Roman Empire > Roman Empire History > The Last Three Kings Of Rome, And The Establishment Of The Republic Down To The Battle Of The Lake Regillus - b.C. 616-498

The Last Three Kings Of Rome, And The Establishment Of The Republic Down To The Battle Of The Lake Regillus - b.C. 616-498

5. REIGN OF LUCIUS TARQUINIUS PRISCUS, or the ELDER TARQUIN, B.C. 616-578. - The fifth king of Rome was an Etruscan by birth, but a Greek by descent. His father Demaratus was a wealthy citizen of Corinth, who settled in the Etruscan city of Tarquinii, where he married an Etruscan wife. Their son married Tanaquil, who belonged to one of the noblest families in Tarquinii, and himself became a Lucumo or a noble in the state. But he aspired to still higher honors; and, urged on by his wife, who was an ambitious woman, he resolved to try his fortune at Rome. Accordingly, he set out for this city, accompanied by a large train of followers. When he had reached the Janiculum an eagle seized his cap, and, after carrying it away to a great height, placed it again upon his head. Tanaquil, who was skilled in the Etruscan science of augury, bade her husband hope for the highest honors. Her predictions were soon verified. He took the name of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, and gained the favor both of Ancus Marcius and the people. Ancus appointed the stranger guardian of his children; and, when he died, the senate and the people unanimously elected Tarquin to the vacant throne.

The reign of Tarquin was distinguished by great exploits in war and by great works in peace. He defeated the Sabines, and took their town Collatia, which he placed under his nephew Egerius, who was thence called Collatinus. He also captured many of the Latin towns, and became the ruler of all Latium; but the important works which he executed in peace have rendered his name still more famous. The great cloacæ, or sewers, by which he drained the lower parts of the city, still remain, after so many ages, with not a stone displaced. He laid out the Circus Maximus, and instituted the great or Roman games performed in the circus. He also made some changes in the constitution of the state. He added to the Senate 100 new members, taken from the Luceres, the third tribe, and called patres minorum gentium, to distinguish them from the old Senators, who were now termed patres majorum gentium. To the three centuries of equites established by Romulus he wished to add three new centuries, and to call them after himself and two of his friends. But his plan was opposed by the augur Attus Navius, who said that the gods forbade it. The tale runs that the king, to test the augur, asked him to divine whether what he was thinking of could be done. After consulting the heavens, the augur replied that it could; whereupon the king said, "I was thinking that thou shouldst cut this whetstone with a razor" Navius, without a moment's hesitation, took a razor and cut it in twain. In consequence of this miracle, Tarquin gave up his design of establishing new centuries; but with each of the former centuries he associated another under the same name, so that henceforth there were the first and second Ramnes, Tities, and Luceres. The number of Vestal Virgins was also increased from four to six, the two new vestals being probably taken from the Luceres.

Cloaca Maxima
Cloaca Maxima

Tarquin had a favorite, Servius Tullius, said to have been the son of a female slave taken at the capture of the Latin town Corniculum. His infancy was marked by prodigies which foreshadowed his future greatness. On one occasion a flame played around his head, as he was asleep, without harming him. Tanaquil foresaw the greatness of the boy, and from this time he was brought up as the king's child. Tarquin afterward gave him his daughter in marriage, and left the government in his hands. But the sons of Ancus Marcius, fearing lest Tarquin should transmit the crown to his son-in-law, hired two countrymen to assassinate the king. These men, feigning to have a quarrel, came before the king to have their dispute decided, and while he was listening to the complaint of one, the other gave him a deadly wound with his axe. But the sons of Ancus did not reap the fruit of their crime; for Tanaquil, pretending that the king's wound was not mortal, told them that he would soon return, and that he had, meantime, appointed Servius to act in his stead. Servius forthwith proceeded to discharge the duties of king, greatly to the satisfaction of the people; and when the death of Tarquin could no longer be concealed, he was already in firm possession of the regal power. Tarquin had reigned thirty-eight years.

