The very earliest settlements along the Tiber River in the region that later became the city of Rome were most probably ruled by a chieftain or warlord with the support of the heads of the leading families within or near the settlement.
Virgil and the other epic writers tell us that the city of Rome was founded by Romulus, and that early on he murdered his brother Remus for ridiculing his pomerium, or the sacred boundary of the city he had founded.
This city was named Rome after its legendary founder, and we have a suitably heroic beginning for a city that would one day rule the entire Western world. Writers of later eras, including many Romans, would infer quite a bit from the part of the story where Romulus murders his brother, and say that as Rome was founded in an act of bloodshed, so the shedding of blood would become part of the Roman legacy.
Certainly this is true, but any civilization that became dominant in that era would necessarily had to have shed much blood in the process of doing so.
While most historians consider the founding legends of Rome and the person of Romulus to be non - historical, They are fairly certain that Rome was ruled by kings during her early years. Kings Numa Pompilius and Ancus Marcius are legendary figures shrouded in mystery, while the sixth king, Servius Tullus, emerges as a historical personality.
Servius Tullus was responsible for the several major reforms in the military and political organization of the Roman state, about which more will be said later. The period of the kings also includes the period during which Roman politics was dominated by the Etruscan nobility.
Historians are fairly certain that three of Rome's seven kings were Etruscan. None of these early kings were absolute rulers; they all required the support of the ruling aristocracy. The important principle to understand concerning this period is that the ruling class consisted of the heads of the most prominent families of the community. These families were organized into gentes or clans, and the clans were organized into tribes.
Power was derived from who you were, to whom you were related, and what position you held in your family, gens, and tribe. It was an aristocracy based on kinship rather than wealth.
As we shall see, wealth later became an important determinant of power and the constant shifting balance of power between the old Patrician aristocracy and the later propertied classes grew to become one of the major driving forces behind Republican era politics.
The Regal Period came to an end, traditionally, in 509 B. C. when the last Etruscan King, Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud) was overthrown by the Romans who set up a republic to rule in his place.
According to epic legend, Tarquin was overthrown because he had raped Lucretia, a virtuous Roman matron and the daughter of an important citizen.
The more prosaic explanation offered by many historians is that the Roman aristocracy had been steadily gaining power and the kings found their position growing ever more threatened. A strong personality like Servius Tullus might be able to hold his own in the face of a strong aristocracy, but his much weaker successor was unable to stay the inevitable fall from power.
One must realize that Rome was steadily growing larger from the early years of its foundation through the period of the kings (referred to as Monarchy or Regal Period by historians), and throughout the early years of the Republic. First, settlements on the Palatine, Quirinal, and other hills banded together under the leadership of the settlement on the Palatine.
These settlements steadily grew and incorporated other nearby villages until the City of Rome encompassed settlements on the seven hills and low lying marshy areas between them.
Later, by treaty of alliance or outright aggression and assimilation, other cities in the surrounding district of Latium came under Roman control. These Latins were the peoples most closely related to the Romans Later still, this process accounted for Rome gaining control of the non Latin towns in Italy, the Italian allies or conquered Italian towns.
The fascinating history of the conquest of Latium Central Italy, Samnium, and Magna Graecia is dealt with elsewhere in this series of articles.
The important thing to understand is that in order for the small Latin town of Rome to succeed in gaining power and ascendancy over her neighbors in this fashion, she had to use just the right mixture of aggression and diplomacy.
To accomplish this, Rome had to make it attractive enough to the ruling establishment in her new allied towns to cause these individuals to cooperate with the Roman plan. Rome implemented this in two ways.
In some cases, the Romans agreed to let the local aristocracy continue in power and offered their support in exchange for a pledge of military assistance when Rome needed it.
In other cases, Rome offered different classes of citizenship to the people of the allied or conquered towns.
One class of citizenship offered full voting privileges and an opportunity for the man or his descendents to gain a magistracy or membership in the Roman senate.
Additionally, one more force acted to shape Roman politics. In many ancient city - states, especially the Greeks from whom the Romans drew many examples on which to base their own society, a man's wealth determined his position in the army and his responsibilities for defense of the community.
The horse of a mounted infantryman and the equipment of the heavily armoured hoplite warrior were expensive to acquire and maintain.
Therefore, only the wealthiest citizens could afford the equipment and provisions required by the heaviest, most well armed troops.
A hoplite's equipment consisted of bronze helmet, cuirass, greaves, sword, and one or more spears. Men with lesser qualifications might equip themselves with less armor or forego the armor altogether, choosing the role of skirmishers equipped with only a sling or spear.
This principle contributed to a reorganization of the political structure around classes of military service, which in turn were tied to property qualifications.
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