The institution of the Roman Kingdom is commonly dated 753 B.C. Its demise is dated at 509 B.C. following the rise of the Roman Republic. Records of this era are scarce, as there is no written material that has survived from that time. The historic accounts of this era are usually derived from literary records from both the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire—heavily based on legend.
Romulus, Victor over Acron, hauls the rich booty to the temple of Jupiter, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1812)
Legend has it that all the Kings, save Romulus who ascended to the throne as the city’s founder, were chosen by the populace to serve for eternity, without the need of military power to obtain or maintain the throne.
The Constitution of the Roman Kingdom
The Roman Kingdom’s constitution was a collection of tacit principles and guidelines. During this era, the arrangement of the constitution largely revolved around the king who possessed full rights to the appointment of assistants.
The Roman Senate served as an advisory council to the king. The Senate is often asked by the king to vote on different matters, but the king also had the power to ignore any counseling they gave him. Aside from the Senate, the popular assembly (the “Curiate Assembly”) was also asked to vote on different matters, which the king was free to ignore too.
The popular assembly was a platform for the People of Rome to express their opinions. The popular assembly, moreover, had other functions as well. For instance, citizens used this medium to hear proclamation; and it was also a trial court that was employed for both civilian and criminal affairs.
The authority and power of the Senate and Curiate Assembly, under the monarchy, was circumscribed. They possessed no rights to independently raise questions or deliberate on the matters of state; it was only when the king calls them they could discuss the topic that he raises. If the king submitted legislative reforms, the Curiate Assembly then had the right to implement them. The king’s political power over the state was unparalleled; he was at full liberty to exercise his powers without the consent of the Senate. The Senate, could bestow the king advice on his action but in no way will it stop him from acting on them. It was only on the matters of declaring war against foreign nations that the king needed the consent of the Curate Assembly and the Senate.
By way of his supreme power, the king possessed full military and judicial power. As the Chief Justice of Rome, he had the right to declare legal judgment. Even though the king had pontiffs who would do his bidding, he maintained full power on both criminal and civil cases. This positioned the king at the helm at all times—whether during war or peacetime.
There was a period of interregnum that Rome entered following the death of a king. The Senate would possess full power and would shoulder the responsibility of finding the next king. The Senate would amass and assign the Interrex, one of its own members, to rule for five days. Following this period, the Interrex would in turn institute another Senator the same period of five days. This cycle goes on until Rome finds the new king. The right nominee to the throne is brought forth by the interrex to the Senate who then speculates the would-be king. Upon the approval of the Senate, the candidate is then put before the Curiate Assembly. The Romans are then given the option of either rejecting or accepting the new king.
Romulus was the first king of Rome. Romulus began by constructing his city on the Palatine Hill, which he named after him. Men of all walks of life, including slaves, criminals and freemen, were allowed to enter Rome and instantly become citizens.
Because the number of men was much larger than women, Rome was unable to create posterity of its own. The new Roman men, therefore, decided to capture women from an adjacent city. The Sabine and Latins came to Rome after an invitation by the Romans for a jamboree. As the men continued to enjoy themselves, the Romans seized the opportunity to abduct the women of the city. This occurrence is known as ‘The Rape of the Sabine Women.’ The captured women were obliged to marry their abductors. Infuriated by this subterfuge, the Sabine and Latin men waged war against Rome. Rome ended up triumphing.
Despite the colossal defeat, Titus Tatius, the Sabine King, endeavored to attack Rome, advancing to the Capitoline citadel. The Romans were besieged by the Sabines and almost saw their defeat. It was only when Jupiter answered the prayer of Romulus, that the Romans saw final victory.
Following the war, Romulus agreed to share power with Titus Tatius.
After reigning for thirty-six years, Romulus died at the age of 54. He was defied as Quirinus (the war god).
Numa Pompilius was the second of the seven kings who reigned from 715-673 B.C. There came a period of interregnum of 12 months after the death of Romulus. During this time a group of ten men—members of the Senate— ruled Rome consecutively. The Senate elected Numa Pompilius as king on the strength of two of his reputations: justice and piety.
The reign of Numa was depicted as a period of peace that saw many religious reforms.
He built a new temple consecrated to the deity Janus. After establishing a peaceful relationship with Rome’s neighbors, Numa shut the gates of the shrine to symbolize peace. He is credited for founding Rome’s other early religious institutions, which incorporates the Vestal Virgins; the three Flamines for Jupiter and Quirinus; and the bureau of Pontifex Maximus.
The Roman calendar was reformed under Numa’s reign. The adjustments conformed to the lunar and solar year; January and February were also inserted to have the months add to twelve. Numa is the peaceful counterpart of the more aggressive Romulus, according to legend.
He ruled for 43 years.
Tullus Hostilius ruled from 672 to 641B.C. and he was the third king of Rome, but one who was nothing like Numa. He was a legendary figure who followed a similar warlike behavior of Romulus. Supposedly, both Romulus and Tullus continued war with the neighboring cities of Fidenae and Veii, increased the number of Roman citizens, organized the army and vanished from earth in a storm. Historian Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus assert such legends as fact. It is believed that Alba Longa was destroyed during the years in which Tullus reigned.
