Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 3.35

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[35] These were the achievements performed during his reign by King Tullus Hostilius, a man worthy of exceptional praise for his boldness in war and his prudence in the face of danger, but, above both these qualifications, because, though he was not precipitate in entering upon a war, when he was once engaged in it he steadily pursued it until he had the upper hand in every way over his adversaries. After he had reigned thirty-two years he lost his life when his house caught fire, and with him his wife and children and all his household perished in the flames. 2 Some say that his house was set on fire by a thunderbolt, Heaven having become angered at his neglect of some sacred rites (for they say that in his reign some ancestral sacrifices were omitted and that he introduced others that were foreign to the Romans), but the majority state that the disaster was due to human treachery and ascribe it to Marcius, who ruled the state after him. 3 For they say that this man, who was the son of Numa Pompilius' daughter, was indignant at being in a private station himself, though of royal descent, and seeing that Tullus had children growing up, he suspected very strongly that upon the death of Tullus the kingdom would fall to them. With these thoughts in mind, they say, he had long since formed a plot against the king, and had many of the Romans aiding him to gain the sovereignty; and being a friend of Tullus and one of his closest confidants, he was watching for a suitable opportunity to appear for making his attack. 4 Accordingly, when Tullus proposed to perform a certain sacrifice at home which he wished only his near relations to know about and that day chanced to be very stormy, with rain and sleet and darkness, so that those who were upon guard before the house had left their station, Marcius, looking upon this as a favourable opportunity, entered the house together with his friends, who had swords under their garments, and having killed the king and his children and all the rest whom he encountered, he set fire to the house in several places, and after doing this spread the report that the fire had been due to a thunderbolt. 5 But for my part I do not accept this story, regarding it as neither true nor plausible, but I subscribe rather to the former account, believing that Tullus met with this end by the judgment of Heaven. For, in the first place, it is improbable that the undertaking in which so many were concerned could have been kept secret, and, besides, the author of it could not be certain that after the death of Hostilius the Romans would choose him as king of the state; furthermore, even if men were loyal to him and steadfast, yet it was unlikely that the gods would act with an ignorance resembling that of men. 6 For after the tribes had given their votes, it would be necessary that the gods, by auspicious omens, should sanction the awarding of the kingdom to him; and which of the gods or other divinities was going to permit a man who was impure and stained with the unjust murder of so many persons to approach the altars, begin the sacrifices, and perform the other religious ceremonies? I, then, for these reasons do not attribute the catastrophe to the treachery of men, but to the will of Heaven; however, let everyone judge as he pleases.

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