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Lucius Tarquinius Superbus › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 03 March 2017
Rape of Lucretia (Titian)
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus ('Tarquin the Proud') was traditionally the seventh and last king of ancient Rome before it became a republic. He belonged to the Etruscan Tarquinii clan, reigned from 534 to 510 BCE, and was infamous for his tyrannical rule, although Rome did enlarge its territory in that time. Following his exile after the infamous rape of Lucretia by his son Sextus, he joined forces with the Etruscan king Lars Porsenna who besieged Rome c. 508 BCE. Porsenna did not restore Tarquinius to the throne, though, and the ex-king fled to Cumae where he died in 495 BCE.


As with much of Rome's early history, where legend replaces actual facts, the chronology and events of Lucius Tarquinius' life are often confused and irreconcilable. Some ancient sources have Lucius Tarquinius the son of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, the fifth king of Rome (r. 616 - 579 BCE) who was originally from the Etruscan city of Tarquinia, some 90 km north of Rome.However, these dates do not match, and so they are either wrong or Lucius Tarquinius Superbus was the grandson of Priscus.
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus' wife was Tullia, the younger daughter of Servius Tullius, Rome's 6th king. Together they arranged, first to kill Tullia's husband, Arruns Tarquinius, and then murder the king, allowing Lucius Tarquinius to seize the throne.Shockingly, Tullia was said to have run over her father's corpse in her chariot splattering blood all over her clothes (even a woman riding a chariot was unthinkable to the Romans, nevermind the lack of family respect). Again according to the Romanhistorian Livy, the new king swiftly removed all dissenting senators and established himself as the dictator of Rome, modelling his reign on the Greek tyrants of that period. Such colourful descriptions by a Roman author writing five centuries after the events are likely tinged with a bias eager to display the difference between virtuous republic-loving Romans and dastardly foreign kings from immoral Etruria.



Lucius Tarquinius' early reign saw the king embark on a campaign of ambitious expansion, waging war against the Etruscans, Volci, and Latins. He firmly established Rome at the head of the Latin League, now a more military-oriented association, and conquered several Latin towns. Warfare was coupled with diplomacy, and treaties and alliances were made with Latin towns, notably with Tusculum, whose ruler Octavius Mamilius married Lucius Tarquinius' daughter. In 510 or 509 BCE, Rome's status as an important power was confirmed with the signing of its first treaty with Carthage. Another achievement was to complete construction of the massive Temple of Capitoline Jupiter in Rome, a project begun by Tarquinius Priscus and finished by Etruscan sculptors imported especially for the job. Lucius Tarquinius also added seats to the Circus Maximus and extended the Cloaca Maxima drainage system, although his use of forced labour from the plebs aroused wide discontent amongst the populace.
Etruscan Civilization

Etruscan Civilization


The end of Lucius Tarquinius' reign, the Tarquinian clan in Rome, and the monarchy of early Rome itself, all came to an end in the final decade of the 6th century BCE. As with every other part of the king's life, the legend of his downfall has been confused and manipulated over time and by later Roman writers in order to paint an idealised and symbolic transition from monarchy to republic. The spark that set ablaze the ruins of Lucius Tarquinius' reign was the rape of Lucretia. Lucretia was the wife of Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, great nephew of Tarquinius Priscus, and she was raped at knifepoint by Sextus, the son of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. Following her perceived dishonour of this attack, she committed suicide and thus became forever after a symbol of Roman matronly chastity. Lucius Iunius Brutus (who on the spot swore an oath of revenge for Lucretia) and Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus used the tragedy as a catalyst for ridding Rome of their tyrannical king, at that time laying siege to Ardea, and thus set themselves up as Rome's first consuls in 509 BCE. Once again, the legend conveniently portrays the Etruscans as lacking any class and the Romans as saviours of virtue, but, in all probability, the whole story covers a more mundane dynastic struggle for power between the royal household and the upper aristocracy which were both, perhaps uncomfortably so for later Roman writers, largely of Etruscan origin.
Brutus soon went one step further and seized the opportunity to do away with the whole Tarquinian clan, including Collatinus (this version rather glosses over the fact that Brutus was himself the nephew of Tarquinius Superbus). This he achieved with the backing of the Roman people. These legendary events were further embellished with Brutus killing two of Collatinus' sons when they tried to restore their father, additions made for political expediency following the assassination of Julius Caesar by the descendant of Brutus, Marcus Iunius Brutus in the 1st century BCE and made to show that Brutus and the Iunii Bruti were not blameless defenders of Republican ideals. Returning to our story, Rome was now indeed a republic, but Lucius Tarquinius Superbus would not give up his throne so easily.
Oath of Brutus

