Surviving Horatius to his sister
As we have seen in the previous chapter, the beginning of Rome has to be sought in the establishment during the 9th century and especially 8th BC of Latins in the Tiber plain, a site protected by the Alban Hills, an important volcanic massif. Its first inhabitants were surrounded by Etruscans to the north, Sabines to the east, and Volsci to the south. Located geographically at a crossroads of civilizations in apogee, such as the Etruscan, the Greek and the Phoenician-Carthaginian, they would be strongly influenced by them when shaping their identity. The Roman tradition, like any great ancient nation that worth itself, explains its foundation wrapped in myths and legends: around the year 753 BC Romulus and Remus founded on the banks of the Tiber, the capital of what would be the greatest empire in the history of mankind. After killing his brother, Romulus became the first king of Rome.
The first king was deified as Quirinus after his death. It was said that Mars had taken him to turn him into a god. Romulus was succeeded by the Sabine Numa Pompilius, who stood out for his religious piousness, establishing the state religion and founding the temple of Janus (the god of the two faces). So much so that he is known as the priest-king.
The third king was Tullus Hostilius, who stood out for his military glory, a warrior character and desire for expansion. He unleashed a civil war with Alba Longa and also fought against the powerful Etruscan city of Veii and against the Sabines. To his reign corresponds the mythical confrontation between the three twins Horatii and the three Curiatii to decide the fate of the civil war without bloodshed between brother peoples; this confrontation ended with a Roman victory and with the settlement of the Albans on Caelian Hill.
Tullus Hostilius was succeeded by Ancus Marcius, who stood out for reconciling his religious duties with those of monarch, and enlarged Rome with the addition of the Aventine and Janiculum Hills. To his reign also corresponds the first great engineering work of his people: the Pons Sublicius, a bridge of stakes on the Tiber River, whose guardian, the Pontifex Maximus, ended up acquiring priestly functions and became leader of the Collegium Pontificum or College of Pontiffs and main authority in religious matters.
These first four kings are considered agrarian, for representing a type of archaic society based on the resources that they themselves could procure. Even so, we find in this period the origin of institutions and mechanisms of organization that would be fundamental in the rest of Roman history.
At first the city functioned as an absolute democracy: there were three tribes (Latins, Sabines and Etruscans), each divided into ten neighborhoods or curiae, which in turn were divided into ten gentes or blocks of houses, and these into families. The curiae met to celebrate the Curiate Assembly a couple of times a year and, among other things, they chose the new king when the previous one died. Democracy without social classes that was effective while the city did not move its power away from its walls.
As the city grew, the king had to rely on a bureaucracy to attend to all aspects of government. Thus the Senate or Council of Elders was created, formed by one hundred first-born of the families descendants of the founding companions of Romulus. And over time they went from a mere advisory institution to be very influential.
Finally, the army was created as a definitive institution based on the Legion, at first only one, organized around the thirty curiae that each of them had to recruit a levy of one hundred infantrymen (centuria) and ten cavalrymen (decuria). In total, the primitive legion consisted of three thousand three hundred soldiers. The officers were then called praetors and the absolute command belonged to the king.
After these rural or agrarian kings, where the first signs of identity of the people are forged, a stage of Etruscan domination begins, from the year 616 BC, that will leave an indelible mark on the Roman culture. A thriving city needed more people to develop and much of that immigration came from Etruria, surely more economically and socially advanced than the first inhabitants of Rome.
A new era begins with those known as merchant kings. There are archaeological evidences that date the beginning of this period around the year 600 BC., thus confirming the stories of the classic historians. Lucius Tarquinius Priscus (or the Elder) from the Etruscan enclave of Tarquinia, son of Demaratus de Corinth and husband of Tanaquil, arrives in the city with his wealth and good work, and obtains from King Ancus Marcius the tutelage of his children. Little by little, he distances the heirs and manages to gain power. Tarquinius adopts the Etruscan royal insignia: crown, scepter, mantle of purple, throne of ivory, and the twelve lictors. He stood out for his victories over Latins and Sabines, for his commitment to beautification, began the construction of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, ordered the drainage of the lowest parts between the hills and was achieved thanks to the construction of a large underground drain : the Cloaca Maxima (still in operation today). Later he suffered an attack on the sons of Ancus who wanted to regain their right to the throne, but the heir was already Tarquinius’ son-in-law: Servius Tullius, who with the help of Tanaquil takes power forcing the sons of Ancus to flee precipitously.
