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Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, also called Tarquin the Elder or Tarquin I, was the fifth King of Rome from 616 BC to 579 BC. His wife was Tanaquil.

Early life

According to Livy, Tarquinius Priscus came from the Etruscan city of Tarquiniimarker. Livy claims that his original Etruscan name was Lucumo, but since Lucumo (Etruscan Lauchme) is the Etruscan word for "King", there is reason to believe that Priscus' name and title have been confused in the official tradition. Disgruntled with his opportunities in Etruria, he migrated to Romemarker with his wife Tanaquil, at her suggestion. He had been prohibited from obtaining political office in Tarquinii because of the ethnicity of his father, Demaratus the Corinthian, who came from the Greekmarker city of Corinthmarker. Legend has it that on his arrival in Rome in a chariot, an eagle took his cap, flew away and then returned it back upon his head. Tanaquil, who was skilled in prophecy, interpreted this as an omen of his future greatness. In Rome he attained respect through his courtesy. King Ancus Marcius himself noticed Tarquinius and, by his will, appointed Tarquinius guardian of his own sons .

King of Rome

Upon the death of Ancus Marcius, Tarquinius Priscus addressed the Comitia Curiata and convinced them that he should be elected king over Marcius' natural sons, who were in still only in their teenage years .

According to Livy, Tarquinius increased the number of the Senate by the addition of 100 men from the minor leading families . Among them was the family of the Octavii, the family of the future first emperor Augustus .

Tarquinius' first war was waged against the Latins. He took the Latin town of Apiolae by storm and took great booty from there back to Rome .

His military ability was tested by an attack from the Sabines. The attack was defeated after dangerous street fighting in Rome, and he then further subjugated the Etruscans. Thus the cities Corniculum, Firulea, Cameria, Crustumeriummarker, Americola, Medullia and Nomentum became Roman. After each of his wars, which were always extremely successful, he brought rich plunder to Rome. He doubled the size of the Centuriate Assembly to 1800 people.

Tarquinius established the Circus Maximusmarker. Raised seating was erected privately by the senators and equites, and other areas were marked out for private citizens. According to Livy horses and boxers from Etruria were sent for as the first to participate in the thenceforth annual games .

After a great flood, the damp lowlands of Rome were drained by the construction of the Cloaca Maxima (great sewer) to create a site for the Forum Romanummarker. As his last great act he began the construction of a temple in honour of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hillmarker, partially funded by plunder seized from the Latins and Sabines. Many of the Roman symbols both of war and of civil office date from his reign, and he was the first to celebrate a Roman triumph, after the Etruscanmarker fashion, wearing a robe of purple and gold, and borne on a chariot drawn by four horses.


Meanwhile the now adult sons of his predecessor Ancus Marcius thought that the throne should fall to them. Thus they arranged for Tarquinius Priscus to be assassinated with an axe blow to the head. Thanks to the intelligent foresight of the queen Tanaquil however, the sons of Ancus were not chosen, but rather Tarquinius' son-in-law Servius Tullius, husband of his daughter Tarquinia, was elected as his successor. Tarquinius reigned for 38 years. His other daughter Tarquinia married Marcus Junius Brutus, and his sons were Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and Aruns Tarquinius, who married his niece Tullia, daughter of Servius Tullius, and by her was murdered along with his sister-in-law Tullia so that she could marry her brother-in-law and uncle Lucius Tarquinius Superbus.

Tarquinius Family Tree



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