Romulus and Remus

The founder of the city of Rome. It is unnecessary in the present work to prove that all the stories about Romulus are mythical, and merely represent the traditional belief of the Roman people respecting their origin. Romulus, which is only a lengthened form of Romus, is simply the Roman people represented as an individual, and must be placed in the same category as Aeolus, Dorus, and Ion, the reputed ancestors of the Aeolians, Dorians, and Ionians, owing to the universal practice of antiquity to represent nations as springing from eponymous ancestors. But although none of the tales about Romulus can be received as an historical fact, yet it is of importance to know the general belief of the Roman people respecting the life of the founder of their city. It is, however, very difficult to ascertain the original form of the legend; since poets, on the one hand, embellished it with the creations of their own fancy, and historians, on the other hand, omitted many of its most marvelous incidents, in order to reduce it to the form of a probable history. The various tales related respecting the foundation of Rome may be reduced to two classes, one of Greek and the other of native origin.

The former bring Romulus into close connection with Aeneas. A few Greek writers make Aeneas the founder of Rome, and speak of his wife under the name of Roma; others represent Romulus as his son or a remote descendant; but the greater part make him his grandson by his daughter Ilia. In most of these accounts the twin brothers are spoken of, but they appear under the names of Romulus and Romus, not Remus.1 These accounts, however, scarcely deserve the name of traditions, as Niebuhr has remarked; they are for the most part the inventions of Greek writers, who were ignorant of the native legend, but having heard of the fame of Rome, wished to assign to it an origin.

The old Roman legend was of a very different kind. It was preserved in popular poems, which were handed down from generation to generation, and some of which were in existence in the time of Dionysius;2 and it seems to have been recorded in prose in its most genuine form by the annalist Q. Fabius Pictor, who lived during the second Punic War. This legend probably ran nearly as follows: — At Alba Longa there reigned a succession of kings, descended from Iulus, the son of Aeneas. One of the last of these kings left two sons, Numitor and Amulius. The latter, who was the younger, deprived Numitor of the kingdom, but allowed him to live in the enjoyment of his private fortune. Fearful, however, lest the heirs of Numitor might not submit so quietly to his usurpation, he caused his only son to be murdered, and made his daughter{sup id="a"}A{/sup} Silvia one of the Vestal Virgins. 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.3 When her time came, she brought forth twins. Amulius doomed the guilty Vestal and her babes to be drowned in the river. In the Anio, Silvia exchanged her earthly life for that of a goddess, and became the wife of the river-god. The stream carried the cradle in which the children were lying into the Tiber, which had overflowed its banks far and wide. It was stranded at the foot of the Palatine, and overturned on the root of a wild fig tree, which, under the name of the Ficus Ruminalis, was preserved and held sacred for many ages after. A she-wolf, which had come to drink of the stream, carried them into her den near by, and suckled them; and there, when they wanted other food, the woodpecker, a bird sacred to Mars, brought it to them.4

At length this marvelous spectacle was seen by Faustulus, the king's shepherd, who took the children to his own house, and gave them to the care of his wife, Acca Larentia. They were called Romulus and Remus, and grew up along with the twelve sons of their foster-parents, on the Palatine hill.5 They were, however, distinguished from their comrades by the beauty of their person and the bravery of their deeds, and became the acknowledged leaders of the other shepherd youths, with whom they fought boldly against wild beasts and robbers. The followers of Romulus were called Quintilii; those of Remus, Fabii. A quarrel arose between them and the herdsmen of Numitor, who stalled their cattle on the neighboring hill of the Aventine. Remus was taken by a stratagem, during the absence of his brother, and carried off to Numitor. His age and noble bearing made Numitor think of his grandsons; and his suspicions were confirmed by the tale of the marvelous nurture of the twin brothers. Meanwhile Romulus hastened with his foster-father to Numitor; suspicion was changed into certainty, and the old man recognized them as his grandsons. They now 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.

Romulus and Remus loved their old abode, and therefore left Alba to found a city on the banks of the Tiber. They were accompanied only by their old comrades, the shepherds. The story which makes them joined by the Alban nobles, is no part of the old legend; since the Julii and similar families do not appear till after the destruction of Alba. As the brothers possessed equal authority and power, a strife arose between them where the city should be built, who should be its founder, and after whose name it should be called. Romulus wished to build it on the Palatine, Remus on the Aventine, or, according to another tradition, on another hill three or four miles lower down the river, called Remuria or Remoria, which Niebuhr supposes to be the hill beyond S. Paolo.6 {sup id="b"}B{/sup} It was agreed that the question should be decided by augury; and each took his station on the top of his chosen hill. The night passed away, and as the day was dawning Remus saw six vultures; but at sun-rise, when these tidings were brought to Romulus, twelve vultures flew by him. Each claimed the augury in his own favor; but most of the shepherds decided for Romulus, and Remus was therefore obliged to yield.

