Citations:

Text #9143

"Romulus and Remus", in Wikipedia.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romulus_and...

Romulus were the twin brothers and main characters of Rome’s foundation myth. (The pronunciation in English is different from the Latin original Rōmulus and Rĕmus). Their mother was Rhea Silvia, daughter of Numitor, king of Alba Longa. Before their conception, Numitor’s brother Amulius seized power, killed Numitor’s male heirs and forced Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin, sworn to chastity. Rhea Silvia conceived the twins by the god Mars. Once the twins were born, Amulius had them abandoned to die in the Tiber river. They were saved by a series of miraculous interventions: the river carried them to safety, a she-wolf found and suckled them, and a woodpecker fed them. A shepherd and his wife found them and fostered them to manhood as simple shepherds. The twins, still ignorant of their true origins, proved to be natural leaders. Each acquired many followers. When they discovered the truth of their birth, they killed Amulius and restored Numitor to his throne. Rather than wait to inherit Alba Longa, they chose to found a new city.

While Romulus wanted to found the new city on the Palatine Hill, Remus preferred the Aventine Hill. They agreed to determine the site through augury but when each claimed the results in his own favor, they quarreled and Remus was killed. Romulus founded the new city, named it Rome, after himself, and created its first legions and senate. The new city grew rapidly, swelled by landless refugees; as most of these were male and unmarried, Romulus arranged the abduction of women from the neighboring Sabines. The ensuing war ended with the joining of Sabines and Romans as one Roman people. Thanks to divine favour and Romulus’s inspired leadership, Rome became a dominant force, but Romulus himself became increasingly autocratic, and disappeared or died in mysterious circumstances. In later forms of the myth, he ascended to heaven and was identified with Quirinus, the divine personification of the Roman people.

The legend as a whole encapsulates Rome’s ideas of itself, its origins and moral values. For modern scholarship, it remains one of the most complex and problematic of all foundation myths, particularly Remus’s death. Ancient historians had no doubt that Romulus gave his name to the city. Most modern historians believe his name a back-formation from the name Rome; the basis for Remus’s name and role remain subjects of ancient and modern speculation. The myth was fully developed into something like an “official”, chronological version in the Late Republican and early Imperial era; Roman historians dated the city’s foundation to between 758 and 728 BC, and Plutarch reckoned the twins’ birth year as c. 27/28 March 771 BC. An earlier tradition that gave Romulus a distant ancestor in the semi-divine Trojan prince Aeneas was further embellished, and Romulus was made the direct ancestor of Rome’s first Imperial dynasty. Possible historical bases for the broad mythological narrative remain unclear and disputed. The image of the she-wolf suckling the divinely fathered twins became an iconic representation of the city and its founding legend, making Romulus and Remus preeminent among the feral children of ancient mythography.

Modern scholarship approaches the various known stories of Romulus and Remus as cumulative elaborations and later interpretations of Roman foundation-myth. Particular versions and collations were presented by Roman historians as authoritative, an official history trimmed of contradictions and untidy variants to justify contemporary developments, genealogies and actions in relation to Roman morality. Other narratives appear to represent popular or folkloric tradition; some of these remain inscrutable in purpose and meaning. Wiseman sums the whole as the mythography of an unusually problematic foundation and early history. Cornell and others describe particular elements of the mythos as “shameful”.1 Nevertheless, by the 4th century BC, the fundamentals of the Romulus and Remus story were standard Roman fare, and by 269 BC the wolf and suckling twins appeared on one of the earliest, if not the earliest issues of Roman silver coinage. Rome’s foundation story was evidently a matter of national pride.** It featured in the earliest known history of Rome, which was attributed to Diocles of Peparethus. **The patrician senator Quintus Fabius Pictor used Diocles’ as a source for his own history of Rome, written around the time of Rome’s war with Hannibal and probably intended for circulation among Rome’s Greek-speaking allies.

