Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, Jan. 23, 2011

Every time you get a salary, thank the Romans for it. The word salary comes from salarium which is derived from the Latin word ‘sal’ for salt. This was the fixed ration of the highly prized salt given each month to Roman soldiers. Later this term extended to the monthy wage paid.

The Romans who controlled the world for nearly a thousand years, before they were overrun by barbarians, were one of the most pragmatic and ruthless rulers of the world. Their religion had very little to do with spirituality and devotion and more to do with practical issues such as institutions, organizations, rituals and soothsaying that ensured stability of their city and its vast empire.

Virgil’s Aenied traces the origin of Romans to the Aeneas, the prince of Troy. When the Greeks destroyed the city of Troy, their leaders saw Aeneas carry his old father on his shoulders trying to escape. Impressed by his devotion to his father, they let him go unharmed. After many adventures, Aeneas reached the land we now called Italy and settled there.

Amongst his descendents were the two brothers, Romulus and Remus, who were abandoned in the forest after their birth and were raised by a she-wolf. The two brothes grew up to be great warriors. One day, Romulus built a wall and said that he would kill whoever jumped over it. Remus jumped over the wall in jest. Romulus did not appreciate this and killed his brother. Romulus then founded the city of Rome protected by the very same wall he built as a child.

While Romulus built a city and gathered around him men who were willing to live and protect the city, he realized his men needed women to start a family and populate the city. So he approached the neighboring Sabine tribe and asked them to give the hands of their  daughters in marriage. The Sabines refused. So Romulus and his men abducted their daughters and carried them into their homes. The Sabines were furious and attacked Rome and war and death would surely have followed had the Sabine women not intervened. “If you kill the Sabines, we lose our fathers. If you kill the Romans, we lose our husbands. Either way we will be miserable, weeping as orphans or widows,” they said. Hearing this, the Sabines and the Romans lowered their weapons. The wisdom of the women was remembered and a special place was always given to Roman women in the centuries to come.

The abduction of the Sabine women is more popularly known as the ‘rape’ of the Sabine women (though the word ‘rape’ does not mean what it means today). It is a common theme in art. The Christian practice of carrying the bride over the threshold comes from this Roman tale because the Romans carried the Sabine women over the threshold of their homes after abducting them.