By Lucas Harsh

The Sabines were an Italic tribe that lived in the same vicinity as the Latins who founded the city of Rome. The Sabines' territory originally straddled the modern regions of Lazio, Umbria, and Abruzzo. The modern region of Sabina in Latium, northeast of Rome, derives its name from the ancient Sabine tribe.

There are no inscriptions clearly attributable to the Sabines known at this time, but through Roman authors, Sabine words, spellings, and place names have been identified by linguistic experts. Few artifacts of the Sabines' pre-Roman history remain. Further, the exact origin of the Sabines is not currently known, and the topic of their origin was even debated in ancient times. Theories include a Greek origin, or, according to Plutarch, the Sabines were a colony of the Lacedaemonians explaining their Spartan like frugality and belligerence. Modern scholars think it is more likely the Sabines originated near the Gran Sasso range of the Apennines and migrated westward to the Tiber valley.

The Rape of the Sabines

While fascinating in its own right, this story is not as dramatic as the word "rape" may make it sound. The Latin word "rape" lacked the sexual connotation the word carries in modern English, and meant more of an abduction.

After the legendary founding of Rome, there were few women and the continuation of the State was in doubt because the men could not have families. The Roman's neighbors, fearing a powerful rival, prevented their women from marrying Roman men. Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, took matters into his own hands, and prepared an elaborate celebration for Neptune Equester and invited all of Rome's neighbors, including the Sabines. The Sabines came, including their women, and the Sabines were amazed with the speed at which the Roman's city had grown.

A predetermined signal was given, and Roman men carried off the Sabine maidens. After the celebration broke up, Romulus went around speaking personally to the indignant Sabine women and offered them property rights, civil rights, and honorable wedlock if they would stay of the their own free will, which they decided to do.

Outraged over the incident, other tribes went to war with Rome over the abduction of the Sabine women. Romulus defeated the Caeninenses, and reportedly celebrated a triumph over that victory. Additionally, the Antemantes were also defeated in battle, and Romulus celebrated a second triumph for that victory.

L. Titurius L.f. Sabinus, 89 B.C.
Silver denarius, Crawford 344/1a, RSC I Tituria 2, Sydenham 698a, SRCV 249, gVF, scratch, Rome mint, weight 3.770g, maximum diameter 19.1mm, die axis 90o, obverse bare head of King Tatius right, SABIN downward behind, TA in monogram before; reverse two Roman soldiers running left, each bearing a Sabine woman in his arms, L·TITVRI in exurgue.
This coin, minted in 89 B.C., recalls the legend of the Rape of the Sabines.

Treachery of Tarpeia

The Sabine men, led by their king, Titus Tatius, marched on Rome over the incident as well. Rome was well fortified, but Tarpeia, daughter of the governor of the citadel on the Capitoline Hill, opened the gates for the Sabines in exchange for what they wore on their arms. She had in mind their golden torques or bracelets, but instead, the Sabine men crushed her to death with their shields they wore on their arms as they were disgusted with her greed. Her body was thrown from a high rock which became known as the Tarpeian Rock which remained the place of execution for Rome's most notorious traitors. The fighting between the Romans and Sabines was fierce, and much blood was shed.

L. Titurius L.f. Sabinus, 89 B.C.
Silver denarius, SRCV 252, RSC I Tituria 5, Sydenham 699a, Crawford 344/2c, EF, toned, nice metal, Rome mint, weight 3.987g, maximum diameter 17.9mm, die axis 45o, 89 B.C.; obverse bare head of King Tatius right, palm frond below chin, SABIN behind; reverse Tarpeia buried to her waist in shields, trying to repel soldiers who are about to cast shields upon her, star in crescent moon above, L. TITVRI in exergue.  
This coin, minted by the same moneyer as the coin above and also minted in 89 B.C., recalls the legend of the Treachery of Tarpeia.

Augustus 27 B.C.-14 A.D.
AR Denarius. Rome Mint. 19-18 B.C. (3.5 g, 20 mm., 10 o'clock). Obv: CAESAR AUGUSTUS, bare head right. Rev: TVRPILIANVS III VIR, Tarpeia facing, buried to waist in shields. RIC I 299. RSC 494, BMC 29.
This type, minted by Augustus, revived the earlier type shown above, possibly to show his connection with the earlier Republican era and avoid the appearance of becoming a dictator like Julius Caesar before him.

Ultimately, the Sabine women intervened, and placed themselves between the Romans and the Sabines calling for peace between their fathers and their husbands. With their intervention, the Romans and Sabines were reconciled, and many of the Sabines relocated to Rome and integrated with the population there forming one nation. King Tatius jointly ruled Rome with Romulus until his death. Whether in the manner suggested by the ancient legends or not, it is clear some of the Sabines moved to the city of Rome, and merged with the population there becoming Latinized. Other ethnic Sabines remained separate, largely in the mountains, and were later conquered by force and assimilated into the Roman Republic.


As mentioned above, not all of the Sabines merged with Rome following the peace between Romulus and King Tatius. The Sabines continued as an independent tribe for some centuries, and Roman expansion resulted in multiple conflicts with the Sabines. Ultimately, the Sabines were conquered, and ultimately granted Roman citizenship.

As Rome moved from its largely legendary history into the period of the Roman Republic and early Empire, many Romans remained proud of their Sabine heritage. Sabinus was assumed as a cognomen or agnomen by some gens, including the Claudia gens. Both the Rape of the Sabine Women and the treachery of Tarpeia was featured on Roman coinage as shown above.

P. Clodius M.f. Turrinus, 42 B.C.
Silver denarius, SRCV I 492, RSC I Claudia 15, Sydenham 1117, Crawford 494/21, BMC-4287, EF, some flat areas, Rome mint, weight 3.686g, maximum diameter 18.8mm, die axis 45o, 42 B.C.; obverse laureate head of Apollo right, lyre behind; reverse Diana Lucifera (Diana the light bringer) standing right holding two long lit torches, M•F• left, P•CLODIVS right.
This coin refers to the Sabine origin of the moneyer's family, worship of Diana was introduced into Rome by the Sabines.


Ancient Sources

Dionysius of Halicarnassus

Livy: The Rape of the Sabines

Plutarch, Parallel Lives, 11, 15 and 19


Conway, Robert Seymour (1897). The Italic Dialects Edited with a Grammar and Glossary. Cambridge: University Press. pp. 351 - 369.

Forsythe, Gary. A Critical History of Early Rome: from Prehistory to the first Punic War. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

Resources on the World Wide Web (How the Sabine Women Saved Rome?) (Sabinium in the Roman Era: An introduction to the territory, culture, and history of the Sabines).