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Dionysius of Halicarnassus: Women’s plea for peace

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Dionysius of Halicarnassus: Scorn rapine and violence and the profits accruing from war

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Dionysius of Halicarnassus
From Roman Antiquities
Translated by Earnest Cary

While both sides were consuming the time in these considerations, neither daring to renew the fight nor treating for peace, the wives of the Romans who were of the Sabine race and the cause of the war, assembling in one place apart from their husbands and consulting together, determined to make the first overtures themselves to both armies concerning an accommodation. The one who proposed this measure to the rest of the women was named Hersilia, a woman of no obscure birth among the Sabines….After the women had taken this resolution they came to the senate, and having obtained an audience, they made long pleas, begging to be permitted to go out to their relations and declaring that they had many excellent grounds for hoping to bring the two nations together and establish friendship between them. When the senators who were present in council with the king heard this, they were exceedingly pleased and looked upon it, in view of their present difficulties, as the only solution. Thereupon a decree of the senate was passed to the effect that those Sabine women who had children should, upon leaving them with their husbands, have permission to go as ambassadors to their countrymen, and that those who had several children should take along as many of them as they wished and endeavour to reconcile the two nations. After this the women went out dressed in mourning, some of them also carrying their infant children. When they arrived in the camp of the Sabines, lamenting and falling at the feet of those they met, they aroused great compassion in all who saw them and none could refrain from tears. And when the councillors had been called together to receive them and the king had command them to state their reasons for coming, Hersilia, who had proposed the plan and was at the head of the embassy, delivered a long and pathetic plea, begging them to grant peace to those who were interceding for their husbands and on whose account, she pointed out, the war had been undertaken. As to the terms, however, on which peace should be made, she said the leaders, coming together by themselves, might settle them with a view to the advantage of both parties.

After she had spoken thus, all the women with their children threw themselves at the feet of the king and remained prostrate till those who were present raised them from the ground and promised to do everything that was reasonable and in their power. Then, having ordered them to withdraw from the council and having consulted together, they decided to make peace. And first a truce was agreed upon between the two nations; then the kings met together and a treaty of friendship was concluded.

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