Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, is a figure shrouded in myth and legend.
Stories involving Romulus have been passed down through the ages, and while it is not entirely clear how much of it is historical fact and how much is myth or if he even existed, it remains an integral part of the Roman mythology and the city’s identity.
Today, we will talk about the legend of Romulus in more detail.
Traditional birth year: 771 BC
Romulus and Remus
According to legend, Romulus and his twin brother Remus were the descendants of Aeneas, a Trojan hero who fled to Italy after the fall of Troy. Aeneas was said to have settled in the region of Latium, where he married a local woman and fathered a son named Ascanius. Ascanius later became the founder of Alba Longa, a city in the region of Latium.
Romulus and Remus were born in Alba Longa, but their birth was considered illegitimate because their mother, Rhea Silvia, was a Vestal Virgin. Vestal Virgins were priestesses of the goddess Vesta, and were required to remain celibate during their tenure. However, Rhea Silvia was impregnated a according to legend by the god Mars(In ancient Roman mythology, Mars was the god of war and one of the most prominent deities in the Roman pantheon).
When the king of Alba Longa, Amulius, who was Rheas uncle, learned of Rhea Silvia’s pregnancy, he feared that the children would grow up to overthrow him, so he ordered Rhea Silvia to be imprisoned/killed and the twins to be abandoned on the banks of the Tiber River.
The twins were discovered by a she-wolf, who nursed them until they were found and adopted by a shepherd named Faustulus. Romulus and Remus grew up as shepherds, but they eventually learned of their true identity and decided to found a city on the spot where they had been abandoned as infants.
However, Romulus and Remus disagreed about the location of the city, and a conflict ensued. Romulus favored the Palatine Hill, while Remus preferred the Aventine Hill. Some versions of the story suggest that Remus mocked Romulus’ plans for the city, while others say that he simply jumped over the city’s walls in a show of disrespect. In either case, Romulus was outraged and killed Remus in the ensuing scuffle.
Founding of Rome
Romulus then founded the city of Rome on the Palatine Hill in 753 BCE, and became its first king.
According to tradition, Romulus reigned as the first king of Rome for 37 years, from 753 BCE to 716 BCE. This started the period of Roman history known as the “Roman Kingdom”.
During this time, he is credited with laying the foundations for the city’s government, military, and religious institutions as well as successfully expanded Rome’s territory through a series of military campaigns against neighboring tribes and city-states.
How did Romulus Populate his new city?
Romulus populated the new city of Rome by inviting people from neighboring regions to come and settle there. He extended an invitation to people from all walks of life, including outcasts and refugees, promising them land, protection, and the opportunity to be a part of a new and thriving community. But there were not enough women in the city for the men to marry and start families. This would put the new community at risk of failing after just one generation.
Romulus decided to solve this problem by inviting neighboring tribes to Rome for the festival of Consualia in honor of the god Consus, during which he and his men kidnapped the unmarried women and took them as wives.
One of the tribes that attended the festival were the Sabines, who were outraged by the kidnapping of their women. They mobilized their army and marched on Rome, demanding the return of their women and seeking revenge against Romulus and his men.
Romulus, realizing that he was outnumbered and outmatched, decided to take a diplomatic approach to the situation. He met with the Sabine king, Titus Tatius, and negotiated a peace treaty that allowed the Sabine women to remain in Rome and marry the Roman men. The Sabines were granted citizenship and were allowed to settle in Rome, and Tatius became a co-ruler of the city with Romulus.
They agreed to form a dual kingship, with Romulus remaining as king of the Romans and Tatius becoming co-king of the Sabines. This arrangement aimed to create a sense of shared leadership and promote unity between the two communities.
Under this dual kingship, Romulus and Tatius governed jointly and worked together to establish laws, customs, and institutions that would benefit both the Romans and the Sabines. They united their respective followers and integrated the Sabines into Roman society, fostering a sense of common purpose and identity.
