This series has eight easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: The King of Rome Builds His Temple.
How the ancient Kingdom of Rome transformed into the Roman Republic is a unique story in history. The reason for this is the unique office of Tribune. While the Consuls came to serve the special interests of the patrician class (the nobility) the Tribunes were specifically instituted to serve the plebian class (the peasantry). What other country in ancient or modern times have instituted an office with similar duties and powers? This is the story of how that happened.
This selection is from A History of Rome by Henry George Liddell published in 1855.
Henry George Liddell was an English professor who wrote classics on the ancient civilizations in the Mediterranean world. He topped his career as a Dean at Oxford University. His daughter Alice Liddell was the inspiration of Lewis Carroll’s famous story.
Time: 510 BC
Tarquin had made himself king by the aid of the patricians, and chiefly by means of the third or Lucerian tribe, to which his family belonged. The burgesses of the Gentes were indignant at the curtailment of their privileges by the popular reforms of Servius, and were glad to lend themselves to any overthrow of his power. But Tarquin soon kicked away the ladder by which he had risen. He abrogated, it is true, the hated Assembly of the Centuries; but neither did he pay any heed to the Curiate Assembly, nor did he allow any new members to be chosen into the senate in place of those who were removed by death or other causes; so that even those who had helped him to the throne repented them of their deed. The name of Superbus, or the Proud, testifies to the general feeling against the despotic rule of the second Tarquin.
It was by foreign alliances that he calculated on supporting his despotism at home. The Etruscans of Tarquinii, and all its associate cities, were his friends; and among the Latins also he sought to raise a power which might counterbalance the senate and people of Rome.
The wisdom of Tarquinius Priscus and Servius had united all the Latin name to Rome, so that Rome had become the sovereign city of Latium. The last Tarquin drew those ties still closer. He gave his daughter in marriage to Octavius Mamilius, chief of Tusculum, and favored the Latins in all things. But at a general assembly of the Latins at the Ferentine Grove, beneath the Alban Mount, where they had been accustomed to meet of olden time to settle their national affairs, Turnus Herdonius of Aricia rose and spoke against him. Then Tarquinius accused him of high treason, and brought false witnesses against him; and so powerful with the Latins was the king that they condemned their countryman to be drowned in the Ferentine water, and obeyed Tarquinius in all things.
With them he made war upon the Volscians and took the city of Suessa, wherein was a great booty. This booty he applied to the execution of great works in the city, in emulation of his father and King Servius. The elder Tarquin had built up the side of the Tarpeian rock and levelled the summit, to be the foundation of a temple of Jupiter, but he had not completed the work. Tarquinius Superbus now removed all the temples and shrines of the old Sabine gods which had been there since the time of Titus Tatius; but the goddess of Youth and the god Terminus kept their place, whereby was signified that the Roman people should enjoy undecaying vigor, and that the boundaries of their empire should never be drawn in. And on the Tarpeian height he built a magnificent temple, to be dedicated jointly to the great gods of the Latins and Etruscans, Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva; and this part of the Saturnian Hill was ever after called the Capitol or the Chief Place, while the upper part was called the Arx or Citadel.
He brought architects from Etruria to plan the temple, but he forced the Roman people to work for him without hire.
One day a strange woman appeared before the king and offered him nine books to buy; and when he refused them she went away and burned, three of the nine books and brought back the remaining six and offered to sell them at the same price that she had asked for the nine; and when he laughed at her and again refused, she went as before and burned three more books, and came back and asked still the same price for the three that were left. Then the king was struck by her pertinacity, and he consulted his augurs what this might be; and they bade him by all means buy the three, and said he had done wrong not to buy the nine, for these were the books of the Sibyl and contained great secrets. So the books were kept underground in the Capitol in a stone chest, and two men (duumviri) were appointed to take charge of them, and consult them when the state was in danger.
The only Latin town that defied Tarquin’s power was Gabii; and Sextus, the king’s youngest son, promised to win this place also for his father. So he fled from Rome and presented himself at Gabii; and there he made complaints of his father’s tyranny and prayed for protection. The Gabians believed him, and took him into their city, and they trusted him, so that in time he was made commander of their army. Now his father suffered him to conquer in many small battles, and the Gabians trusted him more and more. Then he sent privately to his father, and asked what he should do to make the Gabians submit. Then King Tarquin gave no answer to the messenger, but, as he walked up and down his garden, he kept cutting off the heads of the tallest poppies with his staff. At last the messenger was tired, and went back to Sextus and told him what had passed. But Sextus understood what his father meant, and he began to accuse falsely all the chief men, and some of them he put to death and some he banished. So at last the city of Gabii was left defenseless, and Sextus delivered it up to his father.
While Tarquin was building his temple on the Capitol, a strange portent offered itself; for a snake came forth and devoured the sacrifices on the altar.
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