Publius Valerius Publicola

Publius Valerius Publicola: one of the first republican statesmen of ancient Rome. He became powerful after the expulsion of the last king, Tarquin the Proud, and the death of the man who had expelled him, Lucius Junius Brutus.


Latium in the age of P. Valerius Publicola
Latium in the age of P. Valerius Publicola

In the last quarter of the sixth century BCE, Rome was ruled by king Lucius Tarquinius Superbus or Tarquin the Proud, a descendant from an Etruscan family. His kingdom was one of the most powerful in Italy: its capital had some 35,000 inhabitants, its territory was some 800 square kilometers, and its zone of influence stretched as far as Circeii and Terracina - 90 kilometers to the southeast. The Latin cities recognized Roman leadership.

His domestic policy, however, was disastrous. The heads of Rome's noble families had always been invited to give advise to the king; their meeting was called the Senate. It seems that Tarquin behaved like an autocrat and did not consult the senators, who felt ignored. The king's surname Superbus means something like "the proud one".

After a sex scandal in his family (discussed here), Tarquin lost control of his city-state. Two of his relatives were responsible for his expulsion: Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus and Lucius Junius Brutus. According to the Roman historian Titus Livy (59 BCE - 17 CE), they were the founders of the Roman republic, in which two consuls - elected for one year - were responsible to the Senate. However, it is unlikely that the republic was there at once; it is more probable that both men tried to become sole ruler, and that the republican constitution grew slowly in the years after the expulsion of the king.

Power Struggle

Brutus' Family Tree
Brutus' Family Tree

First, Brutus was able to eliminate Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus. Our sources indicate that this was because the Romans did not like the royal name, but that cannot be the real reason. After all, Brutus was a closer relative of the expelled king than Collatinus. It is more likely that the two men were involved in a power struggle.

Brutus did not have a lot of pleasure from his victory. King Tarquin first tried to regain his city by a conspiracy in which Brutus' sons and family-in-law were involved, and when this failed, he tried to come back with an army. Although Brutus was able to prevent Tarquin's return, he died during the decisive battle.

In the weeks or months between the expulsion of Collatinus and the death of Brutus, another man had become important: Publius Valerius. Our sources state that he succeeded Collatinus as consul, but this is not very likely, since it would mean that the republican constitution had already crystallized out. It is more probable that Valerius was Brutus' right-hand man or an influential senator who had helped Brutus become sole ruler.

However this may be, it is certain that Valerius was alone in charge after the death of Brutus. Livy continues with a story that suggests that Valerius wanted to remain sole ruler. As we will see, he calls him consul, but there are several elements in the story that suggest another reality. For example, the construction activities on the Velia that are mentioned, must refer to (re)building of the royal palace, which was situated in the western flank and top of this hill.

After the battle, the surviving consul [...] found himself not only unpopular but an object of suspicion, and that of a very grave character. It was rumored that he was aiming at monarchy, for he had held no election to fill Brutus' place, and he was building a house on the top of the Velia - an impregnable fortress was being constructed on that high and strong position. The consul felt hurt at finding these rumors so widely believed, and summoned the people to an assembly. As he entered, the fasces were lowered, to the great delight of the multitude, who understood that it was to them that they were lowered as an open avowal that the dignity and might of the people were greater than those of the consul.

Livy continues the story with a brief speech, with the following conclusion.

"The house of Publius Valerius shall be no check upon your freedom, your Velia shall be safe. I will not only move my house to level ground, but I will move it to the bottom of the hill that you may dwell above the citizen whom you suspect. Let those dwell on the Velia who are regarded as truer friends of liberty than Publius Valerius." All the building materials were forthwith carried below the Velia and his house was built at the very bottom of the hill where now stands the temple of Vica Pota.

Laws were passed that not only cleared the consul from suspicion but produced such a reaction that he won the people's affections, hence his sobriquet of Publicola ["the people's friend"]. The most popular of these laws were those which granted a right of appeal from the magistrate to the people and devoted to the gods the person and property of anyone who entertained projects of becoming king. Valerius secured the passing of these laws while still sole consul, that the people might feel grateful solely to him; afterwards he held the elections for the appointment of a colleague. The consul elected was Spurius Lucretius. But he had not, owing to his great age, strength enough to discharge the duties of his office, and within a few days he died. Marcus Horatius Pulvillus was elected in his place.note

It is possible, as some scholars have argued, that the law granting a right to appeal and the law against the monarchy were in fact later creations, but it is just as possible that they were indeed Valerius' laws. They certainly fit his position: that of a man who had unexpectedly become sole ruler and had discovered that he was not powerful enough to rule.

