Frequently Asked Questions about Romulus and the Founding of Rome

Romulus is the legendary founder and first king of Rome, a central figure in Roman mythology. According to tradition, he and his twin brother, Remus, were the sons of Rhea Silvia, a vestal virgin, and Mars, the Roman god of war (Ares in Greek mythology).

The story of Romulus and Remus includes being orphaned and left to die but being saved by a she-wolf who nursed them. After they grew up, Romulus and Remus decided to establish a city.

For many centuries, ancient Romans generally believed that the life of Romulus was marked by a blend of divine intervention and fratricidal conflict. Image: A statue depicting baby Romulus and his twin, Remus being breastfed by a she-wolf.

These FAQs encompass Romulus’ divine origins, founding of Rome, significant policies and reforms, military conquests, and his mysterious end, reflecting the values and aspirations of early Roman society.

What is Romulus best known for?

Romulus is the mythical founder and first king of Rome. A number of traditions credit him and his peers with establishing Rome’s earliest laws, politics, religions, and societal norms. While these stories blend history and folklore, making the real Romulus’ existence uncertain, they are foundational to Roman cultural mythology.

What are some of the major myths surrounding Romulus?

The myths surrounding Romulus, Rome’s legendary founder, unfold through various episodes and characters. These tales begin with the miraculous birth and upbringing of Romulus and his twin, Remus, leading to Remus’s murder during the founding of Rome.

Other significant stories include the Rape of the Sabine Women, which precipitated a war and later peace with the Sabines, culminating in a dual kingship with Titus Tatius.

Most importantly, Romulus is credited with founding Rome’s institutions. His narrative ends with his mysterious death or divine ascension (apotheosis) and the peaceful succession by Numa Pompilius, marking a transition in Rome’s early leadership and laying the groundwork for its sociopolitical and religious institutions.

Who were Romulus’ parents?

In Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus are revered as the sons of the vestal virgin Rhea Silvia and the war god Mars. They were also known as the maternal grandsonsof Numitor, the dethroned king of Alba Longa. This lineage connects them to Trojan hero Aeneas and Latinus, king of Latium, establishing their divine and royal ancestry. This background underscores their destined role in founding Rome, blending divine intervention with the fulfillment of prophetic lineage.

How was Romulus’ maternal grandfather Numitor usurped and exiled?

Before Romulus and Remus were born, their granduncle, Amulius, seized the throne from Numitor, their grandfather and the rightful king. To secure his power, Amulius murdered Numitor’s sons and forced Numitor’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, into Vestal virginity, effectively ensuring she would bear no children to challenge his rule.

How did Romulus and his twin brother Remus survive the wrath of Amulius?

Rhea Silvia became pregnant, claiming Mars, the god of war, as the father. Amulius, viewing the twins as a threat, ordered their death. However, due to a swollen Tiber River, the servants tasked with the deed left them under a fig tree instead of drowning them.

A she-wolf, in a twist of fate, nurtured the abandoned twins until Faustulus, the king’s herdsman, found and raised them with his wife, Acca Larentia. The twins grew up as shepherds, unaware of their royal lineage.

Upon learning their true origins, Romulus and Remus, aided by allies, killed Amulius and restored Numitor to the throne. Their act of vengeance completed, they sought to establish their own city.

Why did Romulus kill Remus?

Choosing the site for their new city led to a fatal disagreement. Romulus and Remus, each favoring different hills, awaited divine signs. Romulus’ claim, based on seeing more vultures, led to a conflict in which Remus was killed, either by Romulus or in a skirmish. Variants of the story include Remus mocking Romulus’ city boundaries and being killed for it.

What festival commemorates the founding of Rome, and when is it celebrated?

Ancient Romans commemorated the founding of Rome annually on April 21 with the festival of the Parilia.

What were Romulus’ first actions in building Rome?

Romulus’ first actions included fortifying the Palatine Hill with the Murus Romuli, laying out the city’s boundaries with a ploughed furrow, performing sacrifices to the gods, and beginning the construction of the city itself.

How did Romulus become the king of Rome?

Romulus sought and received the people’s assent to become their king after addressing them with the help of Numitor, performing sacrifices, and receiving favorable omens from Jupiter, chief god of the Roman pantheon.

How did Romulus organize the Roman populace for taxation and military purposes?

Romulus divided the populace into three tribes: the Ramnes, Titienses, and Luceres, for taxation and military purposes. Each tribe was further divided into ten curia, responsible for providing soldiers for the military levy.

Who comprised the Roman Senate established by Romulus, and what were its members’ descendants called?

Romulus chose one hundred men from the leading families to form the Roman Senate, calling them patres (city fathers). Their descendants were known as “patricians.”

What measures did Romulus take to encourage the growth of Rome?

Romulus outlawed infanticide, established an asylum on the Capitoline Hill for fugitives, and filled the city with colonists, including young, unmarried men.

How did Romulus attempt to solve the imbalance between the number of men and women in Rome?

In early Rome, a demographic imbalance threatened the city’s future, as it was populated mainly by young, unmarried men and asylum-seeking fugitives, with a critical shortage of women.

