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HOW DID THE MONARCHY END? According to the ancient literary tradition, Rome’s last king, Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud), was a cruel tyrant. He murdered Servius Tullius, usurped royal power, oppressed the senate, and worked the Roman people to exhaustion by making them labor on the sewer system of the Cloaca Maxima which drained the runoff from the hills into the Tiber. He even used underhanded means to quell opposition throughout Latium in order to make himself the leader of the Latin League. His downfall, however , resulted from the outrageous conduct of his wicked son Sextus. His rape of the virtuous Lucretia and her consequent suicide so angered the Roman people that they rose up in revolt, banished the Tarquin royal family from Rome, and replaced the king with two annually elected consuls and a priest called the rex sacrorum, who held his office for life.1 Comparison with other ancient literature clearly shows that Tarquinius Superbus was portrayed by later writers in stereotypical terms of a tyrant (Dunkle 1967 and 1971). In addition, the tale also conforms to ancient Greek and Roman political theory concerning the evolution of a state’s constitution from monarchy to tyranny to aristocracy; and the story of Lucretia appears to be little more than a Roman adaptation of the famous story of how the downfall of the Peisistratid tyranny in Athens c. 514–510 B.C. was set in motion by an assassination arising from a homosexual love affair gone bad (Thuc. 6.53–59). Indeed, ancient writers had a penchant Chapter 6 The Beginning of the Roman Republic 147 1. For other modern treatments of the period and topics covered in this chapter, consult Ogilvie 1965, 233–389; Momigliano 1969; Heurgon 1973, 156–69 and 176–80; Scullard 1980, 78–86 and 92–97; Drummond in CAH VII.2 1989, 172–226; Cornell ibid. 243–97; Forsythe 1994, 245–301; and Cornell 1995, 215–72 and 293–309. for using such stories to explain major political transitions. For example, in the sixth chapter of his Life of Cimon, the Greek biographer Plutarch tells a story involving the attempted rape and murder of an innocent maiden of Byzantium by the Spartan Pausanias in order to explain why, in the aftermath of Xerxes’ invasion of Greece, the Greeks of the Aegean abandoned Sparta’s leadership in favor of Athens. In the debate of the Persian nobles over what form of government to establish following the deaths of Cambyses and Smerdis, Herodotus (3.80) has Otanes characterize the rule of a tyrant by three things: the setting aside of laws, the execution of people without trial, and the raping of women. The last element is even found at the beginning of the early Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, where Gilgamesh’s highhanded behavior toward the people of Uruk is epitomized by his violation of young women. This prompts the people to pray to the gods to rid them of their insolent king. The ancient tradition concerning Rome’s last king could be regarded as basically correct in the sense that Tarquin’s corrupt, abusive, or ineffectual exercise of power could have led to his deposition by an opportunistic and ambitious group of aristocrats. Kingship is the simplest form of government and also the most easily corrupted, since its proper functioning depends upon the character and abilities of a single individual; the end of a monarchy can ensue simply from its tenure by one person unfit to occupy the office. This is especially the case when kingship is based upon hereditary succession, and it is noteworthy that Rome’s last king appears to have been the only monarch who owed his position at least in part to a hereditary connection . Unfortunately, as with so many matters pertaining to the regal period, the ancient tradition is so overlaid with later stereotypical features customary in the portrayal of a tyrant that we cannot be sure what details, if any, should be accepted as genuine. Despite these difficulties, A. Alföldi (1965, 72–84) has offered a compelling picture of the events that might have brought about the end of the Roman monarchy. Following in the footsteps of earlier modern critics of the ancient tradition surrounding the beginning of the republic, Alföldi has argued that the monarchy ended as the result of the capture of Rome by King Porsenna of Clusium. Tarquinius Superbus either could actually have been deposed by Porsenna, or he could have fled from...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780520940291
Related ISBN
9780520249912
MARC Record
OCLC
70728478
Pages
416
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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