Creation of Rome and the Legendary Period of Roman History

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Romulus and Remus
Before the Roman era the Romans were a subgroup of the larger Latin group, an Italic people that were primarily farmers who lived around present-day Rome. There was nothing particularly dominant or special about them. At the time other groups such as the Etruscans or Samnites seemed more likely to dominate the Italian peninsula than the Romans.

In the sixth century B.C., Rome was little more than a farming village of thatch huts on hills above the Tiber River occupied by three tribes with Etruscan names living under a king. Early Rome was ruled by the Etruscans. Rome’s last Etruscan king ascended to the throne in 535 B.C. The Romans threw him out in 509 and replaced the traditional monarchy with a republican government, blaming the king’s tyrannical behavior and holding it up as an example of the injustice of authoritarian rule.

The Romans from this era practiced a purifying ritual called Lupercalia. Priests sacrificed goats and a dog at the Lupercal, the cave where legend says Romolus and Remus were suckled, and their blood was smeared on two youths. Young women were whipped across their shoulders in the belief it bestowed fertility. The rite was performed in mid February at an altar near Lapis Niger, a sacred site paved with black stones near the Roman Forum until A.D. 494 when it was banned by the pope.

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Books: “Rome in the Late Republic” by Mary Beard and M Crawford, (2nd ed, Duckworth, 1999); “Et tu Brute: Caesar's Murder and Political Assassination” by G Woolf, (Profile Books, 2006); “Augustan Rome” by A Wallace-Hadrill, (Bristol Classical Press, Duckworth, 1998); “Cambridge Companion to Republican Rome” by H Flower (ed), (CUP, 2004); “Marcus Tullius Cicero, Select Letters” (Penguin, 2005)

Creation of Rome

Rome in 753 BC

According to legend Rome was founded in 753 B.C. by the wolf-suckled twins Romulus and Remus. The name Rome is said to have come from a combination of the names Romulus and Remus but scholars believe it comes from a Greek or Etruscan word, perhaps “ rhome” , a Greek word meaning "strong." Romulus and the Sabine leader Titus Tatius are said to have met to end a war that triggered the infamous rape of the Sabine women by the followers of Romulus.

Sometime in the 6th century B.C. the leading Roman families were able to overthrew the Etruscan monarchs that ruled over them. According to one story, the Romans overthrew the Etruscans in 509 B.C. when the Etruscan king Superbus raped a virtuous Roman lady and the Roman populace responded by revolting. According to another account Etruscans domination ended when they were defeated by the Romans in a battle at Aricia south of Rome in 506 B.C. In any case the Roman republic was formed in 509 B.C. and the Etruscan monarchy collapsed around that the time.

According to legend Palatine Hill is where Romulus and Remus were suckled by their she wolf mother and where Rome was founded in the 8th century B.C., when Romulus killed Remus there. The most interesting piece in the Capitoline Museum in Rome is a famous Etruscan bronze of a crazy-eyed she-wolf being. Renaissance depictions of Romulus and Remus were added to the statue in the 15th century.

Legendary Period of Roman History

According to legend, the first king of Rome was Romulus, who founded the city in 753 B.C. upon the Palatine Hill. Seven legendary kings are said to have ruled Rome until 509 B.C., when the last king was overthrown. These kings ruled for an average of 35 years. The kings after Romulus were not known to be dynasts and no reference is made to the hereditary principle until after the fifth king Tarquinius Priscus. Consequently, some have assumed that the Tarquins and their attempt to institute a hereditary monarchy over this conjectured earlier elective monarchy resulted in the formation of the republic. [Source: Wikipedia]

Time Line for Legendary Period and Early Republic
753-716 Romulus Latin
Titus Tatius Sabine
715-673 B.C.: Numa Pompilius Sabine or Etruscan
674-642 B.C.: Tullus Hostilius Latin
642-617 B.C.: Ancus Marcius Sabine (partly)
616-579 B.C.: L. Tarquinius Priscus Etruscan/Greek
578-535 B.C.: Servius Tullius Latin or Etruscan
534-510 B.C.: Tarquinius Superbus Etruscan [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

Annalists and the Legendary Period of Roman History

Annalists (from Latin annus, year) were a class of writers on Roman history, the period of whose literary activity lasted from the time of the Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.) to that of Sulla (139-78 B.C.). They generally wrote the history of Rome from the earliest — legendary — times down to their own time. Annalists differed from historians in that they were more likely to just record events for reference purposes, rather than offering their own opinions or insights into events. There is, however, some overlap between the two categories and sometimes annalist is used to refer to both styles of writing from the Roman era. [Source: Wikipedia]

Livy, the source of much of material from the legendary period of Rome

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “It is customary to begin any discussion of Early Rome with a discussion of the literary tradition. Modern writers on early Rome fall into two groups, broadly speaking: those who try to interpret the archaeological record in such a way as to be able to claim that there are kernels of truth in the annalistic tradition (Ogilvie is among these), and those who regard that attempt as fruitless and confine themselves to remarking on the archaeological record, believing in essence that nothing of what the classical writers have to say about pre-Republican Rome is true (e.g. Holloway). [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“In one sense “the annalistic tradition” is used as a kind of shorthand to designate the works of T. Livius (Livy) and Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Both of these were writers of the Augustan age. Both claimed to provide scholarly historical accounts stretching back to the foundation of the city of Rome by Romulus, an event which they believed had occurred some 700 years before their own day. How did information about a past so distant get down through the centuries to them? This, for the critical historian, is the crucial question to ask: what was the source, and how reliable was it? With ancient history, the ideal source is someone such as Thucydides or (on the Roman side) Polybius, who writes entirely or mostly about events which he himself has seen, or relies to the greatest extent possible upon eyewitnesses. ^*^

