The ancient quarters of Rome.
|-||715–673 BC||Numa Pompilius|
|-||673–642 BC||Tullus Hostilius|
|-||640–616 BC||Ancus Marcius|
|-||616–579 BC||L. Tarquinius Priscus|
|-||578–535 BC||Servius Tullius|
|-||535–509 BC||L. Tarquinius Superbus|
|Legislature||King, Roman Assemblies and Senate|
|Historical era||Iron Age|
|-||Founding of Rome||753 BC|
|-||Monarchy overthrown||509 BC|
|Today part of|| Italy
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
|Titles and honours|
|Precedent and law|
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Little is certain about the history of the kingdom, as nearly no written records from that time survive, and the histories about it that were written during the Republic and Empire are largely based on legends. However, the history of the Roman Kingdom began with the city's founding, traditionally dated to 753 BC with settlements around the Palatine Hill along the river Tiber in Central Italy, and ended with the overthrow of the kings and the establishment of the Republic in about 509 BC.
- 1 Origin
- 2 Monarchy
- 3 Legendary kings of Rome
- 4 Public offices after the monarchy
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The site of the founding of the Roman Kingdom and eventual Republic and Empire had a ford where the Tiber could be crossed. The Palatine Hill and hills surrounding it presented easily defensible positions in the wide fertile plain surrounding them. All of these features contributed to the success of the city.
The traditional account of Roman history, which has come down to us through Livy, Plutarch, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and others, is that in Rome's first centuries it was ruled by a succession of seven kings. The traditional chronology, as codified by Varro, allots 243 years for their reigns, an average of almost 35 years, which, since the work of Barthold Georg Niebuhr, has been generally discounted by modern scholarship. The Gauls destroyed much of Rome's historical records when they sacked the city after the Battle of the Allia in 390 BC (Varronian, according to Polybius the battle occurred in 387/6) and what was left was eventually lost to time or theft. With no contemporary records of the kingdom existing, all accounts of the kings must be carefully questioned.
The kings, excluding Romulus, who according to legend held office by virtue of being the city's founder, were all elected by the people of Rome to serve for life, with none of the kings relying on military force to gain or keep the throne.
The insignia of the kings of Rome were twelve lictors wielding the fasces bearing axes, the right to sit upon a Curule chair, the purple Toga Picta, red shoes, and a white diadem around the head. Of all these insignia, the most important was the purple toga.
The king was invested with the supreme military, executive, and judicial authority through the use of imperium. The imperium of the king was held for life and protected him from ever being brought to trial for his actions. As being the sole owner of imperium in Rome at the time, the king possessed ultimate executive power and unchecked military authority as the commander-in-chief of all Rome's legions. Also, the laws that kept citizens safe from magistrates' misuse of imperium did not exist during the monarchical period.
Another power of the king was the power to either appoint or nominate all officials to offices. The king would appoint a tribunus celerum to serve as both the tribune of Ramnes tribe in Rome and as the commander of the king's personal bodyguard, the Celeres. The king was required to appoint the tribune upon entering office and the tribune left office upon the king's death. The tribune was second in rank to the king and also possessed the power to convene the Curiate Assembly and lay legislation before it.
Another officer appointed by the king was the praefectus urbi, who acted as the warden of the city. When the king was absent from the city, the prefect held all of the king's powers and abilities, even to the point of being bestowed with imperium while inside the city.
The king even received the right to be the only person to appoint patricians to the Senate.
What is known for certain is that the king alone possessed the right to the auspice on behalf of Rome as its chief augur, and no public business could be performed without the will of the gods made known through auspices. The people knew the king as a mediator between them and the gods (cf. Latin pontifex, "bridge-builder", in this sense, between men and the gods) and thus viewed the king with religious awe. This made the king the head of the national religion and its chief executive. Having the power to control the Roman calendar, he conducted all religious ceremonies and appointed lower religious offices and officers. It is said that Romulus himself instituted the augurs and was believed to have been the best augur of all. Likewise, King Numa Pompilius instituted the pontiffs and through them developed the foundations of the religious dogma of Rome.
Under the kings, the Senate and Curiate Assembly had very little power and authority; they were not independent bodies in that they didn't possess the right to meet together and discuss questions of state at their own will. They could only be called together by the king and could only discuss the matters the king laid before them. While the Curiate Assembly did have the power to pass laws that had been submitted by the king, the Senate was effectively an honorary council. It could advise the king on his action but by no means could prevent him from acting. The only thing that the king could not do without the approval of the Senate and Curiate Assembly was to declare war against a foreign nation.
