#8 Porsena, Is Occupying Rome Worth The Risk?
The Romans were trying to overthrow their last king Tarquinius Superbus to start a republic, swearing Rome will never be ruled by a king again. But it wasn’t an easy endeavour. An Etruscan king, Porsena, the king of Clusium decided to help Tarquinius and occupy the city. The Romans were not strong enough against his army. But legend says, the Romans had some convincing arguments to make him a temporary nuisance.
Gaius Mucius, a Roman youth sneaks into the Roman camp with the approval of the Roman senate, but while trying to assasinate the invading king Porsena, he is captured. He can’t identify the king, and stabs the secretary instead.
Mucius ardently continues trying to make a point, tells his intention, and adds, there is more to come. There are at least 300 Roman youth that are ready to sacrifice their lives to kill Porsena. To make his point, he burns his right hand in the sacrificial fire. Impressed, Porsena lets Mucius leave. And as legend says, he starts the peace negotiations.
I think there was a big problem for Porsena. The former king that he was supporting, Tarquinius was certainly not wanted by the Roman people, and in the newly announced republic, the political idea and hatred was shared among all classes, from top to down, especially because of the shameful crime Tarquinius’ son committed. There was nothing that could make him permanent on that post. Tarquinius did not only ruin his kingship, he destroyed the legitimacy of kingship as the institution.
The keen opposition isn’t only against the king, it is against a king. So now Porsena can’t install former king even if he occupies, he can’t install a governor, what to be done? It’s the best to maybe, to settle with some negotiations.
The story of the rebellion has similar atmosphere with what happened in France a couple of thousands of years later. The bond between the people and the state became so strong as a result of the idea of creating a republic, that it wasn’t possible to revert it even by occupying it.
Many martyrs/heroes of the idea of republic were created out of what happened, statues were made to honor those individuals that did not have much political presence.
Most probably, this war created a much stronger and united idea of republic, because now there was also sunk cost economy that was caused by the sacrifices that people had to make, for the glory of Rome.
It is an impressive story, Jean-Jacques Rousseau tells in his memoirs, that when he was a child, he tried to replicate this idea of resisting the pain that was inflicted to his hand, by placing his hand on alcohol burner.
May not be the best story for a kid.