Tarquinius Superbus, the son of Tarquinius Priscus. He murdered his father-in-law Servius Tullius was murdered, after a reign of forty-four years, having been urged on by his wicked wife to commit the dreadful deed. The Roman writers represent the younger Tarquinius as a cruel and tyrannical monarch, and the fact of his being the last king of Rome has doubtless contributed not a little to blacken his character. The estimation in which he was held by the Romans is shown by his surname of Superbus.
L. Tarquinius Superbus commenced his reign without any of the forms of election. He seized the kingdom as a recovered inheritance, and did not wait to be elected by the senate or the people, or to receive the imperium from the curiae. One of the first acts of his reign was to abolish all the privileges which had been conferred upon the plebeians by Servius, since the patricians had assisted him in obtaining the kingdom. He forbade the meetings of the tribes, and repealed the laws which had conferred civil equality upon the plebeians, and which had abolished the right of seizing the person of a debtor. He also compelled the poor to work at miserable wages upon his magnificent buildings, and the hardships which they suffered were so great that many put an end to their lives. But he did not confine his oppressions to the poor. All the senators and patricians whom he mistrusted, or whose wealth he coveted, were put to death or driven into exile. The vacant places in the senate were not filled up, and this body was scarcely ever consulted by him. He surrounded himself by a body-guard, by means of which he was enabled to do what he liked. But, although a tyrant at home, he raised the state to great influence and power among the surrounding nations, partly by his alliances and partly by his conquests. He gave his daughter in marriage to Octavius Mamilius of Tusculum, the most powerful of the Latin chiefs, and by his means he acquired great influence in Latium. Under his sway Rome became eventually the acknowledged head of the Latin confederacy. According to Cicero (de Rep. ii. 24) he subdued the whole of Latium by force of arms; but Livy and Dionysius represent his supremacy as due to his alliances and intrigues. Any Latin chiefs, like Turnus Herdonius, who attempted to resist him, were treated as traitors and punished with death. At the solemn meeting of the Latins at the Alban Mount, Tarquinius sacrificed the bull on behalf of all the allies, and distributed the flesh to the people of the league. So complete was the union of the Romans and the Latins that the soldiers of the two nations were not kept separate, but each maniple in the army was composed of both Romans and Latins. The Hernici also became members of the league, but their troops were kept apart from the Roman legions.
Strengthened by this Latin alliance, and at the head of a formidable army, Tarquinius turned his arms against the Volscians. He took the wealthy town of Suessa Pometia, with the spoils of which he commenced the erection of the Capitol which his father had vowed; but great as these were, they were scarcely sufficient even for the foundations of this magnificent edifice, and the people were heavily taxed to complete the building. In digging for the foundations, a human head was discovered beneath the earth, undecayed and trickling with blood; and Etruscan soothsayers expounded the prodigy as a sign that Rome was destined to become the head of the world. In the vaults of this temple he deposited the Sibylline books, which the king purchased from a sibyl or prophetess. She had offered to sell him nine books for three hundred pieces of gold. The king refused the offer with scorn. Thereupon she went away, and burned three, and then demanded the same price for the six. The king still refused. She again went away and burnt three more, and still demanded the same price for the remaining three. The king now purchased the three books, and the sibyl disappeared.
In order to secure his Volscian conquests, Tarquinius founded the colonies of Signia and Circeii. He was next engaged in a war with Gabii, one of the Latin cities, which refused to enter into the league. Unable to take the city by force of arms, Tarquinius had recourse to stratagem. His son, Sextus, pretending to be ill-treated by his father, and covered with the bloody marks of stripes, fled to Gabii. The infatuated inhabitants intrusted him with the command of their troops, and when he had obtained the unlimited confidence of the citizens, he sent a messenger to his father to inquire how he should deliver the city into his hands. The king, who was walking in his garden when the messenger arrived, made no reply, but kept striking off the heads of the tallest poppies with his stick. Sextus took the hint. He put to death or banished, on false charges, all the leading men of the place, and then had no difficulty in compelling it to submit to his father.
