The name of Rome’s founder was not agreed upon by early historians, and we possess a detailed account of their confusion in the (probably fourth century AD) Roman work Origo Gentis Romanae, now regarded as less likely to be a Renaissance forgery. It was earliest cited as ‘Romus’, evidently derived from the name, or even as the refugee Trojan prince Aeneas (until it became apparent that the fall of Troy c. 1200 BC was several hundred years too early to be matched with the founding of Rome). This was probably linked to the other early Italian creation-legends for ancient cities that credit Trojans with their foundation… Rome as the emerging leader of the Italian cities, had to have an appropriately prestigious pedigree. Aeneas was recorded as being the only major Trojan hero to escape the sack of the city in the Iliad… he certainly had local Latin connections independent of Roman stories, being regarded as the founder of the nearby city of Lavinium; his escape carrying his father Anchises at the fall of Troy is celebrated on sixth century BC Etruscan pottery. The ‘Penates’ or household gods of Troy, sacred relics rescued by Aeneas, were supposed to be at Lavinium by c. 300 BC, and their shrine may be the ‘Sanctuary of the Thirteen Altars’ in the town which is far older and has Greek architectural influences. The Roman priesthood, whose rituals went far back into the times of the monarchy, were still attending ceremonies there in the Late Republican era, citing the town as the ancient home of their cults.
Aeneas, regarded in the Greek ‘Trojan War’ legends that early Italians would have known as a virtuous and honourable Trojan prince who was a suitable object of veneration for the Romans, was believed to have founded a new Trojan dynasty in the west by the Greeks in Thucydides time (end of the fifth century BC). He is first declared to have been the founder of Rome by the Greek historian Hellanicus, writing as early as the late fifth century BC. An alternative Greek legend connected the city to Odysseus on his Italian voyagings… The legend of Odysseus’ son Latinus ruling a realm in ‘Tyrennia’… was already extant in the sixth century BC… referred to in the appendix to Hesiod’s Theogony.
It was unclear to what extent Rome was a ‘planned’ foundation or a gradual development. …Dionysius of Halicarnassus, in Book II of his Roman Antiquities, went the furthest in positing a ‘creation’ of a model city and constitution by Romulus. …
There were early (eighth to sixth century?) farming villages on most of the city’s hills, but the earliest and largest would appear to be on the two ‘original’ hills allegedly settled by Romulus, the Capito and the Palatine. The theory that the Caelian owed its name to its first settler, an expatriate Etruscan, may also be correct. …
The special status of Rome’s constitution to Classical historians reflected its importance as a world-conqueror. But the nature of Rome’s early society was also unusual, with the established version of events having its founder bring in ‘outcasts’ from all over Latium, not the usual body of disciplined settlers from one geographical location. It is unlikely that this story of Romulus’ creation of a ‘sanctuary’ for refugees, outlaws and other social undesirables of low birth at Rome - or the legend of their rape of the Sabine women to acquire wives - was merely slander by disgruntled Greek-Italian victims of Roman expansion in the later fourth century BC, as the Romans made no attempt to ‘tidy up’ or excuse it in their days of glory. In contrast, it seems that Roman historians extolled the moral advantages of their humble, rough and unorthodox origin and contrasted the city’s primitive roots to later ‘decadent’ luxury.
Evidently, there was some disagreement over whether Rome should be linked in origin to the other ‘Greek’-founded cities of Italy or to the Greeks’ Trojan rivals. Some form of connection to the early Hellenic world was considered plausible enough for justificatory legends of a suitable ‘heroic’ founder to be constructed. The Trojan link was taken seriously across the region by 263 BC, when the Sicilian city of Segesta allied itself to Rome, citing their common Trojan origin. But the modern contention that this was invented for political reasons perhaps at the time when Rome was fighting Pyrrhus of Epirus in the 270s is unrealistic. The notion of a link to the early Greek world, if not precisely to the royal house of Troy, was already in local Etruscan culture by the sixth century BC. One theory indeed had the Etruscans themselves emigrating to Italy from Lydia… It was known to Herodotus in the fifth century BC… by the first century BC Dionysius preferred to regard the Etruscans as Italian natives. (The unusual status of the Etruscan language, lacking local or indeed Greek/Asia Minor connections, has deepened the still insoluble mystery.)
