The number 7 is ever recurring in Rome. You will surely have heard of the Seven Hills of Rome (there are more, actually, but the seven are the most important and famous ones). Another time the number 7 makes an appearance in Rome talks is in reference to the city’s kings – the famous 7 kings of Rome.
But who were the seven kings of Rome and what was their role in the history of the city? Continue reading, and I will share everything there is to know.
The History Of The 7 Kings of Rome
Rome may be most often connected to its powerful empire and the emperors that ruled, or the centuries-long Roman Republic that came before it, but its history stretches back even further. Like many other states, Rome was once ruled by a monarchy. This monarchy lasted for over two centuries, and ended with the founding of the Republic in 510 BC.
Not much is known of Rome’s early days, and historical details of its monarchy are sparse. Much of the city’s records were destroyed during the sack of Rome by the Gauls in 390 BC. However, later Roman historians attempted to weave together an accurate story of Rome’s history. Prominent historian Livy (59 BC – 17 AD) described not only contemporary society, but also history that was by then already ancient.
In his histories, Livy relates events that had occurred in the Kingdom of Rome, but these accounts were often based on myths and legends. Therefore, the accuracy of these histories was not always solid. This means that we can’t be entirely sure whether the Seven Kings of Rome existed at all, or carried out the acts that historians like Livy claim that they did.
Nevertheless, this is the best information that we have to go on. It gives us at least a rough understanding of (probably) how the Roman monarchy worked, how it developed, and how the fledgling state eventually morphed into the Republic.
Becoming The King Of Rome
So how did somebody become the King of Rome? Unlike many monarchies, even in the modern day, Kings of Rome were not hereditary – it was actually decided by an election.
As well as the Senate, the Kingdom of Rome also had a governing body called a Curiate Assembly, which played a key role in the election of the 7 Kings of Rome. The Assembly was essentially like a parliament, with members of it representing the people of Rome. But its members came from the early aristocratic and original families of Rome. The commoners did participate in the Curiate Assembly, but it was only the aristocrats that could vote.
When it came to selecting a new King, it was the Senate that nominated the candidates and the Curiate Assembly who voted them in. Interestingly, the candidates that were considered for the position of King could come from anywhere. And the Curiate Assembly could choose to simply reject them and ask for another candidate. One example of this is the candidate Lucius Tarquinius Pricius, the fifth among the 7 Kings of Rome; he was actually a migrant from a nearby Etruscan city-state.
The Duties Of The King
The Roman king was referred to as rex, the Latin word that literally means king or ruler. Though it is not clear that Romulus was even a real person (and may have been more of a symbolic figure), it is said that Romulus set up a form of “limited” monarchy.
This means that the King was held accountable by the government at the time. This was a progressive idea for its time, and contrasts to powerful absolute monarchies or dynastic rule as in Ancient Egypt.
Romulus is credited with the founding of the Senate, a sort of council made up of founding members of the city-state of Rome. The Senate was there to advise the king, with the power to elect future kings. It is believed that this idea derived from the Etruscans, an ancient civilization predating and contemporary to the Romans, who had a similar form of government.
Nevertheless, the king still had a lot of power.
He oversaw legislation, meaning he came up with the laws; he enforced the laws, thereby policing the state; and he headed up the army, so he was also Rome’s military leader. Not only that, but the King would also serve as the head of the ancient city’s religion. He provided a link between the people of Rome and their gods, as well as controlling the administrative and planning side of Roman religion.
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Despite the fact that the King was still somewhat accountable to the people, thanks to the presence of the Senate, it was to all intents and purposes that the King held the real power of Rome in his hands.
The King didn’t just stand out from the rest in his almost absolute power, but also in how he would be dressed. Only the King was allowed to wear a purple toga, a special dye known as murex which came from sea snails. The King would also wear red shoes and, on their head, wore a white crown called a diadem.
Instead of a throne, the King of Rome would sit on a Curule Seat – a type of foldable, transportable chair that was a symbol of political and military power. The King would be accompanied by a group of 12 civil servants called lictors, who acted as a type of bodyguard and carried symbolic axes bound by a bundle of wood called facis, which symbolized the ruler’s authority.
Now that you know more about how the monarchy of Rome came about and what the role of the King of Rome was, let’s finally see who were the 7 Kings of Rome.
Who Were The 7 Kings of Rome?
Romulus (753-715 BC)
The Roman monarchy is generally believed to have started with Romulus, the legendary first king and founder of Rome in 753 BC. As the story goes, Romulus and Remus – members of Alba Longa royalty – were seen as a threat to the new king’s power, and left on the banks of the River Tiber to spare them from persecution. The twins were found by a wolf who cared for the young children in a cave, now known as the Lupercal. Later, the brothers were found by a shepherd called Faustulus, who raised them without knowing their royal origin.
The pair then discovered their true identity and set out to build a new city of their own. They disagreed on which hill to build the city; Romulus believed the Palatine Hill to be a better location, while Remus favored the Aventine. Their dispute was fatal for Remus, and Romulus went on to found the city of Rome on the Palatine Hill.
