Early Rome. II.

Lecture 3, Thursday 25th January 2018

The Kings of Rome 

Cicero, On the Republic (2.58)Scipio: “Are you aware that it is less than four hundred years* since the city was ruled by kings?”
Laelius: “It is certainly less than that.”
Scipio: “Well, four hundred years is not very long, is it, in the life of a city or state?”
Laelius: “Hardly enough to bring it to maturity.”
Scipio: “Then there was a king at Rome less than four hundred years ago?”
Laelius: “Yes, and a proud one [et superbus quidem].”
Scipio: “And who preceded him?”
Laelius. “A very just king, and the line reaches all the way back to Romulus, who reigned six hundred years ago.”

* = dialogue is set in 129 BCE, but was written in the 50s BCE.

Cicero, On the Republic (2.33)Laelius: “Truly a praiseworthy king! But the history of Rome is indeed obscure if we know who this king’s mother was, but are ignorant of his father’s name!”
Scipio: “That’s true. But for this period, very little more than the names of the kings has been handed down to us with any certainty…”

REX = Latin “king”
from Latin regere, “to keep straight or from going wrong,
to lead straight; to guideconductdirect”

“In ancient Rome the king had also priestly dignities and duties; after the kings were expelled, the name rex continued to be given in religious language to the priest who performed these duties; e.g. rex sacrorum.” (Lewis & Short)

Archaeological evidence?

Lapis niger (“black stone”) stele (6th c. BCE)

Lapis Niger Roman Forum flickr L. Allen Brewer.jpg

Upper Left: photograph of the lapis niger stele. Image: Sailko [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via wikimedia. Upper Middle: early 20th century rubbing of the inscription from Sandys 1913: 732, pl. 107. Image: wikimedia. Upper Right: diagram showing the “bi-directional” text (boustrophedon). Image: imperioromano.com [CC BY-SA 3.0], via wikimedia. Below: photograph of the lapis niger today. Photo: L. Allen Brewer [CC BY 2.0], via flickr.

  • earliest Latin inscription carved in stone (an earlier example not carved into stone but gold = Praeneste fibula)
  • four sides of a rectangular pillar of tufa lying 5 feet below black marble pavement (= lapis niger) between the Roman Forum and the Comitium
  • “The letters run in lines vertical to the base; the first line is written from below upward, the second from above downward, and so on, alternately.” (Sandys 1913: 731) = boustrophedon — written alternating between right to left and left to right (“like an ox in ploughing”)
  • difficult to decipher but mentions Latin word: RECEI (for “regi” = rex)
    • this seems to be archaeological evidence that the Roman kings actually existed, and were not simply Roman folk-tales
  • the Latin text also seems to be a warning against defilement of the sacred spot; text reads: “Whosoever defiles this spot, let him be forfeit to the spirits of the underworld;…” (ILS 4913, CIL 6.36840)

Festus (184L): “The black stone (=lapis niger) in the Comitium marks off a place of burial. Some say it was destined to be the burial spot of Romulus, before he disappeared and made his burial impossible. Others say his foster-father Faustulus was buried here, still others, that it was Hostilius, grandfather of the Roman king Tullius Hostilius.”