6. SERVIUS TULLIUS, B.C. 578-534. - Servius thus succeeded to the throne without being elected by the Senate and the Assembly of the Curiæ. The reign of this king is almost as barren of military exploits as that of Numa. His great deeds were those of peace; and he was regarded by posterity as the author of the later Roman constitution, just as Romulus was of the earlier. Three important acts are assigned to Servius by universal tradition. Of these the greatest was:

I. The reform of the Roman Constitution. In this reform his two main objects were to give the Plebeians political rights, and to assign to property that influence in the state which had previously belonged exclusively to birth. To carry his purpose into effect he made a twofold division of the Roman people, one territorial and the other according to property.

a. It must be recollected that the only existing political organization was that of the Patricians into 3 tribes, 30 curiæ, and 300 gentes; but Servius now divided the whole Roman territory into Thirty Tribes, and, as this division was simply local, these tribes contained Plebeians as well as Patricians. But, though the institution of the Thirty Tribes gave the Plebeians a political organization, it conferred upon them no political power, nor any right to take part in the elections, or in the management of public affairs. At a later time the tribes assembled in the forum for the transaction of business, and were hence called Comitia Tributa. The Patricians were then excluded from this assembly, which was summoned by the Tribunes of the Plebs, and was entirely Plebeian.

b. The means by which Servius gave the Plebeians a share in the government was by establishing a new Popular Assembly, in which Patricians and Plebeians alike voted. It was so arranged that the wealthiest persons, whether Patricians or Plebeians, possessed the chief power. In order to ascertain the property of each citizen, Servius instituted the Census, which was a register of Roman citizens and their property. All Roman citizens possessing property to the amount of 12,500 asses and upward were divided into five great Classes. The First Class contained the richest citizens, the Second Class the next in point of wealth, and so on. The whole arrangement was of a military character. Each of the five Classes was divided into a certain number of Centuries or Companies, half of which consisted of Seniores from the age of 46 to 60, and half of Juniores from the age of 17 to 45. All the Classes had to provide their own arms and armor, but the expense of the equipment was in proportion to the wealth of each Class. The Five Classes formed the infantry. To these five Classes were added two centuries of smiths and carpenters, and two of trumpeters and horn-blowers. These four centuries voted with the Classes. Those persons whose property did not amount to 12,500 asses were not included in the Classes, and formed a single century.

At the head of the Classes were the Equites or cavalry. These consisted of eighteen centuries, six being the old patrician Equites, as founded by Romulus and augmented by Tarquinius Priscus, and the other twelve being chosen from the chief plebeian families.

The Centuries formed the new National Assembly. They mustered as an army in the Campus Martius, or the Field of Mars, on the banks of the Tiber, outside the city. They voted by Centuries, and were hence called the Comitia Centuriata. Each Century counted as one vote, but did not consist of the same number of men. On the contrary, in order to give the preponderance to wealth, the first or richest class contained a far greater number of Centuries than any of the other classes (as will be seen from the table below), although they must at the same time have included a much smaller number of men. The Equites and First Class alone amounted to 100 Centuries, or more than half of the total number; so that, if they agreed to vote the same way, they possessed at once an absolute majority. An advantage was also given to age; for the Seniores, though possessing an equal number of votes, must of course have been very inferior in number to the Juniores.

Servius made the Comitia Centuriata the sovereign assembly of the nation; and he accordingly transferred to it from the Comitia Curiata the right of electing kings and the higher magistrates, of enacting and repealing laws, and of deciding in cases of appeal from the sentence of a judge. But he did not dare to abolish the old Patrician assembly, and was even obliged to enact that no vote of the Comitia Centuriata should be valid till it had received the sanction of the Comitia Curiata.

