Romulus and Remus
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Romulus (c. 771 BC–c. 717 BC) and Remus (c. 771 BC–c. 753 BC) are the
traditional founders of Rome, appearing in Roman mythology as the twin
sons of the priestess Rhea Silvia, fathered by the god of war, Mars.
According to the tradition recorded as history by Plutarch and Livy,
Romulus served as the first King of Rome.
Romulus slew Remus over a dispute about which one of the two brothers
had the support of the local deities to rule the new city and give it
his name. The name they gave the city was Rome. Supposedly, Romulus had
stood on one hill and Remus another, and a circle of birds flew over
Romulus, signifying that he should be king. After founding Rome, Romulus
not only created the Roman Legions and the Roman Senate, but also added
citizens to his new city by abducting the women of the neighboring
Sabine tribes, which resulted in the mixture of the Sabines and Romans
into one people. Romulus would become ancient Rome's greatest conqueror,
adding large amounts of territory and people to the dominion of Rome.
After his death, Romulus was deified as the god Quirinus, the divine
persona of the Roman people. He now is regarded as a mythological
figure, and it is supposed that his name is a back-formation from the
name Rome, which may ultimately derive from a word for "river". Some
scholars, notably Andrea Carandini believe in the historicity of
Romulus, in part because of the 1988 discovery of the Murus Romuli on
the north slope of the Palatine Hill in Rome.
Romulus and Remus are pre-eminent among the famous feral children in
mythology and fiction.
Life before Rome
Before Romulus and Remus were born, their grandfather Numitor and
his brother Amulius, descendants of fugitives from Troy, received the
throne of Alba Longa upon their father’s death. Numitor received the
sovereign powers as his birthright while Amulius received the royal
treasury, including the gold Aeneas brought with him from Troy.
Because Amulius held the treasury, thus having more power than his
brother, he dethroned Numitor as the rightful king. Out of fear that
Numitor’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, would produce children who one day
would overthrow him as king, he forced Rhea to become a Vestal Virgin, a
priestess sworn to abstinence. But Mars, god of war, (in Greek, Ares)
was smitten by her and secretly while she slept bore her two sons. They
were twin boys, as told, of remarkable size and beauty, later named
Romulus and Remus. Amulius was enraged and ordered Rhea and the twins
killed. Accounts vary on how; in one account, he had Rhea buried alive
(the standard punishment for Vestal Virgins who violated their vow of
celibacy) and ordered the death of the twins by exposure; In another, he
ordered Rhea and the twins thrown into the Tiber.
The servant ordered to kill the twins could not, however, because
they were too beautiful and innocent, the servant placed the two in a
basket and laid the basket on the banks of the Tiber river and went
away. The river, which was in flood, rose and gently carried the basket
and the twins downstream.
Altar from Ostia showing the discovery of Romulus and Remus (now at the
Palazzo Massimo)Romulus and Remus were kept safe by the river deity
Tiberinus, who made the cradle catch in the roots of a fig tree growing
in the Velabrum swamp, which therefore, has a high symbolic
significance. He then brought the infant twins up onto the Palatine
Hill. There, they were nursed by a wolf, Lupa in Latin. Lupa is a name
for the priestesses of a fox goddess, leading to an alternative theory
that the wolf was human. There is speculation that the nurturers were
harlots (she-wolf being a name for them in ancient Rome) They were
nurtured underneath a fig tree and were fed by a woodpecker. Both
animals were sacred to Mars.
Romulus and Remus were then discovered by Faustulus, a shepherd for
Amulius, who brought the children to his home. Faustulus and his wife,
Acca Larentia, raised the boys as their own. The roots of her name imply
a religious cult of an earth mother. Some mythological traditions have
her as the prostitute 'she-wolf' who suckled Rome's founders.
In another Roman legend Hercules married Acca Larentia off to the
shepherd Faustulus, who saved the lives of the twins Romulus and Remus
after they had been thrown into the Tiber. Acca Larentia had twelve
sons, and on the death of one of them, Romulus took his place. He and
the remaining eleven, founded the college of the Arval brothers Fratres
Arvales. Acca Larentia is therefore identified with the Dea Dia of that
collegium. The flamen Quirinalis acted in the role of Romulus (deified
as Quirinus) to perform funerary rites for his foster mother (as the
Another, later tradition relates that Romulus and Remus were suckled
by a wolf, has been explained by the suggestion that Larentia was called
Lupa (courtesan, literally she-wolf) on account of her immoral character
(Livy i. 4; Ovid, Fasti, iii. 55).