Servius, of humble origin, carried out a civil organization of the State: elaborating the first census, establishing a system of taxes and establishing the obligatory military service. He divided the people into five classes (hierarchy that also applied to the military organization) that grouped centuries, each having a representative in the Assembly. Apparently it was a democratic system, but it was rather oligarchic, since the rich possessed 98 of the 193 centuries. In addition he extended the city with the incorporation of the last hill: Esquiline (Rome was already the septimontium). He divided the city into four regions, built a defensive wall (known in antiquity as Servian Wall), definitively subdued the Latins, and built the Temple of Diana, a symbol of union between Romans and Latins (parallelism with the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, which was the sanctuary of the league of the 12 Ionian cities), which came to be (in the words of Livy) «a recognition of the capital of Rome, an issue that had led to so many wars».
He was considered by many, including staunch defenders of the Republic, as the second founder of Rome. He carried out multiple reforms and left behind a city that, counting the conquered areas, already housed almost a million souls. It is estimated that only the city around one hundred thousand. Starting from the thirty or forty thousand of the times of the first legion, it is a considerable increase.
Finally Servius Tullius was assassinated by the supporters of the husband of Tullia (daughter of the king). The seventh and last monarch, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (or the Proud), denied burial to his father-in-law and killed all his supporters. He carried an authoritarian policy and as his predecessor enjoyed respect and inner greatness, he tried to settle his position through military campaigns abroad, thanks to his several tens of thousands of soldiers, and diplomatic skill when necessary. Among his achievements are the renewal of the alliance with Latins and the conquest of Sabina and much of Etruria, thus expanding the borders to dominate the Tyrrhenian Sea. At the end of his regency he left a regional power in the central Mediterranean awaiting a greater destiny. Lucius Tarquinius also finished the construction of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus on the famous Tarpeian rock.
The legend of the abolition of the monarchy comes from the event that carried out the son of the king with Lucretia and with Lucius Junius Brutus:
During the siege of the city of Ardea (of the Rutuli people), there was a bet of great lords about which of their women was the most virtuous. Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus showed that his wife, Lucretia, was worthy of that honour, and the son of the king became obsessed with the idea of possessing her. One day when he was received as a guest in Collatia, he slipped through the lady’s quarters and threatened her with death if she resisted his will, but Lucretia was adamant. The enraged son of the king told her that he would place next to her body the one of «a slaughtered and naked slave, so that it was said that she had been killed in degrading adultery» (Titus Livius).
Given this situation, Lucretia bent her will and was dishonored by the son of Tarquinius the Proud. After this, Lucretia immediately called her father and her husband, who came accompanied by the king’s nephew: Lucius Junius Brutus (who bore the nickname of Brutus, by fool, having adopted a submissive attitude towards the king, after learning of the death of his brother, supporter of the former monarch Servius Tullius). When she confessed what had happened and had demanded revenge under oath, she took a knife and before sticking it in her heart, she exclaimed: «you will see what is deserved; for my part, although I absolve myself of guilt, I do not exempt myself from punishment; henceforth no dishonoured woman will take Lucretia as an example to stay alive» (Titus Livius).
When the suicide materialized, Lucius Junius Brutus broke out in rage and swore on his life to persecute the son of the king and all his family, in blood and fire, and would not consent that neither they nor anyone else would reign over Rome. Lucretia’s body was taken to the Forum to show it to the people and Brutus delivered his speech. The king and his family were expelled from Rome and the monarchy banished forever from his people, despite Tarquinius’ futile attempts to recover the throne.
What is clear, whether or not this legend or other similar versions of it is true, is that when a popular revolt instigated by the patricians, who had great political force in the Senate and wealth from agriculture, around the year 509 BC suppresses the monarchy and implants a republican regime, where the maximum public powers would be granted to two consuls, renewable annually, Rome already had new walls, a sewer system (the Cloaca Maxima , which dried the ponds where the Forum would be built), a great temple in the Capitol, a fearsome army and a dense population.
A few months after the political change, a trade agreement was signed with Carthage to regulate the rights of the respective navies. That showed that the city was already powerful, a small power respected and disturbing to its neighbours and that is when it begins to set its eyes on the entire Latium and beyond.
Author: Eduardo Ortiz Pardina