Numa Pompilius (/ˈnuːmə pɒmˈpɪliəs, ˈnjuː-/; 753–673 BC;
reigned 715–673 BC) was the legendary second king of Rome,
succeeding Romulus. He was of
Sabine origin, and many of Rome's most
important religious and political institutions are attributed to him.
3 Agent of the gods
4 Institutions attributed to Numa
5 Story of the books of Numa
6 See also
9 External links
According to Plutarch, Numa was the youngest of Pomponius's four
sons, born on the day of Rome's founding (traditionally, 21 April 753
BC). He lived a severe life of discipline and banished all luxury from
his home. Titus Tatius, king of the Sabines and a colleague of
Romulus, gave in marriage his only daughter, Tatia, to Numa. After 13
years of marriage, Tatia died, precipitating Numa's retirement to the
countryside. According to Livy, Numa resided at
before being elected king.
Titus Livius (Livy) and
Plutarch refer to the story that Numa was
instructed in philosophy by
Pythagoras but discredit it as
chronologically and geographically implausible.
Plutarch reports that some authors credited him with only a single
daughter, Pompilia. Pompilia's mother is variously identified as
Numa's first wife Tatia or his second wife Lucretia. She is said to
have married the future first pontifex maximus Numa Marcius, and by
him gave birth to the future king Ancus Marcius.
Other authors, according to Plutarch, gave Numa, in addition, five
sons, Pompo (or Pomponius), Pinus, Calpus, Mamercus, and Numa, from
whom the noble families (gentes) of the Pomponii, Pinarii, Calpurnii,
Aemilii, and Pompilii respectively traced their descent. Still other
writers, writes Plutarch, believed these were fictional genealogies to
enhance the status of these families.
After the death of Romulus, there was an interregnum of one year in
which the royal power was exercised by members of the Senate in
rotation for five days in a row. In 715 BC, after much bickering
between the factions of
Romulus (the Romans) and Tatius (the Sabines),
a compromise was reached, and the
Sabine Numa was elected by the
senate as the next king.
According to Plutarch, Numa was a cunning and calculating person. At
first he refused the offer. His father and
Sabine kinsmen, including
his teacher and the father of Numa's son-in law, Marcus, along with an
embassy of two senators from Rome, banded together to persuade him to
accept. In the account of
Plutarch and Livy, Numa, after being
summoned by the Senate from Cures, was offered the tokens of power
amid an enthusiastic reception by the people of Rome. He requested,
however, that an augur should divine the opinion of the gods on the
prospect of his kingship before he accepted. Jupiter was consulted and
the omens were favourable. Thus approved by the Roman and Sabine
people as well as the heavens, he took up his position as King of
According to Plutarch, Numa's first act was to disband the personal
guard of 300 so-called "Celeres" (the "Swift") with which Romulus
permanently surrounded himself. The gesture is variously
interpreted as self-protection in the face of their questionable
loyalty, a sign of humility, or a signal of peace and moderation.
Based on Roman chronology, Numa died of old age in 673 BC. He was
succeeded by Tullus Hostilius.
Agent of the gods
Numa was traditionally celebrated by the Romans for his wisdom and
piety. In addition to the endorsement by Jupiter, he is supposed to
have had a direct and personal relationship with a number of deities,
most famously the nymph Egeria, who according to legend taught him to
be a wise legislator. According to Livy, Numa claimed that he held
nightly consultations with Egeria on the proper manner of instituting
sacred rites for the city.
Plutarch suggests that he played on
superstition to give himself an aura of awe and divine allure, in
order to cultivate more gentle behaviours among the warlike early
Romans, such as honoring the gods, abiding by law, behaving humanely
to enemies, and living proper, respectable lives.
Numa was said to have authored several "sacred books" in which he had
written down divine teachings, mostly from Egeria and the Muses.
Plutarch (citing Valerius Antias) and Livy record that at his
request he was buried along with these "sacred books", preferring that
the rules and rituals they prescribed be preserved in the living
memory of the state priests, rather than preserved as relics subject
to forgetfulness and disuse. About half of these books—
Livy differ on their number—were thought to cover the priesthoods he
had established or developed, including the flamines, pontifices,
Salii, and fetiales and their rituals. The other books dealt with
philosophy (disciplina sapientiae). According to Plutarch, these
books were recovered some four hundred years later (in reality almost
five hundred years, i. e. in 181 BC according to
Livy 40:29:3-14) at
the occasion of a natural accident that exposed the tomb. They were
examined by the Senate, deemed to be inappropriate for disclosure to
the people, and burned. Dionysius of Halicarnassus hints that they
were actually kept as a very close secret by the pontifices.
