended by the gods to build it; for had not he seen twelve vultures while his brother had seen but six?

The princes turned to their followers, demanding who should be their king. Then loud and lusty was the answering shout: 'Romulus, Romulus, he shall be our king!'


Front Matter

The Lady Roma
The She-Wolf
The Twin Boys
Numitor's Grandson
The Sacred Birds
The Founding of Rome
The Sabine Maidens
The Tarpeian Rock
The Mysterious Gate
The King Disappears
The Peace-Loving King
Horatius Slays His Sister
Pride of Tullus Hostilius
King Who Fought and Prayed
The Faithless Friend
A Slave Becomes a King
Cruel Deed of Tullia
Fate of the Town of Gabii
Books of the Sibyl
Industry of Lucretia
Death of Lucretia
Sons of Brutus
Horatius Cocles
Mucius Burns Right Hand
The Divine Twins
The Tribunes
Coriolanus and His Mother
The Roman Army in a Trap
The Hated Decemvirs
The Death of Verginia
The Friend of the People
Camillus Captures Veii
The Statue of the Goddess
Schoolmaster Traitor
Battle of Allia
The Sacred Geese
The City Is Rebuilt
Volscians on Fire
Battle on the Anio
The Curtian Lake
Dream of the Two Consuls
The Caudine Forks
Caudine Forks Avenged
Fabius among the Hills
Battle of Sentinum
Son of Fabius Loses Battle
Pyrrhus King of the Epirots
Elephants at Heraclea
Pyrrthus and Fabricius
Pyrrhus is Defeated
Romans Build a Fleet
Battle of Ecnomus
Roman Legions in Africa
Regulus Taken Prisoner
Romans Conquer the Gauls
The Boy Hannibal
Hannibal Invades Italy
Hannibal Crosses the Alps
Battle of Trebia
Battle of Lake Trasimenus
Hannibal Outwits Fabius
Fabius Wins Two Victories
Battle of Cannae
Despair of Rome
Defeat of Hasdrubal
Claudius Enjoy a Triumph
Capture of New Carthage
Scipio Sails to Africa
Romans Set Fire to Camp
Hannibal Leaves Italy
The Battle of Zama
Scipio Receives a Triumph
Flamininus in Garlands
Death of Hannibal
Hatred of Cato for Carthage
The Stern Decree
Carthaginians Defend City
Destruction of Carthage
Cornelia, Mother of Gracchi
Tiberius and Octavius
Death of Tiberius Gracchus
Death of Gaius Gracchus
The Gold of Jugurtha
Marius Wins Notice of Scipio
Marius Becomes Commander
Capture of Treasure Towns
Capture of Jugurtha
Jugurtha Brought to Rome
Marius Conquers Teutones
Marius Mocks the Ambassadors
Metellus Driven from Rome
Sulla Enters Rome
The Flight of Marius
Gaul Dares Not Kill Marius
Marius Returns to Rome
The Orator Aristion
Sulla Besieges Athens
Sulla Fights the Samnites
The Proscriptions of Sulla
The Gladiators' Revolt
The Pirates
Pompey Defeats Mithridates
Cicero Discovers Conspiracy
Death of the Conspirators
Caesar Captured by Pirates
Caesar Gives up Triumph
Caesar Praises Tenth Legion
Caesar Wins a Great Victory
Caesar Invades Britain
Caesar Crosses Rubicon
Caesar and the Pilot
The Flight of Pompey
Cato Dies Rather than Yieldr
Caesar is Loaded with Honours
Nobles Plot against Caesar
The Assassination of Caesar
Brutus Speaks to Citizens
Antony Speaks to Citizens
The Second Triumvirate
Battle of Philippi
Death of Brutus
Antony and Cleopatra
Battle of Actium
Antony and Cleopatra Die
Emperor Augustus