The Seven Kings of Rome: all you need to know

by marta

Learn the names of the seven Kings of Rome and essential facts and legends about them in this quick introduction about the history of Rome’s monarchy.

Ancient sources tell us that Rome was a monarchy for the first two centuries of its history, .

More precisely, they tell us that Rome had seven kings, who ruled from the day of the city’s foundation, the 21 April 753 BC, to the start of Republican times, in 509 B.C.

The stories about the seven kings of Rome are a mix of historical accounts and ancient Roman myths and legends

View of ancient Roman Forum from the Palatine Hill

While it is not always possible for historians to distinguish myth from history, some facts about the seven kings of Rome seem to be historically accurate.

These include the names of the Roman kings in sequence, their origin and their role.

I have always been fascinated by the Rome’s monarchic times.

I am a Roman history graduate from the University of Rome and I find the stories about Rome’s most ancient times fascinating.

Today, we have a quick look at the list of the names of Rome Kings, the dates of their kingdoms and the main facts associated with their time in power.

Historical sources

The primary sources about the ancient Roman monarchy are authors from the I century B.C., such as Livy and Dyonisius of Alycarnassus.

They are, much later than the kingdom itself.

This means that, in large part, what we know from them is a mix of legend, myth and historical facts and historians cannot take anything as conclusive, only looking at literary sources.

However, archaeology comes to the rescue.

Several archaeological ruins in Rome date from monarchic times and they helped date and confirm some of that the ancient authors committed to paper.

The names of the Seven Kings of Rome in order

Name of Roman KingStart-End date of their Kingdom
Romulus753 – 716 B.C.
Numa Pompilius 715 – 673 B.C
Tullus Ostilius672 – 641 B.C
Ancus Marcius641 – 616 B.C
Lucius Tarquinius Priscus616 – 579 B.C
Servius Tullius578 – 539 B.C
Tarquinius Superbus535 – 509 B.C

How many kings did Rome have?

Tradition tells us that Rome had seven kings; however, this is not entirely correct.

If we include in the list Titus Tatius, who only reigned five years and in conjunction with Romulus, ancient Rome had eight kings in total.

They go by the names Romulus, Titus Tatius, Numa Pompilius, Tullo Ostilius, Tarquinus Priscus, Ancus Marcius and Tarquinius Superbus.

Titus Tatius was the King of the Sabini, a population from Lazio.

The Sabini started off as enemies of Rome but eventually came to a peace agreement that meant the two populations become one, under a joined monarchy.

Titus Tatius doesn’t seem to have left the same mark on ancient historians, who do not include him in the canonical list of the seven Kings of Rome.

Fun fact! The number seven has symbolic meaning. In the ancient world, we see many occurrences of it (the seven wonders of the world, the seven days of creations etc). The Romans seem to have embraced this symbolism. This is probably why we have a list of seven hills of Rome as well as seven Kings, even if, technically, both lists could have included more!

What are the seven kings of Rome famous for?

These are some of the most important facts we know about the seven ancient kings of Rome.

Romulus – first king of Rome and legendary city founder

Romulus is remembered as the founder of Rome and the city’s first king.

Many ancient sources document his life and the legends that surrounded him and the birth of Rome itself. 

rome she wolf statue with twins
Statue of the Capitoline Wolf showing Remus and Romulus as suckling infants.

According to ancient sources, Romulus was the son of the God Mars, one of Rome’s most powerful Gods, and Rhea Silvia, daughter of the King of Albalonga Numitor.

Abandoned at birth with his twin brother Romulus, he was reared by a she-wolf and then adopted by a local shepherd named Faustulus.

One day, Romulus and his brother Remus decided to found a new city.

Unable to agree on the location, they picked two and waited for a suspicious sign, as it was traditional and that time.

The sign came in the form of flocks of birds, considered a good omen.

First, Remus saw a flock of six birds and, later, Romulus saw a flock ok twelve.

Disagreeing on the interpretation of the omen, the twins came to a fight that ended with Remus’ untimely demise. Romulus founded his city on the Palatine Hill and he called it Rome. 

You can read here >>> the legend of the birth of Rome

Numa Pompilius

Numa Pompilius is the second ancient King of Rome. His kingdom has lasted from 715 – 673 and ancient sources remember him as a pius and wise man.

His name is associated with creating the Roman calendar and of many religious magistratures, including that of Pontifex Maximus.

The most famous legend about Numa Pompilius is about his special bond with Egeria, a nymph.

According to the myth, Numa Pompilius loved nature and enjoyed relaxing by taking strolls in the wooded areas immediately outside his city. 

Several nymphs and nature deities inhabited this area: one of them, the nymph Egeria, fell in love with him and the two developed a strong bond.

