Week 4: Thursday, October 27, 2016
From Monarchy to Republic
Rome begins in the seven hills next to the Tiber River, at the crossroads that converges on the island. Due to its location, which allowed travelers to cross the sometimes surging Tiber at this one spot, the small community grew. Early on, the city evolved into a monarchy. The career of Targuin the Elder, details of which are legendary, illustrates the confused origins of Rome. Targuin was reputed to be from Etruria (the Etruscans), but to have a Greek father. His personal story, thus, alerts us to the two major contributing influences to early Rome: the Etruscans and the Greeks.
Here is a Wikipedia summary about Targuin the Elder, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus:
According to Livy, Tarquin came from the Etruria. Livy claims that his original Etruscan name was Lucumo, but since Lucumo (Etruscan Lauchume) is the Etruscan word for “King”, there is reason to believe that Priscus’ name and title have been confused in the official tradition. After inheriting his father’s entire fortune, Lucius attempted to gain a political office. Disgruntled with his opportunities in Etruria (He had been prohibited from obtaining political office in Tarquinii because of the ethnicity of his father, Demaratus, who came from the Greek city of Corinth), he migrated to Rome with his wife Tanaquil, at her suggestion. Legend has it that on his arrival in Rome in a chariot, an eagle took his cap, flew away and then returned it back upon his head. Tanaquil, who was skilled in prophecy, interpreted this as an omen of his future greatness. In Rome, he attained respect through his courtesy. The king himself noticed Tarquinius and, by his will, appointed Tarquinius guardian of his own sons.
It has been part of the Roman historical drama to believe that the Romans overthrew the monarchy in 509 BC and that they then began to create the first large democratic constitution in history. Of course, the Greeks had established many different city-states with democratic elements in their constitutions, but these were all small states, often with very simple political structures. Rome was the first large democratic state in world history. The Republic lasted about 400 years. After 100 BC, the Republic passed through a series of crises, each more dangerous than the previous, culminating with the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. The era of Civil Wars began, and ultimately Octavian created something new, something we now call the Roman Empire. A key element in creating the Republic was the first written constitution in history, known as the Twelve Tables. Not a lengthy document like the American constitution, it is merely a group of basic legal statements that form the cornerstone of all Roman law. The fact that it was written is the most important detail about its nature.
Tarquin and Lucretia in art.
Michael Grant, History of Rome, Part II, “The Unity of Italy”
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