The Consulship

If we assume that it was not Brutus who introduced the principle of collegial rule, then we may well assume that it was an idea of Valerius. It is interesting to ask where the idea came from. Rome was not the only place where dual leadership existed. For example, the Greek city-state Sparta was famous for its two kings and Carthage had two suffetes. (This is the Latin rendering of their title; it is unknown how the Carthaginian sptm must be vocalized.)

A closer parallel, however, can be found in Italy. There is evidence for the existence of two meddices among the mountain tribes of Samnium: a summus meddix and an alter meddix, the "highest chief" and the "other chief".note The existence of a higher and a lower supreme magistrate is a close parallel to the situation in Rome, where Publius Valerius Publicola was obviously superior to Spurius Lucretius Tricipitinus and - later - Marcus Horatius Pulvillus. In the second year of the republic, Valerius was still consul with new "junior partners".

We can make two additional remarks about nomenclature. In the first place, it is certain that the the consuls were once called praetores, but several very ancient texts speak about the Roman praetor maximus,note which suggests that there was also a praetor minor or praetor alter. It is possible that this refers to a situation in which the two supreme magistrates were not completely equal in rank. However, it must be remembered that the word praetor had a wide variety of meanings. In the second place, it has to be noted that meddix is the Latin rendering of medìss, which means "judge". This was also one of the oldest titles of the two consuls, who were once called iudex, a word that is etymologically related to medìss.note

The Carthaginian Treaty

However, the Carthaginian parallel cannot be excluded. The word sufetes also means "judges", and what is more important: it is certain that there were diplomatic contacts between Rome and Carthage in the first year of the republic - something that cannot be proven for Rome and the Samnites. The Carthaginian diplomats were in Rome to conclude a treaty, which is worth quoting in full.

The first treaty between Rome and Carthage dates from the consulship of Lucius Junius Brutus and Marcus Horatius, the first consuls after the expulsion of the kings, and the founders of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. [...] I give below as accurate a rendering as I can of this treaty, but the ancient Roman language differs so much from the modern that it can only be partially made out, and that after much application, by the most intelligent men. The treaty is more or less as follows.

"There is to be friendship between the Romans and their allies and the Carthaginians and their allies on these terms: The Romans and their allies not to sail with long ships beyond the Fair Promontory unless forced by storm or by enemies, and it is forbidden to anyone carried beyond it by force to buy or carry away anything beyond what is required for the repair of his ship or for sacrifice, and he must depart within five days. Men coming to trade may conclude no business except in the presence of a herald or town-clerk, and the price of whatever is sold in the presence of such shall be secured to the vendor by the state, if the sale take place in Libya or Sardinia. If any Roman come to the Carthaginian province in Sicily, he shall enjoy equal rights with the others. The Carthaginians shall do no wrong to the peoples of Ardea, Antium, Laurentium, Circeii, Terracina, or any other city of the Latins who are subject to Rome. Touching the Latins who are not subjects, they shall keep their hands off their cities, and if they take any city shall deliver it up to the Romans undamaged. They shall build no fort in the Latin territory. If they enter the land in arms, they shall not pass a night therein."note

Model of Archaic Rome
Model of Archaic Rome

This treaty - which must have been very important to the new leaders because it recognized them as rulers of Rome and Rome as ruler of the Latins - proves that there were contacts between Valerius and Carthage, and allows us to think that the idea of dual leadership was inspired by the constitution of the old Phoenician city. On the other hand, it does not explain why the Roman consuls were, in the beginning, not equal to each other. (We do not know when they really became equals, although it is certain that equality was reached in the sixties of the fourth century.)


