Rome Established As A Republic

Ancient Rome

Rome Established As A Republic

Gary Edward Forsythe: Assistant Professor of Classical Languages and Literatures, University of Chicago. Author of The Historian L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi and the Roman Annalistic Tradition. Robert A. Guisepi: Author of Ancient Voices

"Remember, Roman, that it is for thee to rule the nations. This shall be thy task, to impose the ways of peace, to spare the vanquished, and to tame the proud by war."

Part I.

The Institution Of Tribunes: B.C. 510-494


The republic of Rome was the outcome of a sudden revolution caused by the crimes of the House of Tarquin, an Etruscan family who had reached the highest power at Rome. The indignation raised by the rape of Lucretia by Sextus Tarquinius, and the suicide of the outraged lady at Collatia, moved her father, in conjunction with Lucius Junius Brutus and Publius Valerius, to start a rebellion. The people were assembled by curiae, or wards, and voted that Tarquinius Superbus should be stripped of the kingly power, and that he and all his family should be banished from Rome.

This was accordingly done; and, instead of kings, consuls were appointed to wield the supreme power. These consuls were elected annually at the comitia centuriata, and they had sovereign power granted them by a vote of the comitia curiata. The first consuls chosen were Lucius Junius Brutus and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus.

What is known as the Secession to the Sacred Hill took place when the plebeians of Rome, in the early days of the Republic, indignant at the oppression and cruelty of the patricians, left the city en masse and gathered with hostile manifestations at a hill, Mons Sacer, some distance from Rome. It was here Menenius Agrippa conciliated them by reciting the famous fable of "The Belly and the Members." After this the people were induced to come to terms with the patricians and to return to the city.

The people had, however, gained a great advantage by their bold defiance of the consular and patrician class, who had practically been supeme in the state, had been oppressive money-lenders, and had controlled the decisions of the law courts. It was not in vain that the people now demanded that as the two consuls were practically elected to further the interests of the upper class, so they, the plebeians, should have the election of two tribunes to protect them from wrong and oppression. These new officers were duly appointed, and eventually their number was increased to ten. Their power was almost absolute, but it never seems to have been abused, and this fact is a proof of the native moderation of the ancient Romans. There have been many constitutional struggles in the history of modern times, but nothing like the plebeian tribunate has ever appeared, and it is a question if the institution could have existed for a month, in any country of modern times, with the salutary influences which it exercised in early Rome.

Rome Established As A Republic

Tarquin had made himself king by the aid of the patricians, and chiefly by means of the third or Lucerian tribe, to which his family belonged. The burgesses of the Gentes were indignant at the curtailment of their privileges by the popular reforms of Servius, and were glad to lend themselves to any overthrow of his power. But Tarquin soon kicked away the ladder by which he had risen. He abrogated, it is true, the hated Assembly of the Centuries; but neither did he pay any heed to the Curiate Assembly, nor did he allow any new members to be chosen into the senate in place of those who were removed by death or other causes; so that even those who had helped him to the throne repented them of their deed. The name of Superbus, or the Proud, testifies to the general feeling against the despotic rule of the second Tarquin.

It was by foreign alliances that he calculated on supporting his despotism at home. The Etruscans of Tarquinii, and all its associate cities, were his friends; and among the Latins also he sought to raise a power which might counterbalance the senate and people of Rome.

The wisdom of Tarquinius Priscus and Servius had united all the Latin name to Rome, so that Rome had become the sovereign city of Latium. The last Tarquin drew those ties still closer. He gave his daughter in marriage to Octavius Mamilius, chief of Tusculum, and favored the Latins in all things. But at a general assembly of the Latins at the Ferentine Grove, beneath the Alban Mount, where they had been accustomed to meet of olden time to settle their national affairs, Turnus Herdonius of Aricia rose and spoke against him. Then Tarquinius accused him of high treason, and brought false witnesses against him; and so powerful with the Latins was the king that they condemned their countryman to be drowned in the Ferentine water, and obeyed Tarquinius in all things.

