Livy, The Story of Aeneas

Everyone generally agrees that when Troy was captured, the Greeks spared only two men: Aeneas and Antenor.  This was either because they were respecting the ancient law of hospitality or because these two had always desired to return Helen and make peace.  Antenor and Aeneas went in separate directions.  Antenor became the leader of some Enetian exiles who had been expelled from Paphlagonia1 in a rebellion and lost their king in the Trojan War.  He led them against the Euganei, who lived in northern Italy between the Alps and the Adriatic.  After defeating the Euganei, Antenor occupied their lands and named the place Troy, after his homeland.  The people were called Venetians.2

Aeneas also fled from his homeland, but fate led him on to greater things.  First, he landed in Macedonia; then he sought a home in Sicily.  After leaving Sicily, he went to Laurentum, which now also bears the name of Troy.  Here, the Trojans disembarked, but as they had lost almost all their things in their wanderings except their weapons and ships, they began attacking the surrounding fields.  The native Latins and their king (whose name was Latinus) hurried to defend their lands.

There are two different versions of what happened next.  According to one, King Latinus was defeated and made peace with Aeneas.  According to the other, Latinus asked for a parley just before the two armies clashed in battle. 

“Who are you men?” he asked. “What fortune compels you to leave your homes and come to these shores?” 

Aeneas replied, “We are Trojans, and I am Aeneas, son of Anchises and the goddess Venus.  Our homeland lies in ruins, burnt to the ground by the Greeks.  We come here seeking a new home.”

Because Latinus admired the Trojans’ nobility and saw that they were ready for both peace and war, he offered his right hand as a sign of faith and future friendship.  The two leaders made a treaty, and the armies exchanged greetings.  Latinus welcomed Aeneas as a guest, and Aeneas confirmed the treaty by marrying Latinus’ daughter Lavinia in the sight of their tutelary gods (penates).3

The Trojans thus ended their wanderings and found a place to live.  They built a city, which Aeneas called Lavinium after his wife.  Shortly thereafter, Lavinia gave birth to a baby boy, whom his parents named Ascanius.

Now, Lavinia had already been promised to the King of the Rutuli, who could not bear the thought that a newcomer had been preferred to himself, so he made war on both Aeneas and the Latins.  This war was tragic for both sides because the Rutuli were conquered, and the Latins lost their king. 

The Rutuli then sought the aid of the Etruscan King Mezentius, who had watched the rise of the Trojans uneasily and thus welcomed a military alliance with the Rutuli.  Faced with such an enemy, Aeneas took steps to win over the Latins.  In order to bind the two peoples together in both law and name, Aeneas ordered the Trojans to begin calling themselves Latins.  From that time on, the Latins were as faithfully devoted to Aeneas as the Trojans were. 

Though the Etruscans had a reputation as a powerful nation, Aeneas did not hide behind his city walls; rather, he led his army into the open field and staked his fortune on the combined power of the Trojans and Latins, who were quickly becoming one nation.  The Latins did win the battle, but Aeneas was killed.  His tomb sits on the banks of the River Numicus, and rightly or wrongly, he is now called Aeneas Jupiter, Friend of the Needy.

At this time, Aeneas’s son Ascanius was not yet old enough to exercise imperium;4nevertheless, his mother Lavinia was a powerful woman, and she kept the ancestral throne safe for her son.  The records are a little unclear on one point: we do not know whether the Julian house takes its name from this Ascanius or from an older son of Aeneas who was born in Troy and was a companion in his father’s flight.   In any case, Ascanius was certainly the son of Aeneas.

In the following years, the city of Lavinium grew wealthy and powerful.  After thirty years, Ascanius gave the city to his mother (or his stepmother) and built a new city, which was called Alba Longa because it stretched alongside the Alban hills.  The defeat of the Etruscans had so increased the Latins’ power that no one dared to fight them, even during the regency of a woman. The Etruscans and Latins thus had peace, and they marked their border at the river Albula, which is now called the Tiber.

  1. A region in modern day Turkey.
  2. The story of Aeneas is almost certainly the stuff of legend, but the city of Troy did exist, and it was destroyed sometime during the 13th century BC.  Thus, the story of Aeneas refers to approximately that time period.
  3. The penates were the gods who watched over individual households. 
  4. The Latin word imperium refers to the formal power to command.  It can refer to political and military power given to individuals or to the power of one nation over another.  Imperium is the root of the modern English word “empire.”