The Seven Legendary Kings of Rome

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The mythical seven kings of Rome: myths, history & facts

The seven kings of Rome, according to legend, were the first kings who ruled Rome from the founding of Rome in 753 BC until 509 BC, when the last king, Tarquinius the Superbus, was deposed and driven from the City.

Roman sources hand down the names of eight kings who succeeded each other during the royal era. Romulus, the founder of Rome, ruled for some years with the Sabine Titus Tatius, establishing a diarchy.

After Romulus, the dynastic status of the kings was unknown, and the hereditary principle was not mentioned until Tarquinius Priscus, the fifth monarch. As a result, some people believe that the Republic was created as a result of the Tarquins’ desire to replace the previous hypothetical elected monarchy with a hereditary one.

Originally, Rome was ruled by an absolute monarch (rex) who had absolute power over the people. The Senate, at this stage, was an honorable council. It could advise the king on his action but, by no means, could prevent him from acting.

After Romulus, the king was elected by the people of Rome, who met in an assembly, the Curiate Assembly (comitia curiata). Roman citizens attended this assembly divided by curie, which Roman tradition said were created at the behest of Romulus. This assembly met in the Comitium, the political center of Rome located in the Roman Forum. All adult males from patrician families participated in Rome’s oldest city assembly. In them, members of the gentes were divided into 30 curies (groups of men), 10 from each of the 3 tribes from which the nucleus of the city of Rome had been formed: the Ramnes (Latins), the Tities (Sabines) and the Luceres (Etruscans).

Comitia Curiata
Before Servius Tullius formed the Comitia Centuriata, the Curiate Assembly was the main assembly that evolved during the course of the Roman Empire. Rome’s populace was divided during this time into thirty units known as “Curiae.” (source)

Any source might be used to choose throne contenders. Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, for instance, was initially a native of and immigrant from a nearby Etruscan city-state. The Curiate Assembly, representing the people of Rome, then had the option of accepting or rejecting the proposed candidate-king. The monarch was dressed in a purple toga picta, crimson shoes, twelve lictors holding fasces, a curule chair that served as a throne, and a white tiara on his head. Purple togas were only permitted on the king.

The victory of Tullius Hostilius over Veji, 17th century, (source)

The use of imperium granted the monarch absolute military, administrative, and judicial authority in addition to his religious authority. The monarch was the single imperium holder in Rome at the time, and as commander-in-chief of all Rome’s armies, he had unrestricted military authority. As Rome’s supreme judge, the king’s imperium gave him the authority to use both military authority and the right to provide judgment in all matters. While he may occasionally designate pontiffs to serve as lesser judges, he possessed ultimate power in all matters brought before him, including both civil and criminal proceedings.

Romulus, ROMVLVS

Birth c. 770
Reign c. 753 – 716 BC (37 years)

Romulus and Remus
Romulus and Remus, print, Wenceslaus Hollar, Giulio Romano (source) According to legend, Romulus and Remus were found and raised by a she-wolf and a woodpecker who protected them

Romulus was the legendary founder and first king of Rome. Many of Rome’s earliest judicial, political, religious, and social institutions were founded, according to various stories, by Romulus and his contemporaries. The events and institutions attributed to Romulus were crucial to the mythologies surrounding Rome’s beginnings and cultural traditions, even if many of these stories contain aspects of folklore and it is unclear to what degree a real individual underlying the mythological Romulus. The myths surrounding Romulus include a number of distinct events, such as the miraculous birth and youth of Romulus and his twin brother Remus; Remus’ death and the founding of Rome; the Rape of the Sabine Women and the ensuing war with the Sabines; a period of shared rule with Titus Tatius; the establishment of various Roman institutions; Romulus’ death or apotheosis; and Numa Pompilius’s succession.

Numa Pompilius, NVMA POMPILIVS

Birth c. 753 BC
Reign c. 715 – 672 BC (43 years)

Incoronation of Numa Pompilius (source)

Many of Rome’s most significant religious and political institutions, including the Roman calendar, Vestal Virgins, the cults of Mars, Jupiter, Romulus, and the post of pontifex maximus, are credited to Numa Pompilius. The Romans historically honored Numa for his knowledge and piety. In addition to Jupiter’s support, he is said to have been close to a number of other gods, most notably the nymph Egeria, who is credited with teaching him how to be a good legislator. According to legend, Numa wrote multiple “holy books” in which he recorded heavenly instructions, mostly from Egeria and the Muses. It is said that Numa forced the two lesser gods Picus and Faunus to make some predictions about the future. Building a Janus temple to serve as a sign of peace and war was one of Numa’s first deeds. The religion of Terminus, a deity of boundaries, is another innovation credited to Numa. According to legend, Numa instituted a new calendar that split the year into twelve months in line with the lunar path, but with the solstitial revolution altered.

