Roman Kingdom

The Roman Kingdom was the period of the ancient Roman civilization characterized by a monarchical form of government of the city of Rome and its territories. Little is certain about the history of the Roman Kingdom, as nearly no written records from that time survive, and the histories about it were written during the Republic and Empire and are largely based on legend. However, the history of the Roman Kingdom began with the city's founding, traditionally dated to 753 BC with settlements around the Palatine Hill along the river Tiber in Central Italy, and ended with the overthrow of the kings and the establishment of the Republic in about 509 BC.


The site of the founding of the Roman Kingdom and eventual Republic and Empire had a ford where the Tiber could be crossed. The Palatine Hill and hills surrounding it presented easily defensible positions in the wide fertile plain surrounding them. All of these features contributed to the success of the city.

The traditional account of Roman history, which has come down to us through Livy, Plutarch, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and others, is that in Rome's first centuries it was ruled by a succession of seven kings. The traditional chronology, as codified by Varro, allots 243 years for their reigns, an average of almost 35 years, which, since the work of Barthold Georg Niebuhr, has been generally discounted by modern scholarship. The Gauls destroyed much of Rome's historical records when they sacked the city after the Battle of the Allia in 390 BC (Varronian, according to Polybius the battle occurred in 387/6) and what was left was eventually lost to time or theft. With no contemporary records of the kingdom existing, all accounts of the kings must be carefully questioned.


The Constitution

The Constitution of the Roman Kingdom was an unwritten set of guidelines and principles originating mainly through precedent. During the years of the Roman Kingdom, the constitutional arrangement was centered around the king, who had the power to appoint assistants, and delegate to them their specific powers.

The Roman Senate, which was dominated by the aristocracy, served as the advisory council to the king. Often, the king asked the Senate to vote on various matters, but he was free to ignore any advice they gave him. The king could also request a vote on various matters by the popular assembly (the "Curiate Assembly"), which he was also free to ignore.

The popular assembly functioned as a vehicle through which the People of Rome could express their opinions. In it, the people were organized according to their respective curiae. However, the popular assembly did have other functions. For example, it was a forum used by citizens to hear announcements. It could also serve as a trial court for both civil and criminal matters.

Executive Magistrates

The executive magistrates of the Roman Kingdom were elected officials of the ancient Roman Kingdom. During the period of the Roman Kingdom, the Roman King was the principal executive magistrate. His power, in practice, was absolute. He was the chief executive, chief priest, chief lawgiver, chief judge, and the sole commander-in-chief of the army. He had the sole power to select his own assistants, and to grant them their powers.

Unlike most other ancient monarchs, his powers rested on law and legal precedent, through a type of statutory authorization known as "Imperium" (Latin: "Command"). He could only receive these powers through the political process of a democratic election, and could theoretically be removed from office. As such, he could not pass his powers to an heir upon his death, and he typically received no divine honors or recognitions. When the king died, his power reverted to the Roman Senate, which then chose an Interrex to facilitate the election of a new king. The new king was then formally elected by the People of Rome, and, upon the acquiescence of the Roman Senate, he was granted his Imperium by the people through the popular assembly.

Roman Kings

The King of Rome was the chief magistrate of the Roman Kingdom. According to legend, the first king of Rome was Romulus, who founded the city in 753 BC upon the Palatine Hill. Seven legendary kings are said to have ruled Rome until 509 BC, when the last king was overthrown. These kings ruled for an average of 35 years. Since Rome's records were destroyed in 390 BC when the city was sacked, it is impossible to know for certain how many kings actually ruled the city, or if any of the deeds attributed to the individual kings, by later writers, are accurate.

Roman Kings

Chief Executive

The king was invested with the supreme military, executive, and judicial authority through the use of imperium. The imperium of the king was held for life and protected him from ever being brought to trial for his actions. As being the sole owner of imperium in Rome at the time, the king possessed ultimate executive power and unchecked military authority as the commander-in-chief of all Rome's legions. Also, the laws that kept citizens safe from magistrates' misuse of imperium did not exist during the monarchical period.

Another power of the king was the power to either appoint or nominate all officials to offices. The king would appoint a tribunus celerum to serve as both the tribune of Ramnes tribe in Rome and as the commander of the king's personal bodyguard, the Celeres. The king was required to appoint the tribune upon entering office and the tribune left office upon the king's death. The tribune was second in rank to the king and also possessed the power to convene the Curiate Assembly and lay legislation before it.

Another officer appointed by the king was the praefectus urbi, who acted as the warden of the city. When the king was absent from the city, the prefect held all of the king's powers and abilities, even to the point of being bestowed with imperium while inside the city.

The king even received the right to be the sole person to appoint patricians to the Senate.

Chief Priest

What is known for certain is that the king alone possessed the right to the auspice on behalf of Rome as its chief augur, and no public business could be performed without the will of the gods made known through auspices. The people knew the king as a mediator between them and the gods (cf. Latin pontifex, "bridge-builder", in this sense, between men and the gods) and thus viewed the king with religious awe. This made the king the head of the national religion and its chief executive. Having the power to control the Roman calendar, he conducted all religious ceremonies and appointed lower religious offices and officers. It is said that Romulus himself instituted the augurs and was believed to have been the best augur of all. Likewise, King Numa Pompilius instituted the pontiffs and through them developed the foundations of the religious dogma of Rome.

Chief Legislator

Under the kings, the Senate and Curiate Assembly had very little power and authority; they were not independent bodies in that they didn't possess the right to meet together and discuss questions of state at their own will. They could only be called together by the king and could only discuss the matters the king laid before them. While the Curiate Assembly did have the power to pass laws that had been submitted by the king, the Senate was effectively an honorary council. It could advise the king on his action but by no means could prevent him from acting. The only thing that the king could not do without the approval of the Senate and Curiate Assembly was to declare war against a foreign nation.

