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Dionysius of Halicarnassus: Numa’s arbiters of peace


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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Dionysius of Halicarnassus: Women’s plea for peace


Dionysius of Halicarnassus
From Roman Antiquities
Translated by Earnest Cary

The seventh division of his sacred institutions was devoted to the college of the fetiales; these may be called in Greek eirênodikai or “arbiters of peace.” They are chosen men, from the best families, and exercise their holy office for life; King Numa was also the first who instituted this holy magistracy among the Romans….It is their duty to take care that the Romans do not enter upon an unjust war against any city in alliance with them, and if others begin the violation of treaties against them, to go as ambassadors and first make formal demand for justice, and then, if the others refuse to comply with their demands, to sanction war.


For this man, considering that a State which was to love justice and to continue in the practice of moderation ought to abound in all things necessary to the support of life, divided the whole country into what are called pagi or “districts,” and over each of these districts he appointed an official whose duty it was to inspect and visit the lands lying in his own jurisdiction. These men, going their rounds frequently, made a record of the lands that were well and ill cultivated and laid it before the king, who repaid the diligence of the careful husbandmen with commendations and favours, and by reprimanding and fining the slothful encouraged them to cultivate their lands with greater attention. Accordingly, the people, being freed from wars and exempt from any attendance on the affairs of the State, and at the same time being disgraced and punished for idleness and sloth, all became husbandmen and looked upon the riches which the earth yields and which of all others are the most just as more enjoyable than the precarious influence of a military life. And by the same means Numa came to be beloved of his subjects, the example of his neighbours, and the theme of posterity. It was owing to these measures that neither civil dissension broke the harmony of the State nor foreign war interrupted the observance of his most excellent and admirable institutions. For their neighbours were so far from looking upon the peaceful tranquillity of the Romans as an opportunity for attacking them, that, if at any time they were at war with one another, they chose the Romans for mediators and wished to settle their enmities under the arbitration of Numa. This man, therefore, I should take no shame in placing among the foremost of those who have been celebrated for their felicity in life.

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