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[AUC 001-01, part 3]: Mutually Beneficial Treaty

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[These remarks refer to Book 1 Chapter 1 of Livy’s history of Rome, Ab Urbe Condita.]

In discussing the Trojan refugees led by Aeneas, Mr. Livy attributes their acceptance in Laurentum entirely to the fact that Latinus “admir[ed] the nobility of the folk and of the man and admir[ed] that their spirit was prepared for either war or peace”. And that was certainly a necessary part of it. We can infer from events in the next chapter, however, that the Aborgines had a sticky political problem of their own for which a big influx of experienced and motivated soldiers would be very helpful: a neighboring state was attempting to annex Laurentum. Thus, it seems to me that the key to this treaty was that each group was in a position to help the other and to help itself by joining with the other.

Alternate Traditions Regarding First Contact: Parley vs. Battle

Mr. Livy says that there were two traditions regarding the initial contact between the Trojans and Aborigines. One, which he describes in some detail, starts with Latinus asking and Aeneas answering questions about who the strangers are and what they want, and continues with a discussion between them leading to a treaty. The other he recites dutifully in a single sentence: that battle was joined, that the Trojans won, and that the defeated Latinus then negotiated a treaty with Aeneas. In both cases, a treaty resulted from the meeting, the peoples united, and the union was sealed in a stereotypically symbolic manner by the marriage of Aeneas with the daughter of Latinus.

In the latter case, we can assume that the history and current status of the refugees became known to the Aborigines after the battle. So the only real difference in the latter version is that there was a battle which the Trojans won. This kind of beginning would place an extra burden on the task of creating a single nation, beyond the normal difficulties noted below. On each side there would be mourning for those who had been killed, and survivors recovering from and living with injuries received in the battle. And the Aborigines would have a lot more resentment.

This alternate version is not impossible, but it would make the subsequent events much more remarkable. I will ignore it just as Mr. Livy does after dutifully mentioning its existence.

E Duobus Unum

To make sense of the treaty between Aeneas and Latinus, we need to acknowledge the difficulty of merging two ethnic groups, initially complete strangers to each other and probably speaking different languages, into a single nation. The situation contains plenty of opportunity for resentment, rivalry, misunderstanding, xenophobia, bigotry, and all the other problems of mixing together people of different cultures.

These two populations appear to have been of equivalent size. One tradition reports that the Trojans were numerous enough and militarily capable enough to defeat the Aborgines in a battle on equal footing. The other suggests comparable armies arrayed for a battle. Therefore, this was not a case where a large nation took in a relatively tiny number of refugees, which would be of little economic impact.

The difficulty was ameliorated to some extent by the fact that the Trojans built their own separate town, reducing the amount of day-to-day contact in the early stages, The new town was presumably far enough from the existing town to be surrounded by previously uncultivated land where the newcomers could plant their own crops. Once those farms began producing, the Trojans would be self-sustaining and would contribute to the joint economy on an equal footing. But there would have been a transition period when they were dependent on (and a significant burden to) the Aborigines.

In the next chapter, Mr. Livy mentions some of the policies that the leaders used to encourage individuals of both groups to regard the new polity as a single nation. From top to bottom these people knew how serious this was, knew that a failure could lead to bloody consequences. This kind of merger is not likely to be attempted nor to succeed unless both populations have strong motivations for its success. We know the Trojans’ motivation but must infer the Aborigines motivation from subsequent events.

The Trojans’ Behavior

Mr. Livy tells us nothing about the Trojans’ goals or strategy, other than looking for a place to build a town and live their lives. Oh, and those divine words that were guiding Aeneas “to bigger historical beginnings”. It is fruitless to speculate about their plan and expectations for the cattle-rustling raid that began this encounter; but we can note some of their conduct which may have had a positive influence on the outcome.

The Trojans did not attack any persons nor did they approach the Aborgines’ town. Either of these behaviors would have greatly increased the distrust felt by the Aborigines; or rather, abstaining from these behaviors allowed the natural distrust of thieving strangers to abate somewhat. Thus, in reaching an agreement, the Aborigines only had to forgive the newcomers, now recognized as hungry and desperate refugees, for the attempted theft of some food, not for any more serious transgressions.

Mr. Livy refers to drawn up battle lines standing face-to-face. When it became clear that they could not get back on their ships in time to avoid a confrontation with the Aborigines, apparently the Trojans organized themselves for battle in an orderly and disciplined way, and apparently waited to see what would happen, as they were, apparently, “prepared for either war or peace”. This might mean nothing, but might be different from the behavior of ordinary pirates.

A Peek at the Next Chapter

Although Mr. Livy does not mention the local political landscape until the next chapter, it is certain that Latinus was aware of it at the time the Trojan refugees landed on his shore. We ought to be aware of it, too, in trying to understand this event and the treaty that emerged.

Reading between the lines of the next chapter, it appears that Turnus, king of a neighboring people called Rutuli, was attempting to annex Laurentum and its people by means of diplomacy and marriage under a tacit threat of force.

Latinus’s Perspective

It does not seem likely, as Latinus responded to the alarm about thieves stealing cattle, that he thought that these marauders would be of benefit to Laurentum. But he would have been interested in every detail he could observe about them as a means of assessing how much of a threat they represented and as data in considering how to deal with them.

Besides their behavior mentioned above, he might have been able to notice (and yes, this is raw speculation) that the Trojans looked haggard, perhaps that some of their clothing was ragged. Possibly some Aborigines had been able to see and report that there were women and children on the strangers’ ships. Even the fact that they had undertaken a raid that they could not complete before a defense was mustered, thereby exposing themselves to attack, would have been a clue that these were not ordinary criminals.

These observations alone might have been enough to raise the question of whether the matter could be handled without the risk and injury of a battle. Any losses here would make the Aborigines that much more vulnerable to the Rutuli. Such considerations could initiate the conference that Mr. Livy describes between Latinus and Aeneas.

I do not think that simple admiration for the Trojans and their attitude, as Mr. Livy says, would have been enough to persuade Latinus to take them in as refugees. But in considering the implications of such an act, even briefly and fully expecting to turn them away, Latinus might have seen that the Trojans could also be useful to the Aborigines by increasing their population and their fighting strength, and improving their position with respect to the Rutuli.

This would be taking a risk since the Trojans could turn out to be scoundrels and could betray the Aborigines in various ways. But Latinus was balancing risks and attempting to judge whether his people would be better off united with the Trojans or merged with the Rutuli. It is only reasonable to suppose that Latinus told Aeneas all about the local political situation in the course of the treaty negotiations so that the Trojans would know just what the conditions in their new home would be. And it seems to me that, if the Rutuli were inimical enough to the Aborigines that the situation justified taking in strangers as allies, then they were even more inimical to the Trojans; and this factor in turn would mitigate the risk to the Aborigines by creating an even greater incentive for the Trojans to keep their part of the deal.


Beautiful as it might be to imagine the Aborigines taking in the Trojans just out of sympathy for their plight and because the Trojans were admirable people, I think that the success of their treaty was based more on mutual benefit and mutual appreciation. We do not, however, have enough information in this chapter to investigate this in detail.

Copyright 2009 Verbifex


Written by Verbifex

2009 July 13 at 00:55 UTC