The Death of Romulus

Livy (1.16): As the king was holding a muster in the Campus Martius, near the swamp of Capra, for the purpose of reviewing the army, suddenly a storm came up, with loud claps of thunder, and enveloped him in a cloud so thick as to hide him from the sight of the assembly; and from that moment Romulus was no more on earth. The Roman soldiers at length recovered from their panic, when this hour of wild confusion had been succeeded by a sunny calm; but when they saw that the royal seat was empty, although they readily believed the assertion of the senators, who had been standing next to Romulus, that he had been caught up on high in the blast, they nevertheless remained for some time sorrowful and silent, as if filled with the fear of orphanhood. Then, when a few men had taken the initiative, they all with one accord hailed Romulus as a god and a god’s son, the King and Father of the Roman City, and with prayers besought his favour that he would graciously be pleased forever to protect his children. There were some, I believe, even then who secretly asserted that the king had been rent in pieces by the hands of the senators, for this rumour, too, got abroad, but in very obscure terms; the other version obtained currency, owing to men’s admiration for the hero and the intensity of their panic. And the shrewd device of one man is also said to have gained new credit for the story. This was Proculus Julius, who, when the people were distracted with the loss of their king and in no friendly mood towards the senate, being, as tradition tells, weighty in council, were the matter never so important, addressed the assembly as follows: “Quirites, the Father of this City, Romulus, descended suddenly from the sky at dawn this morning and appeared to me. Covered with confusion, I stood reverently before him, praying that it might be vouchsafed me to look upon his face without sin. ‘Go,’ said he, ‘and declare to the Romans the will of Heaven that my Rome shall be the capital of the world; so let them cherish the art of war, and let them know and teach their children that no human strength can resist Roman arms.’ So saying,” he concluded, “Romulus departed on high.” It is wonderful what credence the people placed in that man’s tale, and how the grief for the loss of Romulus, which the plebeians and the army felt, was quieted by the assurance of his immortality.

The Seven Kings of Rome
Regal period = 753-509 BCE

The following dates, derived from Cornell 1995: 119ff., are all highly suspect. Forsythe 2005: 98 gives slightly different ones. They are simply used for convenience, to show general trends in development. 
1. Romulus 753-717 BCE
  • descended via Ilia from Aeneas (Ennius, Dion. of H. 1.73)
  • seizure of the Sabines
  • co-rule with Titus Tatius (Sabine king), Cic. Rep. 2.28, Liv. 1.13
  • wars against Caenina, Fidenae, Veii
  • earliest Roman institutions
  • “The first king, Romulus, probably never existed. His name appears to be a crude eponym formed from the name of the city; it has the form of an adjective, and means simply ‘Roman’.” (Cornell 1995: 119)

2. Numa Pompilius

 Numa PompiliusAnton Nyström, Allmän kulturhistoria eller det mänskliga lifvet i dess utveckling, bd 2 (1901).jpg


Ancile,_Nordisk_familjebok https:::commons.wikimedia.org:wiki:File:Ancile,_Nordisk_familjebok.png


Salii carrying the Ancilia Etruscan Sardonyx.jpg


flamines apex.jpg


Dennison Vergil p208 Temple of Janus


716-674 BCE
  • “a Sabine from the town of Cures” (Cic. Rep. 2.25)
  • Romans had been fired up for war under the warlike Romulus, Numa consciously tried to insert a desire for peace (Cic. Rep. 2.25, Liv. 1.21)
  • marriage to Nymph Egeria, and inspiration/knowledge from her (Liv. 1.19.4-51.21.3)
  • invention of major religious institutions:
    • lunar calendar: Liv. 1.19.6
    • priesthoods:
      • (flamines) for Mars and Quirinus, Liv. 1.20
      • priest of Jupiter (flamen Dialis), Liv. 1.20
      • Vestal Virgins, Liv. 1.20, Cic. Rep. 2.26
        • 12 Salian priests (Salii) to serve Mars Gradivus, Liv. 1.20.4: “granted them the distinction of wearing the embroidered tunic and over it a bronze breastplate, and of bearing the divine shields which men call ancilia, while they proceeded through the city, chanting their hymns to the triple beat of their solemn dance.”
        • Varro (LL 5.85): “The Salii derive their title from the verb ‘to dance’ [salitare].”
        • both flamines and Salii wore a special hat called an apex
      • pontifex to look after religious practices at Rome, Liv. 1.20
      • established the Temple of Janus, associated with peace (Liv. 1.19, Plutarch, Numa 20)
  • legend made Numa a student of the mystical mathematician, Pythagoras, Plutarch Numa(chronologically impossible: P. lived a century later, c. 570-495 BCE, as Cicero Rep. 2.28 notes)
  • Beard-North-Price 1998: vol. 2, § 1.2: “by the first century B.C., Roman writers could have had no direct evidence for what King Numa (if he really existed) did or did not do. That reforms cluster around his name reflect the idea that the city needed a separate religious founder, as opposed to Romulus the first king (although Romulus himself is often made responsible for much of the religion as well).” 
3. Tullus Hostilius
673-642 BCE
  • war with Alba Longa
  • in contrast to Numa, deliberately un-religious (shower of stones on Alban Mount, Liv. 1.31)
  • Numa + Tullus Hostilius “little more than contrasting stereotypes, the one pacific and devout [Numa], the other warlike and ferocious [Hostilius]” (Cornell 1995: 119); “historical in the sense that the region of the Alban Hills became part of Roman territory at some point in the regal period” (Cornell 1995: 120)

