Tullus Hostilius
(c. 700 BC - 641 BC; r. 673 BC - 641 BC)

From the beginning of time to the present day, people have always respected strength and success on the battlefield. Martial prowess is something that is fairly easy to define and recognize, but achieving it is another matter altogether. It's also a truism that leaders throughout history have frequently attempted to use military pursuits to engender support from their citizenry. This is a dangerous endeavor, not just because of the obvious risk of the loss of life for the soldiers sent to fight these wars, but a poorly thought out war can also undermine the power and/or legacy of the ruler. Napoleon Bonaparte, for example, overgrasped in both 1812 and 1815 and as a result ended his life as an exile on a miserable island in the middle of nowhere. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Alexander the Great was wildly successful at waging war and conquering new lands, but he unfortunately was not good at much else; he failed to leave a functioning infrastructure in place by the time of his early death, resulting in the almost immediate collapse and fracturing of his hard-won empire.

The story of Tullus Hostilius, the third King of Rome, falls somewhere between these two examples. He is traditionally said to have succeeded the popular and peace-loving Numa Pompilius in 673 BC. History records absolutely nothing about Tullus before his ascension. The only things we know about his origins come from Livy's statements that he was the grandson of a certain Hostus Hostilius and that he was filled with "youthful energy." Hostus was a general who served under the first Roman king Romulus in his campaign against the Sabines and that he was killed in that battle, which took place around 752 BC. We can suppose that Hostus was a bit older than Romulus and that a period of about 50 years separated his death from his grandon's birth, which would allow Livy to consider Tullus "youthful" when he became king sometime in his mid-to-late 20s.

As with Numa, the historical record does not indicate exactly what qualified Tullus to be a king. Livy says that he was chosen by popular acclaim and then confirmed by the Senate, so it's certain that he was prominent in Rome at the time. This would make sense given his descent from a famous war hero, although this would suggest that Tullus' father was probably deceased by this time, since he would have had a stronger claim to the kingship than his son and he is not mentioned as a potential candidate. Regardless of the exact circumstances of his rise to power, Tullus was the polar opposite of Numa, who is said to have kept Rome at peace for over 40 years. While Numa was an extremely devout man who often spoke of terrifying personal visitations from the gods, Tullus disregarded his predecessor's piety and made military conquest the chief aim of his reign.

The opportunity presented itself fairly early on as a result of a border skirmish between Rome and Alba Longa, the city from which Rome had originally broken off. When a settlement could not be reached, the Alban king Cluilius invaded Roman territory but died before any actual battle could begin. I think it's a safe assumption that he was likely assassinated by one of his officers because he was succeeded by a dictator named Mettius who immediately approached Tullus with an offer of an alliance between the two states to counter the influence of the Etruscan cities that surrounded both Rome and Alba Longa. The two men agreed that this should be done, but that a contest between two sets of three brothers -- the Horatii representing Rome and the Curiatii representing Alba Longa -- would determine who would be the sovereign in the agreement. In the event, two of the Horatii were killed, although the remaining brother slew all three of the Curiatii, thus giving Rome dominion over Alba Longa.

While this is extremely romantic, the result proved very damaging to Mettius, as you might imagine. His unusual decision to leave the fate of his country to a six-man battle was widely derided, so he entered into secret alliances with two cities, Fidenae and Veii. Fidenae had a substantial Roman population while Veii was one of the dangerous Etruscan cities that Mettius had warned Tullus about. He concocted what was actually a pretty clever plan to extricate himself from his alliance with Tullus: Fidenae would revolt against Rome, causing Tullus to go to war against the city and request Mettius' assistance. After joining their forces and starting the battle, the Albans would retreat and the army of Veii would swoop in and help the Fidenates destroy the Roman host. When the day came and Tullus realized that he was being betrayed, he pretended to issue an order to the Albans to attack the combined group of enemies from the rear so as not to damage the morale of his soldiers who saw their allies fleeing. In a show of religiosity, he swore to build temples to Pallor and Pavor, the early Roman gods who represented Fear and Panic if he carried the day. Remarkably, the Romans actually won the battle. He then revealed the Albans' betrayal to his soldiers and had Mettius tied to two chariots and then torn into pieces. He physically annihilated the city of Alba Longa and moved all of its people into Rome; he allegedly only left two temples standing. He is said to have treated the Alban citizens reasonably well, adding 100 of their noblest families to the Roman Senate, allowing their plebians Roman citizenship, and incorporating the Alban soldiers into the Roman legion. Relics of this arrangement included the settling of the Caelian Hill and the construction of a larger Senate House known up to the Imperial period as the Curia Hostilia.

