Updated: Sep 28
We’re starting to look into Rome’s foundation now! First of all, do you remember what I told you about its story? Don’t take it as historical fact, because it is simply a myth put together by Rome’s very own historians, who didn’t have enough sources to tell them exactly how Rome was found. They were also gaining steam in their march to power, and because they were surrounded by the greats from Ancient Greece and Egypt, they wanted to have a loud beginning too. So, with that pressure they used those heroes they’d heard so much about, to fabricate a legend of their own.
Having said that, we’ll be looking at the legend of Romulus and Remus. Theirs were relatively humble beginnings, thanks to the selfish deeds of their uncle, but because of their charisma and charm, the brothers soon became the warrior heroes that decorate Rome’s colourful history. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
A Terrifying Beginning
Let me start by asking you, have you heard of the tale of Romulus and Remus? You have? What’s it about? Can’t remember? Well, let me tell you it starts off in the nearby city of Alba Longa. Now, remember, it’s difficult to tell whether this great city ever existed, because archaeologists can’t really find it, but for the sake of the legend, let’s say it did. In this great city was a king, named Numitor, who was a descendant of Ascanius, son of Aeneas. Remember Aeneas? He was the Greek hero who landed in Italy after the war in Troy, and married King Latinus’ daughter, Lavinia. He built that settlement in Lavinium. His son, Ascanius was the one who built Alba Longa. Ring any bells?
Good. So, back to the story. King Numitor is actually Romulus’ and Remus’ grandfather, but he was deposed from his throne by his own brother, Amulius (talk about dramatic family feuds, huh?). When he took the throne, Amulius forbade Rhea, Numitor’s daughter, from having any children, and even sent her to the house of the Vestal Virgins. They’re like a convent, a nunnery, whereby they lead celibate lives in honour of the goddess Vesta. Their role was to keep the “sacred flame” of Rome burning in her temple, to signify the Eternal Rome. Of course, being a Virgin didn’t come without a cost. If one was found to be pregnant, they executed her and her unborn child (talk about brutal!).
Anyway, you can probably guess why he forced her into becoming a priestess. Without children, Amulius’ claim to the throne wouldn’t be challenged. Eventually, Rhea did get pregnant, but to avoid being executed she told everyone, including Amulius that Mars, the god of war, was the father! How crazy is that! Now, you should know that at this time the worship of the pantheon of gods, was a state religion, like in Ancient Egypt, the worship of Ra and the other gods were part of the governmental rule and became a vital part of the way of life for all its citizens. Ancient Rome was no different. Because Amulius and all the other officials in Alba Longa were superstitious, to say the least, they chose to imprison Rhea, to allow her to give birth, to at least appease Mars and his wrath. When she did give birth, it was to the twins we all know and love, Romulus and Remus. Now, this is where their story begins.
To Be Raised By Wolves
Of course, the fact that the two children existed did not bode well for Amulius. So, he ordered them to be drowned in the Tiber River (I mean if that wasn’t an insult to Mars, what is?). However, the boys were lucky. They didn’t drown (otherwise this would have been a much shorter story!). Now this is where things get a little more interesting, because the boys were found on the banks, of the Tiber by a she-wolf, who nursed them and raised them, until a shepherd from a nearby village, Faustulus, found them. I told you it gets interesting. I mean, who’d expect a wolf to be that conscious and caring?
Anyway, after Faustulus found them, he took them in and with his wife, Larentia, raised them as their own children. When they became men, both Romulus and Remus were actually popular, amongst the farmhands, and the local villagers. Of course, they were all poor, and since there were plenty of mouths to feed, the brothers and their followers began to resort to thievery and attacked and ambushed travelling robbers, gangs and bandits, to give their loot to the poor (think Robin Hood and his Merry Men, I’m guessing this is where the legend got its inspiration).
Unfortunately, one of the gangs they’d attacked wanted revenge, so they returned the favour, ambushing the brothers, during a festival (I’m guessing it was to celebrate the spoils). Luckily Romulus was able to fight his way free, but Remus was eventually captured. They brought him to Amulius in Alba Longa (my guess was that they worked for him, or at least wanted justice, and Amulius was the person to go to for that) and was thrown into prison. Not just because he was a criminal, who stole their cargo, but because Amulius found out that he was one of Rhea’s sons. Remus was his grand-nephew (I think that’s what you call them).
Fight For Freedom, Boys!
Now, Romulus, on the other hand isn’t the kind to let things go, so he organised his friends and followers into what amounts to an army, at the time (you’d probably see it more like a small gang of men, like the Mission Impossible teams Ethan Hunt cooks up, when he needs them), and made his way to Alba Longa, to free his brother. Along the way, he met his grandfather, and with his help, attacked the city, freed his brother, overthrew his great-uncle and restored his grandfather to the throne (phew! All in a day’s work!).
Now, with their grandfather back on the throne, he gave them a gift. What was this gift you ask? Well, it was the land where the boys were found, near the Tiber River. They were granted the permission to build their own city there, and their friends and followers would help them do it. So…here’s where history sort of repeats itself, and you can probably see how they’re related to Numitor and Amulius, and actually, Livy claims that this is where the “family curse” comes into play, where the desire for power starts an irreparable conflict between the siblings.
They couldn’t decide exactly where to build their settlement. Romulus wanted to build it over the Palatine Hill, while Remus wanted it over the Aventine Hill, and the arguments got so bad that they eventually settled on using an augury to decide for them. What’s an augury, you ask? It’s an Ancient Roman practice of counting birds to read the future or seek divine support for a decision. That’s what they did. They stood on the hill they wanted to use and counted birds. Remus claimed the saw six birds, while Romulus saw twelve (I’m guessing Romulus cheated…he saw double what his brother saw? It can’t be a coincidence!).
When Two Became One
Alright, so both sides had supporters that kept making an argument against the other. For example, Remus’ supporters argued that he saw the birds first, while Romulus’ supporters argued that he saw more birds. You see how petty it’s become. Eventually the arguments turned violent and war broke out, during which Remus was killed (poor Remus…although to be fair his character was meant to look weaker than his brother’s).
Of course, another account of Remus’, which seems to be the more common claim, tells us that Remus mocked his brother’s claims to being the better, and attempted to climb the walls of Romulus’ incomplete city, which angered Romulus, who killed his brother, to set an example to those who opposed him. Again, there are a few different accounts of this. Some say that Romulus himself killed his brother; others claim that his men did it. Whatever the case, Remus died in the end, and Romulus became the sole ruler of Rome.
Phew! That was a long story! Ok, so I told you last time to read Livy’s accounts, I’m pretty sure you guys haven’t finished right? Sorry, I should have warned you about spoilers, oh well. Anyway, remember that this is just a myth, which we’ll call the Foundation Myth, from now on, because it is technically the Foundation of Rome, since there is no real archaeological evidence to prove how Rome really was founded.
Anyway, your homework is this: continue reading Livy’s account and to do some research on why the Foundation Myth was so important and popular amongst the Ancient Roman historians. Try to get an idea of how the myth was pieced together and why it was made into such a grand tale.
For now, that’s it from me! I’ll see you all in our next lesson! Oh, and don’t forget to like, subscribe, follow and share for more updates and new posts here on Feather’s Charm, and on my social media accounts!