The city of Rome was founded in 753 BCE by Romulus, who became the first king of the Roman Kingdom. There was a total of seven kings over a period of 244 years before the monarchy was overthrown and replaced by the Roman Republic.
In the 8th century BCE, the Etruscans were the strongest force in central/northern Italy. In the south, the Greeks had established dozens of trading colonies on the coast. Central Italy consisted of many smaller towns and cities. In the Mediterranean Sea, there were four major military powers: the Egyptians, the Persians, the Phoenician city-states and the Greek city-states.
After Romulus founded Rome in 753 BCE, each following king would be elected by the Senate and people of Rome. The process was quite long:
- Member of Senate selected to find a suitable candidate
- Senate would debate on the candidate
- If approved candidate unveiled to the people, to gauge their opinion
- Candidate undergos religious ceremony to determine whether gods approved
- Law passed to appoint new king
The king had absolute control over military, politcal, religious, and legal matters. He could not be prosecuted for his actions and held the final verdict on any disputes in the city. He was responsible for appointing all officials.
Over the duration of the Roman Kingdom, there were seven kings:
Romulus - 753 to 716 BCE (37 Years)
Rome was supposedly founded by the legendary twin brothers: Romulus and Remus. While at first, both ruled as joint leaders of the new settlement things did not continue in such a peachy fashion. The two began to fight constantly until eventually, Romulus killed Remus leaving him as the sole king of Rome.
To boost the population of Rome, Romulus welcomed everyone to the new city regardless of their pasts. This attracted a large number of ex-slaves, criminals, and freemen to Rome. The population grew quickly, and the city expanded onto the nearby hills of the Capitoline, Aventine, Caelian and Quirinal.
Romulus' policies for increasing the city's population resulted in a disproportionate amount of men. This forced Romulus to come up with a cunning plan. He arranged for a large festival to take place in Rome and he invited the population of a nearby Sabine city. At the festival, Romulus and his men abducted as many of the unmarried Sabine women as they could. An event that would later become known as the 'Rape of the Sabine Women'.
The Sabines were infuriated by Romulus' actions and immediately declared war on Rome. However, a treaty was agreed which joined the two cities, making Romulus and the leader of the Sabines (Titus Tatius) joint-rulers. Consequently, many families migrated to Rome, boosting the population further.
Due to the growing population, Romulus split Rome's people into three tribes. These tribes were based on ethnicity: the first tribe for the Latin Roman people, the second for the Sabine people and the third for the Etruscan peoples who had settled in Rome.
Romulus’ death is shrouded in mystery. A violent storm began while Romulus was performing a religious ceremony, forcing many of the people to run for shelter, leaving Romulus alone with members of the Senate. When the rain ceased, and people returned to the area, Romulus was nowhere to be found. The senators claimed that he had become a god, the people naturally distrusted their words. It was not until Julius Proculus, a senator who was well respected by the people claimed that Romulus appeared to him announcing he had become the god, Quirinius, that the people's suspicions were put at ease.
Numa Pompilius - 715 to 673 BCE (42 Years)
Following the death of Romulus, the Sabines protested that the new king should be selected from the ranks of the Sabines; as they had not complained about being ruled by Romulus. The Senate agreed to this request providing that they could pick the candidate. They chose Numa Pompilius.
Numa was descended of the Sabines, who declare themselves to be a colony of the Lacedaemonians
Numa was reluctant to accept the Senate’s request. He lived a solitude life outside of the city and was more interested in philosophy and religion. It took the Senate fifty days to convince Numa to take the position. Numa only accepted their proposal with the intention of introducing religious reforms which would unite the Roman people. Numa made many changes:
- Numa marked out the borders of Rome's territories. He then allotted plots of land to peasant farmers to secures the city's source of food.
- Numa also made changes to the calendar, adding the months of January (Ianuarius) and February (Februarius). This took the number of days in a year to three-hundred and sixty.
- Amongst Numa's religious reforms were moving the Vestal Virgins from Alba Longa to Rome and established the Fetiale priest order . He created the role of Pontifex Maximus, a chief priest who oversaw religious ceremonies. Numa also commissioned the construction of the Temple of Janus.