Thus, in consequence of the legislation, we shall find that Rome subsequently possessed three sovereign assemblies: 1. The Comitia Centuriata, consisting of both Patricians and Plebeians, and voting according to Centuries; 2. The Comitia Curiata, consisting exclusively of Patricians, and voting according to Curiæ; 3. The Comitia Tributa, exclusively of Plebeians, and voting according to Tribes.

II. The second great work of Servius was the extension of the Pomœrium, or hallowed boundary of the city, and the completion of the city by incorporating with it the Quirinal, Viminal, and Esquiline Hills. He surrounded the whole with a stone wall, called after him the wall of Servius Tullius; and from the Porta Collina to the Esquiline Gate, where the hills sloped gently to the plain, he constructed a gigantic mound nearly a mile in length, and a moat 100 feet in breadth and 30 in depth, from which the earth of the mound was dug. Rome thus acquired a circumference of five miles, and this continued to be the legal extent of the city till the time of the emperors, although suburbs were added to it.

III. An important alliance with the Latins, by which Rome and the cities of Latium became the members of one great league, was one of the great events which distinguished the reign of Servius.

Map of Rome, showing the Servian Wall and the Seven Hills
Map of Rome, showing the Servian Wall and the Seven Hills

Servius gave his two daughters in marriage to the two sons of Tarquinius Priscus. Lucius, the elder, was married to a quiet and gentle wife; Aruns, the younger, to an aspiring and ambitious woman. The character of the two brothers was the very opposite of the wives who had fallen to their lot; for Lucius was proud and haughty, but Aruns unambitious and quiet. The wife of Aruns, enraged at the long life of her father, and fearing that at his death her husband would tamely resign the sovereignty to his elder brother, resolved to murder both her father and husband. Her fiendish spirit put into the heart of Lucius thoughts of crime which he had never entertained before. Lucius made way with his wife, and the younger Tullia with her husband; and the survivors, without even the show of mourning, were straightway joined in unhallowed wedlock. Tullia now incessantly urged her husband to murder her father, and thus obtain the kingdom which he so ardently coveted. Tarquin formed a conspiracy with the Patricians, who were enraged at the reforms of Servius; and when the plot was ripe he entered the forum arrayed in the kingly robes, seated himself in the royal chair, in the senate-house, and ordered the senators to be summoned to him as their king. At the first news of the commotion Servius hastened to the senate-house, and, standing at the doorway, bade Tarquin to come down from the throne; but Tarquin sprang forward, seized the old man, and flung him down the stone steps. Covered with blood, the king hastened home; but, before he reached it, he was overtaken by the servants of Tarquin, and murdered. Tullia drove to the senate-house and greeted her husband as king; but her transports of joy struck even him with horror. He bade her go home; and, as she was returning, her charioteer pulled up and pointed out the corpse of her father lying in his blood across the road. She commanded him to drive on; the blood of her father spirted over the carriage and on her dress; and from that day forward the place bore the name of the Wicked Street. The body lay unburied; for Tarquin said, scoffingly, "Romulus too went without burial;" and this impious mockery is said to have given rise to his surname of Superbus, or the Proud. Servius had reigned forty-four years.

7. Reign of LUCIUS TARQUINIUS SUPERBUS, or, THE PROUD, B.C. 534-510. - Tarquin commenced his reign without any of the forms of election. One of his first acts was to abolish all the privileges which had been conferred upon the Plebeians by Servius. He also compelled the poor to work at miserable wages upon his magnificent buildings, and the hardships which they suffered were so great that many put an end to their lives. But he did not confine his oppressions to the poor. All the senators and patricians whom he mistrusted, or whose wealth he coveted, were put to death or driven into exile. He surrounded himself with a body-guard, by whose means he was enabled to carry out his designs. But, although a tyrant at home, he raised the state to great influence and power among the surrounding nations, partly by his alliances and partly by his conquests. He gave his daughter in marriage to Octavius Mamilius, of Tusculum, the most powerful of the Latins, by whose means he acquired great influence in Latium. Any Latin chiefs like Turnus Herdonius, who attempted to resist him, were treated as traitors, and punished with death. At the solemn meeting of the Latins at the Alban Mount, Tarquin sacrificed the bull on behalf of all the allies, and distributed the flesh to the people of the league.

