Welcome to Rome Across Europe!
Throughout history there is one thing that is common across almost every populated continent, there are those that have an abundance of wealth and there are those who significantly lack it. Having recently explored the rise of the common people against the nobility (Conflict of the Orders: Plebeians versus Patricians) and celebrated the flight of a king (Regifugium: Celebrating the Flight of a King), we thought it only right to finish off the monarchy of Rome.
That is why today we are going to take a final look at the Overthrow of the Roman Monarchy!
The Overthrow of the Roman Monarchy was a political revolution in Ancient Rome in around 509 BC. It resulted in the expulsion of the last King of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, and the establishment of the Res Publica Romana (Roman Republic).
The accuracy, however, of this account has been doubted by modern historians. What does appear to be accepted is that: 1) there was a monarchy and 2) the last King, Tarquin, was expelled upon the founding of the Republic in the late 6th Century BC.
Tarquin was the son of Rome’s 5th King, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus. In around 535 BC Tarquin, together with his wife Tullia Minor (a daughter of the then King Servius Tullius) arranged the murder of Servius, and for Tarquin to become ruler in his stead.
Despite various military victories, Tarquin became an unpopular sovereign. He refused to bury his predecessor, then he put to death a number of the leading Senators whom he suspected of remaining loyal to Servius (one of whom was the brother of Lucius Junius Brutus).
By not replacing the slain Senators, and not consulting the Senate on all matters of government, Tarquin diminished both its size and authority. In another break with tradition, Tarquin judged capital criminal cases without advice of counsellors, thereby creating fear among those who might think to oppose him.
Having supposedly engaged in treachery with the Foedus Latinum (Latin League), around 510 BC, Tarquin went to war with the Rutuli. At that time according to Livy, the Rutuli were a very wealthy nation and Tarquin was keen to obtain the spoils that would come with victory over the Rutuli in order, in part, to soften the anger of his subjects.
Tarquin unsuccessfully sought to take the Rutulian capital Ardea by storm, and later began an extensive siege of the city. The Roman histories tell that while King Tarquin was away on campaign, his son Sextus Tarquinius was sent on a military errand to Collatia.
Sextus was received with great hospitality at the Governor’s mansion, home of Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, son of the king’s nephew, Arruns Tarquinius, former Governor of Collatia and originator of the Tarquinii Collatini. Lucius’ wife, Lucretia, daughter of Praefectus (Prefect) Spurius Lucretius, made sure that Tarquin’s son was treated as the son of a king should, even though her husband was away at the siege.
At night Sextus entered Lucretia’s bedroom by stealth, quietly going around the slaves who were sleeping at her door. When she awakened, Sextus identified himself and offered her 2 choices: she could submit to his sexual advances and become his wife and future queen; or he would kill her and a slave and place the bodies together, then claim he had caught her having adulterous sex with said slave.
The next day Lucretia dressed in black and weeping went to her father’s house in Rome and cast herself down in the suppliant’s position (embracing the knees). Asked to explain herself, Lucretia insisted on first summoning witnesses to verify her story.
After disclosing the rape, Lucretia called on various Roman noblemen for vengeance. While the men debated on how to proceed, Lucretia drew a concealed dagger and stabbed herself in the heart.
According to legend, Tribunus Celerum Lucius Junius Brutus grabbed the dagger from Lucretia’s breast after her death and immediately shouted for the overthrow of the Tarquins. The people of Rome were summoned to the Forum Romanum (Roman Forum) and spurred by Brutus to rise up against the monarch.
Brutus revealed that his pose as fool was a sham designed to protect him against an evil king. He leveled a number of charges against the king and his family: the outrage against Lucretia (whom everyone could see on the dais), the king’s tyranny, the forced labor of the Plēbēs in the ditches and sewers of Rome.
He pointed out that Tarquin had come to rule by the murder of Servius Tullius, his wife’s father, next-to-the-last King of Rome. He “solemnly invoked the gods as the avengers of murdered parents.”
The king’s wife, Tullia, was in fact in Rome and probably was a witness to the proceedings from her palace near the Forum. Seeing herself the target of so much animosity she fled from the palace in fear of her life and proceeded to the camp at Ardea.
Brutus opened a debate on the form of government Rome ought to have; there were many speakers (all Patricians). In summation he proposed the banishment of the Tarquins from all the territories of Rome and appointment of an interrex to nominate new magistrates and conduct an election of ratification.
They had decided on a republican form of government with 2 Cōnsulēs in place of a king executing the will of a Patrician Senate. This was a temporary measure until they could consider the details more carefully.
Brutus renounced all right to the throne. In subsequent years the powers of the king were divided among various elected magistracies.
A final vote of the curiae carried the interim constitution. Lucretius was swiftly elected interrex (he was Prefect of the city anyway).
Lucretius proposed Brutus and Collatinus as the initial 2 Cōnsulēs and that choice was ratified by the Curiae. Needing to acquire the assent of the population as a whole they paraded Lucretia’s body through the streets, summoning the Plebeians to legal assembly in the Forum Romanum.
