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In the most elevated valleys of the Apennines, surrounded by snow-capped summits, dwelt the Sabines, who longer than any other Sabellian race preserved their national peculiarities and were therefore considered in later times as models of ancestral simplicity, hardiness and virtue. From these high mountain lands the different races descended like streams that flood and fertilize the deep-lying valleys and plains. The Latins, whom we meet first in the neighborhood of the Tiber, belonged to the oldest of these successive streams. Then came the Sabines from Cures, of whom the history of regal Rome has so much to relate. To the same race belonged the Aequians and the Volscians, whose wild onset was broken by the stout resistance of the young Roman republic, as also a number of other Sabellian nations on both sides of the peninsula.
The oldest Roman festivals of which we hear were coarse, rustic games. At the Lupercalia youths ran through the streets dressed in goats' skins, beating all those they met with strips of goats' leather. The dances of the Salian priests, the marches of the Arval Brethren, the processions with the holy shields, appear to have been without any artistic element. The flute, the public games, the solemn processions and magnificent robes were first made known to the Romans by the Etruscans. In architecture likewise the Romans were pupils of the far more advanced Etruscans, and for a long period Etruscan sculptors made for Rome the holy images and executed the decorations of the temples. Rome never produced real artists. Even at the time when the streets and palaces were filled with Greek masterpieces the true feeling for art was wanting. A Roman enjoyed the possession of rare and famous works of Greek art, rather than comprehended their intrinsic beauty.
The Roman religion, which was originally a worship of the powers of Nature, never assumed the rich mantle of poetry and legend with which Greek faith early adorned itself. It took the stamp of the national character and lay chiefly in rigorous observances, showing much fear, little respect and no love for the gods. The sole discovery of Rome in religion is represented by the Indigitamenta, the list of gods attending every moment of a man's life from the cradle to the grave. Vaticanus presides over the infant's first cry and Fabulanus over his earliest attempt at intelligent speech. Educa teaches him to eat, Potina to drink and Cuba to sleep. Some of the deities are mere abstractions. Religio comes from the same root as diligentia and means regularity. The people would stone their gods if they offended them, like those savages who thrash their idols when they come home after an unsuccessful day's hunting.
70. THE FLAMENS AND THE VESTALS
The Flamens of Juppiter and the Vestal Virgins were the two most sacred orders in Rome. The ministrations of each were believed to be vitally important to the State. Each could officiate only within the walls of Rome. Each was appointed with the most
. imposing ceremonies. Each was honored with the most profound reverence. But in one important respect they differed. The Vestal was the type of virginity and her purity was guarded by the most terrific penalties. The Flamen, on the other hand, was the representative of Roman marriage in its strictest and purest form. He was necessarily married. His marriage was celebrated with the most solemn rites. It could only be dissolved by death. If his wife died he was degraded from his office. Of these two orders, there can be no question that the Flamen was the most faithful expression of Roman society. The Roman religion was essentially domestic and it was a main object of the legislator to surround marriage with every circumstance of dignity and solemnity.
71. THE LECTISTERNIUM
As the private life of the Romans was regulated with reference to the divine will and protection, so in political life no important resolution was made, no great decision ventured upon without the special consent of the gods. Among the extraordinary means necessary for obtaining their favor was the lectisternium. This old Italian ceremony, which was calculated to make a deep impression on the people, consisted in a solemn feast given to the gods themselves, who were supposed to come personally as invited guests among the people, as a proof of their intention to show themselves friendly and gracious. The decorated images of certain gods were laid upon rich cushions and close by were placed tables with food. The people crowded the streets and thronged the temples of the gods who had condescended to be present among their worshippers. It was a general day of prayer, which inspired serious thought and strengthened human determination with the hope of heavenly approval.