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World Chronology, Lesson 17. The Roman Republic (509 – 31 BC)

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Since studying the life of Homer and the beginning of the Classical World, we have focused on the history of Israel as its kingdom was lost to the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities and then restored by the Persian king Cyrus in 536 BC. In this lesson, we will back up a bit and revisit the city of Rome, which we learned was founded by Romulus and Remus in 753 BC.

The Seven Kings of Rome

According to the Roman historians, Romulus was the first king of Rome. We should not think of this as any great kingdom, though. It was but a city and a new one at that. Our first question should be: Where did the citizens of Rome come from? After all, Romulus could not be called a king unless he had a people to rule over. Who were the Romans?

Upon founding the city, Romulus began building the city on the Palatine Hill, in the center of Rome. To fill his city with people he admitted anyone from other countries and cities who wished to join him–whether they be criminals, slaves, whatever–they would have a chance for a fresh start in Rome. Many men came, but not many women. Therefore, Romulus tried to make arrangements with Rome’s neighbors, the Sabines, to provide wives for his men and mothers for the new city. However, like most ancient societies, they did not support the idea of inter-marriage. Having exhausted his efforts to find wives peacefully, he organized a fake festival and stole them. Obviously, the Romans and Sabines went to war, but eventually peace was established between them, the women stayed put and the Sabines were added to the Roman population. Romulus and Titus Tatius, the Sabine king, shared power in the new city until the latter died. Thus, the kingdom of Rome was born.

After the death of Romulus, it took some time for the Romans to find a new ruler. Fortunately, a Senate had been created by Romulus consisting of 100 men. These 100 men are very important for us because their families, throughout the rest of Roman history were known as the “patricians”, and they always enjoyed high status in Rome. The rest of the Romans were either common and free people (plebeians) or slaves. This will all become more important later.

The man chosen to replace Romulus was Numa Pompilius. Numa was very different from Romulus. Whereas Romulus was a violent, crafty man, Numa was a religious man–peaceful and just. Rome enjoyed peace with its neighbors at this time, which raises an important question: Do times of war lead to times of peace? Or, do religious rulers provide their people with peace? Maybe both.

The peaceful reign of Numa was followed by the violence of Tullius Hostilius. Rome’s third ancient king warred against Alba Longa (the city Romulus and Remus were from) and was famously careless when it came to religion. According to Livy, the Roman historian, this king was killed by the god Jupiter for failing to perform a religious ritual correctly when he was suffering from bad health. Looks like it pays to be careful with religion!

As the Romans chose a religious king after Romulus, they did the same in choosing Tullius Hostilius’s successor. Ancus Marcius was Numa’s grandson and shared his devotion to piety and peace. It is worth noting that both Numa and Ancus Marcius were Sabines, while Romulus and Tullius Hostilius would be considered true Romans. We should note carefully the differences in their ideas of government and what matters most to the state. Romulus and Tullius were concerned with growth and material gain. Numa and Ancus were concerned with the spiritual life of the people and preferred to take care of their own needs rather than add lands to their kingdom.

By now can you guess what sort of king followed Ancus Marcius? After the time of peace, the Romans chose another warlike king, Tarquinius Priscus. This fifth king warred with surrounding peoples and, as would be expected, brought great material riches to the Romans. During his reign, Rome began to grow greatly in size and in culture as a state rather than a mere city. Many of the great Roman traditions developed during the time of Tarquinius Priscus, including the development of what would later be the center of the great city, the Roman Forum, the introduction of the Roman triumphal ceremony for victorious generals and the construction of the Stadium for games. Once again, the city grew through war and conquest.

Unfortunately, power did not return to the peacemakers after the death of Tarquinius Priscus. Servius Tullius followed his father-in-law as king and continued the same plan of war and growth for Rome. Servius Tullius built the walls of Rome to protect the city from foreign attack and helped to establish the worship of the goddess Diana in the city. Unfortunately, his time was cut short by a murder plot led by his own daughter and her husband, who would be the next and most famous Roman king.

The seventh king of Rome was Tarquinius Superbus, which means “Tarquin the Proud”. Obviously that was a name given to him by Roman historians and not one he used himself. We must understand two important things as we continue in the study of the Roman kings. First, ever since the reign of Tarquinius Priscus, a single family ruled Rome–the Tarquins. Second, the kings now ruling Rome are not ruling the small and crawling new city that Romulus founded. These kings are ruling over a city growing rapidly in wealth and power, with a strong army. The power of the king of Rome at this time has become great and it is in the hands of a single family.

Tarquinius Superbus ruled as all evil kings do, treating his subjects not as sheep to be cared for and served, but as slaves to serve his own will and pleasure. He ruled his people and his neighbors with violence and terror, all of which led to one of the most famous events in Roman history, that changed the city forever.

Sextus Tarquinius, the king’s son, was visiting with a noble family outside of Rome. Rather than showing gratitude for the hospitality he received, he tried to steal the man’s wife and ultimately raped her. The story would be bad enough if we stopped there, but the woman in the story is the most important part.

Lucretia was famous for her beauty, but more importantly for her virtue. Her husband, Lucius Collatinus, was widely praised for his most excellent wife. It was this woman that the king’s son dishonored and the trouble did not end there. After the attack, Lucretia felt that her honor was lost and told her father of the event. Unable to bear the pain any longer, Lucretia drew a dagger and stabbed herself. The event caused all of Rome to lament–except the king’s family of course–and this was the last outrage that the people would allow from the king and his evil family. Lucretia’s husband Lucius Collatinus and her relative Lucius Junius Brutus gathered the Roman Senate and the people of Rome to end the rule of the Tarquins–and the kingship itself–in Rome. In 509 BC, the Tarquins were cast out of Rome and the rule of the Roman kings was brought to an end.

