The Period of Kings in Ancient Rome

Talk the Talk

The first five of the legendary kings of Rome gained their title through an election as opposed to through birthright or conquest as is usually the case. 

Also, unlike many monarchies, they were not absolute rulers but instead, they shared power with an elected senate.

Walk the Walk

Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome, are said by some to have been the sons of Mars, the god of war and to be descendants of Aeneas, the hero of Troy during the Trojan War. 

Soon after their birth, they were left to die in the Tiber River by Longa, the King of Alba. 

However, they were saved and cared for by a she-wolf until a kindly Shepard named Faustalus found them and raised them as his own. 

When fully grown, the brothers took revenge and killed King Longa before founding their own city, Rome, on the banks of the Tiber River.

Most of what was believed about the early period of Roman history before modern archaeology comes from Titus Livius (also known as Livy), a Roman historian who lived from 59 BCE to 17 CE. 

His book, History of Rome from its Foundation, probably does give accurate descriptions of people and events from his own time however his writings on earlier periods of Rome have questionable accuracy as he would have been largely relying on legends and guesswork due to a lack of good sources. 

While it is fair to say many of the dates and much of the information we have on the Period of Kings are not inaccurate, they are often the best we have to go from so can be useful as a rough guide. Archaeology has shown that the date for the start of the Period of Kings was probably c.625 BCE, however, Livy stated it was 753 BCE and while at least some of the kings he mentioned probably did rule, the existence of the first, Romulus and others such as Tullus Hostilius, are in doubt. 

Roman Kings as Listed by Titus Livius 

Romulus (R. 753-715 BCE) - According to Livy, Rome was founded by the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, who soon after arriving in the area disagreed on the exact location the new settlement should be built and about the walls that would surround it. These arguments led to Romulus killing his brother and becoming the first King of Rome. Romulus then went back to his hometown to recruit new citizens for his new settlement. 

Most of the people who joined him were slaves, criminals and people wishing to escape their debts; most were also male which caused a major problem. In order to secure wives for his citizens, Romulus went to a nearby settlement inhabited by the Sabine people and after getting the men drunk, kidnapped many of their women in an event that became known as the Rape of the Sabine WomenEventually, the two settlements agreed on a truce and the Sabine king, Tatius, co-ruled with Romulus until he died, leaving the founder of Rome as sole ruler once more. 

Numa Pompilius (R. 715-673 BCE) - Numa Pompilius was a Roman of Sabine descent and is credited with bringing cultural growth to the city. He is said to have brought the Vestal Virgins to Rome, founded religious collages, built the Temple of Janus and added the months of January and February to the calendar. His reign was a peaceful one which according to legend, he achieved by listening to his adviser, the nymph and prophetess Egeria (pictured above). 

Tullus Hostilius (R. 673-642 BCE) - Tullus Hostilius is another king of Rome who may not have actually existed. He is said to have been a warrior king who used the Roman Army to double the population of the city by waging war on neighbouring territories; his name may even be where we get the English word hostile. He is also said to have built one of the original senate houses, the Curia Hostilia, and added Alban nobles to the Roman Senate. 

Ancus Marcius (R. 642-616 BCE) - Ancus Marcius was the grandson of a previous king of Rome, Numa Pompilius. He was a warrior king who added territory after defeating the Latins in a number of battles and then moving many of their people to Rome to increase its population. He also expanded the influence of the city by building the first bridge across the River Tiber and founded the port city of Ostia. 

Tarquinius Priscus (R. 616-579 BCE) - Tarquinius Priscus (also known as Tarquin the Elder) was the first Etruscan king of Rome. According to legend, when he first travelled to the city an eagle circled above his chariot before swooping down and taking the cap from his head then returned it a moment later without causing him any harm. This was an unusual way for a bird of prey to behave so his wife, Tanaquil, prophesied it meant he would one day wear the crown. 