After founding Rome, the new King Romulus set out to populate the fledgling city. For this, he gathered together soldiers and raided the neighboring kingdom of Sabina, capturing young women of the area and forcing them into marriage with Roman men. A long series of wars with the Sabine people ensued, only stopping when Romulus agreed to share the kingship with the Sabine ruler, Titus Tatius.
Romulus then formed the Roman Senate, gathering together around a hundred of the most noble Roman men to form an advisory council. He also set up class structures, Roman religion and an early form of democratic decision making. However, this was a violent era, and although Romulus was said to be an able soldier himself, after 37 years on the throne it is believed that he was murdered by a group of disgruntled senators.
Other legendary theories state he was summoned to heaven by the Roman god Mars, or even blown away by a sudden whirlwind. Either way, a cult following grew around this first king, inspiring those who became king in the centuries after.
Make sure to read my post The Most Famous Rome Myths And Legends.
Numa Pompilius (715-673 BC)
Numa – the second of the 7 Kings of Rome – was a Sabine Roman who became king following the death of Romulus. Not much is known about Pompilius’ early life, but ancient scholars say that he was born the day that Rome was founded: 21 April 753 BC.
Upon the death of Romulus, there was confusion as to who would be the new king: should it be a Roman, or a Sabine who had joined the city?
The Senate decided that the Sabines should elect a Roman, and the Romans should elect a Sabine. The first to choose were the Romans, who chose the Sabine, Numa Pompilius; the Sabines were happy with the choice, and didn’t bother to elect anyone else.
However, Numa Pompilius wasn’t even a resident of Rome. He lived nearby in Cures. He was related to the joint king of Rome, Titus Tatius, who had ruled alongside Romulus for five years. Numa was believed to be a recluse who had taken on a nymph (water spirit) as a lover, following the death of his wife. When the Roman delegation arrived, Numa refused to accept the position, but was later talked into accepting the kingship.
Numa then moved to Rome where his election was confirmed. His first act was to rid the city of the guards that Romulus had kept on duty around the clock, instead striving for a more peaceful city-state than a warring one.
Numa’s thing was religion. He organized processions and religious spectacles to distract the population from any disputes, also instituting different priestly orders who oversaw different aspects of Roman religion, from funerals to public sacrifices.
He also helped to make Rome a fairer society. To do this, he gave conquered land to poorer citizens. He was quite hands-on as a ruler; for example, he personally inspected farms and praised the hardworking, while warning those who he deemed lazy.
Since its founding, Rome had become somewhat separated between Sabines and Romans. To smooth over any divisions, Numa organized the population into different social groups based on their professions.
But perhaps most importantly of all, Numa changed the calendar. In Romulus’ times, years were 360 days in length. Numa changed the calendar to 365 days instead and organized the months to be more equal. During his reign, it was said to be a peaceful time for Rome; the gates stayed shut for a record 43 years (Rome’s city gates were symbolically open during wartime). He died at the age of 80.
Tullus Hostilius (673-642 BC)
The third king of Rome was Tullus Hostilius. Elected by the Senate following Numa’s death, not much is known about him, except the tentative dates of his rule.
Most of the information we have on Tullus comes solely from Livy. For that reason, modern historians are uncertain whether or not he actually existed.
Tullus Hostilius is thought to have been the grandson of Hostus Hostilius, who had fought (and died) alongside Romulus against the Sabines. He was celebrated as a brave figure.
One of the main facets of Tullus’ kingship was his conquering of the city of Alba Longa. With this, he welcomed the Albans into Rome and expanded not only the population but the land area of Rome.
The Alban nobles were accepted into the Senate and the Roman cavalry was also increased thanks to the addition of the Albans.
Moving away from the peaceful times of the former king, Tullus was a militaristic man who plunged Rome into a time of continual war. Many bloody battles raged under his rule. Tullus was not a leader who paid much attention to religious rites, and so when a plague struck the city-state, the Romans thought it to be a divine act – a reprisal for a lack of devotion shown to the gods.
Tullus himself later fell ill, and looked to the gods for help, calling upon Jupiter to cure him. According to myth, Jupiter was not impressed and responded by striking him with lightning, turning him into ashes. Another story states his house was hit by lightning, and everyone in it was killed by fire. He had reigned for 32 years by the time of his death.
Ancus Martius (642-617 BC)
Ancus Martius, the fourth of the 7 Kings of Rome, was the grandson of Numa Pompilius, and was elected after Tullus’ death. His rule incorporated both the warring aspect of the former king, and the peaceful attention to religion promoted by his grandfather.
According to Livy, his first act as king was to make public the rules and regulations of religious ceremonies. This was so that they could no longer be neglected, and the gods would be appeased.
He is also credited with building the Pons Sublicius, the first bridge across the River Tiber, though this is a legend. Another legend credits Ancus Martius with founding the important port of Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber.
