Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

In presenting the growth of that great power which gradually absorbed all

other States and monarchies so as to form the largest empire ever known on

earth, I shall omit a notice of all other States, in Italy and Europe,

until they were brought into direct collision with Rome herself.

The early history of Rome is involved in obscurity, and although

many great writers have expended vast learning and ingenuity in tracing
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the origin of the city and its inhabitants, still but little has been

established on an incontrovertible basis. We look to poetry and legends

for the foundation of the "Eternal City."

These legends are of peculiar interest. AEneas, in his flight from

Troy, after many adventures, reaches Italy, marries the daughter of

Latinus, king of the people, who then lived in Latium, and builds a city,

which he names Lavinium, and unites his Trojan followers with the

aboriginal inhabitants.

Latium was a small country, bounded on the north by the Tiber, on

the East by the Liris and Vinius, and on the south and west by the Tuscan

Sea. It was immediately surrounded by the Etruscans, Sabines, Equi, and

Marsi. When Latium was originally settled we do not know, but the people

doubtless belonged to the Indo-European race, kindred to the early

settlers of Europe. Latium was a plain, inclosed by mountains and

traversed by the Tiber, of about seven hundred square miles. Between the

Alban Lake and the Alban Mount, was Alba--the original seat of the Latin

race, and the mother city of Rome. Here, according to tradition, reigned

Ascanius, the son of AEneas, and his descendants for three hundred years

were the Latin tribes. After eleven generations of kings, Amulius usurps

the throne, which belonged to Numitor, the elder brother, and dooms his

only daughter, Silvia, to perpetual virginity as a Vestal. Silvia, visited

by a god, gives birth to twins, Romulus and Remus. The twins, exposed by

the order of Amulius, are suckled by a she-wolf, and brought up by one of

the king's herdsmen. They feed their flocks on the Palatine, but a quarrel

ensuing between them and the herdsmen of Numitor on the Aventine, their

royal origin is discovered, and the restoration of Numitor is effected.

But the twins resolve to found a city, and Rome arises on the Palatine, an

asylum for outlaws and slaves, who are provided with wives by the "rape of

the Sabine women."

Thus, according to the legends, was the foundation of Rome, on a

hill about fourteen miles from the mouth of the Tiber, and on a site less

healthy than the old Latin towns, B.C. 751, or 753. According to the

speculations of Mommsen, it would seem that Rome was at a very early

period the resort of a lawless band of men, who fortified themselves on

the Palatine, and perhaps other hills, and robbed the small merchants, who

sailed up and down the Tiber, as well as the neighboring rural population,

even as the feudal barons intrenched themselves on hills overlooking

plains and rivers. But all theories relating to the foundation of Rome are

based either on legend or speculation. Until we arrive at certain facts, I

prefer those based on legend, such as have been accepted for more than two

thousand years. It is but little consequence whether Romulus and Remus are

real characters, or poetic names. This is probable, that the situation of

Rome was favorable in ancient times for rapine, even if it were not a

healthy locality. The first beginnings of Rome were violence and robbery,

and the murder of Remus by Romulus is a type of its early history, and

whole subsequent career.

Romulus and his associate outlaws, now intrenched on the Palatine,

organize a city and government, and extend the limits. The rape of the

Sabines leads to war, and Titus Tatius, king of the Sabines, obtains

possession of the Capitoline Hill--the smallest but most famous of the

seven hills on which Rome was subsequently built. In the valley between,

on which the forum was afterward built, the combatants are separated by

the Sabine wives of the outlaws, and the tribes or nations are united

under the name of Ramnes and Tities, the Sabines retaining the capitol and

the Quirinal, and the Romans the Palatine. Some Etruscans, in possession

of the Caelian Hill, are incorporated as a third tribe, called Luceres. But

it is probable that the Sabine element prevailed. Each tribe contains ten

curiae of a hundred citizens, which, with the three hundred horsemen, form

a body of three thousand three hundred citizens, who alone enjoyed

political rights.

The government, though monarchical, was limited. The king was bound

to lay all questions of moment before the assembly of the thirty curiae,

called the Comitia Curiata. But the king had a council called the

Senate, composed of one hundred members, who were called Patres, or

Fathers, and doubtless were the heads of clans called Gentes. The Gentes

were divided into Familiae, or families. These Patres were the heads of

the patrician houses--that class who alone had political rights, and who

were Roman citizens.

Romulus is said to have reigned justly and ably for thirty-seven

years, and no one could be found worthy to succeed him. At length the

Roman tribe, the Ramnes, elected Numa Pompilius, from the Sabines, a man

of wisdom and piety, and said to have acquired his learning from

Pythagoras. This king instituted the religious and civil legislation of

Rome, and built the temple of Janus in the midst of the Forum, whose doors

were shut in peace and opened in war, but were never closed from his death

to the reign of Augustus, but a brief period after the first Punic war.

