The daughter of King Numitor of Alba Longa. Her father was dethroned by his brother Amulius, who appointed Rhea Silvia a Vestal Virgin under pretence of honoring her, but hoping that by consigning her to perpetual virginity she would not bear any children.
As Silvia one day went into the sacred grove, to draw water for the service of the goddess, a wolf met her, and she fled into a cave for safety; there, while a total eclipse obscured the sun, Mars himself overpowered her, and then consoled her with the promise that she should be the mother of heroic children. When her time came, she brought forth twins. Amulius doomed the guilty Vestal and her babes to be drowned in the river Tiber (or Anio, according to Ovid1). Silvia exchanged her earthly life for that of a goddess, and became the wife of the river-god Tiberinus.
The cradle in which the children were lying was found by the shepherd Faustulus who took them into their own house and raised them. The two boys, Romulus and Remus, resolved to avenge the wrongs which their family had suffered. With the help of their faithful comrades, who had flocked to Alba to rescue Remus, they slew Amulius, and placed Numitor on the throne.
A Roman sarcophagus (ca. 210 CE; Vatican Museum) depicts Rhea Silvia seated on a throne near the Tiber River, while Mars, armed as a warrior, approaches her. The Vestal Virgin is depicted bare-chested, chastely turning away from the god, and raising a robe to cover herself.
- Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Roman Antiquities ii, 56.
- Ovid. Fasti iii, 54.
- Plutarch. Romulus, 27.
- Servius on Virgil's Aeneid i, 274.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.