Saylor.org's Ancient Civilizations of the World/The Roman Kingdom and the Rise of the Roman Republic

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She-wolf suckles Romulus and Remus

Foundation Myths[edit]

Some of the most famous stories of Roman mythology concerned the foundation of their city. One such tale, as made famous by the poet Virgil's epic The Aeneid, held that the city was founded by the Trojan refugee Aeneas, who fled to Italy after the fall of Troy.

Another famous foundation myth concerns the twin brothers Romulus and Remus. Romulus and Remus had been the children of Rhea Silvia and the God of War, Mars, but like many other mythological figures of antiquity had been abandoned (next to the Tiber River) in order to avoid a prophecy which foretold their overthrow of their uncle. The twins were famously discovered and nurtured by a she-wolf until they were discovered by a shepherd and raised by him. When the brothers grew up, they decided to build a new city by the Tiber but could not agree on which hill to construct the city. While Romulus wished to found the city on the Palentine Hill, Remus preferred the Aventine Hill. The argument resulted in Romulus murdering Remus and naming the new city after himself (Rome). The story of fratricide was meant to explain the bloodshed that often characterized political life in the Ancient Roman world.

Yet another myth of Rome's early days which would endure long after particularly as an artistic subject is the Rape of the Sabine Women.The myth holds that Romulus and the male residents of Rome needed women in their new city in order to start families and increase the population. The Romans turned to the neighboring society of the Sabines, seeking to marry their women. When the Sabines refused (fearful of this new rival society), the Romans plotted to steal the wives of the Sabines. After inviting the neighboring people to a festival in Rome, Romulus ordered his men to kill of the Sabine men and abduct their wives, imploring the women to take up lives as Roman wives. The word rape in the context of this story is not used to imply the modern denotation of sexual violation, but rather a more archaic use meaning 'abduction'.

The Roman Kingdom[edit]

The Roman Kingdom (Latin: REGNVM ROMANVM) was the period of the ancient Roman civilization characterized by a monarchical form of government of the city of Rome and its territories.

Little is certain about the history of the Roman Kingdom, as nearly no written records from that time survive, and the histories about it were written during the Republic and Empire and are largely based on legend. However, the history of the Roman Kingdom began with the city's founding, traditionally dated to 753 BCE with settlements around the Palatine Hill along the river Tiber in Central Italy, and ended with the overthrow of the kings and the establishment of the Republic in about 509 BCE.

The kings, excluding Romulus, who according to legend held office by virtue of being the city's founder, were all elected by the people of Rome to serve for life, with none of the kings relying on military force to gain or keep the throne.

The insignia of the kings of Rome were twelve lictors wielding the fasces bearing axes, the right to sit upon a Curule chair, the purple Toga Picta, red shoes, and a white diadem around the head. Of all these insignia, the most important was the purple toga. Chief Executive

The king was invested with the supreme military, executive, and judicial authority through the use of imperium. The imperium of the king was held for life and protected him from ever being brought to trial for his actions. As being the sole owner of imperium in Rome at the time, the king possessed ultimate executive power and unchecked military authority as the commander-in-chief of all Rome's legions. Also, the laws that kept citizens safe from magistrates' misuse of imperium did not exist during the monarchical period.

Another power of the king was the power to either appoint or nominate all officials to offices. The king would appoint a tribunus celerum to serve as both the tribune of Ramnes tribe in Rome and as the commander of the king's personal bodyguard, the Celeres. The king was required to appoint the tribune upon entering office and the tribune left office upon the king's death. The tribune was second in rank to the king and also possessed the power to convene the Curiate Assembly and lay legislation before it.

Another officer appointed by the king was the praefectus urbi, who acted as the warden of the city. When the king was absent from the city, the prefect held all of the king's powers and abilities, even to the point of being bestowed with imperium while inside the city.

The king even received the right to be the sole person to appoint patricians to the Senate. Chief Priest

What is known for certain is that the king alone possessed the right to the auspice on behalf of Rome as its chief augur, and no public business could be performed without the will of the gods made known through auspices. The people knew the king as a mediator between them and the gods (cf. Latin pontifex, "bridge-builder", in this sense, between men and the gods) and thus viewed the king with religious awe. This made the king the head of the national religion and its chief executive. Having the power to control the Roman calendar, he conducted all religious ceremonies and appointed lower religious offices and officers. It is said that Romulus himself instituted the augurs and was believed to have been the best augur of all. Likewise, King Numa Pompilius instituted the pontiffs and through them developed the foundations of the religious dogma of Rome.

Under the kings, the Senate and Curiate Assembly had very little power and authority; they were not independent bodies in that they didn't possess the right to meet together and discuss questions of state at their own will. They could only be called together by the king and could only discuss the matters the king laid before them. While the Curiate Assembly did have the power to pass laws that had been submitted by the king, the Senate was effectively an honorary council. It could advise the king on his action but by no means could prevent him from acting. The only thing that the king could not do without the approval of the Senate and Curiate Assembly was to declare war against a foreign nation.

