Jeremy J. Swist, “A Principio Reges: The Reception of the Seven Kings of Rome in Imperial Historiography from Tiberius to Theodosius,” PhD Dissertation, University of Iowa, 2018.
One might translate the lapidary opening line of the Annales of Tacitus (fl. 115 CE), “Kings controlled the city of Rome from the beginning”(urbem Romam a principio reges habuere). Tacitus does not treat the original seven kings (753-509 BCE), but rather the first emperors (27 BCE-68 CE). Yet by opening his history with a statement potentially applied to the past or the present, Tacitus cues his readers to maintain the old monarchs as a frame of reference throughout. Employed with varying degrees of artistry, the surviving books of the Annales are peppered with allusions to the characters, deeds, institutions, monuments—in sum, the memoria and exempla—of Romulus, Numa, and their successors. Augustus’ Julio-Claudian successors (r. 14-68 CE) engage with the regal legacy stamped onto the Roman psyche and landscape, imitating or rejecting the kings’ examples. In doing so, they accomplish to varying degrees of success what Livy (d. 17 CE) desired of his imperial reader in the preface of his own work, also begun with the regal period: “that you may contemplate the lessons of every example (exemplum), placed on a shining monument, so that you may take from it, for yourself and for your commonwealth, what to imitate and what to avoid (Liv. prf. 10).”
As recently discussed by Diliana Angelova in Sacred Founders, the aspiration to be styled a divine founder was integral to imperial ideology and iconography since Augustus, based on the precedent set by Hellenistic monarchs.  Tacitus’ awareness of this aspiration accounts for the presence and function of the first Roman kings in imperial historiography more generally; the new monarchy established and developed by Augustus and his successors naturally invites comparison with the primordial dynasts. Yet it is not so simple as measuring an emperor against the models enshrined by the Augustan Livy’s assumedly authoritative text on the regal period. I argue that historians writing between the reigns of Tiberius (14-37 CE) and Theodosius (378-395 CE) continually remade the kingly past in the image, or counter-image, of the imperial present. They borrowed from other traditions and/or reshaped Livy’s text to reflect, or react to, developments in the image and ideology of the imperial office, as well as other contemporary political and cultural concerns. Additionally, I show how authors’ use of the kings as comparative exempla in narratives of later periods is consistent with, and deliberately refers to, those kings’ proper narratives. In sum, much as the kings were the architects of the city and institutions of Rome, so the kings and their exempla often have an architectural and programmatic function in Roman historiography.
In my dissertation, I group twelve authors by chronology and language of writing. Chapter two treats Velleius Paterculus (d. 31 CE), Tacitus, and Suetonius (d. 126 CE), three authors separated by time, genre, rank, and aims, but unified in their approach to imperial history as in certain respects a recapitulation of regal history; determined by the ancestry of the Julio-Claudian emperors. Republican families jockeyed for rank by tracing their lineage back to the regal period, seeing the imitation of their ancestors as genealogically programmed and a social obligation (i.e. mos maiorum). So too these historians looked to the kingly counterparts of emperors as explanatory devices for imperial conduct, and similarly as culturally familiar points of reference for comparison and contrast. For example, Augustus’ “abduction” of Livia reprises Romulus’ abduction of the Sabine women, models that Caligula and Nero similarly imitated, even attempting to re-found Rome through the erasure of its history and destruction of its monuments. Since the context for this conduct during the early Principate (27 BCE-68 CE) is most often Rome, these authors frequently exploit the regal associations of the city’s topography in evaluating imperial fulfilment of kingly mos maiorum.
Chapter three shifts slightly later, from Latin authors operating in the city of Rome to the historical anthologies of the provincial authors Florus and Justin. Florus composed a two-volume celebration of Rome’s history from its founding to the reign of Augustus, while Justin abridged the massive world history of the Augustan-era historian Pompeius Trogus. I argue that their depictions of the regal period reflect the cosmopolitan outlooks of Hadrian (r. 117-138) and the Severans (193-235) respectively, ideologies that conform to an expanding definition ofRomanness in a polyethnic empire well on its way to granting universal citizenship in 212 CE. Florus’ seven kings each embody an archetype, and thus precedent, for components of the imperial program of Hadrian. Romulus unified various peoples into a single, vibrant society; Numa ensured that peace and war was conducted justly through fear of the gods; Tullus Hostilius tempered the Romans’ native bellicosity with strategy; Ancus Marcius inaugurated building programs and infrastructure; Tarquinius Priscus championed Hellenism and proved how rulers from overseas could benefit Rome; Servius Tullius likewise showed how those with talent, and not necessarily pedigree, could rise to the top, and his census promoted a community identity; in Tarquinius Superbus, finally, we sense the recent memory of Domitian, and the tyrannical vices that second-century emperors took pains to avoid. As for Justin, I argue that his abridgment of Trogus’ Philippic History provides a more decentralized view of the Empire as the latest in a succession of more or less equal powers, consistent with the increasingly eastern focus of the Severan dynasty (193-235). For instance, Justin maintains strong textual parallels between the myths of Romulus and the founder of the Persian Empire Cyrus the Great (r. 559-530), as well as between the foundation legends of Rome and Carthage.
