Servius Tullius

The 6th King of Rome

Woodcut illustration of Tullia driving over the body of her husband, Servius Tullius

POP / Flickr / CC

During the legendary period, when kings ruled Rome, the future sixth king was born in Rome. He was Servius Tullius, the son of a leading man from the Latin town of Corniculum, or perhaps King Tarquinius Priscus, the first Etruscan king of Rome, or more wishfully than likely, the god Vulcan/Hephaestus.

Before Servius Tullius was born, Tarquinius Priscus seized Corniculum. According to Livy (59 B.C. - A.D. 17), the Etruscan-born queen of Rome, Tanaquil, took the pregnant captive mother (Ocrisia) into the Tarquin household where her son would be raised. Tanaquil was well-versed in Etruscan divination practices which led her to interpret omens about Servius Tullius very favorably. An alternative tradition, attested by ​Emperor Claudius, makes Servius Tullius an Etruscan.

Women taken in ancient battles were generally enslaved, so Servius Tullius was taken by some to be the son of an enslaved woman, although Livy is at pains to explain that his mother did not act as a servant, which is also why he stresses that the Latin father of Servius Tullius was a leader of his community. Later, Mithradates was to mock the Romans who had an enslaved man as king. The name Servius may refer to his servile status.

Servius Tullius succeeded Tarquin as king of Rome (r. 578-535) in some unclear illegal manner. As king, he did many things to improve the city, including enlarging it and building monuments. He also took the first census, re-ordered the military, and fought against neighboring Italic communities. T. J. Cornell says he is sometimes called the second founder of Rome.

He was murdered by Tarquinius Superbus or his ambitious wife, Tullia, Servius Tullius' daughter.

Servius Tullius Reforms

Servius Tullius is credited with making constitutional reforms and performing a census, increasing the number of tribes, and adding many people to the category of those eligible to participate in the voting assemblies.

Servian Military Reforms

The Servian reform of the citizen body affected the military as well since Servius added a number of new bodies to the count. Servius divided the men into centuries, which were military units. The familiar centurion figure in the Roman legions is associated with these centuries. He divided the centuries into older and younger divisions so that there would be about half the number of men to stay and guard the home front while the other half went off to fight the almost incessant Roman wars.

The Roman Tribes

We don't know whether Servius Tullius created more than the four urban tribes, but his re-alignment of the citizens into geographic rather than family-based units led to the creation of 35 tribes. The tribes voted in the tribal assembly. After the number 35 was set as the final figure, new citizens were added to those groups, and the geographic character of the affiliation was diminished. Some tribes became relatively more crowded which meant that individuals' votes counted for proportionately less since only the vote of the group counted.

The Servian Wall

Servius Tullius is credited with enlarging the city of Rome, and building the Servian Wall connecting the Palatine, Quirinal, Coelian, and Aventine hills, and the Janiculum. He is credited with building the Temple of Diana on the Aventine (Diana Aventinensis) to serve as a center for the cult of Diana for the Latin League. Sacrifices for the Secular Games were made to Diana Aventinensis. Archaeologists believe the walls and temple were built somewhat later. Servius Tullius also associated with the goddess Fortuna to whom he built several shrines, including the one on the Forum Boarium.

Comitia Centuriata

Servius put in place the Comitia Centuriata, the voting assembly based on the division of the people of Rome into centuries based on their economic class.

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Gill, N.S. "Servius Tullius." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Gill, N.S. (2021, February 16). Servius Tullius. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Servius Tullius." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2023).