He established the College of Pontiffs, who directed all the

ceremonies of religion and regulated festivals and the system of weights

and measures; also the College of Augurs, who interpreted by various omens

the will of the gods; and also the College of Heralds, who guarded the

public faith. He fixed the boundaries of fields, divided the territory of

Rome into districts, called pagi, and regulated the calendar.

According to the legends, Tullus Hostilius was the third king of

Rome, elected by the curiae. He assigned the Caelian Mount for the poor, and

the strangers who flocked to Rome, and was a warlike sovereign. The great

event of his reign was the destruction of Alba. The growing power of Rome

provoked the jealousy of this ancient seat of Latin power, and war ensued.

The armies of the two States were drawn up in battle array, when it was

determined that the quarrel should be settled by three champions, chosen

from each side. Hence the beautiful story of the Curiatii and the Horatii,

three brothers on each side. Two of the Horatii were slain, and the three

Curiatii were wounded. The third of the Horatii affected to fly, and was

pursued by the Curiatii, but as they were wounded, the third Roman subdued

them in detail, and so the Albans became subjects of the Romans. The

conqueror met his sister at one of the gates, who, being betrothed to one

of the Curiatii, reproached him for the death of her lover, which so

incensed him that he slew her. Thus early does patriotism surmount natural

affections among the Romans. But Horatius was nevertheless tried for his

life by two judges and condemned. He appealed to the people, who reversed

the judgment--the first instance on record of an appeal in a capital case

to the people, which subsequently was the right of Roman citizens.

Hostilities again breaking out between Alba and Rome, the former

city was demolished and the inhabitants removed to the Caeilian Mount and

enrolled among the citizens. By the destruction of Alba, Rome obtained the

presidency over the thirty cities of the Latin confederacy. Tullus, it

would seem, was an unscrupulous king, but able, and to him is ascribed the

erection of the Curia Hostilia, where the Senate had its meetings.

The Sabine Ancus Martius was the fourth king, B.C. 640, who pursued

the warlike policy of his predecessor, conquering many Latin towns, and

incorporating their inhabitants with the Romans, whom he settled on Mount

Aventine. They were freemen, but not citizens. They were called plebeians,

with modified civil, but not political rights, and were the origin of that

great middle class which afterward became so formidable. The plebeians,

though of the same race as the Romans, were a conquered people, and yet

were not reduced to slavery like most conquered people among the ancients.

They had their Gentes and Familiae, but they could not intermarry with the

patricians. Though they were not citizens, they were bound to fight for

the State, for which, as a compensation, they retained their lands, that

is, their old possessions.

On the death, B.C. 616, of Ancus Marlius, Lucius Tarquinius, of an

Etruscan family, became king, best known as Tarquinius Priscus. He had

been guardian of the two sons of Ancus, but offered himself as candidate

for the throne, from which it would appear that the monarchs were elected

by the people.

He carried on successful war against the Latins and Sabines, and

introduced from Etruria, by permission of the Senate, a golden crown, an

ivory chain, a sceptre topped with an eagle, and a crimson robe studded

with gold--emblems of royalty. But he is best known for various public

works of great magnificence at the time, as well as of public utility.

Among these was the Cloaca Maxima, to drain the marshy land between the

Palatine and the Tiber--a work so great, that Niebuhr ranks it with the

pyramids. It has lasted, without the displacement of a stone, for more

than two thousand years. It shows that the use of the arch was known at

that period. The masonry of the stones is perfect, joined together without

cement. Tarquin also instituted public games, and reigned with more

splendor than we usually associate with an infant State.

This king, who excited the jealousy of the patricians, was

assassinated B.C. 578, and Servius Tullius reigned in his stead. He was

the greatest of the Roman kings, and arose to his position by eminent

merit, being originally obscure. He married the daughter of Tarquin, and

shared all his political plans.

He is most celebrated for remodeling the constitution. He left the

old institutions untouched, but added new ones. He made a new territorial

division of the State, and created a popular assembly. He divided the

whole population into thirty tribes, at the head of each of which was a

tribune. Each tribe managed its own local affairs, and held public

meetings. These tribes included both patricians and plebeians. This was

the commencement of the power of the plebs, which was seen with great

jealousy by the patricians.

The basis or principle of the new organization of Servius was the

possession of property. All free citizens, whether patricians or

plebeians, were called to defend the State, and were enrolled in the army.

The equites, or cavalry, took the precedence in the army, and was composed

of the wealthy citizens. There were eighteen centuries of these knights,

six patrician and twelve plebeian, all having more than one hundred

thousand ases. They were armed with sword, spear, helmet, shield, greaves,

and cuirass. The infantry was composed of the classes, variously armed, of

which, including equites, there were one hundred and ninety-four

centuries, one hundred of whom were of the first rank, heavily armed--all

men possessing one hundred thousand ases. Each class was divided into

seniores--men between forty-five and sixty, and juniores--from seventeen to

forty-five. The former were liable to be called out only in emergencies.

