LUCIUS TARQUINIUS SUPERBUS (died 495 BC) was the legendary seventh
and final king of Rome , reigning from 535 BC until the popular
uprising in 509 that led to the establishment of the
Ancient accounts of the Regal period mingle history and legend. Tarquin was said to have been the son or grandson of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus , the fifth king of Rome, and to have gained the throne through the murders of both his wife and his elder brother, followed by the assassination of his predecessor, Servius Tullius . His reign is described as a tyranny that justified the abolition of the monarchy.
* 1 Background * 2 Overthrow of Servius Tullius * 3 Reign * 4 Overthrow and exile * 5 Modern representations * 6 Notes * 7 References * 8 External links
Tarquin was the son or grandson of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, the fifth king of Rome, and Tanaquil . Tanaquil had engineered her husband's succession to the Roman kingdom on the death of Ancus Marcius , and when the sons of Marcius arranged the elder Tarquin's assassination in 579 BC, Tanaquil placed Servius Tullius on the throne, in preference to her own sons. According to an Etruscan tradition, the hero Macstarna, usually equated with Servius Tullius, defeated and killed a Roman named Gnaeus Tarquinius, and rescued the brothers Caelius and Aulus Vibenna . This may recollect an otherwise forgotten attempt by the sons of Tarquin the elder to reclaim the throne.
To forestall further dynastic strife, Tullius married his daughters,
known to history as Tullia Major and
Tullia Minor , to Lucius
Tarquinius, the future king, and his brother Arruns . Their sister,
The elder Tullia was of mild disposition, yet married the ambitious
Lucius Tarquinius. Her younger sister was of fiercer temperament, but
her husband Arruns was not, and she came to despise him, and conspired
with his brother to bring about the deaths of the elder sister and
younger brother. After the murder of their siblings, Lucius and Tullia
were married. Together, they had three sons: Titus , Arruns , and
Sextus , and a daughter, Tarquinia, who married
Octavius Mamilius ,
the prince of
OVERTHROW OF SERVIUS TULLIUS
Tullia encouraged her husband to advance his own position, ultimately persuading him to usurp the throne. Tarquin solicited the support of the patrician senators , especially those from families who had received their senatorial rank under Tarquin the Elder. He bestowed presents upon them, and spread criticism of Servius the king.
In time, Tarquin felt ready to seize the throne. He went to the senate-house with a group of armed men, sat himself on the throne, and summoned the senators to attend upon King Tarquin. He then spoke to the senators, denigrating Servius as a slave born of a slave; for failing to be elected by the senate and the people during an interregnum , as had been the tradition for the election of kings of Rome; for being gifted the throne by a woman; for favouring the lower classes of Rome over the wealthy, and for taking the land of the upper classes for distribution to the poor; and for instituting the census so that the wealth of the upper classes might be exposed in order to excite popular envy.
When word of this brazen deed reached Servius, he hurried to the curia to confront Tarquin, who leveled the same accusations against his father-in-law, and then in his youth and vigor carried the king outside and flung him down the steps of the senate-house and into the street. The king's retainers fled, and as he made his way, dazed and unattended, toward the palace, the aged Servius was set upon and murdered by Tarquin's assassins, perhaps on the advice of his own daughter.
Tullia, meanwhile, drove in her chariot to the senate-house, where she was the first to hail her husband as king. But Tarquin bade her return home, concerned that the crowd might do her violence. As she drove toward the Urbian Hill, her driver stopped suddenly, horrified at the sight of the king's body, lying in the street. But in a frenzy, Tullia herself seized the reins, and drove the wheels of her chariot over her father's corpse. The king's blood spattered against the chariot and stained Tullia's clothes, so that she brought a gruesome relic of the murder back to her house. The street where Tullia disgraced the dead king afterward became known as the Vicus Sceleratus, the Street of Crime.
Tarquinius Superbus makes himself King; from The Comic History of Rome by Gilbert Abbott à Beckett (c. 1850s)
Tarquin commenced his reign by refusing to bury the dead Servius, and
then putting to death a number of leading senators, whom he suspected
of remaining loyal to Servius. By not replacing the slain senators,
and not consulting the senate on matters of government, he diminished
both the size and the authority of the senate. In another break with
tradition, Tarquin judged capital crimes without the advice of
counselors, causing fear amongst those who might think to oppose him.
He made a powerful ally when he betrothed his daughter to Octavius
Early in his reign, Tarquin called a meeting of the
Next, Tarquin instigated a war against the
Tarquin agreed upon a peace with the
Aequi , and renewed the treaty
of peace between Rome and the
At Rome, Tarquin leveled the top of the
Tarpeian Rock , overlooking
the Forum , and removed a number of ancient
According to one story, Tarquin was approached by the Cumaean Sibyl , who offered him nine books of prophecy at an exorbitant price. Tarquin abruptly refused, and the Sibyl proceeded to burn three of the nine. She then offered him the remaining books, but at the same price. He hesitated, but refused again. The Sibyl then burned three more books before offering him the three remaining books at the original price. At last Tarquin accepted, in this way obtaining the Sibylline Books .
OVERTHROW AND EXILE
Main article: Overthrow of the Roman monarchy
In 509 BC, having angered the Roman populace through the pace and burden of constant building, Tarquin embarked on a campaign against the Rutuli . At that time, the Rutuli were a very wealthy nation, and Tarquin was keen to obtain the spoils that would come with victory, in hopes of assuaging the ire of his subjects. Failing to take their capital of Ardea by storm, the king determined to take the city by siege.
With little prospect of battle, the young noblemen in the king's army
fell to drinking and boasting. When the subject turned to the virtue
of their wives,
Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus
To spare her husband the shame threatened by Sextus, Lucretia
submitted to his whims. But when he had departed for the camp, she
sent for her husband and father, revealing the whole affair, and
accusing Sextus. Despite the pleas of her family,
As Tribune of the Celeres , Brutus was head of the king's personal bodyguard, and entitled to summon the Roman comitia. This he did, and by recounting the various grievances of the people, the king's abuses of power, and by inflaming public sentiment with the tale of the rape of Lucretia, Brutus persuaded the comitia to revoke the king's imperium and send him into exile. Tullia fled the city in fear of the mob, while Sextus Tarquinius, his deed revealed, fled to Gabii, where he hoped for the protection of the Roman garrison. However, his previous conduct there had made him many enemies, and he was soon assassinated. In place of the king, the comitia centuriata resolved to elect two consuls to hold power jointly. Lucretius, the prefect of the city , presided over the election of the first consuls, Brutus and Collatinus.
When word of the uprising reached the king, Tarquin abandoned Ardea,
and sought support from his allies in Etruria. The cities of
Meanwhile, the king sent ambassadors to the senate, ostensibly to request the return of his personal property, but in reality to subvert a number of Rome's leading men. When this plot was discovered, those found guilty were put to death by the consuls. Brutus was forced to condemn to death his two sons, Titus and Tiberius, who had taken part in the conspiracy. Leaving Lucretius in charge of the city, Brutus departed to meet the king upon the field of battle. At the Battle of Silva Arsia , the Romans won a hard-fought victory over the king and his Etruscan allies. Each side sustained painful losses; the consul Brutus and his cousin, Arruns Tarquinius , fell in battle against each other.
After this failure, Tarquin turned to
Lars Porsena , the king of
Tarquin's final attempt to regain the Roman kingdom came in 498 or
496 BC, when he persuaded his son-in-law, Octavius Mamilius, dictator
of Tusculum, to march on Rome at the head of a
Tarquin is mentioned by