Romulus & Remus

Romulus and Remus were the twin sons of Mars, who built the city of Rome.

Parents: Mars and Rhea Silvia

La Lupa Capitolina “the Capitoline Wolf”. Traditional scholarship says the wolf-figure is Etruscan, 5th c. BC. The figures of Romulus and Remus were added in the 15th century by Antonio Pollaiuolo. Recent studies suggest that the she-wolf may be a medieval sculpture dating from the 13th century. The work’s attribution attests to the enduring nature of the myth.

Early Life

Romulus and Remus were born in Alba Longa, one of the ancient Latin cities near the future site of Rome. Their mother, Rhea Silvia, was a vestal virgin and the daughter of the former king, Numitor, who had been overthrown by his brother Amulius. Rhea Silvia conceived them when their father, the god Mars, visited her in a sacred grove dedicated to him.

Altar to Mars and Venus depicting elements of the myth. Tiberinus, the Father of the Tiber, and the infant twins being suckled by a she-wolf in the Lupercal are below. An eagle from the contest of augury and Palatine hill are to the left. From Ostia, now at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.

Seeing them as a possible threat to his rule, King Amulius ordered them to be killed and they were thrown into the River Tiber. They were saved by the god Tiberinus, Father of the River, and then the twins were suckled by a she-wolf, in a cave now known as the Lupercal. Eventually, they were adopted by Faustulus, a shepherd. They grew up tending flocks, unaware of their true identities. Over time, they became natural leaders and attracted a company of supporters from their community.

The Shepherd Faustulus Bringing Romulus and Remus to His Wife by Nicolas Mignard, 1654.

The Rightful King

When they were young adults, they became involved in a dispute between supporters of Numitor and Amulius. As a result, Remus was taken prisoner and brought to Alba Longa. Both his grandfather and the king suspected his true identity. Romulus, meanwhile, had organised an effort to free his brother and set out with help for the city. During this time they learned of their past and joined forces with their grandfather to restore him to the throne. Amulius was killed and Numitor was reinstated as king of Alba. The twins then set out to build a city of their own.

All Roads Lead to Rome

After arriving back in the area where they grew up, they disagreed about the hill upon which to build. Romulus preferred the Palatine Hill, above the Lupercal; Remus preferred the Aventine Hill. When they could not resolve the dispute, they agreed to seek the gods’ approval through a contest of augury. Remus first saw 6 eagles but soon afterward, Romulus saw 12, and claimed to have won divine approval. While Romulus was building his new city, Remus jumped over the partially built walls and Romulus, in a fit of rage, killed him.

The new city was called Rome, after Romulus, and was founded in 753 BC.

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