Numa is reputed to have constrained the two minor gods
Faunus into delivering some prophecies of things to come.
Numa, supported and prepared by Egeria, reportedly held a battle of
wits with Jupiter himself, in an apparition whereby Numa sought to
gain a protective ritual against lightning strikes and thunder.
Once, when a plague was ravaging the population, a brass shield fell
from the sky and was brought to Numa. He declared that Egeria had told
him it was a gift from Jupiter to be used for Rome's protection. He
ordered ceremonies to give thanks for the gift and quickly brought
about an end to the plague. The
Ancile became a sacred relic of the
Romans and was placed in the care of the Salii.
Institutions attributed to Numa
Numa Pompilius, from Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum
One of Numa's first acts was the construction of a temple of
an indicator of peace and war. The temple was constructed at the foot
of the Argiletum, a road in the city. After securing peace with Rome's
neighbours, the doors of the temples were shut and remained so for
all the duration of Numa's reign, a unique case in Roman history.
Another, surprising, creation attributed to Numa was the cult of
Terminus, a god for boundaries. Through this rite, which involved
sacrifices at private properties, boundaries and landmarks, Numa
reportedly sought to instill in Romans the respect of lawful property
and non-violent relationships with neighbours. The cult of Terminus,
preached Numa, involved absence of violence and murder. The god was a
testament to justice and a keeper of peace. In a somehow
comparable, more moral rather than legal fashion, Numa sought to
associate himself with one of the roles of
Vegoia in the religious
system of the neighbouring Etruscans by deciding to set the official
boundaries of the territory of Rome, which
Romulus had never wanted,
presumably with the same concern of preserving peace.
Recognizing the paramount importance of the Ancile, King Numa had
eleven matching shields made, so perfect that no one, even Numa,
could distinguish the original from the copies. These shields were the
Ancilia, the sacred shields of Jupiter, which were carried each year
in a procession by the
Salii priests. Numa also established the office
and duties of
Pontifex Maximus and instituted (Plutarch's version)
the flamen of Quirinus, in honour of Romulus, in addition to those of
Jupiter and Mars that already existed. Numa also brought the Vestal
Virgins to Rome from Alba Longa.
Plutarch adds that they were then
at the number of two, were later augmented to four by Servius Tullius
and stayed so through the ages.
By tradition, Numa promulgated a calendar reform that adjusted the
solar and lunar years, introducing the months of January and
In other Roman institutions established by Numa,
Plutarch thought he
detected a Laconian influence, attributing the connection to the
Sabine culture of Numa, for "Numa was descended of the Sabines, who
declare themselves to be a colony of the Lacedaemonians."
Livy and Dionysius give a largely concordant picture of the vast
founding work carried out by Numa concerning Roman religion and
religious institutions. Livy's account is concise: it occupies the
whole chapters 20 and 21 of his first book.
Livy begins with the priesthoods which Numa established.
He created a residentiary flamen to Jupiter endowed with regal
insignia, who could carry out the sacred functions of the royal
office, which usually he himself discharged: he did so to avoid the
neglect of the rites whenever the king went to war, for he saw the
warlike attitude of the Romans. He also created the flamines of Mars
and Quirinus, the Vestals virgins, who were salaried by the state
treasury, the twelfth
Salii of Mars Gradivus with their peculiar
custom and ritual. Then he chose
Numa Marcius as pontiff. To him he
bestowed all the sacred ceremonies, his books and seals. The following
words of this passage have been considered a systematic summary
exposition of Roman religion:
quibus hostiis, quibus diebus, ad quae templa sacra fierent atque unde
in eos sumptus pecunia erogaretur. Cetera quoque omnia publica
privataque sacra pontificis scitis subiecit, ut esset quo consultum
plebes veniret, ne quid divini iuris negligendo patrios ritus
peregrinosque adsciscendo turbaretur. Nec celestes modo caerimonias
sed iusta quoque funebria placandosque manes ut idem pontificem
edoceret, quaeque prodigia fulminibus a Iove quo visu missa
susciperentur atque curarentur.
