Romulus – Roman Mythology About the Founding and First King of Rome
THE MYTH ABOUT ROME’S 1ST KING
Romulus was the eponymous first king of Rome. How he got there is a story like many others, involving a rags-to-riches rise in fortune, a miraculous birth (like Jesus), and the exposure of an unwanted infant (see Paris of Troyand, Oedipus) in a river (see Moses and Sargon), the conflict among twins see (Heracles and his brother), murder among brothers (Cain and Abe), struggle for the birthright (Jakob and Esau), jealousy and distruction (Hera, Medea, Joseph, and his brothers, Cain and Abel), rape (Zeus and his lovers).
Succinctly a story of love, rape, treachery, and murder.
The story of Romulus, his twin brother Remus, and the founding of the city of Rome is one of the most familiar legends about the Eternal City. The basic legend of how Romulus came to be the first king of Rome begins with the god Mars impregnating a Vestal Virgin named Rhea Silvia, daughter of a rightful, but deposed king.
OUTLINE OF THE BIRTH AND RISE OF ROMULUS
- After the birth of Mars’ sons Romulus and Remus, the king orders them to be left to die in the Tiber River.
- When the basket in which the twins were placed washes up on shore, a wolf suckles them and a woodpecker named Picus feeds them until….
- The shepherd Faustulus finds the twins and brings them into his home.
- When they grow up, Romulus and Remus restore the throne of Alba Longa to its rightful ruler, their maternal grandfather.
- Then they set out to found their own city.
- Sibling rivalry leads Romulus to slay his brother.
- Romulus then becomes the first king and founder of the city of Rome.
- Rome is named after him.
A FINE STORY, BUT IT’S FALSE
Such is the condensed, skeletal version of the story of the twins, but the details are believed to be false.
WAS THE SUCKLING LUPA A SHE-WOLF OR A PROSTITUTE?
It is thought that a prostitute may have cared for the infants.
If true, then the story about the wolf suckling the babies is only an interpretation of a Latin word for brothel (lupanar) cave. The Latin for both ‘prostitute’ and ‘she-wolf’ is lupa.
ARCHAEOLOGISTS UNCOVER THE LUPERCALE?
A cave was uncovered on the Palatine Hill in Rome that some think is the Lupercale in which Romulus and Remus were suckled by a lupa (whether wolf or prostitute). If this were said cave, it might prove the existence of the twins.
ROMULUS MAY NOT HAVE BEEN THE EPONYMOUS FOUNDER
Although Romulus or Rhomos or Rhomylos is considered the eponymous ruler, Rome may well have a different origin.
His Mother – The Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia:
The mother of the twins Romulus and Remus was said to have been a Vestal Virgin named Rhea Silvia, the daughter of (the rightful king) Numitor and niece of the usurper and ruling king, Amulius of Alba Longa, in Latium.
Alba Longa was an area near the eventual location of Rome, about 12 miles southeast, but the city on the seven hills had yet to be built.
- A Vestal Virgin was a special priestly post of the hearth goddess Vesta, reserved for women that conferred great honor and privilege, but also, as the name implies, virginal status.
Amulius usurper feared a future challenge from Numitor’s descendants.
To prevent their being born, Amulius forced his niece to become a Vestal and therefore forced to remain a virgin.
The penalty for violating the vow of chastity was a cruel death. The legendary Rhea Silvia survived violation of her vow long enough to give birth to twins, Romulus and Remus. Unfortunately, like later Vestal Virgins who violated their vows and therefore endangered the luck of Rome (or were used as scapegoats when Rome’s luck appeared to be running out), Rhea may have suffered the usual punishment — burial alive (shortly after delivery).
THE FOUNDING OF ALBA LONGA
At the end of the Trojan War, the city of Troy was destroyed, the men were killed and the women taken as captives, but a few Trojans escaped. A cousin of the royals, Prince Aeneas, son of the goddess Venus and the mortal Anchises, left the burning city of Troy, at the end of the Trojan War, with his son Ascanius, the pricelessly important household gods, his elderly father, and their followers.