The king's imperium both granted him military powers and qualified him to pronounce legal judgment in all cases as the chief justice of Rome. Though he could assign pontiffs to act as minor judges in some cases, he had supreme authority in all cases brought before him, both civil and criminal. This made the king supreme in times of both war and peace. While some writers believed there was no appeal from the king's decisions, others believed that a proposal for appeal could be brought before the king by any patrician during a meeting of the Curiate Assembly.
To assist the king, a council advised him during all trials, but this council had no power to control his decisions. Also, two criminal detectives (Quaestores Parricidi) were appointed by him as well as a two-man criminal court (Duumviri Perduellionis) which oversaw cases of treason. According to Livy, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the seventh and final king of Rome, judged capital criminal cases without the advice of counsellors, thereby creating fear amongst those who might think to oppose him.
Election of the kings
Whenever a king died, Rome entered a period of interregnum. Supreme power of the state would devolve to the Senate, which was responsible for finding a new king. The Senate would assemble and appoint one of its own members—the interrex—to serve for a period of five days with the sole purpose of nominating the next king of Rome. After the five-day period, the interrex would appoint (with the Senate's consent) another Senator for another five-day term. This process would continue until a new king was elected. Once the interrex found a suitable nominee to the kingship, he would bring the nominee before the Senate and the Senate would review him. If the Senate passed the nominee, the interrex would convene the Curiate Assembly and preside over it during the election of the King.
Once proposed to the Curiate Assembly, the people of Rome could either accept or reject him. If accepted, the king-elect did not immediately enter office. Two other acts still had to take place before he was invested with the full regal authority and power.
First, it was necessary to obtain the divine will of the gods respecting his appointment by means of the auspices, since the king would serve as high priest of Rome. This ceremony was performed by an augur, who conducted the king-elect to the citadel where he was placed on a stone seat as the people waited below. If found worthy of the kingship, the augur announced that the gods had given favorable tokens, thus confirming the king’s priestly character.
The second act which had to be performed was the conferral of the imperium upon the king. The Curiate Assembly’s previous vote only determined who was to be king, and had not by that act bestowed the necessary power of the king upon him. Accordingly, the king himself proposed to the Curiate Assembly a law granting him imperium, and the Curiate Assembly by voting in favor of the law would grant it.
In theory, the people of Rome elected their leader, but the Senate had most of the control over the process.
According to legend, Romulus established the Senate after he founded Rome by personally selecting the most noble men (wealthy men with legitimate wives and children) to serve as a council for the city. As such, the Senate was the King’s advisory council as the Council of State. The Senate was composed of 300 Senators, with 100 Senators representing each of the three ancient tribes of Rome: the Ramnes (Latins), Tities (Sabines), and Luceres (Etruscans) tribes. Within each tribe, a Senator was selected from each of the tribe's ten curiae. The king had the sole authority to appoint the Senators, but this selection was done in accordance with ancient custom.
Under the monarchy, the Senate possessed very little power and authority as the king held most of the political power of the state and could exercise those powers without the Senate's consent. The chief function of the Senate was to serve as the king’s council and be his legislative coordinator. Once legislation proposed by the king passed the Comitia Curiata, the Senate could either veto it or accept it as law. The king was, by custom, to seek the advice of the Senate on major issues. However, it was left to him to decide what issues, if any, were brought before them and he was free to accept or reject their advice as he saw fit. Only the king possessed the power to convene the Senate, except during the interregnum, during which the Senate possessed the authority to convene itself.
Legendary kings of Rome
- Dates are approximate, consult particular article for details
|Year||King||Other notable information|
|753 BC - 717 BC||Romulus||Italian myth of Romulus and Remus|
|716 BC - 673 BC||Numa Pompilius||Rome's most important religious and political institutions are attributed to him|
|673 BC - 642 BC||Tullus Hostilius||Defeat of Alba Longa|
|640 BC - 616 BC||Ancus Marcius||Wars with the Sabines and Albans|
|616 BC - 579 BC||Tarquinius Priscus||Increased the number of the Senate; Built the Circus Maximus|
|578 BC - 535 BC||Servius Tullius||Compitalia festivals; Roman coinage developed|
|535 BC - 509 BC||Tarquinius Superbus||Last king of Rome|
Romulus was Rome's first king and the city's founder. In 753 BC, Romulus began building the city upon the Palatine Hill. After founding and naming (as the story goes) Rome, he permitted men of all classes to come to Rome as citizens, including slaves and freemen without distinction.