Chief Judge

The king's imperium granted him both military powers as well as qualified him to pronounce legal judgment in all cases as the chief justice of Rome. Though he could assign pontiffs to act as minor judges in some cases, he had supreme authority in all cases brought before him, both civil and criminal. This made the king supreme in times of both war and peace. While some writers believed there was no appeal from the king's decisions, others believed that a proposal for appeal could be brought before the king by any patrician during a meeting of the Curiate Assembly.

To assist the king, a council advised the king during all trials, but this council had no power to control the king's decisions. Also, two criminal detectives (Quaestores Parridici) were appointed by him as well as a two man criminal court (Duumviri Perduellionis) which oversaw for cases of treason. According to Livy, Tarquinius Superbus, the seventh and final king of Rome, judged capital criminal cases without the advice of counsellors, thereby creating fear amongst those who might think to oppose him.

Election of the Kings

Whenever a king died, Rome entered a period of interregnum. Supreme power of the state would devolve to the Senate, which was responsible for finding a new king. The Senate would assemble and appoint one of its own members - the interrex - to serve for a period of five days with the sole purpose of nominating the next king of Rome. After the five-day period, the interrex would appoint (with the Senate's consent) another Senator for another five-day term. This process would continue until a new king was elected. Once the interrex found a suitable nominee to the kingship, he would bring the nominee before the Senate and the Senate would review him. If the Senate passed the nominee, the interrex would convene the Curiate Assembly and preside over it during the election of the King.

Once proposed to the Curiate Assembly, the people of Rome could either accept or reject him. If accepted, the king-elect did not immediately enter office. Two other acts still had to take place before he was invested with the full regal authority and power.

First, it was necessary to obtain the divine will of the gods respecting his appointment by means of the auspices, since the king would serve as high priest of Rome. This ceremony was performed by an augur, who conducted the king-elect to the citadel where he was placed on a stone seat as the people waited below. If found worthy of the kingship, the augur announced that the gods had given favorable tokens, thus confirming the king’s priestly character.

The second act which had to be performed was the conferral of the imperium upon the king. The Curiate Assembly’s previous vote only determined who was to be king, and had not by that act bestowed the necessary power of the king upon him. Accordingly, the king himself proposed to the Curiate Assembly a law granting him imperium, and the Curiate Assembly by voting in favor of the law would grant it.

In theory, the people of Rome elected their leader, but the Senate had most of the control over the process.


The Senate of the Roman Kingdom was a political institution in the ancient Roman Kingdom. The word senate derives from the Latin word senex, which means "old man". Therefore, senate literally means "board of old men" and translates as "Council of Elders." The prehistoric Indo-Europeans who settled Rome in the centuries before the legendary founding of Rome in 753 BC were structured into tribal communities. These tribal communities often included an aristocratic board of tribal elders, who were vested with supreme authority over their tribe. The early tribes that had settled along the banks of the Tiber eventually aggregated into a loose confederation, and eventually formed an alliance for protection against invaders.

The early Romans were deeply patriarchal. The early Roman family was called a gens or "clan". Each clan was an aggregation of families under a common living male patriarch, called a pater (the Latin word for "father"). The pater was the undisputed master of his clan. He had the absolute power to resolve any disputes, and to make any decisions for the collective gens. When the early Roman gens were aggregating to form a common community, the patres from the leading clans were selected for the confederated board of elders (what would become the Roman Senate).

Legend states that the senate grew to a membership of 300 after three blocks of 100 senators were added at fixed points in time. What likely happened, however, was a gradual aggregation of patres over time, as more clans achieved high status.

The early senate derived its ultimate sovereignty from the fact that it was composed of the patriarchal heads of the leading families. As the individual patres led their families, the board of patres led the confederation of those families. In time, the patres came to recognize the need for a single leader. Therefore, they elected a king (rex), and vested in him their sovereign power. The king presided over the senate, appointed individuals to the senate (for life), and expelled individuals from the senate. When the king died, his sovereign power naturally reverted back to the patres.

Public Offices after the Monarchy

To replace the leadership of the kings, a new office was created with the title of consul. Initially, the consuls possessed all of the king’s powers in the form of two men, elected for a one-year term, who could veto each others actions. Later, the consuls’ powers were broken down further by adding other magistrates that each held a small portion of the king’s original powers. First among these was the praetor, which removed the consuls’ judicial authority from them. Next came the censor, which stripped from the consuls the power to conduct the census.

The Romans instituted the idea of a dictatorship. A dictator would have complete authority over civil and military matters within the Roman Empire, and was not legally responsible for his actions as a dictator and therefore was unquestionable. However, the power of the dictator was so absolute that Ancient Romans were hesitant in electing one, reserving this decision only to times of severe emergencies. Although this seems similar to the roles of a king, dictators of Rome were limited to serving a maximum six-month term limit. Contrary to the modern notion of a dictator as an usurper, Roman Dictators were freely chosen, usually from the ranks of consuls, during turbulent periods when one-man rule proved more efficient.

The king's religious powers were given to two new offices: the Rex Sacrorum and the Pontifex Maximus. The Rex Sacrorum was the de jure highest religious official for the Republic. His sole task was to make the annual sacrifice to Jupiter, a privilege that had been previously reserved for the king. The pontifex maximus, however, was the de facto highest religious official, who held most of the king’s religious authority. He had the power to appoint all vestal virgins, flamens, pontiffs, and even the Rex Sacrorum himself. By the beginning of the 1st Century BC, the Rex Sacrorum was all but forgotten and the pontifex maximus given almost complete religious authority over the Roman religion.