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Denarius 89 BC depicting the torture of Tarpeia
Denarius (19-18 BC) depicting the head of Augustus and Tarpeia crushed by the soldiers' shields

In Roman mythology, Tarpeia /tɑːrˈpə/, daughter of the Roman commander Spurius Tarpeius, was a Vestal virgin who betrayed the city of Rome to the Sabines at the time of their women's abduction for what she thought would be a reward of jewellery. She was instead crushed to death and her body cast from the southern cliff of Rome's Capitoline Hill, thereafter called Tarpeian Rock (Rupes Tarpeia).[1]


Soldiers attacking Tarpeia, on a fragmentary relief from the frieze of the Basilica Aemilia (1st century AD)

The legend tells that while Rome was besieged by the Sabine king Titus Tatius, Tarpeia, daughter of the commander of the citadel, Spurius Tarpeius, approached the Sabine camp and offered them entry to the city in exchange for "what they bore on their left arms". Greedy for gold, she had meant their bracelets, but instead the Sabines threw their shields—carried on the left arm—upon her, crushing her to death. Her body was then hurled from (or, according to some accounts, buried at) a steep cliff of the southern summit of the Capitoline Hill. The Sabines were however unable to conquer the Forum, its gates miraculously protected by boiling jets of water created by Janus.[2]

The legend was depicted in 89 BC by Sabinus following the Civil Wars as well as on a silver denarius of the Emperor Augustus in approximately 20 BC. Tarpeia would later become a symbol of betrayal and greed in Rome.[3] The cliff from which she was thrown was named the Tarpeian Rock,[2] and would become the place of execution for Rome's most notorious traitors.

See also[edit]


  • Livy. "Ab urbe condita". 1:11. Translated from the Original with Notes and Illustrations by George Baker, A.M.. First American ed., from the Last London Edition, in Six Volumes. (New York: Peter A. Mesier et al., 1823). Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  • Propertius, IV.4


  1. ^ Sanders, H. (1904). Roman historical sources and institutions. Macmillan. pp. 1–47.
  2. ^ a b Morford, M.; Lenardon, R. (1999). Classical mythology. Oxford University Press. p. 536. ISBN 978-0-19-514338-6.
  3. ^ "Denier d'argent, Rome, vers 20/18 avant J.C." (in French). Retrieved 2009-06-28.