Romulus and Remus

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016

Mars - Roman God of War
Romulus and Remus were the twin brothers, and main characters of Rome's foundation myth.
Their mother was Rhea Silvia, daughter of Numitor, king of Alba Longa.
Before their conception, Numitor's brother Amulius seized power, killed Numitor's male heirs and forced Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin, sworn to chastity.
Rhea Silvia conceived the twins by the god Mars.
In ancient Roman religion and myth, Mars was the god of war and also an agricultural guardian, a combination characteristic of early Rome. He was second in importance only to Jupiter and he was the most prominent of the military gods in the religion of the Roman army. Most of his festivals were held in March, the month named for him (Latin Martius), and in October, which began the season for military campaigning and ended the season for farming. Under the influence of Greek culture, Mars was identified with the Greek god Ἄρης (Ares), whose myths were reinterpreted in Roman literature and art under the name of Mars.
Once the twins were born, Amulius had them abandoned to die in the Tiber river.

Romulus and Remus
They were saved by a series of miraculous interventions: the river carried them to safety, a she-wolf found and suckled them, and a woodpecker fed them.
A shepherd and his wife found them, and fostered them to manhood as simple shepherds.
The twins, still ignorant of their true origins, proved to be natural leaders.
Each acquired many followers.
When they discovered the truth of their birth, they killed Amulius, and restored Numitor to his throne.
Rather than wait to inherit Alba Longa, they chose to found a new city.


In all versions of the founding myth, the twins founded their own city, but could not agree on its location; Romulus preferred the Palatine Hill, Remus preferred the Aventine Hill.
They agreed to seek the will of the gods in this matter, through augury.
Each took position on his respective hill and prepared a sacred space there.
Remus saw six auspicious birds; but Romulus saw twelve. Romulus claimed superior augury as the divine basis of his right to decide.
Remus made a counterclaim: he saw his six vultures first.
Romulus set to work with his supporters, digging a trench (or building a wall, according to Dionysius) around the Palatine to define his city boundary.
Remus criticized and belittles the new wall, and in a final insult to the new city and its founder alike, he leaped over it.
Romulus killed him, saying "So perish every one that shall hereafter leap over my wall".
The Roman 'ab urbe condita' began from the founding of the city, and places that date as 21 April 753 BC
Romulus completed his city and named it Roma after himself.
Then he divided his fighting men into regiments of 3000 infantry and 300 cavalry, which he called "legions".
From the rest of the populace he selected 100 of the most noble and wealthy fathers to serve as his council.
He called these men Patricians: they were fathers of Rome, not only because they cared for their own legitimate citizen-sons but because they had a fatherly care for Rome and all its people.
They were also its elders, and were therefore known as Senators.
Romulus thereby inaugurated a system of government and social hierarchy based on the patron-client relationship.
Rome drew exiles, refugees, the dispossessed, criminals and runaway slaves.
The city expanded its boundaries to accommodate them; five of the seven hills of Rome were settled: the Capitoline Hill, the Aventine Hill, the Caelian Hill, the Quirinal Hill, and the Palatine Hill.


As most of these immigrants were men, Rome found itself with a shortage of marriageable women. Romulus invited the neighboring Sabines and Latins, along with their womenfolk, to a festival at the Circus Maximus, in honour of Consus (or of Neptune).
While the men were distracted by the games and befuddled with wine, the Romans seized their daughters and took them into the city.
The Sabine and Latin men demanded the return of their daughters.

Romulus Strips the Body of Acron
based on a painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
The inhabitants of three Latin towns (Caenina, Antemnae and Crustumerium) took up arms one after the other but were soundly defeated by Romulus, who killed Acron, the king of Caenina, with his own hands, stripping the body of Acron, and offering the armour to Jupiter, as part of the celebration of the first Roman Triumph
Romulus, however, was magnanimous in victory and although most of the conquered land was divided among Rome's citizens, none of the defeated were enslaved.
The Sabine king Titus Tatius marched on Rome to assault its Capitoline citadel.
The citadel commander's daughter Tarpeia opened the gates for them, in return for "what they wear on their left arms".
She expected their golden bracelets.
Once inside, the Sabines crushed her to death under a pile of their shields.

