The Rape of the Sabine Women is an incident that took place soon after the foundation of the city of Rome, by Romulus and his men. The Roman settlers badly needed women to establish their families in the new city, but despite sincere efforts, they failed to win the hearts of the local Sabines. The Sabines were unwilling to accept the unknown Romans in their society and strongly opposed the idea of accepting a marital relationship with the newcomers. In fact, they were apprehensive about the emergence of a rival community and hence rejected the Roman proposal.
After being failed to reach an amicable settlement with the locals regarding the solution of their problem, the Romans hit upon a mischievous plan. They planned to abduct the Sabine women during the festival of Neptune Equester and accordingly arranged and announced a gala festival to attract people from all the nearby towns. The plan was successful, as the festival was massively attended by many people of the neighboring towns, including many of the Sabines. When everybody was in the festive mood and was enjoying the fun and frolic of the situation, Romulus gave his signal, at which the Romans grabbed the Sabine women and fought off their men. It is said that, during the turmoil, the Romans took the advantage of the situation and raped the Sabine women indiscriminately. However, after the incident, Romulus implored the distressed women to accept their Roman husbands.
Titus Livius, the Roman historian, otherwise known as Livy, claimed that there was no direct sexual assault. He also said that after the incident Romulus talked to the women, each in person, offered them the right to choose their men, assured them of lawful wedlock and grant them all the civil privileges.
The Rape of the Sabine Women was a popular subject during the Renaissance as the symbolic importance of marriage for the continuity of families and cultures. It was an ideal subject in which the artist could demonstrate his skill in depicting the female as well as the male figures, with the added advantage of a sexual theme. Nicolas Poussin produced two major versions of this subject. Many other eminent painters, including Peter Paul Rubens, also painted their versions of the subject. However, Jacques-Louis David, the French painter in the neoclassical style, painted the other side of the story, where the Sabine women intervened to reconcile the warring parties.