Ever since its conception, Rome had been a little different. It seemed to be the nexus of contradictory traits, the juxtaposition of legends and reality, brave men and cowards, demigods and fiends. Romulus, himself, seems to be a specimen of this peculiar union.
It is believed that Rome initially attracted many deserters, slaves, runaways and offenders, who sought asylum in this nascent city. Romulus also ‘enlisted’ citizens for Rome from his own city but these were mostly men. The city was almost devoid of women (which meant that the city’s future was pretty bleak). In order to secure the future of Rome and the pleasures and comforts of his citizens, Romulus very literally stole women from the Sabines(a tribe in Rome from well, before) in a large scale abduction, in an event called the “rape of the Sabine women”. A truce was ensured later which meant that the Sabine king of Cures, Tatius, co-ruled with the Romulus until his death in 648 B.C. when Romulus became the sole, absolute monarch.
Romulus, King of Rome
Other than being the pseudo-mythical forefather of Rome, Romulus was also its first king. (I know we’ve talked quite a bit about him and he seems to hog attention so I’ll keep this brief) He established the senate of the 100 most powerful men in Rome (ancestors of the patricians) that elected the king to serve for life, advised him, had no powers and could not convene if the king didn’t ask for it (Rome was not born a democracy).
Other than that he did the usual, waged wars, formed legal and civil institutions and also vanished (It is said he was whisked to Mount Olympus and made a God but who knows?).
Numa Pompilius was a Sabine and a religious figure whose reign brought unprecedented cultural and religious prosperity in place of the expected territorial expansion. He is responsible for bringing the Vestal Virgins to Rome, forming religious colleges and the Temple of Janus, the two faced god. He also instated the office and duties of Pontifex Maximus.
(If you’re born in January or February, you have Numa to thank. He introduced the two months to the calendar).
Tullus Hostilius, who may or may not have existed, was a warrior king. It is said that the population of Rome doubled under him. He commissioned the Curia Hostilia (which became one of the original senate houses and survived for 562 years after his death) and added Alban nobles in the Senate of Rome.
According to Livy, Tullus was not very religious unlike his predecessor and stayed that way till he was on his deathbed when he got superstitious. But the Gods (at least the Roman ones) aren’t very merciful and when Tullus called upon Jupiter, He sent him a bolt of lightning that burned Tullus and his house to ashes. (Brutal.)
Ancus Martius (or Marcius)
Ancus Martius was a grandson of Numa Pompilius and very much like his grandfather, Pius and peaceful. Marcius founded the port city of Ostia on the Tyrrhenian Sea. He built Rome’s first prison on the Capitoline Hill and established Rome’s first aqueduct (aqueducts were watercourses constructed to carry water from a source to a distribution point far away and they were HUGE in Rome). He diplomatically brought together smaller surrounding Latin cities into an alliance with Rome. When he conquered the Latins for good, he transferred them to the Aventine Hill. Thus in ways, he is responsible for creating the plebian class in Rome.
Lucius Tarquinius Priscus
Lucius Tarquinius Priscus was the fifth king of Rome, who was the first of Etruscan births. He was the adoptive son of Ancus and almost as confrontational as the great founder of Rome. He led campaigns against the Sabines and Etruscans, doubling the territory of Rome and bringing in quite a lot of loot. The Aventine and Caelian hills were populated in his reign.
The treasures he won were used to construct Rome’s great sewer systems or the Cloaca Maxima, the Roman Forum, the city’s first bridge called the Pons Sublicius and the Circus Maximus, a giant stadium for chariot races. He began the construction of the temple-fortress to the god Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill but eventually was killed by the son of Ancus Marcius before it was completed. The Roman symbols of the military and civil offices, and Roman triumph are said to be his brainchildren.
Servius Tullius, the son of an Etruscan slave, succeeded his father-in-law as king of Rome. Servius fought successful wars against the Etruscans. He prefered to use the booty to build the first wall all around the Seven Hills of Rome, the pomerium. He also decided to reorganize the army.
Servius Tullius instituted a new constitution and then led to the further developing a voting system based on socio-economic prominence. He introduced Rome’s first census and started the building of the temple to Diana on the Aventine Hill.
Although he favored elites in the initial stages of his career, his attention tilted towards the poor in order to gain support from plebians. Servius was killed due to an intrigue by his daughter Tullia and her husband Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the son of Priscus.
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the seventh and final king of Rome, was the one who lost it all. But as I said before, he was not just the delinquent history has made of him. Tarquinius waged many wars against Rome’s neighbours, ensuring that Rome spearheaded the Latin cities. It was in his reign, that the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, and various works on the Cloaca Maxima and the Circus Maximus were completed (and the Romans love their games). But in the end, Tarquin is still remembered as a violent tyrant who controlled, not ruled, Rome.
The king’s son, Sextus Tarquinius was responsible for an uprising that overthrew monarchy in Rome in favour of the Senate though the ‘anti-rex’ sentiments had been simmering for a while then.
When Rome was sacked in 390BC(or 386 BC depending on whose version you cite), as it would be many times in the years to come despite being the greatest city in the world, the Gauls destroyed many of Rome’s contemporary historical records. Others were lost to thieves or time. Therefore, the modern sources we have of the Roman Kingdom are in fact based on oral literature and hearsay and are prone to prejudice and exaggeration. History is speculation supported by more speculation and less facts and Rome, no exception to this rule, is at various instances of time less datum and more aspiration, imagination and stereotype
“In ancient Greece more than one royal house was guilty of crime which became the stuff of tragedy: now Rome was to follow the same path – but not in vain; for that very guilt was to hasten the coming of liberty and the hatred of kings, and to ensure that the throne it won should never again be occupied.”
Rome, as Livy put it, was going to go through phenomenal changes and the whole world would witness the glory these vicissitudes brought.