Once there they heard a further speech by Brutus. It began:
Inasmuch as Tarquin neither obtained the sovereignty in accordance with our ancestral customs and laws, nor, since he obtained it — in whatever manner he got it — has he been exercising it in an honorable or kingly manner, but has surpassed in insolence and lawlessness all the tyrants the world ever saw, we patricians met together and resolved to deprive him of his power, a thing we ought to have done long ago, but are doing now when a favorable opportunity has offered. And we have called you together, plebeians, in order to declare our own decision and then ask for your assistance in achieving liberty for our country….
A general election was held, and the final vote was in favor of a Roman Republic. The monarchy was at an end, even while Lucretia was still displayed in the Forum.
The Roman noblemen, led by Brutus, obtained the support of both the Pātriciī (Roman Aristocracy) and the Plēbēs (Common People) to expel the King and his family and to institute a republic. Leaving Lucretius in command of the city, Brutus proceeded with a group of militia to the Exercitus Romanus (Roman Army) then camped at Ardea.
The King, who had been with the Army, heard of developments at Rome, and left the camp for the city before Brutus’ arrival. The soldiers who had been with Tarquin received Brutus as a hero, and the king’s sons were expelled from the camp.
Meanwhile back in Rome, the King was refused entry into the city and was forced to flee with his family into exile. Tarquin and his 2 eldest sons, Titus and Arruns, went into exile at Caere.
That uprising resulted in the exile or Regifugium, after a reign of 25 years of Tarquin and his family. The Roman Republic was then established with Brutus and Collatinus (both related by blood to Rome’s 5th King Lucius Tarquinius Priscus) as the original Cōnsulēs.
According to Livy, Brutus’ first act after the expulsion of Tarquin was to bring the people to swear an oath never to allow any man again to be king in Rome.
Omnium primum avidum novae libertatis populum, ne postmodum flecti precibus aut donis regiis posset, iure iurando adegit neminem Romae passuros regnare.
First of all, by swearing an oath that they would suffer no man to rule Rome, it forced the people, desirous of a new liberty, not to be thereafter swayed by the entreaties or bribes of kings.
This is, fundamentally, a restatement of the “private oath” sworn by the conspirators to overthrow the monarchy:
Per hunc… castissimum ante regiam iniuriam sanguinem iuro, vosque, di, testes facio me L. Tarquinium Superbum cum scelerata coniuge et omni liberorum stirpe ferro igni quacumque dehinc vi possim exsecuturum, nec illos nec alium quemquam regnare Romae passurum.
By this guiltless blood before the kingly injustice I swear – you and the gods as my witnesses – I make myself the one who will prosecute, by what force I am able, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus along with his wicked wife and the whole house of his freeborn children by sword, by fire, by any means hence, so that neither they nor any one else be suffered to rule Rome.
Brutus also replenished the number of Senators to 300 from the principal men of the Equites. The new Consuls also created a new office of Rex Sacrorum to carry out the religious duties that had previously been performed by the kings.
The Roman people loathed the name and family of the exiled King Tarquin. It was taken to such an extent that the Consul Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus was forced to resign from his office and go into exile.
After his exile, Tarquin made a number of attempts to regain the throne. At first, he sent ambassadors to the Senate to request the return of his family’s personal effects, which had been seized in the coup.
In secret, while the Senate debated his request, the ambassadors met with and subverted a number of the leading men of Rome to the royal cause, in the Tarquinian conspiracy. The conspirators included 2 of Brutus’ brothers-in-law, and his 2 sons Titus and Tiberius. The conspiracy was discovered, and the conspirators executed.
Although the Senate had initially agreed to Tarquin’s request for a return of his family’s effects, the decision was reconsidered and revoked after the discovery of the conspiracy. The royal property was instead given over to be plundered by the Roman populace.
Tarquin’s next attempted to regain Rome by force of arms. He began by gaining the support of the cities of Veii and Tarquinii, recalling to the former their regular losses of war and land to the Roman state, and to the latter his family ties.
The armies of the 2 cities were led by Tarquin against Rome in the Battle of Silva Arsia, with the king commanding the Etruscan infantry. Although the result initially appeared uncertain, the Romans were victorious.
The Roman victory wasn’t without its own perils for both Brutus (the Consul) and Arruns (the King’s son) were killed in the battle.
Another attempt by Tarquin relied on military support from Lars Porsenna, king of Clusium. The war led to the siege of Rome, and finally a peace treaty leaving Tarquin unable to regain the Roman throne.
Tarquin and his family left Clusium, and instead sought refuge in Tusculum with his son-in-law Octavius Mamilius. In about 496 BC, Tarquin and his son Titus fought with Mamilius and the Latin League against Rome, but lost, at the Battle of Lake Regillus where Mamilius perished.
With the rise of the Roman Republic, and the death of its last King, Rome would carry on from 509 – 27 BC (or 482 years for those that are particular). During that stretch Rome would see a lot of growth and troubles, that would all culminate with a General named Julius Caesar.
We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and look forward to having you back again soon. Make sure to check us out daily for you never know who we’ll be checking out or where we’ll be traveling.
Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Gale, Robert L. A Herman Melville encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995. ISBN 978-0-313-29011-4.
Livy. Ab urbe condita.