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Romulus and Remus

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Romulus and Remus
suckled by the she-wolf

 
 
 

Romulus was King of Rome 753-715 B.C.

Most of what we know of the early history of Rome comes from Plutarch's Lives and Livy's History of Rome. They wrote much later and their stories are mixed with legend. How much is uncertain. It is clear that there were Kings in Rome and that they were not hereditary. They were chosen by the Comitia Curiata, a group of leaders in the community. This institution later developed into the Senate. The traditional dates for the Roman kings are almost certainly incorrect, and so dates will be omitted.

Sometimes there are conflicting legends, though later Romans have attempted to reconcile them. One legend has it that before the founding of Rome there was a thriving city at Alba Longa, ruled by Kings. It was founded by the son of Aeneas, a survivor of the Trojan War, and the son of Venus and a highborn Trojan. It is in this city that the legendary founder of Rome, Romulus, and his brother Remus were born.

Their grandfather Amulius was then king of Alban Longa. He was overthrown by his brother Numitor, who made Amulius's only child, a daughter, a Vestal Virgin to prevent her from having children (the Vestal Virgins were sworn to celibacy). Livy tells the story of the remarkable birth of Romulus and Remus:

The Vestal was forcibly violated and gave birth to twins. She named Mars as their father, either because she really believed it, or because the fault might appear less heinous if a deity were the cause of it. But neither gods nor men sheltered her or her babes from the king's cruelty; the priestess was thrown into prison, the boys were ordered to be thrown into the river. By a heaven-sent chance it happened that the Tiber was then overflowing its banks, and stretches of standing water prevented any approach to the main channel. Those who were carrying the children expected that this stagnant water would be sufficient to drown them, so under the impression that they were carrying out the king's orders they exposed the boys at the nearest point of the overflow, where the Ficus Ruminalis (said to have been formerly called Romularis) now stands. The locality was then a wild solitude. The tradition goes on to say that after the floating cradle in which the boys had been exposed had been left by the retreating water on dry land, a thirsty she-wolf from the surrounding hills, attracted by the crying of the children, came to them, gave them her teats to suck and was so gentle towards them that the king's flock-master found her licking the boys with her tongue. According to the story, his name was Faustulus. He took the children to his hut and gave them to his wife Larentia to bring up. History of Rome, Book 1

When grown Romulus founded the city of Rome.


Nicholas Poussin's Rape of the Sabine Women 1637 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Livy tells another story about Romulus in the story of "The Rape of the Sabine Women." It seems that Romulus needed wives for the men who had joined his city.

The Roman state had become strong enough to hold its own in war with all the peoples along its borders, but a shortage of women meant that its greatness was fated to last for a single generation, since there was no prospect of offspring at home nor any prospect of marriage with their neighbors. Then, in accordance with the decision of the senate, Romulus sent messengers to the neighboring peoples to ask for alliance and the right of marriage for the new people. . . But nowhere were the emissaries given a fair hearing. Some scorned, others feared the great power growing in their midst, both for themselves and for their descendants. . . Romulus, to gain time till he found the right occasion, hid his concern and prepared to celebrate the Consualia, the solemn games in honor of equestrian Neptune. He then ordered that the spectacle be announced to the neighboring peoples. He gave the event great publicity by the most lavish means possible in those days. Many people came, some simply out of curiosity to see the new city, and especially the nearest neighbor, from Caenina, Crustuminum and Antemnae; the entire Sabine population came, wives and children included. Received with hospitality in the houses, after having seen the position of the city, its walls, and the large number of buildings, they marveled that Rome had grown so fast. When it was time for the show, and everybody was concentrating on this, a prearranged signal was given and all the Roman youths began to grab the women. Many just snatched the nearest woman to hand, but the most beautiful had already been reserved for the senators and these were escorted to the senators' houses by plebeians who had been given this assignment.

The Romans drove off the men, and took the women for their wives. The Sabine men did not give in so easily however. There was war between the Romans and the Sabines led by their king Titus Tatius. It was the women who finally brought peace to Rome. They persuaded their fathers not to fight their new husbands and the Romans accepted Titus Tatius as joint ruler with Romulus.

Romulus disappeard one day in a thunder storm. He appeared in a vision to Julius Proculus who told him that he had ascended to the gods and was to be worshipped as Quirinus.


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Ancient Rome

This is part of The Roman Kings exhibit


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