The Revolt Against King Tarquin

king tarquin

In 510 BC Rome witnessed a revolt against the rule of the Etruscan kings.

Sextus, the son of king Tarquinius Superbus raped the wife of a nobleman, Tarquinius Collatinus. King Tarquinius’ rule was already deeply unpopular with the people. This rape was too great an offence to be tolerated by the Roman nobles. Lead by Lucius Iunius Brutus, they rose in revolt against the king.

king tarquin

King Tarquinius Superbus

Brutus was the nephew of King Tarquin by marriage. Related he may have been to the king, but he had no reason to love him. Brutus was the son of Marcus, whose substantial wealth had been illegaly seized by King Tarquin at his death. Not only had Tarquin abused his power to steal Brutus’ inheritence. Brutus’ older brother had been murdered as part of the plot. Believed somewhat of a harmless fool, he had been ridiculed by Tarquin by being made second in command (Tribunus Celerum). There seems little doubt that Brutus’ elevation to this position was not meant as a promotion, but a humiliation. His inheritence stole and his brother murdered, Brutus was being mocked by a tyrant.

Now Lucius Iunius Brutus took revenge and led the city’s nobility in revolt.

Prince Sextus fled to Gabii but was killed. Meanwhile the King with his family escaped to Caere. His palace was demolished. For large image click on picture

The rebellion against Tarquinius failed to achieve final independence for Rome, but it should be the birth of the Roman republic. It was after this revolt, that the senate handed power to two consuls, although at first they were called praetors (a title which later should come to be the name of a different office of the republic). These consuls each held power for one year, in which they ruled much like joint kings of Rome.

What also needs to be kept in mind is that this rebellion was indeed a revolt by the aristocracy of Rome. Rome was never a democracy as we would understand it today, nor as the Greeks understood it. In the early days of the Roman republic all power would reside in the hands of the Roman aristocracy, the so-called patricians ( patricii).

The first ever two elected leaders of Rome were Brutus and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus. But the people soon turned against Brutus’ colleague who was a Tarquin and hence directly related to the despised king. It wasn’t long before he left for exile, being replaced by one Publius Valerius Publicola. Soon after a substantial plot was discovered, the aim of which was to place King Tarquin back on his throne. The conspirators were sentenced to death. Among them were Brutus’ own two sons.

It is no surprise that after his ridicule, the theft of his inheritence, his brother’s murder and the execution of his sons Brutus was filled with hatred toward King Tarquin.

Aided by the city of Veii, King Tarquinius in 509 BC sought to win back his city in battle, but failed. The battle saw the death Brutus, the founder of the Republic. With Brutus dead, it fell to his co-consul Publius Valerius Publicola to lead the Romans to victory. It was therefore he, who was the first ever Roman commander to lead his troops in triumph through Rome.

Lars Porsenna

But king Tarquinius, though defeated, was not yet dead. And so he called upon the help of the fellow Etruscan king of Clusium, Lars Porsenna. Porsenna duly besieged Rome. Legend tells us of the one-eyed hero Horatius Cocles fending off the Etruscan hordes at the Sublician bridge over the Tiber which he asked to be destroyed behind him as he fought.

Other legend tells of Porsenna eventually calling off the siege. A Roman hero, Mucius Scaevola, terrified Porsenna with a demonstration of how determined the Romans were to defeat him, by holding his hand over a naked flame and not removing it until it had burned away.

Consul Publius Valerius Publicola thereafter sought to win over Porsenna arguing it was for him to judge if Tarquin had not been a terrible tyrant whom the Romans were right to depose. Porsenna should decide if Tarquin or the Romans should rule Rome. Tarquin angrily refused the suggestion that Porsenna should be a judge over him. Offended, Porsenna lifted the siege and left. So much to legend.

In reality, the opposite seems to have been the case. Porsenna captured Rome. He didn’t place Tarquinius back on the throne, which seems to indicate that he instead planned on ruling the city himself. But Rome, though occupied, must have remained defiant. In an attempt to quell any future revolts Porsenna banned anyone from owning iron weapons.

But this tyranny wasn’t to last. Under Roman encouragement other cities in Latium revolted against Etruscan domination. Finally, in 506 BC things came to a head. The allied Latin forces, led by Aristhodemus, met at Aricia with an army which Porsenna had sent against them under the command of his son Arruns.The Latins won the battle. This was a decisive blow against the Etruscans and now, at last, Rome had won its independence.

War with the Sabines

Consul Publius Valerius was now at the height of his powers. It was at this point people began calling him ‘Publicola’ (‘people’s friend’). A war with the Sabines granted him the opportunity to accompany his brother, who had been voted consul after his own term was up, in leading the army to war. The brothers fought a succesful campaign, winning several victories (505 BC). More so, Publicola managed to befriend some of the Sabine nobility. One of their foremost leaders in fact decided to become Roman, bringing with him his entire tribe comprising five thousand warriors. This leader was Attius Clausus. He was granted patrician rank, land beyond the river Anio and adopted the name Appius Claudius Sabinus. He was the original ancestor of the Claudius clan. Publius Valerius Publicola was not finished yet. The Sabines launched another attack and And Publicola was at hand to reorganise the campaign. A crushing blow to the Sabines was finally delivered at their capital Cures by the commander Spurius Cassius (504 BC). The Sabines sued for peace.¬†Soon later Publicola died. The people of Rome granted him a state funeral within the city walls.

 

War with the Latin League

Rome was evidently the largest city within Latium. And the confidence it gained from this knowledge made it lay claim to speak on behalf of Latium itself. And so in its treaty with Carthage (510 BC) the Roman republic claimed control over considerable parts of the countryside around it.

Though such claims the Latin League (the alliance of Latin cities) would not recognize. And so a war arose about the very matter. Rome, having won independence from the Etruscans already faced its next crisis. The very Latin force which had defeated the Porsenna’s army at Aricia now was used against Rome.

On the other hand, the man leading the Latin league against the Romans was Octavius Mamilius, the son-in-law of King Tarquin.

There may therefore have been other reasons than merely the question of supremacy within the league. In 496 BC the Roman forces met those of the Latin League at Lake Regillus. (Legend has it that the divine twins Castor and Pollux, the Gemini, appeared to senator Domitius before this battle, foretelling the Roman victory.)

Very tellingly King Tarquin was present at the battle, fighting the side of the Latin League.

The leader of the Latins, Octavius Mamilius, was killed in battle. King Tarquin was wounded. Rome claimed victory. But if this was really so, is unclear. The battle may well have been an indecisive draw. In either case, Rome’s ability to withstand the combined might of Latium, which had earlier defeated the Etruscans, must have been an astonishing fete of military prowess.

In about 493 BC a treaty between Rome and the Latin League was signed (the foedus Cassianum). This might have been due to the Latin League admitting to Roman superiority on the battle field at Lake Regillus. But more likely it was because the Latins sought a powerful ally against the Italian hill tribes who were harassing them. Either way, the war with the Latin League was over. The Roman republic now firmly established, King Tarquin retired to exile in Tusculum, not to be heard of again.

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