...[showing] with what victims, upon what days, and at what temples
the sacred rites were to be performed, and from what funds the money
was to be taken to defray the expenses. He also placed all other
religious institutions, public and private, under the control of the
decrees of the pontiff, to the end that there might be some authority
to whom the people should come to ask advice, to prevent any confusion
in the divine worship being caused by their neglecting the ceremonies
of their own country, and adopting foreign ones. He further ordained
that the same pontiff should instruct the people not only in the
ceremonies connected with the heavenly deities, but also in the due
performance of funeral solemnities, and how to appease the shades of
the dead; and what prodigies sent by lightning or any other phenomenon
were to be attended to and expiated.
It is noteworthy that
Livy lists the hostiae, victims, as the first
competence of the pontiffs: following come the days, temples, money,
other sacred ceremonies, funerals and prodigies. The potential for
classification inherent in this text has been remarked by modern
historians of Roman religion, even though some, as Bouché-Leclercq,
think of a tripartite structure, rather than a division into five
(Turchi) or seven parts (Peruzzi). At any rate it is an important
document of pontifical derivation that establishes a sort of
hierarchic order of competences.
Livy continues saying Numa dedicated an altar to Jupiter Elicius as
the source of religious knowledge and consulted the god by means of
auguries as to what should be expiated; instituted a yearly festival
to Fides (Faith) and commanded the three major flamines to be carried
to her temple in an arched chariot and to perform the service with
their hands wrapt up to the fingers, meaning Faith had to be sacred as
in men's right hand; among many other rites he instituted he dedicated
places of the Argei.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Dionysius of Halicarnassus devotes much more space to Numa's religious
reforms. In his account the institution of eight priesthoods is
attributed to Numa: curiones, flamines, celeres, augurs, vestals,
salii, fetials, pontiffs. However, the space he devotes to the
description of these priesthoods and the official duties they
discharged is very uneven. He says only a few words about the
curiones, who were in charge of tending the sacrifices of the curiae;
the flamines; the tribuni celerum, who were the bodyguard of the
king but who also took part in some religious ceremonies; and the
augurs, who were in charge of official divination. He devotes much
more attention to the last four priesthoods of his list, particularly
the vestals and the salii.
His minute prescriptions about the ceremonies and sacrifices were
certainly written down in order to remember them correctly. Plutarch
records some of these such as sacrificing an uneven number of
victims to the heavenly gods and an even number to the nether gods;
the prohibition of making libations to the gods with wine; the
prohibition of sacrificing without flour; the necessity of making a
complete turn on oneself while praying and worshiping the gods.
The ritual of the spolia opima is ascribed to Numa too by ancient
Arnobius states the indigitamenta were attributed to him.
Numa was credited with dividing the immediate territory of Rome into
pagi and establishing the traditional occupational guilds of Rome:
"So, distinguishing the whole people by the several arts and trades,
he formed the companies of musicians, goldsmiths, carpenters, dyers,
shoemakers, skinners, braziers, and potters; and all other
handicraftsmen he composed and reduced into a single company,
appointing every one their proper courts, councils, and observances."
Plutarch, in like manner, tells of the early religion of the Romans,
that it was imageless and spiritual. He says Numa "forbade the Romans
to represent the deity in the form either of man or of beast. Nor was
there among them formerly any image or statue of the Divine Being;
during the first one hundred and seventy years they built temples,
indeed, and other sacred domes, but placed in them no figure of any
kind; persuaded that it is impious to represent things Divine by what
is perishable, and that we can have no conception of God but by the
Story of the books of Numa
Livy narrates that while digging in the field of the scriba L.
Petilius at the foot of the Ianiculum, peasants found two stone
coffers, eight feet long and four feet wide, inscribed both in Latin
and in Greek characters, one stating that Numa Pompilus, son of
Pompon, king of the Romans was buried (there) and the other that
Numa's books were inside it. When Petilius after the advice of his
friends opened it, the one that was inscribed with the name of the
king was found empty, the other containing two bundles each of seven
books, not complete but looking very recent, seven in Latin dealing
with pontifical law and seven in Greek of philosophy as it was in that
The books were shown to other people and the fact became public.
