The Seven Kings of Rome

Introduction- Rome’s original Kings.

So many novels and movies have been made about Julius Caesar, last dictator of Rome’s Republic before its Empire formally began, that one might think that the story of ancient Rome began with his life. Before Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, before he invaded Britain in 55 BC, Rome had been a Republic for the previous 450 years. Coriolanus, who Shakespeare immortalized during Elizabethan times using ancient historical sources, lived in those early days of the Republic.

 According to those ancient historians (e.g. Titus Livy and Dionysius Halikarnassus), before Rome became a Republic, it was a Monarchy. Their accounts say Rome was ruled by Seven kings. The stories of these reigns read more like myth and legend, but still hold much that can resonate in today’s world.

 Rome was founded traditionally c 753 BC. Rome’s Republic began c. 509 BC.  So seven kings ruled Rome, according to the histories, during these 244 years. Who were these kings?

 Romulus-the traditional founder of Rome who was a very fortunate warrior-king. He and his twin brother Remus are immortalized in sculptures of a she-wolf that nursed the infant boys. Romulus reigned for 37 years, a small part of which as co-ruler with the Sabine king Titus Tatius who had formerly been his enemy. The highlights of Romulus’ reign are the “abduction-rape” of the Sabine women, a betrayal that had allowed the Sabines to capture the Capitoline fortress at Rome, and many military victories. The rich spoils Romulus brings home from his conquests do not stop the wealthy men of Rome from plotting against his life. My novel Romulus, Wolf who Founded Rome, will include some variant interpretations of his life and rule.

Numa Pompilius is a Sabine from the same city from whence came Titus Tatius. Numa was Tatius’ son-in-law.  After Romulus was gone, there was yet no successor to his throne. Numa was approached, but very reluctant to become the next king in Rome. But he did—reigning for 43 years as a priest-king under whom Rome knew only peace. It was rumored that part of his wisdom in ruling came from his association with a local goddess.

Tullus Hostilius was a fierce warrior-king of Rome.  Circumstances in the region had impelled Rome to again go to war. His 32-year reign experiences secret conspiracies and betrayals of Rome by a pledged ally. He also fought Alba, which he destroyed after a battle-duel between two sets of triplet-cousins. The duel ends in a heartbreaking family tragedy. After his victories, Tullus has a tragic end.

Ancus Marcius is Numa’s maternal grandson and thus another Sabine. With the example of Rome’s destruction of Alba, other cities that had earlier treaties of peace now decide that those treaties are void, and so Ancus takes Rome again into war. His 24-year reign is most notable because of the appearance in Rome of the Etruscan Tarquinius Priscus, grandfather of the last king of Rome. Priscus becomes a close friend and advisor to Ancus, even being appointed guardian for his sons.

Tarquinius Priscus becomes king of Rome, expelling the sons of Ancus.  An Etruscan-Greek who emigrated from another city, he is married to the formidable Tanaquil, an Etruscan woman said to have knowledge of divination. Priscus is another warrior-king of Rome, fighting Latins and Etruscans at various times. During his 38-year reign, Servius Tullius, his successor, is born in Priscus’ palace to a Roman captive servant. The revolt that eventually brings down his grandson Superbus is engineered by descendants of Priscus and his brother-making the fall of Rome’s first monarchy one of history’s earliest royal family squabbles.

Servius Tullius had humble origins, supposedly born to a servant in the Roman palace. He becomes a trusted officer in Priscus’ army, and when Priscus is murdered in a plot by Ancus’ sons, Tanaquil (Priscus’ widow) sets up Servius to become the new king. He reigns for 44 years, and new walls of Rome, divisions of the classes and army, are all attributed to Servius. Emperor Claudius, who was fascinated with Etruscan history, referred to Servius in a speech as having possibly been an Etruscan mercenary chief-at the very least, an interesting fictional path to tread.

Tarquinius Superbus is the last traditional king of Rome. He was depicted as a tyrant in the Greek style, lecherous, arrogant, and cruel-and his sons were no better. The commonly held story of his fall was that a beautiful honorable Roman matron was raped by his son, and her subsequent suicide inspired a group of Roman patricians to rebel and oust Superbus from the throne. The ringleaders of this revolt are in fact close Tarquin relatives. The expelled Superbus seeks the help of the Etruscan king Lars Porsena, who invades Rome’s territory, occupies the Janiculum hill and, according to later Roman writers, may in fact have actually conquered Rome for a time. My novel For Rome’s Honor will explore this reign and its characters.

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