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1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

The mythical origin of Rome

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The founding moment of many cities is lost in the mist of time, that is to say, it is unknown, although decorated "a posteriori" with beautiful myths; On the other hand, the founding moment of many other cities is very well known.

Few cities are the result of a specific founding act, but of a long formation process. This is the case of Rome. However, according to the myth, the founders were a couple of twins, Romulus and Remus, sons of the god Mars and a priestess of Vesta and therefore virgin, left in the river Tiber and suckled by a she-wolf, who founded the city in 753 B.C. according to Varro, a historian in the first century B.C. Who does not have in mind the image of the she-wolf nursing the twins?

Ilia or Rhea Silvia was the daughter of Numitor, king dethroned by his brother Amulius who made her enter the college of the vestals, priestesses who had to keep her virginity for thirty years under sentence of death by stoning or burial. When Rhea Silvia went to a water source, she was raped by the god Mars and became pregnant with twins, who survived the order of his uncle of being killed. Thrown into the river Tiber in a basket, they reached bank of the Palatine Hill, where a she-wolf heard them crying and nursed them until the pastor Faustulus picked them up, and his wife Acca Larentia raised them.

The time passed and, when they knew their origin, they renominated their grandfather Numitor for the throne and decided to create a city where they were found by the wolf. Both of them claimed to be the founder. To resolve the issue they had to wait for a sign from the gods: Remus took the Aventine hill and saw six vultures, Romulus took the Palatine hill and saw twelve. Thus, Romulus founded the city according to the Etruscan ritual, tracing a furrow with the plow to define the urban space. Remus, circumventing the ban, armed jumped into his brother’s inviolable furrow, who killed him (Remus) during the fight.

Plutarch in the Life of Romulus (2.4-8) offers a different version of the twins´ origin.

The founding myth of Rome was drafted in the fourth century B.C., and though obviously has nothing to do with history, it is appreciated elements of ancient beliefs and myths: a state prior to the founding of the city, intervention of the god Mars, child of royal blood exposed  and fed by a wild animal, the fire, education by shepherds, wild country against city, initiation ritual.

Myths involve great difficulties of interpretation, but they also contain information of times with little traces.


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