Romulus now proceeded to mark out the pomoerium of his city.7 He yoked a bullock and a heifer to a plow with a copper plowshare, and drew a deep furrow round the foot of the Palatine, so as to include a considerable compass below the hill; and men followed after who turned every clod to the inward side. Where the gates were to be made, the plow was carried over the space; since otherwise nothing unclean could have entered the city, as the track of the plow was holy. In the Comitium a vault was built underground, which was filled with the first-fruits of all the natural productions that support human life, and with earth which each of the settlers had brought with him from his home. This place was called Mundus, and was believed to be the entrance to the lower world.8 Rome is said to have been founded on the 21st of April, and this day was celebrated as a yearly festival down to the latest times of Roman history. It was the Palilia, or festival of Pales, the divinity of the shepherds, and was, therefore, a day well fitted for the foundation of a city by shepherds.9

On the line of the pomoerium Romulus began to raise a wall. Remus, who still resented the wrong he had suffered, leapt over it in scorn, whereupon Romulus slew him, saying, "So die whosoever hereafter shall leap over my walls;" though, according to another account, he was killed by Celer, who had the charge of the building. Remorse now seized Romulus, and he rejected all food and comfort, till at length he appeased the shade of Remus by instituting the festival of the Lemuria for the souls of the departed.10 Afterwards an empty throne was set by the side of Romulus, with a scepter and crown, that his brother might seem to reign with him.11 Thus in the earliest legends we find the supreme power divided between two persons; but it is not impossible that the belief in the double kingdom of Romulus and Remus, as well as subsequently in that of Romulus and Titus Tatius, may have arisen simply from the circumstance of there being two magistrates at the head of the state in later times.

Romulus now found his people too few in numbers. He therefore set apart, on the Capitoline hill, an asylum, or a sanctuary, in which homicides and runaway slaves might take refuge. The city thus became filled with men, but they wanted women. Romulus, therefore, tried to form treaties with the neighboring tribes, in order to obtain connubium, or the right of legal marriage with their citizens; but his offers were treated with disdain, and he accordingly resolved to obtain by force what he could not gain by entreaty. In the fourth month after the foundation of the city, he proclaimed that games were to be celebrated in honor of the god Consus, and invited his neighbors, the Latins and Sabines, to the festival. Suspecting no treachery, they came in numbers, with their wives and children. But the Roman youths rushed upon their guests, and carried off the virgins. The old legend related that thirty Sabine virgins were thus seized, and became the wives of their ravishers but the smallness of the number seemed so incredible to a later age, which looked upon the legend as a genuine history, that it was increased to some hundreds by such writers as Valerius Antias and Juba.12

The parents of the virgins returned home and prepared for vengeance. The inhabitants of three of the Latin towns, Caenina, Antemnae, and Crustumerium, took up arms one after the other, and were successively defeated by the Romans. Romulus slew with his own hand Acron, king of Caenina, and dedicated his arms and armor, as spolia opima, to Jupiter. At last the Sabine king, Titus Tatius, advanced with a powerful army, against Rome. His forces were so great that Romulus, unable to resist him in the field, was obliged to retire into the city. He had previously fortified and garrisoned the top of the Saturnian hill, afterwards called the Capitoline, which was divided from the city on the Palatine, by a swampy valley, the site of the Forum. But Tarpeia, the daughter of the commander of the fortress, dazzled by the golden bracelets of the Sabines, promised to betray the hill to them, if they would give her the ornaments which they wore on their left arms. Her offer was accepted; in the night time she opened a gate and let in the enemy but when she claimed her reward, they threw upon her the shields which they carried on their left arms, and thus crushed her to death. Her tomb was shown on the hill in later times, and her memory was preserved by the name of the Tarpeian rock, from which traitors were afterwards hurled down.