“Obviously that kind of method was impossible for someone in Livy's position, and he was well enough aware that what he was doing was not writing history in the Thucydidean mold. Rather, for each episode in the history of ancient Rome, he selected one or two from the available sources and rewrote their account (or cobbled them together if there were two), embellishing them liberally with speeches (for like Dionysius he was a rhetorician), and exercising only a minimum of critical judgement (understanding that to mean attempting to distinguish between truth and falsehood in the record of the past). Perhaps it is true, as Livy's modern champions such as Ogilvie and Walsh insist, that he brings a certain narrative genius to this task; but that is not germane to our present concern. As will become clear over the next few weeks, the inveterate weakness of the annalistic tradition is retrojection. Recent innovations were projected into the past in order to imbue them with the authority of early antiquity. Likewise, when the sources presented no filter or context in which to understand the few events from the regal period and the first century of the Republic which were recorded, the annalistic tradition responded by supplying one: namely, the struggle between the orders, the social and economic classes. ^*^

“The problems of reconciling the annalistic tradition with the archaeological evidence certainly do not end when we come to Servius Tullius. Timaeus of Tauromenium, the Sicilian annalist of the third century B.C., recorded that he had introduced coinage. But the archaeological record shows that earliest Campanian coins are not in use at Rome until the fourth century BC; earlier, the Roman currency was cattle and sheep for barter (the Latin word for money, pecunia, derives from pecus meaning 'herd') and aes rude, uncoined bronze ingots such as were found in the votive deposit, dated to the sixth century, associated with the paving over of the monuments covered by the lapis niger.” ^*^

Archaeology from the Legendary Period: Latin Cremators Versus Sabine Inhumers?

Palatine hut model

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Whether we call the inhabitants of Rome and the Alban hills in the early Iron Age southern Villanovans, or rather follow Holloway and insist that Latial culture develops directly from proto-Villanovan (that, in other words, there is no true Villanovan in Latium) is mainly a matter of terminology. These early Romans lived in circular huts, as the discovery of these post-holes from the Palatine show. The form of the huts is known from the hut-urns in which they buried their cremated dead, and these hut-shaped urns are a distinctive feature of this proto-Latial culture. The hut urns were found primarily in a cemetery in the Forum Romanum excavated by the great Italian archaeologist Boni in the early part of this century. The grave goods are characterized by miniaturization, as seen in this sketch of Forum Grave Y; the smaller vessels contained foodstuffs. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“From approximately the same time period, nearby on the Esquiline hill, there are a number of inhumations a fossa (in trenches, as opposed to the cremation burials a pozzo, in pits). The Corinthian olpe, dating to around 720 B.C. and inscribed with the name of its Greek owner, Ktektos, comes from one of these graves. The key question for the history of early Rome is whether the people who bury cremated remains in urns in the Forum Romanum are the same people as, or ethnically distinct from, the ones who practiced inhumation in graves on the Esquiline. ^*^

“One approach to this question, still popular today, is to say that the cremators were Latins, the inhumers Sabines. This argument points out that there are parallels for the inhumations to the south of Latium, and that later on in the Forum cemetery we get a combination of inhumation and cremation burials. This seems to indicate that two different peoples combined with one another, and recalls what the Romans believed happened in the time of Romulus, with the rape of the Sabine women and the subsequent commingling of the two peoples. A form of this approach appears in Ogilvie. ^*^

“A refinement of this hypothesis is given by Torelli (CAH 7.2). He suggests that after the two types begin to appear together, only "princes" are being buried in the cremation graves, because the cremation graves contain primarily the remains of adult males, with weapons. He also thinks that the hut-urn marks the deceased as a head of household, a paterfamilias. The burial practice would thus reflect an increasing degree of social stratification, consistent with the tradition of the kings. Torelli’s softer approach is reasonable. Increasing social stratification appears at the same time in neighboring Etruria (though not, apparently, in the houses which continue to be of uniform type into the 6th century), no doubt a reflection of Greek influence. But the whole idea that we have two distinct cultures combining in 8th century Rome has been called into question. The differences between the pottery and other objects in the graves on the Esquiline and in the Forum are subtle at best. It may be that they represent different time periods as opposed to different ethnic groups (see revised chronology). Finally, the presence of a few early cremations in hut urns on the Esquiline badly upsets the neatness of the scheme. It stems from the desire to rescue some shred of truth from the annalistic tradition on early Rome; but that desire, as we will see more fully next time, is hardly worthy of being fulfilled.