Soon after arriving in Rome, he became friends with King Ancus Marcius and became guardian to his son before going on to be crowned himself after the death of Marcius. There was much expansion under the rule of Tarquinius to Roman territory, including the conquest of the Sabines, Latins, and Etruscans. He created one hundred new senators to help him rule the city, many of whom were also Etruscans. Tarquinius Priscus is believed to have established the Roman Circus Maximus for chariot racing games, built the Great Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus and began the construction of a sewer system in the city known as the Cloaca Maxima. 

Servius Tullius (R. 578-535 BCE) - Servius Tullius, son-in-law of Tarquinius Priscus, unlike his predecessors, inherited the throne rather than being elected to it. He established the first census in Rome which was used to divide the people into tribes and classes, to determine the number of representatives each area was allowed in the Senate and how many soldiers they would need to supply during times of war. He also expanded the size of the city by erecting a huge wall encircling it that measured five miles in circumference surrounding all the seven hills of Rome and protecting them with no less than nineteen gates. 

Tarquinius Superbus (R. 535-509 BCE) - Tarquinius Superbus (pictured below and also known as Tarquin the Proud) was, like his two predecessors, an Etruscan king who was the son of the former king, Tarquin the Elder and married to the daughter of Servius Tullius. He is said to have come to power by usurping the throne by having his father-in-law killed, with the help of his wife. 

He ruled as a tyrant, putting to death many senators that opposed him and seizing the property of many others. Eventually, there was an uprising led by Lucius Junius Brutus that was triggered when the king’s son Sextus raped a noblewoman called Lucretia. His reign came to an end and he was sent into exile and then defeated when he later tried to retake the city. 

Influences on Early Roman Culture 

Today it is generally believed by historians that the city-state of Rome was formed around 625 BCE by settlers from the surrounding areas in response to an invasion from the Etruscans, a highly advanced civilization situated to the north of Rome. It is not known whether this was a defensive measure or a result of Etruscan rule, though the Etruscans are known to have had a major influence on the culture of Rome. 

Some examples of what was learned and adapted from them include, architecture such as stone temples, engineering projects such as irrigation and drainage systems, gladiatorial fighting, realistic artwork and even the toga. The Romans were also heavily influenced by Greek colonists that settled in Southern Italy, from whom they learned and adapted for their own culture the Greek gods and goddesses and other literary stories. The main language of the people came from the Latines though the wealthy citizens of Rome tended to prefer to speak Greek. 

From war and interaction with their closest neighbours including the Etruscans, the Greek colonists and the Sabines, the Romans started to develop the military tactics and discipline that they would later become famous for. The military was a civilian militia at this time drawn from the population when needed but over the Period of Kings, tactics, equipment and organisation all saw improvement. 

The territories of Rome began to grow as a result which led to economic growth and was aided by the political stability that resulted from a form of government that was not only monarchical but also relied on a group of Senators for decision-making. When the reign of Tarquinius Superbus came to an end in c.509 BCE, it brought an end to the Period of Kings in Roman history. From this point, kings were no longer welcome in the city-state of Rome, ushering in the period known as the Roman Republic

Written by Andrew Griffiths – Last updated 22/09/2023. If you like what you see, consider following the History of Fighting on social media.

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Further Reading:

Ancient Rome. [Internet]. 2019. Available from: [Accessed Jun 23, 2020]. 

Gill. N.S. [Internet]. 2019. Who Were the Early Kings of Rome? ThoughtCo. Available from: [Accessed Jun 23, 2020]. 

Tarquin – King of Rome. [Internet]. 2020. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Available from: [Accessed Jun 23, 2020]. 

The Beginnings of Rome [Internet]. 2020. Penfield Central School District. Available from: [Accessed Jun 23, 2020]. 

The Roman Empire: A Brief History. [Internet]. 2019. Milwaukee Public Museum. Available from: [Accessed Jun 23, 2020]. 

The Seven Kings of Rome. [Internet]. 2020. Available from: [Accessed Jun 23, 2020].

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