Romulus’s attempts to negotiate intermarriage with neighboring communities were rejected, prompting him to devise a solution. He organized a festival, inviting neighboring peoples, including the Sabines.

During the event, Roman men abducted marriageable women, leading to outrage and the brink of war. The Latin towns of Caenina, Crustumerium, and Antemnae acted first but were defeated by Rome, with Romulus personally securing victories and claiming the prestigious spolia opima. The conflict escalated with the Sabines, who managed to seize Rome’s citadel through treachery.

Many intense battles followed, with the tide of war only turning when the Sabine women, the cause of the conflict, intervened, urging peace between their Roman husbands and Sabine families. This plea led to a truce and the formation of a unified community under the joint rule of Romulus and the Sabine leader, Titus Tatius, marking a foundational moment in Rome’s legendary history.

According to legend, Romulus invited people from neighboring cities to a festival, where Romans seized and carried off marriageable women among their guests, leading to the Rape of the Sabine Women. Image: An artwork by French painter Poussin depicting the incident.

How did Romulus keep Rome united after the murder of Titus Tatius?

Romulus and Tatius jointly ruled Rome until Tatius was killed in a riot, sparked by disputes with envoys from Laurentum. Romulus chose peace over vengeance, maintaining Rome’s alliance with Lavinium and uniting the city across ethnic divides. Later, Romulus expanded Rome’s influence, conquering Fidenae after drawing its army into an ambush and capturing the city. He also engaged Veii, an emerging rival, defeating its forces but not besieging the well-defended city, instead laying waste to its lands. These actions solidified Rome’s growing power and foreshadowed future conflicts.

How did Romulus’ reign end, and what are the theories about his disappearance?

After a 37-year reign, Romulus is said to have disappeared in a whirlwind during a storm. Theories include murder by senators, tearing apart out of jealousy, or ascension to heaven by Mars. Renowned Roman historian and author Livy (59 BC – AD 17) supports the divine ascension theory.

What happened to Romulus’ cult following, and who succeeded him as king?

Romulus’ cult following was assimilated with the cult of Quirinus, possibly the Sabine god. Numa Pompilius, from the Sabines, succeeded Romulus as king of Rome.

After 37 years as king, Romulus vanished in a storm. Roman historian Livy believed that the king was taken to heaven by Mars, supporting the notion of divine favor for Rome’s expansion, despite other theories of his demise. Image: A statue of Livy situated in in Vienna, Austria.

Why was Romulus associated with Quirinus?

Ennius, an early Roman poet, recognized Romulus as a deity distinct from Quirinus, indicating the complexity of Roman religious identity.

Quirinus, traditionally a Sabine war god, was often conflated with Mars, the Roman god of war, reflecting Rome’s martial values.

Despite their association, ancient texts like those of Lucilius and Varro treat Romulus and Quirinus as separate entities, each with their own temples and cult practices, highlighting the nuanced understanding of divine personas in Roman religion.

Ovid’s famed work “Metamorphoses” narrates the transformation of Romulus into Quirinus and his wife Hersilia into Hora, under Mars’s and Jupiter’s auspices. This story illustrates the divine elevation of Rome’s founders, integrating them into the pantheon and reinforcing their importance to Roman identity and state religion.

The potential blending of Romulus, a foundational hero, with Quirinus, possibly a harvest god, into a singular mythological figure reflects a common anthropological pattern where cultural heroes undergo deification. This “dema archetype” suggests an evolution from a singular figure representing both political foundation and agricultural abundance to two distinct deities, underscoring the complexity of Rome’s foundation myth and its integration of diverse cultural elements into a unified religious and societal framework.

Who was Romulus’ wife according to various sources, and what role did she play following the conflicts with neighboring towns?

Romulus’s wife, Hersilia, played a key mediating role after the Sabine women’s abduction, advocating for their families’ integration into Rome. Described variably across sources, Hersilia was a Sabine, possibly already married or a mother at her abduction. Some accounts suggest her marriage to another; others attribute two children to her and Romulus. Her story underscores the complexities and nuances of early Roman narratives, blending history and myth.

What are some major sources of the story of Romulus?

Renowned ancient historians like Livy, Dionysius, and Plutarch wrote about Romulus by drawing on the works of early Roman historian Quintus Fabius Pictor.

The likes of Ovid’s “Fasti” and Virgil’s “Aeneid” also contain some bit of information about Romulus. Those works trace Rome’s founding myths back to sources blending Roman and Greek traditions.

What is the mythological connection between Romulus and Aeneas?

Greek historians like Hellanicus of Lesbos linked Rome’s origins to Aeneas, a connection Roman narratives embrace, situating Romulus within a lineage extending to the Trojan prince, suggesting a pre-Romulean settlement linked to Evander’s Greek colonists.

This mythological framework, attributing Rome’s founding institutions and values to Romulus, showcases Rome’s self-perception and foundational moral principles.

The legend’s complexity poses challenges for modern scholarship, with debates around Romulus’s historical versus legendary status and the precise dating of Rome’s founding.

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