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Servius Tullius

(? - 534 BCE)

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Servius Tullius

Servius Tullius was the sixth king of Rome according to Roman tradition. He was the successor of Tarquinius the Elder and ruled from 578-534 BCE. He was of Etruscan origins, like his predecessor. His daughter Tullia the Elder was the wife of Tarquinius the Proud, the last king of Rome.

Divine Origin

Most Roman sources say that Servius’ mother was Ocrisia, a young nobleman who was brought to Rome after conquering the Corniculum. Her husband died defending the city. The woman came to Rome either a virgin or pregnant. She ended up at queen Tanaquil’s court as a slave; however, due to her good origins, she was treated with respect. According to one account, she would eventually become the wife of a well-to-do client of Tarquinius the Elder; according to the second legend, it was supposed to be vestal. During her ministry, unexpectedly, one of the deities, in the form of only a member, had intercourse with her.  Tanakwila took it as a divine sign that belonged either to the Lara or to the Vulcan itself. This legend allowed Servius to create an aura of divinity around him, even though both Ocrisia and Tanakwila left the event a secret.

Both Roman and Greek sources say that Servius Tullius came from the slave state. However, the fact that he was brought up as a subject of the royal family meant that he officially belonged to a wide range of families. Only his marriage to the daughter of Tarquinius the Old allowed him to reach the high ranks of politics. As the sources indicate, there was a fiery glow around the head of the sleeping Tarquinius, suggesting his future power.

Coming to power

The assassination of Tarquinius in 578 BCE opened the way to the throne for Servilius. The sons of Ancus Marcus, envious of power, hired two murderers who, according to them, killed the illegal ruler, Tarquinius the Elder. Tanakwila, on the news of the attack, ordered the palace to be closed and publicly announced that Servius Tullius became regent. When, in the meantime, the king finally died, as a result of his injuries, the senate proclaimed Servius the new king, and the sons of Ancus Martius fled to the city of Lazio – Suessa Pometia. As Titus Livius points out, this was the first time that the people of Rome had no say in the election of a new ruler.

Servius Tullius as king waged victorious wars with Wejami and Etruscans, which confirmed his rule. During his reign, he was to make three triumphs over the Etruscans (November 25, 571 BCE; May 25, 567 BCE; the third is unknown).

During his reign, Servius Tullius started building a temple Diana on Aventine Hill, which was to be a symbol of the formation of the Latin Union. It is also believed that he started the celebration of Compitalia an agricultural festival during which every farmer built a small chapel with an altar in the countryside on the border of their fields.

Reform of Servius Tulius

During the reign of Servius Tullius there was a significant military and social reform that was so comprehensive that it touched practically every sphere of life in Rome at that time.

(I) One of the changes was the creation of new districts (tribus), which arose on a territorial basis. The change was to facilitate military hauls and tax collection. Servius divided the territory of the state into urban districts: Suburana, Palatina, Esquiline, Collina and 17 rural districts (including ager Romanus), named after the most important families living there. With the conquests, the number of districts increased. Between 241-240 BCE Rome owned 31 tribus suburban areas. From then on, new citizens who lived outside of the suburbs were included in the already existing tribus.

Citizens were assigned to the appropriate tribus according to their place of residence. In this way, Rome could count not only on “permanent resources”, but also on influential settlers who were looking for new prospects in the developing metropolis. Moreover, Servius was credited with a change in law saying that the freed slave would automatically receive Roman citizenship.

With the creation of tribus Servius Tullius ordered the town to be secured. For this purpose, a new embankment, a moat and walls were built, which were named after the Servian family. There are four city districts inside these fortifications.

(II) The second change introduced by Servius Tullius was the property census (Servius Tullius was the first censor) and the estimation of the population size. Before the introduction of the “Servian reforms “, legislation and the judiciary lay on the side of the curia commissions (comitia curiata), which were made up of 30 curiae. The curia was the oldest unit of citizen division based on family unions. Roman sources indicate that the curia consisted of 10 aristocratic families (gentes). A total of about 200 families were distinguished, of which one representative of each family sat in the Senate. The Senate, as an institution, was an advisory body to the king that drafted the laws and represented the Roman People (populus Romanus). In fact, the senators only discussed and gave their opinion on the political situation, and their decisions had to be officially approved by the curia commission, which were dominated by patricians.

Thanks to Servius Tullius, the curial commissions were replaced by the centurial commissions, which henceforth had a legislative role. Every 5 years on the Field of Mars, a census was carried out – then Roman citizens determined their social position, origin, property and income. In this way, each citizen (adult male) was assigned to the appropriate class and centuria, and thus was subject to military service and to pay tax to the state.

