This people who were at that time in possession of Ardea, were, considering the nature of their country and the age in which they lived, exceptionally wealthy. This circumstance really originated the war, for the Roman king was anxious to repair his own fortune, which had been exhausted by the magnificent scale of his public works and also to conciliate his subjects by a distribution of the spoils of war. His tyranny had already produced disaffection but what moved their special resentment was the way they had been so long kept by the king at manual and even servile labour.
An attempt was made to take Ardea by assault; when that failed recourse was had to a regular investment to starve the enemy out. When troops are stationary, as is the case in a protracted more than in an active campaign, furloughs are easily granted, more so to the men of rank however, than to the common soldiers.
The royal princes sometimes spent their leisure hours in feasting and entertainments, and at a wine party given by Sextus Tarquinius at which Collatinus, the son of Egerius, was present, the conversation happened to turn upon their wives, and each began to speak of his own in terms of extraordinarily high praise.
As the dispute became warm Collatinus said that there was no need of words, it could in a few hours be ascertained how far his Lucretia was superior to all the rest. ‘Why do we not,’ he exclaimed, ‘if we have any youthful vigour about us mount our horses and pay your wives a visit and find out their characters on the spot? What we see of the behaviour, of each on the unexpected arrival of her husband, let that be the surest test.’ They were heated with wine, and all shouted: ‘Good! Come on!’
Setting spur to their horses they galloped off to Rome, where they arrived as darkness was beginning to close in; Thence they proceeded to Collatia, where they found Lucretia very differently employed from the king’s daughters–in–law, whom they had seen passing their time in feasting and luxury with their acquaintances. She was sitting at her wool work in the hall, late at night, with her, maids busy round her.
The palm in this competition of wifely virtue was awarded to Lucretia. She welcomed the arrival of her husband and the Tarquins, while her victorious spouse courteously invited the royal princes to remain as his guests. Sextus Tarquinius, inflamed by the beauty and exemplary purity of Lucretia, formed the vile project of effecting her dishonour. After their youthful frolic they returned for the time to camp.
A few days afterwards Sextus Tarquinius went, unknown to Collatinus, with one companion to Collatia. He was hospitably received by the household, who suspected nothing, and after supper was conducted to the bedroom set apart for guests. When all around seemed safe and everybody fast asleep, he went in the frenzy of his passion with a naked sword to the sleeping Lucretia, and placing his left hand on her breast, said, ‘Silence, Lucretia! I am Sextus Tarquinius, and I have a sword in my hand; if you utter a word, you shall die.’
When the woman, terrified out of her sleep, saw that no help was near, and instant death threatening her, Tarquin began to confess his passion, pleaded, used threats as well as entreaties, and employed every argument likely to influence a female heart. When he saw that she was inflexible and not moved even by the fear of death, he threatened to disgrace her, declaring that he would lay the naked corpse of the slave by her dead body, so that it might be said that she had been slain in foul adultery. By this awful threat, his lust triumphed over her inflexible chastity, and Tarquin went off exulting in having successfully attacked her honour.
Lucretia, overwhelmed with grief at such a frightful outrage, sent a messenger to her father at Rome and to her husband at Ardea, asking them to come to her, each accompanied by one faithful friend; it was necessary to act, and to act promptly; a horrible thing had happened. Spurius Lucretius came with Publius Valerius, the son of Volesus; Collatinus with Lucius Junius Brutus, with whom he happened to be returning to Rome when he was met by his wife’s messenger.
They found Lucretia sitting in her room prostrate with grief. As they entered, she burst into tears, and to her husband's inquiry whether all was well, replied, ‘No! what can be well with a woman when her honour is lost? The marks of a stranger, Collatinus, are in your bed. But it is only the body that has been violated the soul is pure; death shall bear witness to that. But pledge me your solemn word that the adulterer shall not go unpunished. It is Sextus Tarquinius, who, coming as an enemy instead of a guest forced from me last night by brutal violence a pleasure fatal to me, and, if you are men, fatal to him.’ They all successively pledged their word, and tried to console the distracted woman, by turning the guilt from the victim of the outrage to the perpetrator, and urging that it is the mind that sins not the body, and where there has been no consent there is no guilt ‘It is for you,’ she said, ‘to see that he gets his deserts: although I acquit myself of the sin, I do not free myself from the penalty; no unchaste woman shall henceforth live and plead Lucretia’s example.’
She had a knife concealed in her dress which she plunged into her, heart, and fell dying on the floor. Her father and husband raised the death–cry.
(Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, text from the Perseus Digital Library)