Posts Tagged With: kings

The Etruscans


As a powerful culture that predates the Romans and would eventually influence their younger neighbors in many ways, the Etruscans are an interesting introduction into the culture and foundation of Rome.

The historical record surrounding the Etruscans begins in 1200 BCE, when a Bronze Age people known as the Villanovans occupied the northwest region of Italy. The Etruscans would become the predominate group and by the 7th century BCE would control the region known as Etruria (Tuscany), located to the north of Rome on the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Etruria was rich in metals such as copper, iron and tin, creating a culture of smiths suited to working with bronze. Combined with fertile soil and forests, Etruscans were able to expand their network across the Mediterranean

493px-Etruscan_civilization_mapEvidence exists of the Etruscans trading with the people of Greece, Egypt and Phoenicia. Their skill with bronze fueled a market for reliefs, statues, vessels and jewelry. No literary documents have survived, but records from trading partners like Greece and Egypt have enabled historians to piece together some knowledge of Etruscan history. Further information has been assembled by archaeologists excavating tombs and urban remains. Despite the lack of written documents the archaeological evidence paints a picture of a surprising advanced society, wealthy, with a lavish lifestyle, and a capable naval presence.


Sarcophagus of the Spouses, National Etruscan Museum, Rome. Late 6th century BCE

The Etruscan’s existed in a loose confederation of tribes, similar to the Greek polis, led perhaps by kings or chiefs in the major cities of Veii, Tarquinia and Cerveteri. Society was divided along class lines into the aristocracy and lower classes. Etruscan women enjoyed a rare amount of status, even for Roman women and especially for Greek women. They were educated, and even participated in public life as demonstrated in this sarcophagus. Here, a husband and wife recline on a couch, the man supposedly holding a drink as if at a party.


Apollo of Veii, 510-500 BCE

The Etruscan’s influence on Roman culture materialized in many ways including religion, architecture and government. Ancient sources have specifically credited the Etruscans with passing on the skill of divination to the Romans. Divination would include interpreting the will of the gods from the flight of birds, entrails of a sacrificed animal, or events in the sky.

Architecturally, the Etruscan style temple employed the post and lintel system to support mud-brick walls and a wooden roof. Vitruvius uses the term Tuscan order to define the variation of column that Etruscan’s preferred. Similar to the well known doric order, the Etruscan version used an unfluted shaft and simplified bases and capitals. The layout of an Etruscan temple was almost equally divided between a covered porch and the interior cella or room. The temple was built high on a podium  and was reached by a single staircase to signify the humility of the worshiper. The roof line of Etruscan temples appear to have been decorated with large terra-cotta statues of the gods like this example of Apollo. Romans would later take elements from both Greek and Etruscan temples to create their own hybrid.

The Etruscan’s political power arguably peaked during the Period of Kings, when three Etruscans ruled Rome in succession. They brought with them advances in engineering and urban planning, allies and trading opportunities. Roman society was also divided into classes along economic lines. For a short time Rome was a possession of Etruscan rulers. But by the 6th century BCE, the last king Tarquinius Superbus would be chased from Rome and a republic formed in his place. Rome did not defeat the Etruscans militarily overnight, as Rome was only a small part of their territory. But after two centuries of conflicts Etruria was assimilated into Roman culture.

Today, visitors can see these and many other Etruscan artifacts in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco, located at the northwest corner of Borghese Park. It’s a wonderful museum and one of the least visited in Rome. Housed in the Villa Giulia, the villa was originally built by Pope Julius III to showcase his collection of antiquities. The museum’s website appears to be only offered in Italian but follow this link for “Informazioni” where tickets appear to be eight euro and operating hours are from 8:30-7:30.

To read about the founding of Rome, click here.

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The Capitoline Hill


The Capitoline Hill is situated between the Palatine and Quirinal Hills. It overlooks the Roman Forum to the Southeast and the Campus Martius to the Northwest. The smallest of the core Seven Hills, the Capitoline was one of the most defensible given the steep rise of the hillside. The hill acted as a fortress during the early stage of the Roman civilization and it was this hill that the Sabines crept up before they bribed Tarpeia to let them in the gates.

During the Etruscan rule of the Period of Kings plans were made for a temple to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Jupiter the Best and Greatest. Measuring 55 meters wide and 60 meters long, remains of the foundation can be seen today in the Capitoline Museum.

Capitoline Hill

The Capitoline Hill today.

After the abandonment and decline of Rome, much of the ancient knowledge was lost. Amongst other things, the recipe of cement was lost and care of the city’s vital aqueducts fell into disrepair. This caused the locus of the city to switch from the southeastern side of the hill, the Forum, to the north western and Tiber River side, what is today the Piazza Venezia.

Into the Middle Ages, the Hill remained in disrepair, earning the nickname “Goat Hill.” Santa Maria in Aracoeli was constructed in the 12th century over a temple constructed by Augustus.  In 1536 Pope Paul III decided to spruce the city up before the arrival of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. He recruited Michelangelo to recreate the area, and the result is the Campidoglio we see today. Along with the Victor Emmanuel Monument, a small collection of Roman insula, and Santa Maria in Aracoeli, the Capitoline forms a miniature timeline of Rome’s architectural history.

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Kings of Rome

The Seven Kings of Rome 753-509 BCE

During the Period of Kings, Rome was very much under autocratic rule. The King ruled as head of the family would, with complete control of law, foreign affairs, religion, judicial matters, and the military. Each of the Kings contributed to the construction of a city that would control much of the Italian peninsula by 300 BCE.