The king's imperium both granted him military powers and qualified him to pronounce legal judgment in all cases as the chief justice of Rome. Though he could assign pontiffs to act as minor judges in some cases, he had supreme authority in all cases brought before him, both civil and criminal. This made the king supreme in times of both war and peace. While some writers believed there was no appeal from the king's decisions, others believed that a proposal for appeal could be brought before the king by any patrician during a meeting of the Curiate Assembly.

To assist the king, a council advised him during all trials, but this council had no power to control his decisions. Also, two criminal detectives (Quaestores Parridici) were appointed by him as well as a two-man criminal court (Duumviri Perduellionis) which oversaw cases of treason. According to Livy, Tarquinius Superbus, the seventh and final king of Rome, judged capital criminal cases without the advice of counsellors, thereby creating fear amongst those who might think to oppose him. Election of the kings

Whenever a king died, Rome entered a period of interregnum. Supreme power of the state would devolve to the Senate, which was responsible for finding a new king. The Senate would assemble and appoint one of its own members—the interrex—to serve for a period of five days with the sole purpose of nominating the next king of Rome. After the five-day period, the interrex would appoint (with the Senate's consent) another Senator for another five-day term. This process would continue until a new king was elected. Once the interrex found a suitable nominee to the kingship, he would bring the nominee before the Senate and the Senate would review him. If the Senate passed the nominee, the interrex would convene the Curiate Assembly and preside over it during the election of the King.

Once proposed to the Curiate Assembly, the people of Rome could either accept or reject him. If accepted, the king-elect did not immediately enter office. Two other acts still had to take place before he was invested with the full regal authority and power.

First, it was necessary to obtain the divine will of the gods respecting his appointment by means of the auspices, since the king would serve as high priest of Rome. This ceremony was performed by an augur, who conducted the king-elect to the citadel where he was placed on a stone seat as the people waited below. If found worthy of the kingship, the augur announced that the gods had given favorable tokens, thus confirming the king’s priestly character.

The second act which had to be performed was the conferral of the imperium upon the king. The Curiate Assembly’s previous vote only determined who was to be king, and had not by that act bestowed the necessary power of the king upon him. Accordingly, the king himself proposed to the Curiate Assembly a law granting him imperium, and the Curiate Assembly by voting in favor of the law would grant it.

In theory, the people of Rome elected their leader, but the Senate had most of the control over the process.

The Rape of Lucretia and the overthrow of the monarchy[edit]

The historical records of this era of Roman history being as minimal as they are, much of what is known about the foundation of the Roman Republic comes from the work of the Roman historian Livy. In his Ab urbe condita, Livy explains the foundation of the Republic in 509 BCE as the result of a plot to overthrow the monarchy, which had grown corrupt and immoral. The final act of immorality occurred when Sextus Tarquinius, the son of King Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, raped the noblewoman Lucretia. Believing that the rape had dishonored her and her family, Lucretia took a dagger and committed suicide. Outraged by this act against his kinswoman, Lucius Junius Brutus (an ancestor of Marcus Brutus, famous for his assassination of Julius Caesar four and a half centuries later)took the dagger that Lucretia had used to kill herself and swore the overthrow of the Tarquin Monarchy.

Brutus successfully implored the people to rise against the King; the Romans not only voted to depose Tarquinius, but to banish the entire royal family from Rome. The King, who had been away with the army at the time, attempted to re-enter Rome, but ended up fleeing into exile. The first act of Brutus once he and Lucretia's widowed husband had been made the first consuls of the Republic was the oath that no man would ever become king in Rome again.

The Oath of the Horatii[edit]

The Neoclassical Artist Jacques-Louis David's depiction of the Oath of the Horatii

Another famous story from the early Roman era that of unknowable truth was that of the Horatii. Rome was at war with the neighboring region of Alba Longa in the mid 7th century BCE. The leaders of Rome and Alba Longa decided that they would determine the outcome of the war by pitting two sets of triplets against each other. Representing Alba Longa were the Curiatii brothers, and representing Rome, the Horatii. Drama ensued as one of the Curiatii was engaged to the sister of the Horatii. When the last man standing, Publius Horatius, saw his sister weep over the death of her fiance, Publius killed him. For the murder, he was condemned to death but, upon the advice of a certain jurist named Tullus, Horatius appealed to the assembly of the people. Horatius' father, also called Publius, spoke to the people of his son's recent victory, and entreated them not to render him childless since he had, until recently, had four children. Persuaded by his father's arguments, the people acquitted Horatius. The legend might have been the reason for the condemned in Rome to be able to appeal to the populace.