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Tarquinius Superbus, Lucius

(534—510 bc)


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Traditionally the last king of Rome (534–510bc). According to the oldest sources (Quintus Fabius Pictor fr. 11 Peter) he was the son of Tarquinius Priscus, although on the traditional chronology that is impossible (Dion. Hal. 4. 6–7). It follows either that Superbus was in fact the grandson of Priscus (thus Piso fr. 15 P. = Dion. Hal. 4. 6–7), or, more probably, that the traditional chronology of the regal period is unsound. Tarquin is said to have pursued an aggressive foreign policy; he captured several Latin towns and reorganized the Latin League into a regular military alliance under Roman leadership (Livy 1. 52), a state of affairs that is reflected in the first treaty between Rome and Carthage (Polyb. 3. 22: 509 bc). The text of the treaty he made with the Latin town of Gabii is supposed to have survived until the time of Augustus. He is also famous for having completed the temple of Capitoline Jupiter, and notorious for his tyrannical rule which eventually led to his downfall. Terracottas from the temple site at Sant'Omobono may belong to the reign of Superbus; in any event they confirm that the later Roman kings were flamboyant rulers who modelled themselves on contemporary Greek tyrants. This proves that Superbus' reputation as a tyrant is not (or not entirely) the result of secondary elaboration in the annalistic tradition in an artificial attempt to assimilate Rome and Greece.

After his expulsion from Rome Tarquin fled to Caere, and persuaded Veii and Tarquinii to attack Rome. After their defeat at Silva Arsia, he appealed to Lars Porsenna, whose assault on Rome is said to have been aimed at restoring Tarquin to power; but this cannot have been so if Porsenna succeeded in taking the city, and it is hard to reconcile with the story that Tarquin then turned to his son-in-law Octavius Mamilius, dictator of the Latins, since the Latins had vanquished Porsenna. After the defeat of Mamilius at Lake Regillus, Tarquin took refuge with Aristodemus of Cumae, where he died in 495 bc.

Tim J. Cornell

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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