1. METTUS or METIUS CURTIUS, a Sabine of the time of Romulus. During the war between the Romans and Sabines, which arose from the rape of the Sabine women, the Sabines had gained possession of the Roman arx. When the Roman army was drawn up between the Palatine and Capitoline hills, two chiefs of the armies, Mettus Curtius on the part of the Sabines, and Hostus Hostilius on that of the Romans, opened the contest, in which the latter was slain. While Curtius was glorying in his victory, Romulus and a band of Romans made an attack upon him. Curtius, who fought on horseback, could not maintain his ground; he was chased by the Romans, and in despair he leaped with his horse into a swamp, which then covered the valley afterwards occupied by the forum. However, he got out of it with difficulty at the bidding of his Sabines. Peace was soon after concluded between the Romans and their neighbours, and the swamp was henceforth called lacus Curtius,
to commemorate the event. (Liv. 1.12
, &c.; Dionys. A. R. 2.42
; Varr. L. L.
5.148; Plut. Romul.
This is the common story about the name of the lacus Curtius; but there are two other traditions, which though they likewise trace it to a person of the name of Curtius, yet refer us to a much later time.
According to the first of these, it happened one day that the earth in the forum gave way, sank, and formed a great chasm. All attempts to fill it up were useless, and when at length the aruspices were consulted about it, they declared, that the chasm could not be filled except by throwing into it that on which Rome's greatness was to be based, and that then the state should prosper. When all were hesitating and doubting as to what was meant, a noble youth of the name of M. Curtius came forward, and declaring that Rome possessed no greater treasure than a brave and gallant citizen in arms, he offered himself as the victim demanded, and having mounted his steed in full armour, lie leaped into the abyss, and the earth soon closed over him.
This event is assigned to the year B. C. 362. (Liv. 7.6
; Varro, l.c.; V. Max. 5.6.2
; Plin. Nat. 15.18
; Festus, s. v. Curtilacum;
Plut. Parallel. Min.
5; Stat. Silv. 1.1
, &c.; Augustin, de Civ. Dei,
According to the second tradition, the place called lacus Curtius had been struck by lightning, and, at the command of the senate, it was enclosed in the usual manner by the consul C. Curtius Philo, B. C. 445. (Varr. L. L.
But that this place was not regarded as a bidental,
that is, a sacred spot struck by lightning, seems to be clear from what Pliny (Plin. Nat. 15.18
) relates of it. All that we can infer with safety from the ancient traditions respecting the lacus Curtius, is, that a part of the district which subsequently formed the Roman forum, was originally covered by a swamp or a lake, which may have obtained the name of Curtius from some such occurrence as tradition has handed down.
This lake was afterwards drained and filled up, but on one occasion after this the ground seems to have sunk, a circumstance which was regarded as an ostentum fatale.
In order to avert any evil, and at the same time symbolically to secure the duration of the republic, an altar was erected on the spot, and a regular sacrifice was offered there, which may have given rise to the story about the self-sacrifice of Curtius. (Suet. Aug. 57
; Stat. Silv. 1.1