Whatever the origin and precise nature of Rome's dual leadership, it is obvious that Valerius did not want an equal partner. The aged Spurius Lucretius Tricipitinus was an excellent choice. And there were tensions with Marcus Horatius Pulvillus as well. Livy writes:

The temple of Jupiter on the Capitol had not yet been dedicated, and the consuls drew lots to decide which should dedicate it. The lot fell to Horatius. Publicola set out for the war against Veii [an ally of king Tarquin]. Publicola's friends showed unseemly annoyance at the dedication of so illustrious a fane being assigned to Horatius, and tried every means of preventing it. When all else failed, they tried to alarm the consul, whilst he was actually holding the door-post during the dedicatory prayer; by a wicked message that his son was dead, and he could not dedicate a temple while death was in his house. As to whether he disbelieved the message, or whether his conduct simply showed extraordinary self-control, there is no definite tradition, and it is not easy to decide from the records. He only allowed the message to interrupt him so far that he gave orders for the body to be burnt; then, with his hand still on the door-post, he finished the prayer and dedicated the temple.note

Although there were tensions between the two leaders, they organized elections. For the second year of the republic, Valerius was re-elected. His colleague was Titus Lucretius Tricipitinus, the brother of the late Spurius Lucretius. Together, they organized a census.note Next year, Valerius shared the consulship with Marcus Horatius Pulvillus again. It is obvious that Publius Valerius Publicola was the Roman republic's most important leader in the first three years after the fall of the monarchy.


Relief of an Amazon from the temple of Mater Matuta in Satricum

In the second or the third year of the Roman republic, the war against Tarquin was renewed. The former king had found a powerful ally, the ruler of the Etruscan town Clusium (modern Chiusi), Lars Porsenna. (In fact, Porsenna is a title: purthne is the Etruscan word for supreme magistrate.) Livy mentions his motive: he preferred an Etruscan as king of Rome, and thought it would be honorable if he were the one who restored Tarquin. This is a friendly way of saying that he wanted someone who was dependent on him as king of Rome. There may have been an economic motive as well: a friendly king would not demand toll from merchants from Clusium. This, however, is speculation.

And the war came. Livy leaves no doubt that the Romans were very courageous and that Valerius was a clever commander.

The consul Valerius, determined to get an opportunity of attacking the Etruscans when they were scattered in large numbers over the fields, allowed small forages to pass unnoticed, whilst he was reserving himself for vengeance on a larger scale. So to draw on the pillagers, he gave orders to a considerable body of his men to drive cattle out of the Esquiline gate, which was the furthest from the enemy, in the expectation that they would gain intelligence of it through the slaves who were deserting, owing to the scarcity produced by the blockade. The information was duly conveyed, and in consequence the enemies crossed the river in larger numbers than usual in the hope of securing the whole lot.

Publius Valerius ordered Titus Herminius with a small body of troops to take up a concealed position at a distance of three kilometers on the Gabian road, whilst Spurius Lartius with some light-armed infantry was to post himself at the Colline gate until the enemy had passed him and then to intercept their retreat to the river. The other consul, Titus Lucretius, with a few units made a sortie from the Naevian gate; Valerius himself led some picked cohorts from the Caelian hill, and these were the first to attract the enemy's notice. When Herminius became aware that fighting was begun, he rose from ambush and took the enemy who were engaged with Valerius in rear. Answering cheers arose right and left, from the Colline and the Naevian gates, and the pillagers, hemmed in, unequal to the fight, and with every way of escape blocked, were cut to pieces. That put an end to these irregular and scattered excursions on the part of the Etruscans.note

Livy offers several stories about Roman strategems (such as the stories of Horatius Cocles, Cloelia, and Mucius Scaevola) and although they have a certain verisimilitude, almost all scholars agree that they are invented by the authors of the histories that Livy used as sources. In the present case, however, there may be more than meets the eye. To start with, Valerius is described as the only leader of the Roman army; the other consul is almost presented as his subject. This is a detail that is unlikely to have been invented, but fits the original consulship with unequal powers. In the second place, no Roman forger would have invented the names Herminius and Lartius: they are Etruscan. These names belong to a very old tradition.

According to Livy, the Etruscans finally had to admit that the city could not be taken. Negotiations were opened. The Romans refused to receive Tarquin back as their king, but otherwise had to bleed: Livy mentions that hostages were sent to Clusium and territory had to be ceded to Veii (an Etruscan town that was allied to Tarquin). Another condition seems to have been "that the Romans were only to use iron for agriculture".note It is almost certain, however, that the idea that a treaty was concluded, disguises that the Romans were in fact forced into surrender. The Roman historian Tacitus (55-c.120) admits as much.note

On what happened next, our sources agree. Porsenna sent his son Arruns with an army to Aricia, the town were the Latin cities usually met to discuss. However, the Aricians received support from the Greeks of Cumae, an important town in the neighborhood of Naples. The tyrant Aristodemus the Effeminate defeated Arruns (and his father may have been forced to leave Rome). This event is not only known from Livy, but from the city chronicle of Cumae as well.note This allows us to date the battle of Aricia in 505/504 BCE.