4. Ancus Martius

Pons_Sublicius_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_19694.jpgPONS SUBLICIUS

position of the pons sublicia Morey 1901 forumromanum.org.jpgPOSITION OF PONS SUBLICIUS

641-617 BCE
  • Sabine origin, grandson of Numa (Cic. Rep. 2.33)
  • built first bridge across Tiber: Sublician Bridge, Pons Sublicius; built entirely out of wood, no metal (Plutarch, Numa 9; Varro LL 5.83)
  • extended Roman territory to coast
  • foundation of Ostia
  • later Roman poets call him bonus Ancus, “Ancus the Good” (Ennius Ann. 137, Lucretius 3.1025)
5. L. Tarquinius Priscus (‘the Elder’, literally ‘the Ancient’)

Dennison 1902 p140 ad Aen 5.142.pngCIRCUS MAXIMUS

616-578 BCE
  • part Etruscan
  • warrior, constitutional innovator, civic benefactor
  • increased size of senate + cavalry
  • started ludi + public entertainments; established Circus Maximus (Liv. 1.35)
  • victory over Sabines, Latins; Etruscans (?)

6. Servius TulliusServian wall .jpgSERVIAN WALL

578-534 BCE
  • “Servian Reform”: reorganization of citizens
    • Cornell 1995: 173: “Servius divided the people into new tribes,…and carried out the first census, a characteristic Roman institution by which the citizen population was not only enumerated but carefully divided into ranks and status groups according to wealth and property. Indeed it is possible to argue…that Servius Tullius invented the idea of Roman citizenship.”
  • construction of temples, public buildings, fortifications (marked out pomerium), Liv. 1.44.3ff.; the Servian wall (Liv. 1.44, Dionys. of H. 4.13)
  • obtained kingship through popular support, Cic. Rep. 2.38 (“proto-republican magistrate”, Cornell 1995: 120)
7. L. Tarquinius Superbus (‘the Proud’)

temple of Jupiter Capitolinus 509 gutenberg.jpgTEMPLE OF CAPITOLINE JUPITER

cloaca maxima gutenberg.jpgCLOACA MAXIMA

534-509 BCE


Scholarly assessment? 

    • Cornell 1995: 121: “…if one thing is certain about the regal period, it is that the traditional chronology is historically impossible…the canonical list of seven kings is almost certainly incomplete.”
    • Forsythe 2005: 98: “Given the vagaries of human mortality in early central Italy, it seems very unlikely that these regnal years for seven successive kings accurately reflect the history of the regal period. Rather, their numerical values and symmetry betray the obvious fact that they were the product of later historical reconstruction.”
    • Cornell 1995: 122: many scholars have distinguished between early “Latino-Sabine” period which gives way to an “Etruscan” period under Tarquins: “on this view it was the Etruscans who were responsible for all the…changes that Rome underwent during the last century of the monarchy; it was Etruscans, in short, who made Rome into a city…[this view] has no warrant either in the written sources or in the archaeological record
    • Forsythe 2005: 98: “what is perhaps most striking about the list of early Roman kings is that their names (apart from the two Tarquins) indicate the absence of a hereditary principle.” 

