The King Outwitted
Tarquin was the guardian of the sons of Ancus Martius; but as he was anxious to be king of Rome himself, he said that these lads were far too young to reign wisely, and soon persuaded the people to give him the crown instead.
Although Tarquin thus gained his power wrongfully, he proved to be a very good king, and did all he could to improve and beautify the city of Rome. To make the place more healthful, and to prevent another plague like the one which had killed Tullus Hostilius, he built a great drain, or sewer, all across the city.
This drain, which is called the Cloaca Maxima, also served to carry off the water from the swampy places between the hills on which Rome was built. As Tarquin knew that work properly done will last a long while, he was very particular about the building of this sewer. He had it made so large that several teams of oxen could pass in it abreast, and the work was so well done that the drain is still perfect to-day, although the men who planned and built it have been dead more than twenty-four hundred years. Strangers who visit Rome are anxious to see this ancient piece of masonry, and all of them praise the builders who did their work so carefully.
One place which this great sewer drained was the Forum,—an open space which was used as a market place, and which Tarquin surrounded with covered walks. Here the Romans were in the habit of coming to buy and sell, and to talk over the news of the day. In later times, they came here also to discuss public affairs, and near the center of the Forum was erected a stand from which men could make speeches to the people.
Tarquin also built a huge open-air circus for the Romans, who loved to see all sorts of games and shows. In order to make the city safer, he began to build a new and solid fortress in place of the old citadel. This fortress was sometimes called the Capitol, and hence the hill on which it stood was named the Capitoline. The king also gave orders that a great wall should be built all around the whole city of Rome.
As this wall was not finished when Tarquin died, it had to be completed by the next king. The city was then so large that it covered all seven of the hills of Rome,—the Palatine, Capitoline, Quirinal, Cælian, Aventine, Viminal, and Esquiline.
Soon after Tarquin came to the throne, he increased the size of the army. He also decided that he would always be escorted by twelve men called Lictors, each of whom carried a bundle of rods, in the center of which there was a sharp ax. The rods meant that those who disobeyed would be punished by a severe whipping; and the axes, that criminals would have their heads cut off.
During the reign of Tarquin, the augurs became bolder and bolder, and often said that the signs were against the things which the king wanted to do. This made Tarquin angry, and he was very anxious to get rid of the stubborn priests; for, by pretending that they knew the will of the gods, they were really more powerful than he.
The chief of these augurs, Attus Navius, was one of the most clever men of his time; and Tarquin knew that if he could only once prove him wrong, he would be able to disregard what any of them said. The king therefore sent for the augur one day, and asked him to decide whether the thing he was thinking about could be done or not.
The augur consulted the usual signs, and after due thought answered that the thing could be done.
"But," said Tarquin, drawing a razor and a pebble out from under the wide folds of his mantle, "I was wondering whether I could cut this pebble in two with this razor."
"Cut!" said the augur boldly.
We are told that Tarquin obeyed, and that, to his intense surprise, the razor divided the pebble as neatly and easily as if it had been a mere lump of clay. After this test of the augurs' power, Tarquin no longer dared to oppose their decisions; and although he was king, he did nothing without the sanction of the priests.