Fresh off of this success, Tullus decided that there was no point in wasting his important time with peace (or apparently in honoring his vow to the gods on the battlefield outside of Fidenae) so he looked for an excuse to go to war with the Sabines. It's important to note that the Romans and the Sabines were by this time locked into a formal alliance and that Numa himself had been a Sabine. He worked up a flimsy pretext about some Roman citizens being arrested in a Sabine village and sent the full force of his greatly expanded army against them. The Sabines appealed to the Etruscans for assistance, but Livy tells us that not even the Veientines were willing to send an official expeditionary force coming off of their defeat against the Romans after seeing the manner in which Mettius had been punished for breaking his oath; evidently the Sabine ranks were augmented by scattered groups of Etruscan mercenaries. Tullus destroyed the Sabine/Etruscan force and expanded his realm. Cowed by this success, the neighboring Latin tribes eagerly signed a treaty with Tullus to prevent a repeat of the defeats he had dealt successive opponents on the battlefield.

Not long after this victory, however, an avalanche fell from the Alban Mountain. When a group of Senators went to inspect the damage, another avalanche occurred, supposedly accompanied by a heavenly voice commanding the Romans and the Albans to offer all due propitiation to the gods. Tullus ignored this and began preparing his army for another expedition until its ranks were severely thinned by a unspecified plague. When Tullus fell ill as well -- a sickness which endured until his own death -- he abandoned war and threw himself into intense religious study. He obsessed over Numa's instructions for religious observations and determined that he had shown insufficient reverence for his gods. To rectify this, he began performing a laborious rite to Jupiter. Livy says that whatever Tullus did, he did it wrong, so Jupiter finally became so annoyed with him that he destroyed his residence with a lightning bolt, killing everyone inside -- including the king. Tullus would have been in his late 50s or early 60s by this time.

Aside from his military exploits and his death, there is sparse information covering the supposed 32 year reign of Tullus Hostilius. Livy is the only major ancient source for Tullus, and he sums up the man in the space of about 11 paragraphs, the majority of which are dedicated to the battles at Alba Longa and Fidenae. He was probably a real person and he probably did some of the things ascribed to him, the building of the Curia Hostilia (whose name would make no sense otherwise) being the most prominent. Because his military exploits are almost over-emphasized, I think it's safe to say that the historical Tullus did enjoy some military success, though his ignominious end somewhat mirrors that of Romulus, who is alternately said to have either ascended into heaven or to have been murdered by high-ranking Senators who grew tired of his autocratic behavior. The historical Tullus likely died as a result of the aforementioned plague or in a house fire.

Tullus Hostilius is a very poorly attested figure; there is no real guide for establishing his actual age or his family history beyond Hostus being his grandfather. The name Hostilius would have meant exactly what you would think it might: "hostile." There is no evidence to support the notion that we derived the word "hostile" from his name, since the term would have been in use at the time that Hostilius would have lived with the same meaning. It was probably an inherited cognomen that originated with his grandfather and his nomen (i.e. family name) would have been Tullus; a name derived from this one, Tullius, would later be born by several prominent Romans, including the famed orator Marcus Tullius Cicero and a later Roman king named Servius Tullius. It is also possible that Roman names were generally patronymic in the archaic period and "Hostilius" simply meant "son of Hostus" (cf. Numa Pompilius, whose father was named Pompo) and was entirely coincidental; at this point, there is really no possible way of knowing for sure.

After his death, Tullus was succeeded by Ancus Marcius, the grandson of Numa through his daughter Pompilia. Presumably, any heirs that Tullus might have had would have been killed in the fire or by the same plague that killed him. Tullus is remembered chiefly as a warrior who brought credit to Rome but grief to himself. Ironically, any military success that he might have had was not enough to earn him the undying glory that would have otherwise prevented him from being one of the most obscure figures in ancient Roman history.

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