The Rape of Lucretia — the Foundation of the Roman Republic

  • drinking leads to contest of wifely excellence between men
  • they go and spy on their wives — while other wives are partying and having fun, Lucretia (wife of Collatinus) is weaving at home late into the night
  • Collatinus wins for having the most virtuous wife; meanwhile, Sextus Tarquin (son of king) instantly wants her and decides that he will have sex with her
  • unknown to Collatinus, Sextus Tarquin returns to his house soon after
  • at night, Sextus Tarquin accosts a sleeping Lucretia with a “sword”
  • Lucretia resists all attempts to persuade her, does not fear death; but when Sextus Tarquin threatens to disgrace her by leaving the body of a slave next to hers, she acquiesces
  • Tarquin forces himself on Lucretia and leaves
  • Lucretia summons her father and her husband, asking them each to bring one faithful friend; her husband brings Lucius Junius Brutus
  • when the men arrive, Lucretia discloses the rape and the rapist; the men try to console her, but she has them swear to punish the rapist
  • each man swears an oath, and Lucretia, to their surprise, kills herself
  • Brutus takes the bloody sword from her body and swears to drive out the Tarquins

Livy 1.57-59.: The royal princes sometimes spent their leisure hours in feasting and entertainments, and at a wine party given by Sextus Tarquinius at which Collatinus, the son of Egerius, was present, the conversation happened to turn upon their wives, and each began to speak of his own in terms of extraordinarily high praise. As the dispute became warm Collatinus said that there was no need of words, it could in a few hours be ascertained how far his Lucretia was superior to all the rest. ‘Why do we not,’ he exclaimed, ‘if we have any youthful vigour about us mount our horses and pay your wives a visit and find out their characters on the spot? What we see of the behaviour, of each on the unexpected arrival of her husband, let that be the surest test.’ They were heated with wine, and all shouted: ‘Good! Come on!’ Setting spur to their horses they galloped off to Rome, where they arrived as darkness was beginning to close in. From there they proceeded to Collatia, where they found Lucretia very differently employed from the king’s daughters-in-law, whom they had seen passing their time in feasting and luxury with their acquaintances. She was sitting at her wool work in the hall, late at night, with her, maids busy round her. The palm in this competition of wifely virtue was awarded to Lucretia. She welcomed the arrival of her husband and the Tarquins, whilst her victorious spouse courteously invited the royal princes to remain as his guests. Sextus Tarquin, inflamed by the beauty and exemplary purity of Lucretia, formed the vile project of effecting her dishonour. After their youthful frolic they returned for the time to camp.

[1.58] A few days afterwards Sextus Tarquin went, unknown to Collatinus, with one companion to Collatia.  He was hospitably received by the household, who suspected nothing, and after supper was conducted to the bedroom set apart for guests. When all around seemed safe and everybody fast asleep, he went in the frenzy of his passion with a naked sword to the sleeping Lucretia, and placing his left hand on her breast, said, ‘Silence, Lucretia! I am Sextus Tarquin, and I have a sword in my hand; if you utter a word, you shall die.’ When the woman, terrified out of her sleep, saw that no help was near, and instant death threatening her, Tarquin began to confess his passion, pleaded, used threats as well as entreaties, and employed every argument likely to influence a female heart. When he saw that she was inflexible and not moved even by the fear of death, he threatened to disgrace her, declaring that he would lay the naked corpse of the slave by her dead body, so that it might be said that she had been slain in foul adultery. By this awful threat, his lust triumphed over her inflexible chastity, and Tarquin went off exulting in having successfully attacked her honour. Lucretia, overwhelmed with grief at such a frightful outrage, sent a messenger to her father at Rome and to her husband at Ardea, asking them to come to her, each accompanied by one faithful friend; it was necessary to act, and to act promptly; a horrible thing had happened. Spurius Lucretius came with Publius Valerius, the son of Volesus; Collatinus with Lucius Junius Brutus, with whom he happened to be returning to Rome when he was met by his wife’s messenger. They found Lucretia sitting in her room prostrate with grief. As they entered, she burst into tears, and to her husband’s inquiry whether all was well, replied, ‘No! what can be well with a woman when her honour is lost? The marks of a stranger Collatinus are in your bed. But it is only the body that has been violated the soul is pure; death shall bear witness to that. But pledge me your solemn word that the adulterer shall not go unpunished. It is Sextus Tarquin, who, coming as an enemy instead of a guest forced from me last night by brutal violence a pleasure fatal to me, and, if you are men, fatal to him.’ They all successively pledged their word, and tried to console the distracted woman, by turning the guilt from the victim of the outrage to the perpetrator, and urging that it is the mind that sins not the body, and where there has been no consent there is no guilt ‘It is for you,’ she said, ‘to see that he gets his deserts: although I acquit myself of the sin, I do not free myself from the penalty; no unchaste woman shall henceforth live and plead Lucretia‘s example.’ She had a knife concealed in her dress which she plunged into her, heart, and fell dying on the floor. Her father and husband raised the death-cry.

