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Romulus - Roman Mythology About the Founding and First King of Rome

Roman Mythology About the Founding and First King of Rome

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Romulus

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The Myth About Rome's 1st King:

Romulus was the eponymous first king of Rome. How he got there is 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 Troy and Oedipus) in a river (see Moses and Sargon). Barry Cunliffe, in Britain Begins (Oxford: 2013), succinctly describes the story as one 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. I know. I know. It's legend, but bear with me.

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.

Read more in USA Today's "Does a cave prove Romulus and Remus are no myth?"

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 southeaast, 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.

The 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.

Ancient Rome Timeline

Events Before the
Founding of Rome:
  • c. 1183 - Fall of Troy
  • c. 1176 - Aeneas founds Lavinium
  • c. 1152 - Ascanius founds
    Alba Longa
  • c. 1152-753 - Kings of Alba Longa
Alba Longa Kings List
1) Silvius 29 years
2) Aeneas II 31
3) Latinus II 51
4) Alba 39
5) Capetus 26
6) Capys 28
7) Calpetus 13
8) Tiberinus 8
9) Agrippa 41
10) Allodius 19
II) Aventinus 37
12) Proca 23
13) Amulius 42
14) Numitor 1

 ~ "The Alban King-List
in Dionysius I, 70-71:
A Numerical Analysis,"
by Roland A. Laroche.

Who Founded Rome - Romulus or Aeneas?:

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.

Taunting Twins

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.

Romulus Disappears:

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.

Modern Fiction on Romulus by Steven Saylor

It may be fiction, but Steven Saylor's Roma includes an engrossing story of the legendary Romulus.

 

References:

  • academic.reed.edu/humanities/110Tech/Livy.html - Reed College Livy Page
  • depthome.brooklyn.cuny.edu/classics/dunkle/courses/romehist.htm - Duckworth's History of Early Rome
  • pantheon.org/articles/r/romulus.html - Romulus - Encyclopedia Mythica
  • yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/medieval/laws_of_thekings.htm - Laws of the Kings
  • maicar.com/GML/Romulus.html - Carlos Parada Page on Romulus
  • dur.ac.uk/Classics/histos/1997/hodgkinson.html - Civil War Between Romulus and Remus
  • "The Alban King-List in Dionysius I, 70-71: A Numerical Analysis," by Roland A. Laroche; Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Bd. 31, H. 1 (1st Qtr., 1982) , pp. 112-120

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