Tullus Hostilius

Grandson of Hostus Hostilius, was the third king of Rome. Thirty-two years — from about 670 BCE to 638 — were assigned by the annalists to his reign.

According to the legends, his history ran as follows: Hostilius departed from the peaceful ways of Numa, and aspired to the martial renown of Romulus. He made Alba acknowledge Rome's supremacy in the war wherein the three Roman brothers, the Horatii, fought with the three Alban brothers, the Curiatii, at the Fossa Cluilia. Next he warred with Fidenae and with Veii, and being straitly pressed by their joint hosts, he vowed temples to Pallor and Pavor — Paleness and Panic. And after the fight was won, he tore asunder with chariots Mettius Fufetius, the king or dictator of Alba, because he had desired to betray Rome; and he utterly destroyed Alba, sparing only the temples of the gods, and bringing the Alban people to Rome, where he gave them the Caelian hill to dwell on. Then he turned himself to war with the Sabines, who, he said, had wronged the Roman merchants at the temple of Feronia, at the foot of Mount Soracte; and being again straitened in fight in a wood called the Wicked Wood, he vowed a yearly festival to Saturn and Ops, and to double the number of the Salii, or priests of Mamers. And when, by their help, he had vanquished the Sabines, he performed his vow, and its records were the feasts Saturnalia and Opalia.

But while Hostilius thus warred with the nations northward and eastward of the city, he leagued himself with the Latins and with the Hernicans, so that while he was besieging Veii, the men of Tusculum and of Anagnia encamped on the Esquiline hill, and kept guard over Rome, where the city was most open. Yet, in his old days, Hostilius grew weary of warring; and when a pestilence struck him and his people, and a shower of burning stones fell from heaven on Mount Alba, and a voice as of the Alban gods came forth from the solitary temple of Jupiter on its summit, he remembered the peaceful and happy days of Numa, and sought to win the favor of the gods, as Numa had done, by prayer and divination. But the gods heeded neither his prayers nor his charms, and when he would inquire of Jupiter Elicius, Jupiter was wroth, and smote Hostilius and his whole house with fire. Later times placed his sepulcher on the Velian hill.

That the story of Tullus Hostilius in Dionysius and Livy is the prose form of an heroic legend there seems little reason to doubt. The incidents of the Alban war, the meeting of the armies on the boundary line of Rome and Alba, the combat of the triad of brethren, the destruction of the city, the wrath of the gods, and the extinction of the Hostilian house, are genuine poetical features. Perhaps the only historical fact embodied in them is the ruin of Alba itself; and even this is misrepresented, since, had a Roman king destroyed it, the territory and city would have become Roman, whereas Alba remained a member of the Latin league until the dissolution of that confederacy in 338 BCE. Yet, on the other hand, with Hostilius begins a new era in the early history of Rome, the mytho-historical, with higher pretensions and perhaps nearer approaches to fact and personality.

As Romulus was the founder and eponymous of the Ramnes or first tribe, and Tatius of the Titienses or second, so Hostilius, a Latin of Medullia, was probably the founder of the third patrician tribe, the Luceres, which, whatever Etruscan admixture it may have had, was certainly in its main element Latin. Hostilius assigned lands, added to a national priesthood, and to the patriciate, instituted new religious festivals, and, according to one account at least, increased the number of the equites, all of which are tokens of permanent additions to the populus or burgherdom, and characteristics of a founder of the nation. Consistent with these glimpses of historical existence are his building the Hostilia curia, and his enclosure of the Comitium. He was not therefore, like Romulus, merely an eponymous, nor, like Numa, merely an abstraction of one element, the religious phase of the commonwealth, but a hero-king, whose personality is dimly visible through the fragments of dismembered record and among the luminous clouds of poetic coloring.



  • Arnold, T. (1845). History of Rome. Vol. 1, pp. 15-19.
  • Cicero. De re publica ii, 17.
  • Dionysius, iii, 1-36.
  • Livy. The History of Rome i, 22-32.
  • Niebuhr, B.G. (1845). History of Rome. Vol. 1, pp. 296-298, 346-352.
  • Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
  • Varro. Fragments p. 241 (Bipont. ed.).

This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.