The Tarpeian Rock is a steep cliff about fifty feet high which is still to be seen in Rome, from which the worst of state criminals were sometimes thrown. They were taken up to the top by a stair, and were then hurled from the summit to die miserably in agony after falling upon the rocks below.
The Tarpeian Rock received its name from the ancient story of Tarpeia. The tale is, that Tarpeia was a Roman girl, who lived at a time in the earliest periods of the Roman history, when the city was besieged by an army from are of the neighboring nations. Besides their shields, the story is that the soldiers had golden bracelets upon their arms. They wished Tarpeia to open the gates and let them in. She promised to do so if they would give her their bracelets; but, as she did not know the name of the shining ornaments, the language she used to designate them was, “Those things you have upon your arms.” The soldiers acceded to her terms; she opened the gates, and they, instead of giving her the bracelets, threw their shields upon her as they passed, until the poor girl was crushed down with them and destroyed. This was near the Tarpeian Rock, which afterward took her name.
The rock is now found to have a large number of subterranean passages which are probably remains of ancient quarries. Some of these galleries are now walled up but a few remain open. The people who live around the spot believe that Tarpeia herself sits, far in the interior of these caverns covered with gold and jewels. And whoever attempts to find her is fated to lose his way, and he never returns.