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Tarquinius Priscus came from the Etruscan city of Tarquinii and was actually named Lucumo. He was very rich and had settled in Rome with his wife Tanaquil. He had emigrated because he was forbidden to enter the political offices of his own city. The reason for this lay in the origin of his father Demaratus, who came from the Greek city of Corinth. On his arrival in the city in a chariot an eagle took his cap to the Janiculum and set it there. He interpreted this as an omen, once he became king.
In Rome he attained great respect through generosity and skill. King Ancus Marcius himself noticed him and adopted him as his son, also appointing him guardian of his other sons. After the death of Ancus Marcius, Tarquinius Priscus was able to convince the People's Assembly that he should be elected king over Marcius' natural sons.
His military ability was immediately tested by an attack from the Sabines. The attack was defeated after dangerous street fighting in Rome, and he then further subjugated the Etruscans. Thus the cities Corniculum , Firulea , Cameria , Crustumerium , Americola , Medullia and Nomentum became Roman. After each of his wars, which were always extremely successful, he brought rich plunder to Rome. He doubled the size of the Centuriate Assembly to 1800 people, and added another hundred men to the Senate from the ranks of the lower classes. Among them was the family of the Octavii .
He also concerned himself further with state festivals and with the expansion of the state. At first he erected the Circus Maximus as a separate building for horse racing. Previously the spectators watched the races between the Aventine and Palatine hills sitting on wooden platforms at best. From then on large games were regularly organized there.
After a great flood the damp lowlands of Rome through canals were drained and changes in order to create a site for the Forum Romanum. He also built the great sewers (cloacae). As his last great act he began the construction of a temple in honour of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline, the costs of which was defrayed by the plunder seized from the Latins and Sabines. Many of the Roman symbols both of war and of civil office are assigned to his reign, and he was the first to celebrate a Roman triumph, after the Etruscan fashion, in a robe of purple and gold, and borne on a chariot drawn by four horses.
Meanwhile the now adult sons of his predecessor Ancus Marcius were in addition of the opinion that the throne should fall to them. Thus they allowed Tarquinius Priscus to be assassinated between two buildings with an axe after 38 years of reign. Thanks to the intelligent foresight of the queen Tanaquil however, the assassins were not chosen, but rather Tarquinius' son-in-law Servius Tullius was elected as his successor.
- Livy, 1.34-41
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