There was also an anomalous story about a settlement of Arcadians from Greece, led by Evander, on the site centuries before ‘Romulus’ that was persistent enough to be incorporated into Roman tradition. … A very early cult of the Greek hero Heracles/Hercules on the site of the city , possibly introduced by early Greek traders, also had to be accommodated, and it would appear from findings of pottery that there were Greek residents in the area by the eighth century. Dionysius made Heracles/Hercules the father of Latinus, king of the Latins at the time when Aeneas the Trojan landed. …
The legend that Romulus was the son of a princess of Alba Longa can also be discounted, not least as the ‘city’ of Alba did not exist in the eighth century. … The notion of the founder as the unusually sired son of a princess also appears with such founding heroes as Perseus of Mycenae and Sargon of Akkad…
The first verifiable references to Romulus having a twin called Remus and to their suckling by a wolf are fourth-century, and the latter legend may have been invented to account for early Rome’s possession of a venerated statue of a wolf *(to which the famous twins appear to have been added, possibly in the 290s BC). The statue of the wolf itself, now in the Capitoline Museum, may be as early as the sixth century BC and so reflect an ancient story told about the founder. But even in Roman times it was believed by some historians that the wolf story arose out of a mistranslation of the slang word lupa, i.e. prostitute, for Romulus’ foster-mother. The myth that the latter, Rhea Silvia, was impregnated by the god Mars was on a par with other stories of divinely sired founders, not only Greek ones (e.g. the Babylonians Sargon and Semiramis.) It used a suitable divinity for a people who were to be so successful in war. Alternatively, one story had it that Rhea Silvia was impregnated by a spark from the sacred fire that she tended as a priestess. It has parallels with other Italian myths, though also with the Greek legend of the similarly imprisoned and magically impregnated Danae - mother of Perseus, founder of the archaic Peloponnesian military power Mycenae. It is notable that not all the early Roman historians were agreed that Remus was killed by his twin in a dispute over where to site the city, as was stated in the later version of the legend. But the notion of situating Romulus’ proposed town on the Palatine and Remus’ on the Aventine, with the former as the victor in the contest, probably reflects memories of the Palatine being the more important site in the new city. The steeper and more defensible Capitol may have been the citadel for times of refuge from attack, as in the legend of the war with the Sabines. The idea that the commander’s daughter *Tarpeia betrayed it to the attackers and was then thrown off the Tarpeian Rock as her punishment would have arisen from a legend about that site’s naming.
There does now appear to have been a very early wall on the Palatine Hill, site of Romulus’ supposed first settlement, so there may be some truth behind the legend of an eighth-century foundation. But there were buildings on several other hills at the time, some of them dateable to earlier centuries, and the existing story of an orderly foundation of a state by one leader probably tidies up a far more haphazard and complex process. It is more likely that there was a union of several existing villages, probably for defence and involving the creation of a joint urban centre in the Forum Romanum (whose earliest buildings can be dated to the late seventh century). The traditional conflict and then union with the Sabines following Romulus’ seizure of their womenfolk and the resultant dual kingship of Romulus and the Sabine leader Titus Tatius may also reflect some real events, particularly given that it is so confused a story. … There are certainly traces of Sabine influence in Roman Latin terminoogy, and there was some sort of tradition in early Roman times of Sabine connections with the Quirinal Hill.
Traditionally, Romulus, the founder of the Senate as well as the city, turned into a tyrant and after acquiring an oppressive bodyguard was secretly murdered by the senators on the Campus Martius after a reign of around 30 years, c. 721 BC. His disappearance was thus due to the murderers cutting up his body in situ and smuggling the bits away, not his apotheosis in a cloud to the heavens to become the god Quirinus. But this story bears too many hallmarks of later interpolation and retrospection to be considered reliable.
It is possible that the names and very early dating of the first three tribes of the Roman citizenry are genuine. The local Ramnes (allegedly called after Romulus), Sabine Tities, and Etruscan Luceres were supposed to represent the **three distinct peoples who had settled early Rome, living respectively on the Palatine, Quirinal and Caelian Hills. **
The foundation of the 30 curiae, a form of organization by family for religious/ceremonial purposes probably based on ten subdivisions of each tribe - was also ascribed to Romulus. The system was of unclear purpose and origin even to the writers of the Late Republic, when an archaic Comitia Centuriata, an assembly organized by curiae, met to confer commands but many citizens did not know their curia. It was virtually unique to Rome and had no obvious Republican political purpose, so it probably did originate in some obscure tribal arrangement of monarchic times that became fossilized as tradition.