Fabius’ history provided a basis for the early books of Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita, which he wrote in Latin, and for several Greek-language histories of Rome, including Dionysius of Halicarnassus’s Roman Antiquities, written during the late 1st century BC, and Plutarch’s early 2nd century Life of Romulus. These three accounts provide the broad literary basis for studies of Rome’s founding mythography. They have much in common, but each is selective to its purpose. Livy’s is a dignified handbook, justifying the purpose and morality of Roman traditions observed in his own times. Dionysius and Plutarch approach the same subjects as interested outsiders, and include founder-traditions not mentioned by Livy, untraceable to a common source and probably specific to particular regions, social classes or oral traditions. A Roman text of the late Imperial era, Origo gentis Romanae (The origin of the Roman people) is dedicated to the many “more or less bizarre”, often contradictory variants of Rome’s foundation myth, including versions in which Remus founds a city named Remuria, five miles from Rome, and outlives his brother Romulus.

There are several variations on the basic legendary tale.

Plutarch presents Romulus’s and Remus’s ancient descent from prince Aeneas, fugitive from Troy after its destruction by the Achaeans. Their maternal grandfather is his descendant Numitor, who inherits the kingship of Alba Longa. Numitor’s brother Amulius inherits its treasury, including the gold brought by Aeneas from Troy. Amulius uses his control of the treasury to dethrone Numitor, but fears that Numitor’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, will bear children who could overthrow him.

Amulius forces Rhea Silvia into perpetual virginity as a Vestal priestess, but she bears children anyway. In one variation of the story, Mars, god of war, seduces and impregnates her: in another, Amulius himself seduces her, and in yet another, Hercules.

The king sees his niece’s pregnancy and confines her. She gives birth to twin boys of remarkable beauty; her uncle orders her death and theirs. One account holds that he has Rhea buried alive – the standard punishment for Vestal Virgins who violated their vow of celibacy – and orders the death of the twins by exposure; both means would avoid his direct blood-guilt. In another, he has Rhea and her twins thrown into the River Tiber.

In every version, a servant is charged with the deed of killing the twins, but cannot bring himself to harm them. He places them in a basket and leaves it on the banks of the Tiber. The river rises in flood and carries the twins downstream, unharmed.

The river deity Tiberinus makes the basket catch in the roots of a fig tree that grows in the Velabrum swamp at the base of the Palatine Hill. The twins are found and suckled by a she-wolf (Lupa) and fed by a woodpecker (Picus). A shepherd of Amulius named Faustulus discovers them and takes them to his hut, where he and his wife Acca Larentia raise them as their own children.In another variant, Hercules impregnates Acca Larentia and marries her off to the shepherd Faustulus. She has twelve sons; when one of them dies, Romulus takes his place to found the priestly college of Arval brothers Fratres Arvales. Acca Larentia is therefore identified with the Arval goddess Dea Dia, who is served by the Arvals. In later Republican religious tradition, a Quirinal priest (flamen) impersonated Romulus (by then deified as Quirinus) to perform funerary rites for his foster mother (identified as Dia).

Another and probably late tradition has Acca Larentia as a sacred prostitute (one of many Roman slangs for prostitute was lupa (she-wolf)).

Yet another tradition relates that Romulus and Remus are nursed by the Wolf-Goddess Lupa or Luperca in her cave-lair (lupercal). Luperca was given cult for her protection of sheep from wolves and her spouse was the Wolf-and-Shepherd-God Lupercus, who brought fertility to the flocks. She has been identified with Acca Larentia.

In all versions of the founding myth, the twins grew up as shepherds. While tending their flocks, they came into conflict with the shepherds of Amulius. Remus was captured and brought before Amulius, who eventually discovers his identity. Romulus raised a band of shepherds to liberate his brother and Amulius was killed. Romulus and Remus were conjointly offered the crown but they refused it and restored Numitor to the throne. They left to found their own city, but could not agree on its location; Romulus preferred the Palatine Hill, Remus preferred the Aventine Hill. They agreed to seek the will of the gods in this matter, through augury. Each took position on his respective hill and prepared a sacred space there. Remus saw six auspicious birds; but Romulus saw twelve. Romulus claimed superior augury as the divine basis of his right to decide. Remus made a counterclaim: he saw his six vultures first. Romulus set to work with his supporters, digging a trench (or building a wall, according to Dionysius) around the Palatine to define his city boundary.

