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Mary Macgregor

The Cruel Deed of Tullia

Servius Tullius began to reign in 578 b.c. Like Pompilius and Ancus, he loved peace, and fought against none, save only the Etruscans.

With the Latins he made a treaty, after which the two tribes built a temple to Diana on the Aventine hill, and here every year sacrifices were offered for Rome and for Latium.

The city which Romulus had built on the Palatine had long ago become too small for the Romans. Little by little, cities had grown up on the neighbouring hills, and now Servius was able to enclose all the seven hills of Rome within the city, building around her a great wall of stone. This wall was called after the king the "Servian Wall," and so strongly was it built that it was still standing in the days of Augustus. Beyond the wall a deep moat was then dug, a hundred feet in breadth.

Having thus strengthened the city, Servius divided it into four regions, while the people were arranged in numerous tribes.

Should a citizen be wanted to appear before the king or the Senate, it was then an easy task to find the tribe to which he belonged and the region in which he dwelt.

Servius also made a law which pleased the Romans well, called an ordinance of the king.

This ordinance forbade the nobles to oppress the poor. It also decreed that, however lowly the birth of a Roman citizen, if he became rich he might hold positions of power in the State. This encouraged the poor man to be industrious, for if he could but gain wealth there was no ambition which he might not be able to satisfy.

But while the ordinance pleased the common people, it displeased the nobles, who had no wish to see the plebeians raised to positions which until now had been sacred to them and to their sons. They bore Servius no good will for passing this new law.

Trouble, too, was threatening the king through his two daughters, both of whom, as the Roman custom was, were named Tullia.

But although their names were the same, their natures were as different as summer is different from winter.

Tullia, the elder, was wicked and ambitious; Tullia, the younger, good and gentle.

Servius determined to marry his daughters to the sons of King Tarquinius, whose kindness had placed him on the throne.

The princes, as the princesses, were of strangely different natures. Lucius was proud, his temper violent; while Aruns was humble and good-natured.

Now the king thought that if the gentle Tullia married Lucius, he would become a better man; while he hoped that if his ambitious daughter married Aruns she would learn from him the grace of humility.

But Servius made a great mistake when he married his daughters. For before long Lucius hated his quiet wife, and killed both her and his brother Aruns, so that he and Tullia the elder might be free to marry each other.

No sooner had Lucius Tarquinius married Tullia, than, encouraged by her, he joined the discontented nobles, who hated Servius.

Day by day Lucius grew more bold, more rude to Servius, and at length he put on the royal robes and sat on the king's seat in the Senate house, unrebuked by the nobles.

Servius was now no longer young, but when he heard how Lucius had dared to behave he went at once to the door of the Senate house, and bade the prince come down from the throne, and lay aside the royal robes.

But Lucius paid no heed to the king's command. Then, as the king repeated his words, Lucius seized the old man and flung him down the stone steps of the Senate house.

Servius, bruised and dazed by his fall, yet struggled to his feet, and slowly turned away toward the palace.

Lucius dared not let the king live now that he had defied him. So, sending his servants after Servius, he bade them kill the old man.

It was easy to overtake him, and the fellows soon slew their king, leaving his body lying in the middle of the street.

When Tullia heard what her husband had done, she had no grief to spare for her father's cruel death. She ordered her chariot, and drove quickly to the Forum to greet her husband as king.

But Lucius did not wish the people to see the triumph of his wife, and he sternly bade her go home.

Tullia obeyed, heedless of his anger. She had room in her heart for only one thought. Lucius was king, and she, she was queen.

So full was her mind of the new honours that would now be hers, that her chariot had reached the street where the dead body of her father lay before she was aware. The driver drew up his horses sharply, seeing his murdered king lying across his path.

But Tullia angrily bade him drive on, and as he obeyed, her robe was stained with her father's blood. The street was ever after called the Via Scelerata, or the Way of Crime.

Lucius showed no shame for the murder of the king, and haughtily refused to allow his body to be buried with the usual rites.

And because of his pride the new king was named Tarquinius Superbus or Tarquin the Proud.