Tarquin tär´kwĭn [key] [Etruscan,=lord], in Roman tradition, an Etruscan family that ruled Rome. According to the historian Livy, when the rule of the Bacchiadae in Corinth was overthrown (c.657 BC) by the tyrant Cypselus, Demaratus, a Corinthian noble, migrated to Tarquinii, Etruria, where he married into one of the leading Etruscan families and had two sons, Aruns and Lucumo. Lucumo married Tanaquil, a daughter of the Etruscan aristocracy and a prophetess of high repute. At her urging he went to Rome, became a citizen, and took the name
Lucius Tarquinius Priscus. He rose to high position, and on the death of Ancus Martius (c.616 BC) he either seized the Roman throne or was elected to it by a coalition of Etruscan families. Priscus fought successfully against the Sabines and subjugated all Latium to Rome. He is credited with the building of the first Circus Maximus and the Forum. During his reign Etruscan influences appeared in Roman politics, religion, and art. After a reign of 38 years he was assassinated by the sons of Ancus Martius, who were involved in a patrician plot attempting to limit the kingship to a religious role only. Through the influence of Priscus' wife, Tanaquil, the plot was halted and the kingship passed to Servius Tullius, Priscus' son-in-law. After a reign of 44 years, Tullius was murdered by Priscus' son Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud), who thereupon seized the throne. Under his rule Etruscan influence was at its height, and the power of the monarchy was absolute. Despised by the people for his tyranny, he sought to win favor by successful wars but was deposed (510 BC) by the senate. The romantic reason traditionally given for the deposition of Tarquin was the rape of Lucretia (see Lucrece) by his son Sextus Tarquinius. After the subsequent suicide of Lucretia, her husband, Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, and the Brutus family (to which Lucretia belonged) raised a rebellion. Lucius Junius Brutus and Collatinus were elected consuls, and Tarquin fled north and appealed to Etruria to restore him to his throne. An army under Lars Porsena marched against the Romans, and Rome (contrary to Roman historical accounts) was forced to surrender and to yield a large amount of territory. The two sons of Lucius Junius Brutus (see under Brutus), in opposition to the policy of their father, headed a conspiracy within Rome to restore Tarquin, but it failed. Porsena did not restore the Tarquin monarchy, and, although Rome was seriously weakened, Etruscan supremacy there was at an end. While scholars have tended to reject the entire Tarquin legend, some have recently begun to accept a tentative and modified account of the story. The history of the Tarquins was probably distorted by anti-Etruscan propaganda among the Romans, who resented the Etruscan overlords dominant in Rome from the 8th to the 6th cent. BC
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Ancient History, Rome: Biographies