The Roman Revolution
In 509 BC, Rome underwent a revolution that overthrew its monarchy, and replaced it with a representative form of government. The uprising was led by Lucius Junius Brutus (flourished 6th century BC), who is credited as the founder of the Roman Republic. He was also the ancestor of Marcus Junius Brutus, who assassinated Julius Caesar, the dictator who ended that Republic.
Rome was a monarchy until 509 BC, when one of king Lucius Tarquinus Superbus’ sons raped a noblewoman, Lucretia. Lucretia told her relatives and other gathered Romans, and then, to preserve family honor, stabbed herself to death. Brutus, whose name means “Dimwit” in Latin, was a nephew of the king, and had shown no signs of potential greatness until then. He had his own grievances against the king, who had executed Brutus’ brother, and it is possible that Brutus had played the dummy to appear nonthreatening to his royal uncle. That day, Brutus removed the dimwit mask and donned that of a leader: pulling the knife out of Lucretia’s breast, he vowed revenge and led a popular revolt.
Brutus had Lucretia’s corpse taken to Rome’s central square, where it was publicly displayed. Seizing the moment while passions were high, Brutus whipped the public into joining him in avenging Lucretia by expelling the royals from Rome, and replacing the monarchy with a republic. The king was off campaigning at the time, but when the Roman army heard of the events back home, they sided with the rebels.
The king and his family were forced to flee into exile, and Rome became a Republic, with Brutus its first chief magistrate. From early on, the new republic’s founding fathers were big on duty and self sacrificing service to the state. Brutus himself epitomized the ideal of devotion to duty and severe impartiality in its fulfillment: he condemned his own sons to death when they joined a conspiracy to restore the kings.
From exile, the king mounted intermittent efforts to regain his throne. The first attempt was via a conspiracy with leading Roman nobles, but it was discovered and the conspirators were executed. The overthrown king then tried force, raising an army from neighboring city states that had their own grievances against Rome. The new republic defeated those attempts as well, and went on to flourish for nearly five centuries before it was overthrown and replaced by the Roman Empire.