The Romans of the historical period believed that their city had been founded by Romulus at a date that corresponds to our 753 bc. Romulus was the first of seven kings. The earlier kings were honoured as founding fathers, the later ones reviled as tyrants. Eventually the last of the kings, Tarquin the Proud, was driven out of Rome and a Republic was founded. The conventional date for this was 509 bc. After Aeneas and Romulus, this was something like the third foundation of Rome. Its hero was a Brutus. When Julius Caesar made himself dictator for life nearly 500 years later, it was on the base of statues of this first Brutus that graffiti were scrawled, calling on his distant descendant to take up arms and slay the tyrant.
All the surviving accounts of the period of the Regal Period have this mythic quality. None was written less than three centuries after the supposed foundation of the Republic. Rome in the late sixth century was well below the radar of the Greeks, who would not begin to write even their own history for another century. Yet it is probable enough that Romans did have a monarchy. Many other Mediterranean cities had monarchs in the archaic age, including many of the cities of Etruria just north of Rome. Many of the later institutions of Rome seem best explained as relics of a monarchical state: there was a sacred house in the forum called the Regia, the base of the most senior priest the pontifex maximus. The official who conducted elections if there was a gap between magistrates was the interrex. But few of the details that have been passed down can be trusted. Individual kings were remembered as founders of specific parts of the Roman state. Romulus created the city, populated it, first by declaring it an asylum for criminals, and then by organizing the mass kidnapping of Sabine women to provide wives for his followers. Numa, the second king, invented Roman religion. Servius Tullius organized the army, the tribes, and the census and so on. Stories about the later rulers mostly recall tales told about tyrants across the ancient Mediterranean: they were arrogant rulers and cruel, sexual predators, and weak sons followed strong fathers. Charges of this kind were common in the aristocratic republics of the archaic Mediterranean and represent the emergence of new ethics of civil conduct. The Romans also remembered their last kings as foreigners, specifically as Etruscans. Stories about the kings added up to an account of what was central and unique to Rome, at least in the minds of those who told and heard them. Our only real control on these myths is archaeological.
The Republican period lasted nearly five centuries, from the early sixth until the final century bc. It was later remembered as an age of liberty and piety. Those who enjoyed that liberty were the wealthy, especially the aristocratic families which together monopolized political office and religious leadership. The nostalgia of their heirs colours all our history of that period.
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