Death of Remus

Livy gave two versions of Remus’s death. In the one “more generally received”, Remus criticized and belittles the new wall, and in a final insult to the new city and its founder alike, he leaped over it. Romulus killed him, saying “So perish every one that shall hereafter leap over my wall”. In the other version, Remus was simply stated as dead; no murder was alleged. Two other, lesser known accounts have Remus killed by a blow to the head with a spade, wielded either by Romulus’s commander Fabius (according to St. Jerome’s version) or by a man named Celer. Romulus buried Remus with honour and regret. The Roman ab urbe condita began from the founding of the city, and places that date as 21 April 753 BC.

Romulus completed his city and named it Roma after himself. Then he divided his fighting men into regiments of 3000 infantry and 300 cavalry, which he called “legions”. From the rest of the populace he selected 100 of the most noble and wealthy fathers to serve as his council. He called these men Patricians: they were fathers of Rome, not only because they cared for their own legitimate citizen-sons but because they had a fatherly care for Rome and all its people. They were also its elders, and were therefore known as Senators. Romulus thereby inaugurated a system of government and social hierarchy based on the patron-client relationship.

Rome drew exiles, refugees, the dispossessed, criminals and runaway slaves. The city expanded its boundaries to accommodate them; five of the seven hills of Rome were settled: the Capitoline Hill, the Aventine Hill, the Caelian Hill, the Quirinal Hill, and the Palatine Hill. As most of these immigrants were men, Rome found itself with a shortage of marriageable women. Romulus invited the neighboring Sabines and Latins, along with their womenfolk, to a festival at the Circus Maximus, in honour of Consus (or of Neptune). While the men were distracted by the games and befuddled with wine, the Romans seized their daughters and took them into the city. Most were eventually persuaded to marry Roman men. War with the Sabines

The Sabine and Latin men demanded the return of their daughters. The inhabitants of three Latin towns (Caenina, Antemnae and Crustumerium) took up arms one after the other but were soundly defeated by Romulus, who killed Acron, the king of Caenina, with his own hands and celebrates the first Roman triumph shortly after. Romulus was magnanimous in victory – most of the conquered land was divided among Rome’s citizens but none of the defeated were enslaved.

The Sabine king Titus Tatius marched on Rome to assault its Capitoline citadel. The citadel commander’s daughter Tarpeia opened the gates for them, in return for “what they wear on their left arms”. She expected their golden bracelets. Once inside, the Sabines crushed her to death under a pile of their shields.

The Sabines left the citadel to meet the Romans in open battle in the space later known as the comitium. The outcome hung in the balance; the Romans retreated to the Palatine Hill, where Romulus called on Jupiter for help – traditionally at the place where a temple to Jupiter Stator (“the stayer”) was built. The Romans drove the Sabines back to the point where the Curia Hostilia later stood.

The Sabine women themselves then intervened to beg for unity between Sabines and Romans. A truce was made, then peace. The Romans based themselves on the Palatine and the Sabines on the Quirinal, with Romulus and Tatius as joint kings and the Comitium as the common centre of government and culture. 100 Sabine elders and clan leaders joined the Patrician Senate. The Sabines adopted the Roman calendar, and the Romans adopted the armour and oblong shield of the Sabines. The legions were doubled in size.

Romulus and Tatius ruled jointly for five years and subdued the Alban colony of the Camerini. Then Tatius sheltered some allies who had illegally plundered the Lavinians, and murdered ambassadors sent to seek justice. Romulus and the Senate decided that Tatius should go to Lavinium to offer sacrifice and appease his offence. At Lavinium, Tatius was assassinated and Romulus became sole king.

As king, Romulus held authority over Rome’s armies and judiciary. He organized Rome’s administration according to tribe; one of Latins (Ramnes), one of Sabines (Titites), and one of Luceres. Each elected a tribune to represent their civil, religious, and military interests. The tribunes were magistrates of their tribes, performed sacrifices on their behalf, and commanded their tribal levies in times of war.

