Tullia (fl. 535 BCE)

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Tullia (fl. 535 bce)

Infamous queen of Rome. Flourished around 535 bce; daughter of Servius Tullius (578–535 bce), the sixth king of Rome; married Tarquinius Superbus, the Etruscan king; children: Sextus Tarquinius (Tarquin); and others.

A byword for female villainy throughout Roman history, Tullia was a daughter of Servius Tullius, the sixth king of Rome. With her sister, also named Tullia, she was delivered in marriage as a sort of consolation gift to Lucius and Arruns, sons of Tarquin and Tanaquil , after these sons were denied inheritance to the throne in favor of Servius Tullius. The first Tullia married Arruns, who was apparently more or less content with his unkingly lot, while her sister, said to be gentle and subservient, married Lucius. Impatient with her unambitious husband, the first Tullia approached her brother-in-law Lucius with a proposal: they should both kill their spouses and then themselves marry, the better to work together to achieve power. Lucius agreed, and the murders were done. Later, with the halfhearted agreement, if not blessing, of Servius Tullius (who did not know the true culprits in the deaths of his daughter and son-in-law), Lucius and the remaining Tullia were married.

Together, Roman chroniclers claim, they conspired to dispossess her father and seize the crown. In the struggle, Servius Tullius was killed, and Tullia, on her triumphant progress through Rome to greet her husband as king, drove over her father's dead body as it lay unburied in the street. The charioteer had hesitated at the sight of the corpse of the old man and would have negotiated his steeds around it, but Tullia told him, "Drive on!" The blood of her murdered parent stained her chariot wheels. Some five centuries later, according to Livy, that street was still known as "The Street of the Crime."

With her husband now king as Tarquinius Superbus, Tullia went on to gain an evil reputation among the citizens of Rome, both for the murder of her father and for (of course) the wanton lifestyle ascribed to her. The positions of power they had gained so bloodily would not last, however, for some years later, we are told, their son Sextus Tarquinius, accustomed, as son and heir of the king, to taking whatever he wanted, raped the noble Roman matron Lucretia . As legend has it, her sense of honor drove her to kill herself after first informing her husband and father of the reason why, and these events proved to be the downfall for Tullia and her family. Rome rose up and overthrew Tarquinius Super-bus, who with Tullia fled for safety to Etruria. (Their son fled too, but was later murdered.) So filled with contempt and disgust at the corrupt Etruscan dynasty were the Romans that they abolished the monarchy forever, leading to the establishment of the Roman Republic.