The great Roman historian Livy describes a radical attempt at conflict resolution in his version of the story of the Horatii. The warring cities of Rome and Alba agree to settle their differences by pitting two sets of triplets against each other in a battle to the death. Two of the Roman champions, the Horatii, are killed, but the remaining brother wins the day for his city. In a further twist, he then goes on to kill his sister when he finds her grieving for one of the dead Alban brothers, to whom she was betrothed. Although guilty of a dreadful crime, by the will of the people the murderer is spared because of his services to the state. In the version of the story dramatized by the seventeenth-century French playwright Pierre Corneille, it is rather the Roman king who saves the surviving Horatius by deeming that his heroism places him above the law. This article considers whether the interests of the state can offset private crimes, as appears to be the case in the versions of the story told by both Livy and Corneille; and it concludes by referring to Livy's continuation of the story, which shows the resolution of the conflict to be short-lived.

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