Romulus and Remus

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Romulus and Remus
King of Rome
Reign April 21, 753 BC – 717 BC
Born 771 BC
Birthplace Alba Longa
Died 717 BC
Place of death Rome
Predecessor None
Successor Numa Pompilius
Father Mars
Mother Rhea Silvia

Romulus (c. 771 BC[1]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 Vestal Virgin 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. 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.[2]

Romulus and Remus are pre-eminent among the famous feral children in mythology and fiction.


[edit] 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 his brother, 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. He is said to have seduced Rhea in the woods while she was searching for fresh water. King Amulius, her uncle, noticed that she was with child and he had her imprisoned until she gave birth. 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. Some Roman authors speculate that Amulius, not Mars, was the father of the twins and, to avoid having two illegitimate heirs, decided to kill them[3]. 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.

In one account, the servant ordered to kill the twins but 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.[4]

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, Ficus Ruminalis [5], 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 named Picus. 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.[6] This is because "lupa" means she-wolf or prostitute; leading to lupanar, meaning "brothel". (

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 goddess).

Another, later tradition that 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 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," the Bona Dea, Lupa, Luperca, and Dea Dia, as well as Fauna, who had an oracle on the nearby Aventine Hill and was the wife of Faunus.

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.[7] 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.

[edit] Life after the founding of Rome

After five years of joint rule, Tatius was assassinated by foreign ambassadors and Romulus became the sole king of the Romans. Romulus introduced legislation against adultery and murder. As the king of Rome, Romulus was not only the commander-in-chief of the army, but also the city’s chief judicial authority. His judgments of many crimes were held in place for over six hundred years without a single case being reported in Rome of his judgments being questioned.

Under Romulus' administration, the people of Rome were divided into three tribes: one for Latins (Ramnes), a second for Sabines (Titites), and a third for Etruscans (Luceres).

These three tribes became the Romans. Each of these tribes had a tribune who represented their respective tribes in all civil, religious, and military affairs. When in the city, they were the magistrates of their tribes, and performed sacrifices on their behalf, and in times of war they were Rome's military commanders. The Ramnes derived their name from Romulus, the Tities derived their name from Titus Tatius, and the Luceres derived their name from an Etruscan title of honor.

After creating the three tribes, the Comitia Curiata were instituted. To form the basis of the Comitia Curiate, Romulus divided each of the three tribes into ten curiae, with the thirty curiae deriving their individual names from thirty Sabine women whom Romulus and his followers had kidnapped.

Each of the individual curia then were subdivided into ten gentes, which formed the basis for the nomen in the Roman naming convention. When Romulus would convene the Comitia Curiate and lay proposals from either him or the senate before the Curiate for ratification, the ten gentes within each curia would cast a vote, with the collective vote of the curia going to the majority of the gentes. This formed the basis for the modern Electoral College.

Romulus, being a martial man, formed his own personal guard, called the Celeres. The Celeres consisted of Rome's three hundred finest horsemen who were under the command of the Celerum Tribune, who was also the Tribune for the Ramnes tribe. The Celeres derived their name from their leader, a close friend of Romulus named Celers who helped him slay Remus and found the city of Rome. This special military unit functioned very much like the Praetorian Guard of Augustus as it was responsible for Romulus' personal safety and for the security of Rome while the legions were on her borders. The relationship between Romulus and his Tribune also is similar to the relation between the Roman Dictator and his Magister Equitum. Celer, as the Celerum Tribune, occupied the second place in the state, and in Romulus' absence he had the rights of convoking the Comitia and commanding the armies.

From the founding of Rome until his death, Romulus waged wars and expanded his territory, thus Rome's territory, for over two decades. He conquered many of the neighboring cities, namely Etruscan cities, and gained unequaled control over the area of Latium, Tuscany, Umbria, and Abruzzo. In what would become the traditional Roman style of warfare, although Romulus may have lost some battles along the way, he never lost a single war in which he fought.

After his final wars against the Etruscans, the king of Alba Longa, Numitor, Romulus’ biological grandfather, died. The people of Alba Longa freely offered the crown to Romulus, believing he was the one rightful ruler of the city as the blood heir to Numitor. Romulus accepted dominion over the city, but gained much favor with the city’s populace by placing the government in the hands of the people within the city. Once a year, Romulus appointed a governor over the city, a man selected by the people of Alba Longa.

During later years, Romulus grew to rely less and less upon the Senate. Though this was entirely legal, it went against tradition. The Senate essentially had lost its influence, holding no say in the administration of the city. The Senate could only be convened when Romulus called for it, and once assembled, the Senators merely sat in silence and listened to his edicts. The Senators soon found that their only advantage over the commoners was that they learned what Romulus decreed sooner than the commoners did. On his own authority, he divided the territory acquired in war among his soldiers, and without the consent or wish of the Patricians. The Patricians thought he was insulting their Senate outright. Although the Senators grew to hate him, they feared him too much to defy him openly and show him their displeasure.

[edit] Death or ascension

There is a legend dating to sometime in the first century BC that conflates Romulus and the god Quirinus.[8][9] According to this legend, Romulus's life ended in the thirty-eighth year of his reign, with a supernatural disappearance, if he was not slain by the Senate.

One day, when Romulus and all the people had gone to the Campus Martius, a sudden storm arose. The darkness became so great that the people fled in terror. When the storm was over, the Romans returned. To their surprise, however, Romulus had disappeared. The people sent for him, but none could find him. The people were amazed, and were all talking about his sudden disappearance, and wondering what could have become of their king, when one of the Senators stood up and called for silence.