Romulus divided each tribe into ten curiae to form the Comitia Curiata. The thirty curiae derived their individual names from thirty of the kidnapped Sabine women.

The individual curiae were further divided into ten gentes, held to form the basis for the nomen in the Roman naming convention. Proposals made by Romulus or the Senate were offered to the Curiate assembly for ratification; the ten gentes within each curia cast a vote. Votes were carried by whichever gens has a majority.

Romulus formed a personal guard called the Celeres; these were three hundred of Rome’s finest horsemen. They were commanded by a tribune of the Ramnes; in one version of the founding tale, Celer killed Remus and helped Romulus found the city of Rome. The provision of a personal guard for Romulus helped justify the Augustan development of a Praetorian Guard, responsible for internal security and the personal safety of the Emperor. The relationship between Romulus and his Tribune resembled the later relation between the Roman Dictator and his Magister Equitum. Celer, as the Celerum Tribune, occupied the second place in the state, and in Romulus’s absence had the rights of convoking the Comitia and commanding the armies.

For more than two decades, Romulus waged wars and expanded Rome’s territory. He subdued Fidenae, which seized Roman provisions during a famine, and founded a Roman colony there. Then he subdued the Crustumini, who had murdered Roman colonists in their territory. The Etruscans of Veii protested the presence of a Roman garrison at Fidenae, and demanded the return of the town to its citizens. When Romulus refused, they confronted him in battle and were defeated. They agreed to a hundred-year truce and surrendered fifty noble hostages: Romulus celebrated his third and last triumph.

When Romulus’s grandfather Numitor died, the people of Alba Longa offered him the crown as rightful heir. Romulus adapted the government of the city to a Roman model. Henceforth, the citizens held annual elections and choose one of their own as Roman governor.

In Rome, Romulus began to show signs of autocratic rule. The Senate becomes less influential in administration and lawmaking; Romulus ruled by edict. He divided his conquered territories among his soldiers without Patrician consent. Senatorial resentment grew to hatred.

According to the legend, Romulus “mysteriously” disappeared in a storm or whirlwind, during or shortly after offering public sacrifice at or near the Quirinal Hill. A “foul suspicion” arises that the Senate, weary of kingly government, and exasperated of late by the imperious deportment of Romulus toward them, had plotted against his life and made him away, so that they might assume the authority and government into their own hands. This suspicion they sought to turn aside by decreeing divine honors to Romulus, as to one not dead, but translated to a higher condition. And Proculus, a man of note, took oath that he saw Romulus caught up into heaven in his arms and vestments, and heard him, as he ascended, cry out that they should hereafter style him by the name of Quirinus.

Livy repeats more or less the same story, but shifts the initiative for deification to the people of Rome:

Then a few voices began to proclaim Romulus’s divinity; the cry was taken up, and at last every man present hailed him as a god and son of a god, and prayed to him to be forever gracious and to protect his children. However, even on this great occasion there were, I believe, a few dissenters who secretly maintained that the king had been torn to pieces by the senators. At all events the story got about, though in veiled terms; but it was not important, as awe, and admiration for Romulus’s greatness, set the seal upon the other version of his end, which was, moreover, given further credit by the timely action of a certain Julius Proculus, a man, we are told, honored for his wise counsel on weighty matters. The loss of the king had left the people in an uneasy mood and suspicious of the senators, and Proculus, aware of the prevalent temper, conceived the shrewd idea of addressing the Assembly. ‘Romulus’, he declared, ‘the father of our city descended from heaven at dawn this morning and appeared to me. In awe and reverence I stood before him, praying for permission to look upon his face without sin. Go, he said, and tell the Romans that by heaven’s will my Rome shall be capital of the world. Let them learn to be soldiers. Let them know, and teach their children, that no power on earth can stand against Roman arms. Having spoken these words, he was taken up again into the sky” (Livy, 1.16, trans. A. de Selincourt, The Early History of Rome, 34-35)