With them he made war upon the Volscians and took the city of Suessa, wherein was a great booty. This booty he applied to the execution of great works in the city, in emulation of his father and King Servius. The elder Tarquin had built up the side of the Tarpeian rock and levelled the summit, to be the foundation of a temple of Jupiter, but he had not completed the work. Tarquinius Superbus now removed all the temples and shrines of the old Sabine gods which had been there since the time of Titus Tatius; but the goddess of Youth and the god Terminus kept their place, whereby was signified that the Roman people should enjoy undecaying vigor, and that the boundaries of their empire should never be drawn in. And on the Tarpeian height he built a magnificent temple, to be dedicated jointly to the great gods of the Latins and Etruscans, Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva; and this part of the Saturnian Hill was ever after called the Capitol or the Chief Place, while the upper part was called the Arx or Citadel.

He brought architects from Etruria to plan the temple, but he forced the Roman people to work for him without hire.

One day a strange woman appeared before the king and offered him nine books to buy; and when he refused them she went away and burned three of the nine books and brought back the remaining six and offered to sell them at the same price that she had asked for the nine; and when he laughed at her and again refused, she went as before and burned three more books, and came back and asked still the same price for the three that were left. Then the king was struck by her pertinacity, and he consulted his augurs what this might be; and they bade him by all means buy the three, and said he had done wrong not to buy the nine, for these were the books of the Sibyl and contained great secrets. So the books were kept underground in the Capitol in a stone chest, and two men (duumviri) were appointed to take charge of them, and consult them when the state was in danger.

The only Latin town that defied Tarquin's power was Gabii; and Sextus, the king's youngest son, promised to win this place also for his father. So he fled from Rome and presented himself at Gabii; and there he made complaints of his father's tyranny and prayed for protection. The Gabians believed him, and took him into their city, and they trusted him, so that in time he was made commander of their army. Now his father suffered him to conquer in many small battles, and the Gabians trusted him more and more. Then he sent privately to his father, and asked what he should do to make the Gabians submit. Then King Tarquin gave no answer to the messenger, but, as he walked up and down his garden, he kept cutting off the heads of the tallest poppies with his staff. At last the messenger was tired, and went back to Sextus and told him what had passed. But Sextus understood what his father meant, and he began to accuse falsely all the chief men, and some of them he put to death and some he banished. So at last the city of Gabii was left defenceless, and Sextus delivered it up to his father.

While Tarquin was building his temple on the Capitol, a strange portent offered itself; for a snake came forth and devoured the sacrifices on the altar. The king, not content with the interpretation of his Etruscan soothsayers, sent persons to consult the famous oracle of the Greeks at Delphi, and the persons he sent were his own sons Titus and Aruns, and his sister's son, L. Junius, a young man who, to avoid his uncle's jealousy, feigned to be without common sense, wherefore he was called Brutus or the Dullard. The answer given by the oracle was that the chief power of Rome should belong to him of the three who should first kiss his mother; and the two sons of King Tarquin agreed to draw lots which of them should do this as soon as they returned home. But Brutus perceived that the oracle had another sense; so as soon as they landed in Italy he fell down on the ground as if he had stumbled, and kissed the earth, for she (he thought) was the true mother of all mortal things.

When the sons of Tarquin returned with their cousin, L. Junius Brutus, they found the king at war with the Rutulians of Ardea. Being unable to take the place by storm, he was forced to blockade it; and while the Roman army was encamped before the town the young men used to amuse themselves at night with wine and wassail. One night there was a feast, at which Sextus, the king's third son, was present, as also Collatinus, the son of Egerius, the king's uncle, who had been made governor of Collatia. So they soon began to dispute about the worthiness of their wives; and when each maintained that his own wife was worthiest, "Come, gentlemen," said Collatinus, "let us take horse and see what our wives are doing; they expect us not, and so we shall know the truth." All agreed, and they galloped to Rome, and there they found the wives of all the others feasting and revelling: but when they came to Collatia they found Lucretia, the wife of Collatinus, not making merry like the rest, but sitting in the midst of her handmaids carding wool and spinning; so they all allowed that Lucretia was the worthiest.

Now Lucretia was the daughter of a noble Roman, Spurius Lucretius, who was at this time prefect of the city; for it was the custom, when the kings went out to war, that they left a chief man at home to administer all things in the king's name, and he was called prefect of the city.

