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Kings of Rome

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

The very beginnings of Rome and the reign of Romulus are presented in the legend of Romulus and Remus. After Romulus died, the Romans decided to continue his work. The only thing they needed to be happy was a proper leader.

Romulus and Remus on a Roman coin from around the middle of the 3rd century BCE
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

As Florus writes: “Out of great piety, the Romans invited to the throne of their own accord, even though he lived in the Sabin city of Kures” Numa Pompilius (715-672 BCE), respected in the surrounding villages for his piety. The new king brought peace, and this state has since then been celebrated in a special way. King Numa erected the Temple of Janus in Rome, the doors of which were closed in times of peace and opened in times of war.

Numa is also credited with creating the priesthood. He appointed appropriate priests for Jupiter (flamen dialis), Mars (flamen Martialis) and Quirinus (flamen Quirinalis), the so-called Capitoline Triad. In addition, it divided the year into twelve months, and also into auspicious (dies fasti) and unsuccessful (dies nefasti) days thus determining the days on which the office was to be held (auspicious days only). According to some historians, he also brought the priestesses of Vesta to the eternal city.

It is worth recalling the legend related to the reign of Numa, who wanted to create the college of Salia. For a period of time, Rome was struck by daily lightning strikes. King Numa, wishing to save his people from the wrath of Jupiter, decided to ask him to stop this dangerous activity. Two Roman deities came to his aid: Pikus and Faunus. Caught insidiously, they summoned Jupiter with a secret spell. Jupiter demanded a human sacrifice. Numa’s steadfastness appeased the demands of the Most High God. The next day, Jupiter sent a shield (ancilae) to save Rome from misfortunes. Numa, ordered to produce twelve more and hide them in the city so that they would not be stolen.

Romulus after defeating Acron, carries great loot to the temple of Jupiter. Painting: Jean Ingres.

The next ruler of Rome, Tullus Hostilius (672-642 BCE), reverted to Romulus’ expansionist politics. One of the first victims was Alba Longa. The fate of the city was decided in an unusual way for us. This is what Livy writes:

The signal was given, and with drawn steel, like advancing battle-lines, the six young men rushed to the charge, breathing the courage of great armies. Neither side thought of its own danger, but of the nation’s sovereignty or servitude, and how from that day forward their country must experience the fortune they should themselves create. The instant they encountered, there was a clash of shields and a flash of glittering blades, while a deep shudder ran through the onlookers, who, as long as neither side had the advantage, remained powerless to speak or breathe. Then, in the hand-to-hand fight which followed, wherein were soon exhibited to men’s eyes not only struggling bodies and the play of the sword and shield, but also bloody wounds, two of the Romans fell, fatally wounded, one upon the other, while all three of the Albans were wounded. At the fall of the Romans a shout of joy burst from the Alban army, while the Roman levies now bade farewell to all their hopes; but not to their anxiety, for they were horror-stricken at the plight of the single warrior whom the three Curiatii had surrounded. He happened to have got no hurt, and though no match for his enemies together, was ready to fight them one at a time. So, to divide their attack, he fled, thinking that each of them would pursue him2 with what speed his wounds permitted. He had already run some little distance from the spot where they had fought, when, looking back, he saw that they were following at wide intervals and that one of them had nearly overtaken him. Facing about, he ran swiftly up to his man, and while the Alban host were calling out to the Curiatii to help their brother, Horatius had already slain him, and was hastening, flushed with victory, to meet his second antagonist. Then with a cheer, such as is often drawn from partisans by a sudden turn in a contest, the Romans encouraged their champion, and he pressed on to end the battle. And so, before the third Curiatius could come up — and he was not far off — Horatius dispatched the second. They were now on even terns, one soldier surviving on each side, but in hope and vigour they were far from equal. The one, unscathed and elated by his double victory, was eager for a third encounter. The other dragged himself along, faint from his wound and exhausted with running; he thought how his brothers had been slaughtered before him, and was a beaten man when he faced his triumphant foe. What followed was no combat. The Roman cried exultantly, “Two victims I have given to the shades of my brothers: the third I will offer up to the cause of this war, that Roman may rule Alban”.

Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, I.25

The defeated Albanian king Metius was to assist the Romans in the fight against the inhabitants of the city of Veii as a punishment, but as a result of failure to comply with the terms of the contract, the city of Alba ceased to exist, and the inhabitants were relocated to Rome. Over the following years, Tullus subjugated a number of other settlements. During his reign, Tullus built a senate meeting place, known as the Hostilius Curia. The government was interrupted by the intervention of the gods, who sent a plague on the city, which fell victim to Tullus himself.

Romulus and Remus receive shelter from the shepherd, Faustulus, Pietro da Cortona.

After the death of Tullus, the new ruler of Rome became the grandson of Numa PompiliusAnkus Marcius (642-616 BCE). His reign was an attempt to find a golden mean between religion and war. While reviving the religious customs of his grandfather’s reign, he did not forget about military activities. Rome, by expanding its lands to the west, led to the fact that the city met the sea, for which the port city of Ostia was founded. In addition, during the reign of Ancus, Rome was enriched with the first bridge over the Tiber – Pons sublicius.

During the reign of Martius, a certain Lukumon from the Etruscan city of Tarkvin, who took the name of Tarquinius, came to Rome. Soon the newcomer became a close associate of Ancus, who appointed him the guardian of his sons. After the death of Ancus, Tarquinius managed to convince the Romans that he was entrusted with royal dignity. It is listed in historiography as Tarquinius Priscus (616-578 BCE). After winning the first war with the Latins, Tarquinius organized games that overshadowed everything that the Romans could admire with their splendour. During the Games, fighters were shown, especially for this occasion, brought from Etruria. The performances were graced by horse-drawn carriages.