Independent Republic

Since the Roman republican magistrates were elected in the summer, we can fix the second or the third consulship of Publius Valerius Publicola in 505/504. This means that 506/505 was the first or second year of the republic, and that Tarquin was expelled in the summer of 507 or 506 BCE. The year 510 that is often mentioned, is simply wrong (it confuses the Varronian chronology and the Christan era).

1 L. Junius Brutus L. Tarquinius Collatinus 509 507/506 or 506/505
    P. Valerius Publicola    
  Sp. Lucretius Tricipitinus      
  M. Horatius Pulvillus      
2 P. Valerius Publicola II T. Lucretius Tricipitinus 508 506/505 or 505/504
3 P. Valerius Publicola III M. Horatius Pulvillus II 507 505/504 or 504/503
4 Sp. Larcius Flavus T. Herminius Aquilinus 506 504/503 or 503/502
5 M. Valerius Volusus P. Postumius Tunertus 505 503/502 or 502/501
6 P. Valerius Publicola IV M. Horatius Pulvillus III 504 501/500 or 500/499

After his third consulship, Valerius was not elected for two years - was he blamed for the defeat against Lars Porsenna? - but in the sixth year of the Roman republic, he was consul again, together with Titus Lucretius Tricipitinus, his colleague in the second year. The most remarkable act of this year was the migration to Rome of a Sabinian nobleman, Attius Clausus, to Rome. He brought his adherents and family with him, and they became famous as the Claudius family, one of the most important Roman families under the republic and early empire. According to Livy, Publius Valerius Publicola died after his fourth consulship, that is c.499 BCE.

Lapis Satricanus

The "lapis satricanus"
The "lapis satricanus"

Before we make an assessment of Valerius' career, we must discuss the Lapis Satricanus (the "stone from Satricum"). This inscription was discovered in a Latin town south of Rome. The text is:

[....]iei steterai Popliosio Valesiosio
svodales Mamartei

The ....iei dedicated this as companions of Publius Valerius to Mars.

It is very tempting to identify this the Publius Valerius mentioned in this inscription, which can be dated in the last years of the sixth century or the first years of the fifth century, with the famous Roman politician, but we cannot be certain about this identification. It should be noted that the name Publius Valerius was not uncommon and that none of the Greek and Roman authors credits him with military operations in the south.


How to assess the career of Lucius Junius Brutus and Publius Valerius Publicola? Whatever their motives and intentions, and whatever the precise nature of the consulship, the revolution they made had one disastrous result: the power of Rome collapsed.

The Latin cities south of Rome, which had been forced into submission by king Tarquin, revolted almost immediately. If we are to believe Livy, the immediate cause of the rebellion was the policy of one Mamilius, who was married to Tarquin's daughter. He was the leader of the Latin city Tusculum (modern Frascati) and organized, in name of his father-in-law, a revolt. It may be true, but it is just as likely that the cities wanted to become independent again now that Rome was seriously weakened.

The Latins, however, had made a grave mistake. The Roman commander Aulus Postumius Albinus, Rome's first dictator, defeated them and a new treaty was made. The giant temple of Castor and Pollux on the Roman forum was built from the spoils, which must have been enormous.

This crisis was not completely over, when a new and bigger problem presented itself. The mountain tribes of the central Apennines, which had come down to the coastal plain before but had always been repelled, descended to Latium again, looking for better pastures. The Aequi and Volsci made good use of the divisions between the Latins. The towns in the east and south were easily conquered and the war against these tribes - from now on sedentary in Latium - was to become a yearly event. One of the most important generals of this struggle was Gnaeus Marcius Coriolanus.

In this way, the state of king Tarquin the Proud changed into a republic. The central government imploded and the periphery was taken over by the mountain tribes. The fifth century started with a catastrophe. Livy's account of the next century and a quarter is the story of hunger, plague, war and social conflicts. It may have been true that the position of Tarquin had become untenable, but the solution that Brutus and Publicola invented was disastrous.


The most important sources are Book 2 of Livy's History of Rome, the Roman Antiquities by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Plutarch of Chaeronea's Life of Publicola.

This page was created in 2002; last modified on 4 October 2020.