Livy infers Romulus’s murder as no more than a dim and doubtful whisper from the past; in the circumstances, Proculus’ declaration is wise and practical because it has the desired effect. Cicero’s seeming familiarity with the story of Romulus’s murder and divinity must have been shared by his target audience and readership. Dio’s version, though fragmentary, is unequivocal; Romulus is surrounded by hostile, resentful senators and “rent limb from limb” in the senate-house itself. An eclipse and sudden storm, “the same sort of phenomenon that had attended his birth”, conceal the deed from the soldiers and the people, who are anxiously seeking their king. Proculus fakes a personal vision of Romulus’s spontaneous ascent to heaven as Quirinus and announces the message of Romulus-Quirinus; a new king must be chosen at once. A dispute arises: should this king be Sabine or Roman? The debate goes on for a year. During this time, the most distinguished senators rule for five days at a time as interreges.

Plutarch says that Romulus was 53 (“in the fifty-fourth year of his age”) when he “vanished” in 717 BC; this gives the twins a birth-date in the year 771 BC, and Romulus’s founding of Rome at the age of 18. Dionysius of Halicarnassus says that Romulus began his reign at 18, ruled for 37 years and died at 55 years old.

Romulus-Quirinus

Ennius (fl. 180s BC) refers to Romulus as a divinity without reference to Quirinus, whom Roman mythographers identified as an originally Sabine war-deity, and thus to be identified with Roman Mars. Lucilius lists Quirinus and Romulus as separate deities, and Varro accords them different temples. Images of Quirinus showed him as a bearded warrior wielding a spear as a god of war, the embodiment of Roman strength and a deified likeness of the city of Rome. He had a Flamen Maior called the Flamen Quirinalis, who oversaw his worship and rituals in the ordainment of Roman religion attributed to Romulus’s royal successor, Numa Pompilius. There is however no evidence for the conflated Romulus-Quirinus before the 1st century BC.

Ovid in Book 14, lines 812-828, of the Metamorphoses gives a description of the deification of Romulus and his wife Hersilia, who are given the new names of Quirinus and Hora respectively. Mars, the father of Romulus, is given permission by Jupiter to bring his son up to Olympus to live with the Olympians. Ovid uses the words of Ennius as a direct quote and puts them into the mouth of the King of the Gods, “There shall be one whom you shall raise to the blue vault of heaven”. Ovid then uses a simile to describe the change that Romulus undertakes as he ascends to live with the Olympians, “as leaden balls from a broad sling melt in mid sky: Finer his features now and worthier of heaven’s high-raised couch, his lineaments those of Quirinus in his robe of state”.

Beard, M., North, J., Price, S., Religions of Rome, vol. 1, illustrated, reprint, Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-521-31682-0
Cornell, T., The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000–264 BC), Routledge, 1995. ISBN 978-0-415-01596-7
Wiseman, T. P., Remus: a Roman myth, Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Plutarch, Lives of Romulus, Numa Pompilius, Camillus

  1. Cornell, pp 60–2: “these elements have convinced the eminent historiographer H. Strasburger that Rome’s foundation myth represents not native tradition but defamatory foreign propaganda, probably originated by Rome’s neighbours in Magna Graecia and successfully foisted on an impressionable and ethnically confused Roman people.” Cornell and Momigliano find this argument impeccably developed but entirely implausible; if an exercise in mockery, it was a signal failure.

Text #9279

Venning. A Chronology of the Roman Empire
[pp. 25--32]

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’1 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.

  1. Altars from so-called Sanctuary of Thirteen Altars, founded in Lavinium in 6th century B.C. Built between mid-6th — 4th centuries B.C., it is the greatest monument discovered during the excavations in Lavinium. A suggestion exists of identification of the Thirteen Altars with Aphrodisium, the temple of Venus, but the version of dedication of the monument to different gods is more probable. GIOVANNI D’ANNA “LEGGENDE E TRADIZIONI DELL’ANTICA ROMA”, ARCHEO, N. 31, p. 17. [EN]

Please view our Legal Notice before you make use of this Database.

See also our Credits page for info on data we are building upon.