Oath of Brutus


Following his exile from Rome, Lucius Tarquinius joined forces with the Etruscan cities of Cerveteri, Tarquinia, and Veii. A force attacked Rome but was defeated at the battle of Silva Arsia. Undeterred, Lucius Tarquinius then convinced the king of Chiusi, Lars Porsenna, to lay siege to Rome c. 508 BCE. Traditionally, this second attack was seen as an attempt to restore Rome's monarchy and Lucius Tarquinius to the throne, but following Porsenna's siege of the city, he instead did one of two things. Version one has Porsenna finally withdrawing after being impressed with the city's fortitude and moving off to attack the Latin town of Aricia instead, albeit without success. Version two of the story, the more credible one, has Porsenna victorious and Rome surrendering to the Etruscan king, who then, far from reinstalling Superbus, acted to abolish the monarchy of Rome and then used the city as a base to attack the Latin cities starting with Aricia in 504 BCE.
Superbus would indeed turn out to be Rome's last king, and the Republic set off on its road to greatness. Meanwhile, the ex-king was forced to seek refuge with his son-in-law Octavius Mamilius, the dictator of the Latins (according to one version of the legend), who sought, rather improbably given the longtime rivalry between Rome and the Latin cities, to restore Lucius Tarquinius to the throne. Following Mamilius' defeat at the Battle of Lake Regillus (499 or 496 BCE) to the Romans aided by Castor and Pollux, Lucius Tarquinius moved on to Cumae in Campania where he was hosted by the tyrant Aristodemus until his death in 495 BCE.

Nero › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Donald L. Wasson
published on 29 June 2012
Roman Emperor Nero (cjh1452000)
Nero was Roman emperor from 54 to 68 CE. Emperor Nero was the last of the Julio-Claudians to rule the Roman Empire.His fourteen-year reign represents everything decadent about that period in Roman history. He was self-indulgent, cruel and violent as well as a cross-dressing exhibitionist. His lavish parties combined with the burning of Rome continued the economic chaos that had plagued the Roman citizenry since the days of Tiberius. According to the historian Suetonius in his The Twelve Caesars, upon hearing of the emperor's death by suicide, “…citizens ran through the streets wearing caps of liberty as though they were freed slaves.”


Nero was born Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus in 37 CE but renamed Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus when his mother, Agrippina, married Emperor Claudius in 49 CE. Some believe Nero's fate was inevitable. His father, Gnaeus Domitius, who died when Nero was three, was extremely violent in his own right -- described by his contemporaries as “a despicable character”. He once deliberately ran over a young boy with his chariot as he drove through a local village. When his friends congratulated him upon hearing of the birth of his son, Nero's father said that anything born to Agrippina and him would be unlikeable and a disaster.
Nero's mother was daughter of Agrippina the Elder and the great-granddaughter of Emperor Augustus (her grandmother was his daughter Julia) – both women, as well as Agrippina's older brothers, were starved to death (the brothers by the order of Tiberius). Her youngest brother was Emperor Caligula whose short reign came to a violent end when he was murdered by his own Praetorian Guard thereby bringing her Uncle Claudius to the throne. After the death of her husband, Agrippina set her sights on the recently widowed Claudius, whose third wife Messalina had been murdered on his orders for among other reasons, adultery and attempted treason. After a short courtship, they married, and Nero (at his mother's insistence) was soon adopted in 50 CE.



However, by this time, Agrippina had already taken the next step -- the death of Claudius, placing Nero upon the emperor's throne. In 54 CE Claudius mysteriously died after eating a bowl of mushrooms -- probably poisoned ones. Some evidence exists suggesting that Nero knew of the poisoning when he later called mushrooms the “food of the gods.” There was also fear that Britannicus (Claudius's legitimate son) might be chosen as emperor ahead of Nero. Suetonius wrote, “He (Nero) tried to poison Britannicus being not merely jealous of his voice … but afraid that the common people might be less attached to Claudius's adopted son than to his real one.” Nero's fears soon abated (temporarily) when he was chosen as the new emperor in 54 CE. With his ascent to the imperial chair, Agrippina became the woman behind the man (but not for long).
Among Nero's first acts as emperor was to cancel many of Claudius's edicts and decrees -- referring to his predecessor as a “doddering old fool.” To the general public Nero was a welcomed change. Like those before him, the early part of Nero's reign was considered by many to be a mini-golden age -- the populace believed him to be generous, kind and accessible. There were lavish games, plays, concerts, chariot races and gladiatorial tournaments, and taxes were even reduced. He restored much of the Senate's power that had been lost over the years, but this restoration had a hidden agenda; it was only done to enable the young emperor to pursue his worldly pleasures, to sing (he did not possess a great voice) and play his lyre. While he sang, no one in the audience was permitted to leave the performance. Suetonius wrote, “We read of women in the audience giving birth, and of men being so bored with the music and the applause that they furtively dropped down from the wall at the rear… and were carried away for burial.”