Strengthened by this Latin alliance, Tarquin turned his arms against the Volscians. He took the wealthy town of Suessa Pometia, with the spoils of which he commenced the erection of a magnificent temple on the Capitoline Hill, which his father had vowed. This temple was dedicated to the three gods of the Latin and Etruscan religions, Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. A human head (caput), fresh, bleeding and undecayed, is said to have been found by the workmen as they were digging the foundations, and being accepted as a sign that the place was destined to become the head of the world, the name of CAPITOLIUM was given to the temple, and thence to the hill. In a stone vault beneath were deposited the Sibylline books, containing obscure and prophetic sayings. One day a Sibyl, a prophetess from Cumæ, appeared before the king and offered to sell him nine books. Upon his refusing to buy them she went away and burned three, and then demanded the same sum for the remaining six as she had asked for the nine. But the king laughed, whereupon she again burnt three and then demanded the same sum as before for the remaining three. Wondering at this strange conduct, the king purchased the books. They were placed under the care of two patricians, and were consulted when the state was in danger.

Tarquin next attacked Gabii, one of the Latin cities, which refused to enter into the league. Unable to take the city by force, he had recourse to stratagem. His son, Sextus, pretending to be ill, treated by his father, and covered with the bloody marks of stripes, fled to Gabii. The infatuated inhabitants intrusted him with the command of their troops; and when he had obtained the unlimited confidence of the citizens, he sent a messenger to his father to inquire how he should deliver the city into his hands. The king, who was walking in his garden when the messenger arrived, made no reply, but kept striking off the heads of the tallest poppies with his stick. Sextus took the hint. He put to death or banished, on false charges, all the leading men of the place, and then had no difficulty in compelling it to submit to his father.

In the midst of his prosperity Tarquin was troubled by a strange portent. A serpent crawled out from the altar in the royal palace, and seized on the entrails of the victim. The king, in fear, sent his two sons, Titus and Aruns, to consult the oracle at Delphi. They were accompanied by their cousin L. Junius Brutus. One of the sisters of Tarquin had been married to M. Brutus, a man of great wealth, who died, leaving two sons under age. Of these the elder was killed by Tarquin, who coveted their possessions; the younger escaped his brother's fate only by feigning idiotcy. On arriving at Delphi, Brutus propitiated the priestess with the gift of a golden stick inclosed in a hollow staff. After executing the king's commission, Titus and Aruns asked the priestess who was to reign at Rome after their father. The priestess replied, whichsoever should first kiss his mother. The princes agreed to keep the matter secret from Sextus, who was at Rome, and to cast lots between themselves. Brutus, who better understood the meaning of the oracle, fell, as if by chance, when they quitted the temple, and kissed the earth, the mother of them all.