- Numa introduced the concept of professional guilds. This helped to reduce the tension between the three different ethnicities in Rome.
So, distinguishing the whole people by the several arts and trades, he formed the companies of musicians, goldsmiths, carpenters, dyers, shoemakers, skinners, braziers, and potters; and all other handicraftsmen he composed and reduced into a single company, appointing every one their proper courts, councils, and observances.
According to legend, Numa was romantically involved with a nymph, named Egeria. He supposedly received advice from the gods through Egeria which allowed him to rule well throughout his reign.
Tullus Hostilius - 673 to 641 BCE – (32 Years)
Hostilius was the third king of the Roman Kingdom. Unlike Numa, he was driven by a thirst for war and had little respect for the gods.
He was a man of more warlike spirit even than Romulus, and his ambition was kindled by his own youthful energy and by the glorious achievements of his grandfather
Shortly after Hostilius was crowned, he began a war against the nearby settlement of Alba Longa. The two cities had a history of conflict, with each other ambushing one another's farmhouses and cattle. To avoid a conflict which would benefit neither city Hostilius and the Alban king (Mettius) came up with another solution. They decided that each city would select three champions to fight for them. Rome picked three brothers from the Horatii family. The brothers were successful in overcoming the three Alban combatants, and Mettius reluctantly upheld his promise and swore allegiance to Rome.
Mettius disgusted with Rome, provoked the Fidenates into declaring war on Rome. Hostilius gathered his forces and requested Mettius to raise an army and ride with him to fight the Fidenate forces. However, just before the battle begun Mettius withdrew his army leaving Hostilius to fight alone. Hostilius shouted to his soldiers that Mettius' troops were withdrawing to flank the Fidenate army. The ploy not only motivated his men but sent the enemy into a panic. Hostilius' took advantage of the confusion and won a decisive victory.
The following night, Hostilius’ forces surrounded the Albans and seized Mettius. Hostilius sentenced him to death for his betrayal. Mettius’ arms and legs were chained to two chariots which were then driven in opposite directions; tearing the limbs from his body. Hostilius then destroyed the city of Alba Longa and merged its population with Rome’s. They were granted equal rights and given land on the Caelian Hill.
Hostilius' then declared war on the Sabine peoples who had not merged with Rome in the time of Romulus. The Sabines had been attacking merchants traveling to and from Rome for a number of years. Despite Hostilius winning the first battle convincingly things did not continue in the same vein. Following the first conflict, there was a violent storm. Roman priests claimed it was a sign from the gods and advised Hostilius to negotiate a peace. Hostilius ignored their warnings and continued his campaign. Not much time had passed before a plague struck his army and he was into forced signing a peace treaty.
Following these events, Hostilius began taking more interest in religion. However, his efforts failed to impress the gods. It is claimed that Jupiter was responsible for Hostilius’ death, sending a lightning bolt which killed Hostilius in 641 BCE.
Ancus Marcius - 641 to 616 BCE (25 Years)
Ancus Marcius was the fourth king of Rome and the grandson of Numa Pompilius. Marcius shared many of his grandfather’s traits, and his intentions laid in improving Rome’s cultural and social agenda.
However, after Marcius became king, the Prisci Latini saw it as an opportunity to strike as they believed Marcius to be a weak king in comparison to Hostilius. They started raiding Roman territory to test the Marcius' capabilities on the battlefield. However, this backfired. Marcius marched on the enemy and crushed them in battle.
Marcius expanded the city onto the Janiculum hill; this was to accommodate for Rome’s quickly growing population and was also of strategical importance. The Janiculum was on the northern side of the River Tiber, which gave Rome a better position to defend against any attack from the Etruscans in the north.
Marcius also established the port city of Ostia, sixteen miles from Rome on the coastline. This gave Rome better access to trade with the larger civilizations of the Mediterranean. Ostia also had the benefit of being located near large salt beds. This made it easier for the Romans to easily extract the salt which could be used as a trading commodity. Over the next few decades, Ostia grew into a large town with temples, markets, an amphitheater among other facilities.
Tarquin the Elder - 616 to 579 BCE (37 Years)
Tarquin the Elder was born in Corinthians, Greece. He later moved to Italy and married an Etruscan high born. However, due to her high position in society, the marriage was looked down upon, and the two defenses. So Tarquin and his wife moved to Rome.
