The Seven Legendary Kings of Rome
Reign of Romulus
Romulus (c. 771 BC–c. 717 BC) and Remus (c. 771 BC–c. 753 BC) Romulus was not only Rome”s first king but also the city”s founder. In 753 B.C., Romulus began building the city upon the Palatine Hill. After founding Rome, he invited criminals, runaway slaves, exiles, and other undesirables by granting them asylum. In this manner, Romulus populated five of the seven hills of Rome .To provide his citizens with wives, Romulus invited the neighboring Sabine tribe to a festival where he abducted the Sabine women and brought them back to Rome (remembered as The Rape of the Sabine Women). After the ensuing war with the Sabines, Romulus brought the Sabines and Romans under the diarchy of himself and Titus Tatius. Romulus divided the people of Rome between the able bodied men and those unfit for combat. The fighting men became the Roman legions consisting of 6,000 infantry and 600 cavalry. The rest became the people of Rome and out of these people, Romulus selected 100 of the most noble men to serve as senators in an advisory council for the king, the Roman Senate. These men he called patres, and their descendants became the republican nobles and elite, the patricians. With the union between the Romans and Sabines, Romulus added another 100 members to the Senate of Sabine birth. Under Romulus, the augurs became an official part of the Roman religion and the Comitia Curiata was instituted. To form the basis of the Comitia Curiata, Romulus divided the people of Rome into three tribes: one for Romans (ramnes), a second for Sabines (tities), and a third for all others (luceres). Each tribe elected ten representatives, known as curiae, to form a single voting body. Romulus would convene the Curiate and lay proposals from either himself or the Senate before the Curiate for ratification. All proposals passed before the Comitia Curiata were either unanimously supported or unanimously defeated as the majority of curiate voting was viewed as the opinion of the entire Curiate. After 38 years as king of Rome, Romulus had fought in several successful wars, expanding the control of Rome over all of Latium and many of the surrounding areas. Romulus would be remembered as early Rome”s greatest conqueror and as one of the men with the most pietas in Roman history. After his death at the age of 54, Romulus was deified as the war god Quirinus and served not only as one of the three major gods of Rome but also as the deified likeness of the city of Rome.
Reign of Numa Pompilius
Numa Pompilius (753-673 BC; king of Rome, 717-673 BC), according to legend, was the second king of Rome, succeeding Romulus. After Romulus died, Romans in the city elected a Sabine man to be king, so as to make him loyal to both tribes in Rome. In 717 BC, shortly after the death of Romulus, Numa was offered the kingship of Rome. Though at first he refused, his father and kinsmen persuaded him to accept. Numa was later celebrated for his natural wisdom and piety; legend says the nymph Egeria taught him to be a wise legislator. Wishing to show his favour, the god Jupiter caused a shield to fall from the sky on the Palatine Hill, which had letters of prophecy written on it, and in which the fate of Rome as a city was tied up. Recognizing the importance of this sacred shield, King Numa had eleven matching shields made. These shields were the ancilia, the sacred shields of Jupiter, which were carried each year in a procession by the Salii priests. Numa was credited with dividing the immediate territory of Rome into pagi and establishing the traditional occupational guilds of Rome:
“So, distinguishing the whole people by the several arts and trades, he formed the companies of musicians, goldsmiths, carpenters, dyers, shoemakers, skinners, braziers, and potters; and all other handicraftsmen he composed and reduced into a single company, appointing every one their proper courts, councils, and religious observances.” (Plutarch)
Numa also instituted the Vestal Virgins. Plutarch, in like manner, tells of the early religion of the Romans, that it was imageless and spiritual. He says Numa “forbade the Romans to represent the deity in the form either of man or of beast. Nor was there among them formerly any image or statue of the Divine Being; during the first one hundred and seventy years they built temples, indeed, and other sacred domes, but placed in them no figure of any kind; persuaded that it is impious to represent things Divine by what is perishable, and that we can have no conception of God but by the understanding”. Numa Pompilius died in 673 BC of old age. He was succeeded by Tullus Hostilius. His history is considered legend because of a number of inconsistencies in the data historically recorded about him. The most famous was that he was a friend of Pythagoras, who is traditionally thought to have died around 500 BC. There are many related to Pompilius, including Julia Pompilius.
