Before the Roman Republic: The Life and Times of the 7 Kings of Rome

Know the Romans

The early history of Rome, that is, the 250 or so years between its apparent formation and the creation of the Republic, is still shrouded in mystery. There are a number of problems associated with attempting to write about Rome’s early history. First and foremost, there is no written account dated any earlier than the third century BC. Remember, Rome’s records were destroyed when the city was sacked in 390 BC. While I am writing about Rome’s supposed seven kings, there may have been many more.

The kingdom of Rome is surrounded by myth and legend, as is the formation of the city. We get most of our information from writers like Livy and Plutarch, but the details they received were passed down from generation to generation and are therefore unreliable. As a consequence, we’ll have to do as much as we can with the information that is at our disposal.

1 – Romulus (753? – 716 BC?)

Ancient sources speak of an era where kings ruled Rome, and the Senate and Curiate Assembly had little in the way of power and authority. The Senate could only advise the king and was unable to prevent him from taking whatever actions he chose. According to legend, Romulus founded the city of Rome on April 21, 753 BC. Incidentally, Roman historians such as Fabius Pictor disagree with the date of formation; Pictor believes Rome was founded in 748 or 747 BC while Cincius Alimentus wrote that the date was 729/728 BC.

Romulus and remus on a coin. Wikimedia

Regarding the kingship, the successors were chosen from top ranking officials who had served the previous king. There was always a period of interregnum between monarchs while the next king was chosen. The legend of Romulus says that a she-wolf raised him along with his twin brother Remus; he later murdered his brother. As the king of Rome, Romulus wanted to raise the population quickly and was ruthless in doing so. He even offered sanctuary to criminals on the run at the Capitoline Hill asylum.

Romulus expanded the city’s borders to include the Capitoline, Caelian, Quirinal, and Aventine Hills. With an influx of male criminals and slaves, the king realized that there was a dearth of women in his new kingdom. As a result, he organized a large celebration at the festival of Consus and invited various neighboring tribes to attend. A large number of Sabine’s attended and midway through the festival, the Romans took the unmarried Sabine women and forced them to marry.

Known as the ‘rape of the Sabine women,’ Rome’s actions resulted in war with the Sabine tribe as their king, Titus Tatius, sought revenge. The Sabine’s captured Capitoline Hill but eventually agreed to peace talks. Tatius became joint ruler and reigned from Capitoline Hill whereas Romulus ruled from the Palatine. Tatius died before Romulus who regained sole control of Rome. While most of the information relating to Romulus’ reign is fiction, there might be a few grains of truth. Regarding his death, one story suggests that the senators grew tired of the increasingly tyrannical leader and stabbed him to death.