According to early Roman histories, when Titus Tatius attacked Rome after the Rape of the Sabines, the Vestal Virgin Tarpeia, daughter of Spurius Tarpeius, governor of the citadel on the Capitoline Hill, betrayed the Romans by opening the city gates for the Sabines in return for 'what they bore on their arms.' She believed that she would receive their golden bracelets. Instead, the Sabines crushed her to death with their shields, and she was thrown from the rock which now bears her name.
About 500 BC, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the seventh legendary king of Rome, leveled the top of the rock, removing the shrines built by the Sabines, and built the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus on the intermontium, the area between the two summits of the hill. The rock itself survived this remodelling, being used for executions well into Sulla's time.
To be hurled off the Tarpeian rock was, in some sense, a fate worse than death, because it carried with it a stigma of shame. The standard method of execution in ancient Rome was by strangulation in the Tullianum. Rather, the rock was reserved for the most notorious traitors, and as a place of unofficial, extra-legal executions (for example, the near-execution of then-Senator Gaius Marcus Coriolanus by a mob whipped into frenzy by a tribune of the plebs).