Updated: Aug 5
Welcome to another Ancient History post! Today’s topic? Ancient Rome! Ok, so we said before that we’ll be looking at Ancient Rome, through the eyes of Livy, but his writings are the only things that can help us determine Rome’s history. In fact, many of our findings come from archaeological evidence and discoveries. I mean, look at the disaster at Pompeii, we wouldn’t have known that Pompeii even existed, without the help of archaeologists and historians!
That’s why we’re taking a look at some of the history, behind the history, and what I mean by that is the incorporation of the history of the communities surrounding Rome, particularly the history of Aeneas.
Ok, so for those of you who don’t know, Aeneas is a legendary hero from the works of Homer, a Greek poet. He was one of the heroes of Troy and was said to be Aphrodite’s son, and it’s with him the Roman Foundation Myth began…well sort of. Apparently, after the battle of Troy, Aeneas and his army were wanderers, so they’d travel the ancient world, and in their travels, they somehow ended up in Italy.
He lived there for a while, stealing food to survive and basically became criminals, and because of this, a local king, Latinus, tried to drive him away, but, strangely enough, when he met Aeneas on the battlefield, he chose to befriend him instead. Soon enough, King Latinus offered his daughter to Aeneas, to be his wife, thus joining the legend with the local tribes.
In celebration of his marriage, and to honour his wife, Lavinia, Aeneas built Lavinium, a large settlement that’s located to the south of Rome, and over time, Lavinium expanded to unite with other local tribes in Latium, creating the Latins. Essentially, the area and people around Rome and the Tiber River became a nation, despite living separately and with different localised cultures.
Later, according to Livy, Aeneas’ son, Ascanius, built another large settlement, Alba Longa, and it is here where the Roman Foundation Myth begins, since Romulus and Remus are said to be descendants of the kings that ruled the ancient city.
What’s Wrong With This Story?
Well, first off, there really isn’t much archaeological evidence to prove that any of these events ever took place. However, Lavinium is a real city, and you can visit the ancient ruins, if you visit the walled in village of Pomezia. Its current design is from medieval times, but you can still see the ruins of the ancient city cropping out all over the place. However, the actual date of the ruins contradicts the Foundation Myth altogether. Archaeological technologies had actually dated the ruins to have been created around the 7th Century BC, so Aeneas couldn’t have built the city himself, since his story dates back to about the 12th Century BC.
On the flip side, Alba Longa is harder to identify, since there has been no concrete evidence that it ever existed. It’s said that it was situated at the foot of the Alban Mount, but because of discrepancies in its description by Dionysius and Livy, there’ve been lots of controversies about its actual location. Not to mention, even though archaeologists have searched the area, there doesn’t seem to be any proof that a large settlement, like the ones at Lavinium, ever existed. At most, the villages and towns there were only just beginning to converge, so an advanced city like Alba Longa, could never have existed in the area.
So, Why Include A Mythical Hero In The Story?
This is mostly because the Greek influence in Rome was growing stronger around 218-203 BC, so including Aeneas into the story was a no-brainer for these ancient historians, since even they had very little information about how Rome was discovered. However, the earliest suggestion that Aeneas was somehow related to the founding of Rome was in the 4th Century BC, by a Greek philosopher Hellanicus, since it would give the local Romans an excuse to why they were constantly at war with Carthage, an ancient North African nation that controlled trade across the Mediterranean Sea.
It was said that when Aeneas travelled to Carthage, he met and fell in love with their queen, Dido, but because of duties back in Rome, he had to leave. Heartbroken, and alone, Dido committed suicide, thus inciting her people to start a war against Rome, called the Punic Wars.
Over the centuries ancient Roman historians continued to use Aeneas as part of its foundation story, and the idea that Hellanicus began, soon became fact amongst the Roman people that by the time Livy and Dionysius wrote down their accounts, Aeneas had been established as one of the most important figures in the Roman story. That’s why, although Aeneas was a great Greek military figure, he is one of the most important figures in Ancient Rome.
With So Many Plot Holes, Why Are We Still Using It?
It’s because nobody really knows how and why Rome was founded. In my opinion, it’s safer to say that local tribes decided to band together and create Rome without the fuss, but you have to remember that later in its history, Rome became a powerhouse in the Ancient World, so it makes sense that their story would be a grand one. After all, if you compared it to Egypt and Greece, although theirs were much older, and wiser, their stories were probably the most popular ones at the time, and being relatively new, Rome wanted to be just as grand and superior as their neighbours. So, fabricating such a tale would help boost their reputation.
Of course, it’s also because they had very little information about Rome’s foundation, that most ancient historians had to make things up as they went along. I’ve mentioned it before that even Livy had a lot of doubts about Rome’s founding, since his main source came from Fabius Pictor, who admittedly fabricated a lot of the story, since he too found many gaps in the sources he found.
Alright, so we’re getting up to the starting point soon, so I want you guys to do some research. Why not try to find a copy of The Iliad or Livy’s accounts Rome’s Foundation Myth and read up on them. I warn you they are pretty heavy reads, so it’ll take some time, but it should give you a heads up about what the Foundation Myth is all about, and maybe it’ll give you an insight into what the ancient Roman historians thought of their history.
Anyway, I’ll leave it there for now. So, I’ll see you guys next time!