Kari Austbø: Tanaquil – Resourceful Queen of Rome

On 15th of April 2014 Kari Austbø presented her book Tanaquil – Daughter of the Moon for four classes of high school students in Civitavecchia. Here is her lecture:


Tanaquil – Daughter of the Moon

My name is Kari Austbø. I am here to present my novel about an Etruscan woman who became queen of Rome. How come that a Norwegian writes a book about an Etruscan?

To be brief, the background is:

When I was 17, about your age, I visited Copenhagen, the Danish capital. They have a wonderful museum, called The Carlsberg Glyptotek, with a diverse collection of arts. One floor was dedicated to the Etruscans. I had never heard of them earlier, and I was really fascinated by what I saw. It went directly into my heart. I don’t really know why, but maybe it was something about their joy of life and their ability to create beautiful art.

I bought a booklet on the Etruscans and learnt some more.

My first visit to Italy was as a 23 year old student. During my stay, I visited the archeological museum in Firenze, and got some more insight into this highly interesting civilisation.

For a long time, until 1995, when my husband and I joined a new association called Centro-studi italo norvegese in Tolfa, I did nothing to follow my interest in the Etruscans.

But – as Tolfa is surrounded by so many Etruscan memories, my interest was renewed.

Step by step I managed to improve my Italian, and I reached a level that enabled me to read books in Italian about the Etruscans.

My first idea was to write a tourist guide on Etruria for Norwegian readers.

Then I found a book written by an English author, D. H. Lawrence, called «Etruscan Places», where he described his journey in Etruria in 1927. His encounter with the graves, the museums etc. is described with great enthusiasm. In his book I met Tanaquil for the first time. When he visited Tarquinia, he described her as «the bloodful wife» of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, and that she tempted him to go to Rome, where he later became the 5th king.

It struck me that this lady really deserved a story, and then I started to write her one. Nobody had done that before.

What is this novel about?

It all starts with Tanaquil and Lucius being born in Tarquinia, and then I follow their lives in their hometown through childhood and youth, through joys and dramatic events, how they fell in love, and married.

The conflict between leading Tarquinian families developed and became so serious that Tanaquil and Lucius had to leave Tarquinia.

They moved to Kysra (Cerveteri), and there, after a while, Tanaquil managed to convince her husband that Rome might be a good place for him as a successful merchant.

As a very rich man, Lucius, with assistance from Tanaquil, won a high position in their new town.

The king, Ancus Marcius, appointed him to be one of his most important advisors, and also as an instructor in cavalry arts for his two sons.

When the king died, Lucius was elected king with support from good friends among Romans, including leading Latins.

When Lucius had won the Roman throne, as Tanaquil had foreseen, they planned together how they wanted Rome to be. The city was to have a circus, a Forum and a big temple for Jupiter (Giove), Juno and Minerva.

The marshlands between the hills had to be drained, and they got Etruscan engineers to construct Cloaca maxima, that is still in use.

Rome was, at that time, involved in conflicts with her nabours, like the Sabines and the Latins, and also the Etruscans in Veii, and Tarquinius Priscus led the Roman army to many victories and conquests. These were the first steps on the long road leading to the Roman empire.

Not everybody in Rome appreciated an Etruscan sitting on the Roman throne, and they made plans for assasinating him. In spite of Tanaquil foreseeing this, they succeeded. In this situation, Tanaquil showed her ability to act; securing the throne for her own favorite, her foster son Servius Tullius.

Her story ends in Cerveteri, where she dies, after living a life following the will of the gods.

To write this novel, I had to collect a lot of facts about the Etruscan sivilisation. My husband and I traveled all over central Etruria to visit museums and graves, and I constantly found new books to read.

My research gave me, little by little, a picture of the Etruscans, their way of life, their religion and rituals. On this background I wrote the story of Tanaquil.

Tanaquil and her contemporaries lived in the religion. The gods were all around them, in the sky, on earth, in the trees and the water. They made offerings to the gods, and their priest, the augurs, read the omens, like the flight of the birds, how the lightning fell, etc. By interpreting the signs, the augurs brought the messages from the gods to the humans. That is why they had such an important position in the Etruscan society, and later in Rome.

Tanaquil was mentioned in Titus Livius’ history of Rome, as an augur. In my story she was selected by the moon goddess to be an interpreter between gods and humans.

Tanaquil was born around 650 years BC in Tarquinia. Her husband, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, was the son of a Greek merchant, Demaratos from Corinth; who was expelled from his hometown and landed in Tarquinia. There he married a young noblewoman and had two sons.

