This Roman queen’s shrewd political decisions were so successful that it was believed she was a prophetess…
Raised as the noble daughter of a powerful Etruscan family in modern day Northern Italy, Tanaquil expected great things for her future.
She married the equally ambitious Tarquin, who was unfortunately the son of a foreigner – meaning that he could never achieve true power in Etruria.
Tanaquil found a solution – she suggested that they move to Rome, which at the time had no dominant aristocracy and therefore plenty of opportunity.
The legend goes that while they were on the road to Rome, an eagle swooped down and plucked the hat from Tarquins head, before flying back and returning it. Tanaquil encouraged the idea that this was an omen and proof that the Gods wanted Tarquin to achieve kingship.
In Rome, Tarquin and Tanaquil quickly moved up the social ladder, eventually becoming close friends with the King himself, Ancus Marcius, who appointed Tarquin guardian to his children.
Fortunately for Tarquin, the King died when his children were still too young to succeed him. Tarquin took his chance and was elected King of Rome, ruling for 37 years.
During this time, Tanaquil did not rest on her laurels….
One day she heard a strange story about Servius Tullius, the son of one of her slave women. It was said that while he was sleeping, his head had become surrounded by mystical flames which did not harm him. Tanaquil believed that this meant Servius would be king one day, and took him into her care, raising him as her own son.
When King Tarquin was murdered by the sons of Ancus Marcius in a violent attempt to reclaim the throne, Tanaquil acted quickly. She hid her husband’s body and announced that the King had simply been wounded – and furthermore that he had proclaimed Servius his regent until he recovered. The cover-up worked, and once Servius had proved his capability, Tanaquil announced Tarquin’s death.
It is also said that when Tanaquil arrived in Rome she changed her name to Gaia Cirillo. She was so fondly remembered and respected that any new bride who entered the royal palace would announce their name as ‘Gaia’ to honour her.
Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology by Sir William Smith