Historical Authenticity of Roman Kings

Jul 2019
699
New Jersey
The Senate were the educated class in Rome and the Curia Hostilia was their meeting place from the time it was built basically. They weren't morons. How does such a subterfuge happen? With an urban legend about a ghost or something you can see how it could start, but how do the Senators all agree to name the Senate building after a guy who didn't exist? It just doesn't seem plausible. The guy must have been real and had a hand in building it, I don't see what other explanation is possible.

There are also a few other events attributed to him that smack of being real, including the trial of Horatius. Caesar would later invoke the same trial process when having a show trial for Rabirus. It seems strange that he could invoke a trial process used by King Hostilius if he never lived. Where were the records of Horatius trial coming from? Of course I can imagine how this could happen, I could imagine how a lot of the urban legends happened. What I find totally implausible is the Senate all decided to name their building after a fictional King who they would have known didn't exist, because the reason it is named after him is that he built it for them to use. They didn't just come across the building and buy it from a merchant who told many spicy tales about it; it was continually in use from it's construction, in the middle of the freaking forum, and was named for the guy who built it from the point of construction.
I think the problem is that you're not taking into account the vast amounts of time which had elapsed before the first histories were written. Our oldest extant history of Regal Rome is that of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, written c. 35 BC. The oldest Roman history ever is that of Q. Fabius Pictor (c. 220 BC). Tullus Hostilius is said to have reigned from 673 - 642 BC (Varronian chronology). That's over 4 centuries of nobody writing a history book. The oldest records used by any of the Roman historians were the Annales Maximi, and they can only be verified to go back to 4 - 500 BC.

Imagine if nobody had written about the history of the US, from Jamestown until now. All we had were a few laconic records from 1776 onward, comprised of an average of a few words per year. How accurate would the stories recalled by popular imagination be (remember, no books)? Well, that's about how accurate the stories of the early Roman kings are. I don't deny that many of these stories were a part of the national consciousness for a long time, but it's absurd to assert that they're substantially accurate. Many of the later historians fabricated stories outright, either to make their histories more exciting or else to claim glory for their gens and heap scorn on their rivals (Valerius Antias, I'm looking at you). Cicero writes this, Livy writes this, every historian ever writes this - it's fairly uncontroversial.

Let me ask you a question: what's the oldest literary or archaeological reference we have to the Senate House being called the Curia Hostilia? And how long after Tullus lived was that?

And I don't understand your point about P. Horatius' trial. Obviously, the story was current by Caesar's time (600 years after the alleged event). That doesn't mean that it actually happened. Are you implying that the Romans actually had real records of trials from back then?
 

Caesarmagnus

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,640
Australia
I'm saying it would be weird for the Romans to invent not just a moral story about Horatius, but an elaborate trial procedure. It doesn't really make a lot of sense, though I can imagine other scenarios which explain it.

The Senate building is different. I'd have to go research what the oldest reference to it was, though there was a mural universally said to exist on its walls that showed events dated 263 BC (the first such picture if Pliny is to be believed), but that's almost irrelevant to my point. If we were talking about a fort in Italian Gaul then I'd easily see how a legend could spring up around it that was totally false. This was the Senate meeting house in the middle of the freaking forum. It was where the Senate had always met. It is consistently called the Curia Hostilia. As far as we know it was always called that. I don't see the logistically plausible way in which it could be retrospectively fictionalised like that. Legends spring up when facts are shrouded. This building was a living and continuous part of Roman political life in the dead bang centre of their metropolis.
 
Feb 2011
1,123
Scotland
I think we can rule out the possibility that the kingdom ended earlier than traditional Roman historiography suggests, as the date of 509 BC dovetails nicely with the unrest between the Etruscans and Latium, a development which is likely connected in some way with the establishment of the Republic. What's more, the almost entirely extant consular list goes back to 509, and we have little real reason to deny its authenticity. The other possibility is that Rome was founded later than c. 750 BC. While that is certainly possible, it seems unlikely as well, as archaeology suggests that the area was beginning to coalesce into a city at about that time. The most plausible explanation seems to be that there were more than seven kings, something which seems highly likely given that the first four kings seem to be more archetype than person.
I agree. Cornell gives a possible foundation date of 650BCE; that makes the avaerage reign of 7 Kings more likely; there may be Kings who have been forgotten or omitted from the traditional 7, such as Claudius' Vibenna.

It seems that active aristocratic interest seemed to date from 2nd and 1st centuries BCE, which leaves lots of scope for legends to be spun.

Mary Beard's view is that Romulus is simply a generic 'Mr. Rome' and highly unlikely to have lived. In her view, the unusual names, activities and often downright shameful actions which the Romans acknowledged in their ancestors makes it very likely that there is at least a kernel of truth in the official view; and the absence of any viable alternative means there is nothing with which to replace the 'official version'. There are one or two inscriptions in archaic Latin relating to the existence of a King, though the nature of that kingship is uncertain.

It is certain however, that the interest in and preservation of such stories 500+ years later in the late republic, led the activities and views of that day to be projected back onto the archaic period. Political disputes of the later time were assumed to have existed in earlier periods. Military actions are described as full blown battles taking place on an annual basis, with casualties which Beard feels that the early city could not have sustained; it is far more likely that the vast majority of such actions were raids and skirmishes.
 
Jul 2019
699
New Jersey
@benzev
What's funny is I've just completed writing a lengthy paper making the argument that the sources of early Roman history are stronger than commonly believed (Cornell's view, basically).

I guess I don't like any answer too far afield of "It's complicated. We don't know what we know but we know what we don't know."
 
  • Like
Reactions: benzev
Jul 2019
699
New Jersey
:) That's nicely put! I'd love to see your paper.
There's nothing original in there, lol. It's just Cornell with the footnotes expanded a bit, ordered in such a way as to preempt some of Gary Forsyth's complaints.
 

Haakbus

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
3,798
United States
I have read the archaeological evidence does show a settlement (or settlements) of Rome from the eighth century BC, but I haven't been able to find any information on the social structure and complexity.
 
Sep 2013
632
Ontario, Canada
It is very likely that the Romans got the dates wrong in their retracing of their own history. The real records had been lost in the many fires which plagued early Rome. So coming into the later Republic no one alive knew exactly how the city had come about. There may have been Seven Kings of Rome. But given that the indicated length of their reigns (some 30+ years each on average) seem unusually and biblically long, that notion likely descends from an oral tradition distorted with time and retellings. There however may be a tiny kernel of truth but it is surrounded by a thick shell of embellishment, for the Romans wanted nothing less than to say their ancestors were of noble beginnings.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Haakbus
Mar 2018
870
UK
I'm saying it would be weird for the Romans to invent not just a moral story about Horatius, but an elaborate trial procedure. It doesn't really make a lot of sense, though I can imagine other scenarios which explain it.

The Senate building is different. I'd have to go research what the oldest reference to it was, though there was a mural universally said to exist on its walls that showed events dated 263 BC (the first such picture if Pliny is to be believed), but that's almost irrelevant to my point. If we were talking about a fort in Italian Gaul then I'd easily see how a legend could spring up around it that was totally false. This was the Senate meeting house in the middle of the freaking forum. It was where the Senate had always met. It is consistently called the Curia Hostilia. As far as we know it was always called that. I don't see the logistically plausible way in which it could be retrospectively fictionalised like that. Legends spring up when facts are shrouded. This building was a living and continuous part of Roman political life in the dead bang centre of their metropolis.
If the Senate House was built centuries after the death of Hostilia, what is so weird about it being named after him if he never existed? Things get named after legendary characters all the time. Doncaster-Sheffield airport is called the "Robin Hood" airport. This is not evidence that Robin Hood was ever a real person, or that those who commission/built/run the airport believe that he's a real person. It just means that when you have a big important building somewhere, people like naming it after a big important historical person (whether they ever existed or not).
 

Caesarmagnus

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,640
Australia
If the Senate House was built centuries after the death of Hostilia, what is so weird about it being named after him if he never existed? Things get named after legendary characters all the time. Doncaster-Sheffield airport is called the "Robin Hood" airport. This is not evidence that Robin Hood was ever a real person, or that those who commission/built/run the airport believe that he's a real person. It just means that when you have a big important building somewhere, people like naming it after a big important historical person (whether they ever existed or not).
The Robin Hood thing is a terrible example. The airport's name is just a tribute to a charming character from fiction. In the case of Hostilius there is a whole myth around him building the Senate house, and that he was a real person about whom we know real facts (or who the Romans thought they did). The Robin Hood nickname didn't require a false reality to be retrospectively constructed and passed off to people in real time. In the case of Hostilius it would have. That seems too implausible to me. Buildings are named for the person who builds them. How would this false legend and name even get started? One day the Senators all got together and said "you know the Curia Marcellus? Yes, the Senate house we all use that was built by Marcellus Tiddlywinks, with a plaque out front and engravings that say Curia Marcellus like most buildings have. From now on let's call it the Curia Hostilia, and say it's named after the 3rd King of Rome who actually built it. Oh, no telling though, because we're all friends and would never use this information to get political capital from each other. Pinky promises guys. Oh, the thousands of people who know it's the Curia Marcellus? They won't even notice the name change and fake backstory, it's only the most famous building in the forum and a part of every day life".