Ancient History & Civilisation


The fall of Tarquinius Superbus at Rome, the collapse of Etruscan power in Latium, the history of Lars Porsenna, the gradual decline of Etruscan influence at Rome, and the establishment of a Republican constitution all form part of an interrelated story, which can scarcely be reconstructed in any detail today. Legend tells that the rape of Lucretia, wife of Tarquinius Collatinus, by Sextus, son of Superbus, provoked L. Iunius Brutus and a band of nobles to encompass the fall of Superbus by inciting the people and army of Rome to revolt. While Sextus fled to Gabii, where he was killed, his father and two brothers found refuge in Caere.45 At Rome the monarchy was abolished and two annually-elected magistrates took the helm. One of these, Brutus, subsequently slew his own sons who had joined a conspiracy to bring back the house of Tarquin, and then met his death in an indecisive battle at Silva Arsia against the forces of Etruscan Tarquinii and Veii which the exiled Tarquins had summoned to their aid. Lars Porsenna of Clusium then rallied the Etruscans in Tarquin’s cause and marched on Rome, which he would have captured had not Horatius (and two companions who had Etruscan names) held the bridge over the Tiber; later he called off the siege of the city, impressed by the bravery of the Romans shown in the exploits of Mucius Scaevola and Cloelia.46

This heroic tradition, however, was designed to veil the fact that Porsenna at one time succeeded in capturing Rome, as Tacitus and other later Roman writers knew. One difficulty in the story, namely that Clusium was beyond Rome’s political horizon, is surmounted by a modern theory which sees in Porsenna a chieftain of Veii (an alternative ancient tradition derived him from Volsinii).47 However, it is unlikely that he was in league with the Tarquins, who despite his success were not restored to Rome; rather it is likely that it was he who helped to overthrow them. In any case his stay in Rome was brief. Other Latin cities, encouraged by Rome’s example to seek freedom from the Etruscans, sought help from Aristodemus of Cumae, who had checked the Etruscan advance into Campania many years before (pp. 31ff.); at Aricia their combined forces defeated the army, led by Porsenna’s son Arruns, which he sent against them (c. 506). Whether Porsenna, after his success at Rome, was attempting to push further south, or whether Aristodemus and the Latins were mounting a counter-attack, is not certain, but at any rate Rome had no part in the battle since she was in Etruscan hands. The immediate result of the battle was that the victorious Latins could now cut the land communications between Etruria and Campania, while Aristodemus strengthened his rule at Cumae. The record of these events provides important support for the essential reliability of the Roman tradition. Fortunately Dionysius of Halicarnassus described these operations at some length (vii, 5–6), and his account was based on a local history of Cumae or at any rate on a source quite separate from the Roman annalistic tradition. Thus the chronology of the fall of the monarchy at Rome is confirmed in general terms by an independent Greek tradition, a fact which many critics of the early Roman tradition have tended to overlook.48

Tarquinius Superbus then found refuge with his son-in-law, Mamilius Octavius of Tusculum, who had persuaded the Latins, according to Roman tradition, to take up arms on behalf of the exiled king and to engage the Romans at the battle of Lake Regillus. Tarquin was probably not in fact the cause of the battle: the Latins, who had successfully cooperated at Aricia, were organized in a league from which Rome was excluded, and two rival groups clashed (p. 84). Soon afterwards, in 495, Tarquin is said to have died


at Cumae where Aristodemus had granted him a final refuge. Thus although the story of Superbus was decked out by the Roman annalists with a mass of fictitious details, some of which were borrowed from Greek stories of wicked despots, there is no need to doubt that he made himself odious by tyrannical conduct and that his fall in 510/09 was brought about by a conspiracy of nobles; with this bloodless revolution the monarchy was replaced in Rome by a republic, the whole series of events forming one episode in the collapse of Etruscan dominion in Italy. However, the expulsion of an Etruscan ruler did not mean the abrupt end of Etruscan influence in Rome: the revolution was political rather than cultural, and there was no wholesale expulsion of Etruscans who had settled in Rome. In fact some magistrates with Etruscan names were even elected to office in the course of the next few years, Etruscan art flourished in the city for another half-century, and Greek pottery continued to be imported though on a declining scale, and new temples were still built (p. 74). Thus the fall of Tarquin was followed by a few decades which may be called sub-Etruscan, marked by the activities of men like Porsenna. Nor was Rome’s condition unique: times were disturbed, and in other Etruscan cities control was passing from kings to ambitious nobles, who with bands of their clients strove for power. The story of how the clan of the Fabii and their clients fought against Veii at the Cremera (p. 89) in c. 475 illustrates the way in which individual groups could still operate.

The traditional account of the end of the monarchy admittedly provokes many serious problems, but the solutions proposed by various modern writers who abandon the main outline are varied and often mutually contradictory, so that many still feel that what the later Romans themselves believed about these events may be nearer to the truth. An account of some recent theories is therefore given in the notes rather than here.49

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