This division of the citizens was a purely military one, and each century

had one vote. But as the first class numbered one hundred centuries, each

man of which was worth land valued at one hundred thousand ases, it could

cast a larger vote than all the other classes, which numbered only

ninety-four together. Thus the rich controlled all public affairs.

To this military body of men, in which the rich preponderated,

Servius committed all the highest functions of the State, for the Comitia

Centuriata possessed elective, judicial, and legislative functions.

Servius also rendered many other benefits to the plebeians, He divided

among them the lands gained from the Etruscans. He inclosed the city with

a wall, which remained for centuries, embracing the seven hills on which

Rome was built. But it is as the hero of the plebeian order that he is

famous, and paid the penalty for being such. He was assassinated, probably

by the instigation of the patricians, by his son-in-law, Lucius

Tarquinius, who mounted his throne as Tarquinius Superbus, the last king

of Rome, B.C. 534. The daughter of the murdered king, Tullia, who rode in

her chariot over his bleeding body, is enrolled among the infamous women

of antiquity.

Tarquinius Superbus, a usurper and murderer, abrogated the popular

laws of Servius Tullius, and set aside even the assembly of the Curiae, and

degraded and decimated the Senate, and appropriated the confiscated

estates of those whom he destroyed. He reigned as a despot, making

treaties without consulting the Senate, and living for his pleasure alone.

But he ornamented the city with magnificent edifices, and completed the

Circus Maximus as well as the Capitoline Temple, which stood five hundred

years. He was also successful in war, and exalted the glory of the Roman


An end came to his tyranny by one of those events on which poetry

and history have alike exhausted all their fascinations. It was while

Tarquin was conducting a war against Ardea, and the army was idly encamped

before the town, that the sons of Tarquin, with their kinsmen, were

supping in the tent of Sextus, that conversation turned upon the

comparative virtue of their wives. By a simultaneous impulse, they took

horse to see the manner in which these ladies were at the time employed.

The wives of Tarquin's sons at Rome were found in luxurious banquets with

other women. Lucretia, the wife of Collatinus, was discovered carding wool

in the midst of her maidens. The boast of Collatinus that his wife was the

most virtuous was confirmed. But her charms or virtues made a deep

impression on the heart or passions of Sextus, and he returned to her

dwelling in Collatia to propose infamous overtures. They were proudly

rejected, but the disappointed lover, by threats and force, accomplished

his purpose. Lucretia, stung with shame, made known the crime of Sextus to

her husband and father, who hastened to her house, accompanied with

Brutus. They found the ravished beauty in agonies of shame and revenge,

and after she had revealed the scandalous facts, she plunged a dagger in

her own bosom and died, invoking revenge. Her relatives and friends

carried her corpse to the market-place, revealed the atrocity of the crime

of Sextus, and demanded vengeance. The people rallied in the Forum at

Rome, and the assembled Curiae deprived Tarquin of his throne, and decreed

the banishment of his accursed family. On the news of the insurrection,

the tyrant started for the city with a band of chosen followers, but

Brutus reached the army after the king had left, recounted the wrongs, and

marched to Rome, whose gates were already shut against Tarquin. He fled to

Etruria, with two of his sons, but Sextus was murdered by the people of


Thus were the kings driven out of Rome, never to return. In the

revolution which followed, the patricians recovered their power, and a new

form of government was instituted, republican in name, but oligarchal and

aristocratic in reality, two hundred and forty-five years after the

foundation of the city, B.C. 510. Historical criticism throws doubt on the

chronology which assigns two hundred and forty-five years to seven

elective kings, and some critics think that a longer period elapsed from

the reign of Romulus to that of Tarquin than legend narrates, and that

there must have been a great number of kings whose names are unknown. As

the city advanced in wealth and numbers, the popular influence increased.

The admission of commons favored the establishment of despotism, and its

excesses led to its overthrow. It would have been better for the commons

had Brutus established a monarchy with more limited powers, for the

plebeians were now subjected to the tyranny of a proud and grasping

oligarchy, and lost a powerful protector in the king, and the whole

internal history of Rome, for nearly two centuries, were the conflicts

between the plebeians and their aristocratic masters for the privileges

they were said to possess under the reign of Tullius. Under the patricians

the growth of the city was slow, and it was not till the voices of the

tribunes were heard that Rome advanced in civilization and liberty. Under

the kings, the progress in arts and culture had been rapid.

