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Chapter 7


Servius, the king, who laid the solid base On which o'er earth the vast republic spread.--Thomson.


1. The report of the murder of Tarquin filled all his subjects with complaint and indignation; while the citizens ran from every quarter to the palace, to learn the truth of the account, or to take vengeance on the assassins. 2. In this tumult, Tan'aquil, widow of the late king, considering the danger she must incur, in case the conspirators should succeed to the crown, and desirous of seeing her son-in-law his successor, with great art dissembled her sorrow, as well as the king's death. She assured the people, from one of the windows of the palace, that he was not killed, but only stunned by the blow; that he would shortly recover; and that in the meantime he had deputed his power to Ser'vius Tul'lius, his son-in-law. Ser'vius, accordingly, as it had been agreed upon between them, issued from the palace, adorned with the ensigns of royalty, and, preceded by his lictors, went to despatch some affairs that related to the public safety, still pretending that he took all his instructions from the king. This scene of dissimulation continued for some days, till he had made his party good among the nobles; when, the death of Tarquin being publicly ascertained, Ser'vius came to the crown, solely at the senate's appointment, and without attempting to gain the suffrages of the people.

3. Ser'vius was the son of a bondwoman, who had been taken at the sacking of a town belonging to the Latins, and was born whilst his mother was a slave. While yet an infant in his cradle, a lambent flame[1] is said to have played round his head, which Tan'aquil converted into an omen of future greatness.

4. Upon being acknowledged king, he determined to make a great change in the Roman constitution by admitting the plebeians to a participation in the civil government. The senate was too weak to resist the change when it was proposed, but it submitted with great reluctance. 5. Ser'vius divided all the Romans into classes and centuries according to their wealth and the amount of taxes paid to the state. The number of centuries in the first class nearly equalled that of all the others; a great advantage to the plebeians; for the lower classes being chiefly clients of the patricians, were always inclined to vote according to the prejudices or interests of their patrons.

6. The classification by centuries was also used for military purposes; the heavy armed infantry being selected from the richer classes; the light troops, whose arms and armour could be obtained at less expense, were levied among the lower centuries.

7. In order to ascertain the increase or decay of his subjects, and their fortunes, he instituted another regulation, which he called a _lustrum_. By this, all the citizens were to assemble in the Cam'pus Mar'tius,[2] in complete armour, and in their respective classes, once in five years, and there to give an exact account of their families and fortune.

8. Having enjoyed a long reign, spent in settling the domestic policy of the state, and also not inattentive to foreign concerns, he conceived reasonable hopes of concluding it with tranquillity and ease. He even had thoughts of laying down his power; and, having formed the kingdom into a republic, to retire into obscurity; but so generous a design was frustrated ere it could be put into execution.

9. In the beginning of his reign, to secure the throne by every precaution, he had married his two daughters to the two grandsons of Tarquin; and as he knew that the women, as well as their intended husbands, were of opposite dispositions, he resolved to cross their tempers, by giving each to him of a contrary turn of mind; her that was meek and gentle to him that was bold and furious; her that was ungovernable and proud, to him that was remarkable for a contrary character; by this he supposed that each would correct the failings of the other, and that the mixture would be productive of concord. 10. The event, however, proved otherwise. Lu'cius, the haughty son-in-law, soon grew displeased with the meekness of his consort, and placed his whole affections upon his brother's wife, Tul'lia, who answered his passion with sympathetic ardour. As their wishes were ungovernable, they soon resolved to break through every restraint that prevented their union; they both undertook to murder their respective consorts; they succeeded, and were soon after married together. 11. A first crime ever produces a second; from the destruction of their consorts, they proceeded to conspiring that of the king. They began by raising factions against him, alleging his illegal title to the crown, and Lu'cius claiming it as his own, as heir to Tarquin. At length, when he found the senate ripe for seconding his views, he entered the senate-house, adorned with all the ensigns of royalty, and, placing himself upon the throne, began to harangue them on the obscurity of the king's birth, and the injustice of his title. 12. While he was yet speaking, Ser'vius entered, attended by a few followers, and seeing his throne thus rudely invaded, offered to push the usurper from his seat; but Tarquin, being in the vigour of youth, threw the old king down the steps which led to the throne; some of his adherents, who were instructed for that purpose, followed him, as he was feebly attempting to get to the palace, dispatched him by the way, and threw his body, all mangled and bleeding, as a public spectacle, into the street. 13. In the mean time, Tul'lia, burning with impatience for the event, was informed of what her husband had done, and, resolving to be among the first who should salute him as monarch, ordered her chariot to the senate-house. But as her charioteer approached the place where the body of the old king, her father, lay exposed and bloody; the man, amazed at the inhuman spectacle, and not willing to trample upon it with his horses, offered to turn another way; this serving only to increase the fierceness of her anger, she threw the foot-stool at his head, and ordered him to drive over the body without hesitation.[3]

14. This was the end of Ser'vius Tul'lius, a prince of eminent justice and moderation, after an useful and prosperous reign of forty-four years.


Questions for Examination.

1. What effect had the murder of Tarquin on his subjects?

2. By what means was the succession assured to Servius Tullius?

3. Who was Servius?

4. What was the chief object of his reign?

5. What was the nature of the change made by Servius in the Roman constitution?

6. Was the classification by centuries used for civil purposes only?

7. What other important measure did he adopt?

8. What hopes did he entertain in his old age?

9. By what means did he hope to secure tranquil possession of the throne?

10. How was it that the event failed to answer his expectations?

11. To what farther crimes did the commencement lead?

12. What followed?

13. What was the conduct of his daughter on this melancholy occasion?

14. What was the character of Servius, and how long did he reign?



[1] A flame of fire gliding about without doing any harm.

[2] A large plain at Rome, without the walls of the city, where the Roman youth performed their exercises. Cam'pus is the Latin word for field; and this field or plain was called Mar'tius, because it was dedicated to Mars, the god of war.

[3] The blood of the good old king is said to have dyed the chariot wheels, and even the clothes of the inhuman daughter; from that time the street where it happened was called _vicus sceleratus_, the wicked or accursed street.

Oliver Goldsmith