Lucius Tarquinius Superbus
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 Roman Republic. He is
commonly known as Tarquin the Proud, from his cognomen Superbus (Latin
for "proud, arrogant, lofty").
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.
2 Overthrow of Servius Tullius
4 Overthrow and exile
5 Modern representations
8 External links
Tarquin was said to be 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. When the sons of Marcius subsequently arranged the elder
Tarquin's assassination in 579 BC,
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 from
captivity. This may recollect an otherwise forgotten attempt by the
sons of Tarquin the elder to reclaim the throne.
To forestall further dynastic strife, Servius married his daughters,
known to history as Tullia Major and Tullia Minor, to Lucius
Tarquinius Superbus, the future king, (Tarquin) and his brother
Arruns. Tarquin's sister, Tarquinia, married Marcus Junius Brutus,
and was the mother of Lucius Junius Brutus.
The elder sister, Tullia Major, was of mild disposition, yet was
married the ambitious Tarquin. Her younger sister, Tullia Minor, was
of fiercer temperament, but her husband Arruns was not. She came to
despise him, and conspired with Tarquin to bring about the deaths of
Tullia Major and Arruns. After the murder of their spouses, Tarquin
and Tullia were married. Together, they had three sons: Titus,
Arruns, and Sextus, and a daughter, Tarquinia, who married Octavius
Mamilius, the prince of Tusculum.
Overthrow of Servius Tullius
Tullia encouraged her husband to advance his own position, ultimately
persuading him to usurp Servius. 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
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
Tarquinius Superbus makes himself King; from The Comic History of Rome
Gilbert Abbott à Beckett
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
Mamilius of Tusculum, among the most eminent of the
Early in his reign, Tarquin called a meeting of the
Latin leaders to
discuss the bonds between Rome and the
Latin towns. The meeting was
held at a grove sacred to the goddess Ferentina. At the meeting,
Turnus Herdonius inveighed against the Tarquin's arrogance, and warned
his countrymen against trusting the Roman king. Tarquin then bribed
Turnus' servant to store a large number of swords in his master's
lodging. Tarquin called together the
Latin leaders, and accused Turnus
of plotting his assassination. The
Latin leaders accompanied Tarquin
to Turnus' lodging and, the swords then being discovered, the Latin's
guilt was then speedily inferred. Turnus was condemned to be thrown
into a pool of water in the grove, with a wooden frame, or cratis,
placed over his head, into which stones were thrown, drowning him. The
meeting of the
Latin chiefs then continued, and Tarquin persuaded them
to renew their treaty with Rome, becoming her allies rather than her
enemies. It was agreed that the soldiers of the Latins would attend at
the grove on an appointed day, and form a united military force with
the Roman army.
Next, Tarquin instigated a war against the Volsci, taking the wealthy
town of Suessa Pometia. He celebrated a triumph, and with the spoils
of this conquest, he commenced the erection of the Temple of Jupiter
Optimus Maximus, which Tarquin the Elder had vowed. He then
engaged in a war with Gabii, one of the
Latin cities that had rejected
the treaty with Rome. Unable to take the city by force of arms,
Tarquin resorted to another stratagem. His son, Sextus, pretending to
be ill-treated by his father, and covered with the bloody marks of
stripes, fled to Gabii. The infatuated inhabitants entrusted him with
the command of their troops, and when he had obtained the unlimited
confidence of the citizens, he sent a messenger to his father to
inquire how he should deliver the city into his hands. The king, who
was walking in his garden when the messenger arrived, made no reply,
but kept striking off the heads of the tallest poppies with his stick.
Sextus took the hint, and put to death, or banished on false charges,
all the leading men of Gabii, after which he had no difficulty in
compelling the city to submit.
Tarquin agreed upon a peace with the Aequi, and renewed the treaty of
peace between Rome and the Etruscans. According to the Fasti
Triumphales, he won a victory over the Sabines, and established Roman
colonies at the towns of Signia and Circeii.
At Rome, Tarquin leveled the top of the Tarpeian Rock, overlooking the
Forum, and removed a number of ancient
Sabine shrines, in order to
make way for the
Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus
Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline
Hill. He constructed tiers of seats in the circus, and ordered the
excavation of Rome's great sewer, the cloaca maxima.
Tarquinius Superbus by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, depicting the king
receiving a laurel; the poppies in the foreground refer to the "tall
poppy" allegory (see below)
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
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
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
Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus claimed to have the most
dedicated of spouses. With his companions, they secretly visited each
other's homes, and discovered all of the wives enjoying themselves,
except for Lucretia, the wife of Collatinus, who was engaged in
Lucretia received the princes graciously, and
together her beauty and virtue kindled the flame of desire in
Collatinus' cousin, Sextus Tarquinius, the king's son. After a few
days, Sextus returned to Collatia, where he implored
Lucretia to give
herself to him. When she refused, he threatened to kill her, and claim
that he had discovered her in the act of adultery with a slave, if she
did not yield to him.