Tullus Hostilius, TVLLVS HOSTILIVS

Birth ???
Reign c. 672 – 640 BC (32 years)

Lo Scheggia, Reduction of Alba Longa by Tullus Hostilius
Reduction of Alba Longa by Tullus Hostilius, Lo Scheggia, circa 1430 – 35

According to the Roman historian Livy, Tullus was a warlike ruler who thought that Rome had been harmed by his forebear’s preference for peace. The defeat of Alba Longa was the main accomplishment of Tullus’ rule. Alba Longa surrendered to Rome after being defeated (by three Roman champions defeating three Albans).

Ancus Marcius, ANCVS MARCIVS

Birth ???
Reign c. 640 – 616 BC (24 years)

Ancus Marcius
Ancus Marcius

Traditionally, Ancus Marcius ruled for 24 years. According to legend, Ancus established his authority by engaging in battle, as did Romulus, but simultaneously fostering religion and tranquility, as did Numa.

Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, LVCIVS TARQVINIVS PRISCVS

Birth ???
Reign c. 616 – 578 BC (38 years)

Triumph of Lucius Tarquinius from Hans Tirol’s chronicle work, Eton College Library (source)

Tarquinius increased Roman authority via military conquest and opulent building endeavors. Tanaquil, a prophetess, was his wife. At first known as Lucumo, he was the first Etruscan king. Tarquin added 100 men from the leading minor families, bringing the Senate’s total to 300. Among them was the Octavii clan, from which Augustus, the first emperor, sprung. He is credited with enlarging the territory of Rome and subduing the local Latin, Sabine, and Etruscan tribes. According to legend, Tarquin constructed the Cloaca Maxima, Rome’s largest sewer, as well as the Circus Maximus, the city’s first and largest venue for chariot racing. The first Roman emperor to ever celebrate a victory was Tarquinius.

Servius Tullius, SERVIVS TVLLIVS

Birth ???
Reign c. 578 – 534 BC (44 years)

The murder of the Roman King Servius Tillius, Louis Jean François Lagrenée, 1770
The murder of the Roman King Servius Tillius, Louis Jean François Lagrenée, 1770

He is variously referred to as the first Roman king to ascend without election by the Senate, having gained the throne through popular and royal support, or as the first to be elected by the Senate alone, with the support of the reigning queen but without recourse to a popular vote. The constitutional basis for his accession is unclear. King Servius was well-liked and regarded as one of Rome’s greatest benefactors. He enlarged the city to cover the Quirinal, Viminal, and Esquiline hills and achieved military victories over the Veii and the Etruscans. He is credited with founding the Compitalia festivities, erecting the temples to Fortuna and Diana, and—less credibly—creating Rome’s first real money. He increased the Roman franchise and raised the lot and fortune of Rome’s lowest classes of citizens and non-citizens in spite of resistance from the patricians. His daughter Tullia and son-in-law Lucius Tarquinius Superbus killed him.

Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, LVCIVS TARQVINIVS SVPERBVS

Birth ???
Reign c. 534 – 509 BC
(25 years)

Lucius Tarquinius Superbus
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, between 1560 and 1569, (source)

According to legend, Tarquinius, who was possibly the son or grandson of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, ascended to the throne by assassinating Servius Tullius before killing his wife and older brother. His rule has been characterized as a despotism and justified the abolition of monarchy. As soon as Tarquin became emperor, he refused to bury Servius and executed some prominent senators whom he believed to still be Servius’ allies. He reduced the number and power of the senate by failing to replace the assassinated senators and failing to consult it on questions of governance. During his reign, the 100-year struggle between Romans and Volscians began. Under Tarquinius, the Romans conquered the city of Gabii. Livy claims that Tarquinius Superbus dispatched his son Sextus Tarquinius  to mislead the people of Gabii into thinking he was defecting since he was having trouble taking the town. Before betraying them and allowing his father to conquer the town, Sextus rose to the rank of commander in their army.

Featured image: Procession with Romulus and his wife Hersilia on a victory chariot,


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