Marcus Curtius was the hero of a topographical legend about the Roman Forum. During the early days of the Republic, the ground opened in the middle of the Forum, creating an enormous chasm; the Romans tried to fill the gulf by pouring earth into it, but their efforts were in vain. They were forced to consult an oracle, which informed them that the only way for the Romans to close the gulf was for them to throw the most prized of their possessions into it. A young man, Marcus Curtius, realizing that Rome's most prized possessions were its youth and its soldiery, decided to sacrifice himself for the salvation of all: clad in armour, and mounted on his horse, he dedicated himself to the Infernal Gods, and then, before the assembled populace, he rode his horse into the abyss. It closed above him, leaving only a little lake, to which the name Lake Curtius was given, and round its shores a fig-tree, an olive-tree and a vine sprang up. Under the Empire, it was customary to throw coins into the lake as an offering to Curtius, the genius of the place.

According to another tradition, Curtius was a Sabine who, during the war between Tatius and Romulus, was almost swallowed up in the marches near the Comitium and had to abandon his horse. This episode gave Lake Curtius its name. On the subject of the role played by water in this phase of the struggle between the Sabines and the Romans, see Janus.

{E2 DICTIONARY OF CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY}

Table of Sources:
- Livy 7, 6
- Pliny, NH 15, 20, 4
- Suetonius, Aug. 57
- Varro, LL 5, 148
- Val. Max. 5, 6, 2
- Dio Cassius Fragment 30, 1
- Plutarch, Rom. 18
- Dion. Hal. 2, 42ff

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