Towards the conclusion of his reign, Tullus fell ill. According to Livy, his situation made him become superstitious, as he didn’t worship the gods much. Tullus appealed to Jupiter for help. This was indeed a futile attempt. Jupiter acted in response by descending a bolt of lightning and setting the king and his palace ablaze.
The reign of Tullus lasted for over three decades.
Following Tullus’ perplexing death, Numa’s peaceful and pious grandson, Ancus Marcius, was elected by the Romans as king. Like his grandfather, he scarcely worked on the expansion of Rome’s territories and only engaged in wars when his borders required protection. He also instituted Rome’s earliest prison on the Capitoline Hill.
During the rule of Ancus, Janiculum Hill was further fortified to safeguard Rome. It was also in the course of this period that the earliest bridge stretching across the Tiber River was constructed. Moreover, he founded Ostia, the port situated on the Tyrrhenian Sea and he established the earliest salt works Rome. The Roman territories began to enlarge as Ancus employed diplomacy to secure the willful annexation of the adjacent cities to Rome.
His demise was natural, like that of his grandfather’s.
He ruled for 25 years.
Lucius Tarquinius Priscus
Lucius Tarquinius Priscus was the fifth king of Rome who reigned from 616-578 B.C. He was adopted by Ancus after immigrating to Rome. Upon assuming the crown, he declared war on the Sabines and Etruscans, increasing Rome’s size twofold and bringing remarkable riches to the city.
One of Priscus’ first restructuring included the adding of 100 new Senate members hailing from Etruria. In total, this made the number of senators 200. All the treasures that were procured from the conquest were employed to establish Rome’s great monuments. Amongst these were: great sewer structure and the Cloaca Maxima. The Roman games were also founded by him.
The mega stadium, Circus Maximus, was used for chariot races and is amongst his celebrated architectural projects. He was killed, after 38 years in power, by one of the sons of Ancus Marcius.
The heir of Priscus was Servius Tullius, his son-in-law. Servius was the sixth king of Rome. According to legend, he was born a slave in the household of Tarquinius Priscus, the fifth king, whose daughter he wed.
Like Priscus, Servius engagement in wars against the Etruscans was triumphant. He was best known for implementing the Servian Constitution, which divided citizens into five classes according to wealth. Servius’ reign brought significant change to Roman life. Nevertheless, Servius, as time passed, started to favor the poor so as to gain support among the plebs; this frequently led to the implementation of legislations not conducive to the patricians.
Servius, after 44 years in power, was killed by his own family: his daughter and her husband (Lucius Tarquinius Superbus).
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, was the last and seventh king of Rome. He engineered the killing of his predecessor with his wife.
Tarquinius became a rather hated ruler. He waged numerous wars against Rome’s neighbors, in particular Volsci, Gabii and the Rutuli. He employed violent and intimidating avenues to secure his power during his reign. He also showed a severe disregard for the Roman culture and the Roman Senate. He rejected the proper burial of Servius, the former king, and executed several prominent senators that, in his belief, still bore loyalty to his predecessor.
The Overthrow of the Roman Kingdom
The toppling of the Roman Kingdom in 509 B.C. is believed to be a political uprising. It culminated in the exile of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and ushered in the dawn of the Roman Republic. The revolution was instigated due to the rape of Lucretia.
Rape of Lucretia
Around 509 B.C., King Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, who reigned for 25 years, was away on a campaign. His son, Sextus Tarquinius, was dispatched on a military expedition to Collatia. Sextus was warmly welcomed at the mansion of the governor, which was also the residence of Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus. Lucretia, the wife of Lucius and the daughter of Spurius Lucretius, ensured that the King’s son was well catered. Sextus, however, had other vindictive plans. He raped Lucius on the night her spouse had left to a military expedition.
Junius Brutus, swearing revenge at Lucretia's corpse, by Ignaz Platzer (1773-1780)
Lucretia, the next day, dressed in black, went to her father’s house in Rome. She summoned witnesses, told them about the rape and implored for them to avenge her. Her plea was not one to ignore, as she voiced her grievance before the Chief Magistrate of Rome.
After divulging the truth about the rape, she committed suicide. She took her own life by stabbing her chest with a knife. It was in her father’s arms that she died.
Suicide lucretia, by Suicide lucretia, by Sandro Botticelli (1500-1501)
In another account, Lucretia called upon Tarquinius Priscus, Junius Brutus, her father, her spouse, and other prominent individuals after the devastating event of her rape. Inundated by the feeling of shame she felt the rape had brought on her family and herself, she took her own life herself with a knife. Legend has it that Brutus promptly cried for the toppling of Tarquinius.
The four men incited a revolution by exhorting people to rebel against Tarquinius. Then, the people responded by voting for the overthrow and exile of the king and his family in 509 B.C.
The expulsion of Tranquinius and his family marked the beginning of the Roman Republic.
After being dethroned and exiled, Tranquinius made several attempts to regain power through conspiracy, force of arm, and war (through military support from the king of Clusium, Lars Porsenna), but failed to do so. He died in Cumae, Aristodemus in 495 B.C.