Mommsen, in his learned and profound history of Rome, enumerates

the various forms of civilization that existed on the expulsion of the

Tarquins, a summary of which I present. Law and justice were already

enforced on some of the elemental principles which marked the Roman

jurisprudence. The punishment of offenses against order was severe, and

compensation for crime, where injuries to person and property were slight,

was somewhat similar to the penalties of the Mosaic code. The idea of

property was associated with estate in slaves and cattle, and all property

passed freely from hand to hand; but it was not in the power of the father

arbitrarily to deprive his children of their hereditary rights. Contracts

between the State and a citizen were valid without formalities, but those

between private persons were difficult to be enforced. A purchase only

founded an action in the event of its being a transaction for ready money,

and this was attested by witnesses. Protection was afforded to minors and

for the estate of persons not capable of bearing arms. After a man's

death, his property descended to his nearest heirs. The emancipation of

slaves was difficult, and that of a son was attended with even greater

difficulties. Burgesses and clients were equally free in their private

rights, but foreigners were beyond the pale of the law. The laws indicated

a great progress in agriculture and commerce, but the foundation of law

was the State. The greatest liberality in the permission of commerce, and

the most rigorous procedure in execution, went hand in hand. Women were

placed on a legal capacity with men, though restricted in the

administration of their property. Personal credit was extravagant and

easy, but the creditor could treat the debtor like a thief. A freeman

could not, indeed, be tortured, but he could be imprisoned for debt with

merciless severity. From the first, the laws of property were stringent

and inexorable.

In religion, the ancient Romans, like the Greeks, personified the

powers of nature, and also abstractions, like sowing, field labor, war,

boundary, youth, health, harmony, fidelity. The profoundest worship was

that of the tutelary deities, who presided over the household. Next to the

deities of the house and forest, held in the greatest veneration, was

Hercules, the god of the inclosed homestead, and, therefore, of property

and gain. The souls of departed mortals were supposed to haunt the spot

where the bodies reposed, but dwelt in the depths below. The hero worship

of the Greeks was uncommon, and even Numa was never worshiped as a god.

The central object of worship was Mars, the god of war, and this was

conducted by imposing ceremonies and rites. The worship of Vesta was held

with peculiar sacredness, and the vestal virgins were the last to yield to

Christianity. The worshipers of the gods often consulted priests and

augurs, who had great colleges, but little power in the State. The Latin

worship was grounded on man's enjoyment of earthly pleasures, and not on

his fear of the wild forces of nature, and it gradually sunk into a dreary

round of ceremonies. The Italian god was simply an instrument for the

attainment of worldly ends, and not an object of profound awe or love, and

hence the Latin worship was unfavorable to poetry, as well as

philosophical speculation.

Agriculture is ever a distinguishing mark of civilization, and

forms the main support of a people. It early occupied the time of the

Latins, and was their chief pursuit. In the earliest ages arable land was

cultivated in common, and was not distributed among the people as their

special property, but in the time of Servius there was a distribution.

Attention was chiefly given to cereals, but roots and vegetables were also

diligently cultivated. Vineyards were introduced before the Greeks made

settlements in Italy, but the olive was brought to Italy by the Greeks.

The fig-tree is a native of Italy. The plow was drawn by oxen, while

horses, asses, and mules were used as beasts of burden. The farm was

stocked with swine and poultry, especially geese. The plow was a rude

instrument, but no field was reckoned perfectly tilled unless the furrows

were so close that harrowing was deemed unnecessary. Farming on a large

scale was not usual, and the proprietor of land worked on the soil with

his sons. The use of slaves was a later custom, when large estates arose.

Trades scarcely kept pace with agriculture, although in the time of

Numa eight guilds of craftsmen were numbered among the institutions of

Rome--flute-blowers, goldsmiths, coppersmiths, carpenters, fullers, dyers,

potters, and shoemakers. There was no yield for workers in iron, which

shows that iron was a later introduction than copper.

Commerce was limited to the mutual dealings of the Italians

themselves. Fairs are of great antiquity, distinguished from ordinary

markets, and barter and traffic were carried on in them, especially that

of Soracte, being before Greek or Phoenicians entered from the sea. Oxen

and sheep, grain and slaves, were the common mediums of exchange. Latium

was, however, deficient of articles of export, and was pre-eminently an

agricultural country.

The use of measures and weights was earlier than the art of

writing, although the latter is of high antiquity. Latin poetry began in

the lyrical form. Dancing was a common trade, and this was accompanied

with pipers, and religious litanies were sung from the remotest antiquity.

Comic songs were sung in Saturnian metre, accompanied by the pipe. The art

of dancing was a public care, and a powerful impulse was early given by

Hellenic games. But in all the arts of music and poetry there was not the

easy development as in Greece. Architecture owed its first impulse to the

Etruscans, who borrowed from the Greeks, and was not of much account till

the reigns of the Tuscan kings.