The Roman Republic

Once the rule of the Tarquins had ended, the Senate and people of Rome organized a new government in the form of a Republic. Never again would kings rule in Rome and use their power to enslave the people. The people would be ruled by the people and for the people. In place of a king, the citizens of Rome elected not one, but two leaders, to rule–and that for only one year! These rulers were called Consuls and the first consuls chosen to rule the Roman Republic were: Lucius Collatinus, Lucretia’s husband, and Lucius Junius Brutus, the leaders of the revolution.

Less than 10 years after the Republic began, another government office was created–and one that might seem strange for the Roman Republic. The Romans allowed that a man might be elected Dictator, or “commander” of the people in time of trouble. For example, if an enemy was invading Rome and the city was in great danger, all power to rule could be given to one man to deal with the danger. The difference between a dictator and a king, was that the dictator was only allowed to hold this special power for six months. It was an office only to be used in time of great danger.

If you remember, we mentioned two classes of Romans earlier and said they would be important later. The families that descended from the original senators in Rome became known as the Patricians and formed the wealthy and powerful class in Rome. On the other side were slaves, who were bought and sold like animals and had no power at all–not even to vote. Between the slaves and patricians were the free Roman citizens who owned land, called Plebeians. Originally, the plebeians were much weaker than the patricians, but as Rome grew, there were far more plebeians that patricians and numbers are power in a state that votes. Therefore, it was not long before the plebeians began to demand that they should be able to elect their own leaders to make sure that not only the patricians had their way in government. The leaders were called Tribunes and they represented the people before the Senate. By this system, the patricians were always represented by the Senate, and the plebeians were always represented by the tribunes. One group could not pass laws or make important decisions without the approval of the other group. Fairness in government was established and the two groups lived in peace with each other. When a government is arranged so that one group has the power to stop another group, we call this a system of Checks and Balances. The Roman Republic set an excellent example of justice in the ancient world by their development of effective checks and balances of power.

Many other offices were created as Rome grew over time, but what is most important is to see that the Romans became a people who hated the idea of being ruled by a king. Their history taught them a clear lesson and they needed no further proof that the people would never be safe when power fell into the hands of one man. The people would rule themselves through voting with liberty and justice for all. This is the heart and soul of the Roman Republic.

Forms of Government

It might be helpful to define some of the basic forms of government we see throughout history. As you study, consider the good and bad of each of them.

Monarchy is a government ruled by a single king. The word monarchy comes from the Greek words monos (one) and archos (ruler). Thus, ancient Egypt, Israel, Assyria, Babylon and Rome were monarchies.

An Aristocracy is a government ruled by the upper class of citizens in a state. The Greek word aristos means “the best” and kratein which means “to rule”. Anytime we learn of a state ruled by certain families or people of a certain class, we have an aristocracy and those who rule are called aristocrats.

Republic is a government in which people rule themselves through representatives. The word “republic” comes from the Latin phrase res publica which means “public affairs”, or more perfectly, “affairs of the people”. The people vote to elect their leaders and those leaders make decisions for the people who voted for them. A Republic usually has a Senate made up of elected leaders that makes laws, judges, and so on.

Democracy is a government in which people rule themselves by voting on issues directly. The word democracy comes from the Greek word demos (people) and kratein (to rule). The people do not vote to elect their leaders but vote on the issues themselves without representatives. A democracy may have assemblies organized to take care of different tasks, but the power is directly in the hands of the people.

We will leave our study of governments there for now. We’ll have plenty more to talk about in future lessons.


In this lesson, we returned to study the city of Rome since leaving it in 753 BC. We learned that the city was ruled by seven kings for 244 years, until greed and violence crept in among the ruling family, the Tarquins. We learned that poor Lucretia was moved to kill herself because of the disgrace she suffered and how her death served as a call to arms for the people of Rome. Led by Lucretia’s husband and Lucius Junius Brutus, the Senate and Roman people threw off the Tarquins and established the world’s first Republic.

The Roman Republic will continue to grow for the next 500 years and we will come back to it and see how things are developing in a few lessons. In our next lesson, we will return to Greece and learn what has taken place since Homer wrote his famous poems in 750 BC. We have now seen the beginnings of human history, the beginnings of Israel, the beginnings of Greece and the beginnings of Rome. Can you tell the story thus far?

Memory Work

Directions: Read each date and event and recite it several times. By daily repetition, thoroughly memorize these events. Memorize them using your complete chart so that you can “see” the chart in your mind.

  • 4000 BC – 750 BC  Ancient World
  • 4000 BC  Creation of the World
  • 3500 BC   Ancient Sumeria Begins
  • 3000 BC   Ancient Egypt Begins
  • 2950 BC – 2000 BC Life of Noah
  • 2000 BC – 1780 BC  Life of Abraham
  • 1450 BC – 1410 BC  Hebrew Exodus
  • 1200 BC   Trojan War
  • 1000 BC – 960 BC  Life of King David
  • circa 960 BC  The Temple of Solomon
  • 753 BC  City of Rome Founded
  • 750 BC Homer Writes the Iliad & Odyssey
  • 750 BC –  500 AD  Classical World
  • 722 BC  Assyrian Captivity
  • 586 BC  Babylonian Captivity
  • 600 BC – 535 BC  The Prophet Daniel in Babylon
  • 530-450 BC  Esdras the Scribe
  • 509-31 BC  The Roman Republic 
  • 500 AD – 1500 AD  Medieval World
  • 1500 AD – Present  Modern World

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