Rex Romae: Blood and Beauty
Atlas Cultura: Rome
This is an Atlas Cultura post — for the full index see here. These meticulously curated guides explore the cultural soul of the great cities of the world. They feature breathtaking paintings, poignant literature, & riveting history, all woven together thematically. To join me on these journeys, you’ll need to be a paying subscriber.
Early Rome was ruled by the King (rex).1 According to the legend we retold last time on Atlas Cultura: Rome, the first King of Rome was Romulus. He is said to have founded the city in 753 BC, and it would remain a kingdom until its last King was overthrown in 509 BC, when the Republic was born.
According to Roman tradition, there are supposed to have been seven Kings in all.2 While we can't know for sure due to the loss of early records,3 the historians Livy and Plutarch wrote thrilling, albeit sometimes unreliable, accounts centuries after the fact. Regardless of their accuracy, the legends of these Kings make for captivating reading and have inspired some exceptional art.
In the story so far, we’ve explored how Rome is descended from both Mars, the God of War, and Venus, the Goddess of Beauty. During the rule of Kings, Rome was marked by both beauty and conflict, almost tearing the city apart before its epic history could truly begin…
Following Romulus’ apotheosis, Rome needed a new King. The Roman and Sabine factions eventually decided on Numa Pompilius. Like all the best leaders (George VI, William Wallace, Aragorn, Jon Snow), Numa did not want to be King, but he was voted in unanimously. His was a peaceful reign: he founded many of the city’s most important religious and political institutions like the calendar, Vestal Virgins,4 the worship of Mars, Jupiter, and Romulus, and the office of Pontifex Maximus.5 His most significant achievement, though, was giving the city its first codified laws, said to have been dictated to him by a nymph, Egeria.