On the next day the Romans endeavored to recover the hill. A long and desperate battle was fought in the valley between the Palatine and the Capitoline. At one time the Romans were driven before the enemy, and the day seemed utterly lost, when Romulus vowed a temple to Jupiter Stator, the Stayer of Flight; whereupon the Romans took courage, and returned again to the combat. At length, when both parties were exhausted with the struggle, the Sabine women rushed in between them, and prayed their husbands and fathers to be reconciled. Their prayer was heard; the two people not only made peace, but agreed to form only one nation. The Romans continued to dwell on the Palatine under their king Romulus; the Sabines built a new town on the Capitoline and Quirinal hills, where they lived under their king Titus Tatius. The two kings and their senates met for deliberation in the valley between the Palatine and Capitoline hills, which was hence called Comitium, or the place of meeting. But this union did not last long. Titus Tatius was slain at a festival at Lavinium, by some Laurentines to whom he had refused satisfaction for outrages which had been committed by his kinsmen. Henceforward Romulus ruled alone over both Romans and Sabines; but, as he neglected to pursue the murderers, both his people and those of Laurentum were visited by a pestilence, which did not cease until the murderers on both sides were given up.

After the death of Tatius the old legend appears to have passed on at once to the departure of Romulus from the world. Of the long period which intervened few particulars are recorded, and these Niebuhr supposes, with some justice, to be the inventions of a later age. Romulus is said to have attacked Fidenae, and to have taken the city; and likewise to have carried on a successful war against the powerful city of Veii, which purchased a truce of a hundred years, on a surrender of a third of its territory. At length, after a reign of thirty-seven years, when the city had become strong and powerful, and Romulus had performed all his mortal works, the hour of his departure arrived. One day as he was reviewing his people in the Campus Martius, near the Goat's Pool, the sun was suddenly eclipsed, darkness overspread the earth, and a dreadful storm dispersed the people. When daylight returned, Romulus had disappeared, for his father Mars had carried him up to heaven in a fiery chariot ("Quirinus Martis equis Acheronta fugit";13 "Rex patriis astra petebat equis"14). The people mourned for their beloved king; but their mourning gave way to religious reverence, when he appeared again in more than mortal beauty to Proculus Julius, and bade him tell the Romans that they should become the lords of the world, and that he would watch over them as their guardian god Quirinus. The Romans therefore worshiped him under this name. The festival of the Quirinalia was celebrated in his honor on the 17th of February; but the Nones of Quintilis, or the seventh of July, was the day on which, according to tradition, he departed from the earth.

Such was the glorified end of Romulus in the genuine legend. But as it staggered the faith of a later age, a tale was invented to account for his mysterious disappearance. It was related that the senators, discontented with the tyrannical rule of their king, murdered him during the gloom of a tempest, cut up his body, and carried home the mangled pieces under their robes. But the forgers of this tale forgot that Romulus is nowhere represented in the ancient legend as a tyrant, but as a mild and merciful monarch, whose rule became still more gentle after the death of Tatius, whom it branded as a tyrant.

The genuine features of the old legend about Romulus may still be seen in the accounts of Livy,15 Dionysius,16 and Plutarch,17 notwithstanding the numerous falsifications and interpolations by which it is obscured, especially in the two latter writers. It is given in its most perfect form in the Roman Histories of Niebuhr18 and Malden.19

As Romulus was regarded as the founder of Rome, its most ancient political institutions and the organization of the people were ascribed to him by the popular belief. Thus he is said to have divided the people into three tribes, which bore the names Ramnes, Tities, and Luceres. The Ramnes were supposed to have derived their name from Romulus, the Tities from Titus Tatius the Sabine king, and the Luceres from Lucumo, an Etruscan chief who had assisted Romulus in the war against the Sabines. Each tribe contained ten curiae, which received their names from the thirty Sabine women who had brought about the peace between the Romans and their own people. Further, each curia contained ten gentes, and each gens a hundred men. Thus the people, according to the general belief, were divided originally into three tribes, thirty curiae, and three hundred gentes, which mustered 3000 men, who fought on foot, and were called a legion. Besides those there were three hundred horsemen, called celeres, the same body as the equites of a later time; but the legend neglects to tell us from what quarter these horsemen came.

To assist him in the government of the people Romulus is said to have selected a number of the aged men in the state, who were called patres, or senatores. The council itself, which was called the senatus, originally consisted of one hundred members; but this number was increased to two hundred when the Sabines were incorporated in the state. In addition to the senate, there was another assembly, consisting of the members of the gentes, which bore the name of comitia curiata, because they voted in it according to their division into curiae. To this assembly was committed the election of the kings in subsequent times.