Soon afterward Tarquin laid siege to Ardea, a city of the Rutulians. The place could not be taken by force, and the Roman army lay encamped beneath the walls. Here, as the king's sons, and their cousin Tarquinius Collatinus, were feasting together, a dispute arose about the virtue of their wives. As nothing was doing in the field, they mounted their horses to visit their homes by surprise. They first went to Rome, where they surprised the king's daughters at a splendid banquet. They then hastened to Collatia, and there, though it was late in the night, they found Lucretia, the wife of Collatinus, spinning amid her handmaids. The beauty and virtue of Lucretia excited the evil passions of Sextus. A few days after he returned to Collatia, where he was hospitably received by Lucretia as her husband's kinsman. In the dead of night he entered her chamber with a drawn sword, threatening that, if she did not yield to his desires, he would kill her and lay by her side a slave with his throat cut, and would declare that he had killed them both taken in adultery. Fear of such a shame forced Lucretia to consent; but, as soon as Sextus had departed, she sent for her husband and father. Collatinus came, accompanied by L. Brutus, her father, Lucretius, brought with him P. Valerius. They found her in an agony of sorrow. She told them what had happened, enjoined them to avenge her dishonor, and then stabbed herself to the heart. They all swore to avenge her. Brutus threw off his assumed stupidity, and placed himself at their head. They carried the corpse into the market-place of Collatia. There the people took up arms, and renounced the Tarquins. A number of young men attended the funeral procession to Rome. Brutus summoned the people, and related the deed of shame. All classes were inflamed with the same indignation. A decree was passed deposing the king, and banishing him and his family from the city. Brutus now set out for the army at Ardea. Tarquinius meantime had hastened to Rome, but found the gates closed against him. Brutus was received with joy at Ardea; and the army renounced their allegiance to the tyrant. Tarquin, with his two sons, Titus and Aruns, took refuge at Cæré, in Etruria. Sextus fled to Gabii, where he was shortly after murdered by the friends of those whom he had put to death.

Tarquin had reigned 22 years when he was driven out of Rome. In memory of this event an annual festival was celebrated on the 24th of February, called the Regifugium or Fugalia.

THE REPUBLIC. - Thus ended monarchy at Rome. Tarquin the Proud had made the name of king so hateful that the people resolved to intrust the kingly power to two men, who were only to hold office for a year. In later times they were called Consuls, but at their first institution they were named Prætors. They were elected by the Comitia Curiata, and possessed the same honors as the king had had. The first consuls were L. Brutus and Tarquinius Collatinus (B.C. 509). But the people so hated the very name and race of Tarquin, that Collatinus was obliged to resign his office and retire from Rome. P. Valerius was elected consul in his place.

Meantime embassadors came to Rome from Tarquin, asking that his private property should be given up to him. The demand seemed just to the Senate and the People; but, while the embassadors were making preparation for carrying away the property, they formed a conspiracy among the young Roman nobles for the restoration of the royal family. The plot was discovered by means of a slave, and among the conspirators were found the two sons of Brutus himself. But the consul would not pardon his guilty children, and ordered the lictors to put them to death with the other traitors. The agreement to surrender the property was made void by this attempt at treason. The royal goods were given up to the people to plunder.

As the plot had failed, Tarquin now endeavored to recover the throne by arms. The people of Tarquinii and Veii espoused the cause of their Etruscan kinsmen, and marched against Rome. The two Consuls advanced to meet them. When Aruns, the king's son, saw Brutus at the head of the Roman cavalry, he spurred his horse to the charge. Brutus did not shrink from the combat; and both fell from their horses mortally wounded by each other's spears. A desperate battle between the two armies now followed. Both parties claimed the victory, till a voice was heard in the dead of night, proclaiming that the Romans had conquered, as the Etruscans had lost one man more. Alarmed at this, the Etruscans fled; and Valerius, the surviving Consul, returned to Rome, carrying with him the dead body of Brutus. The matrons mourned for Brutus a whole year, because he had revenged the death of Lucretia.

This was the first war for the restoration of Tarquin.

Valerius was now left without a colleague; and as he began to build a house on the top of the hill Velia, which looked down upon the forum, the people feared that he was aiming at kingly power. Thereupon Valerius not only pulled down the house, but, calling an assembly of the people, he ordered the lictors to lower the fasces before them, as an acknowledgment that their power was superior to his. He likewise brought forward a law enacting that every citizen who was condemned by a magistrate should have a right of appeal to the people. Valerius became, in consequence, so popular that he received the surname of Publicola, or "The People's Friend"

Valerius then summoned an assembly for the election of a successor to Brutus, and Sp. Lucretius was chosen. Lucretius, however, lived only a few days, and M. Horatius was elected consul in his place. It was Horatius who had the honor of consecrating the temple on the Capitol, which Tarquin had left unfinished when he was driven from the throne.

