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Rome's Final King Essay

1711 words - 7 pages

The story of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the last of the seven legendary kings of Rome and son (or perhaps grandson) of the nobly depicted King Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, provides an excellent demonstration of how Livy intended his history to be a “splendid monument” (Livy Preface, p.4) from which one could find both examples to follow and ones to learn from. While most of the legendary kings are described in a largely positive light and seem to demonstrate the honor and tradition of the romans, and are therefore among the examples to be followed. Tarquinius Superbus is without a doubt an example to be learned from, a story of trickery and tyranny, which was very different from the others, ...view middle of the document...

7-22, p.11-27). The last king on the other hand, whose rule was so different from that of his predecessors, gained the throne through violence and held it through intimidation rather than consent of the people or the gods (Livy 1.46-52, p.55-61). And if this mirroring is accepted, then the dramatic overthrow of Superbus could be viewed as more than just the tumultuous transition from monarchy to republic, it could be viewed as a suggestion from Livy to his readers as to what must be done to fix their vices.
From the very beginning of Superbus’ tale, differences from the other kings are easy to find. For four of the other legendary kings Livy dedicated an episode to a divine occurrence or sign that signified the king had the gods’ backing. Romulus looked for auspices from the gods and saw twelve vultures circling the hill he had chosen, which was interpreted as a sign of divine support (Livy 1.7, p. 10). Numa Pompiluis also relied on augury to determine the gods consent before accepting the kingship (Livy 1.18, p.24), Tarquinius Priscus had the removal and replacement of his cap by an eagle (Livy 1.34 p.43), and Servius Tullius had flames engulf his head while asleep as a child (Livy 1.39 p.47), while the other two at the very least obtained the senate’s approval and were only chosen after the natural death of their predecessors (Livy 1.22 p.27 and Livy 1.32 p.39).
Superbus’ ascension to power was preceded neither by auspices from the gods nor the peaceful death of his predecessor Servius. Rather his ambition was satiated through heinous crimes. His first was conspiring with his brother’s ambitious wife, one of the daughters of Servius, to arrange the death of their spouses so that they could marry and more easily plot to satisfy their ambition (Livy 1.46, p.54-55). After this act Livy goes on to depict Superbus’ murder of Servius in front of the senators by throwing him down the stairs and highlights Tullia’s (the wife of Superbus) defilement of her father’s body when she runs it over with a cart on what later becomes known as the Street of Crime (Livy 1.48 p.57). Livy chose to portray these acts deliberately, from the start he forms an image of Superbus and Tullia being individuals lacking morals, respect for their ancestors, the dead, or authority, and possessing entirely too much unchecked ambition. All of which is contrary to being a good Roman, and very different from the other kings. From this it can be posited that the difference between the rise of the last king and those that came before him is meant to demonstrate the consequences of the deterioration of Roman cultural values and ancient traditions that lead to unjust rule by a man who illegally seized the throne.
In order to further debase the reader’s view of the new tyrannical king, and differentiate him from the others, Livy goes on to write of the king’s need to cow his people and illegitimately remove his political opponents (Livy 1.49, p.58). One episode Livy describes at...

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