Stories on the Founding of Rome

Aeneas flight from Troy

Plutarch wrote in A.D. 75: “From whom, and for what reason, the city of Rome, a name so great in glory, and famous in the mouths of all men, was so first called, authors do not agree. Some are of opinion that the Pelasgians, wandering over the greater part of the habitable world, and subduing numerous nations, fixed themselves here, and, from their own great strength in war, called the city Rome. Others, that at the taking of Troy, some few that escaped and met with shipping, put to sea, and driven by winds, were carried upon the coasts of Tuscany, and came to anchor off the mouth of the river Tiber, where their women, out of heart and weary with the sea, on its being proposed by one of the highest birth and best understanding amongst them, whose name was Roma, burnt the ships. With which act the men at first were angry. [Source: Plutarch. “Lives”, written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden]

“But afterwards, of necessity, seating themselves near Palatium, where things in a short while succeeded far better than they could hope, in that they found the country very good, and the people courteous, they not only did the lady Roma other honours, but added also this, of calling after her name the city which she had been the occasion of their founding. From this, they say, has come down that custom at Rome for women to salute their kinsmen and husbands with kisses; because these women, after they had burnt the ships, made use of such endearments when entreating and pacifying their husbands.

“Some again say that Roma, from whom this city was so called, was daughter of Italus and Leucaria; or, by another account, of Telaphus, Hercules's son, and that she was married to Aeneas, or, according to others again, to Ascanius, Aeneas's son. Some tell us that Romanus, the son of Ulysses and Circe, built it; some, Romus, the son of Emathion, Diomede having sent him from Troy; and others, Romus, king of the Latins, after driving out the Tyrrhenians, who had come from Thessaly into Lydia, and from thence into Italy.”

Romulus and Remus Roman Creation Myth

According to legend Rome was founded in 753 B.C. by the wolf-suckled twins Romulus and Remus. The name Rome is said to have come from a combination of the names Romulus and Remus but scholars believe it comes from a Greek or Etruscan word, perhaps rhome , a Greek word meaning "strong." Romulus and the Sabine leader Titus Tatius are said to have met to end a war that triggered the infamous rape of the Sabine women by the followers of Romulus.

Heather Ramsey of Listverse wrote: “Titus Livius (also known as “Livy“), one of the great historians of Rome, recorded events in moral terms of the individual to reveal character, supposedly without political influence. According to the Livy’s account, Rome was founded by twins Romulus and Remus in 753 B.C. After a dispute, Romulus killed Remus and became ruler of Rome, which was named for him. To make the town grow, Romulus took in fugitives and outcasts from other areas, but they were mostly men. Rome became powerful enough to prevail in battles with violent neighbors. However, without enough women to produce children, Rome’s growth and power was expected to end in one generation” and this prompted the abduction of the Sabine women,[Source: Heather Ramsey, Listverse, March 4, 2015]

Romulus and Remus mosaic

According to the Roman legends, the origin of Rome was connected with Alba Longa, the chief city of Latium; and the origin of Alba Longa was traced to the city of Troy in Asia Minor. After the fall of that famous city, it is said that the Trojan hero, Aeneas, fled from the ruins, bearing upon his shoulder his aged father, Anchises, and leading by the hand his son, Ascanius. Guided by the star of his mother, Venus, he landed on the shores of Italy with a band of Trojans, and was assured by omens that Latium was to be the seat of a great empire. He founded the city of Lavinium, and after his death his son Ascanius transferred the seat of the kingdom to Alba Longa. Here his descendants ruled for three hundred years, when the throne was usurped by a prince called Amulius. To secure himself against any possible rivals, this usurper caused his brother’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, to take the vows of a vestal virgin. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Even though Rhea Silvia, the Romulus and Remus story goes, was a vestal virgin she gave birth to Romulus and Remus. Their father was Mars, the god of war. The wicked Amulius caused the children to be thrown into the Tiber; but they remained under the guardianship of the gods. Drifting ashore at the foot of the Palatine hill, they were nursed by a she-wolf, and were brought up at the home of a neighboring shepherd. And when they had grown to manhood, they founded (753? B.C.) the city of Rome on the Palatine, where they had been providentially rescued. In a quarrel between the two brothers, Remus was killed, and Romulus became the king of the new city.\~\

Romulus was looked upon by the Romans not only as the founder of their city, but as the creator of their social and political institutions. He is said to have peopled his new town by opening an asylum for refugees; and when he wanted wives for his people he captured them from the Sabines. After a war with the Sabines peace was made; and the two peoples became bound together into one city under the two kings, Romulus and Titus Tatius. After the death of Titus, Romulus reigned alone and gave laws to the whole people. He made many wars upon the neighboring towns, and after a reign of thirty-seven years he was translated to heaven and worshiped under the name of Quirinus. \~\

Romulus and Remus Story, Fact?

According to legend Palatine Hill is where Romulus and Remus were suckled by their she wolf mother and where Rome was founded in the 8th century B.C., when Romulus killed Remus there. The most interesting piece in the Capitoline Museum in Rome is a famous Etruscan bronze of a crazy-eyed she-wolf being. Renaissance depictions of Romulus and Remus were added to the statue in the 15th century.