When Tarquin entered Rome, it is claimed that an eagle swooped down and took Tarquin’s hat before returning and placing the hat back on his head. When rumors spread of this story, people believed that he had the divine favor of the gods.
Tarquin started on a political career in Rome and quickly rose through the ranks. It was not long before he gained the attention of the king, Marcius. The two became political allies and friends. The relationship between the two was strengthened when Marcius named Tarquin the guardian of his two sons.
When Marcius died, it was expected that one of his two sons would become king. However, Tarquin convinced the two brothers to go hunting while he made preparations for the funeral. While they were gone, Tarquin began to convince and manipulate the Senate and people to elect him as king instead of one of the brothers. Tarquin was successful in his plot and became the fifth king of the Roman Kingdom.
Tarquin like many of the kings before him began his reign with several military campaigns. Before setting off to war, he made numerous reforms to the army: including doubling the size of the Roman cavalry, providing him with greater mobility and flexibility on the battlefield.
He led successful campaigns against the Etruscans, Latins, and Sabines. His victories in these wars brought significant amounts of money back to Rome. Following these victories, Tarquin appointed one-hundred Etruscans to the Senate, strengthening his political position.
Tarquin was to die at the hands of Marcius' two sons, whom Tarquin had robbed of the throne. The two brothers hired two assassins who approached Tarquin in the street, pretending to have a dispute which required Tarquin's attention. While one man distracted Tarquin the other struck him from behind with an ax. Tarquin fell to the ground, and his men quickly took him back to his residence.
To prevent power falling into the hands of the two sons, Tarquin’s wife, Tanaquil told the people that the king was only wounded and that Tarquin’s close friend, Servius Tullius, would serve as interim king until Tarquin returned. When it was eventually discovered that Tarquin had died from his wounds, Servius Tullius had proven himself to be a strong leader and was elected as king by the Senate.
Servius Tullius - 579 to 535 BCE (44 Years)
Servius Tullius was adopted as a child by Tarquin the Elder. One night when Tullius was a baby, his head burst into flames while remaining totally unharmed. People throughout Rome believed this to be an omen that he was destined for great things.
The story is that while a child named Servius Tullius lay sleeping, his head burst into flames in the sight of many. The general outcry which so great a miracle called forth brought the king and queen to the place. One of the servants fetched water to quench the fire, but was checked by the queen, who stilled the uproar and commanded that the boy should not be disturbed until he awoke of himself. Soon afterwards sleep left him, and with it disappeared the flames. Then, talking her husband aside, Tanaquil Said: 'Do you see this child whom we are bringing up in so humble a fashion? Be assured he will one day be a lamp to our dubious fortunes, and a protector to the royal house in the day of its distress. Let us therefore rear with all solicitude one who will lend high renown to the state and to our family.' It is said that from that moment the boy began to be looked upon as a son, and to be trained in the studies by which men are inspired to bear themselves greatly.
When Tarquin the Elder died, it was unclear who would succeed him; whether it would be Servius Tullius or one of Tarquin's sons. Tullius convinced the sons to support his claim by marrying his two daughters to them.
Soon after Tullius became king, the Etruscan city of Veii declared war on Rome. However, Tullius like many of the Roman kings before him proved to be talented on the battlefield and crushed the opposition forces. His victory was so convincing that he would not have to fight another war during his forty-four-year reign.
One of Tullius' greatest contribution to Rome was the introduction of a census, separating the population of Rome into five economic classes. The first census of Rome revealed that 80,000 men were capable of fighting in the army if necessary. Which class a citizen belonged to dictated how important their vote was, granting the upper classes much more power and influence.
As Tullius grew older, his decisions began to favor the lower classes more and more, leading to tension amongst the upper classes. This was exploited by Tullius' daughter (Tullia) and his son-in-law (Lucius). The two plotted to overthrow Tullius and assume power themselves. Lucius began spreading vicious rumors about Tullius and undermining his authority in any way he could.
