Historical details are still too obscure for any definite records of a Roman state which is still half mythical.
But it was under the Roman Kings that the Roman ability to create an empire of sorts first came to the fore, even though any original intentions will hardly have been of an imperial nature.
In all there was said to have been seven kings of Rome covering a period of over two hundred years.
The first king of Rome was the mythical Romulus, the fabled founder, was the first.
To him is attributed the founding, the extension to four of the Roman hill, – the Capitoline, Aventine, Caelian and Quirinal -, and the infamous rape of the Sabine women.
The second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, owing to the influence of his adviser, the nymph and prophetess Egeria, enjoyed a peaceful reign.
The third king, however, Tullius Hositilius, was responsible for the destruction of Alba Longa and the removal of its inhabitants to Rome.
With the literal destruction of this opponent they took over the sacred festivals of Latium and all the regional prestige and status that came with it.
The fourth king, Ancus Marcius, extended the city further, built the first bridge across the Tiber and founded Ostia at the mouth of that river to serve Rome as a seaport.- All evidence of the city’s increasing power.
The fifth king, Tarquinius Priscus, was an Etruscan, though how he secured his kingship is unknown. He continued the work of conquest, but found time to build the first sewer, the Cloaca Maxima, laid out the Circus Maximus, and began to erect on the Capitoline Hill a great temple to Jupiter.
The sixth king, Servius Tullius, was a celebrated monarch of great achievements. He made the division of the people into tribes and classes, thus setting up a constitution in which wealth was the dominant consideration. Also he is said to have enlarged the city by building a wall around it, five miles in circumference with nineteen gates, embracing all the seven hills of Rome. He transferred the regional festival of Diana from Aricia to the Aventine Hill of Rome. Shortly afterwards a massive temple of ca. 60 metres length and 50 width (begun by Tarquinius Priscus) was dedicated on the Capitoline Hill to Jupiter.
The seventh king, Tarquinius Superbus, was Rome’s last. He continued with great vigour the work of extending the power of the city, and the founding of colonies by him was the beginning of Rome’s path to supremacy of the world. But on other matters Tarquinius was less politically astute. He irritated the people by the burdens he placed upon them. And when his son Sextus outraged Lucretia, the wife of a prominent Roman, Tarquinius was exiled, the lead being taken by a rich citizen named Brutus, whose father’s property he had seized.
It is whilst the Kings rules Rome that the roots of the the later Roman constitution were laid down.
The King was appointed by the senate, an advisory body of patricians.
The King’s rule was a total one. He possessed the right of capital punishment, was responsibility for foreign relations and war, for public security, public works, justice and proper maintenance of religion.
It was these Roman Kings whose symbols which later too in imperial Rome were still born for the emperor which introduced the fasces as a symbol of their power (an axe, tied in the centre of a bundle of rods).
Society was organized in a patriarchal way. The heads of this society, the Patricians (derived from pater for father), stood each at the fore of a group of clients, an extended body of hereditary hangers-on. The clients depended on their patrician family for patronage and economic support. In return they gave their labour and, if necessary, their military service.
Their was a sharp difference made between the patricians and the clients on the one side and the plebeians (or plebs), the common people, on the other.
The overall community was divided into three tribes. Each tribe was responsible for providing 1000 men of infantry and 100 cavalry in times of war (which was frequent!). Further each tribe was divided into 10 curiae. The representatives of this curiae met with the King to discuss matters of national importance. However, their role was purely advisory. The power lay with the King.
Servius Tullius is credited with reforming the army, to whom he also granted the status of a political assembly in its own right, the comitia centuriata.
Rome under the Kings is a far cry from primitive peasants living in huts.
Craftsmen plied their trades in the cities, organized by guilds, since the very first King of Rome, Numa Pompilius.
However, contrary to the Greeks, this early Roman society did not use money. Far more they bartered – salt for pottery, grain for wood, etc… Where the system proved in adequate the Romans expressed value in for of ‘heads of cattle’. One such head of cattle was worth ten sheep. The head of cattle (pecus)became the first Roman monetary unit. From this came the first Latin word for money – pecunia. A primitive monetary system evolved based on ingots of raw copper of the Roman pound (libra) of 327 g.
Such an ingot could then be broken up into yet different sizes and values.
King Servius was the first to have a stamp put onto the copper, until then it was just the raw metal. The design to have been used supposedly was either an ox or sheep.
It was from the Etruscans the Roman learned their later famed ability in engineering and architecture. Most significantly it was from the Etruscans that they learned to use the arch to bridge space. A feature not used by the Greeks.
The great temple to Jupiter was planned by Tarquinus Priscus, but it was his grandson Tarquinus Superbus who accomplished the edifice.
It was a project of some magnitude for the Rome of its day and it involved forcing the plebs into labour in great numbers. Craftsmen being called upon from Etruria as well as Latium. Many Roman craftsmen being forced from their private businesses to contribute for the public good.
During the era of the Kings also the sewers were begun to be built. Some reportedly ‘large enough to drive a loaded hay-waggon to pass through’. Though this cloaca maxima (great sewer) was originally an open ditch, simply designed to drain the water from the valleys between the hills of Rome.
The fall of the kings appears to be largely due to a gradual development toward democratic rule, much like in Greece, rather than to a singular event. Also the growing use of forced labour made Tarquinus Superbus increasingly unpopular. In any case a band of nobles, led by Lucius Iunius, later called Brutus, conspired against the King and overthrew him.
It is well possible that this revolt was part of a larger rebellion by several Latin cities (Antium, Aricia and Tusculum) against a foreign Etruscan King. However, Tarquinus was not killed in the revolt and escaped to the Etruscans, on whose help he naturally could count. One Etruscan chief, known as Porsena, occupied Rome for some time. But Porsena having narrowly survived an assassination attempt was sufficiently unnerved to withdraw his garrison, taking hostages.
Rome for some time lay under the continued threat of Etruscan intervention. But the days of Etruscan dominance were over. Rome had won its independence.