The Woman who Changed Rome

Most good things come to an end and Lucius Tarquinius Superbus’s reign was not a good thing. Most ancient historians portrayed his rule as tyrannical and oppressive and leave no opportunity to criticize his intimidation of the Senate and misuse of public works (imagine the relief with him gone). His deposition was supposedly due to a popular insurgence triggered by the rape of Lucretia, a noblewoman and the wife of Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, by the son of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus.

However, we must take into consideration that by the time Tarquin the Proud was unseated, support for the monarchy had dwindled and it is quite possible that this legend was made up to justify major political transition and constitutional fruition.

The Rape of Lucretia

Lucretia was a virtuous wife to Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, the governor of Collatia and the daughter of Spurius Lucretius, prefect of Rome (a prefect was any of various high officials or magistrates having different functions.) Her husband was away at the siege of Ardea along with Lucius Tarquinius Superbus who sent his son, Sextus Tarquinius (or Tarquin for my benefit) on a military errand to Collatia. Other sources say that Tarquin and Collatinus were having supper and drinks, discussing the virtues of a good wife when a debate broke out. To settle the debate, they rode to the mansion of Collotinus where they saw Lucretia with her servants, spinning.

Either way, Tarquin was seduced by both Lucretia’s outer and inner beauty. So he slipped into her chambers in the middle of the night, woke her with the tip of his sword placed on her throat. He gave her two options, either she would submit to him or he would kill her and place her body next to a naked slave’s, implying that he had found her committing adultery. Having no choice, Lucretia yielded.

It is said that the next day she approached her father, the Chief Magistrate of Rome, dressed in black and weeping. After calling witnesses and recounting the tragic tale of her rape, she committed suicide by stabbing her heart with a dagger she had concealed in the folds of her dress. The Romans present there were so horrified and moved by the scene that they would avenge this travesty to their liberty and rid Rome of its oppressors. Each mourner present there swore on the dagger that had taken Lucretia’s life that they would extract her vengeance.

Her grieving husband, as Livy put it, swore:

By this blood—most pure before the outrage wrought by the king’s son—I swear, and you, O gods, I call to witness that I will drive hence Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, together with his cursed wife and his whole blood, with fire and sword and every means in my power, and I will not suffer them or anyone else to reign in Rome.

Attack by Clusium

It is believed that immediately after the Romans expelled their last king, Rome was attacked by the king of the Etruscan city of Clusium, Lars Porsenna. Tarquin the Proud may or may not have colluded with him after being removed. In these capricious times though, emerged many heroes who gallantly defended Rome. Horatius Cocles, died defending the bridge across the Tiber, and Mucius Scaevola, attempted to assassinate Porsenna in his own camp. He was arrested before being able to do so, so he voluntarily burned off his right hand in a nearby fire. As a result of such Roman heroism and courage, Porsenna supposedly made peace with Rome.

 Another theory is that the attack by Clusium left Rome kingless. But Porsenna was defeated at the hands of the combined forces of the other Latins and the Greeks of Campanian Cumae before he could become king himself. Instead of a king though who was prone to tyranny, two annually replaced magistrates (originally called praetors, later consuls) were elected.

The Republic

Before you get any ideas, Rome did not transition into a democracy, rather it was an oligarchy ( a small number of powerful families called gentes cornered all the main magistracies and posts). The king’s religious functions were transferred to a priest-king (rex sacrorum), who held office for life. The king’s military power (imperium) was conferred upon the consuls. The consuls were predominantly generals with military experience who could lead Rome to battle. They were thus elected by the centuriate assembly which was the Roman army organized into a voting body.

The first consuls of Rome were Lucius Junius Brutus and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus(He was forced to resign his office and go into exile as a because of his role in turning the people against the Tarquins). As Rome expanded its borders, new offices and institutes were fashioned, and the old ones were adapted to incorporate the different kind of peoples and customs that Rome was bringing to its fold and accommodate the economic and social changes that were taking place simultaneously.

Rome was changing and growing and ebbing and flowing. It was morphing into something unimaginable to a person at that time. The eradication of the kingship and introduction of the consulship marked the beginning of the Roman Republic. The Republic was one of the first political structural reforms Rome was about to see that would forever etch its name in the annals of history.

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