Under the nymph’s guidance, Numa Pompilius brought to Rome significant reforms that pleased the god and made him one of the most respected and beloved rules of that time.

When he died, Egeria cried inconsolably and turned into a water spring, which still holds her name. 

Tullus Hostilius

Tullus Hostilius was the third king of Rome and reigned between 672 to 641 BC. 

The main sources of information about him remember him as victorious in wars against the cities of Fidenae, Veii and possibly Albalonga. 

The most famous legend connected to his name is that of the duel between the Horatii and Curiatii brothers, that determined the inclusion of Albalonga into Roma territory. 

In historical terms, it seems Tullus Hostilius was responsible for creating Rome’s first Senate chambers, the Curia Hostilia, and the Comitium, the area in front of the Curia, where the people met to vote

Ancus Marcius

Livy report that Ancus Marcius was the fourth king of rome and reigned between  642 to 617 BC.

However, most of what we know about this king seems to belong to the realm of the myth, more than hirstory.

His name is usually associated with building work, such as the construction of the Sublician Bridge and the founding of Ostia (now Ostia Antica), the ancient port of Rome.

ostia antica theater
The impressive theater

Under his kingdom, the Aventine and Caelian Hill became part of Rome City, and the city also included the Janiculum, which is above the area we today call Trastevere. 

Tarquinius Priscus

Tarquinius Priscus was the fifth King of Rome. 

He is most famous for construction work, the remains of which we can still see today.

Circus Maximus Rome

Sources tell us that he built the ancient porticoes of the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline hill, that he build a temple in the Forum Boarium, along the tiber, for worshipping the hero Heracles.

His name is also associated with the foundation of ludi Romani (Roman games) and the building of the Circus Maximus, the chariot race stadium of Rome.

Servius Tullius

Servio Tullio was the sixth king of Rome and and reigned between 578 and 535 BC. 

He is famous for important building work and essential reforms to the Roma institutions.

Under him, the city acquired protective walls (Mura Serviane), a temple to Dea Fortuna, in the Forum Boarium and the Temple of Diana on the Aventine.

In terms of political reforms, he is remembered for the Servian Constitution, which divided citizens into five classes according to wealth, and for reorganising public assemblies.

Some sources report he also introduced silver and bronze coinage; however, historians tend to believe this to be incorrect.

Tarquinius Superbus

Lucius Tarquinius Superbus is the last of the seven kings of Rome and reigned from 535 – 509 B.C.

Historians remember him as the King who competed the constructions of the Temple of Jipiter on the Capitoline Hill, as a devout worshipper of Heracles and as the man who reorganized the Feriae Latinae, the pagan holidays in honour of Iuppiter Latiaris.

Legend tells us that it was a violent act that triggered his fall and the end of the Roman monarchy.

According to ancient sources, the King’s son Sextus Tarquinius violated Lucretia, a pure and pious roman matron. 

Overwhelmed by the pain of this violence, Lucretia told her husband about the crime and then killed herself.

In revenge, her husband Collatinus gathered his men, overthrew Tarquinius and declared the Roman Republic. 

The official birthday of the Roman Republic is 509 BC.

The new rule of Rome threw in the river all that belonged to the detested King: legends says that the debris created and island which we can still see: the Tiber Island (Isola Tiberina)

How were Roman kings elected? 

The election of the seven kings of Rome followed a precise protocol.

After the death of one King, the Senate would confer and name one senator as Interrex, a magistrate to temporarily occupy the throne for five days, during which the Senate would look for a suitable long term candidate. 

After these five days, the Interrex would leave the throne to another senator for five more days and so on, until a suitable King was found. 

Once the Interrex identified a good potential King, they would propose his name to the Senate for consideration.

If approved, the Interrex would gather the Comitia Curiata, the Roman assembly with all Roman cities: the Comitii could then accept or refuse the nomination.

If accepted, a priest would officiate a ceremony to make sure the Gods approved of the candidate, following the same tradition that got Romulus and Remus to scout the sky for a celestial omen.

Only at the point, the Comitia would vote the lex curiata de imperio, the law that gave to the King the ‘imperium’ aka the body of royal powers.

The powers of the seven kings of Rome

The Roman Kings were:

  • Head of State with legislative, executive and judicial power
  • Commander in chief of the Roman army
  • Pontifex Maximus, the highest religious magistrate in Rome

The symbols of Rome’s monarchy overlap with the symbols of Rome itself. They include:

  • The fascia, a bundle of lictors heat together by a ribbon, symbolising lawful order under the authority of the legitimate King
  • The Sedia curule (curule chair), a special seat representing the judiciary power of the king
  • A red toga, called Toga Praetexta, which then became a a common item of Roman clothing for centuries to come

I hope you enjoyed this quick overview of the seven kings of Rome and you found it helpful. Happy learning!

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