Story of Rome - Mary Macgregor
Tarquin, having killed Servius, seized the throne, and began his reign by condemning to death the chief senators who had supported the old king. He also ordered the tablets, on which Servius had written many wise and good laws, to be destroyed. Refusing to summon the Senate, Tarquin then attempted to rule alone.
His cruelty was so great that he was soon hated both by rich and poor. Before many months had passed he was forced to surround himself with a bodyguard, lest he should be slain by those whom he had ruined. For, in order to grow rich, he imposed heavy fines on the wealthy, sometimes driving the nobles into exile that he might take possession of their goods. If they ventured to remonstrate, Tarquin did not hesitate to put them to death that he might seize their money.
As for the poor people, he forced them to work so hard that they were more like slaves than freemen. Often in despair they escaped from the king's cruelty by killing themselves.
After he had crushed the spirit of his subjects, Tarquin went to war with the Latins, conquering many of their cities, and even enrolling some of his prisoners in the Roman legions.
One ancient Latin town determined to resist the cruel king. Gabii, for this was the name of the brave little town, even opened its gates to the nobles who had been exiled from Rome.
In vain Tarquin sent legion after legion against the city. Its defenders still defied him, fighting with all their strength so as to protect their homes from the cruel hands of Tarquin the Proud.
Since he could not take the town by force, the king resolved to take it by treachery, and in this resolve he was aided by his son Sextus.
Sextus, pretending that he had been forced to leave Rome by his father's cruelty, fled to Gabii. Telling the citizens a piteous tale, he showed them his back, bare and bleeding from stripes, and begged to be taken into the town that his father might not capture him.
The citizens did not find it difficult to believe that the tyrant had ill-used his son, and they willingly opened their gates to the prince. And not only did they give him shelter, but, so great was their trust, that before long they gave him command of a company of soldiers.
One day a Roman legion was seen marching toward the city. Sextus at once led his soldiers against it, and, instructed secretly by Tarquin, the Romans fled before the prince.
This made the men of Gabii still more sure that they could trust Sextus, so they foolishly gave him the chief command of the defences of the town.
Then Sextus sent in triumph to his father to know what he should do.
Tarquin the Proud was walking in his garden when his son's messenger arrived, and he listened in silence to his words. But he still walked up and down the garden paths, switching off with his stick the heads of the tallest poppies in the flower-beds. Then, still without a word, he sent the messenger back to Gabii.
But when Sextus heard of the fate of the poppies, he needed no words to explain his father's silence. He knew as well as if the king had spoken that as the tallest poppies had been beheaded, so he was to behead the leading nobles in Gabii.
The citizens knew nothing of what had happened in the king's flower garden, so they were startled and dismayed when, day after day, Sextus accused one and another of their nobles of crime or treason, and ordered them to be put to death. The prince then completed his treachery by delivering the town into the hands of the king.
Tarquin's next victory was over the Volscians, a powerful tribe which dwelt south of Latium. After plundering one of their richest towns, he determined with his new-found wealth to finish the great temple on the Capitoline hill, which had been begun by his father Lucius Tarquinius.
He adorned Rome with many other beautiful buildings, and ordered the great sewers, also begun by his father, to be finished. He then completed the Forum, or market-place. In the Forum the people bought and sold, and here also were held the great assemblies of the people.