The King of Rome: The First Seven Roman Kings

Today, the city of Rome is known for a world of treasures. As one of the oldest cities of what we now consider to be Europe, it breathes past riches and artistic excellence. From ancient ruins to romantic city displays that have been immortalized in film and culture, there’s something quite iconic about Rome. 

Most know Rome as an empire, or perhaps as a republic. Its famous Senate ruled for hundreds of years before Julius Caesar was named dictator for life and power was consolidated into the hands of the few. 

However, before the republic, Rome was a monarchy. Its founder was the first king of Rome, and six other Roman kings followed before power shifted to the Senate. 

Read about each king of Rome and their role in Roman history.

The Seven Kings of Rome

So, what about Rome’s royal roots and its seven kings? Who were these seven kings of Rome? What were they known for and how did they each shape the beginnings of the Eternal City?

Romulus (753-715 BCE)

The story of Romulus, the first legendary king of Rome, is shrouded in legend. The tales of Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome are arguably Rome’s most familiar legends. 

According to the legend, the twins were sons of the Roman god of war, Mars, who was the Roman version of the Greek god Ares, and a Vestal Virgin named Rhea Silvia, daughter of a king. 

READ MORE: Roman Gods and Goddesses

Unfortunately, the king did not approve of the extramarital children and used his power to make the parents leave and abandon the twins in a basket on a river, assuming they would drown. 

Luckily for the twins, they were found, cared for, and raised by a she-wolf, until they were taken in by a shepherd named Faustulus. Together, they founded the first small settlement of Rome on the Palatine Hill near the Tiber River, the site where they were once abandoned. Romulus was known to be quite the aggressive, war-loving soul, and sibling rivalry eventually caused Romulus to kill his twin brother Remus in an argument. Romulus became the sole ruler and reigned as Rome’s first king from 753 to 715 BCE. [1]

Romulus as the King of Rome

As legend continues, the first problem the king had to face was the lack of women in his new-found monarchy. The first Romans were predominantly men from Romulus’s home city, who allegedly followed him back to his newly established village in search of a fresh start. The lack of female inhabitants threatened the future survival of the city, and thus he decided to steal women from a group of people populating a near-by hill, called the Sabines.

Romulus’ plan to snatch away the Sabine women was a quite clever one. One night, he ordered the Roman men to lure the Sabine men away from the women with the promise of a good time – throwing them a party in honor of the god Neptune. While the men partied the night away, the Romans stole the Sabine women, who eventually married the Roman men and secured Rome’s next generation. [2]

As the two cultures mingled, it was eventually agreed upon that the succeeding kings of ancient Rome would alternate between being Sabine and Roman. As a result, after Romulus a Sabine became the king of Rome and a Roman king followed after that. The first four Roman kings followed this alternation.

Numa Pompilius (715-673 BCE)

The second king was Sabine and went by the name of Numa Pompilius. He reigned from 715 to 673 BCE. According to legend, Numa was a much more peaceful king in comparison to his more antagonistic predecessor Romulus, whom he succeeded after an interregnum of one year.

Numa was born in 753 BCE and legend goes that the second king was crowned after Romulus was taken up by a thunderstorm and disappeared after his reign of 37 years. 

Initially, and perhaps not surprisingly, not everyone believed this tale. Others suspected that the patricians, the Roman nobility, were responsible for the death of Romulus, but such suspicion was later taken away by Julius Proculus and a vision he reported to have had. 

His vision had told him that Romulus had been being taken up by the gods, receiving god-like status as Quirinus – a god who the people of Rome were supposed to worship now that he had been deified.

Numa’s legacy would aid in the perpetuation of this belief by making the veneration of Quirinus a part of Roman tradition as he instituted the cult of Quirinus. That was not all. He also formulated the religious calendar and found other forms of Rome’s early religious traditions, institutions and ceremonies. [3] Besides the cult of Quirinus, this Roman king was accredited with the institution of the cult of Mars and Jupiter.

Numa Pompilius has also been recognized as the king that established the Vestal Virgins, a group of virgin women that were chosen between the ages 6 and 10 by the pontifex maximus, who was the head of the college of priests, to serve as virgin priestesses for a period of 30 years. 

Unfortunately, historical records have since taught us that it is rather unlikely that all of the above mentioned developments can all be rightly attributed to Numa Pompilius. What is more likely, is that these developments were the result of religious accumulation over the centuries.

The fact that truthful historical storytelling becomes more complicated the farther you go back in time is also illustrated by another interesting legend, involving the ancient and well-known Greek philosopher Pythagoras, who made important developments in mathematics, ethics, astronomy, and the theory of music.

Legend tells that Numa supposedly was a student of Pythagoras, something which would have been chronologically impossible given the respective ages in which they lived. 

Apparently, fraud and forgery are not only known to modern times, given this story was corroborated by the existence of a collection of books attributed to the king that were uncovered in 181 BCE, relating to philosophy and religious (pontifical) law – law instituted by religious power and a concept fundamentally important to Roman religion. [4] Nonetheless, these works clearly must have been forgeries, since the philosopher Pythagoras lived around 540 BCE, nearly two centuries after Numa.

