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Chapter 6


The first of Tarquin's hapless race was he, Who odium tried to cast on augury; But Nævius Accius, with an augur's skill. Preserved its fame, and raised it higher still.--Robertson.


1. Lu'cius Tarquin'ius Pris'cus was appointed guardian to the sons of the late king, and took the surname of Tarquin'ius from the city of _Tarquin'ia_, whence he last came. His father was a merchant of Corinth,[1] who had acquired considerable wealth by trade, and had settled in Italy, upon account of some troubles at home. His son, who inherited his fortune, married a woman of family in the city of Tarquin'ia.

2. His birth, profession, and country, being contemptible to the nobles of the place, he, by his wife's persuasion, came to settle at Rome, where merit also gave a title to distinction. On his way thither, say the historians, as he approached the city gate, an eagle, stooping from above, took off his hat, and flying round his chariot for some time, with much noise, put it on again. This his wife Tan'aquil, who it seems was skilled in augury, interpreted as a presage that he should one day wear the crown. Perhaps it was this which first fired his ambition to pursue it.

3. Ancus being dead, and the kingdom, as usual, devolving upon the senate, Tarquin used all his power and arts to set aside the children of the late king, and to get himself elected in their stead. For this purpose, upon the day appointed for election, he contrived to have them sent out of the city; and in a set speech, in which he urged his friendship for the people, the fortune he had spent among them, and his knowledge of their government, he offered himself for their king. As there was nothing in this harangue that could be contested, it had the desired effect, and the people, with one consent, elected him as their sovereign.

4. A kingdom thus obtained by _intrigue_, was, notwithstanding, governed with equity. In the beginning of his reign, in order to recompense his friends, he added a hundred members more to the senate, which made them, in all, three hundred.

5. But his peaceful endeavours were soon interrupted by the inroads of his restless neighbours, particularly the Latins, over whom he triumphed, and whom he forced to beg for peace. He then turned his arms against the Sabines, who had risen once more, and had passed the river Ti'ber; but attacking them with vigour, Tarquin routed their army; so that many who escaped the sword, were drowned in attempting to cross over, while their bodies and armour, floating down to Rome, brought news of the victory, even before the messengers could arrive that were sent with the tidings. These conquests were followed by several advantages over the Latins, from whom he took many towns, though without gaining any decisive victory.

6. Tarquin, having thus forced his enemies into submission, was resolved not to let his subjects grow corrupt through indolence. He therefore undertook and perfected several public works for the convenience and embellishment of the city.[2]

7. In his time it was, that the augurs came into a great increase of reputation. He found it his interest to promote the superstition of the people; for this was, in fact, but to increase their obedience. Tan'aquil, his wife, was a great pretender to this art; but Ac'cius Næ'vius was the most celebrated adept of the kind ever known in Rome. 8. Upon a certain occasion, Tarquin, being resolved to try the augur's skill, asked him, whether what he was then pondering in his mind could be effected? Næ'vius, having consulted his auguries, boldly affirmed that it might: "Why, then," cries the king, with an insulting smile, "I had thoughts of cutting this whetstone with a razor." "Cut boldly," replied the augur; and the king cut it through accordingly. Thenceforward nothing was undertaken in Rome without consulting the augurs, and obtaining their advice and approbation.

9. Tarquin was not content with a kingdom, without having also the ensigns of royalty. In imitation of the Lyd'ian kings, he assumed a crown of gold, an ivory throne, a sceptre with an eagle on the top, and robes of purple. It was, perhaps, the splendour of these royalties that first raised the envy of the late king's sons, who had now, for above thirty-seven years, quietly submitted to his government. His design also of adopting Ser'vius Tul'lius, his son-in-law, for his successor, might have contributed to inflame their resentment. 10. Whatever was the cause of their tardy vengeance, they resolved to destroy him; and, at last, found means to effect their purpose, by hiring two ruffians, who, demanding to speak with the king, pretending that they came for justice, struck him dead in his palace with the blow of an axe. The lictors, however, who waited upon the person of the king, seized the murderers as they were attempting to escape, and put them to death: but the sons of Ancus, who were the instigators, found safety in flight.

11. Thus fell Lu'cius Tarquin'ius, surnamed Pris'cus, to distinguish him from one of his successors of the same name. He was eighty years of age, and had reigned thirty-eight years.[3]


Questions for Examination.

1. Who was Lucius Tarquinius Priscus?

2. What occasioned his removal to Rome, and what circumstances attended it?

3. Was this presage fulfilled, and by what means?

4. In what manner did he govern?

5. Was Tarquin a warlike prince?

6. How did he improve his victories?

7. By what act did he insure the obedience of his subjects?

8. What contributed to increase the reputation of the augurs?

9. What part of his conduct is supposed, to have raised the envy of the late king's sons?

10. What was the consequence of this envy and resentment?

11. What was his age, and how long did he reign?



[1] Corinth (now Corito) was a celebrated city of ancient Greece, situated on the isthmus of that name, about sixty stadia or furlongs from the sea. Its original name was Ephy're.

[2] Preparations for building the Capitol were made in this reign. The city was likewise fortified with stone walls, and the cloacæ, or common sewers, constructed by the munificence of this prince. (See Introd.)

[3] The history of the elder Tarquin presents insuperable difficulties. We are told that his original name was Lu'cumo; but that, as has been mentioned in the Introduction, was the Etrurian designation of a chief magistrate. One circumstance, however, is unquestionable, that with him began the greatness and the splendour of the Roman city. He commenced those vaulted sewers which still attract the admiration of posterity; he erected the first circus for the exhibition of public spectacles; he planned the Capitol, and commenced, if he did not complete, the first city wall. The tradition that he was a Tuscan prince, appears to be well founded; but the Corinthian origin of his family is very improbable.

Oliver Goldsmith