Romans: Diodoros on Herakles’ journey to Rome before Rome (mid-first century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Romans: Diodoros on Herakles’ journey to Rome before Rome (mid-first century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 6, 2024,

Ancient authors: Diodoros of Sicily (mid-first century BCE), Library of History 4.21 (link).

Comments: Diodoros of Sicily follows through on his use of the Herakles myth in order to survey various peoples and the civilizing process, in this case having Herakles come to (what would later be) Rome before the time of Romulus. As in Dionysios of Halikarnassos (link), Diodoros makes some attempt to suggest that Roman customs derive from an outside and (implied) Greek source. In this way, the Greeks civilize the Romans, so to speak.


[For Diodoros’ preceding discussion of Ligurians, go to this link]

Book 4 

21  After Herakles had passed through the lands of the Ligurians and of the Tyrrhenians​ [i.e. Etruscans], he came to the river Tiber and pitched his camp at the site where Rome now stands. But this city was founded many generations afterwards by Romulus, the son of Ares. At this time, certain people of the vicinity had their homes on the Palatine Hill, as it is now called, and formed a very insignificant city. (2) Here some of the notable men, among them Cacius and Pinarius, welcomed Herakles with marked acts of hospitality and honoured him with pleasing gifts. Memorials of these men remain in Rome to the present day. For, of the nobles of our time, the family (gens) which bears the name Pinarians still exists among the Romans,​ being regarded as very ancient. As for Cacius, there is a passage on the Palatine which leads downward, furnished with a stairway of stone, and is called after him the “Steps of Cacius”​ and it lies near the original house of Cacius.

(3) Now Herakles received with favour the good-will shown to him by the inhabitants of the Palatine. He predicted that, after he had passed into the circle of the gods, it would come to pass that whatever men should make a vow to dedicate to Herakles a tithe of their goods would lead a more happy and prosperous life. And in fact this custom did arise in later times and has persisted to our own day. (4) For many Romans, and not only those of moderate fortunes but some even of great wealth, who have taken a vow to dedicate a tenth to Herakles and have afterwards become happy and prosperous, have presented him with a tenth of their possessions, which came to four thousand talents. Lucullus, for instance, who was perhaps the wealthiest Roman of his day, had his estate appraised and then offered a full tenth of it to the god, thus providing continuous feastings and expensive ones withal. Furthermore, the Romans have built to this god a notable temple on the bank of the Tiber (i.e. Ara Maxima Herculis),​ with the purpose of performing in it the sacrifices from the proceeds of the tithe…

[For Diodoros’ subsequent discussion of Sicilians and Sardinians, go to this link (coming soon)].


Source of the translation: C. H. Oldfather, Diodorus Sicilus: Library of History, volumes 1-6, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1935-1952), public domain (passed away in 1954 and copyright not renewed), adapted by Victoria Muccilli and Harland.

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