In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Roman Kingship

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Archaeology of Regal Rome
  • The Iconography of Power
  • The Development of the Historical Record
  • Methodological Debate
  • The Prehistory of Roman Kingship
  • The End of Kingship, Institutional History, and the Leges Regiae
  • Roman Views of Kingship and the Wider Context
  • Roman Kings and Indo-European Mythology

Classics Roman Kingship
Christopher Smith
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 June 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0349


The Romans developed an account of their early history which was organized by the reigns of seven kings. By the 1st century BCE, they had settled on a standard chronology for these kings, and in the following sequence: Romulus 753–717, Numa Pompilius 716–674, Tullus Hostilius 673–642, Ancus Marcius 641–617, Tarquinius Priscus 616–578, Servius Tullius 578–534, Tarquinius Superbus 534–509. It is clear from archaeological evidence that Rome from the 8th to the 6th century BCE was in a period of significant growth and transformation. There are a number of exciting finds which have been related to the historical account. This account however was the product of a long period of development, and the narrative as it developed came to reflect the contemporary concerns of Roman politics. So research on Roman kingship has to take account of both the possibility of genuine history underlying the account, and the literary and artistic motivations which led to the transformations of the story over time. The relationship between these two is the subject of significant methodological discussion, on a spectrum from attempts to directly relate the historical account to archaeological finds, to significantly more skeptical claims that connections are coincidental and that the historical record is wholly unreliable. The third strand of investigation is institutional history and includes the controversy over the so-called leges regiae, the alleged legal precursors to the codification of law in the Twelve Tables from the mid-5th century BCE, and the transformation of the Roman constitution into one characterized by shared time-limited office-holding. A quite different approach sees the kings as encoding deep mythological structures, and argues for a reconceptualization of the early history of Rome as a mythical rather than a historical sequence. Although this has been less popular recently, aspects of this scholarly approach have been influential in other fields of study. This is particularly true of social anthropology and the history of religion, where Dumézil’s classification of the Roman kings has been influential but controversial (see section Roman Kings and Indo-European Mythology).

General Overviews

The best overview of early Rome is Cornell 1995; see also Grandazzi 1997. For a recent archaeological survey see Fulminante 2013. A valuable if skeptical survey of the historical material for the kings is given by Poucet 2000; compare Martínez-Pinna 2009 for a somewhat less skeptical approach. Recent attempts to construct narratives of the period from rather different standpoints, cautiously combining archaeological interpretation with the historical material, include Armstrong 2016 and Terrenato 2019. Neel 2017 offers a recent and valuable sourcebook in English; a much more comprehensive collection is offered by Carandini 2006–2014, but see on methodology, Lulof and Smith 2017, cited under The Archaeology of Regal Rome.

  • Armstrong, Jeremy. 2016. War and society in early Rome: From warlords to generals. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781316145241

    Uses the archaeological evidence together with a relatively optimistic use of the sources to focus on warfare as a key driver of Roman society. Heavy emphasis on clans as constituent features of archaic society leaves less room for a powerful king.

  • Carandini, Andrea, ed. 2006–2014. La Leggenda di Roma. Milan: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla - A. Mondadori.

    This massive collection of sources and commentary is on a totally different scale to Neel 2017, but is also designed to sustain a controversial thesis over the reliability of the ancient sources. Sources from very different periods are treated as if they had the same value and the testimony from antiquity is regarded as part of a single system rather than a set of diverse and radically contingent accounts.

  • Cornell, Tim. 1995. The beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000–264 BC). London and New York: Routledge.

    By far the best attempt to present both the evidence and the scholarly arguments on early Rome, this is a masterly synthesis. It largely predates the debate over Carandini’s reconstruction, and some of the more recent archaeology, but is unrivaled as a presentation of the history of historical scholarship.

  • Fulminante, Francesca. 2013. The urbanisation of Rome and Latium Vetus: From the Bronze Age to the Archaic era. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139343404

    This is the most detailed and up-to-date overview in English of the archaeological material, and also offers a methodologically thoughtful attempt to identify the size of Rome and the strategic consequences. It also takes seriously the deep Bronze Age roots of the settlement, and although insufficiently critical of the sources, it is a benchmark account.

  • Grandazzi, Alexandre. 1997. The foundation of Rome: Myth and history. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

    Sophisticated and elegant essay on how early Rome has been presented over the centuries, combined with an interesting approach to the construction of history.

  • Martínez-Pinna, Jorge. 2009. La monarquía romana arcaica. Barcelona: Univ. de Barcelona.

    Useful account of the historical sources for the later kingship, emphasizing the importance of institutional history.

  • Neel, Jaclyn. 2017. Early Rome: Myth and society. A sourcebook. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.

    Admirable set of sources translated into English with helpful commentary. This provides a much needed introduction through the source material.

  • Poucet, Jacques. 2000. Les rois de Rome: Tradition et histoire. Brussels: Académie royale de Belgique.

    Careful, skeptical approach to the literary tradition, demonstrating all the problems and difficulties of the transmission of evidence across the intervening centuries between the fall of the monarchy and Fabius Pictor’s history. A model of methodological rigor with a balanced critique of Dumézil (see Roman Kings and Indo-European Mythology).

  • Terrenato, Nicola. 2019. The early Roman expansion into Italy: Elite negotiation and family agendas. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781108525190

    Radical new account specifically of middle republican Roman expansionism, but with important commentary on elite behavior and city-state formation in the archaic period. Terrenato offers a glimpse also into how new work in Latium will begin to transform our views of early Rome.

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