Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome

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Romulus and Remus protected by the wolf and river Tiber

Romulus and Remus

Romulus and Remus are synonymous with the origins and founding of Rome "Ab Urbe Condita", as the Romans used to say.

For such an ancient city it is not surprising that the origins of Rome are a mixture of myth and reality. The poet Virgil in The Aenid and also the historian Livy tell us that the forefather of the ancient Romans was supposed to be Aeneas who together with his father, son and a number of fellow Trojans escaped from the burning city of Troy. After many adventures they landed on the coast of central Italy. In the region known as Latium, now called Lazio.

The name of this region derives from the words a latendo, "lying hid" this being where mythology tells us that the god Saturn, also known as Chronos god of time, had been banished to by his son Jupiter. Aeneas settled here and later married with the local princess Lavinia daughter of the king Latinus. On Aeneas' death Lavinia reigned as Aeneas' son, Ascanius was not yet of age. Ascanius later left his mother and went on to build a new city named Longa Alba by the Mountain Albanus.

A distinguished lineage follows of which the eleventh prince was Procas. Procas had two sons: Numitor was the elder and heir to the throne and Amulius the younger but also the greediest. Amulius managed to force Numitor to give up his claim to the crown and forced Numitor's daughter Rhea Silva to become a Vestal and hence vows of perpetual virginity. Thus hoping to eliminate future threats to his power.

However, Rhea Silva conceived twin children called Romulus and Remus from none other than Mars, the god of war who chose to rape her whilst she was imprisoned by her evil unlce. The children's uncle Amulius, discovering their existence, condemned Rhea Silva to life imprisonment (other accounts suggest she was put to death) and for the children to be abandoned to their fate in a field.

The servant charged with the task is said to have put the children into a basket and left them by a tree on the banks of the river Tiber. Other accounts suggest Amulius threw the basket into the river itself, that the Tiber flooded and when it return to its normal level it left the basket on the bank.

A she-wolf is said to have found the twins and fed them as her own puppies until a local shepherd called Faustulus found and adopted them into his own family. Other accounts suggest that the word for she-wolf in Latin, lupa, was also used for prostitutes and it is therefore probable that Faustulus' wife, Laurentia, was a prostitute who fed and raised the infants Romulus and Remus.

In later years it came about that a quarrel arose between the herdsmen of Numitor and those of Amulius. Remus was brought before Numitor who on hearing of Remus' ubringing and then meeting Faustulus and Romulus understood they must be his own exposed grandsons. Together with a number of sympathisers they later slew Amulius and restored Numitor to the throne of Alba.

An oracle predicted Romulus and Remus would build a great city, and so it was. They left Alba together with what men they could must in order to found their own city on that hill where their Faustulus and Laurentia had brought them up: the Palatine hill.

The founding of cities clearly had to follow specific rituals: Ploughing a consecrated furrow round the perimeter with a sacred Ox was an important element of this. Remus laughed at Romulus' work, jumping over the sacred furrow, the pomerium, saying "That is what your enemies will do" and Romulus retorted "And this is how they will fare" striking his brother. A fight ensued and Remus was killed. Romulus completed the work alone, calling the new city "Roma" (Rome) and admitted into it anyone who wished to come. Many of the new citizens were outlaws and outcasts making Rome particularly unpalatable to its neighbours. The birth or Rome is accepted as having been the 21st April, 753BC. Romulus was thus the first King of Rome. He spent much of his time establishing the laws and regulations which would govern his new city.

A particular problem was the severe lack of women in the new city. This was resolved by an incursion into the neighbouring town of the Sabines and abducting their women. A siege ensued as the Sabine men came to take their wives and daughters back. One of the Roman watchmen, a shepherd, had a daughter called Tarpeya. Tarpeya's treachery allowed the Sabines to win through and enter the fortress on the Palatine. Battle ensued but was surprisingly brought to a stop by the intervention of the Sabine women who thrust themselves between the two warring sides. The Sabines joined with the Romans and settled to live on the next hill: the Quirinal. Romulus is therefore not only known for founding the city but also for having grown the population through acceptance of the Sabines and for instilling a first system of rule through a council called the "Senate".

Myth suggests that at the end of his days Romulus was swept up into the skies. A black marble slab called the Lapis Niger is still in the forum and has always been venerated as his place of rest on earth. Six kings succeeded Romulus before Rome became a Republic.

Earliest Origins of Rome

Archeological research on the Palatine and Capitoline hill has not only brought to light what is believed to be Romulus' own hut but also a number of Xth (10th) century BC settlements, ie predating Romulus' official founding of Rome by some two hundred years. These early settlements are believed to have belonged to shepherds and farmers probably keeping them safe from the river Tiber's regular floods and/or enemy attacks. In line with the popularly accepted accounts, these and similar settlements on the nearby Quirinal and Esquiline hills are expected to have eventually merged during the VIIIth (8th) century into a single community which had the Capitoline hill as its political and religious centre.

One should bear in mind that at about this same time the Etruscans to the north were an increasingly strong and rich people as were the Greek colonies to the south. The Romans absorbed and took much from both. Three of the six kings of Rome after Romulus were Etruscans.

An important statue to see is that of the She-Wolf feeding Romulus and Remus. The wolf itself is said to be of Etruscan origin whilst the infants are of later, Roman origin. It is exhibited in the Capitoline museum - the first museum in the world as we know and intend museums.

Roman History: | aeneas | Romulus, Remus & the origins of Rome | The ancient roman kings | Oath of the Horatii | The Kingdom and Seven Kings of Rome | The Roman Republic | The Conquest of Italy and the Punic Wars | The Republic in crisis | Julius Caesar and the end of the Republic | Queen Cleopatra of Egypt | Augustus and the Empire | The 12 Caesars | The Five Good Emperors | Other Emperors | Emperor Constantine and Christianisation | fall of the roman empire |

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"Romulus and Remus" was written by Giovanni Milani-Santarpia for - Rome apartments