Yet another tradition relates also that Romulus and Remus were nursed
by the Wolf-Goddess Lupa or Luperca, who was identified with Acca
Larentia, whose rapport with wolves kept them from harming the sheep,
but add that Luperca's husband is the Wolf-and-Shepherd-God Lupercus who
brought fertility to the flocks.
The many names associated with Acca Laurentia, are, Acca Larenta,
Larentia, Laurentia, Lara, Larunda, Larenta, Larentina, and Mater Larum,
the "Mother of the Lares" as well as, Fauna, who had an oracle on the
nearby Aventine Hill and was the wife of Faunus, the Bona Dea, Lupa,
Luperca, and Dea Dia.
In 2007 the Lupercal where supposedly the children were found being
suckled by the wolf was discovered by archaeologists. Its location is 52
feet (16 m) beneath Palatine Hill. Although the main worship area has
been unearthed, it is a fragile grotto and already partially caved-in.
Because of this, it would not survive a full-scale dig, leaving
archaeologists to examine the remaining sections with sensitive tools
such as endoscopes and laser scanners.
Nonetheless, once their origins are resolved, most traditions agree
that as they grew, their noble birth showed itself in their size and
beauty while they were still children. When they grew up, they were
manly and high-spirited, of invincible courage and daring. Romulus,
however, was thought the wiser and more politic of the two, and in his
discussions with the neighbors about pasture and hunting, gave them
opportunities of noting that his disposition was one which led him to
command rather than to obey.
On account of these qualities, they were beloved by their equals and
the poor, but they despised the king's officers and bailiffs as being no
braver than they were, and cared neither for their anger nor their
threats. They led the lives and followed the pursuits of nobly born men,
not valuing sloth and idleness, but exercise and hunting, defending the
land against brigands, capturing plunderers, and avenging those who had
suffered wrong. Thus they became famous throughout Latium.
One day when Romulus and Remus were eighteen years old, a quarrel
occurred between the shepherds of Numitor and the shepherds of Amulius.
Some of Numitor’s shepherds drove off many of Amulius’s cattle, causing
Amulius’s men to become enraged. Romulus and Remus gathered the
shepherds together, found and killed Numitor’s shepherds, and recovered
the lost cattle. To the displeasure of Numitor, Romulus and Remus
collected and took into their company many needy men and slaves of
Numitor, exhibiting seditious boldness and temper.
Pietro da Cortona, Romulus and Remus given shelter by Faustulus While
Romulus was engaged in some sacrifice, as he was fond of sacrifices and
the deities, some of Numitor’s shepherds attacked Remus and some of his
friends and a battle broke out. After both sides took many wounds,
Numitor’s shepherds prevailed and took Remus as their prisoner and
returned him to Numitor for punishment. Numitor did not punish Remus,
because he was in fear of Amulius, but went to Amulius and asked for
justice, since he was his brother, and he had been insulted by the royal
servants. The people of Alba Longa, too, sympathized with Numitor, and
thought that he had been undeservedly outraged. Amulius was therefore
induced to hand Remus over to Numitor to treat him as he saw fit.
When Numitor took Remus to his home for punishment, he was amazed at
the young man's superiority in stature and strength of body. After
hearing of his acts and deeds and of his noble virtues, Numitor asked
Remus of his birth and who he really was. When Remus told him that they
had been found and nursed by a wolf on the banks of the Tiber river, and
conjecturing Remus’s age from his looks, he began to think of the
possibility that Remus was Rhea's son.
Upon Romulus's return from his sacrifices, Faustulus told Romulus
that Remus had been captured and told him to go to his brother’s aid.
Romulus left Faustulus and set out to levy an army to march against Alba
Longa. Faustulus took the cradle in which he had found Romulus and Remus
and quickly ran to Alba Longa. When Faustulus reached the gates of the
city, the guards stopped him. By chance, one of the guards had been the
servant who had taken the boys to the river. This man, upon seeing the
cradle, and recognizing it, knew that Faustulus spoke the truth, and
without any delay told the matter to Amulius, and brought the man before
him to be examined. He admitted that Romulus and Remus were alive and
well, but said they lived at a distance from Alba Longa as herdsmen.
Acting out of fear and rage, Amulius quickly sent a friend of Numitor
to see if he had heard any report of the twins being alive. As soon as
the man entered Numitor’s house, he found Numitor embracing Remus, thus
confirming that Remus was Numitor’s grandson. He then advised Numitor
and Remus to act quickly, for Romulus was marching on the city with an
army of those who hated and feared Amulius. Remus acted quickly and
incited the citizens within the city to revolt, and at the same time
Romulus attacked from without. Amulius, without taking a single step or
making any plan for his own safety, out of sheer confusion, was taken to
be put to death.