Eventually, Lucius called a meeting of the Senate, where he launched a verbal bombardment against the king. When Tullius arrived at the senate-house, Lucius threw him out onto the street where he was assassinated by Lucius' men. Servius was left dead on the street. Shortly after, it is said that Tullia rode a chariot through Rome before riding over the corpse of Tullius. The street became known as ‘Vicus Sceleratus’ (street of shame).
Lucius ascended to the throne to become the seventh king of Rome. Lucius’ full name was Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. ‘Superbus’ was added to his name following his reign, meaning proud or arrogant. He is also referred to as Tarquin the Proud.
Tarquin the Proud 534 to 509 BCE (25 Years)
Tarquin the Proud was the seventh and final king of the Roman Kingdom. Tarquin was an oppressive and harsh ruler who used intimidation and manipulation to maintain control over Rome. He continually sought out ways to increase his power and influence.
He granted himself the authority to oversee legal cases without any members of the Senate present. Thus allowing him to dispose of any political threats with ease while seizing their land and assets. His constant erosion of the rights and privileges of the Senate and upper class made him greatly disliked.
When Tarquin was asked what was the best mode of governing a conquered city, he replied only by beating down with his staff all the tallest poppies in his garden
While his approach to internal affairs may not have been widely supported in Rome, his aggressive tendencies were useful on the battlefield. Tarquin forced the smaller surrounding towns and cities to sign an agreement to give Rome access to their armies, essentially doubling Rome's military power.
Tarquin expanded aggressively into the territories of the Volscian city-states. Sweeping through the countrysides and minor towns until he came to the city of Gabii. Unable to take the settlement by force Tarquin came up with a cunning plot. He sent his son (Arruns) into Gabii pretending to be at odds with his father and willing to help them repel Tarquin's assault.
Arruns was granted a small force to test his loyalty, with these soldiers he quickly overcame a Roman army in battle, thus giving him the trust of the Gabii elite. Unsure of what he should do next, Arruns sent a messenger to his father. When the messenger arrived, Tarquin walked out into a meadow and without saying anything and began chopping the heads off the tallest flowers in the field. The messenger returned to Arruns confused but told him exactly what had happened. Arruns following his father's subtle message killed all of the high ranking officials in Gabii. This left the city in disarray, and it fell quite quickly into Roman hands with little conflict.
Tarquin used the money gained from his military campaigns to begin several construction projects. He significantly improved the city's defenses and improved the roads going to and from Rome. Tarquin also completed the construction of the Temple of Jupiter, a project which his grandfather Tarquin the Elder had begun.
While Tarquin had been successful on the battlefield, back in Rome, there was a state of anxiety. The upper and lower classes were at odds with one another and violence was a real possibility. Additionally, many in the city had an intense hatred of Tarquin. A rebellion seemed inevitable.
Tarquin's son (Sextus) provided the spark for the rebellion when he raped Lucretia. Afterward, Lucretia told both her father and husband what had happened she committed suicide, igniting fury throughout Rome against Tarquin and his family.
Lucius Junius Brutus led the uprising uniting both the people and the army against Tarquin, sending the king into exile in 509 BCE. This is the year that is recognized as the end of the Roman Kingdom and the beginning of the Roman Republic.
Following Tarquin the Proud's expulsion from Rome, it was decided that another king would not be elected. Rather it would be the Senate who would govern Rome. Each year the Senate would elect two senators to serve as consuls for one year. By electing two consuls, they could keep each other in check. Additionally, a consul could be prosecuted for his actions once his term had ended, thus preventing any consul acting against the interests of Rome.
However, despite Tarquin being exiled from Rome, he conspired to return to the city as king. He turned to the Etruscans to help reinstall him as ruler of Rome. The Etruscans saw this as an opportunity to gain influence in how Rome was ruled and agreed to help Tarquin. While the Etruscans overcame Rome in several battles, they could not land a fatal blow, and the war ended in a ceasefire.
Tarquin refused to concede and turned to the Latin League who also agreed to help him. However, this war ended in a decisive victory for the newly founded Roman Republic at the Battle of Lake Regillus in around 496 BCE (Date is disputed). Tarquin was severely wounded in the conflict, and this ended his attempts to regain Rome's throne. Tarquin spent the remainder of his life in the city of Tusculum to the south of Rome.