But it chanced that Sextus, the king's son, when he saw the fair Lucretia, was smitten with lustful passion; and a few days after he came again to Collatia, and Lucretia entertained him hospitably as her husband's cousin and friend. But at midnight he arose and came with stealthy steps to her bedside: and holding a sword in his right hand, and laying his left hand upon her breast, he bade her yield to his wicked desires; for if not, he would slay her and lay one of her slaves beside her, and would declare that he had taken them in adultery. So for shame she consented to that which no fear would have wrung from her: and Sextus, having wrought this deed of shame, returned to the camp.

Then Lucretia sent to Rome for her father, and to the camp at Ardea for her husband. They came in haste. Lucretius brought with him P. Valerius, and Collatinus brought L. Junius Brutus, his cousin. And they came in and asked if all was well. Then she told them what was done: "but," she said, "my body only has suffered the shame, for my will consented not to the deed. Therefore," she cried, "avenge me on the wretch Sextus. As for me, though my heart has not sinned, I can live no longer. No one shall say that Lucretia set an example of living in unchastity." So she drew forth a knife and stabbed herself to the heart.

When they saw that, her father and her husband cried aloud; but Brutus drew the knife from the wound, and holding it up, spoke thus: "By this pure blood I swear before the gods that I will pursue L. Tarquinius the Proud and all his bloody house with fire, sword, or in whatsoever way I may, and that neither they nor any other shall hereafter be king in Rome." Then he gave the knife to Collatinus and Lucretius and Valerius, and they all swore likewise, much marvelling to hear such words from L. Junius the Dullard. And they took up the body of Lucretia, and carried it into the Forum, and called on the men of Collatia to rise against the tyrant. So they set a guard at the gates of the town, to prevent any news of the matter being carried to King Tarquin: and they themselves, followed by the youth of Collatia, went to Rome. Here Brutus, who was chief captain of the knights, called the people together, and he told them what had been done, and called on them by the deed of shame wrought against Lucretius and Collatinus - by all that they had suffered from the tyrants - by the abominable murder of good King Servius - to assist them in taking vengeance on the Tarquins. So it was hastily agreed to banish Tarquinius and his family. The youth declared themselves ready to follow Brutus against the king's army, and the seniors put themselves under the rule of Lucretius, the prefect of the city. In this tumult, the wicked Tullia fled from her house, pursued by the curses of all men, who prayed that the avengers of her father's blood might be upon her.

When the king heard what had passed, he set off in all haste for the city. Brutus also set off for the camp at Ardea; and he turned aside that he might not meet his uncle the king. So he came to the camp at Ardea, and the king came to Rome. And all the Romans at Ardea welcomed Brutus, and joined their arms to his, and thrust out all the king's sons from the camp. But the people of Rome shut the gates against the king, so that he could not enter. And King Tarquin, with his sons Titus and Aruns, went into exile and lived at Caere in Etruria. But Sextus fled to Gabii, where he had before held rule, and the people of Gabii slew him in memory of his former cruelty.

So L. Tarquinius Superbus was expelled from Rome, after he had been king five-and-twenty years. And in memory of this event was instituted a festival called the "Regifugium" or "Fugalia," which was celebrated every year on the 24th day of February.

To gratify the plebeians, the patricians consented to restore, in some measure at least, the popular institutions of King Servius; and it was resolved to follow his supposed intention with regard to the supreme government - that is, to have two magistrates elected every year, who were to have the same power as the king during the time of their rule. These were in after days known by the name of Consuls; but in ancient times they were called "Praetors" or Judges. They were elected at the great Assembly of Centuries; and they had sovereign power conferred upon them by the assembly of the Curies. They wore a robe edged with violet color, sat in their chairs of state called curule chairs, and were attended by twelve lictors each. These lictors carried fasces, or bundles of rods, out of which arose an axe, in token of the power of life and death possessed by the consuls as successors of the kings. But only one of them at a time had a right to this power; and, in token thereof, his colleague's fasces had no axes in them. Each retained this mark of sovereign power (Imperium) for a month at a time.

The first consuls were L. Junius Brutus and L. Tarquinius Collatinus.

The new consuls filled up the senate to the proper number of three hundred; and the new senators were called "Conscripti," while the old members retained their old name of "Patres." So after this the whole senate was addressed by speakers as "Patres, Conscripti." But in later times it was forgotten that these names belonged to different sorts of persons, and the whole senate was addressed as by one name, "Patres Conscripti."

