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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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Women in the Reigns of the Seven Kings

Romulus, the Founder and First King:

His birth-mother: Rhea Silvia, who claimed the god Mars was father of her twin sons. She may or may not have survived through the end of Romulus’ reign., Acca Larentia, Hersilia

His foster-mother, Acca Larentia, called a ‘lupa,’ slang for prostitute. At the time of his birth, Acca was wife to Faustulus, one of the royal servants to the usurper Amulius, Romulus’ great-uncle.

His wife, possibly: Hersilia. Some writers say only that Hersilia was one of the captives involved in stopping the war between Rome and the Sabines. Others say she did this as Romulus’ wife.

Numa Pompilius, second king of Rome in a time of peace: Tatia, Egeria

His wife Tatia, daughter to Titus Tatius, initially Romulus’ enemy and then his co-ruler for a few years.

His possible divine lover, Egeria: It was rumored that Numa received his wisdom from his time spent as lover and confidant to this local forest goddess

Tullus Hostilius, third king of Rome: Only one woman appears outright in this very martial tale. She is a sister to the Roman set of triplets and lover to one of the opposing set of triplets that participate in the battle-duel between Alba and Rome. She pays the price for mourning for the wrong man.

Ancus Marcius, fourth king of Rome: No woman appears outright in the story of this king’s reign. His wife remains nameless and unmentioned but he has sons. During his reign, the man Lucumo comes with his wife Tanaquil from the Etruscan city of Tarquinii. Lucumo becomes adviser and guardian of Ancus’ sons.

Tarquinius Priscus, fifth king of Rome:

His wife Tanaquil is said to have been trained in the arts of divination and prophecy.

Servius Tullius, sixth king of Rome:

While his wife, daughter of Priscus, does not play any part in the history, his two daughters do. One is sweet and gentle, the other coldly ambitious.

Tarquinius Superbus, seventh and last king of Rome:

His wife Tullia was one of the daughters of Servius Tullis.

The Roman matron Lucretia, whose suicide after being allegedly raped by one of Superbus’ sons sparked the overthrow of the monarchy.

Valeria, Roman daughter of one of the men who participated in the overthrow.

Cloelia, another Roman woman involved in the conquest of Rome by the Etruscan Lars Porsena.

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History, and Some Women, in the Reigns of Romulus and of Tarquinius Superbus

Women do not often figure prominently, or well, in the histories of the ancient world. Sometimes women appear –generally or specifically – in the ancient sources, only to be ignored and omitted by later, even modern, historians. Sometimes their actions, as reported, beg a re-interpretation.

History, Women, and the Wife, in the time of Romulus, Founder of Rome

Romulus acquires wives for the men of his new Rome by abducting young women during a festival.

One of the abducted women may have become Romulus’ wife, Hersilia. Livy of Rome, who wrote during Augustus’ reign, says she was an abducted Sabine who married Romulus. The Greek historian Dionysius of Halikarnassus, who also wrote during the reign of Augustus, says that Hersilia was already a Sabine mother, who when her daughter was abducted, chose freely to go to Rome with her. He makes no mention of Hersilia in turn marrying a Roman. The Greek biographer-historian Plutarch, who wrote in the latter part of the first century AD and early second century AD, has Hersilia, formerly married, be seized by mistake and then later either marrying Romulus or another Roman named Hostilius.

When the abduction is mentioned in modern histories or in discussions of the behaviors between men and women in ancient times, two issues are rarely if ever mentioned.

One is that Romulus first tried diplomacy, sending ambassadors and envoys to the neighboring cities to arrange for marriages. He did not simply arrange to have women dragged off into the shadows and ravished. The sources agree that his diplomatic attempts were rebuffed. So then he arranged a festival, and invited everyone from the cities to attend.  During that festival, the women were indeed carried off-and subsequently, perhaps even as soon as possible, married according to rite and ritual. They became honored wives and mothers of Rome and were treated as such.

The second often ignored element is that those women eventually engineered the peace between Rome and the Sabine army. Three cities had gone to war against Rome, provoked by the parents of the abducted women. Rome had defeated each of these, and had then been attacked by the Sabines, for the same reason. Livy writes that Hersilia pleaded with Romulus to pardon the women’s parents, after the first three cities had been defeated, and he agrees, allowing them to come live in Rome and keep their property. Livy writes later that, while the Roman and Sabine armies faced off against each other on the field, all the women, these wives of Rome, some carrying their young children, walked into the battlefield and  then pleaded with their fathers, brothers, husbands, and all, to cease the fighting and to make a peace. Dionysius writes that Hersilia herself proposed to the women that they go to the battlefield and plead for peace. Both Dionysius and Plutarch agree that Hersilia is the spokesperson for the women after they interrupt the battle. The women are also shown caring for the wounded after the fighting stopped. This is a powerful scene (whether or not it really happened, three ancient historians included the event in their accounts.)

History and a Woman under Tarquinius Superbus, last King of Rome

The story of the death of Lucretia, which is traditionally the provoking incident for the overthrow of L Tarquinius “Superbus,” the tyrant and last king of ancient Rome and the birth of the Republic, is a tale that might encourage a re-interpretation of the event.

The usual story is that Lucretia was the sweet and innocent wife of Collatinus. Rome was currently besieging a city, and a handful of the noble officers decided to look in on their wives to see who was most dutiful. Lucretia caught the eye of the son of the king, who later returned to her secretly and by threats, seduced her. She then called for her husband, her father, and one or two other men, told them what had happened, and then, as an example to all women that unchastity is intolerable, committed suicide. Angered and grief-stricken her relatives incite the crowd to depose the king and form a new government.

This account might be re-interpreted for two reasons.

From a historical basis, the account of the overthrow and formation of consulship is a bit odd. Both Lucretia’s husband Collatinus, and L Brutus, who is traditionally considered the founder of Rome’s republic and one of its first consuls, were actually part of the Tarquin family. While the sources have them eager to get rid of the entire family, they themselves are part of that family. Were they simply ambitious and looking toward their own power in rule? In the accounts, eventually T Superbus seeks aid from the Etruscan Porsenna, supposedly to have him restore Tarquin to the throne. Porsenna indeed invades, takes over the Janiculum hill and holds Rome for a while-but never restores Tarquin to the throne. Never. Not at all. The Roman historian Tacitus makes a brief reference that Porsenna actually conquered and held Rome for a time-but says nothing about Tarquin. Other attempts by Tarquin to gain help from Greek Cumae also fail and he dies in exile.

The second and more interesting reason for re-interpretation is a social one.  The death of Lucretia has been accepted as the suicide of a violated proper wife. But there is a possible, Etruscan, variant of that tale that infers that perhaps Lucretia was a more willing participant in an affair with the Tarquin prince, and that her husband, Brutus, her father, and others, while seeking to avenge their own humiliation, were not simply avenging her honor.

Neither re-interpretation really changes the flow of the events. The last king was deposed, and the Republic was born. Those are clear facts. But perhaps the people involved in the events had different motives and goals.

Perhaps this makes for interesting drama, at least.

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