Among the very old formulas and usages that survived at Rome down to relatively
late times, this method of declaring war holds a notable place. It was highly needful to
observe all the necessary formalities in beginning hostilities, otherwise the angry gods
would turn their favor to the enemy. Ancus Marcius, the fourth king of Rome, was at once a
man of peace and an efficient soldier; and on the outbreak of a war with the Latins he is
said to have instituted the customs which later ages of Romans observed in war.
History of Rome, I.32:
Inasmuch as Numa had instituted the religious rites for days of peace, Ancus Marcius
desired that the ceremonies relating to war might be transmitted by himself to future
ages. Accordingly he borrowed from an ancient folk, the Aequicolae, the form which the
[Roman] heralds still observe, when they make public demand for restitution. The [Roman]
envoy when he comes to the frontier of the offending nation, covers his head with a woolen
fillet, and says: Hear, O Jupiter, and hear ye lands _____ [i.e., of such
and such a nation], let Justice hear! I am a public messenger of the Roman people.
Justly and religiously I come, and let my words bear credit! Then he makes his
demands, and follows with a solemn appeal to Jupiter. If I demand unjustly and
impiously that these men and goods [in question] be given to me, the herald of the Roman
people, then suffer me never to enjoy again my native country!
These words he repeats when he crosses the frontiers; he says them also to the first
man he meets [on the way]; again when he passes the gate; again on entering the
[foreigners'] market-place, some few words in the formula being changed. If the persons he
demands are not surrendered after thirty days, he declares war, thus: Hear, O Jupiter
and you too, Juno---Romulus also, and all the celestial, terrestrial, and infernal gods!
Give us ear! I call you to witness that this nation _____ is unjust, and has acted
contrary to right. And as for us, we will consult thereon with our elders in our homeland,
as to how we may obtain our rights.
After that the envoy returns to Rome to report, and the king was wont at once to
consult with the Senators in some such words as these, Concerning such quarrels as to
which the pater patratus [i.e., the head of the Roman heralds] of the Roman people has
conferred with the pater patratus of the ____ people, and with that people themselves,
touching what they ought to have surrendered or done and which things they have not
surrendered nor done [as they ought]; speak forth, he said to the senator first
questioned, what think you? Then the other said, I think that [our rights]
should be demanded by a just and properly declared war, and for that I give my consent and
vote. Next the others were asked in order, and when the majority of those present had
reached an agreement, the war was resolved upon.
It was customary for the fetialis to carry in his hand a javelin pointed with
steel, or burnt at the end and dipped in blood. This he took to the confines of the
enemy's country, and in the presence of at least three persons of adult years, he spoke
thus: Forasmuch as the state of the _____ has offended against the Roman People, the
Quirites; and forasmuch as the Roman People the Quirites have ordered that there should be
war with _____ and the Senate of the Roman People has duly voted that war should be made
upon the enemy _____ : I, acting for the Roman People, declare and make actual war upon
So saying he flung the spear within the hostile confines. After this manner restitution
was at that time demanded from the Latins [by Ancus Marcius] and war proclaimed; and the
usage then established was adopted by posterity.
From: William Stearns Davis, ed., Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts
from the Sources, 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the
West, pp. 7-9.
Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg
has modernized the text.