Like most ancient civilizations, the Romans did not remember how their civilization had started. Instead, they told a legend about twin brothers named Romulus and Remus. According to the Roman legend, Romulus and Remus were the sons of a princess and Mars, the god of war. Because the king, the father of the princess, feared that the two brothers, who were half-god and half-human, would try to take his power from him, he ordered them to be drowned in the Tiber River. The brothers were saved by a she-wolf, however, who took care of the babies until they were old enough to take care of themselves. When they became adults, they decided to found a new city. They disagreed, however, on where to found the city. As a result of their disagreement, they fought each other and Romulus murdered his brother Remus. Romulus then founded and became the first king of the city of Rome.
After the death of Romulus, a man named Numa Pompilius was selected by the Romans as their new king. Numa reigned for 43 years.. Numa spent much of his reign as king building large and beautiful buildings in Rome, such as a temple dedicated to the god Janus. During his time as king, the tradition developed of closing the doors to the temple during times of peace and keeping them open during times of war. Numa was able to keep the doors closed for almost his entire time as king by keeping peace with Rome’s neighbors.
A total of seven kings would reign over the Roman Kingdom. Unfortunately, not all of them were as wise and peaceful as Numa Pompilius. The seventh and final king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, for example, came to power by assassinating the king before him. Once he became king, he engaged Rome in wars with its neighbors and mistreated his own people. He was a tyrant who used violence and intimidation to make the Roman people obey his orders. He also showed disrespect to Roman customs and treated the leading men of Rome badly. The result was a revolution in 509 BC.
Although not everything always went well during the reigns of the seven kings, it was during this time that much of Roman culture took shape. Much of Roman culture came from an imitation of the Etruscans, a tribe who lived just north of Rome on the Italian peninsula. The Etruscans had a close relationship with the Greeks and resembled them in many ways, including their clothing styles, their art, and their religion. The Romans then adopted these parts of Greek culture from the Etruscans. It was during this period that Romans began to worship the Greek gods, though with different names, began to wear togas, and began to make statues and other art like the Greeks.
Rome eventually decided to put an end to its monarchy. The stories of its kings, though, continued to inspire the Roman people for many generations to come. The culture that the Romans had absorbed and developed during this period also became important to their way of life. It was when Rome became a republic, however, that their greatest success began.
1. What are the names of the legendary founders of Rome? What is their relationship to each other?
2. What kind of government did Rome have at first? How many rulers did it have during this time?
Monarchy – rule by a king; in a monarchy, just one person has all of the power
Republic – rule by the people; in a republic, people vote for their leaders
Tyrant – a leader who uses his power for his own good and mistreats the people he rules over