Romulus – Romulus is not only credited with founding the city, but also establishing it’s social and political order through the patron-client system. He opened his town as an asylum for refugees and criminals, creating a motley crue of peoples. He orchestrated the Rape of the Sabines and consolidated Rome power amongst many of the neighboring tribes. Romulus divided the soldiers into legions and designated the wealthy class the patricians. The circumstances surrounding Romulus’s death are recounted by both Plutarch and Livy. Some say he was murdered, other say he disappeared during a storm. It is agreed that Romulus ascended to heaven and was worshipped as a God.

Numa Pompilius – is traditionally known as a pious and wise man. He worked to cultivate a more peaceful lifestyle amongst the Romans, and promoted ideals such as honoring the gods, abiding the law, and living respectable lives. Numa established the role of Pontifex Maximus and brought the tradition of the Vestal Virgins from Alba Longa. Numa died of old age, an exceptionally rare thing for a Roman political leader.

Tullus Hostilius – unlike his predecessor, Tullus was known as a warlike King. He defeated Alba Longa and forced its citizens to integrate into the Roman population. Tullus neglected the sacrifices to the Gods and his reign suffered a series of pestilences.

Ancus Marcius – his first order of business was to copy the work of Numa Pompilius so the Gods would never be overlooked again. He waged war on the Latin’s and incorporated the Janiculum Hill into the city, constructing the Pons Sublicius to bridge the river. He built the Mamertine Prison and founded the port city of Ostia.

Lucius Tarquinius Priscus – convinced the Senate that he should be king, over Marcius’s sons. He waged war against the Latins, and had the first Triumphal procession on his way back into the city. He laid the groundwork for the Circus Maximus, and, after a flood, the marshes between the Palatine and Capitoline Hill were drained by the Cloaca Maxima, clearing the area for what would become the Roman Forum. When he was murdered, his wife Tanaquil hid his death until her choosen successor, Servius Tullius, could when the support of the people.

Servius Tullius – was born as a slave to the royal house of the King. A favorite of the queen, it was foretold that he would one day become King. Servius was the first King choosen by popular support, not by election by the Senate. His reforms include the comitia centuriata replacing the comitia curiata. This necessitated a census. He also brought new families into the urban culture by moving the pomerium, the boundary of the city, to include the Seven Hills.

According to Livy, Servius’s death signaled the last benevolent King, and a crossroads. His daughter Tullia, had been married to one of his predecessor’s sons. She encouraged her brother-in-law to kill his spouse, as would she, and take the throne from her father. Tarquinius did, and Servius was thrown from the Senate House and murdered in the streets of the Esquline Hill. Tulia then drove her chariot over Servius’s body.

Lucius Tarquinius Superbus – the infamous seventh and final King of Rome, his reign is generally painted as a tyranny that justified the abolition of the monarchy. After Servius’s death, he murdered several Senators he thought might still be loyal to Servius, thus diminishing the power of the Senate. He waged war against the Volsci, and with the spoils built the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill.

One story associated with Superbus it the story of the Cumaean Sibyl, who offered nine books of prophecy at a high price. When Superbus refused, she immediately burnt three and offered him the remaining six. He again refused the price. When she burnt those and offered him the final three he finally accepted. Those books would become the Sibylline Books.

While he was away, his son Sextus raped a virtuous noblewoman named Lucretia. Her shame prompted the noblemen to force the expulsion of Sextus and Superbus from the city and promptly ended the Period of Kings in 509 BC.

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Period of Kings

The first period of Roman history is known as the Period of Kings, which ran from 753-509BCE. The official date for the city’s founding is April 21st. Although no written records survive, this legendary claim is substantiated by the existence of an Iron Age settlement that dates from the 8th century BCE.

The actual history behind the April 21st date, is surrounded by myth and legend, two legend in particular. The first is the story of Aeneas, a Trojan soldier who fled with his father and son as Troy was at last razed by the Greeks. He and a group of refuges sail from Greece and land just south of where Rome is today. His son Ascanius founded the line of Alban kings that fill the chronological gap until the 8th century. The Aeneid, was finally written by Virgil under the direction of the Emperor Augustus.

This date was reconciled with the second legendary tale of Romulus and Remus, with Romulus founding his city on the Palatine Hill in 753 BCE.

Six more Kings were to follow Romulus, many of them Etruscan. They continued to shape the back bone of Roman culture in ways that would carry through the centuries. Romulus shaped the military to begin conquests and protect his new city. He endowed patrician elders with a position on the advisory committee that would become the Roman Senate.

His successor Numa Pompilius concentrated his efforts on furthering the good of the people. A religious man, Numa Pompilius changed the atmosphere in the young settlement from one of defensive aggression to one of religious reflection. He set up guilds for the trades in the area and for a people that didn’t have an official currency yet bartering between craftsmen was the norm.

When the Etruscan Kings entered the political scene, they brought with them their knowledge of engineering. Pons Sublicius, the first bridge across the Tiber River was erected. They built the Servian Wall around the city, and drained the area that would become the Roman Forum by constructing the Cloaca Maxima. Plans to construct the great religious temple to Jupiter Optimus Maximus were begun on the Capitoline Hill near the end of the period

Despite the advances made, the period of Kings is not remembered fondly thanks in part to the last king, Tarquinius Superbus whose tyrannical rule left Roman wary of autocracy for centuries. He was expelled from the city in 509 BCE, after his son Sextus, raped a noble woman named Lucretia and was driven from the city by the people ending the period of Kings and ushering in the period of the Republic.

For a list of the Kings and a brief summary of their reign, click here.

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