City of the Seven Hills - S. B. Harding

The Last of the Kings

After the death of Numa, the long peace which Rome had enjoyed came to an end. Under the kings who followed him, the wars with her neighbors were renewed, and it was centuries before the gates of the temple of Janus again stood closed. Some of these rulers were more peaceful than others, but all were good warriors. So the Romans were usually successful in their wars, and the land which Rome ruled grew larger, bit by bit, by their conquests. Above all, the Romans learned two lessons in these times. They learned to fight well and bravely; and they learned to obey their rulers in war and in peace.

After a number of years, trouble arose between Rome and Alba Longa, its mother city. War followed, and the men of Alba were defeated. Then it was agreed that the people of that city should leave their homes and seek new ones at Rome; and the city of Alba Longa was destroyed.

The settlers who came from Alba Longa, at this time, were so numerous that the population of Rome was nearly doubled by their coming. As the city grew, the hills about the Palatine had been occupied, one after the other, and now Rome could truly be called "the City of the Seven Hills." As the city grew, it became necessary to defend these new parts also against Rome's enemies. At last, new walls of stone were built for the city, and all of the seven hills of Rome were included within them. So large was the space which they enclosed, that for many hundreds of years the city did not outgrow them; and so well was the work done in building them, that parts of these walls are still standing to this day.

[Illustration] from City of the Seven Hills by S. B. Harding

Many other useful public works were built at this time. The valleys between the hills of the city were low and marshy in places; to drain these, and make them healthy and fit for men to dwell in, great sewers were built which emptied their waters into the River Tiber. In one of the valleys, also, a race-course was laid out, for the chariot races, of which the Romans were very fond.

On the hill called the Capitol, a great temple was built in honor of the three gods, Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva; and this temple stood as the chief center of the Roman worship until it was burned, five hundred years later. It was so large that it covered eight acres of ground. Its gates were of brass, covered with gold; while the inside was of marble and was decorated with gold and silver ornaments. When the workmen were laying its foundations, they had to remove a number of altars that had already been set up there; but the altar of the god of Youth, and that of the god of Boundaries, they could not move. Then the priests said that this was a sign that Rome should ever remain young and strong, and that her boundaries should never be moved backward; so the two altars were allowed to remain, and they were enclosed in the new temple.

While this great temple was still unfinished, an old, old woman came one day to the king of Rome. She brought with her nine "books," or rolls of paper, in which were written down oracles or prophecies. These told how the wrath of the gods might be turned away, whenever it had brought sickness, famine, or other misfortune, on the people. She offered to sell the books to the king; but the price which she asked for them was so high that he refused to buy.

Then the old woman went away, and burned three of the books. When she returned, she offered him the six books that remained, but she asked for them the price which she had before asked for the nine. Again the king refused to buy. Once more the old woman burned three of the books; then she returned, and again she offered the king the ones that remained for the price she had at first asked for all.

This time the king yielded. He bought the three books at the price which she asked; and when the temple on the Capitol was finished, they were placed in a vault under it for safe keeping. After this, whenever any trouble came upon the city, one of the first things that the Romans did was to consult these books; and the message which the priests found in them, the people accepted as the voice of the gods.

After many years, the seventh king sat on the throne of Rome, and men called him Tarquin the Proud. He was a cruel and wicked man. He had gained his power by bloodshed and violence, and he used it like a tyrant. He repealed the good laws which had been made under the kings who had ruled before him, and he made others in their place. The nobles complained that he did everything by his own will, and never asked the Senate for its advice and assistance; and the people murmured at the constant wars which he carried on, and the hard tasks to which he set them in time of peace. At last, all Rome was weary of his rule, and the people of the city only needed a leader to turn against him.

This leader they found in a noble named Brutus, who had suffered much at the hands of the king. His brother had been put to death by Tarquin; and Brutus, to save himself from a like fate, had been obliged to give up his property and pretend to be dull and slow of mind, so that the king might find nothing in him to fear.

But Brutus's dullness of mind was only pretended, Once he had been sent as the companion of the king';4 sons when they went to consult the great Oracle at Delphi, in Greece. After finishing the business upon which they had been sent, the young men asked the Oracle which one of them should succeed King Tarquin as ruler of Rome. The Oracle replied, that he who should first kiss his mother upon their return should rule the city. When they returned to Italy, each of the princes hurried off to find their mother, in order that he might kiss her first, and so gain the throne. But Brutus understood the Oracle better. As he landed from the ship, he pretended to stumble and fall, and so kissed the ground beneath him. He guessed that the Oracle had not meant a person at all, but the great Earth, the mother of us all.

Tarquin might, perhaps, have been king of Rome until he died, if it had not been for the great wickedness of one of his sons. While Tarquin was away from the city, carrying on a war with a neighboring people, this son caused the death of a noble Roman lady named Lucretia. Because of his act, her husband and her father were filled with grief and rage. Brutus, who was with them, now threw off his pretended dullness. He seized the bloody dagger that had slain Lucretia, and swore with them that he would never rest until the family of Tarquin had ceased to reign at Rome. In order that all might see what cause they had to turn against their king, they laid the dead body of Lucretia in the market-place of the little town where she had been slain. Then Brutus hastened to Rome, and told the story there. At once the people were filled with anger against Tarquin and his sons. When the king and his followers returned to Rome, they found the gates of the city closed against them; and, in spite of all that he could do, Tarquin was never again to come within the city walls.

After they had cast out the Tarquins, the people took an oath that they would never, from that time on, allow anyone to become king in Rome. One of the first things which they then had to do was to find some other form of rule, to take the place of the old one; for unless they had a settled government, their enemies would be able to overcome their armies, and King Tarquin would return to his throne once more.

So the people set up a republic. They agreed that two men, called consuls, should be elected each year; and these consuls, with the Senate, should rule Rome in the place of the kings. When the vote w4s taken for the consuls for the first year, it was found that Brutus was one of the two men who were elected; so the oracle was fulfilled which foretold that he should follow Tarquin as ruler at Rome.