Reign of Tullus Hostilius
Tullus Hostilius (673 BC – 641 BC) was the third of the legendary Kings of Rome. He succeeded Numa Pompilius, and was succeeded by Ancus Marcius. His successful wars with Alba Longa, Fidenae and Veii shadow forth the earlier conquests of Latin territory and the first extension of the Roman territory beyond the walls of Rome. It was during his reign that the combat between the Horatii and Curiatii, the representatives of Rome and Alba Longa, took place. He is said to have been struck dead by lightning as the punishment of his pride. Son of Hostilius, Tullus Hostilius was chosen by the senators because he was a Roman and because his grandfather Hostius Hostilius had fought with Romulus against the Sabines, where he died, who later married his grandmother Hersilia, by whom he had Prima and Aollius or Avilius. After the death of Numa Pompilius the spirit of peace seemed to weaken. Friendly feelings between the Romans and the countrymen of Alba Longa in the hills outside of Rome gave way to quarreling because people began to raid each other’s fields for crops and animals. When the ruler of the Albans complained to Tullus Hostilius, he rebuked them with the argument that they had initiated the hostilities, not the Romans. The Alban and Roman armies prepared to fight. On the proposal of the Alban dictator, Mettius Fufetius, the two sides agreed that the dispute would be resolved by combat between two sets of triplet brothers, with the losing side submitting to rule by the victorious one. The Roman Horatii brothers defeated the Alban Curiatii in a battle fought with sword and shield, a single Horatius alone surviving. The Albans thus became subjects of the Roman state. When they refused to help Rome in a battle, Hostilius had the dictator of Alba, Mettius Fufetius, torn in two by chariots running in opposite directions. He had Alba Longa destroyed and gave the Albans the Caelian Hill to live on. Legend has it that Tullus was so busy with one war after another that he neglected any service to the gods. A dreadful plague came upon the Romans. Even Tullus was stricken with it. He determined to practice secret sacrifices to Jupiter to ask for his favour and help. However, he did not complete them properly and the god struck him down with a thunderbolt for his wrongful practice of religion. This was seen as an omen to the Romans that they had better choose a new king who would follow the peaceful example of Numa Pompilius. They chose Ancus Marcius, the grandson of Numa Pompilius.
Reign of Ancus Marcius
Ancus Marcius ( 640 BC – 616 BC) was the fourth of the Kings of Rome, possibly a legendary figure. Like Numa, his reputed maternal grandfather (he was the son of Marcius II and wife Pompilia), he was a friend of peace and religion, but was obliged to make war to defend his territories. He conquered the Latins, and a number of them he settled on the Aventine Hill formed the origin of the Plebeians. He fortified the Janiculum, threw a wooden bridge across the Tiber, the Pons Sublicius, founded the port of Ostia, established salt-works and built a prison which was founded in 625 B.C. and was used to hold people until they decided what to do with them. Before this time, a popular punishment was to exile people. Ancus Marcius is in many ways merely a duplicate of Numa, as is it could deduced by his second name, Numa Marcius – the confidant and pontifex of Numa, thus being none other than Numa Pompilius himself, represented as a priest. The identification with Ancus is shown by the legend which makes the latter a bridge-builder (pontifex), the constructor of the first wooden bridge over the Tiber. It is in the exercise of his priestly functions that the resemblance is most clearly shown. Like Numa, Ancus died a natural death. He was the ancestor of the Marcii. He was succeeded by Lucius Tarquinius Priscus.
Reign of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus
Tarquinius Lucius, Tarquinius Priscus, also called Tarquin the Elder or Tarquin I, was the fifth King of Rome from (616 BC to 579 BC). His wife was Tanaquil. According to Livy, Tarquinius Priscus came from the Etruscan city of Tarquinii. Livy claims that his first name Lucius was a Latinization of his original Etruscan name Lucumo, but since Lucumo (Etruscan Lauchme) is the Etruscan word for “King”, there is reason to believe that Priscus’ name and title have been confused in the official tradition. Disgruntled with his opportunities in Etruria, he migrated to Rome with his wife Tanaquil, at her suggestion. He had been prohibited from obtaining political office in Tarquinii because of the ethnicity of his father, Demaratus the Corinthian, who came from the Greek city of Corinth. Legend has it that on his arrival in Rome in a chariot, an eagle took his cap, flew away and then returned it back upon his head. Tanaquil, who was skilled in prophecy, interpreted this as an omen of his future greatness. In Rome he attained great respect through generosity and skill. King Ancu Marcius himself noticed him and adopted him as his son, also appointing him guardian of his other sons. After the death of Ancus Marcius, Tarquinius Priscus was able to convince the People’s Assembly that he should be elected king over Marcius’ natural sons. His military ability was immediately tested by an attack from the Sabines. The attack was defeated after dangerous street fighting in Rome, and he then further subjugated the Etruscans. Thus the cities Corniculum, Firulea, Cameria, Crustumerium, Americola, Medullia and Nomentum became Roman. After each of his wars, which were always extremely successful, he brought rich plunder to Rome. He doubled the size of the Centuriate Assembly to 1800 people, and added another hundred men to the Senate from the ranks of the lower classes. Among them was the family of the Octavii, the family of the future first emperor Augustus. He also concerned himself further with state festivals and with the expansion of the state. At first he erected the Circus Maximus as a separate building for horse racing. Previously the spectators watched the races between the Aventine and Palatine hills sitting on wooden platforms at best. From then on large games were regularly organized there. After a great flood, the damp lowlands of Rome were drained by the construction of the Cloaca Maxima (great sewer) to create a site for the Forum Romanum. As his last great act he began the construction of a temple in honour of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill, partially funded by plunder seized from the Latins Sabines. Many of the Roman symbols both of war and of civil office date from his reign, and he was the first to celebrate a Roman triumph, after the Etruscan fashion, wearing a robe of purple and gold, and borne on a chariot drawn by four horses. Meanwhile the now adult sons of his predecessor Ancus Marcius thought that the throne should fall to them. Thus they arranged for Tarquinius Priscus to be assassinated with an axe blow to the head. Thanks to the intelligent foresight of the queen Tanaquil however, the sons of Ancus were not chosen, but rather Tarquinius’ son-in-law Servius Tullius, husband of his daughter Tarquinia, was elected as his successor. Tarquinius reigned for 38 years. His other daughter Tarquinia married Marcus Junius Brutus, and his sons were Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and Aruns Tarquinius, who married his niece Tullia, daughter of Servius Tullius, and by her was murdered at the instigation of his son-in-law, who succeeded him.
