Law and Justice – Roman Republicanism and Political Community – 9.3 The Roman Monarchy
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Law and Justice – Roman Republicanism and Political Community – 9.3 The Roman Monarchy

August 26, 2019


>>>>The Roman Republic was one of the most
influential forms of constitutional organization in all of history, but the Republic was not
simply born in a day. The Republic is the second phase of Roman history, and it’s preceded
by what we called the Roman monarchy, the monarchical period. And this period runs from
the foundation of Rome, which is traditionally placed in 753 BC, down to the establishment
of the monarchy in 509 BC—250 years of history, an ancient past, an archaic period of Roman
history. You’ll recall that 750 BC is around the time that Homer is composing his epic
poems in ancient Greece. It’s the time when the alphabet is imported into the Greek world
from the Phoenician colonies in the Near East. This is a period when Rome is nothing more
than a tiny village. How can we know that Rome is founded in 753 BC? Well, in fact,
this is the date that is established by the Romans themselves, and the Romans have a national
mythology. They believe that their city is founded by its first king, a man named Romulus.
They believe that Romulus himself is a distant descendent from a band of refugees that had
fled from the East, from Troy. And very early on in their history, the Romans come to believe
that they are somehow part of the broader Mediterranean culture that’s told of in the
stories of Homer, whose epics tell of the aftermath of the fall of Troy—they tell
of the story of the siege of Troy in the “Iliad” and the return home of Odysseus in the “Odyssey.”
And the legends that Homer tells of in his epic poems are part of the cycle of myth in
the Mediterranean. And the Romans from very early on want to place themselves and want
to understand themselves in terms of this early Mediterranean mythology, and their earliest
myths have them descended from Aeneas, one of the Trojans who, according to the legends,
fled from Troy and settled in Italy, and his line intermarried with the local Italians
and formed the ancestors of the Roman people. In the 8th century BC, the Romans believed
Romulus, along with his twin brother Remus, was born illegitimately to a Vestal Virgin,
who was raped by the war god Mars. They were exposed and in fact suckled, they were picked
up, adopted, and suckled, by a shewolf. This provides some of the most famous imagery of
of archaic Rome–the image of the shewolf suckling the twin boys, Romulus and Remus.
It also places us firmly in the realm of myth, and it’s revealing that we don’t, in fact,
have firm historical fact about the earliest periods of Roman history. The stories, though,
are themselves revealing about the nature of Roman ideology. The Romans believe that
they’re descended from the Trojans, that they’re part of this broader Mediterranean world,
and in fact it’s true. From the very earliest moments that we can begin to see Roman culture,
they are part of a broader Greek Mediterranean world. The Romans believe that they are descended
from the war god Mars, and indeed they will be a peculiarly martial people. The Romans
believe that their city is founded in the 8th century BC. Rome is some fifteen miles
inland on the Tiber River. It’s situated on a beautiful and indeed strategic spot, historically
founded upon the seven hills of Rome, and the Romans believe that their founder, Romulus,
through some conflict slew his brother Remus and established his sole kingship over this
city. Now it’s in fact possible that changes in settlement happened in the middle of the
8th century BC and gave rise to something like a small city, but it’s important when
you think of the first days of Rome not to imagine the grandeur that you can witness
to this day and the beautiful marble ruins of Rome. No, in the middle of the 8th century,
Rome is a pathetic cow village, maybe a few hundred people. You would never guess that
this city, that this village would come to exercise dominance over the entire Mediterranean
world, that it would conquer the Greeks and that it would become one of the world’s greatest
empires. Our knowledge of this early part of Rome is limited to these sorts of myths
and what we can reconstruct from archaeology. But it’s revealing what the myths have to
tell us about the nature of Roman politics in this period. The Romans believe that they
had seven kings beginning with Romulus, and these kings are themselves associated with
different stories. And the stories themselves are largely mythical, but they provide origin
stories for different Roman institutions like the Senate, which dates back, according to
Roman beliefs, to the very days of Romulus, to the very most ancient days of the city
itself. They provide origins myth for different religious practices of the Romans. One of
the most interesting aspects of the Roman mythology of the kings is that the later kings,
especially the last four kings in Roman mythology, carry Etruscan names. That is, the names are
clearly to be identified with the Etruscans, a civilization that comes to power in what’s
now Tuscany, north of Rome, at least by the 6th century if not the late 7th century BC.
The Etruscans are a historical mystery. They’ve left behind inscriptions and a great deal
of art and archaeology but are otherwise relatively obscure in the historical record, but it’s
clear that Rome in its very earliest days is a village or at most a small town that’s
subject to the power of the Etruscans, who are the clear hegemon in central Italy to
the north of the Romans. And in this period the Etruscans, and to some extent the Romans,
already begin to absorb Greek religion and elements of Greek culture. The Romans live
under the power of a foreign domination, foreign kings. Nevertheless over this time, Rome,
we can tell archaeologically, continues to develop its own coherence and its own identity.
The seventh of these kings, named Tarquin, would be the last, and he would be overthrown
by the Romans when they would establish their republic in an act of revolution that was
not only the overthrow of a king, but was also an act of independence, a declaration
of independence from foreign dominion. We’ll look at the story of the establishment of
the Roman Republic and in particular the account of it that’s given by the greatest of the
Roman historians of the Republic, a man named Livy. Livy is one of the great Republican
theorists, and in fact his history is a great source for the political ideology of republicanism,
and read carefully what Livy has to say about the Roman monarchy. Livy says that the Roman
monarchy, the period of living under kings, was necessary because it fostered family ties
and a love of soil. That’s a profound idea, that the monarchy was necessary to lay the
foundations of the Republic by establishing family feelings and a love of the soil. In
other words, the period of the monarchy consolidated a sentiment of community within the Roman
people—family ties and a love of the soil—so that the Romans came to think of themselves
as a community. Indeed, this was the kind of relationship, the kind of society that
was necessary for a republic to grow because a republic requires this kind of communitarian
spirit, this willingness to sacrifice for other members of your community. And over
the next several lessons, we’ll be exploring what community means for a theory of justice.
What do you owe to other people? But note already here that one of the great theorists
of republicanism believes that the monarchy itself is necessary because it lays the foundations
for these requirements for republicanism: family feelings and love of the soil.

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