Despite initial tensions, the alliance between Romulus and Tatius proved successful in creating a unified and stronger Rome. Over time, the Romans and Sabines blended their traditions, languages, and customs, forging a new identity that laid the foundation for the growth and expansion of the future Roman Republic.
However, their partnership was not without conflicts and challenges. It is said that Tatius faced opposition from some members of his own people who were resentful of the alliance with Rome. The resentment grew to the point that some individuals conspired against Tatius, plotting his assassination.
According to one version of the myth, Tatius was killed during a religious ceremony. It is said that during a sacrifice, a group of Sabines attacked Tatius and murdered him in an act of revenge or treachery. The circumstances surrounding his death may vary depending on the source or interpretation of the legend.
Following Tatius’s death, Romulus continued to rule as the sole king of Rome. The Roman and Sabine communities, however, remained united, and the integration of the Sabines into Roman society continued.
This event regarding the kidnapping of the Sabine women is known as the “rape of the Sabine women,” although the term “rape” in this context refers to the act of abduction rather than sexual assault. The incident is seen as a pivotal moment in the early history of Rome, as it helped to cement the city’s power and influence in the region.
Romulus also engaged in warfare and conquest to expand the territory of Rome and bring more people under its rule. With the addition of the Sabines Romulus had increased his army and power in the region significantly.
According to legend, he led several successful military campaigns against neighboring tribes and cities, including the Latins, and the Etruscans, which helped to increase the population of Rome.
Romulus’s first significant military campaign was against the hostile city of Fidenae. This neighboring city posed a threat to Rome’s security, and Romulus knew that he had to take action. After a fierce battle, the Romans emerged victorious, capturing Fidenae and incorporating it into their growing realm.
Emboldened by this early success, Romulus set his sights on another nearby city, Antemnae, whose inhabitants proved to be hostile to Rome’s interests. Undeterred, Romulus led his forces into battle once again. They defeated the defenders of Antemnae, subjugating the city and bringing it under Roman control.
Romulus then turned his attention to the city of Crustumerium, a formidable opponent. The Crustumerians, determined to protect their homeland, put up a fierce resistance against the advancing Roman army. However, The Romans eventually triumphed, conquering Crustumerium and expanding their territorial influence.
Another of Romulus’ famous military campaigns was against the city of Caenina, which was located just a few miles from Rome. Romulus led his army against Caenina and emerged victorious, capturing the city and adding its territory to the growing Roman kingdom.
The Battle of Veii was a legendary military campaign led by Romulus against the powerful Etruscan city of Veii. Veii, located just north of Rome, was a formidable adversary and a symbol of Etruscan strength.
Realizing the significance of Veii’s conquest for Rome’s expansion and dominance, Romulus mustered his forces and meticulously planned a prolonged siege. The Roman army encircled the city, cutting off its supply lines and isolating its defenders from reinforcements. They constructed siege works, including battering rams, siege towers, and catapults, to weaken Veii’s formidable defenses.
For years, the Romans endured the hardships of the siege. They maintained a tight blockade, denying Veii access to essential resources and wearing down the city’s defenders. Romulus himself led from the front, inspiring his soldiers and displaying his military prowess.
Inside the walls of Veii, the Etruscan defenders fought valiantly to repel the Roman onslaught. They relied on their fortifications, archers, and skilled warriors to withstand the Roman siege. However, the constant pressure and dwindling supplies took a toll on Veii’s defenders, testing their resolve.
Romulus, aware of the need to break the stalemate and secure victory, devised a daring plan. He selected a group of his most skilled and fearless soldiers to execute a covert operation. Under the cover of darkness, they infiltrated Veii through a secret passage or by scaling the walls, catching the defenders by surprise.
Once inside the city, the Roman soldiers unleashed chaos and confusion among the Etruscan ranks. They targeted key strategic points, sabotaged defenses, and spread panic among Veii’s defenders. The surprise attack turned the tide of the battle in Rome’s favor.
