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Minucius Felix: War and the birth of empire

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Minucius Felix
From Octavius
Translated by Robert Ernest Wallis

Doubtless the illustrious and noble justice of the Romans had its beginning from the very cradle of the growing empire. Did they not in their origin, when gathered together and fortified by crime, grow by the terror of their own fierceness? For the first people were assembled together as to an asylum. Abandoned people, profligate, incestuous, assassins, traitors, had flocked together; and in order that Romulus himself, their commander and governor, might excel his people in guilt, he committed fratricide. These are the first auspices of the religious state! By and by they carried off, violated, and ruined foreign virgins, already betrothed, already destined for husbands, and even some young women from their marriage vows – a thing unexampled – and then engaged in war with their parents, that is, with their fathers-in-law, and shed the blood of their kindred. What more irreligious, what more audacious, what could be safer than the very confidence of crime? Now, to drive their neighbours from the land, to overthrow the nearest cities, with their temples and altars, to drive them into captivity, to grow up by the losses of others and by their own crimes, is the course of training common to the rest of the kings and the latest leaders with Romulus. Thus, whatever the Romans hold, cultivate, possess, is the spoil of their audacity. All their temples are built from the spoils of violence, that is, from the ruins of cities, from the spoils of the gods, from the murders of priests. This is to insult and scorn, to yield to conquered religions, to adore them when captive, after having vanquished them. For to adore what you have taken by force, is to consecrate sacrilege, not divinities. As often, therefore, as the Romans triumphed, so often they were polluted; and as many trophies as they gained from the nations, so many spoils did they take from the gods. Therefore the Romans were not so great because they were religious, but because they were sacrilegious with impunity. For neither were they able in the wars themselves to have the help of the gods against whom they took up arms; and they began to worship those when they were triumphed over, whom they had previously challenged. But what avail such gods as those on behalf of the Romans, who had had no power on behalf of their own worshippers against the Roman arms?

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