The name of king was hateful. But certain sacrifices had always been performed by the king in person; and therefore, to keep up form, a person was still chosen, with the title of "Rex Sacrorum" or "Rex Sacrificulus," to perform these offerings. But even he was placed under the authority of the chief pontifex.

After his expulsion, King Tarquin sent messengers to Rome to ask that his property should be given up to him, and the senate decreed that his prayer should be granted. But the king's ambassadors, while they were in Rome, stirred up the minds of the young men and others who had been favored by Tarquin, so that a plot was made to bring him back. Among those who plotted were Titus and Tiberius, the sons of the Consul Brutus; and they gave letters to the messengers of the king. But it chanced that a certain slave hid himself in the place where they met, and overheard them plotting; and he came and told the thing to the consuls, who seized the messengers of the king with the letters upon their persons, authenticated by the seals of the young men. The culprits were immediately arrested; but the ambassadors were let go, because their persons were regarded as sacred. And the goods of King Tarquin were given up for plunder to the people.

Then the traitors were brought up before the consuls, and the sight was such as to move all beholders to pity; for among them were the sons of L. Junius Brutus himself, the first consul, the liberator of the Roman people. And now all men saw how Brutus loved his country; for he bade the lictors put all the traitors to death, and his own sons first; and men could mark in his face the struggle between his duty as a chief magistrate of Rome and his feelings as a father. And while they praised and admired him, they pitied him yet more.

Then a decree of the senate was made that no one of the blood of the Tarquins should remain in Rome. And since Collatinus, the consul, was by descent a Tarquin, even he was obliged to give up his office and return to Collatia. In his room, P. Valerius was chosen consul by the people.

This was the first attempt to restore Tarquin the Proud.

When Tarquin saw that the plot at home had failed, he prevailed on the people of Tarquinii and Veii to make war with him against the Romans. But the consuls came out against them; Valerius commanding the main army, and Brutus the cavalry. And it chanced that Aruns, the king's son, led the cavalry of the enemy. When he saw Brutus he spurred his horse against him, and Brutus declined not the combat. So they rode straight at each other with levelled spears; and so fierce was the shock, that they pierced each other through from breast to back, and both fell dead.

Then, also, the armies fought, but the battle was neither won nor lost. But in the night a voice was heard by the Etruscans, saying that the Romans were the conquerors. So the enemy fled by night; and when the Romans arose in the morning, there was no man to oppose them. Then they took up the body of Brutus, and departed home, and buried him in public with great pomp, and the matrons of Rome mourned him for a whole year, because he had avenged the injury of Lucretia.

And thus the second attempt to restore King Tarquin was frustrated.

After the death of Brutus, Publius Valerius ruled the people for a while by himself, and he began to build himself a house upon the ridge called Velia, which looks down upon the Forum. So the people thought that he was going to make himself king; but when he heard this, he called an assembly of the people, and appeared before them with his fasces lowered, and with no axes in them, whence the custom remained ever after, that no consular lictors wore axes within the city, and no consul had power of life and death except when he was in command of his legions abroad. And he pulled down the beginning of his house upon the Velia, and built it below that hill. Also he passed laws that every Roman citizen might appeal to the people against the judgment of the chief magistrates. Wherefore he was greatly honored among the people, and was called "Poplicola," or "Friend of the People."

After this Valerius called together the great Assembly of the Centuries, and they chose Sp. Lucretius, father of Lucretius, to succeed Brutus. But he was an old man, and in not many days he died. So M. Horatius was chosen in his stead.

The temple on the Capitol which King Tarquin began had never yet been consecrated. Then Valerius and Horatius drew lots which should be the consecrator, and the lot fell on Horatius. But the friends of Valerius murmured, and they wished to prevent Horatius from having the honor; so when he was now saying the prayer of consecration, with his hand upon the doorpost of the temple, there came a messenger, who told him that his son was just dead, and that one mourning for a son could not rightly consecrate the temple. But Horatius kept his hand upon the doorpost, and told them to see to the burial of his son, and finished the rites of consecration. Thus did he honor the gods even above his own son.

Author: Liddell, Henry George

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