As the Etruscans struggled to contain the infiltrators, Romulus launched a full-scale assault on Veii’s weakened defenses. The Roman army, invigorated by their successful covert operation, stormed the city with renewed determination. Fierce combat ensued in the narrow streets and on the city walls as the Romans clashed with the Etruscan defenders.
Ultimately, the relentless efforts of Romulus and his army proved decisive. The Etruscan resistance crumbled under the combined onslaught of the Roman soldiers. The city of Veii fell to Rome, marking a significant victory for Romulus and solidifying Rome’s dominance over the region.
The conquest of Veii had far-reaching consequences. It established Rome as a formidable power in central Italy, undermining the influence of the Etruscans and paving the way for Rome’s future expansion. The Battle of Veii became a legendary event, embodying the heroic feats and military brilliance of Romulus as he laid the foundation for Rome’s rise as a great empire.
While many of the details of Romulus’ military campaigns are likely embellished or exaggerated in legend, there is no doubt that he played a crucial role in expanding the power and influence of Rome in its early years.
What do we know about Romulus the person his personality?
It is difficult to say with certainty what Romulus’ personality was like, as much of what we know about him is based on legend rather than historical fact. However, based on the stories that have been passed down over the centuries, we can make some generalizations about his character.
Romulus was a charismatic and visionary leader who inspired loyalty and devotion in his followers. He was known for his courage and military prowess, as well as his ability to make quick decisions in times of crisis. He was also said to be a shrewd politician, able to negotiate alliances and treaties with neighboring tribes and city-states.
However, Romulus was also described as being somewhat brutal and authoritarian in his rule. According to legend, he had little tolerance for dissent or disobedience, and he was not afraid to use violence to maintain his power.
His killing of his brother Remus is a clear indication of the ruthless nature of his leadership, and his decision to allow the abduction of the Sabine women to provide wives for his followers is a testament to his willingness to use force to achieve his goals.
At the same time, Romulus was also said to be deeply religious and devoted to the gods.
Of course, some of the more negative aspects of his personality may have been exaggerated or embellished over time.
Did Romulus marry and have children?
According to tradition, Romulus did not have any children and instead focused his energies on building and governing his city.
Some later accounts of the legend suggest that Romulus may have been celibate, either as a form of self-discipline or as a way of symbolizing his devotion to the city of Rome.
Regardless of his marital status, Romulus is seen as a father figure and a symbol of Roman strength and unity.
Now let’s talk about the most important things Romulus did?
His contributions to the establishment of the city-state of Rome and its early development set the foundation for one of the most powerful and influential empires in history.
Here are some of the most significant things that Romulus did:
- Created the Roman Senate: Romulus established the Roman Senate, a body of 100 members who advised the king on matters of state. The Senate was made up of the most powerful and influential men in Rome, and its members were selected from the noble families of the city. The descendants of the original senators made up Rome’s upper class of citizens in the later republic known as the patricians.
- The Codification of Roman Laws: Romulus is credited with formulating a set of laws known as the “Law of the Twelve Tables.” These laws, engraved on twelve bronze tablets, formed the foundation of Roman legal principles and provided a basis for the administration of justice. The codification of laws brought a sense of order and fairness to Roman society.
- Instituted the comitia curiata: The comitia curiata was an assembly of citizens who had the power to pass laws and elect magistrates. Romulus established this assembly to ensure that the people of Rome had a voice in their government and could participate in the decision-making process.
- Construction of Rome’s fortifications: Romulus is said to have constructed the original walls of Rome, known as the “Servian Wall.” These defensive structures provided protection to the growing city, reinforcing its security and establishing its physical boundaries. The construction of walls demonstrated Romulus’s commitment to safeguarding Rome’s inhabitants and their possessions.
- He also established the Capitoline Hill as the religious and political center of the city, which remained an important site throughout Roman history.
