A Roman heroine, eponym of the Capitol (Tarpeius Mons) or, more particularly, of the Tarpeian rock, from which certain criminals were thrown. The most usual form of the legend is as follows: she was the daughter of Spurius Tarpeius, who had been put in charge of the Capitol by Romulous during the war which resulted from the abduction of the Sabine women; while the Sabine king, Tatius, was encamped with his army at the foot of the Capitol (on the site of the future Comitium) Tarpeia glimpsed the hero and fell in love with him. Thanks to the complicity of a servant (or of her nurse), she promised to turn the citadel over to him on the condition that he agreed to marry her. Tatius accepted this offer and Tarpeia let him and his soldiers into the Capitol. But instead of marrying the young girl Tatius had her crushed to death beneath the shields of his men. Thus Tarpeia perished without receiving the reward for her treachery. Another version maintained that she had demanded from Tatius in payment 'what he and his soldiers were wearing on their left arms', in other words, rich gold jewellery, but Tatius pretended that he understood her to be referring to their shields and had her killed in the manner described. It was also said that the Sabines massacred the young girl so that it would not seem as though they owed their success to treason.

Roman mythographers have also tried to prove Tarpeia innocent and a local cult was devoted to her on the Capitol. There was, for example, the story that she was Tatius' daughter and had been abducted by Romulous. Her treason would then be revenge against her abductor. It is then not clear why the Sabines put her to death, although another version explained her punishment by her refusal to reveal to Tatius what Romulous' battle plans were. It was also said that Tarpeia had planned to deliver the Sabines into the hands of the Romans. She had pretended to betray Romulous and had asked in return for her services from what the Sabines were wearing on their left arms. She had thus meant their shields and hoped that once the Sabines had entered the citadel, deprived of their main protection, they would be easily killed by the Romans. Unfortunately the emissary she was using for the negotiations betrayed her. Tatius learnt of the danger in time and when Tarpeia asked for his and his soldiers' shields, he had her crushed to death beneath them. One version of the legend situates it at the time of the Gallic invasion.


Table of Sources:
- Plutarch, Romulous 17; Parall. 15, 309c
- Livy 1, 11, 7ff.
- Dion. Hal. Ant. Rom. 2, 38ff.
- Serv. on Virgil, Aen 8, 348
- Ovid, Met. 14, 777; Fasti 1, 261
- Prop. 4, 4
- Varro, De Ling. Lat. 5, 41