Famous Men of Rome - John Haaren

Numa Pompilius


For a year after the disappearance of Romulus there was no king of Rome. The city was ruled by the Senate. But the people were not satisfied. They preferred to be ruled by one man, and, though they had the right to elect a king themselves they left the choice to the Senate. The Senate chose Numa Pompilius, a very good and wise man, who belonged to the nation of the Sabines.

The first thing that Numa did after learning that he had been chosen king was to consult the augurs, to find out if it was the will of the gods that he should be the ruler of Rome.

The augurs were what we should call fortune-tellers. A number of them lived in Rome. They were much respected and occupied a large temple at the expense of the public. They pretended that by watching the sky and observing how birds and animals acted they could tell what would happen to people and to nations. Then when they were alone they would have a great deal of fun over the tricks they played upon the foolish people.

Numa made many important changes at the very beginning of his rule. Before he came to the throne Roman young men were brought up to no business but war. It was considered disgraceful for a Roman citizen, whether rich or poor, to work at any trade or manufacture. The slaves, who were persons taken prisoners in wars, did all the hard work. They made all the clothing, tools, arms, and household articles. They cooked and served the meals, and were general servants for the Roman families. Roman citizens might, however, without being degraded work on farms and vineyards, and many of them made their living in this way.

Shortly after King Numa began his reign he divided some of the public lands into small farms and gave one of these farms to every poor Roman. The public lands were lands that belonged to the nation and not to private persons.

It was rather hard at first for the new-made farmers to be contented on their farms and to do good work. They were mostly soldiers and had very little knowledge of anything except marching and fighting. But it was not long before they began to understand what a blessing it is to be self-supporting and independent. Their little farms were pleasant homes. They began to love their new life and soon were able to raise enough for the support of themselves and their families, with something to spare.


King Numa made many good laws. These laws were engraved on tablets of brass and at certain times were read and explained to the people by lawyers.

Numa was very friendly with the people of the countries surrounding Rome. He gave them help in times of trouble, and would never listen to any talk of war with them. During the many years that he was king Rome had no enemies and no wars.

In a sacred grove, just outside the walls of Rome, there lived in a handsome grotto, or cavern, a beautiful woman named Egeria. Some persons called her a goddess, while others thought she was a fairy. She seemed to have a great knowledge of magic and could do wonderful things. Whenever she called to the song-birds they would come flying around her. They would also perch on her head and shoulders and hands, and sing their sweetest songs. Even the fierce animals of the woods were her friends, and great bears and wolves would lie at her feet for hours and purr like cats.

This mysterious woman-goddess, or fairy, or whatever she was, greatly loved and honored good King Numa, and at last they were married. Then she taught him many of the magical secrets she possessed. He carefully studied the lessons she gave him, and in time he was able to do wonderful things himself.


The Romans were earnest worshipers of the gods and goddesses. They believed that there were many such beings, and they had many grand temples for religious service.

King Numa always paid great attention to religion. He appointed a large number of officials to take care of the temples, and to see that all the sacred ceremonies were properly carried out. He was constant and faithful in his own worship and thus, by his example, gradually induced the whole Roman people to become attentive to their religion.

The greatest of the gods that the Romans believed in was the god Jupiter. He was supposed to rule both the sky and the earth. He was so powerful that he could send thunderbolts from the heavens, and make the earth tremble by his nod. He had a wife named Juno who had a great deal to do with managing the affairs of the earth. It was at one time believed that Jupiter resided with many other gods on the top of a high mountain in Greece. This mountain was so thickly covered by clouds that the gods could not be seen. But they could see everything that took place on the earth.

Jupiter had two brothers named Neptune and Pluto. Neptune was the god of the sea. He lived in a grand, golden palace at the bottom of the Mediterranean. He ruled everything under and upon the waters of the world. Now and then he sailed over the ocean in a grand chariot drawn by large fish called dolphins. When he was angry he caused the sea to rise in huge waves.

Pluto, the other brother of Jupiter, was the god of Hades, or the land of the dead. His home was far down in the earth, where all was dark and gloomy. The Romans believed that when people died they were borne away to the gloomy kingdom of Pluto.

The other principal gods were Mars, Mercury, Vulcan, Apollo, and Janus.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Rome by John Haaren


Mars was the god of war, and was especially honored in Rome because it was believed that he was the father of Romulus. Certain days of the year were made festival days in his honor, and tben there were splendid processions, songs of praise, and religious dances.

Mercury, the son of Jupiter, was the god of eloquence and commerce. He was also the messenger of the other gods. He was generally represented as flying swiftly through the air, carrying messages from place to place. On his head and feet were small wings, and in his hand he bore a golden staff with serpents twined around it.

Vulcan was a skillful worker in metals. He had a great forge in the heart of a burning mountain, where he made wonderful things of iron, copper, and gold. He looked after the welfare of blacksmiths, coppersmiths, and goldsmiths, and was their special god.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Rome by John Haaren


Apollo, also called Phoebus, which meant the sun, was the god of day. He gave light and heat to the world. He was also the god of music, archery, and medicine. His sister Diana was the moon goddess or goddess of the night. She was also the goddess of hunting. In pictures she is sometimes represented with a quiver of arrows over her shoulder and holding a stag by the horns.

The god Janus was very much honored by the Romans. It was believed that this god presided over the beginning of every undertaking, and so when the Romans began any important work or business they prayed first to Janus. For this reason the first month or beginning of the year was called the month of Janus, or January. Janus was also the god of gates and doors. In statuary and pictures he is often shown with two faces looking in opposite directions, because every door faces two ways—outward and inward.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Rome by John Haaren


Numa Pompilius built a temple in honor of Janus. The door of this temple was always open in time of war, as a sign that the god had gone out to help the Romans. In time of peace the door was shut.

The Romans also believed in Venus, the goddess of love; Minerva, the goddess of wisdom; Flora, the goddess of flowers, and many others.

The Romans had no special day, such as our Sunday, for religious service, but their temples (except the temple of Janus) were open every day. They had prayers and songs, and sometimes what they called sacred dances. They also made offerings to the gods, such as fruits or vegetables, and oxen, lambs, or goats. The offerings went finally into the hands of the priests of the temples.

Numa Pompilius reigned for nearly half a century, and under him the Romans were a peaceful, prosperous, and happy people.