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Sabine Women

"And it continues to be a custom down to the present time that the bride shall not of herself cross the threshold into her new home, but be lifted up and carried in, because the Sabine women were carried in by force, and did not go in of their own accord."

Plutarch, Life of Romulus (XV.5)

An ancient tribe from the mountainous region of central Italy, the Sabines frequently were at war with the early Romans, until they finally were subdued and granted full citizenship in 268 BC. This amalgamation of Latin and Sabine stock has its legendary explanation in the rape of the Sabine women.

Livy (I.11) and Plutarch (Life of Romulus, XVII) both tell the story of Tarpeia, daughter of the commander of the Roman citadel, who, tricked by the Sabines with the promise to be given whatever was on their left arm, opened the gates to the Capitoline Hill and admitted the enemy into the Roman camp. But, instead of the gold bracelets that she expected, the hapless girl was crushed under the shields they carried. Thrown from what later came to be called the Tarpeian Rock, her fate became that of all those condemned of capital crimes.


The statue by Jean de Boulogne (Italianized as Giambologna), which was completed in 1582, was sculpted from a single block of marble as a virtuoso demonstration of his skill. Only later, when it was publicly displayed the next year in the Piazza della Signoria (Florence) beneath the west arch of the Loggia dei Lanzi, was the sculpture given the title Rape of the Sabine Women. The plaster model for the statue is in the Galleria dell'Accademia (Florence).

The Rape of the Sabine Women has been portrayed as well in paintings by Bolgna, Poussin, Rubens, and David, who conveys a later scene, after the abduction, when the Sabine women, now grown fond their husbands and the mother of their children, intervene when their male relatives attack the Romans, pleading with both sides to make peace.

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