The second year of the republic (B.C. 508) witnessed the second attempt of Tarquin to recover the crown. He now applied for help to Lars Porsena, the powerful ruler of the Etruscan town of Clusium, who marched against Rome at the head of a vast army. The Romans could not meet him in the field; and Porsena seized without opposition the Janiculum, a hill immediately opposite the city, and separated from it only by the Tiber. Rome was now in the greatest danger, and the Etruscans would have entered the city by the Sublician bridge had not Horatius Cocles, with two comrades, kept the whole Etruscan army at bay while the Romans broke down the bridge behind him. When it was giving way he sent back his two companions, and withstood alone the attacks of the foe till the cracks of the falling timbers and the shouts of his countrymen told him that the bridge had fallen. Then praying, "O Father Tiber, take me into thy charge and bear me up!" he plunged into the stream and swam across in safety, amid the arrows of the enemy. The state raised a statue in his honor, and allowed him as much land as he could plow round in one day. Few legends are more celebrated in Roman history than this gallant deed of Horatius, and Roman writers loved to tell

"How well Horatius kept the bridge
In the brave days of old"

The Etruscans now proceeded to lay siege to the city, which soon began to suffer from famine. Thereupon a young Roman, named C. Mucius, resolved to deliver his country by murdering the invading king. He accordingly went over to the Etruscan camp; but, ignorant of the person of Porsena, killed the royal secretary instead. Seized and threatened with torture, he thrust his right hand into the fire on the altar, and there let it burn, to show how little he heeded pain. Astonished at his courage, the king bade him depart in peace; and Mucius, out of gratitude, advised him to make peace with Rome, since three hundred noble youths, he said, had sworn to take the life of the king, and he was the first upon whom the lot had fallen. Mucius was henceforward called Scævola, or the Left-handed, because his right hand had been burnt off. Porsena, alarmed for his life, which he could not secure against so many desperate men, forthwith offered peace to the Romans on condition of their restoring to the Veientines the land which they had taken from them. These terms were accepted, and Porsena withdrew his troops from the Janiculum after receiving ten youths and ten maidens as hostages from the Romans. Clœlia, one of the maidens, escaped from the Etruscan camp, and swam across the Tiber to Rome. She was sent back by the Romans to Porsena, who was so amazed at her courage that he not only set her at liberty, but allowed her to take with her those of the hostages whom she pleased.

Thus ended the second attempt to restore the Tarquins by force.

After Porsena quitted Rome, Tarquin took refuge with his son-in-law, Octavius Mamilius, of Tusculum. The thirty Latin cities now espoused the cause of the exiled king, and declared war against Rome. The contest was decided by the battle of the Lake Regillus, which was long celebrated in Roman story, and the account of which resembles one of the battles in the Iliad. The Romans were commanded by the Dictator, A. Postumius, and by T. Æbutius, the Master of the Horse; at the head of the Latins were Tarquin and Octavius Mamilius. The struggle was fierce and bloody, but the Latins at length fled. Almost all the chiefs on either side fell in the conflict, or were grievously wounded. Titus, the son of Tarquin, was killed; and the aged king was wounded, but escaped with his life. It was related in the old tradition that the Romans gained this battle by the assistance of the gods Castor and Pollux, who were seen charging the Latins at the head of the Roman cavalry, and who afterward carried to Rome the tidings of the victory. A temple was built in the forum on the spot where they appeared, and their festival was celebrated yearly.

This was the third and last attempt to restore the Tarquins. The Latins were completely humbled by this victory. Tarquinius Superbus had no other state to which he could apply for assistance. He had already survived all his family; and he now fled to Cumæ, where he died a wretched and childless old man (B.C. 496).

Coin representing the children of Brutus led to death by Lictors
Coin representing the children of Brutus led to death by Lictors

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The Campagna of Rome
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