The introduction of the census guaranteed the involvement of the greater part of the society in the political life of Rome, reducing the power of the aristocracy and increasing the size of the army. Roman society was divided into 5 classes according to status, wealth (counted in old aces1) and age. Each class was divided into smaller groups called centuriae, which consisted of 100 men (hence the Latin name centum= 100). In practice, however, this number varied. Moreover, the centuries were divided into seniores (men aged 46-60) who could serve as law and order in the city; and the iuniores (men 17-45 years old) who served at the front.

According to Livy, class I consisted of 80 centuries (40 seniores and 40 iuniores); II and III of 20 centuries (10 seniores and 10 iuniores); IV of 40 centuries and V – 30 centuries.



1st class

Citizens with wealth over 100,000 aces. Their weapons were: helmet, round shield (clipeus), greaves, armour, spear (hasta ) and sword. The strength was 80 centuriae.

2nd class

Citizens with wealth between 75,000 and 100,000 aces. Their weapons were: a helmet, an oblong shield, greaves, a spear (hasta) and a sword. The strength was 20 centuriae.

3rd class

Citizens with a wealth of 50,000 aces or more. Their weapons were: a helmet, a longitudinal shield, greaves,
hasta) and a sword. The strength was 20 centuriae.

4th class

Citizens with assets up to 25,000 aces. They were armed with a spear (hasta) and a javelin.

5th class

Citizens with assets up to 11,000 aces. Their weapons were: slingshots and throwing stones.

The described division was co-created by the centurial commission (comitia centuriata), the most important assembly of the Roman people from that moment. They gathered outside of pomerium, at the Field of Mars, where military exercises were held. This proves that the assembly was highly military in nature. The commission elected the highest officials (consul, praetor and censor), who also owned an imperium, and decided on war or peace. As far as the judiciary is concerned, they were a court of appeal for more important cases. In practice, voting was started by the better armed, ie wealthier, citizens who were the first to vote at the assembly. Despite the fact that there were fewer of them, they usually made decisions with more voting units (98 centuriae).

It is worth adding that there was also a layer of proletaria which had a census lower than class 5 and was unable to stand on the battlefield.

Adult men in one of the five classes were required to stand on the battlefield and complete military service. In total, there were 193 centuries in Rome, so on “paper”, the Roman state was able to raise an army of 19,300 adult men.


Servius Tullius had two daughters: Tullia the Younger and the Older. They both married the sons (or grandsons) of Tarquinius the Elder – Tullia the Younger, Arruns Tarquinius; and Tullia the Elder, Lucius Tarquinius, later the last king of Rome. Lucius believed that by virtue of his origin he deserved the throne. According to the records, the power-hungry Tullia directly urged her husband to overthrow and even kill her father. Lucius, relying on bribing or owed his position to Tarquinius the Old Senators, began to incite the Romans against the ruler.

One day he entered the Senate, sat on the royal throne and ordered the Senate to be convened. He made a speech against his father-in-law in which he accused him of being of slave origin; taking office unlawfully without the consent of the Roman people; for a woman to be throne; supporting the poor at the expense of the rich; and institutionalizing census, which was a threat to the wealth of the powerful.

Servius Tullius, trying to oppose the usurper, was knocked down the stairs by Lucius, and his men killed the king in front of the building. Soon after, the daughter of Servius Tullius rode a chariot over her father’s body. Moreover, the son-in-law forbade the previous king to arrange the burial, which soon resulted in him being nicknamed Superbus, meaning “Proud”.

The events in question took place around 535 BCE. Servius Tullius was the last king who was characterized by sound rule and kindness. This is how Titus Livius describes him:

Servius Tullius reigned forty-four years, and even a wise and good successor would have found it difficult to fill the throne as he had done. The glory of his reign was all the greater because with him perished all just and lawful kingship in Rome. Gentle and moderate as his sway had been, he had nevertheless, according to some authorities, formed the intention of laying it down, because it was vested in a single person, but this purpose of giving freedom to the State was cut short by that domestic crime.

Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, I.48

Unlike the gentle and just former king, Lucius was a ruthless tyrant. This was to lead to his overthrow and the creation of the Roman Republic in the future.

  1. There is a universally agreed approach by historians that locates the reform in question much later. In the 6th century BCE, royal Rome was based on a natural economy, and the monetary economy did not take over until the beginning of the 4th century BCE.
  • Historia Powszechna t. 4. Konsolidacja hellenizmu. Początki Rzymu i przemiany świata klasycznego, kons. prof. dr hab. E. Papuci-Władyka, prof. dr hab. J. Ostrowski
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Kronika starożytnego Rzymu, Warszawa 1994
  • Krawczuk Aleksander (red.), Wielka Historia Świata, tom 3
  • Titus Livy, Ab urbe condita
  • Ziółkowski Adam, Historia Rzymu, Poznań 2008

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