Chapter four crosses the linguistic divide to Greek authors, though the jump brings no radical shift in perspective. Like Florus and Justin, Appian of Alexandria and Cassius Dio of Prusa were provincials. Nevertheless, the former practiced law in Rome before his connections to the Antonine court won him a procuratorship, while the latter navigated a successful senatorial career through the perils of Commodus (r. 180-192) and the Severans. Thus, these Greek authors had both insider access to Roman power politics and fluency in Latin language and literature, especially the historiographical tradition. Their experience of the imperial court, as I argue, substantially colors their view of the regal period (reconstructed from fragments), arriving at similar conclusions of the necessity of monarchy for the security and prosperity of the Empire and its subjects. Appian simply projects his positive view of the Principate onto the kings as model rulers, viewing the intervening Republican period as a volatile aberration. Dio’s kings, on the other hand, are for the most part archetypes of the dark side of monarchy, and in both Romulus and Tarquinius Superbus we can sense the brutality of the more recent emperors Septimius Severus and Caracalla, a perception reinforced by intertextuality.
Chapter five jumps forward to the fourth century CE and the Latin authors of late antiquity, namely the historian Ammianus Marcellinus, the anonymous biographer behind the Historia Augusta, and the so-called breviarists or epitomizers of Roman history, namely Aurelius Victor, Eutropius, and whoever wrote the Epitome de Caesaribus. Aside from the likely identity of the HA’s author amongst the old Roman senatorial aristocracy, we are granted perspectives on the regal period from writers of provincial, less blue-blooded origins, belonging to the new class of educated bureaucrats in the imperial service. As such, they owe their existence to an imperial office no longer tied geographically to the city of Rome. As a result, over the course of the fourth century, representations of the kings grow increasingly alienated from their representations of the imperial office. Ammianus, for instance, makes the luxurious Christian emperor Constantius II (r. 337-361) a stranger in the Rome of the philosophical pagan king Numa, while the Epitome suggests that Romulus and Numa are outmoded as imperial models, transcended by the likes of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. The original symbols of traditional Romanitas, with all their pagan baggage, were no longer persuasive as imperial models especially since Christian authors such as Lactantius and Augustine were at the same time fulminating against Rome’s foundational myths.
In chapter six, I assemble the findings of every close reading within the bigger picture of imperial history, to discuss how time period, genre, and an author’s sociopolitical status, location, and audience relate to the depictions of each of the seven kings. For instance, Romulus remained consistent as a multivalent figure, either the model for the best emperors, such as Trajan, who expanded the Empire and were consecrated as patres patriae (“fathers of the fatherland”) and divi (“deified”), or as a paradigm of how kingship can degenerate into tyranny. I also reflect on the various literary devices authors use to insinuate the kings into their histories, including regal genealogies, omens, intertextuality, and direct comparison.
This project extends into the imperial period the work of those such as Jaclyn Neel, who trace the evolution of regal portrayals as a function of the authors’ political and cultural context.  It moves past the assumption that Livy’s legacy constituted an end to this evolution, and advocates for the creativity of his successors. It also offers a methodology that assembles a series of traditional close readings of individual texts within an extensive, four-century chronology, in order to track continuity and change. Finally, it lays the foundation for further study across genres, to paint a richer picture of the kings’ reception in the era of emperors.
 Diliana N. Angelova, Sacred Founders: Women, Men, and Gods in the Discourse of Imperial Founding, Rome Through Early Byzantium (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015), esp 9-43.
 Jaclyn Neel, Legendary Rivals: Collegiality and Ambition in the Tales of Early Rome (Leiden: Brill, 2015).
Jeremy J. Swist is a visiting assistant professor of Classics at the University of Iowa