Tarpeia in Livy and the Roman Forum
Activity using the Online Companion to The Worlds of Roman Women and VRoma



Part I. Textual Representations

Using the Online Companion´s World of State, read/translate Livy AUC 1.11.5-9: Tarpeia. Then answer the following questions on the attached sheets (see printable version of the worksheet in an Adobe Acrobat file):

  1. What are the three possible motivations for Tarpeia's action presented by Livy? Explain what textual devices he uses to lead the reader to choose one over the other two. Does Livy ever give the reader a glimpse into Tarpeia's own mind?
  2. How do you think your reaction to this story might change if you considered the motivation that Propertius presents in Elegy 4.4, namely that the Vestal Virgin Tarpeia fell desperately in love with the Sabine king Tatius and fantasized that she could marry him and unite the Romans and the Sabines?

Part II. Tarpeia in the Roman Forum:

Connect to VRoma's virtual city of Rome by going to the Log-in Page and entering your username and password, or as a guest simply by clicking "Log in as a guest."

  1. Visit the Basilica Aemilia/Basilica Paulli in the Roman Forum. Proceed to the basilica by clicking on the exit to Rome at the bottom of the Web window on the right of the screen, then clicking on Region VIII in the map, and then clicking on Basilica Aemilia in the map of Region VIII. Explore the basilica, reading about its history, and then click on Basilica Aemilia frieze to view the sculptural decoration. How does the story of Tarpeia figure in this frieze? Look closely at the depiction of Tarpeia (with the red lines outlining missing sections). Why do you think she is portrayed as slightly foreign, like an Amazon with one breast bared? Note the context of this panel, proceeded by a panel depicting the Sabine women and followed by a wedding scene? Is this context similar or different to that supplied by Livy? What message about women would this convey to the Romans who would frequently see this frieze? Why do you think Julius Caesar and Augustus would want this frieze to be so prominently displayed in an important public building in the Forum, when so much other public art depicted only men?
  2. Then visit the Tarpeian Rock by clicking on the exit to Region 8; on the map click the long staircase called Gradus Monetae. Read about the role these stairs played in Roman public life, and then climb them by clicking the exit to the Tarpeian Rock. How did the function of this precipitous cliff relate to that of the Gemonian Stairs? Why do you think it was named after Tarpeia, and why would a late Republican and an early Augustan moneyer feature Tarpeia on their coins?
  3. Since the Tarpeian Rock clearly predated Livy's history and the Basilica Aemilia frieze most likely did (and since these public monuments would have reached many more Romans than Livy's work ever did), how do you think they might have affected his version of the Tarpeia story? What contribution does the information about coins and architecture—indeed the whole physical and spatial context provided by VRoma—make to your understanding of Livy and of the role of the city of Rome in Roman culture and life?

Submitted by Barbara F. McManus
November 2008
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