- The Expansion of Roman Citizenship: To strengthen Rome’s population and ensure its growth, Romulus encouraged the assimilation of neighboring tribes into Roman society. He offered citizenship to those who pledged allegiance to Rome, effectively incorporating diverse communities into the fledgling city-state. This policy laid the foundation for the multicultural character of the Roman Empire in later centuries.
- Promoting Civic Unity and National Identity: Romulus emphasized the importance of unity and national identity among the diverse population of Rome. He encouraged communal activities, such as festivals, games, and public ceremonies, to foster a sense of shared purpose and pride in Roman citizenship. These initiatives aimed to forge a strong sense of community among the inhabitants of Rome.
- The Cultivation of Agriculture and Trade: Recognizing the significance of agriculture and trade for Rome’s prosperity, Romulus is said to have encouraged agricultural activities and promoted trade relations with neighboring communities. By fostering economic growth, he laid the groundwork for Rome’s future commercial success.
- Organized the Roman army: Recognizing the importance of a strong military for Rome’s defense and expansion, Romulus fostered a culture of military service and preparedness. Romulus is said to have organized the first Roman army composed of citizens who were required to serve in times of war. He is said to have divided his army into military units called “legions” and encouraged citizens to undergo military training. This early Roman army was known for its discipline and ability to fight as a cohesive unit, and it played a crucial role in the expansion of the Roman kingdom and later empire.
- Established the religion of Rome: Romulus was also responsible for establishing the religious practices of Rome. He was said to have instituted the worship of the gods and goddesses who became the primary deities of the Roman pantheon, including Jupiter, Mars, and Venus.
- Instituted the Roman calendar: Romulus is also credited with instituting the first Roman calendar, which was based on the lunar cycle. This calendar had 10 months, and each month was either 30 or 31 days long.
- Romulus also established a system of patronage, where wealthy citizens would act as patrons to less fortunate members of society. This system allowed for a sense of community and social cohesion, and it ensured that even the poorest members of society had some level of support and protection.
- He also established the position of the consul, which became the city’s chief executive in the Roman Republic.
- He is also said to have divided the city into 30 districts, or “curiae.”
- The establishment of Roman culture: Romulus is credited with establishing many of the cultural and social traditions that came to define Roman life. He is said to have introduced the practice of augury, the use of the toga, and the worship of various gods and goddesses.
- The embodiment of Roman values: Romulus is seen as a symbol of many of the values that were important to the Roman people, including strength, courage, and determination. His story has inspired generations of Romans to strive for greatness.
- Romulus was also said to have established the first Roman triumph, a public celebration of a military victory that would become a major part of Roman culture for centuries to come. The triumph would typically feature a procession through the streets of Rome, with the victorious general and his soldiers displaying the spoils of war and receiving adulation from the crowds. These triumphs served to honor the military achievements of Roman generals, boost morale, and reinforce the notion of Rome’s dominance and invincibility.
Historical and archaeological evidence
While much of the story of Romulus is shrouded in myth and legend, we do have a few historical facts and archaeological evidence.
One of the most important sources of information about the early history of Rome is the Roman historian Livy, who lived in the first century BC. Livy’s account of the founding of Rome is largely based on earlier sources, and he acknowledges that much of the story is legendary.
However, he also provides some important historical details.
For example, Livy tells us that Romulus divided the city into three tribes, each with its own territory and government. He also mentioned the creation of the Senate, which was made up of 100 members who advised the king on matters of state. In addition, Livy tells us that Romulus established the comitia curiata, which was an assembly of citizens who had the power to pass laws and elect magistrates.
As for Archaeological evidence, Excavations in the Roman Forum, the heart of ancient Rome, have uncovered early structures that date back to the 8th century BC, around the time that Romulus is said to have founded the city. These early structures include a series of huts that were likely used by the early inhabitants of Rome, as well as a large pit that was used for ritual sacrifices and we have also found evidence of the early roman army.