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,
Lucretia took her
own life out of shame. Collatinus, together with his father-in-law,
Spurius Lucretius Tricipitinus, and his companions, Lucius Junius
Brutus and Publius Valerius, swore an oath to expel the king and his
family from Rome.
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
When word of the uprising reached the king, Tarquin abandoned Ardea,
and sought support from his allies in Etruria. The cities of
Tarquinii sent contingents to join the king's army, and he prepared to
march upon Rome. Brutus, meanwhile, prepared a force to meet the
returning army. In a surprising reversal, Brutus demanded that his
colleague, Collatinus, resign the consulship and go into exile,
because he bore the hated name of Tarquinius. Stunned by this
betrayal, Collatinus complied, and his father-in-law was chosen to
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
After this failure, Tarquin turned to Lars Porsena, the king of
Clusium. Porsena's march on Rome and the valiant defense of the Romans
achieved legendary status, giving rise to the story of Horatius at the
bridge, and the bravery of Gaius Mucius Scaevola. Accounts vary as to
whether Porsena finally entered Rome, or was thwarted, but modern
scholarship suggests that he was able to occupy the city briefly
before withdrawing. In any case, his efforts were of no avail to the
exiled Roman king.
Main article: Battle of Lake Regillus
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
Latin army. The Roman army
was led by the dictator, Albus Postumius Albus, and his Master of the
Horse, Titus Aebutius Elva, while the elderly king and his last
remaining son, Titus Tarquinius, accompanied by a force of Roman
exiles, fought alongside the Latins. Once more the battle was hard
fought and narrowly decided, with both sides suffering great losses.
Mamilius was slain, the master of the horse grievously injured, and
Titus Tarquinius barely escaped with his life. But in the end, the
Latins abandoned the field, and Rome retained her independence.
Latin defeat and the death of his son-in-law, Tarquin went
to the court of Aristodemus at Cumae, where he died in 495.
Tarquin is mentioned by
William Shakespeare in his plays, Titus
Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and Cymbeline.
Patrick Henry gave a speech before the Virginia House of
Burgesses, in opposition to the Stamp Act of 1765. Toward the end of
his speech, he inserted as a rhetorical flourish, a comparison between
King George III and various historical figures who were brought low by
their enemies, including Charles I, Caesar, and in some accounts of
the speech, Tarquin.
The cultural phenomenon known as "tall poppy syndrome," in which
persons of unusual merit are attacked or resented because of their
achievements, derives its name from the episode in Livy, in which
Tarquin is said to have instructed his son, Sextus, to weaken the city
Gabii by destroying its leading men. The motif of using an
unwitting messenger to deliver such a message, through the metaphor of
cutting the heads off the tallest poppies, may have been borrowed from
Herodotus, whose Histories contain a similar story, involving ears of
wheat instead of poppies. A passage concerning Livy's version of the
story appears in Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling.
Benjamin Britten employed the character in his 1946 chamber opera The
Rape of Lucretia.
^ D.P. Simpson, Cassell's
Latin & English Dictionary (1963).
^ Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita i. 41.
^ Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita i. 42.
^ Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita i. 56.
^ Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita i. 46.
^ a b Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, i. 47.
^ a b Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, i. 48.
^ Titus Livius Ab urbe condita i. 49.
^ Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, i. 50–52.
^ Fasti Triumphales
^ Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita i. 53–55.
^ Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita i. 55, 56.
^ Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita i. 56.
^ Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Romaike Archaiologia iv. 62.
^ Gaius Plinius Secundus, Historia Naturalis xiii. 88.
^ Servius, ad Virg. Aen. vi. 72.
^ Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, i. 57.
^ Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, i. 58.
^ Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, i. 59.
^ Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, i. 60.
^ Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, ii. 1–3.
^ Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, ii. 5.
^ Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, ii. 6–7.
^ Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, ii. 8–14.
^ Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, ii. 19–20.
^ Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, ii. 21.
^ "With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design"
^ James D. Hart and Phillip W. Leininger, entry on "Henry, Patrick,"
The Oxford Companion to American Literature (Oxford University Press,
1941, 6th ed. 1995), p. 286.
^ John Lippitt, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Kierkegaard and
'Fear and Trembling', (Routledge, 2003), pp. 137–138.
Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Tarquinius Superbus, Lucius".
Encyclopædia Britannica. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University
King of Rome
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Lucius Tarquinius Priscus
Lucius Tarquinius Priscus (616–579 BC)
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Lucius Tarquinius Superbus
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (535–510 BC/509 BC)
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