During the reign of Tarquinius the Old, the construction of a circus began, which in the future was called Circus Maximus. In addition, the king drained the Forum, on which the Forum Romanum was later erected. He commemorated the victory with the Sabines and the conquest of the city of Dinner by vowing to erect the temple of the Greatest Jupiter on the Capitol.

Tarquinius was succeeded by Servius Tullius (578-534 BCE). This is how Florus describes his reign:

Servius Tullius next entered upon the government of the city, nor was the obscurity of his birth (for his mother was a slave) any hindrance to his advancement. For Tanaquil, the wife of Tarquinius, had trained his extraordinary abilities by a liberal education, and had foretold his future distinction from a flame which was seen playing round his head. And so, through the efforts made by the queen when Tarquinius was on his death-bed, he was put in the king’s place on the pretence of a temporary measure, and filled the position, thus obtained by craft, with so much diligence that he seemed to have acquired it by right. It was by him that the Roman people were entered on a census-roll and arranged in classes, being distributed into divisions and corporations, and by the king’s extraordinary skill the State was so organized that all distinctions of inheritance, dignity, age, employment and office were committed to registers, and thus a great State was ruled with the exactitude of a small household.

Florus, Epitome of Roman History, I.6

The king’s reign was interrupted by a coup by Tarquinius Superbus (534-509 BCE), son or grandson of Tarquinius the Elder, and son-in-law Servius, through marriage with his daughter – Tulia. Florus writes like this:

The last of all the kings was that Tarquinius to whom the name of Superbus was given on account of his character. He preferred to seize rather than to wait for the kingdom of his grandfather which was held by Servius, and, having sent assassins to murder him, administered the power thus won by crime no more righteously than he had acquired it. His wife Tullia was of like character, and, driving in her chariot to hail her husband as king, forced her affrighted horses over the bloodstained corpse of her father. Tarquinius himself struck at the senate with executions, at the plebs by scourging them, at all by his pride, which good men think more oppressive than cruelty.

Florus, Epitome of Roman History, I.7

The reign of Tarquinius was long remembered by the Romans. Tarquinius Priscus was a strict man in his approach to citizens. City citizens were constantly forced to perform various types of construction works.

There is one famous event related to the reign of Tarquinius. Namely, one day an old woman appeared in Rome. She offered the king to buy 9 scrolls but did not reveal their content. The king decided that the price was too high and therefore refused to make the deal. The woman burned three scrolls and asked for the same price for the others. The king also refused this time, which the old woman said by getting rid of the next three books and another offer to buy the said goods for the same price. This time the king agreed and thus Rome became the owner of the most important collections in Roman history. It is worth adding that this old lady was the prophetess Cumaean Sibyl, while the mentioned writings, henceforth called Sibylian books, were to decide on key matters for Rome.

Intervention of the Sabine women, Jacques-Louis David. According to legend, there were a chronic shortage of women in Rome. To solve the growing problem, Romulus organized a wonderful feast and games to which the Sabines – a tribe from central Italy, were invited, along with their wives. At that time their daughters were kidnapped from their homes to be forced to marry the Romans. After returning home, the Sabines discovered the kidnapping and decided to arm their daughters. However, the preparations for the war with Rome took too long and when the invasion finally came, the kidnapped daughters already had children and forced the parties to conclude peace and an alliance themselves. The Sabines united with the Romans to form one state, and Romulus and the Sabine king, Titus Tatius, ruled together.

There is also an incident in the king’s house where a serpent crawled out of the pillar. In order to determine the meaning of this sign, the sons of the king were sent to the Delphic oracle along with their cousin Junius Julius Brutus. After settling the father’s affairs, the sons decided to ask the Delphic oracle one more question, who would be the heir to the throne. The answer was: “He who will kiss his mother first”, but the meaning of these words was understood only by Brutus, who, as if stumbling over a stone, fell down kissing his mother – Earth.

The sons’ return coincided with Tarquinius’s preparations for the next war. The attempt to quickly subjugate the capital of the Rutul family ended in failure. The invaders were forced into a siege, during which an incident took place that decided about the death of the monarchical system. One of the princes, Sextus Tarquinius, fell in love with the wife of his commander, Collatinus – Lucretia. One night he decided to visit her, but when she, reluctant to betray her husband, resisted the attacker, Sextus raped the woman. After Sextus departed, Lucretia called her husband. Together with Kollatyn, Brutus also arrived, to whom Lucretia revealed the crime of Sextus, and when she was sworn to avenge her shame, she committed suicide. Brutus called on all citizens to overthrow the monarchy. At the forum at the Capitol, he gave a speech in which he enumerated all the crimes of the Tarquinius. The enthusiastic crowd immediately dethroned Tarquinius and banished him from the city. Then Brutus moved to Ardea, where he managed to recruit soldiers. The father and his sons took refuge in the city of Caere in Etruria. The culprit of all the confusion, Sextus, fled to the city of Gabie, where he was killed.

In this way, the Roman people overthrew the monarchy and established a republic.

  • Jaczynowska Maria, Historia starożytnego Rzymu, Warszawa 1984
  • Tytus Liwiusz, Dzieje od założenia miasta Rzymu

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