What really happened, we don’t know, because there are no written documents left from the Etruscan period. Titus Livius and other historians in the Augustean era probably had access to some information about this period, but they lived more than 500 years after Tanaquil. Writing their history on the past, they surely used a lot of myths and stories that we would not exactly call historical facts.

Why was Tanaquil mentioned by Titus Livius and others as an important person in the royal period of Rome?

She was an augur, but even more important: she was a king maker.

Twice her propheties and her strategic behaviour led kings to the Roman throne. The first one was her own husband, Lucius Tarquinius, and the other one Servius Tullius, her foster son.


The audience at Austbø’s presentation


Introduction to the novel


In the novel I use etruscan names; for instance the god Tinia, which is a bit similar to the Roman Giove, and Lucumo, or Lauchme. The Latin version of his name is Lucius.


Late in the afternoon Lucumo and I, together with our company, reached the last hill, the one that the latins call Janiculum. There, on the other side of the big river Tiber, we saw the town on the seven hills. On the harbour small and bigger boats were to be unloaded, and the goods transported further on the donkey- and mule backs.

I asked the driver to halt, and stepped out of the wagon. Lucumo and I stood for a while looking at the town where both of us hoped to find our new home.

The town disappointed me.

I really don’t know what I had expected, but this town seemed poor to me, compared to Tarquinia and Kysra (Cerveteri), and it was not a bit like the splendid town the goddess had shown me in my dream.

Here and there I saw some new houses, even with tiled roofs, but most of the buildings were simple huts with thatched roofs, like Tarquinia many years ago.

I sensed something above me. A shadow moved quickly, and as I looked up, I spotted an eagle circling over our heads. It moved closer and closer, and all of a sudden it plunged down and grabbed Lucumo’s hat. Bewildered, he stood there watching the big bird heading for the sky, with his hat in a firm grip.

I was horrified. What kind of omen was this?

Was Tinia demonstrating for everybody that Lucumo was unworthy?

I remembered Tarquinia and the horrors we went through before we had to leave our home town.

Was there no more to hope for? No, this was the final humiliation. Now I was convinced that Tinia did not intend to follow the command of the heavenly queen, and what was my dream worth then?

High above us I caught a glimpse of Tinia’s mighty bird. It went on circling for some time, but so, to my astonisment, it aimed at us for a second time. The broad wings slowed down the speed, and the bird descended slowly towards us.

What was it up to?

Breathless, I sensed that the bird was about to give us a decisive omen.

The eagle still held the hat, but in that very moment it passed over Lucumo, the bird let the hat fall out of its grip and – what a miracle! – the hat landed nicely upon my husband’s head!

The bird once again headed towards the sky, and without any hesitation, his mighty wings led him northwards to Tinia.

When I saw what the eagle had done, I just stood there and stared open-mouthed, but when I realized what had happened, I shouted with joy, and flung myself into the arms of Lucumo.

He just stood there, confused, and with a bewildered look at me, he lifted his hand and felt his hat was where it ought to be:

«Tanaquil, what is the meaning of this? What happened?»

I beamed with happiness:

«What has happened, Lucumo, is that you just now received a fantastic omen from the great Tinia himself! The eagle has crowned you! This omen gave us the message that Tinia’s first omen is going to be fulfilled. The god has repeated his promise!

I asked everybody to be quiet, and with a loud voice I gave my company the extraordinary story of Lucumo and the eagle, a story that moved everybody.

Two of the older slaves remembered vaguely something about Tinia’s eagle the day Lucumo was born, but they could never imagine what they had witnessed now: a coronation – a king crowned by the eagle of Tinia himself!

Of course! Now I realized that Tinia, with his first omen, did not mean Tarquinia at all, it was Rome all the way.

May be this was the reason why he let us go through so many ordeals, and put so many obstacles in the way for Lucumo’s efforts to become king of Tarquinia.

Like me, my brother Laris was convinced that Tinia’s eagle expressed the will of the god, but he claimed that this omen did not tell us anything about when this coronation was going to happen. Therefore he warned us of doing something hasty. Only when the gods found the the time to be ripe, the omen would be fulfilled:

«Nobody here must tell anything of what happened today. This might harm Lucumos’ future.»

And then he raised his hands and joined me in a thanksgiving to the mightiest god in heaven.

Kari Austbø (i midten) presenterer Tanaquil

Kari Austbø (i midten) presenterer Tanaquil

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