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Numa Pompilius, as imagined on a Roman coin minted by Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso during the reign of Emperor Augustus. Piso himself claimed descent from the king.

Numa Pompilius (753-673 BC; king of Rome, 717-673 BC) was the second king of Rome, succeeding Romulus.


Life and Reign

Plutarch tells that Numa was the youngest of Pomponius' 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, married his only daughter, Tatia, to Numa. After 13 years of marriage, Tatia died, precipitating Numa's retirement to the country. According to Livy, Numa resided at Cures immediately before being elected king [1].

Livy refers to and discredits the story that Numa was instructed in philosophy by Pythagoras.[2]

Plutarch reports that some authors credited him with only a single daughter, Pompilia, others also gave him five sons, Pompo (or Pomponius), Pinus, Calpus, Mamercus and Numa, from whom the noble families of the Pomponii, Pinarii, Calpurnii, Aemilii, and Pompilii respectively traced their descent. Other writers believed that this was merely a flattery invented to curry favour with those families. Pompilia, whose mother is variously identified as Numa's first wife Tatia or his second wife Lucretia, supposedly married a certain Marcius and by him gave birth to the future king, Ancus Marcius.

In 717 BC, after the death of Romulus, Numa was elected by the Roman Senate to be the next king.

According to Plutarch he at first he refused, however his father and kinsmen persuaded him to accept. Livy recounts how Numa, after being summoned by the Senate from Cures, requested an augur to divine the opinion of the gods on the prospect of his kingship. Jupiter was consulted and the omens were favourable [3]..

One of Numa's first acts was the construction of a temple of Janus as 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 [4].

Numa was later celebrated for his natural wisdom and piety; legend says the nymph Egeria taught him to be a wise legislator. According to Livy, Numa pretended that he held nightly consultations with the goddess Egeria on the proper manner of instituting sacred rites for the city [5]. Wishing to show his favour, the god Jupiter caused a shield to fall from the sky on the Palatine Hill, which had letters of prophecy written on it, and in which the fate of Rome as a city was tied up. Recognizing the importance of this sacred shield, King Numa had eleven matching shields made. These shields were the ancilia, the sacred shields of Jupiter, which were carried each year in a procession by the Salii priests. He established the office and duties of Pontifex Maximus and instituted the flamines of Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus. Numa also brought the Vestal Virgins to Rome from Alba Longa [6].

By tradition, Numa promulgated a calendar reform that adjusted the solar and lunar years, introducing the months of January and February.[7].

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."

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 religious observances." (Plutarch)

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 understanding".

Numa Pompilius died in 673 BC of old age. He was succeeded by Tullus Hostilius.


  1. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:18
  2. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:18
  3. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:18
  4. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:19
  5. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:19
  6. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:20
  7. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:19





Preceded by
King of Rome
Succeeded by
Tullus Hostilius

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

NUMA POMPILIUS, second legendary king of Rome (715-672 B.C.), was a Sabine, a native of Cures, and his wife was the daughter of Titus Tatius, the Sabine colleague of Romulus. He was elected by the Roman people at the close of a year's interregnum, during which the sovereignty had been exercised by the members of the senate in rotation. Nearly all the early religious institutions of Rome were attributed to him. He set up the worhip of Terminus (the god of landmarks), appointed the festival of Fides (Faith), built the temple of Janus, reorganized the calendar and fixed days of business and holiday. He instituted the flamens (sacred priests) of Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus; the virgins of Vesta, to keep the sacred fire burning on the hearth of the city; the Salii, to guard the shield that fell from heaven; the pontifices and augurs, to arrange the rites and interpret the will of the gods; he also divided the handicraftsmen into nine gilds. He derived his inspiration from his wife, the nymph Egeria, whom he used to meet by night in her sacred grove. After a long and peaceful reign, during which the gates of Janus were closed, Numa died and was succeeded by the warlike Tullus Hostilius. Livy (xl. 29) tells a curious story of two stone chests, bearing inscriptions in Greek and Latin, which were found at the foot of the Janiculum (181 B.C.), one purporting to contain the body of Numa and the other his books. The first when opened was found to be empty, but the second contained fourteen books relating to philosophy and pontifical law, which were publicly burned as tending to undermine the established religion.

No single legislator can really be considered responsible for all the institutions ascribed to Numa; they are essentially Italian, and older than Rome itself. Even Roman tradition itself wavers; e.g. the fetiales are variously attributed to Tullus Hostilius and Ancus Marcius. The supposed law-books, which were to all appearance new when discovered, were clearly forgeries.

See Livy i. 18-21; Plutarch, Numa; Dion. Halic. ii. 58-76; Cicero, De republica, ii. 13-15. For criticism: Schwegler, Romische Geschichte, bk. xi.; Sir G. Cornewall Lewis, Credibility of early Roman History, ch. xi.; W. Ihne, Hist. of Rome, i.; E. Pais, Storia di Roma, i. (1898), where Numa is identified with Titus Tatius and made out to be a river god, Numicius, closely connected with Aeneas; J. B. Carter, The Religion of Numa (1906); O. Gilbert, Geschichte and Topographic der Stadt Rom im Altertum (1883-1885); and ROME: Ancient History.

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