Sir James George Frazer (18541941). The Golden Bough. 1922.
was a relic of a time when the kingship was an annual office awarded, along with the hand of a princess, to the victorious athlete or gladiator, who thereafter figured along with his bride as a god and goddess at a sacred marriage designed to ensure the fertility of the earth by homoeopathic magic. If I am right in supposing that in very early times the old Latin kings personated a god and were regularly put to death in that character, we can better understand the mysterious or violent ends to which so many of them are said to have come. We have seen that, according to tradition, one of the kings of Alba was killed by a thunderbolt for impiously mimicking the thunder of Jupiter. Romulus is said to have vanished mysteriously like Aeneas, or to have been cut to pieces by the patricians whom he had offended, and the seventh of July, the day on which he perished, was a festival which bore some resemblance to the Saturnalia. For on that day the female slaves were allowed to take certain remarkable liberties. They dressed up as free women in the attire of matrons and maids, and in this guise they went forth from the city, scoffed and jeered at all whom they met, and engaged among themselves in a fight, striking and throwing stones at each other. Another Roman king who perished by violence was Tatius, the Sabine colleague of Romulus. It is said that he was at Lavinium offering a public sacrifice to the ancestral gods, when some men, to whom he had given umbrage, despatched him with the sacrificial knives and spits which they had snatched from the altar. The occasion and the manner of his death suggest that the slaughter may have been a sacrifice rather than an assassination. Again, Tullus Hostilius, the successor of Numa, was commonly said to have been killed by lightning, but many held that he was murdered at the instigation of Ancus Marcius, who reigned after him. Speaking of the more or less mythical Numa, the type of the priestly king, Plutarch observes that his fame was enhanced by the fortunes of the later kings. For of the five who reigned after him the last was deposed and ended his life in exile, and of the remaining four not one died a natural death; for three of them were assassinated and Tullus Hostilius was consumed by thunderbolts.
These legends of the violent ends of the Roman kings suggest that the contest by which they gained the throne may sometimes have been a mortal combat rather than a race. If that were so, the analogy which we have traced between Rome and Nemi would be still closer. At both places the sacred kings, the living representatives of the godhead, would thus be liable to suffer deposition and death at the hand of any resolute man who could prove his divine right to the holy office by the strong arm and the sharp sword. It would not be surprising if among the early Latins the claim to the kingdom should often have been settled by single combat; for down to historical times the Umbrians regularly submitted their private disputes to the ordeal of battle, and he who cut his adversarys throat was thought thereby to have proved the justice of his cause beyond the reach of cavil.