Tradition places the founding of Rome in the year 753 B.C., when Romulus erected the first walls of the so-called Roma Quadrata, or “square Rome.” Italian archeologist Andrea Carandin, who has been in charge of several important excavations in the most ancient parts of Rome, draws on his findings to offer a highly speculative reconstruction of its founding in “In “Rome: Day One” (Princeton). Adam Kirsch wrote in The New Yorker:“It has been a very long time since anyone took this account as an accurate historical description. But Carandini provocatively suggests that it might be more or less true. Romulus did not create Rome out of nothing, he grants, but it is possible that there was a single day, around the middle of the eighth century B.C., when sacred ceremonies were held to transform a collection of settlements into the city of Rome. Carandini believes that inscribed artifacts he discovered on the Palatine Hill bear out the ancient tradition that Romulus used a team of oxen to dig the outlines of a murus sanctus, a sacred wall, on the future site of Rome. And the culmination of these ceremonies, Carandini writes, was human sacrifice: “Once the walls were completed, a little girl was sacrificed and her attributes were buried under the threshold.” It was the discovery of this “foundational deposit,” in particular a cup, that enabled Carandini “to date the completion of the walls to the second quarter of the eighth century B.C.,” close to the traditional date of Rome’s founding. [Source: Adam Kirsch, The New Yorker, January 2, 2012 ]

House of Romulus on Palatine Hill

John Noble Wilford wrote in the New York Times, “The story of Romulus and Remus is almost as old as Rome. The orphan twins were suckled by a she-wolf in a cave on the banks of the Tiber. Romulus grew up to found Rome in 753 B. C. Historians have long since dismissed the story as a charming legend. The 19th-century historian Theodor Mommsen said: “The founding of the city in the strict sense, such as the legend assumes, is of course to be reckoned out of the question: Rome was not built in a day." Yet the legend is as imperishable as Mommsen's skeptical verdict, and it has been invigorated by recent archaeological finds. [Source: John Noble Wilford, New York Times, June 12, 2007]

In 2007, Italian archaeologists reported discovering the long-lost cave under the Palatine Hill that ancient Romans held sacred as the place where the twins were nursed. The grown brothers fought over leadership of the new city, the story goes, and Romulus killed Remus and became the first king.

The cave was no surprise to Andrea Carandini, a historian and an archaeologist at the University of Rome, who has said, “The tale of the birth of Rome is part myth and part historical truth." He had already found remains of an ancient wall and ditch and also ruins of a palace that he said was built in the eighth century B.C. “When I excavated the Romulean-age wall on the Palatine, I realized that I was looking at the very origins of Rome as a city-state," Dr. Carandini told the magazine Archaeology.

Dr. Carandini said the wall, built on the slopes occupied by huts of the pre-Roman settlement, was dated through a number of foundation deposits to about 775-750 B.C. He said that the wall was possibly the sacred boundary in Rome's foundation legend and concluded that it was “archaeological evidence of the existence of Romulus and Remus." Based on these and other findings, Dr. Carandini said of Rome's founding, “everything was born” after 750 B.C. “There was no gradual expansion of an old core, but the sudden evolution of a city that was great and remains great."

The magazine noted that Dr. Carandini's support of the legend “has earned him the admiration of the Roman public but the disapproval of many of his colleagues." A lecture that Dr. Carandini gave last fall in Rome attracted 5,000 people, an Italian newspaper reported. But other archaeologists, while praising his excavations, were skeptical of his interpretations. Albert Ammerman, an archaeologist at Colgate University who has excavated Roman ruins, said in the magazine that the presence of certain physical remains did not necessarily validate the literary tradition of Rome's founding and the existence of someone known as Romulus.

Parents of Romulus and Remus

Mars and Rheav Silvia

Plutarch wrote: The authors who agree that Romulus give the name of the city “differ concerning his birth and family. For some say, he was son to Aeneas and Dexithea, daughter of Phorbas, and was, with his brother Remus, in their infancy, carried into Italy, and being on the river when the waters came down in a flood, all the vessels were cast away except only that where the young children were, which being gently landed on a level bank of the river, they were both unexpectedly saved, and from them the place was called Rome. Some say, Roma, daughter of the Trojan lady above mentioned, was married to Latinus, Telemachus's son, and became mother to Romulus; others that Aemilia, daughter of Aeneas and Lavinia, had him by the god Mars; and others give you mere fables of his origin. [Source: Plutarch. “Lives”, written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden]

“For to Tarchetius, they say, king of Alba, who was a most wicked and cruel man, there appeared in his own house a strange vision, a male figure that rose out of a hearth, and stayed there for many days. There was an oracle of Tethys in Tuscany which Tarchetius consulted, and received an answer that a virgin should give herself to the apparition, and that a son should be born of her, highly renowned, eminent for valour, good fortune, and strength of body.

“Tarchetius told the prophecy to one of his own daughters, and commanded her to do this thing; which she avoiding as an indignity, sent her handmaid. Tarchetius, hearing this, in great anger imprisoned them both, purposing to put them to death, but being deterred from murder by the goddess Vesta in a dream, enjoined them for their punishment the working a web of cloth, in their chains as they were, which when they finished, they should be suffered to marry; but whatever they worked by day, Tarchetius commanded others to unravel in the night.”

