Nu'ma Pom-pil'i-us, the second king of Rome,
celebrated in Roman legends or fables as the author of the
religious ceremonies of the Romans. According to
these legends, Numa was a Sabine, and was elected
king as successor to Romulus. Instructed by the Camena
Egeria, he prescribed the rites of public worship,
and appointed pontiffs, augurs, flainens, and vestals.
His reign was pacific and prosperous. There was a
prevalent tradition among the ancients that Numa derived
his wisdom from Pythagoras.
" Romische Geschichte ,"
Delineatio Vita? Numse Pompilii," 1765.
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.
Livy refers to and discredits the story that Numa was
instructed in philosophy by Pythagoras.
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,
After the death of Romulus, there was an interregnum of one
year in which each of the Senators enjoyed the royal power
in rotation. In 717 BC Numa was elected by the Roman Senate
to be the next king.
According to Plutarch, he at first 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.
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.
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. 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
By tradition, Numa promulgated a calendar reform that
adjusted the solar and lunar years, introducing the months
of January and February.
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, 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.
The second king of Rome, whose name belongs to legend rather than to history. He was a native of Cures, in the Sabine
country, and was elected king one year after the death of Romulus, when the people became tired of the interregnum of
the Senate. He was renowned for his wisdom and his piety; and it was generally believed that he had derived his
knowledge from Pythagoras. His reign was long and peaceful, and he devoted his chief care to the establishment of
religion among his rude subjects. He was instructed by the Camena Egeria, who visited him in a grove near Rome, and
who honoured him with her love. He was revered by the Romans as the author of their whole religious worship. It was he
who first appointed the pontiffs, the augurs, the flamens, the virgins of Vesta, and the Salii. He founded the Temple
of Ianus, which remained always shut during his reign. The length of his reign is stated differently. Livy makes it
forty-three years; Polybius and Cicero, thirty-nine years. The sacred books of Numa, in which he prescribed all the
religious rites and ceremonies, were said to have been buried near him in a separate tomb, and to have been discovered
by accident, 500 years afterwards, in B.C. 181. They were carried to the city-praetor Petilius, and were found to
consist of twelve or seven books in Latin on ecclesiastical law and the same number of books in Greek on philosophy;
the latter were burned by the command of the Senate, but the former were carefully preserved. The story of the
discovery of these books is evidently a forgery; and the books, which were ascribed to Numa, and which were extant at
a later time, were evidently nothing more than works containing an account of the ceremonial of the Roman religion.
See Plutarch, Numa; Dionys. ii. 58.