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Lucius Tarquinius Priscus


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The fifth king of Rome (traditionally 616–579bc), was believed to be the son of Demaratus of Corinth, who fled to Tarquinii (mod. Tarquinia) to escape the tyranny of Cypselus. Tarquin himself migrated to Rome with his entourage, including his wife Tanaquil, and became the right-hand man of King Ancus Marcius. When Marcius died, Tarquin was chosen, by the regular procedure, as his successor. The story provides interesting examples of the horizontal mobility that characterized élite society in the Archaic period, when high-ranking individuals and groups could move freely from one community to another without loss of social position. This phenomenon, which is documented in the Etruscan cities by contemporary inscriptions, is consistent with the Demaratus story, which is in any case made plausible by archaeological evidence of cultural and trade relations between Etruria and Greece (especially Corinth). It also makes the traditional account of Tarquin's accession at Rome far more likely than the alternative modern theory of an Etruscan conquest of Rome, for which there is no supporting evidence. On the other hand, the connection between Demaratus and Tarquin may be artificial; it cannot be historical if the two Tarquins who ruled at Rome were father and son, as the oldest tradition maintained (Quintus Fabius Pictor fr. 11 Peter). As king, Tarquin is said to have increased the size of the senate and raised the number of cavalry centuries from three to six; and he conducted successful wars against the Latins, Sabines, and Etruscans. Dionysius of Halicarnassus makes him conquer the Etruscans, but this version, which is not found in Livy, is doubtless exaggerated. He is also said to have started the construction of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, a task completed by his son; but this is probably a compromise designed to overcome the fact that the same building was attributed by different versions of the tradition to both Tarquins. This process of duplication is evident elsewhere, for instance in the case of the drainage works they are both said to have carried out (Cassius Hemina fr. 15 Peter; Plin. HN 36. 107). Tarquin was assassinated by the sons of Ancus Marcius, but their bid for the throne was thwarted by Tanaquil, who secured it for her favourite Servius Tullius. This bizarre story is made all the more odd by the fact that Tarquin himself is credited with two sons, Lucius (Tarquinius Superbus) and Arruns. Of his two daughters, one married Servius Tullius, the other Marcus Brutus and thus became the mother of Lucius Junius Brutus, the founder of the republic.

Tim J. Cornell

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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