Birth of Romulus and Remus and the Wolf Suckling Story

Plutarch wrote: “In the meantime, the waiting-woman was delivered of two boys, whom Tarchetius gave into the hands of one Teratius, with command to destroy them; he, however, carried and laid them by the river side, where a wolf came and continued to suckle them, while birds of various sorts brought little morsels of food, which they put into their mouths; till a cowherd, spying them, was first strangely surprised, but, venturing to draw nearer, took the children up in his arms. Thus they were saved, and when they grew up, set upon Tarchetius and overcame him. This one Promathion says, who compiled a history of Italy. [Source: Plutarch. “Lives”, written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden]

“But the story which is most believed and has the greatest number of vouchers was first published, in its chief particulars, amongst the Greeks by Diocles of Peparethus, whom Fabius Pictor also follows in most points. Here again there are variations, but in general outline it runs thus: the kings of Alba reigned in lineal descent from Aeneas, and the succession devolved at length upon two brothers, Numitor and Amulius. Amulius proposed to divide things into two equal shares, and set as equivalent to the kingdom the treasure and gold that were brought from Troy. Numitor chose the kingdom; but Amulius, having the money, and being able to do more with that than Numitor, took his kingdom from him with great ease, and, fearing lest his daughter might have children, made her a Vestal, bound in that condition forever to live a single and maiden life.

This lady some call Ilia, others Rhea, and others Silvia; however, not long after, she was, contrary to the established laws of the Vestals, discovered to be with child, and should have suffered the most cruel punishment, had not Antho, the king's daughter, mediated with her father for her; nevertheless, she was confined, and debarred all company, that she might not be delivered without the king's knowledge. In time she brought forth two boys, of more than human size and beauty, whom Amulius, becoming yet more alarmed, commanded a servant to take and cast away; this man some call Faustulus, others say Faustulus was the man who brought them up. He put the children, however, in a small trough, and. went towards the river with a design to cast them in; but, seeing the waters much swollen and coming violently down, was afraid to go nearer, and dropping the children near the bank, went away. The river overflowing, the flood at last bore up the trough, and, gently wafting it, landed them on a smooth piece of ground, which they now called Cermanus, formerly Germanus, perhaps from Germani with signifies brothers.

“Near this place grew a wild fig-tree, which they called Ruminalis, either from Romulus (as it is vulgarly thought), or from ruminating, because cattle did usually in the heat of the day seek cover under it, and there chew the cud; or, better, from the suckling of these children there, for the ancients called the dug or teat of any creature ruma; and there is a tutelar goddess of the rearing of children whom they still call Rumilia, in sacrificing to whom they use no wine, but make libations of milk. While the infants lay here, history tells us, a she-wolf nursed them, and a woodpecker constantly fed and watched them; these creatures are esteemed holy to the god Mars; the woodpecker the Latins still especially worship and honour. Which things, as much as any, gave credit to what the mother of the children said, that their father was the god Mars; though some say that it was a mistake put upon her by Amulius, who himself had come to her dressed up in armour.

“Others think that the first rise of this fable came from the children's nurse, through the ambiguity of her name; for the Latins not only called wolves lupoe, but also women of loose life; and such an one was the wife of Faustulus, who nurtured these children, Acca Larentia by name. To her the Romans offer sacrifices, and in the month of April the priest of Mars makes libations there; it is called the Larentian Feast. They honour also another Larentia, for the following reason: the keeper of Hercules's temple having, it seems, little else to do, proposed to his deity a game at dice, laying down that, if he himself won, he would have something valuable of the god; but if he were beaten, he would spread him a noble table, and procure him a fair lady's company. Upon these terms, throwing first for the god and then for himself, he found himself beaten. Wishing to pay his stakes honourably, and holding himself bound by what he had said, he both provided the diety a good supper, and giving money to Larentia, then in her beauty, though not publicly known, gave her a feast in the temple, where he had also laid a bed, and after supper locked her in, as if the god were really to come to her.

“And indeed, it is said, the deity did truly visit her, and commanded her in the morning to walk to the marketplace, and, whatever man she met first, to salute him, and make him her friend. She met one named Tarrutius, who was a man advanced in years, fairly rich, without children, and had always lived a single life. He received Larentia, and loved her well, and at his death left her sole heir of all his large and fair possessions, most of which she, in her last will and testament, bequeathed to the people. It was reported of her, being now celebrated and esteemed the mistress of a god, that she suddenly disappeared near the place where the first Larentia lay buried; the spot is at this day called Velabrum, because, the river frequently overflowing, they went over in ferry-boats somewhere hereabouts to the forum, the Latin word for ferrying being velatura. Others derive the name from velum, a sail; because the exhibitors of public shows used to hang the road that leads from the forum to the Circus Maximus with sails, beginning at this spot. Upon these accounts the second Larentia is honoured at Rome.”