In the midst of his prosperity, Tarquinius was troubled by a strange portent. A serpent crawled out from the altar in the royal palace, and seized on the entrails of the victim. The king, in fear, sent his two sons, Titus and Aruns, to consult the oracle at Delphi. They were accompanied by their cousin, L. Junius Brutus. One of the sisters of Tarquinius had been married to M. Brutus, a man of great wealth, who died, leaving two sons under age. Of these the elder was killed by Tarquinius. who coveted their possessions; the younger escaped his brother's fate only by feigning idiotcy. On arriving at Delphi, Brutus propitiated the priestess with the gift of a golden stick enclosed in a hollow staff. After executing the king's commission, Titus and Aruns asked the priestess who was to reign at Rome after their father. The priestess replied, whichsoever should first kiss his mother. The princes agreed to keep the matter secret from Sextus, who was at Rome, and to cast lots between themselves. Brutus, who better understood the meaning of the oracle, fell, as if by chance, when they quitted the temple, and kissed the earth, mother of them all. The fall of the king was also foreshadowed by other prodigies, and it came to pass in the following way : --
Tarquinius was besieging Ardea, a city of the Rutulians. The place could not be taken by force. and the Roman army lay encamped beneath the walls. Here as the king's sons, and their cousin, Tarquinius Collatinus, the son of Egerius, were feasting together, a dispute arose about the virtue of their wives. As nothing was doing in the field, they mounted their horses to visit their homes by surprize. They first went to Rome, where they surprized the king's daughters at a splendid banquet. They then hastened to Collatia, and there, though it was late in the night, they found Lucretia, the wife of Collatinus, spinning amid her handmaids. The beauty and virtue of Lucretia had fired the evil passions of Sextus. A few days he returned to Collatia, where he was hospitably received by Lucretia as her husband's kinsman. In the dead of night he entered the chamber with a drawn sword; by threatening to lay a slave with his throat cut beside her, whom he would pretend to have killed in order to avenge her husband's honour, he forced her to yield to his wishes. As soon as Sextus had departed, Lucretia sent for her husband and father. Collatinus came, accompanied by L. Brutus; Lucretius, with P. Valerius, who afterwards gained the surname of Publicola. They found her in an agony of sorrow. She told them what had happened, enjoined them to avenge her dishonour, and then stabbed herself to death. They all swore to avenge her. Brutus threw off his assumed stupidity, and placed himself at their head. They carried the corpse into the marketplace of Collatia. There the people took up arms, and resolved to renounce the Tarquins. A number of young men attended the funeral procession to Rome. Brutus, who was Tribunus Celerum, summoned the people, and related the deed of shame. All classes were inflamed with the same indignation. A decree was passed deposing the king, and banishing him and his family from the city. Brutus now set out for the army at Ardea. Tarquinius meantime had hastened to Rome, but found the gates closed against him. Brutus was received with joy at Ardea; and the army likewise renounced their allegiance to the tyrant. Tarquinius, with his two sons, Titus and Aruns, took refuge at Caere in Etruria. Sextus repaired to Gabii, his own principality, where, according to Livy, he was shortly after murdered by the friends of those whom he had put to death. Tarquinius reigned twenty-five years. His banishment was placed in the year of the city 244, or B. C. 510. (Liv. i. 49-60; Dionys. iv. 41-75; Cic. de Rep. ii. 24, 25.)
The remainder of the story may be told with greater brevity. The history of the establishment of the republic and of the attempts of Tarquinius to recover the sovereignty, has already been related in detail in other articles. L. Brutus and Tarquinius Collatinus were the first consuls ; but the people so hated the very name and race of the dethroned king, that Collatinus was obliged to resign his office, and retire from Rome. P. Valerius was elected consul in his place. Meantime ambassadors came to Rome from Tarquinii, to which city Tarquinius had removed from Caere, demanding the restitution of his private property. The demand seemed just to the senate and the people; but while the ambassadors were making preparation for carrying away the property, they found means to organize a conspiracy among the young Roman nobles for the restoration of the royal family. The plot was discovered by means of a slave, and the consul Brutus ordered the execution of his two sons, who were parties to the plot. The agreement to give up the property was made void by this attempt at treason. The royal goods were abandoned to the people to plunder, and their landed estates were divided among the poor, with the exception of the plain between tile city and the river, which was reserved for public uses. This plain was consecrated to Mars, and called the Campus Martius.
