"Hostage syndrome": Livius on the Sabine virgins
In the wars of antiquity, many people were abducted, taken away form their loved ones, parents, spouses, to be slaves or wives. This was done by people seeking spoils by becoming warriors operating in armies or gangs. This habit had is roots in the animal world. Similar behaviour can be found among non human primates. The striking thing is that not only the instinct to abduct is deeply rooted in humans, but also the instinct of coping with being abducted. The stories below seek to clarify this.
Livius' Ab Urbe Condita: Rome was only just founded by a gang of
males. Romulus killed his co-leader and brother Remus to become king. Labour force was
acquired by laying the Rome's walls spaciously and adopting liberal asylum criteria for
people not enjoying life among the neighbouring tribes and longing for a fresh start
elsewhere. That group naturally consisted of males, so the question was: how to acquire
Romulus attempted to engage in diplomatic relations with the neighbouring tribes, applying for the right of intermarriage. Those tribes, knowing whom of there own had fled to Rome, said: are not your liberal rules of asylum applied to women also? Why don't you go for that? That would stimulate marriage among equals!
A good joke. For what had Romulus' gang to offer in the framework of intermarriage rights? No women. Asylum seekers fled to Rome from other tribes because they had sunk to deeply in the hierarchy there, down to the level where you are considered not suitable to marry. Those were males. Females rarely led lives bad enough to seriously consider taking the risk of running way.
There are lots of studies on leadership, procreation and violence among non human primates. One of them concerns monkeys in and near an Indian town, where they are considered holy. In town, near the people feeding them, one finds groups with a leader, mothers, babies and youngsters. Sooner or later the adolescent males get trouble with their father and are chased off, in this case, out of town, to lead a hard life in drought with few things to eat. There, they live in gangs at a safe distance from the leading males of procreating groups. Needless to say, there is hardship and hierarchy in the gangs, and every now and then they enter town to test their forces against those enjoying life there.
Sooner or later such a gang of adolescent males acquires the force to win a battle against an adult male head of family in town, and the old boss has to flee. That is a bad day indeed for the females: they will be raped by the gang for a few days. They might avoid being treated that way by fleeing, just like their former husband just did, but curiously enough, they don't!
The raping comes to an end when the gang leader decides to start behaving like the new head and husband, and chases other adult males back out of town.
Now the new leader deems it time to procreate. Babies of the old boss stand in that way, because females are infertile as long as they have babies. So he tries to take them from their mothers and kill them. That results in some weeks of nervous struggle between the females protecting their babies and their new self appointed husband. The females co-operate, but the new leader is far too strong and they loose: young babies lying all over with their little throats bitten through, desperate mothers walking around with their dying little ones.
But once the babies are dead and the females are made pregnant again by their new husband, peace returns and they sit together again in the evening sun cleaning each other of fleas. Even the females still pregnant from the old boss, and giving birth a baby of him are left in peace: the new boss is simply not aware of it, and thinks it is his. They are a sweet family again, living as a relaxed unity. Together they defend themselves against the attacks from the gang of adolescents and young adults, and other intruders in their territory. Life is good.
Human psychologists call this new peace the "hostage syndrome". The natural inclination, found also among human hostages of human "terrorists", to identify with the hostage takers, being the strongest men around. The term "hostage syndrome" obscures the fact that it is fundamental to the nature of primates, human and non human, social mammals generally, and even other social animals. The problem of the "hostage syndrome" in human situations arises when you get "liberated" and thus return in your former system of dominance. That is something rarely happening in nature. No wonder that human instinct has no routines, hence problems, to deal with it.
After having failed to obtain marriage rights, Romulus decides to organise a big party,
invites the neighbour tribe of the Sabines and arrests and abducts all virgins in a well
The Sabines, outraged of course, judged this "...inconsistent with all concepts of loyalty and decency...". Livius: "The abducted girls had just as little hope concerning their fate and were just as indignant as their parents. But Romulus went to them personally and explained that all this was due to the pride of their fathers, who had refused the right to marry to their neighbours. But they, the daughters, would marry and share in the riches of Rome, in its citizenship, and -what is most precious to man- in the children. They were advised to temper their anger and to give their hearts to those whom fate had given their bodies. Often out of indignation later affection had arisen and because of the circumstances these men would be better husbands to them because every one of them would do the utmost not only to be a good husband, but also to make them forget the longing for their parents and their fatherland. And add to that the flattering words of men who apologise for their deed with the excuse of passion and love: that is what best works to weaken the hearts of women".
Thus spoke Romulus, the fresh top monkey of Rome, and the architect of the razzia, to the Sabine (ex-)virgins.
Among non-human primates, normally all woman are for the top male, the only procreating
male. There are some exceptions such as among the matriarchal bonobo's. An example of an
exception more closely related to the human situation is the one where a male non human
primate, say a chimpanzee, can only stay on top of number two with the help of number
three in strength. Then you may find that this number three is allowed to mate and
procreate. But is such a case you should watch the leader when his indispensable ally,
number three, is mating. It seems highly stressful for a male leader to have to allow that
(one may, for instance, see him kicking a piece of wood such as to hurt his foot badly).
This ally structure is the system humans have developed to the basic principle of their
social edifice: in early human societies, the leader keeps for himself only the women he
finds most desirable, and lets his allied sub-top males fight for the rest.
Why were, in early human tribes, more and more sub top males indispensable allies for the leader, thus acquiring the power to extort procreation rights? Human tribes needed to be larger than what we find among non human primates in order to survive against competing tribes. A tribe of 30 will not survive once others learn how to run a tribe of 100. In a tribe of 100, any leader will fall very soon if he appropriates all women, let alone when the tribe size critical for survival grows to thousands as already happened in the sub-tropic river valleys (Nile, Mesopotamia, Indus) even before 5000 BC. Moreover, fertilising all those women is not feasible for one single man, certainly if, as it is with leaders, there are other tasks. Gradual social reform was the result of a Darwinistic process in which those survived as leader who knew best how to create the necessary alliance and "procreation permit" structure. This structure was growing ever more complex.
Back to Livius: the Sabine girls, ex-virgins now, were staying in Rome. Their fathers were determined not to let things that way and organised an attack. But they insufficiently realised what had happened with their daughters. As Romulus had predicted, the hostage syndrome had been in full operation.
When the ranks of Romans and Sabines had formed themselves opposite to one another, the Sabine ex-virgins threw themselves between the lines. "You should not blame each other, because it all happened because of us", they shouted (how could they at their tender age know so well what to say to appease aggressive men!). Flabbergasted, the Sabines and Romans made peace.
All's well that ends well.