To provide his citizens with wives, Romulus invited the neighboring tribes to a festival in Rome where he abducted the young women from amongst them (known as The Rape of the Sabine Women). After the ensuing war with the Sabines, Romulus shared the kingship with the Sabine king Titus Tatius.
Romulus selected 100 of the most noble men to form the Roman senate as an advisory council to the king. These men he called patres (from pater = father, head), and their descendants became the patricians. He created three centuries of equites named Ramnes (meaning Romans), Tities (after the Sabine king) and a third called Luceres (Etruscans). He also divided the general populace into thirty curiae, named after thirty of the Sabine women who had intervened to end the war between Romulus and Tatius. The curiae formed the voting units in the Comitia Curiata.
After his death at the age of 54, Romulus was deified as the war god Quirinus and served not only as one of the three major gods of Rome but also as the deified likeness of the city of Rome.
He reigned for 36 years.
After the death of Romulus there was an interregnum for one year, during which ten men chosen from the senate governed Rome as successive interreges. Numa Pompilius, a Sabine, was eventually chosen by the senate to succeed Romulus, on account of his reputation for justice and piety.
Numa’s reign was marked by peace and religious reform.
Numa constructed a new temple to Janus and, after establishing peace with Rome's neighbours, shut the doors of the temple to indicate a state of peace. The doors of the temple remained closed for the balance of his reign.
Numa reigned for 43 years.
Tullus Hostilius was much like Romulus in his warlike behavior and completely unlike Numa in his lack of respect for the gods. Tullus waged war against Alba Longa, Fidenae and Veii and the Sabines. It was during Tullus' reign that the city of Alba Longa was completely destroyed and Tullus integrated its population into Rome.
According to Livy, Tullus neglected the worship of the gods until, towards the end of his reign, he fell ill and became superstitious. However, when Tullus called upon Jupiter and begged assistance, Jupiter responded with a bolt of lightning that burned the king and his house to ashes.
Tullus is attributed with constructing a new home for the Senate, the Curia Hostilia, which survived for 562 years after his death.
His reign lasted for 31 years.
Following the mysterious death of Tullus, the Romans elected a peaceful and religious king in his place, Numa’s grandson, Ancus Marcius. Much like his grandfather, Ancus did little to expand the borders of Rome and only fought war when his territories needed defending. He also built Rome's first prison on the Capitoline Hill.
During his reign, Janiculum Hill on the western bank was fortified further to protect Rome, and the first bridge across the Tiber River was built. He also founded the port of Ostia on the Tyrrhenian Sea and established Rome’s first salt works. Rome's size increased as Ancus used diplomacy peacefully to join some of the smaller surrounding cities into alliance with Rome. In this manner, he completed the conquest of the Latins and relocated them to the Aventine Hill, thus forming the plebeian class of Romans.
He died a natural death, like his grandfather before him, after 25 years as king, marking the end of the Latin-Sabine kings of Rome.
Lucius Tarquinius Priscus
Lucius Tarquinius Priscus was the fifth king of Rome and the first of Etruscan birth. After immigrating to Rome, he gained favor with Ancus, who later adopted him as his son. Upon ascending the throne, he waged wars against the Sabines and Etruscans, doubling the size of Rome and bringing great treasures to the city.
One of his first reforms was to add 100 new members to the Senate from the conquered Etruscan tribes, bringing the total number of senators to 200. He used the treasures Rome had acquired from the conquests to build great monuments for Rome. Among these were Rome’s great sewer systems, the Cloaca Maxima, which he used to drain the swamp-like area between the Seven Hills of Rome. In its place, he began construction on the Roman Forum. He also founded the Roman games.
The most famous of his great building projects is the Circus Maximus, a giant stadium used for chariot races. Priscus followed up the Circus Maximus with the construction of the temple-fortress to the god Jupiter upon the Capitoline Hill. Unfortunately, he was killed after 38 years as king at the hands of one of Ancus Marcius' sons before it could be completed. His reign is best remembered for introducing the Roman symbols of military and civil offices as well as the introduction of the Roman Triumph, being the first Roman to celebrate one.
Following Priscus’s death, his son-in-law Servius Tullius succeeded him to the throne, the second king of Etruscan birth to rule Rome. He was the son of a slave. Like his father-in-law before him, Servius fought successful wars against the Etruscans. He used the treasure from the campaigns to build the first walls to encircle fully the Seven Hills of Rome, the pomerium. He also made organizational changes to the Roman army.