After the Senator calmed the mass of people, he told the assembled Romans that he had seen Romulus being carried up into the heavens. Romulus, the Senator said, had called out that he was going to live with the deities, and wished his people to worship him as the god Quirinus. In response, the Romans built a temple on the hill where the Senator said that Romulus had risen to heaven. This hill was called the Quirinal Hill in Romulus' honor, and for many years the Romans worshiped Romulus, the founder of their city, and their first king from that very spot.

Plutarch (Life of Numa Pompilius) tells the legend with a note of skepticism:

"It was the thirty-seventh year, counted from the foundation of Rome, when Romulus, then reigning, did, on the fifth day of the month of July, called the Caprotine Nones, offer a public sacrifice at the Goat's Marsh, in presence of the senate and people of Rome. Suddenly the sky was darkened, a thick cloud of storm and rain settled on the earth; the common people fled in affright, and were dispersed; and in this whirlwind Romulus disappeared, his body being never found either living or dead. A foul suspicion presently attached to the patricians, and rumors were current among the people as if that they, 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 also reports on this event:

"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) [3]

As the god Quirinus, Romulus joined Jupiter and Mars in the Archaic Triad. Quirinus was depicted as a bearded warrior in both religious and battle clothing wielding a spear, thus he is viewed a god of war and as the strength of the Roman people, but more importantly, as the deified likeness of the city of Rome itself. Quirinus received a Flamen Maior called the Flamen Quirinalis, who oversaw his worship and rituals. After Romulus' death, he was succeeded by Numa Pompilius as the second King of Rome.

[edit] Iconography

Romulus and Remus. Silver didrachm (6.44 g). Ca 269-266 BC

Ancient pictures of the Roman twins usually follow certain symbolic traditions, depending on the legend they follow: they either show a shepherd, the she-wolf, the twins under a fig tree, and one or two birds (Livy, Plutarch); or they depict two shepherds, the she-wolf, the twins in a cave, seldom a fig tree, and never any birds (Dionysius of Halicarnassus).

Also there are coins with Lupa and the tiny twins placed beneath her.

Shepherd kings, as some mythographers would classify Romulus, were torn to pieces in a secret religious ceremony at the end of their "reign" and the beginning of the reign of the next "king". That mythological identity, reflecting ancient religious practices, might be supported in the notation by Livy that some stated that this was his fate. Religious mysteries and rites had to be kept secret, hence the rumor is implied for only the initiates to interpret.

The Franks Casket, an Anglo-Saxon hoard-box (early seventh century) shows Romulus and Remus in an unusual setting, two wolves instead of one, a grove instead of one tree or a cave, four kneeling warriors instead of one or two gesticulating shepherds. As the runic inscription ("far from home") indicates, the twins are cited here as the Dioscuri, helpers at voyages such as Castor and Polydeuces. Their descent from the Roman god of war predestines them as helpers on the way to war. So the carver transfers them into the Germanic holy grove and has Woden’s second wolf join them. Thus the picture serves—along with five other ones—to influence "wyrd", the fortune and fate of a warrior king.

Preceded by
King of Rome
Succeeded by
Numa Pompilius

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ The exact date of the birth of Romulus and Remus is unknown. Plutarch says that Romulus was fifty-three ("in the fifty-fourth year of his age") at his death in 717 BC. If true, then Romulus and Remus would have been born in the year 771 BC, and have begun the founding of Rome at the age of 18.
  2. ^ Carandini. La nascita di Roma. Dèi, lari, eroi e uomini all'alba di una civiltà (Torino: Einaudi, 1997) and Carandini. Remo e Romolo. Dai rioni dei Quiriti alla città dei Romani (775/750 - 700/675 a. C. circa) (Torino: Einaudi, 2006)
  3. ^ "Dictionary of Classical Mythology", Pierre Grimal, Penguin Books 1990
  4. ^ Compare the story of Romulus and Remus to Moses, Perseus, and Sargon of Akkad for similar stories of babies being placed in cradles and set afloat in a body of water. See Infant exposure.
  5. ^ "Dictionary of Classical Mythology", Pierre Grimal, Penguin Books 1990
  6. ^ Valer. Ant. ap. Gell. I. c,; Livy, i. 4.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Fishwich, DuncanThe Imperial Cult in the Latin West Brill, 2nd edition, 1993 IBSN:978-9004071797 [1]
  9. ^ Evans, Jane DeRose The Art of Persuasion University of Michigan Press 1992 ISBN 0472102826 [2]

[edit] References

[edit] Primary references

[edit] Secondary references

[edit] Further reading

Wikisource has original text related to this article:
  • In 1986 the comicbook 'Romulus et Remus' was published, where the old legend is told in Latin. Written and illustrated by Magda van Tilburg (Amsterdam), in the series 'Classica Signa'.
  • Ancient History
  • Franks Casket,Helpers on the way to war
  • Miracles "The parallels here are unmistakable. In both stories we have a "king" addressing his subjects, a cloud enveloping the "king", and the bodily ascension upwards into the heavens. Jesus and Romulus are simply two examples among many."
  • Grafton, Anthony 2003. "Some Uses of Eclipses in Early Modern Chronology" in Journal of the History of Ideas (The Johns Hopkins University Press) vol. 64:2, April 2003, pp 213-229
  • Wiseman, T. P. Remus: A Roman Myth. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • Alfred Becker: “Franks Casket. Zu den Bildern und Inschriften des Runenkästchens von Auzon (Regensburg1973)pp.55-63
  • New York Times travel guide to Rome: "the Capitoline Wolf, a 6th-century BC Etruscan bronze, holds a place of honor in the museum; the suckling twins were added during the Renaissance to adapt the statue to the legend of Romulus and Remus."

[edit] See also

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