Regifugium: Celebrating the Flight of a King

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

As we carry on in this month of Februarius (February), we shall continue to celebrate. We’ve already experienced Feriae Sementivae: The Roman Festival of Sowing (2/2); Parentalia: Celebrating the Ancestors of Rome (2/12); Quirinalia: Celebrating Quirinus and Rome’s Civil Society (2/17); Ferālia: Celebrating Roman Spirits of the Dead (2/21); Caristia: Celebrating the Love of Family (2/22); and Terminalia: Celebrating Terminus and Boundaries (2/23).

Since Februarius was all about partying for the Romans, today we are going to be like the Romans and celebrate Regifugium!

Regifugium – A sort of Independence Day for Rome.

In Ancient Roman religionRegifugium was an annual observance that took place every 24 February. The Romans themselves offer varying views on the meaning of the day.

Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, 16th-Century depiction published by Guillaume Rouillé.

According to Varro and Ovid, the festival commemorated the flight of the last King of RomeTarquinius Superbus, in 510 BC. In 509 BC, having angered the Roman populace through the pace and burden of constant building, Tarquin embarked on a siege campaign against the Rutuli.

With little prospect of battle, the King’s 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.

Titian’s Tarquin and Lucretia (1571)

Sextus was said to have entered the room of the wife of Lucius (Lucretia), 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 one of her slaves and place the bodies together, then claim he had caught her having adulterous sex.

The next day Lucretia dressed in black and went to her father’s house in Rome, cast herself down in the suppliant’s position (embracing the knees), weeping before she took her own life out of shame. Lucius Junius Brutus (a leading citizen, and the grandson of Rome’s 5th King Tarquinius Priscus) had been there to witness this event and had had enough.

Brutus holding Lucretia with the knife as he swears the oath.

Brutus summoned the Comitia Curiata and began to scold and criticize them in one of the more noted and effective speeches of Ancient Rome. Because of his orator skills, Brutus persuaded the Comitia to revoke the King’s Imperium and send him into exile.

When word of the uprising reached Tarquin, he abandoned Ardea and sought support from his allies in Etruria. Tarquin’s final attempt to regain the Roman Kingdom came in 498 or 496 BC at the Battle of Lake Regillus.

Upon losing the battle, Rome retained her independence. Tarquin was driven into exile at the court of Aristodemus at Cumae, where he died in 495 BC.

In his Fasti, Ovid refers to Regifugium as nefastus (days on which official transactions were forbidden on religious grounds). Fasti also offers the longest surviving account of the observance:

Now I must tell of the flight of the King, six days from the end of the month. The last of the Tarquins possessed the Roman nation, an unjust man, but nevertheless strong in war.

Emperor Augustus dressed as the Rex Sacrorum.

Plutarch holds that the Rex Sacrorum was a substitute for the former King of Rome here as in various religious rituals. The Rex held no civic or military role, but nevertheless was bound to offer a public sacrifice in the Comitia on this date.

The Flight of the King was the swift exit the proxy king was required to make from that place of public business. It may be that the differing versions are to be reconciled by taking the flight of the Rex Sacrorum as a reenactment of the expulsion of Tarquinius.

Also known as Fugalia (King’s Flight), in some ancient Roman calendar the 24 May is likewise called Regifugium. In others it is described as Q. Rex. C. F. (Quando Rex comitiavit, fas or Quando Rex comitio fugit).

Down with the King!

Several ancient, as well as modern, writers have denied that either of these days had anything to do with the flight of King Tarquin. Plutarch, for example, explains it as the symbolic departure of the priest with the title Rex Sacrorum from the Comitia.

Even William Shakespeare had an opinion on Regifugium and Tarquin’s Flight. In his  narrative poemThe Rape of Lucrece, Shakespeare pens the following:

‘Courageous Roman, do not steep thy heart In such relenting dew of lamentations; But kneel with me and help to bear thy part, To rouse our Roman gods with invocations, That they will suffer these abominations, Since Rome herself in them doth stand disgraced, By our strong arms from forth her fair streets chased. Now, by the Capitol that we adore, And by this chaste blood so unjustly stain’d, By heaven’s fair sun that breeds the fat earth’s store, By all our country rights in Rome maintain’d, And by chaste Lucrece’ soul that late complain’d Her wrongs to us, and by this bloody knife, We will revenge the death of this true wife.’

“The suicide of Lucretia” by Jörg Breu the Elder.

This said, he struck his hand upon his breast, And kiss’d the fatal knife, to end his vow; And to his protestation urged the rest, Who, wondering at him, did his words allow: Then jointly to the ground their knees they bow; And that deep vow, which Brutus made before, He doth again repeat, and that they swore. When they had sworn to this advised doom, They did conclude to bear dead Lucrece thence; To show her bleeding body thorough Rome, And so to publish Tarquin’s foul offence: Which being done with speedy diligence, The Romans plausibly did give consent To Tarquin’s everlasting banishment.

We don’t know about you, but that’s a vivid depiction.

Hopefully you enjoyed today’s Regifugium and look forward to having you back again. Come check us out again soon for who knows what celebrations or adventures we’ll be partaking.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Merrill, Elmer Truesdell. “The Roman Calendar and the Regifugium“. Classical Philology. The University of Chicago Press, 1924.

Smith, William. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. London, 1875.


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