After many adventures, which the Roman poet Vergil (Virgil) describes in the Aeneid, Aeneas and his son arrived at the city of Laurentum on the west coast of Italy. Aeneas married Lavinia, the daughter of the king of the area, Latinus, and founded the town of Lavinium in honor of his wife. Ascanius, son of Aeneas, decided to build a new city, which he named Alba Longa, under the Alban mountain and near where Rome would be built.
WHO FOUND ROME: ROMULUS OR ANEAS?
There were two traditions on the founding of Rome. According to one, Aeneas was the founder of Rome and according to the other, it was Romulus.
Cato, in the early second century B.C., followed Eratosthenes’ recognition that there were hundreds of years — what amounts to 16 generations — between Rome’s founding (in the first year of the 7th Olympiad) and the fall of Troy in 1183 B.C. He combined the two stories to come up with what is the generally accepted version. Such a new account was necessary because 400+ years were too many to allow truth seekers to call Romulus Aeneas’ grandson:
THE HYBRID STORY OF THE FOUNDING OF THE 7 HILLED-CITY OF ROME
Aeneas came to Italy, but Romulus founded the actual 7-hilled (Palatine, Aventine, Capitoline or Capitolium, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline and Caelian) city of Rome, according to Jane Gardner.
FOUNDING ROME ON THE BACK OF FRATRICIDE:
How and why Romulus or his companions killed Remus is also unclear: Was Remus killed by accident or out of sibling rivalry for the throne?
APPRAISING THE SIGNS FROM THE GODS
One story about Romulus killing Remus begins with the brothers using augury to determine which brother should be king. Romulus looked for his signs on the Palatine Hill and Remus on the Aventine. The sign came to Remus first — six vultures.
When Romulus later saw 12, the brothers’ men ranged themselves against each other, the one claiming precedence because the favorable signs had come to their leader first, and the other claiming the throne because the signs were greater.
In the ensuing altercation, Remus was killed — by Romulus or another.
Another story of the killing of Remus has each brother building the walls for his city on his respective hill. Remus, mocking the low walls of his brother’s city, leaped over the Palatine walls, where an angry Romulus killed him. The city grew up around the Palatine and was named Rome for Romulus, its new king.
The end of the reign of Romulus is suitably mysterious. Rome’s first king was last seen when a thunder storm wrapped itself around him.
THE TIBER RIVER
Rome sat on the eastern shore of the Tiber River, at the only easy crossing place between the river mouth and the mountains. Seven hills rose there out of low and marshy ground. By the beginning of the ninth century BCE, these seven hills were occupied by village communities who kept farms in the low-lying areas and retreated to their hilltops for defense.
The fording place on the river lay below a large island that was later dedicated to the Greek god of healing, Asclepius. Sometime in the sixth century BCE, the Romans under the direction of their Etruscan kings built a wooden bridge over the Tiber at this point, facilitating communications between northern and southern Italy, and joining the Etrurian confederation to the Greek colonial cities in the district of Magna Graecia.
THE SEVEN HILLS
Archaeology suggests that Rome began as a confederation of villages on the seven hills of Rome: the Capitoline, Palatine, Aventine, Viminal, Quirinal, Esquiline, and the Caelian. The low-lying ground between them was swampy and malarial. Yet the presence of a natural fording place gave Rome some unusual advantages. Once the seven villages united, and invested the time in constructing an early wall around their territory, they could charge a toll for the use of the ford (and later the bridge). This was to prove an early source of Rome’s wealth. Graves dating from the ninth and eighth centuries BCE suggest two common forms of burial in the area: cremation graves are clustered in Rome’s Forum or marketplace, with a smattering of inhumations around them; a much larger cemetery lay in the valley between the Esquiline and Viminal hills.
