Each of these kings brought a different facet to the foundations of the future empire.
The early Roman leaders, the seven kings of ancient Rome were:
Romulus, Numa Pompilius, Tullus Hostilius, Ancus Martius, Tarquinius Priscus, Servius Tullius, Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud)
The choice of the first king after Romulus (753-715BC) was a difficult task but a Sabine, Numa Pompilius (715-673BC), was chosen to be the second king of Rome. Numa brought 43 years of peace which he used for the establishment of religious worship and cultivation. He created priestly and religious orders to Jupiter and Mars as well as other gods. He created a religious figurehead called the pontifex maximus and to this day that title is still used by the Pope.
King Numa had a temple to the god Janus (god of doors, perimeters, borders, beginning and endings) built which would have its doors open only in times of war and it is to his credit that during his reign the temple doors were always closed. He also improved cultivation, dividing amongst his people the land Romulus had won and in order to enforce his citizen’s respect for the boundaries he had laid out on the fields he also erected an altar to the god Terminus – god of boundaries – on the Capitoline hill.
In line with being recognised as a king keen on religion and cultivation, Pliny relates in his Natural History (book 14) that Numa was responsible for a number of laws relating to religious ceremonies and most specifically the type of wine which could be utilised – wine offerings were considered unholy if coming from un-pruned vines. This gives us a number of insights regarding religion at the time as well as wine production at the time of Numa.
The third king of Rome, Tullus Hostilius (673-642BC), had the temple of Janus doors flung open almost as soon as he took the throne: He employed his reign to teach his subjects the art of war. Looking for an enemy, he picked a dubious fight with Alba Longa. This was to be a moment of particular importance to the Roman people in ages to come: Realising that the fighting would weaken both the Albans and the Romans, making them easy prey to the Etruscans, the two sides agreed to decide the war through a single fight. Three brothers from either camp were chosen: the Horatians (Horatii) from Rome and the Curiatians (Curiatii) from Alba. Horatius of the Horatians was the last survivor and victor. Alba was eventually laid waste and its inhabitants transferred into Rome. Tullus successfully fought other wars but increasingly lost touch with his other duties such as worship of the gods. Popular history has it that Jupiter slew him and burned his house down with a flash of lightning.
The fourth king Ancus Martius (642-617BC) was a grandson of Numa. He left aside any wish to extend his dominions and instead busied himself with strengthening and beautifying the city. He had the rules for proper worship laid out on tablets and set out where everyone could read them. But he also concerned himself with defense of the city as well as prayer: he defended the Janiculum hill across the Tiber river, built a bridge across the river and colonised the river’s mouth with a new settlement called Ostia. This opened Rome up to the sea and trading, allowing the city to take full advantage of her unique geographical position.
Tarquinius Priscus (616-579) was the fifth king of Rome. He was not a Roman Patrician (nobility) but rather an Etruscan come from the north to settle as a merchant in Rome. His rise to power stemmed from his great ability to form high society friendships, culminating in being named guardian of Ancus Martius’ sons. When Ancus Martius died Tarquinius convinced the Senate into accepting him as King. He did well. He conquered the tribes round about and even the powerful Etruscans acknowledged him as their king sending him the symbols of power which were to remain engrained in Roman society henceforth. These symbols were: a crown, a sceptre and an ivory chair, an embroidered tunic, a purple toga and twelve bundles of rods called fasces in each of which was an axe. The fasces, carried by twelve men called the lictors, were symbol of his kingly power to judge and sentence to death. Tarquinius is thus also known for having strengthened the social class system following the Etruscan model. The Senate and Government were strengthened and distinctive ornaments and badges were introduced to distinguish officers from the common people.
Once he had subdued the enemies of Rome, Tarquinius set about improving the city. Not forgetting the lessons learned from his predecessors he built a splendid temple to Jupiter called the Capitol on the Capitoline hill. He also built an important sewer system called the cloaca maxima which was so efficient it served the city throughout history to come. Apart from its obvious use for refuse, this system of underground streams allowed him to drain the swamps between the hills. He is also known for having laid out the Circus Maximus, where public games were held.
Tarquinius was still guardian to the sons of Ancus Martius (the fourth king of Rome) but an omen convinced him to take particular care of the son of one of his slaves. The ground was laid for some trouble. Ancus’ sons had Tarquinius assassinated but Servius was quick to seize power becoming the sixth king of Rome: Servius Tullius (579-535).
Servius Tullius never forgot his mother had been a slave and became such a friend of the poorer parts of society that he became known as good king Servius. Knowing that his people were made of many different social strata he had a census system put in place so that every five years every person would be counted up with their children and property.
He radically changed the military system: Until then the army was only composed of Patricians. Servius included all landowners, which he subdivided by the amount of land they owned. The largest landowners for example could afford a horse, armour and wheapons and would thus form the cavalry. Poorer classes could only afford smaller amounts of armour for themselves and would therefore be in the infantry as foot soldiers.
Training of the army would take place in an area of land called the Field of Mars or Campus Martius. The troops were divided into groups of one hundred men commanded by Centurions (centum means 100). The Campus Martius (Campo Marzo) is still an area of Rome today. Servius Tullius then had a defensive wall built around the city, parts of which are still visible today.
The end of his reign was rather tragic. His avaricious daughter, together with her husband Lucius Tarquinius a son of Tarquinius decided they wished the power for themselves. Right in the middle of the Forum, Lucius seized the aged Servius and flung him down the steps of the Senate and sent men to murder him. Servius’ daughter having heard of the events went to salute her husband as king and had her chariot driven over her father’s body.
Rome thus had its last king, Lucius Tarquinius or rather Tarquin the Proud (Tarquinius Superbus, 535-509BC) also of Etruscan descent. He was perhaps a greater lover of war than his predecessors and together with his three sons managed to subdue many tribes whether by force or trickery. He is noted for having purchased what was to be regarded as one of Rome’s greatest treasures: the three Sibyline Books written by a seer know as the Sybil of Cumae. These books were prophecies about the future of the city and were consulted whenever the city was in danger.
Tarquin’s harsh conduct and nature proved fatal for him and his Tyranny. He and his family were expelled from the city by his nephew. The city was now to become a Republic and it decreed that should anyone speak in favour of a return to kingly rule they should be put to death as an enemy of the state.
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The Seven kings of Rome were: Romulus, Numa Pompilius, Tullus Hostilius, Ancus Martius, Tarquinius Priscus, Servius Tullius, Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud)