Historical Authenticity of Roman Kings

Apr 2019
121
Ireland
There was an earlier thread on this subject. This is some of what I and others had on it.
There is not a lot of evidence to support the historical identity of the majority of the kings, however the narrative of their reigns seems to be more concerned with the development of the Roman entity or the origins of the development of institutions of the Roman entity. For exampe we get the 'Servian reforms'. The 7 Kings of Rome were (traditionally):

  1. Romulus
  2. Numa Pompilius
  3. Tullus Hostilius
  4. Ancus Marcius
  5. Tarquinius Priscus
  6. Servius Tullius (Mastarna??)
  7. Tarquinius Superbus.
However, there can be added an 8th, Titus Tatius the Sabine who co-ruled for a time with Romulus. There is also another tradition come down in the sources (Pliny and Tacitus) that Lars Porsenna captured Rome and imposed harsh terms. Pliny believes he ruled as King (read war-chief or warlord if you desire). Livy and Dionysios of Halicarnassus state that Rome did not fall to Porsenna. Porsenna was said to have abandoned the siege of Rome (when he had the upper hand apparently). So he could have been a ninth King (possibly there could be more?).
I do believe the Kings existed, however, I'm not so sure if the names of the Kings that have come down are correct (Romulus - Mr. Rome for example).



I think what can be possibly said is:

The identity of the seven (eight or nine….) kings can't be established as historical fact, even though the last three (the two Tarquins and Servius Tullius) are possibly closest to real historical personages.
There was some kind of kingship at Rome, not hereditary, possibly elective, although what kind of mechanism was used for selection is very much open to debate.
Many of the developments that have been attributed during the reigns of these kings are backward projections and anachronisms of times when the sources were compiled of the traditions of the people themselves (Senate, peoples assembly, military reform).
There is a lot more concern for the morals of the main actors of these periods than to any historical fact.
In many cases the Archaeology contradicts the sources and the tradition (The Servian Walls?).
There were disparate groups/elements in the area of Rome which came together in common cause for a more central foundation (753 BCE is very debatable, with some giving seventh century BCE as being more likely).
Rome was strategically placed on the Tiber at a junction of North/South routes with a fluvial port and salt resources in the vicinity.
 

Caesarmagnus

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,680
Australia
As I said, the evidence for the 3rd King seems pretty solid. The details about his life are up for debate, but several facts about him (especially the Senate house) make it implausible he did not at least exist as a King.
 
Feb 2011
309
NY, NY
Just been reading D.H. Lawrence's Etruscan Places. Don't recommend it as a serious historical work but it's just such an interesting read, particularly the Cerveteri introduction and then the essays on the Tarquinia. Interestingly enough in his Books IN My Life none other than Henry Miller lists it right off as one of his top 100.
 

Haakbus

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
3,817
United States
Might the early Roman kings have been some sort of chiefs that ruled in tandem and were later strung into a single lineage? Maybe some sort of important clan leaders?
 
Feb 2017
526
Latin America
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".
People (rightly) doubt the existence of Solomon despite apparently no one doubting there was a first temple in the site of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. Granted, it's true that even minimalist historians and archaeologists don't have nearly as much problem with Solomon existing, but the point is that we have a whole story about him building the temple and even acquiring his name, and yet that is no conclusive evidence of him having existed. Samuel, Kings and Chronicles apparently do derive their history from some kind of earlier archives, but still have enough mythological elements that some go the extreme that only from Hezekiah upwards can we say are historical.
 

Maki

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,975
Republika Srpska
People (rightly) doubt the existence of Solomon despite apparently no one doubting there was a first temple in the site of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. Granted, it's true that even minimalist historians and archaeologists don't have nearly as much problem with Solomon existing, but the point is that we have a whole story about him building the temple and even acquiring his name, and yet that is no conclusive evidence of him having existed. Samuel, Kings and Chronicles apparently do derive their history from some kind of earlier archives, but still have enough mythological elements that some go the extreme that only from Hezekiah upwards can we say are historical.
We do know that some House of David existed.

As far as the kings of Rome go, I think the stories about them are based on actual persons, but I do not think the narrative we currently have is correct, especially stories of the earlier kings. Just take a look at the length of their reigns. They ruled for about 30+ years each which is awfully long. It is interesting to note that Rome is not the only civilization that ascribed long reigns to their first, likely legendary rules. Sumerians did the same, the Japanese as well. Most likely others, but I cannot recall any at the moment. Roman kings' reign lengths are much more "normal" than those of early Sumerian kings or Japanese emperors. That also deserves to be mentioned.
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
3,030
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
We do know that some House of David existed.

As far as the kings of Rome go, I think the stories about them are based on actual persons, but I do not think the narrative we currently have is correct, especially stories of the earlier kings. Just take a look at the length of their reigns. They ruled for about 30+ years each which is awfully long. It is interesting to note that Rome is not the only civilization that ascribed long reigns to their first, likely legendary rules. Sumerians did the same, the Japanese as well. Most likely others, but I cannot recall any at the moment. Roman kings' reign lengths are much more "normal" than those of early Sumerian kings or Japanese emperors. That also deserves to be mentioned.
I quote my own earlier post number 17:

Suppose that the throne passed from father to son for 7 generations. In that case the average reign length could be up to 34 years if the average father was up to 34 years older than his son for all 7 generations. And there are families where the average generation is 34 years or longer for 7 generations or longer.
I may add that I have a cousin born in 1964 whose father was born in 1927, grandfather in 1899, great grandfather in 1859, great great grandfather in 1830, great great great grandfather in 1779, great great great great grandfather in 1738, great great great great great grandfather in the 1690s, and great great great great great great grandfather probably about 1650. That makes eight generations of descendants born with an average gap between generations of about 39 years. So if the Kings of Rome were all fathers and sons (they weren't) and all died about the same age, they could have an average reign of about 39 years without being any odder or rarer than a family I happen to be descended from.

The kings of Rome were not all fathers and sons. Supposed that each time a king died a relatively young man, related to the old king or not, was elected king aged about 30 years old. If each of those young kings lived into their sixties the average reign length would be 30 odd years.
The alleged length of the alleged 7 reigns of Roman kings is highly unusual and suspicious. But it is certainly possible.
My mother's family owned a small business for five generations and about 208 years from about 1770 to 1978, for an average of 41.6 years per generation. However, there were 9 owners in all, for an average of 23.111 years per owner, counting a man who owned the business twice as two owners and counting a man who was a co owner with his brother as another owner.
If you eliminate the co owner and count the one who was owner twice as one owner, the number of owners is reduced to seven, and the average length of ownership increased to about 29.7 years.

The Qing Dynasty of China lasted 268 years form 1644 to 1912 or 276 years from 1636 to 1912 , & had 11 monarchs for an average of 24.36 or 25.09 years.
There were 7 kings of England from 1216 to 1422, 206 years with an average of 29.428 years.
The seven Qing Dynasty reigns from the Kangxi emperor in 1661 to The Tongzhi Emperor in 1875 lasted for 214 years for an average of 30.57 years.
7 Princes of Lichtenstein reigned from 1772 to 1989, a total of 217 years and an average of 31 years.
There were 7 kings of France in 239 years from 1031 to 1272, an average of 34.14 years. So I am very suspicious of the claim that only seven kings ruled from for as long as 244 years with an average reign of about 34.85 years. I think that probably there were more kings, or the kingdom lasted a shorter time, or both. But I don't see any reason to claim that would be impossible. And if there weren't other dubious features about the story of the Roman Kings, it would be very easy to imagine that it was almost totally accurate and that someone simply got a few dates wrong.
 
Apr 2019
121
Ireland
There were probably more than 7 Kings (a very grand title), it has been suggested Priscus (r616-579)was the father of Superbus (r534-510), wouldn't the dates be a little worrying? They may have been grandfather/grandson or perhaps more loosely connected? Traditional dates may have been makey-uppy to make a narrative fit. Perhaps there were more kings, Lars Porsenna and Titus Tatius perhaps? The date for the end of the Monarchy, 509BCE is even dubious, it closely resembles the expulsion of the Tyrant Hippias from Athens (a coincidence?).
 

Maki

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,975
Republika Srpska
@MAGolding
You are right. It is not technically impossible, but it is unlikely. And when you account for the fact that other cultures also gave their first rulers long reigns, it really does not bode well for the historicity of the Roman kings, especially early ones.
 

Caesarmagnus

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,680
Australia
Aside from the fact that, as many have pointed out, Solomon is generally thought to be a real person, the analogy doesn't work at all. Solomon was supposedly born around 1000 BC. The people writing about him had no continuous history or historical records as the Romans did, many years separate the event from the written tellings. In the case of Solomon the "record" left of him is a work of religious propaganda, not a credible historical source. The Jews were not a people who enjoyed more or less continued peace and continuity in the same place for the duration of the legend, they were dispersed and scattered multiple times, and that makes for the beginnings of most historical fictions. The Romans had credible historians and historical records; not by modern standards obviously, but compared to the bible they might as well be texts on quantum physics. The building in question was a continuous and living component of the forum, the heart of Roman society. Every day people going by would have known the name of the building, because they passed it every day in the same way people pass the White House. Buildings like that usually have a plaque on them, commemorating the patron/builder, and there were real historical records, letters, speeches, etc, that were doubtless recorded about it. It would be too implausible that this kind of retrospective history could have been conjured up in real time, with acceptance from all the different active and opposing factions and members of the community.