Although Nero found time for his concerts and games, he had bigger problems at home -- his overly protective mother who still believed herself to be the true force behind the throne. Agrippina even was bold enough to boast of her influence to others.Nero, of course, found this interference intolerable and made plans to end it. First, he moved her out of the palace. Next, he denied her the protection of her Praetorian Guard and banned her from all gladiatorial contests. Realizing that she was losing her grip on Nero, she fought back by throwing her support behind Britannicus, Nero's step-brother and Claudius's son, but he mysteriously died at a family banquet: another poisoning victim. It didn't take long for Agrippina to realize she was next.


Nero's planned his mother's death with great care -- even bringing specialists to Rome from Alexandria to assist in the planning. He had an elaborate device created for her bedchamber ceiling which would collapse and crush her in her sleep;however, it proved to be too complicated to build and install. Next, he tried a specially designed boat that would collapse and sink, but she proved too smart and swam to the shore. Finally, his last attempt was the simplest and easiest: he had her stabbed to death, but her death would haunt him for the rest of his life.


Nero's marriages and affairs also proved to be troublesome. He was married to the very popular Octavia, the daughter of Claudius and Messalina (a marriage made at his mother's urging) but also having an affair with the very pregnant Poppaea Sabina (his mother detested her). In order to marry her, he accused Octavia of adultery and exiled her, later to be murdered (but made to look like a suicide). Poppaea, whose first husband was Rufius Crispinus (a Roman soldier), was married to the future Emperor Otho at the time of her affair with Nero. On the emperor's orders, Otho was dispatched to the far reaches of the empire.
His exodus and Octavia's death opened the door for Nero's second marriage. It was even suspected that Poppaea was behind Octavia's and possibly Agrippina's death. The historian Tactius in his Annals wrote:
Length of power had matured his daring, and his passion for Poppaea daily grew more ardent. As the woman had no hope of marriage for herself or of Octavia's divorce while Agrippina lived, she would reproach the emperor with incessant vituperation … 'Why,' she asked, 'was her marriage put off?'
Nero's second marriage was not a happy one. Poppaea and Nero's child died shortly after her birth. Poppaea's next pregnancy ended in tragedy for both. After Nero and she argued late one night (Nero liked to stay out late), he supposedly kicked her in the stomach, killing both her and the unborn child.


Although he had good advisors in Burrus and Seneca, the emperor's reign would continue to see one catastrophe after another. First, there was the Piso Conspiracy, an unsuccessful plot to kill Nero, involving at least nineteen senators as well as other leading citizens. Its failure brought about the execution of forty-one individuals. Although it failed, it led to Nero be forever paranoid and untrusting. Next, there was the failed Boudicca rebellion in Britain as well as numerous insurrections in many outlying provinces including both Judea and Gaul -- the latter two were a reaction to increased taxes.
Domus Aurea

Domus Aurea

The greatest threat to Nero's reign, however, was the Great Fire, which began on July 19, 64 CE and lasted for six days. Ten of the fourteen districts of the city were destroyed, hundreds died, thousands were left homeless, and looters ravaged the city.Since the fire, many questions have been raised: Did Nero play his lyre (not a fiddle which hadn't been invented) while the city burned? Did he start it? Historians differ in their response to these questions -- was he even in the city or did he watch it burn?Suetonius wrote, “Nero watched the conflagration from the Tower of Maecenas enrapt by what he called 'the beauty of the flames'; then put on his tragedian's costume and sang …” Tacitus seemed to remain neutral when he wrote: “A disaster followed, whether accidental or treacherously contrived by the emperor, is uncertain, as authors have given both accounts, worse, however, and more dreadful than any which have ever happened to this city by the violence of fire.” The blame fell, of course, upon the heads of the persecuted Christians who had always viewed Nero as the anti-Christ.
Although he had to raise taxes to finance the rebuilding of Rome, the city was better in some ways than before: rebuilt residential districts, wider streets, brick buildings, and colonnades at street level to shelter to residents from the sun. Of course, the new Rome also included Nero's Golden Palace (later to be buried by Emperor Trajan ), containing gold plated ceilings, a lake, and exotic animals. Those who believe Nero started the fire point to his palace as the underlying reason.


The fire, the conspiracy, the numerous insurrections, and the empty treasury led to Nero's demise. The Senate declared him an enemy of the public and named Galba as the new emperor. Realizing his days as emperor were over, Nero attempted suicide while in the villa of his freedman Phaon but he failed and needed help to take his own life. His last words were: “What an artist dies in me.”


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
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