Tullus Hostilius (672-641 BCE)

The introduction of the third King, Tullus Hostilius, includes the story of a brave warrior. When the Romans and the Sabines approached each other in battle during the reign of the first king Romulus, a warrior brashly marched off alone before everybody else, to face and battle a Sabine warrior. 

Although this Roman warrior, who went by the name of Hostus Hostilius, did not win his battle with the Sabine, his bravery was not lost in vain. 

His acts continued to be revered as a symbol of bravery for the generations to come. On top of that, his warrior spirit would eventually be passed on to his grandson, a man by the name of Tullus Hostilius, who would eventually be elected as king. Tullus reigned as the third king of Rome from 672 to 641 BCE. 

There are actually quite some interesting and legendary tidbits linking Tullus to Romulus’ time of reign. In the likes of his early predecessor, legends have described him as organizing the military, waging war with the neighboring cities of Fidenae and Veii, doubling Rome’s number of inhabitants, andmeating his death by disappearing in a treacherous storm. 

Legends Surrounding Tullus Hostilius

Unfortunately, much of the historical stories around Tullus’ reign, as well as those around the other ancient kings, are considered more as legendary than factual. Especially, since most of the historical documents about this time were destroyed in the fourth century BCE. Consequently, the stories we have about Tullus mostly come from a Roman historian who lived during the first century BCE, called Livius Patavinus, otherwise known as Livy.

According to the legends, Tullus was actually more militaristic than the son of the god of war himself, Romulus. One example is the story of Tullus defeating the Albans and brutally punishing their leader Mettius Fufetius. 

After his win, Tullus invited and welcomed the Albans into Rome upon leaving their city, Alba Longa, in ruins. On the other hand, he seemed to be capable of mercy, since Tullus did not subjugate the Alban people by force but instead enrolled Alban chiefs in the Roman Senate, thereby doubling the population of Rome by amalgamation. [5]

Besides tales of Tullus being killed in a storm, there are more legends surrounding the tale of his death. During the time he reigned, misfortunate events were most often believed as acts of divine punishment as the result of not properly paying reverence to the gods. 

Tullus had for the most part been unbothered by such beliefs, until he apparently fell ill and failed to correctly perform certain religious rites. In response to his misgivings, people believed Jupiter punished him and struck down his lightning bolt to kill the king, ending his reign after 37 years.

Ancus Marcius (640-617 BCE)

The fourth king of Rome, Ancus Marcius, also known as Ancus Martius, was in turn a Sabine king who reigned from 640 to 617 BCE. He was already of noble descent before entering his kingship, being the grandson of Numa Pompilius, the second of the Roman kings.

Legend describes Ancus as the king who built the first bridge across the Tiber river, a bridge on wooden piles called the Pons Sublicius. 

Furthermore, it has been claimed that Ancus established the Port of Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber river, although some historians have argued to the contrary and state this as unlikely. What is a more plausible statement, on the other hand, is that he gained control of the salt-pans that were located on the south side by Ostia. [6]

Furthermore, the Sabine king has been credited with the further extension of the territory of Rome. He did so by occupation of the Janiculum Hill and through the establishment of a settlement on another near-by hill, called the Aventine Hill. There is also a legend that Ancus succeeded in fully incorporating the latter under Roman territory, although historical opinion is not unanimous. What is more likely is that Ancus laid the beginning foundations for this to happen by the establishment of his settlement, as eventually, the Aventine Hill would indeed become part of Rome. [7]

Tarquinius Priscus (616-578 BCE)

The fifth legendary king of Rome went by the name of Tarquinius Priscus and reigned from 616 until 578 BCE. His full latin name was Lucius Tarquinius Priscus and his original name was Lucomo.

This king of Rome actually presented himself as being from Greek descent, proclaiming to have had a Greek father who left his homeland in the early days for a life in Tarquinii, an Etrucsan city in Etruria. 

Tarquinius was initially advised to move to Rome by his wife and prophetess Tanaquil. Once in Rome, he changed his name to Lucius Tarquinius and became the guardian to the sons of the fourth king, Ancus Marcius.

Interestingly, after the death of Ancus it was not one of the actual sons of the king who took on kingship, but it was the guardian Tarquinius who usurped the throne instead. Logically, this was not something Ancus’ sons quickly managed to forgive and forget, and their vengeance led to the eventual assasination of the king in 578 BCE. 

Nonetheless, Taraquin’s assasination did not result in one of Ancus’ sons ascending their beloved late father’s throne. Instead, Tarquinius’ wife, Tanaquil, managed to successfully perform some sort of elaborate scheme, putting her son-in-law, Servius Tullius, in the seat of power instead.[8]

Other things that have been incorporated to Taraquin’s legacy according to legend, have been the expansion of the Roman senate to 300 senators, the institution of the Roman Games, and the beginning of the construction of a wall around the Eternal City. 