Romulus and Remus Raised a Swinherd, Remus Kidnapped

20120223-She wolf romulus Riegersburg.jpg
Romulus and Remus found by Faustulus
Plutarch wrote: “Meantime Faustulus, Amulius's swineherd, brought up the children without any man's knowledge; or, as those say who wish to keep closer to probabilities, with the knowledge and secret assistance of Numitor; for it is said, they went to school at Gabii, and were well instructed in letters, and other accomplishments befitting their birth. And they were called Romulus and Remus (from ruma, the dug), as we had before, because they were found sucking the wolf. In their very infancy, the size and beauty of their bodies intimated their natural superiority; and when they grew up, they both proved brave and manly, attempting all enterprises that seemed hazardous, and showing in them a courage altogether undaunted. But Romulus seemed rather to act by counsel, and to show the sagacity of a statesman, and in all his dealings with their neighbours, whether relating to feeding of flocks or to hunting, gave the idea of being born rather to rule than to obey. To their comrades and inferiors they were therefore dear; but the king's servants, his bailiffs and overseers, as being in nothing better than themselves, they despised and slighted, nor were the least concerned at their commands and menaces. They used honest pastimes and liberal studies, not esteeming sloth and idleness honest and liberal, but rather such exercises as hunting and running, repelling robbers, taking of thieves, and delivering the wronged and oppressed from injury. For doing such things they became famous. [Source: Plutarch. “Lives”, written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden]

“A quarrel occurring betwixt Numitor's and Amulius's cowherds, the latter, not enduring the driving away of their cattle by the others, fell upon them and put them to flight, and rescued the greatest part of the prey. At which Numitor being highly incensed, they little regarded it, but collected and took into their company a number of needy men and runaway slaves,- acts which looked like the first stages of rebellion. It so happened that when Romulus was attending a sacrifice, being fond of sacred rites and divination, Numitor's herdsmen, meeting with Remus on a journey with few companions, fell upon him, and after some fighting, took him prisoner, carried him before Numitor, and there accused him. Numitor would not punish him himself, fearing his brother's anger, but went to Amulius, and desired justice, as he was Amulius's brother and was affronted by Amulius's servants.

“The men of Alba likewise resenting the thing, and thinking he had been dishonourably used, Amulius was induced to deliver Remus up into Numitor's hands, to use him as he thought fit. He therefore took and carried him home, and, being struck with admiration of the youth's person, in stature aid strength of body exceeding all men, and perceiving in his very countenance the courage and force of his mind, which stood unsubdued and unmoved by his present circumstances, and hearing further that all the enterprises and actions of his life were answerable to what he saw of but chiefly, as it seemed, a divine influence aiding and directing the first steps that were to lead to great results, out of the mere thought of his mind and casually, as it were, he put his hand upon the fact, and, in gentle terms and with a kind aspect, to inspire him with confidence and hope, asked him who he was, and whence he was derived.

Faustulus bringing Romulus and Remus to his wife

“He, taking heart, spoke thus: "I will hide nothing from you, for you seem to be of a more princely temper than Amulius, in that you give a hearing and examine before you punish, while he condemns before the cause is heard. Formerly, then, we (for we are twins) thought ourselves the sons of Faustulus and Larentia, the king's servants; but since we have been accused and aspersed with calumnies, and brought in peril of our lives here before you, we hear great things of ourselves, the truth of which my present danger is likely to bring to the test. Our birth is said to have been secret, our fostering and nurture in our infancy still more strange; by birds and beasts, to whom we were cast out, we were fed, by the milk of a wolf and the morsels of a woodpecker, as we lay in a little trough by the side of the river. The trough is still in being, and is preserved, with brass plates round it, and an inscription in letters almost effaced, which may prove hereafter unavailing tokens to our parents when we are dead and gone." Numitor, upon these words, and computing the dates by the young man's looks, slighted not the hope that flattered him, but considered how to come at his daughter privately (for she was still kept under restraint), to talk with her concerning these matters.

“Faustulus, hearing Remus was taken and delivered up, called on Romulus to assist in his rescue, informing him then plainly of the particulars of his birth, not but he had before given hints of it, and told as much as an attentive man might make no small conclusions from; he himself, full of concern and fear of not coming in time, took the trough, and ran instantly to Numitor; but giving a suspicion to some of the king's sentries at his gate, and being gazed upon by them and perplexed with their questions, he let it be seen that he was hiding the trough under his cloak. By chance there was one among them who was at the exposing of the children, and was employed in the office; he, seeing the trough and knowing it by its make and inscription, guessed at the business, and, without further delay, telling the king of it, brought in the man to be examined. Faustulus, hard beset, did not show himself altogether proof against terror; nor yet was he wholly forced out of all; confessed indeed the children were alive, but lived, he said, as shepherds, a great way from Alba; he himself was going to carry the trough to Ilia, who had often greatly desired to see and handle it, for a confirmation of her hopes of her children. As men generally do who are troubled in mind and act either in fear or passion, it so fell out Amulius now did; for he sent in haste as a messenger, a man, otherwise honest, and friendly to Numitor, with commands to learn from Numitor whether any tidings were come to him of the children being alive. He, coming and seeing how little Remus wanted of being received into the arms and embraces of Numitor, both gave him surer confidence in his hope, and advised them, with all expedition, to proceed to action; himself too joining and assisting them, and indeed, had they wished it, the time would not have let them demur. For Romulus was now come very near, and many of the citizens, out of fear and hatred of Amulius, were running out to join him; besides, he brought great forces with him, divided into companies each of an hundred men, every captain carrying a small bundle of grass and shrubs tied to a pole. The Latins call such bundles manipuli, and from hence it is that in their armies they still call their captains manipulares. Remus rousing the citizens within to revolt, and Romulus making attacks from without, the tyrant, not knowing either what to do, or what expedient to think of for his security, in this perplexity and confusion was taken and put to death. “

