The Early Kings

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The Oath of the Horatii, Jacques Louis David, 1784 (Louvre)


715-673 B.C. - Numa Pompilius

After the death of Romulus, the legend has it that the Sabines needed further appeasement. To keep the peace, a Sabine king was chosen, Numa Pompilus (715-673 BCE). According to Plutarch, Numa was reluctant to take the position, but was finally persuaded because he felt Rome needed a less warlike king. His reign was long and peaceful, and he is credited with many of the ancient religious traditions of Rome.

Numa instituted priests (flamines) of Mars, of Jupiter, and of Quirinus (Romulus' divine name) and created new orders of priests, the pontifices, the salii, and the fetiales, and the vestals.

The pontifices were responsible for public sacrifices and funerals. The salii were the guardians of a sacred shield which had fallen from the sky. Each year there was a festival where the salii danced in armor. The fetiales needed to bless any military endeavor and would determine if the cause was just.

Four original vestals were created. Their duty was to keep the sacred flame, a tradition which lasted until the end of the empire. Romans believed that as long as the flame was alight, Rome could not fall. In fact at the end of its life, the Christian empire finally let this tradition lapse. After that failure, Rome was indeed sacked, seeming to give credence to the ancient belief.

He organized the people into guilds based on the occupation of the members, tending to blur the distinction between original Roman and Sabine.

673-642 B.C. - Tullus Hostilius

The 3rd king, Tullius Hositilius further expanded the influence and size of Rome, doubling its population. Tullius Hositilius is best known for his defeat of Alba Longa and the removal of its people to Rome. The famous story of the Horatii comes to us from Livy and is about this famous battle.

The Romans and Alba Longans decided to end the war between the two cities by means of a combat of champions. The three Horatii brothers and the three Curiati brothers fought for their cities. Jacques Louis David, an 18th century French painter captured the drama of this story in the painting, The Oath of the Horatii*. The sister of the Horatii brothers is in love with one of the Curiatii brothers, and the women's lamentations before the battle are clearly shown. The men however, displaying a supreme Roman virtue, putting loyalty to the state above personal concerns, will not be moved.

Alba Longa was razed to the ground and its people removed to Rome where its nobles joined the Senate.

642-617 B.C. - Ancus Marcius

The 4th king, Ancus Marcius, built a bridge across the Tiber and extended the city on the other side. He is said to have established the port of Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber


*David hoped to inspire similar virtues in the French in the early days of the French Revolution.

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Ancient Rome

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