Tradition and myth provides a much more interesting, if less likely, story of Rome’s founding. One of the Vestal Virgins of the nearby town of Alba Longa had a sexual encounter with the god Mars, and bore Romulus and Remus, twin sons who catalyzed the fortification of a small urban area in what is now Rome.
AVENTIN OR PALATIN
When seeking the perfect location for their new city, the twins wandered across the seven hills (Aventine, Celio, Capitol, Esquiline, Palatine, Quirinal and Viminal). Remus wished to start the city on the Aventine Hill, while Romulus preferred the Palatine Hill. In order to decide which brother was right they agreed to consult augury, where birds are examined to see what the gods favored. Remus claimed to have seen six birds, whereas his brother had seen twelve. Even though Romulus had seen more birds, Remus argued that he had seen them first and therefore the city should be built on the Aventine Hill. Meanwhile, Romulus began to build a wall on his hill, which Remus decided to jump over. Angered by his brother’s action, Romulus killed him. According to the legend, this took place in 754 BC.
THE LEGEND OF AENEAS
According to another legend, the Trojan prince, Aeneas, reached the Italian coast and married Lavinia, the daughter of King Latinus, thus becoming king.
This myth is not only told by Greek historians, but it is defended in Italy compared to other legends that give Rome an Arcadian origin, related to the myth of Evandro, or Achaean, related to Odysseus or Ulysses. The myth of Aeneas gives Rome a divine and Greek founding.
EVANDER OF PALLENE
In Roman mythology, Evander (from Greek Εὔανδρος Euandros, “good man” or “strong man”: an etymology used by poets to emphasize the hero’s virtue) was a culture
hero from Arcadia, Greece, who brought the Greek pantheon, laws, and alphabet to Italy, where he founded the city of Pallantium on the future site of Rome, sixty years before the Trojan War. He instituted the festival of the Lupercalia. Evander was deified after his death and an altar was constructed to him on the Aventine Hill.
Evander was born to Mercury and Carmenta, and his wisdom was beyond that of all Arcadians. His son Pallas apparently died childless; however, the gens Fabia claimed descent from Evander.
In the Aeneid Evander plays a major role in Virgil’s Aeneid Books VIII-XII. Previous to the Trojan War, Evander gathered a group of natives[who?] to a city he founded in Italy near the Tiber river, which he named Pallantium-. Virgil states that he named the city in honor of his son, Pallas, although Pausanias, Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus say that Evander’s birth city was Pallantium in Arcadia, after which he named the new city.
The oldest tradition[which?] of its founding ascribes to Evander the erection of the Great Altar of Hercules in the Forum Boarium. In Aeneid, VIII, where Aeneas and his crew first come upon Evander and his people, they were venerating Hercules for dispatching the giant Cacus. Virgil’s listeners would have related this scene to the same Great Altar of Hercules in the Forum Boarium of their own day, one detail among many in the Aeneid that Virgil used to link the heroic past of myth with the Age of Augustus. Also according to Virgil, Hercules was returning from Gades with Geryon’s cattle when Evander entertained him. Evander then became the first to raise an altar to Hercules’ heroism. This archaic altar was destroyed in the Great Fire of Rome, AD 64.
Because of their traditional ties, Evander aids Aeneas in his war against Turnus and the Rutuli: the Arcadian had known the father of Aeneas, Anchises, before the Trojan War, and shares a common ancestry through Atlas with Aeneas’s family.
PLUTARCH ON POSSIBLE FOUNDERS OF ROME:
“… Roma, from whom this city was so called, was the daughter of Italus and Leucaria; or, by another account, of Telephus, Hercules’s son, and that she was married to Aeneas, or … 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.”
THE FOUNDING OF ROME:
By tradition, the city of Rome was founded in 753 B.C.*
The stories are conflicting, but there are two main founding figures to look out for: Romulus (after whom the city may have been named) and Aeneas. Evander is a third possibility.