In his Discourses on Livy , Machiavelli pointed to the place of sacrifice in the establishment of Roman order. Sheehan ( Representations , 2009) summarizes the argument:

“The Samnites knew that ‘it was necessary to induce obstinacy in the spirits of the soldiers, and that to induce it there was no better means than religion.’ Here, however, the Samnites stood in line with the Romans themselves, Machiavelli noted, the force of whose laws stemmed less from the sword of Romulus than from the rites of the king Numa Pompilius. Romulus the warrior had vanished, and civil war was nigh, when Numa was called to the kingship. Once there, he began a strict diet of religion, softening (according to Plutarch) the ‘fierce and warlike tempers’ of the ancient Romans with ‘sacrifices, processions, and religious dances.’ Through his stewardship, the Roman political and legal order was made. By ‘schooling in religious matters the city . . . stood in such awe of Numa’s power, that they . . . thought nothing incredible or impossible which he wished them to believe or do.’” Numa’s books were buried with him, thus concealing the sacrificial origins of law. In short, “the sacrifices offered at the temples were not just the desiderata of a primitive religion still practiced by the politically sophisticated Romans. Rather, they were at the origin of this sophistication.”

Not surprisingly,”Machiavelli gave Numa pride of place in his famous thesis on piety and power: ‘where there is religion, arms can easily be introduced, and where there are arms and not religion, the latter can be introduced only with difficulty.’”

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