Although this may not be strictly true, it is believed that the fourth king extended much of the Roman territory. During his reign, Rome gained control of the south side of the river near Ostia, which included valuable salt pans. He is also thought to have embarked on wars against other Latin cities in the region.
Eventually, it is said that Ancus Martius died of natural causes after ruling for 24 years.
Lucius Tarquinius Priscus (616-579 BC)
Rome’s first Etruscan king, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus is often referred to as Tarquin the Elder. He became friendly with Ancus Martius, and was named as a guardian of the former King’s sons. After the king died, Tarquin sent the two now adult sons of Ancus Martius out on a hunting trip. This left Tarquin free to promote himself as the best successor to the former king.
He gained political support and convinced the Senate that he, and not Ancus Martius’ sons, should become King. This was the first Roman King to successfully lobby for the throne.
Not much is known about his rule, but according to Livy, Tarquin increased the number of Senate members by 100. He did this by including a number of men from minor families. This was a tactic; he hoped that those raised to the position of senator would remain grateful for this, and therefore remain loyal during his reign.
Tarquin went on to wage war in the region, but most interestingly he inaugurated the Roman ludi or games. These consisted of boxing and horse-racing, and established viewing spots called fori to watch the spectacles take place.
There were three major wars during his rule: with the Latins, the Sabines and the Etruscans. Tarquin was often victorious in these battles.
Perhaps because of this, he was the first Roman ruler to mark a military victory with symbolic celebrations. These included processions with himself center-stage, holding a scepter and dressed in a gold-embroidered toga.
His reign lasted for 38 years, when he was assassinated: he was killed by a blow to the head with an axe. It’s believed that his assassination was organized by one of the sons of Ancus Martius, and was carried out during a fictitious riot.
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Servius Tullius (578-535 BC)
Tarquin the Elder’s wife, Tanaquil, reported that the King was not dead, merely wounded. There was much confusion and in this interim period she established her son-in-law, Servius Tullius, as regent. When Tarquin’s death was later confirmed, Servius Tullius was accepted as the sixth King of Rome.
Though Rome’s Kings were supposed to be elected based on merit, it seems that by this time, something of a dynasty had begun, being the second of the Etruscan Kings to rule Rome. He wasn’t voted in by Senate vote, but rather gained popular and aristocratic support.
He was a popular King. He enjoyed many military successes, including those against the Veii and the Etruscans, expanding Rome’s territory to include the Quirinal, Viminal, and Esquiline Hills.
It wasn’t just the military victories that made him popular. Servius Tullius also enacted several reforms to improve life in the city. He built monuments, reorganized the military, and most prominently, took the first census of Rome. More people became eligible to vote under his rule, creating more social groups based on geographic location in the city – a total of 35 “tribes” that could elect representatives. In essence, he gave more power to the ordinary citizens of Rome.
According to Livy, Servius Tullius was murdered after 44 years on the throne. His murderers were Tullia, his own daughter, and her husband Lucius Tarquinius Superbus – the next King.
Tarquinius Superbus, aka Tarquin the Proud (534-510 BC)
Tarquinius Superbus, or Tarquin the Proud, was the seventh and final of the 7 Kings of Rome. The third king of Etruscan origin, he rose to power after the assassination of his father-in-law. To all intents and purposes, he was a tyrant.
Throughout history, Tarquinius Superbus has been described as an ambitious, arrogant man. In his early reign, he waged war against the Volci, the Etruscans and the Latins, and in the process galvanized Rome’s position as a powerful state on the Italian peninsula.
He enacted a number of significant events. He signed the first treaty with Carthage, a powerful Mediterranean state. He built the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter. He also developed the Maxima drainage system, which was a sewer system (however, he used forced labor to do so).
Tarquin’s ambition eventually became too much for the Romans, not least in his frenzied building projects. Aristocrats and commoners alike grew tired of him and his extended family, with various coup attempts made towards the end of his rule.
However, none succeeded until he was expelled – along with his entire family – from the city of Rome thanks to a concerted effort led by Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus and Lucius Junius Brutus. These two men would go on to become the first consuls, or joint rulers, of the Roman Republic in 509 BC.
After Tarquin’s downfall, Rome was led by several the great families of the city. Alongside this, a new government was developing. In 494 BC, a new, representative government emerged following a strike by the Plebeians. This was to be the dawn of the new Roman Republic.
How Many Kings Did Rome Really Have?
Although much is said of the Seven Kings of Rome, the ancient city-state could be said to have had eight kings.
The eighth King was Titus Tatius. He was the King of the Sabines, who ruled with the first Roman King Romulus for five years.
He’s not usually counted within the traditional Roman monarchy, but he was an important part of the legendary history of Rome. Arguably, pairing his rule with that of Romulus helped the Sabines and Romans cooperate and saw the expansion of the city-state. He oversaw several military victories himself and built numerous landmarks.
Titus Tatius was eventually killed, but his death is steeped in legend.
If you want to find out more about Rome, these other posts may be interesting:
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- The Most Beautiful Statues In Rome
- The Most Interesting Facts About Rome
- The Best Quotes About Rome