The Monarchy and the Emerging Roman Government

When one begins to study Roman history, one can be easily confused by the many different ways the Roman people are separated into groups. There were originally three tribes; later there were 31 tribes and still later, 293.

According to legend, the Romans were divided up into three tribes by Romulus, Rome's first king. The traditional names of these tribes are the Ramnes, Tities, and Luceres. Romulus is also credited with creating the first Roman army of 3000 men with each tribe contributing 1000 armed men. Little more than the names of the three tribes had survived by Republican times, when they were the names of the three cavalry units in the Roman army. Most researchers believe that there is some truth behind the Romulan legends and these three early tribal divisions formed the basis for levies into the citizen army of Rome in the earliest times. Each tribe was divided into subgroups called Curiae The Curiae were composed of smaller regional and family groupings. The number of Curiae increased as new towns in Latium were absorbed into the Roman sphere of influence but by about 495 B. C., their number was fixed at thirty, ten Curiae per tribe.

The original Roman Senate was a council of one hundred elders or citizens of important families whose purpose it was to advise the king. Later, the Senate came to admit only wealthy citizens to its ranks. The king had a great deal of power, including the power of life or death over his subjects. He fulfilled the role of warlord, chief priest, and judge. The king's power was not absolute, though. He was bound by traditional codes of Roman behavior and had to ultimately answer to public opinion. His office was not hereditary; he was elected by the voting citizens. His election by the Comitia Curiata was confirmed by the Augurs. The Augurs were a college or organization of priests whose responsibility was divination of omens that predicted and shaped the future. They did this by reading the auspices, certain signs sent by the gods signifying their approval or disapproval.

The king was accompanied by lictors bearing the fasces, an axe tied within a bundle of sticks. The fasces was a symbol of his imperium, or royal power and symbolized his power of life or death over his subjects. He could kill mercifully with the axe or inflict a painful death by beating with the rods. The Italian dictator Mussolini revived the symbol of the fasces for his government during the 1930's and 1940's, but he was never able to form a government whose prestige equaled that of the Roman monarchy.

There was also a popular assembly, the Comitia Curiata or Curiate Assembly. Its purpose was also advisory, but its consent was necessary for the king to make war. Also, any new king that was elected needed the approval of the Comitia Curiata.

There were seven legendary kings of Rome prior to the fall of the Monarchy and establishment of the Republic in 509 B. C. The events of their reigns and the stories surrounding them are more fully discussed in the article on The Kings of Early Rome.

Rome began the process of becoming a great city during the reigns of the kings. The marshy ground where the Forum Romanum still stands was drained during the period of the Etruscan kings. The Cloaca Maxima, the great sewer providing drainage for the city of Rome was built by the Etruscan king Servius Tullus according to legend. Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva were the most important gods worshipped during the period of the Etruscan monarchy and the great temple to Jupiter Capitolinus was built by Tarquinius Superbus, the last Etruscan king.

Other reforms occurred during the reign of Servius Tullus. He made major changes in the army. Originally, the army was composed of mounted warriors from the aristocratic classes called celeres or equites who rode into battle, dismounted, and engaged in individual combat with an opponent. Only those wealthy enough to outfit themselves with armor, equipment, and one or more horses were eligible to join these elite units. These equites should not be confused with the later social class called equites or knights, who ranked below the senatorial class in political power. Servius Tullus raised a levy of troops who needed only supply their own armor and weapons and organized them into phalanxes like those of the Greek Hoplites. The success of the phalanx in battle was due to teamwork and discipline rather than individual heroics. It was an enclosed box formation in which several ranks of troops could bring their long spears to bear on an enemy whilst enjoying the protection of the interlocked shields of the first couple of ranks. These units proved devastating when used in warfare against other Latin or Italian cities. This army consisted of 6000 men arranged into 60 centuries of 100 men each.

The Comitia Curiata was replaced by the Comitia Centuriata during the reign of Servius Tullus. Each century was thus supposed to be represented by one vote in the Centuriate Assembly. Later, the Romans were divided into 193 "centuries" for political purposes and the Centuriate Assembly consisted of 193 members.

The conquest of Alba Longa, Rome's ancient arch - rival city which lay 12 miles to the southeast of Rome is believed to have occurred during the reigns of the early kings. Other events in Roman history attributed to the period of the monarchy included the founding of the port of Ostia, originally situated to work salt deposits near the mouth of the Tiber and the building of Rome's first wooden bridge, the Pons Sublicius. The Servian Wall is attributed to Servius Tullus but may have been begun earlier as an earthen rampart and probably only enclosed the northern portion of the city during Tullus' reign.

The early traditions say that the last Etruscan king, Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud) was ousted by a rebellion that resulted from public indignation over the rape of Lucretia, a chaste Roman woman of good family. Most historians believe that the actual reason for the fall of the Monarchy was a power struggle between the king and the leading aristocratic families. The Tarquins attempted to curb the rising power of the aristocrats by packing the Senate with 200 of their supporters, increasing the total membership to 300 men. These were known as the conscripti or the enrolled ones and this word became part of the official title of the Senate, the Patres Conscripti or Conscript Fathers. All these measures were to little avail; the aristocratic classes ousted the last Tarquin and set up a republic in 509 B. C.

Sinnigen and Boak pp. 33 - 44
Grant pp. 19 - 39
Atlas of the Roman World pp. 18 - 24. also see map of regions, p. 19 and map of Etruscan cities, p. 21


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