Servius Tullius (578-535 BCE)

Servius Tullius was the sixth king of Rome and reigned from 578 until 535 BCE. The legends from this time attribute a myriad of things to his legacy. It is generally agreed upon that Servius founded the Servian Constitution, however it remains unsure whether this constitution was indeed drafted during Servius’ reign, or if it was drafted many years before and simply installed during his kingship.

This constitution organized the military and political organization of the kingdom of Rome and divided its citizens into five classes according to their level of wealth. Another attribution, although less credible than the former, is the introduction of silver and bronze coins as currency. [9]

Servius’s origins are also shrouded in legend, myth, and mystery. Some historical accounts have portrayed Servius as Etruscan, others as Latin, and even more wishfully, there is the story that he was born of an actual god, being the god Vulcan. 

The Different Tales of Servius Tullius

Focussing on the first two possibilities, the emperor and Etrucsan historian, Claudius, who reigned from 41 until 54 CE, was responsible for the former, having portrayed Servius as an Etruscan eloper who originally went by the name of Mastarna.                                                                                                                                                                           

On the other hand, some records add weight to the latter. Livy the historian has described Servius as the son of an influential man from a Latin town called Corniculum. These records state that Tanaquil, wife of the fifth king, took a captive woman who was pregnant into her household after her husband seized Corniculum. The child she gave birth to was Servius, and he ended up being raised in the royal household.

As captives and their offspring became slaves, this legend portrays Servius as once a slave in the household of the fifth king. Servius eventually met the king’s daughter, married her, and eventually ascended the throne by the clever schemes of his mother-in-law and prophetess, Tanaquil, who had foreseen Servius’ greatness through her prophetic powers. [10]

During his reign, Servius founded an important temple on Aventine Hill for a Latin religious deity, the goddess Diana, goddess of wild animals and the hunt. This temple has been reported to be the earliest one ever made for the Roman deity – also often identified with the goddess Artemis, her Greek equivalent.

Servius reigned the Roman monarchy from approximately 578 until 535 BCE, when he was killed by his daughter and son-in-law. The latter, who was his daughter’s husband, took the throne in his place and became the seventh king of Rome: Tarquinius Superbus.

Tarquinius Superbus (534-509 BCE)

The last of the seven kings of ancient Rome was Tarquin, short for Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. He reigned from 534 until 509 BCE and was the grandson of the fifth king, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus. 

His name Superbus, meaning “the proud,” elucidates some about how he executed his power. Tarquin was a rather authoritarian monarch. As he gathered absolute power, he ruled the Roman kingdom with a tyrannical fist, killing members of the Roman senate and waging war with neighboring cities.

He led attacks on the Etrucsan cities Caere, Veii, and Tarquinii, who he defeated at the Battle of Silva Arsia. He did not stay undefeated, however, Tarquin lost against the dictator of the Latin League, Octavius Maximilius, at Lake Regillus. After which he sought refuge with the Greek tyrant Aristodemus of Cumae. [11]

Tarquin might have also had a merciful side to him, because historical records show the existence of a treaty that was struck between someone named Tarquin and the city of Gabii – a city located 12 miles (19 km) from Rome. And although his overall style of rule does not paint him as the particularly negotiating kind, it is highly probable that this Tarquin was in fact Tarquinius Superbus.

The Final King of Rome

The king was finally stripped of his power by a revolt organized by a group of senators that had stayed clear or the king’s terror. Their leader was senator Lucius Junius Brutus and the straw that broke the camels back was the rape of a noblewoman named Lucretia, which was committed by the king’s son Sextus.

What transpired was the banishment of the Tarquin family from Rome, as well as the complete abolishment of Rome’s monarchy. 

It might be safe to say that the terrors brought forth by the final king of Rome caused the people of Rome such disdain that they decided to overthrow the monarchy entirely and install the Roman republic instead.

References

[1] https://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/ancient-rome/romulus-and-remus/

[2] https://www.penfield.edu/webpages/jgiotto/onlinetextbook.cfm?subpage=1660456

[3] H. W. Bird. “Eutropius on Numa Pompilius and the Senate.” The Classical Journal 81 (3): 1986.

[4] https://www.stilus.nl/oudheid/wdo/ROME/KONINGEN/NUMAP.html

Michael Johnson. The Pontifical Law: Religion and Religious Power in Ancient Rome. Kindle Edition

[5] http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/historians/livy/livy3.html

[6] M. Cary and H. H. Scullard. A History of Rome. Print

[7] M. Cary and H. H. Scullard. A History of Rome. Print.; T.J. Cornell. The Beginnings of Rome. Print.

[8] https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803102143242; Livy. Ab urbe condita. 1:35.

[9] https://www.heritage-history.com/index.php?c=read&author=church&book=livy&story=servius

[10] https://www.heritage-history.com/index.php?c=read&author=church&book=livy&story=tarquin

Alfred J. Church. “Servius” In Stories From Livy. 1916; Alfred J. Church. “The Elder Tarquin” In Stories From Livy. 1916.

[11] https://stringfixer.com/nl/Tarquinius_Superbus; T.J. Cornell. The Beginnings of Rome. Print.

READ MORE:

The Complete Roman Empire Timeline

Early Roman Emperors

Roman Emperors

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