He was renowned for implementing a new constitution for the Romans, further developing the citizen classes. Servius Tullius instituted Rome's first census which divided the people into five economic classes, and formed the Century Assembly. He also used his census to divide the people within Rome into four urban tribes based upon location within the city, establishing the Tribal Assembly. He also oversaw the construction of the temple to Diana on the Aventine Hill.
Servius’ reforms brought about a major change in Roman life: voting rights were now based on socio-economic status, transferring much of the power into the hands of the Roman elite. However, as time passed, Servius increasingly favored the poor in order to obtain support among the plebs. His appeal to the plebs often resulted in legislation unfavorable to the patricians. The 44-year reign of Servius came to an abrupt end when he was assassinated in a conspiracy led by his own daughter, Tullia, and her husband, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus.
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus
The seventh and final king of Rome was Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. He was the son of Priscus and the son-in-law of Servius. Together with his wife, he overthrew his predecessor.
In power, Tarquinius conducted a number of wars against Rome's neighbours, including in particular the Volsci, Gabii and the Rutuli. He also secured Rome's position as head of the Latin cities. Tarquin also engaged in a series of public works, notably the completion of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, and works on the Cloaca Maxima and the Circus Maximus.
However Tarquin's reign is best remembered for his use of violence and intimidation to attempt to maintain control over Rome, and disrespect of Roman custom and the Roman Senate.
Tensions came to a head when the king's son, Sextus Tarquinius, raped Lucretia, wife and daughter to powerful Roman nobles. Lucretia then told her relatives about the attack, and subsequently committed suicide to avoid the dishonour of the episode. Four men, led by Lucius Junius Brutus, and including also Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, Publius Valerius Poplicola, and Spurius Lucretius Tricipitinus incited a revolution, and as a result Tarquinius and his family were deposed and expelled from Rome in 509 B.C. Because of his actions and the way they were viewed by the people, the word for King, Rex, held a negative connotation in the Latin language until the fall of the Roman Empire.
Brutus and Collatinus became Rome's first consuls, marking the beginning of the Roman Republic. This new government would survive for the next 500 years until the rise of Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus, and would cover a period during which Rome's authority and area of control extended to cover great areas of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.
Public offices after the monarchy
To replace the leadership of the kings, a new office was created with the title of consul. Initially, the consuls possessed all of the king’s powers in the form of two men, elected for a one-year term, who could veto each other's actions. Later, the consuls’ powers were broken down further by adding other magistrates that each held a small portion of the king’s original powers. First among these was the praetor, which removed the consuls’ judicial authority from them. Next came the censor, which stripped from the consuls the power to conduct the census.
The Romans instituted the idea of a dictatorship. A dictator would have complete authority over civil and military matters within the Roman imperium, and was not legally responsible for his actions as a dictator and therefore was unquestionable. However, the power of the dictator was so absolute that Ancient Romans were hesitant in electing one, reserving this decision only to times of severe emergencies. Although this seems similar to the roles of a king, dictators of Rome were limited to serving a maximum six-month term limit. Contrary to the modern notion of a dictator as a usurper, Roman Dictators were freely chosen, usually from the ranks of consuls, during turbulent periods when one-man rule proved more efficient.
The king's religious powers were given to two new offices: the Rex Sacrorum and the Pontifex Maximus. The Rex Sacrorum was the de jure highest religious official for the Republic. His sole task was to make the annual sacrifice to Jupiter, a privilege that had been previously reserved for the king. The pontifex maximus, however, was the de facto highest religious official, who held most of the king’s religious authority. He had the power to appoint all vestal virgins, flamens, pontiffs, and even the Rex Sacrorum himself. By the beginning of the 1st Century BC, the Rex Sacrorum was all but forgotten and the pontifex maximus given almost complete religious authority over the Roman religion.
- Asimov, Isaac. Asimov's Chronology of the World. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. p. 69.
- Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1.49
- Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:8
- Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:9-13
- Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:8, 13
- Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:14-15
- Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:17-18
- Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:19
- Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:20
- Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:31
- Livy: Ab Urbe Condita.
- Frank, Tenney: An Economic History of Rome. 1920.
- Patria Potestas: a view of suppressed matrilineality in the early legends of Rome
- The Kings of Rome
- Nova Roma - Educational Organization about "All Things Roman"
- History of Rome podcasts History of Rome podcasts