[1.59] Whilst they were absorbed in grief, Brutus drew the knife from Lucretia‘s wound and holding it, dripping with blood, in front of him, said, ‘By this blood – most pure before the outrage wrought by the king’s son — I swear, and you, oh gods, I call to witness that I will drive hence Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, together with his cursed wife and his whole brood, with fire and sword and every means in my power, and I will not suffer them or any one else to reign in Rome.’


Further Reading:
  • Stephanie Jed, Chaste Thinking: The Rape of Lucretia and the Birth of Humanism. 1989. [Mugar: PA8420.S15 D4435 1989] = how the icon of Lucretia became part of the narrative about liberation 
  • for more on any aspect of Roman religion: Beard-North-Price, Religions of Rome. 1998. Vol. 1 (narrative), Vol. 2 (sourcebook) [Mugar: MG1 VA201 OS]
  • the earliest extant narrative about early Roman history is Cicero On the Republic (book 2) — sadly, there isn’t an English text available online but if you’re interested you could either read the Loeb edition [ISBN: 9780674992351] or James Zetzel’s translation [ISBN: 1316505561] 
IMAGES & ILLUSTRATIONS: NUMA: drawing of a coin from the Augustan period showing Numa. Minted by a man who claimed to be his descendant, Gn. Calpurnius Piso. Image: Nyström 1901, via wikimedia. ANCILIA: drawing of what the shields of the Salii may have looked like, based on ancient literary sources. Image: wikimedia.  Livy describes the shields as caelestia arma (‘arms from the sky’, 1.20) because one of the shields was supposed to have fallen to the ground from the sky in Numa’s reign (Dion. of H. 2.71). SALII: drawing of 2 Salian priests carrying the ancilia, replication of a 4th c. BCE Etruscan gem engraving. Image: Project Gutenberg. APEX: drawing of the cone- or dome-shaped headgear worn by flamines and salii. “The essential part of the apex, to which alone the name properly belonged, was a pointed piece of olive-wood, the base of which was surrounded with a lock of wool” (Smith 1875). Image: wikimedia. TEMPLE OF JANUS: drawing of a coin from the Neronian period depicting the Temple of Janus. Image: Dennison 1902: 208. PONS SUBLICIUS: drawing of the Sublician Bridge, supposed to have been built by Ancus Martius. It was the first bridge to cross the Tiber. Image: wikimedia. POSITION OF PONS SUBLICIUS: drawn map of Rome showing where the wooden bridge crossed the River Tiber. Image: Morey 1901, via forumromanum.org. CIRCUS MAXIMUS: drawn plan of the circus for chariot-racing. Image: Dennison 1902: 140 (on Aen. 5.142).  SERVIAN WALL: drawn map showing the possible circuit of Servius’ fortifications. Image: Project Gutenberg. TEMPLE OF CAPITOLINE JUPITER: drawing of a reconstruction of Temple of Jupiter. Image: Project Gutenberg. CLOACA MAXIMA: drawing of the Great Sewer. Image: Project Gutenberg.