Intervention of the Sabine Women
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
The Sabines left the citadel to meet the Romans in open battle in the space later known as the 'comitium'.
The outcome hung in the balance; the Romans retreated to the Palatine Hill, where Romulus called on Jupiter for help - traditionally at the place where a temple to Jupiter Stator ("the stayer") was built. The Romans drove the Sabines back to the point where the Curia Hostilia later stood.
The Sabine women themselves then intervened to beg for unity between Sabines and Romans.
A truce was made, then peace.
The Romans-based themselves on the Palatine, and the Sabines on the Quirinal, with Romulus and Tatius as joint kings, and the Comitium as the common centre of government and culture.
The Sabines adopted the Roman calendar, and the Romans adopted the armour and oblong shield of the Sabines.


The legions were doubled in size.
Romulus and Tatius ruled jointly for five years, and subdued the Alban colony of the Camerini.
Then Tatius sheltered some allies who had illegally plundered the Lavinians, and murdered ambassadors sent to seek justice.
Romulus and the Senate decided that Tatius should go to Lavinium to offer sacrifice and appease his offence.
At Lavinium, Tatius was assassinated, and Romulus became sole king.
As king, Romulus held authority over Rome's armies and judiciary.
He organized Rome's administration according to tribe; one of Latins (Ramnes), one of Sabines (Titites), and one of Luceres.
Each elected a tribune to represent their civil, religious, and military interests.
The tribunes were magistrates of their tribes, performed sacrifices on their behalf, and commanded their tribal levies in times of war.
Romulus divided each tribe into ten curiae to form the Comitia Curiata.
The thirty curiae derived their individual names from thirty of the kidnapped Sabine women.
The individual curiae were further divided into ten gentes, held to form the basis for the nomen in the Roman naming convention.
Proposals made by Romulus, or the Senate, were offered to the Curiate assembly for ratification; the ten gentes within each curia cast a vote.
Votes were carried by whichever gens has a majority. Romulus formed a personal guard called the Celeres; these were three hundred of Rome's finest horsemen.
The provision of a personal guard for Romulus helped justify the Augustan development of a Praetorian Guard, responsible for internal security and the personal safety of the Emperor.
The relationship between Romulus and his Tribune resembled the later relation between the Roman Dictator and his Magister Equitum.
For more than two decades, Romulus waged wars, and expanded Rome's territory.
He subdued Fidenae, which seized Roman provisions during a famine, and founded a Roman colony there.
Then he subdued the Crustumini, who had murdered Roman colonists in their territory.
The Etruscans of Veii protested the presence of a Roman garrison at Fidenae, and demanded the return of the town to its citizens.
When Romulus refused, they confronted him in battle and were defeated.
They agreed to a hundred-year truce and surrendered fifty noble hostages: Romulus celebrated his third and last triumph.
When Romulus's grandfather Numitor died, the people of Alba Longa offered him the crown as rightful heir.
Romulus adapted the government of the city to a Roman model.
Henceforth, the citizens held annual elections and choose one of their own as Roman governor.
Thanks to divine favor, and Romulus's inspired leadership, Rome became a dominant force.
According to Roman myth, Romulus ascended to heaven, and was identified with Quirinus, the divine personification of the Roman people.
The legend as a whole encapsulates Rome's ideas of itself, its origins and moral values.
Ancient historians had no doubt that Romulus gave his name to the city. 
The myth was fully developed into something like an "official", chronological version in the Late Republican and early Imperial era; Roman historians dated the city's foundation to between 758 and 728 BC, and Plutarch reckoned the twins' birth year as c. 27/28 March 771 BC.
An earlier tradition that gave Romulus a distant ancestor in the semi-divine Trojan prince Aeneas (see previous article) was further embellished, and Romulus was made the direct ancestor of Rome's first Imperial dynasty.
The image of the she-wolf suckling the divinely fathered twins became an iconic representation of the city, (see above) and its founding legend, making Romulus and Remus preeminent among the feral children of ancient mythography.
And the Romans never forgot the 'she-wolf' - giving the legionary standard-bearers not only the eagle and thunderbolts of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, but also the wolf's head on the standard-bearer's helmet.

to be continued

click below for the next chapter