Romulus and Remus Quarrel Over Where to Found Rome

Plutarch wrote: “Amulius now being dead and matters quietly disposed, the two brothers would neither dwell in Alba without governing there, nor take the government into their own hands during the life of their grandfather. Having therefore delivered the dominion up into his hands, and paid their mother befitting honour, they resolved to live by themselves, and build a city in the same place where they were in their infancy brought up. This seems the most honourable reason for their departure; though perhaps it was necessary, having such a body of slaves and fugitives collected about them, either to come to nothing by dispersing them, or if not so, then to live with them elsewhere. For that the inhabitants of Alba did not think fugitives worthy of being received and incorporated as citizens among them plainly appears from the matter of the women, an attempt made not wantonly but of necessity, because they could not get wives by good-will. For they certainly paid unusual respect and honour to those whom they thus forcibly seized. [Source: Plutarch. “Lives”, written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden]

“Not long after the first foundation of the city, they opened a sanctuary of refuge for all fugitives, which they called the temple of the god Asylaeus, where they received and protected all, delivering none back, neither the servant to his master, the debtor to his creditor, nor the murderer into the hands of the magistrate, saying it was a privileged place, and they could so maintain it by an order of the holy oracle; insomuch that the city grew presently very populous, for they say, it consisted at first of no more than a thousand houses. But of that hereafter.

“Their minds being full bent upon building, there arose presently a difference about the place. Romulus chose what was called Roma Quadrata, or the Square Rome, and would have the city there. Remus laid out a piece of ground on the Aventine Mount, well fortified by nature, which was from him called Remonium, but now Rignarium. Concluding at last to decide the contest by a divination from a flight of birds, and placing themselves apart at some distance. Remus, they say, saw six vultures, and Romulus double that number; others say, Remus did truly see his number, and that Romulus feigned his, but when Remus came to him, that then he did indeed see twelve. Hence it is that the Romans, in their divinations from birds, chiefly regard the vulture, though Herodorus Ponticus relates that Hercules was always very joyful when a vulture appeared to him upon any action. For it is a creature the least hurtful of any, pernicious neither to corn, fruit-tree, nor cattle; it preys only upon carrion, and never kills or hurts any living thing; and as for birds, it touches not them, though they are dead, as being of its own species, whereas eagles, owls, and hawks mangle and kill their own fellow-creatures; yet, as Aeschylus says,-

“"What bird is clean that preys on fellow bird?" Besides, all other birds are, so to say, never out of our eyes; they let themselves be seen of us continually; but a vulture is a very rare sight, and you can seldom meet with a man that has seen their young; their rarity and infrequency has raised a strange opinion in some, that they come to us from some other world; as soothsayers ascribe a divine origination to all things not produced either of nature or of themselves.”

Romulus Kills Remus

Romulus kills Remus

Plutarch wrote: “When Remus knew the cheat, he was much displeased; and as Romulus was casting up a ditch, where he designed the foundation of the city-wall, he turned some pieces of the work to ridicule, and obstructed others; at last, as he was in contempt leaping over it, some say Romulus himself struck him, others Celer, one of his companions; he fell, however, and in the scuffle Faustulus also was slain, and Plistinus, who, being Faustulus's brother, story tells us, helped to bring up Romulus. Celer upon this fled instantly into Tuscany, and from him the Romans call all men that are swift of feet Celeres; and because Quintus Metellus, at his father's funeral, in a few days' time gave the people a show of gladiators, admiring his expedition in getting it ready, they gave him the name of Celer. [Source: Plutarch. “Lives”, written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden]

“Romulus, having buried his brother Remus, together with his two foster-fathers, on the mount Remonia, set to building his city; and sent for men out of Tuscany, who directed him by sacred usages and written rules in all the ceremonies to be observed, as in a religious rite. First, they dug a round trench about that which is now the Comitium, or Court of Assembly, and into it solemnly threw the first-fruits of all things either good by custom or necessary by nature; lastly, every man taking a small piece of earth of the country from whence he came, they all threw in promiscuously together. This trench they call, as they do the heavens, Mundus; making which their centre, they described the city in a circle round it.

“Then the founder fitted to a plough a brazen ploughshare, and, yoking together a bull and a cow, drove himself a deep line or furrow round the bounds; while the business of those that followed after was to see that whatever earth was thrown up should be turned all inwards towards the city; and not to let any clod lie outside. With this line they described the wall, and called it, by a contraction, Pomoerium, that is, postmurum, after or beside the wall; and where they designed to make a gate, there they took out the share, carried the plough over, and left a space; for which reason they consider the whole wall as holy, except where the gates are; for had they adjudged them also sacred, they could not, without offence to religion, have given free ingress and egress for the necessaries of human life, some of which are in themselves unclean.”