Unfortunately, most of the records we could have had of the early days of Rome were probably lost during the first sack of Rome by the Gauls in 390 BCE. The sack of Rome lasted for several months, during which the city was subjected to pillaging and devastation. The invading forces looted and plundered the city, causing widespread destruction and taking valuable treasures. It was said that the Gauls demanded a ransom for sparing the city from complete destruction to which the romans had no choice but to agree and pay them to leave.
How did Romulus die?
According to the traditional story, Romulus disappeared in a mysterious way, and there are different versions of his death. One account suggests that Romulus was killed by the senators, who were unhappy with his leadership style and wanted to overthrow him. Another version of the story suggests that Romulus was killed in battle against neighboring tribes.
However, the most widely accepted version of the story is that Romulus was taken up into the heavens by the gods. According to this account, Romulus had assembled his army and was reviewing them when a violent thunderstorm erupted. In the midst of the storm, Romulus was lifted up into the sky, where he became one of the gods of the Roman pantheon.
This story became an important part of Roman mythology, and was used to explain the city’s early history and the origins of its political system.
Aftermath of his death
In any case, the aftermath of Romulus’s disappearance marked a significant turning point in the early history of Rome.
Here’s what is believed to have happened after Romulus’s death:
Interregnum and the Rule of the Senate:
Following Romulus’s disappearance, a period of uncertainty and confusion known as the interregnum ensued. The Roman Senate, composed of influential aristocrats, assumed temporary control of the city and its affairs. During this period, the Senate acted as the governing body, maintaining order and making crucial decisions in the absence of a king. This marked the transition from a monarchy to a temporary republican system.
The Election of Numa Pompilius:
To fill the power vacuum left by Romulus’s departure, the Senate and the Roman people elected Numa Pompilius as the second king of Rome. Numa Pompilius, a wise and religious figure, is credited with establishing many of Rome’s religious and legal institutions. His reign focused on promoting peace, cultural development, and the organization of Roman society.
Romulus’s Deification and Cult Worship:
In the years following Romulus’s disappearance, he was gradually deified and venerated as a divine figure by the Roman people. Under the name Quirinus, he was considered a protective deity of the Roman state. A temple was built in his honor on the Quirinal Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome, and his cult became an integral part of Roman religious practices.
The Continued Expansion of Rome:
After Romulus’s death, Rome continued to expand its territory and influence under the leadership of subsequent kings and later, the Roman Republic. The city grew in size and strength, engaging in further military campaigns and conquests throughout Italy. Rome’s expansionist policies set the stage for its eventual rise as a dominant power in the Mediterranean region.
It’s important to note that while the legends and myths surrounding Romulus provide a narrative foundation for the early history of Rome, the historicity of these events and the specific details of what occurred after his death remain uncertain. The transition from monarchy to republic and the subsequent development of Rome as a powerful city-state were complex processes influenced by a variety of factors, including political, social, and cultural dynamics.
While there is no definitive proof that Romulus actually existed, his legend has had a profound influence on Western culture and has played a central role in the development of Roman identity.
Despite the ambiguities and contradictions in the story of Romulus, his legacy has endured for centuries. The city he founded became the center of an empire that would dominate the Mediterranean world for centuries, and his legend has inspired countless works of art, literature, and film.
His story serves as a reminder of the complex interplay between myth and history in the formation of cultural identities.
Romulus is considered a historical hero by many people in Italy and around the world. As the legendary founder and first king of Rome, he is often celebrated as a symbol of Roman strength, power, and ingenuity.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Romulus’ story has been a subject of fascination and interpretation for centuries. His life and reign have been interpreted in many different ways by historians, scholars, and writers, and the details of his story have been endlessly debated and analyzed. Despite the uncertainties surrounding his life and legacy, Romulus remains an enduring symbol of Roman power and leadership, and his story continues to capture the imaginations of people around the world.