Praetor Q. Petilius, who was friends with L. Petilius, requested them,
found them very dangerous to religion and told Lucius he would have
them burnt, but he allowed him to try and recover them by legal or
other means. The scriba brought the case to the tribunes of the plebs,
and the tribunes in turn brought it to the senate. The praetor
declared he was ready to swear an oath that it was not a good thing
either to read or to store those books, and the senate deliberated
that the offer of the oath was sufficient by itself, that the books be
burnt on the Comitium as soon as possible and that an indemnity fixed
by the praetor and the tribunes be paid to the owner. L. Petilius
though declined to accept the sum. The books were burnt by the
The action of the praetor has been seen as politically motivated, and
in accord with the Catonian reaction of those years. It is
relevant though that some of the annalists of those times or only a
few years later, do not seem to show any doubt about the authenticity
of the books. The whole incident has been critically analyzed
again by philologist E. Peruzzi, who by comparing the different
versions, strives to demonstrate the overall authenticity of the
books. By contrast, M.J. Pena's position is more reserved and
Francophone scholars A. Delatte and J. Carcopino believe the incident
to be the result of a real initiative of the pythagoric sect of
Rome. The fears of the Roman authorities should be explained in
connection to the nature of the doctrines contained in the books,
which are supposed to have contained a type of physikòs lógos, a
partly moral and partly cosmological interpretation of religious
beliefs that has been proven by Delatte to be proper of the ancient
pythagorism. Part of it must have been in contradiction with the
beliefs of fulgural and augural art and of the procuratio of the
prodigies. Most ancient authors relate the presence of treatises
of pythagoric philosophy, but some, as Sempronius Tuditanus,
mention only religious decrees.
^ The Galileo Project, Rice University, note 
^ Pompon in
Plutarch and Dionysius. The
Sabine form of the name was
Pomponius as is often supposed, which like Pompilius is a
patronymic adjectival formation.
^ a b c Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:18.
^ E. Peruzzi Le origini di Roma I. La famiglia Firenze 1970 p. 142 ff.
^ Plutarch, The Parallel Lives : Numa, ch. 21
^ a b Plutarch, "The Parallel Lives, Numa Pompilius, §VII"
^ a b c Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:19
^ Plutarch, "The parallel lives, Numa Pompilius, §VIII"
^ a b Plutarch, "The parallel lives, Numa Pompilius, §XXII"
^ Livy, Ab urbe condita
^ As noted by Gerard Walter, editor of Plutarch's The parallel lives,
La Pléïade, volume n°63, 1967.
^ a b Plutarch, "The parallel lives, Numa Pompilius, §XIV" and Ovid
^ a b Plutarch, "The parallel lives, Numa Pompilius, §XIII"
^ a b Plutarch, "The Parallel Lives, Numa Pompilius, §XVI"
Vegoia and Egeria
^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:20
^ Livius, Titus (1904). Ab Urbe Condita [Roman History, Books I-III].
Retrieved January 31, 2014.
^ Fasti Praenestini II 13, 2, 123 Degrassi as cited by Capdeville.
Marcus Iunius Brutus the founder of the Roman Republic was able to
call the comitia exactly for the reason that his office of tribunus
celerum entitled him to do so.
Plutarch Numa 14, 6-7.
^ F. Sini Documenti sacerdotali di Roma antica. I. Libri e commentari
Sassari 1983 p. 22 n. 75.
^ The sources on the episode are collected in G. Garbarino Roma e la
filosofia greca dalle origini alla fine del II secolo a. C. Torino
1973 I pp. 64 ff.
^ E. Peruzzi Origini di Roma II. Le lettere Bologna 1973 pp. 107 ff.
as cited by Sini.
^ M. J. Pena "La tumba y los libros de Numa" in Faventia 1 1979 pp.
211 ff. as cited by Sini.
^ A. Delatte "Les doctrines pythagoriciennes des livres de Numa" in
Académie royale de Belgique, Bulletin de la classe de la classe des
lettres et des sciences morales et politiques 22 1936 pp. 19-40; J.
Carcopino La basilique pythagoricienne de la Porte majeure 1926 p. 185
as cited by Dumézil La religione romana arcaica Milano 1977 p. 447 n.
^ Delatte p. 33 as cited by Dumézil p. 447.
^ Pliny Natural History XIII 87 as cited by Dumézil p. 447 n. 8.
^ Dumezil p. 447 n. 8.
Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Life of Numa Pompilius.
Livy, Ab urbe condita,
Unearthing Rome's king from the History News Network
Mark Silk (2004). "
Numa Pompilius and the Idea of Civil Religion in
the West". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 72 (4):
Numa on the Ara Pacis Augustae
Media related to
Numa Pompilius at Wikimedia Commons
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King of Rome
Kings of Rome
Romulus (753–717 BC)
Numa Pompilius (717–673 BC)
Tullus Hostilius (673–642 BC)
Ancus Marcius (642–617 BC)
Lucius Tarquinius Priscus
Lucius Tarquinius Priscus (616–579 BC)
Servius Tullius (578–535 BC)
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (535–510 BC/509 BC)
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