Tarquinius now endeavoured to recover the throne by force of arms. The people of Tarquinii and Veii espoused his cause, and marched against Rome. The two consuls advanced to meet them. A bloody battle was fought, in which Brutus and Aruns, the son of Tarquinius, slew each other. Both parties claimed the victory, till a voice was heard in the dead of night, proclaiming that the Romans had conquered, as the Etruscans had lost one man more. Alarmed at this, the Etruscans fled, and Valerius, the surviving consul, entered Rome in triumph.
Tarquinius next repaired to Lars Porsena, the powerful king of Clusium, who likewise espoused his cause, and marched against Rome at the head of a vast army. The history of this memorable expedition, which was long preserved in the Roman lays, is related under PORSENA.
After Porsena quitted Rome, Tarquinius took refuge with his son-in-law, Mamilius Octavius of Tusculum. Under the guidance of the latter, the latin states espoused the cause of the exiled king, and eventually declared war against Rome. The contest was decided by the battle of the lake Regillus, which was long celebrated in song, and the description of which in Livy resembles one of the battles in the Iliad. The Romans were commanded by the dictator, A. Postumius, and by his lieutenant, T. Aebutius, the master of the knights ; the Latins were headed by Tarquinius and Octavius Mamilius. The struggle was fierce and bloody, built the Latins at length turned to flight. Almost all the chiefs on either side fell in the conflict, or were grievously wounded. Tarquinius himself was wounded, but escaped with his life ; his son Sextus is said to have fallen in this battle, though, according to another tradition, as we have already seen, he is said to have been slain by the inhabitants of Gabii. It was related in the old tradition, that the Romans gained this battle by the assistance of the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux), who were seen charging the Latins at the head of the Roman cavalry, and who afterwards carried to Rome the intelligence of the defeat of the Latins. A temple was built in the forum on the spot where they appeared, and their festival was celebrated yearly on the Ides of Quintilis (the 15th of July), the day of the battle of Regillus, on which all the knights passed in solemn procession to their temple. According to Livy the battle of the lake Regillus was fought in B. C. 498, but he says that some of the annals placed it in B. C. 496, in which year it is given by Dionysius (vi. 3) and in the Fasti Capitolini.
The Latins were completely humbled by this victory. Tarquinius Superbus had no other state to whom he could apply for assistance. He had already survived all his family; and he now fled to Aristobulus at Cumae, where he died a wretched and childless old man. (Liv. ii. 1-21; Dionys. v. l--vi. 21.)
In the preceding account we have attempted to give the story of the Tarquins as nearly as possible in the words of the ancient writers. But it is hardly necessary to remark in the present day that this story cannot be received as a real history, or to point out the numerous inconsistencies and impossibilities in the narrative. It may suffice as a sample to remind the reader that the younger Tarquinius who was expelled from Rome in mature age, was the son of the king who ascended the throne 107 years previously in the vigour of life ; and that Servius Tullius, who married the daughter of Tarquinius Priscus, shortly before he ascended the throne, immediately after his accession is the father of two daughters whom he marries to the brothers of his own wife. It would be a fruitless task to endeavour to ascertain the real history of the later Roman monarchy; for although the legend has doubtless preserved some facts, vet we have no criteria to determine the true from the false. The story of the Tarquins has evidently been drawn from the works of several popular poets, and there can be little doubt that one at least of the writers must have become acquainted with Greek literature from the Greek colonies in southern Italy. The stratagem by which Tarquinius obtained possession of Gabii is obviously taken from a tale in Herodotus (iii. 154), and similar cases might easily be multiplied. Hence we may account for the Greek origin of the Tarquins.