XI.12 On the government of the kings of Rome, and how the three powers were distributed there

The govern­ment of the kings of Rome had some connec­tion to that of the kings of the heroic times of the Greeks. It disap­pea­red like the others because of its gene­ral fai­ling, although in itself and in its par­ti­cu­lar nature it was very good.

To give a notion of this govern­ment, I shall dis­tin­guish those of the first five kings, that of Servius Tullius, and that of Tarquin.

The crown was elec­tive, and under the first five kings the senate had the lar­gest role in the elec­tion.

After the king’s death, the senate exa­mi­ned whe­ther to keep the form of govern­ment that was in place. If it jud­ged appo­site to keep it, it named a magis­trate1 cho­sen from its own num­ber who elec­ted a king ; the senate had to approve the elec­tion, the peo­ple confirm it, and the aus­pi­ces endorse it. If one of these three condi­tions was not met, ano­ther elec­tion was requi­red.

The cons­ti­tu­tion was monar­chi­cal, aris­to­cra­tic, and popu­lar ; and such was the har­mony of power that nei­ther dis­pute nor jea­lousy was seen in the early rei­gns. The king com­man­ded the armies, and had the inten­dancy of the sacri­fi­ces ; he had judi­cial autho­rity in civil2 and cri­mi­nal3 mat­ters ; he convo­ked the senate, assem­bled the peo­ple, took cer­tain mat­ters before them, and deci­ded the others with the senate.4

The senate had broad autho­rity. The kings often cal­led on sena­tors to judge with them ; they did not take mat­ters to the peo­ple unless they had first been dis­cus­sed5 in the senate.

The peo­ple had the right to elect the magis­tra­tes, to approve new laws, and, when the king so allo­wed, to declare war and make peace. They did not have judi­cial autho­rity. When Tullus Hostilius retur­ned the judg­ment of Horace to the peo­ple, he had his own rea­sons, which we find in Dionysius of Halicarnassus.6

The cons­ti­tu­tion chan­ged under Servius Tullius.7 The senate played no part in his elec­tion : he had him­self pro­clai­med by the peo­ple. He dives­ted him­self of civil judg­ments,8 and reser­ved to him­self only the cri­mi­nal ones ; he took all busi­ness directly to the peo­ple ; he relie­ved them of taxes, and put the whole bur­den on the patri­cians. Thus, as he was wea­ke­ning royal autho­rity and the autho­rity of the senate, he was increa­sing the power of the peo­ple.9

Tarquin did not have him­self elec­ted either by the senate or by the peo­ple ; he consi­de­red Servius Tullius a usur­per, and took the crown as an here­di­tary right. He exter­mi­na­ted most of the sena­tors ; he no lon­ger consul­ted those who remai­ned, and did not even call them to his judg­ments. His autho­rity grew ; but what was repu­gnant in that autho­rity became even more so : he usur­ped the power of the peo­ple, made laws without them, and even made some against them.10 He would com­bi­ned the three powers in his per­son, but the peo­ple remem­be­red for a moment that it was the legis­la­tor : and Tarquin was no more.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, book II, p. 120, and book IV, p. 242 and 243.

See the discourse of Tanaquil in Livy, book I, decade I, and the statute of Servius Tullius in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, book IV, p. 229.

See Dionysius of Halicarnassus, book II, p. 118, and book III, p. 171.

It was by a senatus consultum that Tullus Hostilius sent to have Alba destroyed : Dionysius of Halicarnassus, book III, p. 167 and 172.

Ibid., book IV, p. 276.

Book III, p. 159.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, book IV.

He renounced half of the royal authority, says Dionysius of Halicarnassus, book IV, p. 229.

It was believed that if he had not been anticipated by Tarquin, he would have established popular government : Dionysius of Halicarnassus, book IV, p. 243.