Reign of Servius Tillius
Servius Tullius was the sixth legendary king of ancient Rome and the second king of the Etruscan dynasty. The traditional dates of his reign are 578-535 BC. Described in one account as originally a slave, he is said to have married a daughter of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, and succeeded him after the latter’s assassination in 579 BC. He was the first king to cometo power without the consultation of the plebeians, having gained the throne by the contrivance of Tanaquil, his mother-in-law. In this account (found in Livy) Tullius was anointed as a young child to become king, after a ring of fire was seen around his head. He was then raised as a prince. Incidentally, Livy did not believe that Servius Tullius was born a slave. Livy postulated that Tullius’ mother was a queen of an Etruscan city which had been sacked by the Romans. His mother was captured and to pay homage to her regal origins she was allowed to live in the palace. Another version, quoted in a speech to the Senate by Claudius, represented him as a soldier of fortune originally named Macstarna, from Etruria, who attached himself to Caelius Vibenna. After various adventures Caelius was beaten but Macstarna came to Rome with the remnants of his army. Macstarna named the Caelian Hill after his deceased friend, but some suppose Caelius Vibenna to have placed a settlement there. King Servius Tullius, according to the Roman historians, initiated the first census. The noun comes from the participle of the Latin verb, censere, “to judge” or “to estimate”. The census was an estimation of the total personal assets of Rome. Servius Tullius used it as a gauge of military capability. The Roman census as practiced by Servius was quite different from our census, which aims at counting and locating people. Servius made sure those functions were performed, but he was primarily interested in property assessments. Dividing the populace into classes according to their wealth, he used the census to determine the number of potential soldiers and the amount of arms and equipment they could provide to Rome, as the army at that time was primarily funded by private, not public resources. Servius wanted to know who could fund what, who was bearing an unfair burden, and who may have been shirking their responsibilities to the kingdom. Neither the census nor the classification significantly altered social status in Rome. Servius ordered that Roman senators must own at least 800,000 sesterces to sit in the Senate, although the senators already all owned that and much more. Similarly, Roman or knights, needed to own at least 400,000 sesterces, but there is no record of being disenfranchised because of a lack of property or assets.
Reign of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (also called Tarquin the Proud or Tarquin II) was the last of the seven legendary kings of Rome, son of Tarquinius Priscus and son-in-law of Servius Tullius, the sixth king. The historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus may have divided one historical figure named Tarquin into two separate kings because of problems with dating their legendary events. Traditionally he was of Etruscan descent and ruled between 535/534 BC and 510 BC, in the years immediately before his expulsion and the founding of the Roman Republic Tarquin’s reign was characterised by bloodshed and violence; his son Sextus Tarquinius’ rape of Lucretia laid the seeds for the revolt, led by Lucretia’s kinsman Lucius Junius Brutus (himself a member of the Tarquin dynasty) and Lucretia’s widowed husband. The uprising resulted in the expulsion of most of the royal family, after Tarquin had reigned for twenty-five years, and Brutus became one of the first consuls of the Roman Republic.After his exile, Tarquin attempted to gain the support of other Etruscan andLatin kings, claiming that the republicanism would spread beyond Rome. Even though the powerful Etruscan lord Lars Porsenna of Clusium (modern Chiusi) backed Tarquin’s return, all efforts to force his way back to the throne were in vain. He left two older sons, Titus Tarquinius and the Aruns Tarquinius, who was killed in 509 BC in one of his father’s wars to regain the throne. Tarquin died in exile at Cumae in Campania in 496 BC. Tarquin’s death ended the time of the Kings; the Roman people would no longer trust sole power in one ruler and so a Republic was formed.