In the year 1844, modern civilization had not yet set in, and Subiaco was, within, what it still appears to be from without, a somewhat gloomy stronghold of the Middle Ages, rearing its battlements and towers in a shadowy gorge, above a mountain torrent, inhabited by primitive and passionate people, dominated by ecclesiastical institutions, and, though distinctly Roman, a couple of hundred years behind Rome itself in all matters ethic and ¾sthetic. It was still the scene of the Santacroce murder, which really decided Beatrice Cenci's fate; it was still the gathering place of highwaymen and outlaws, whose activity found an admirable field through all the region of hill and plain between the Samnite range and the sea, while the almost inaccessible fortresses of the higher mountains, towards Trevi and the Serra di Sant' Antonio, offered a safe refuge from the halfhearted pursuit of Pope Gregory's lazy soldiers.Ê
Down, always downwards, march the wanderers, rough, rugged, young with the terrible youth of those days, and wise only with the wisdom of nature. Down the steep mountain they go, down over the rich, rolling land, down through the deep forests, unhewn of man, down at last to the river, where seven low hills rise out of the wide plain. One of those hills the leader chooses, rounded and grassy; there they encamp, and they dig a trench and build huts. Pales, protectress of flocks, gives her name to the Palatine Hill. Rumon, the flowing river, names the village Rome, and Rome names the leader Romulus, the Man of the River, the Man of the Village by the River; and to our own time the twenty-first of April is kept and remembered, and even now honoured, for the very day on which the shepherds began to dig their trench on the Palatine, the date of the Foundation of Rome, from which seven hundred and fifty-four years were reckoned to the birth of Christ.
And the shepherds called their leader King, though his kingship was over but few men. Yet they were such men as begin history, and in the scant company there were all the seeds of empire. First the profound faith of natural mankind, unquestioning, immovable, inseparable from every daily thought and action; then fierce strength, and courage, and love of life and of possession; last, obedience to the chosen leader, in clear liberty, when one should fail, to choose another. So the Romans began to win the world, and won it in about six hundred years.