The Founding of Rome
With Amulius dead, the city settled down and offered Romulus and
Remus the joint crown. However, the twins refused to be the kings so
long as their grandfather was still alive, and would not live in the
city as subjects. Thus after restoring the kingship to Numitor and
properly honoring their mother Rhea Silvia, the two left Alba Longa to
found their own city upon the slopes of the Palatine Hill. Before they
left Alba Longa, however, they took with them fugitives, runaway slaves,
and all others who wanted a second chance at life.
Once Romulus and Remus arrived at the Palatine Hill, the two argued
over where the exact position of the city should be. Romulus was set on
building the city upon the Palatine, but Remus wanted to build the city
on the strategic and easily fortified Aventine Hill (The Greek author
Dionysius, however, places Remus' location at a place named "Remoria"
after Remus himself. The precise location of Remoria is not known
today). They agreed to settle their argument by testing their abilities
as augurs and by the will of the deities. Each took a seat on the ground
apart from one another, and, according to Plutarch, Remus saw six
vultures (which were considered to be sacred to Mars, their father),
while Romulus saw twelve.
Remus was enraged by Romulus’s victory. He claimed that since he had
seen his six vultures first, he should have won. When Romulus began
digging a trench (or building a wall, according to Dionysius) where his
city's boundary was to run on April 21, 753 BC, Remus ridiculed some
parts of the work, and obstructed others. At last, Remus leapt across
the trench, an omen of bad luck, since this implied that the city
fortifications would be easily breached. In response, Remus was killed.
We know of four possible ways Remus could have been killed - the most
common being that his brother Romulus killed him (Livy's "account more
generally received": "Remus, in derision of his brother, leaped over the
new wall, and Romulus, enraged thereat, slew him, uttering at the same
time this imprecation: 'So perish every one that shall hereafter leap
over my wall'"). Livy's alternative version simply states, in a passive
voice, that Remus was dead, without noting either that he was murdered
or, by whom; he simply "became dead". The two other lesser known
accounts state that a) Remus was killed by Romulus' commander Fabius
with a shovel (St. Jerome) or that b) Celer, whose relation to Romulus
is uncertain, killed Remus by striking him across the head with his
spade. Once the fighting subsided, Romulus buried Remus before
continuing to build his city. He named the city Roma after himself, and
served as its first king.
After the completion of the city, Romulus divided the people of Rome
who were able to fight into regiments of 3000 infantry and 300 cavalry.
Romulus called these regiments "legions". The rest of the people became
the populace of the city, and out of the populace, Romulus hand selected
100 of the most noble men to serve as a council for the city. He called
these men Patricians and their council the Roman Senate. Romulus called
these noble men Patricians not only because they were the fathers of
legitimate sons, but also because he intended the great and the wealthy
to treat the weak and the poor as fathers treat their sons. This
delineates, symbolically, the inauguration of the patron-client
relationship, known as clientela, which was central to Roman culture and
society, and was later passed down to medieval societies.
Romulus spread the reputation of Rome as an asylum to all who desired
a new life. Because of this, Rome attracted a population of exiles,
refugees, murderers, criminals, and runaway slaves. Rome's population
grew so much that the city settled five of the seven hills of Rome: the
Capitoline Hill, the Aventine Hill, the Caelian Hill, the Quirinal Hill,
and the Palatine Hill. Romulus, however, saw a problem quickly forming
before him: few of the foreigners had wives. Romulus decided he needed
to fill his city with women as well.
To solve his problems, Romulus held a festival, the Consualia, and
invited the neighboring Sabine tribe to attend as his guests. The
Sabines came en mass, and brought with them their daughters. Romulus
planned to kidnap the Sabine women and bring them back to Rome as
citizens. When the Sabines arrived, Romulus sat amongst the senators,
clad in purple. The signal that the time had come for the onslaught was
to be his rising and folding his cloak, and then throwing it round him
again. Armed with swords, many of his followers kept their eyes intently
upon him, and when the signal was given, his nobles drew their swords,
rushed in with shouts, and captured the daughters of the Sabines, but
permitted and encouraged the men to escape unharmed. In all, some 700
Sabine women were captured and brought back to Rome. This event is
remembered in various works of art titled "Rape of the Sabine Women".