That part of the legend of Romulus which relates to the political institutions which he is said to have founded, represents undoubted historical facts. For we have certain evidence of the existence of such institutions in the earliest times, and many traces endured to the imperial period: and the popular belief only attempted to explain the origin of existing phenomena by ascribing their first establishment to the heroic founder of the state. Thus, while no competent scholar would attempt in the present day to give a history of Romulus; because, even on the supposition that the legend still retained some real facts, we have no criteria to separate rate what is true from what is false; yet, on the other hand, it is no presumption to endeavor to form a conception of the political organization of Rome in the earliest times, because we can take our start from actually existing institutions, and trace them back, in many cases step by step, to remote times. We are thus able to prove that the legend is for the most part only an explanation of facts which had a real existence. It would be out of place here to attempt an explanation of the early Roman constitution, but a few remarks are necessary in explanation of the legendary account of the constitution which has been given above.

The original site of Rome was on the Palatine hill. On this there was a Latin colony established at the earliest times, which formed an independent state. On the neighboring hills there appear to have been also settlements of Sabines and Etruscans, the former probably on the Quirinal and Capitoline hills, and the latter on the Caelian. In course of time these Sabine and Etruscan settlements coalesced with the Latin colony on the Palatine, and the three peoples became united into one state. At what time this union took place it is of course impossible to say; the legend referred it to the age of Romulus. There appears, however, sufficient evidence to prove that the Latins and Sabines were united first, and that it was probably long afterwards that the Etruscans became amalgamated with them. Of this we may mention, as one proof, the number of the senate, which is said to have been doubled on the union of the Sabines, but which remained two hundred till the reign of Tarquinius Priscus, who is reported to have increased it to three hundred.20 These three peoples, after their amalgamation, became three tribes; the Latins were called Ramnes or Ramnenses; the Sabines, Tities or Titienses; the Etruscans, Luceres or Lucerenses. The name of Ramnes undoubtedly comes from the same root as that of Romus or Romulus, and in like manner that of Tities is connected with Titus Tatius. The origin of the third name is more doubtful, and was a disputed point even in antiquity. Most ancient writers derived it from Lucumo, which etymology best agrees with the Etruscan origin of the tribe, as Lucumo was a title of honor common to the Etruscan chiefs. Others suppose it to come from Lucerus, a king of Ardea,21 a statement on which Niebuhr principally relies for the proof of the Latin origin of the third tribe; but we think with the majority of the best modern writers, that the Luceres were of Etruscan, and not of Latin, descent. Each of these tribes was divided into ten curiae, as the legend states; but that they derived their names from the thirty Sabine women is of course fabulous. In like manner each curia was divided into ten gentes, which must be regarded as smaller political bodies, rather than as combinations of persons of the same kindred.

A. Many writers call her Rhea or Rea Silvia. Niebuhr remarks that Rhea is a corruption introduced by the editors, apparently from thinking of the goddess Rhea; whereas Rea seems to have signified nothing more than the culprit, reminding us of the expression Reafemina, which often occurs in Boccaccio. Niebuhr also calls attention to the remark of Perizonius, that when the mother of Romulus is represented as the daughter of Aeneas, she is always called Hia, and that Rea is never prefixed to the latter name. (History of Rome,. Vol. 1, p. 211.)

B. In his Lectures on Roman history (pp. 39, 40, ed. Schmitz, 1848) Niebuhr brings forward many reasons to prove what he had hinted at in his History (Vol. 1, note 618), that the latter hill was the one mentioned in the ancient tradition, and that the story relating to it was afterwards transferred to the Aventine, since this hill was the special abode of the plebeians, and there existed between it and the Palatine a perpetual feud.


The image of the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus appears on Roman-Campanian coins from around 300 BCE. The twins are also the subject of many Roman monuments, most famous of these is the she-wolf of the Capitols (Etruscan, fifth century BCE). The figures of Romulus and Remus are an additional from the sixteenth century. Statues of Romulus which once stood at the Forum Romanum and at the Eumachia Building at Pompeii have been lost. He is however found on various frescoes, such as at the Casa di Polybio at Pompeii where he is depicted as victor (triumphator), holding a trophy in his hand. More recent is the fountains of Perugia with the figures of Romulus and Remus by the brothers Pisano. They were also a subject of the painter Rubens.