Romulus, the First King of Rome

Romulus, the King of Rome

On Romulus, David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “The first king of Rome's identity as a local legendary figure is implied both by his paternity (Mars sired him on Rhea) and his name. He is supposed to have ruled along with Titus Tatius, who represented the Sabines dwelling on the Capitoline hill (as a result of its being betrayed by Tarpeia and captured by the Sabines). The team of Titus and Romulus represent the retrojection of the Republican institution of the dual consulship. Romulus was also supposed to have founded the distinction between patricians and plebeians, a basic class distinction in Roman society, by choosing as his advisors 100 men, who received the title of patres (fathers). [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“The annalistic tradition held that only the descendants of these original patres were patricians, and that these original patres comprised the first Roman senate. As is clear from the treatment by Mitchell, though, the definition of patrician is much more difficult than this; the senate was expanded at various times in the course of the regal period to reach its basic Republican complement of 300 members, and some writer believed that incorporation into the senate at this time also conferred patrician status. Notice that class struggle is imputed even to the time of Romulus; Livy assures us that the senators (patres) were hostile to Romulus and that his power base was among the people.

“Trying to check the archaeological record against the tradition about Romulus does not get one very far. Many public works were attributed to Romulus and Titus: for example, temples of Jupiter Feretrius, Jupiter Stator, and Vulcan. But, as we saw in the last lecture, in the second half of the 8th century the Romans lived in huts, and there was no monumental building of any sort. There was, of course, a temple of Jupiter Feretrius at Rome; Augustus boasts of having restored it ( Res Gestae, 19) and many writers mention it. No trace of it survives.” ^

Romulus Establishes Rome

Plutarch wrote: “As for the day they began to build the city, it is universally agreed to have been the twenty-first of April, and that day the Romans annually keep holy, calling it their country's birthday. At first, they say, they sacrificed no living creature on this day, thinking it fit to preserve the feast of their country's birthday pure and without stain of blood. Yet before ever the city was built, there was a feast of herdsmen and shepherds kept on this day, which went by the name of Palilia. The Roman and Greek months have now little or no agreement; they say, however, the day on which Romulus began to build was quite certainly the thirtieth of the month, at which time there was an eclipse of the sun which they conceived to be that seen by Antimachus, the Teian poet, in the third year of the sixth Olympiad. [Source: Plutarch. “Lives”, written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden]

“In the times of Varro the philosopher, a man deeply read in Roman history, lived one Tarrutius, his familiar acquaintance, a good philosopher and mathematician, and one, too, that out of curiosity had studied the way of drawing schemes and tables, and was thought to be a proficient in the art; to him Varro propounded to cast Romulus's nativity, even to the first day and hour, making his deductions from the several events of the man's life which he should be informed of, exactly as in working back a geometrical problem; for it belonged, he said, to the same science both to foretell a man's life by knowing the time of his birth, and also to find out his birth by the knowledge of his life.

“This task Tarrutius undertook, and first looking into the actions and casualties of the man, together with the time of his life and manner of his death, and then comparing all these remarks together, he very confidently and positively pronounced that Romulus was conceived in his mother's womb the first year of the second Olympiad, the twenty-third day of the month the Aegyptians call Choeac, and the third hour after sunset, at which time there was a total eclipse of the sun; that he was born the twenty-first day of the month Thoth, about sunrising; and that the first stone of Rome was laid by him the ninth day of the month Pharmuthi, between the second and third hour. For the fortunes of cities as well as of men, they think, have their certain periods of time prefixed, which may be collected and foreknown from the position of the stars at their first foundation. But these and the like relations may perhaps not so much take and delight the reader with their novelty and curiosity, as offend him by their extravagance.

Romulus Founds the Roman Army

Temple of Romulus in Rome

Plutarch wrote: “The city now being built, Romulus enlisted all that were of age to bear arms into military companies, each company consisting of three thousand footmen and three hundred horse. These companies were called legions, because they were the choicest and most select of the people for fighting men. The rest of the multitude he called the people; an hundred of the most eminent he chose for counsellors; these he styled patricians, and their assembly the senate, which signifies a council of elders. The patricians, some say, were so called because they were the fathers of lawful children; others, because they could give a good account who their own fathers were, which not every one of the rabble that poured into the city at first could do; others, from patronage, their word for protection of inferiors, the origin of which they attribute to Patron, one of those that came over with Evander, who was a great protector and defender of the weak and needy. [Source: Plutarch. “Lives”, written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden]

“But perhaps the most probable judgment might be, that Romulus, esteeming it the duty of the chiefest and wealthiest men, with a fatherly care and concern to look after the meaner, and also encouraging the commonalty not to dread or be aggrieved at the honours of their superiors, but to love and respect them, and to think and call them their fathers, might from hence give them the name of patricians. For at this very time all foreigners give senators the style of lords; but the Romans, making use of a more honourable and less invidious name, call them Patres Conscripti; at first, indeed, simply Patres, but afterwards, more being added, Patres Conscripti.

By this more imposing title he distinguished the senate from the populace; and in other ways separated the nobles and the commons, calling them patrons, and these their clients, by which means he created wonderful love and amity betwixt them, productive of great justice in their dealings. For they were always their clients' counsellors in law cases, their advocates in courts of justice; in fine, their advisers and supporters in all affairs whatever. These again faithfully served their patrons, not only paying them all respect and deference, but also, in case of poverty, helping them to portion their daughters and pay off their debts; and for a patron to witness against his client, or a client against his patron, was what no law nor magistrate could enforce. In aftertimes, all other duties subsisting still between them, it was thought mean and dishonourable for the better sort to take money from their inferiors. And so much of these matters.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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