Romulus: Overview and Major Facts

Romulus, a figure enshrouded in legend and history, stands as the mythical founder and first king of Rome. His story, an amalgam of myth, cultural identity, and the foundational ethos of Rome, provides insight into how the Romans viewed themselves and their city.

In the article below, World History Edu explains the series of events that culminate in Romulus’ sole rule and the foundation of Rome, a city that would become central to our Western history.

Divine Origins and Early Life

Romulus and his twin brother Remus were believed to be the sons of Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin, and Mars, the god of war (Ares in Greek mythology). Their maternal grandfather, Numitor, the rightful king of Alba Longa, was usurped by his brother Amulius. To eliminate threats to his rule, Amulius ordered the twins’ death by exposure. However, fate intervened, and they were famously saved and suckled by a she-wolf, then raised by the shepherd Faustulus and his wife, Acca Larentia.

Founding of Rome

Romulus and Remus decided to found a city on the site where they were saved. However, a dispute over the location led to Remus’s death, either at the hands of Romulus or one of his supporters. Romulus then founded Rome on the Palatine Hill in 753 BC, according to tradition, and instituted the Roman Senate, comprising 100 of the most noble men, laying the groundwork for Rome’s future governance structure.

Following a disagreement and the subsequent killing of Remus by Romulus or one of his supporters, Romulus went on to found Rome on the Palatine Hill in 753 BC, as per Roman tradition. Image: A sculpture work of Romulus with his twin brother Remus.

Social and Military Organization

Romulus is credited with establishing Rome’s social and military structures. He divided the population into the Patricians (the noble class) and the Plebeians (commoners). For military organization, he created legions and centuries, forming the basis of Roman military might. Romulus also introduced the concept of asylum, inviting fugitives to populate Rome, thereby increasing its size and diversity.

Conflict between Romulus and Remus over the founding of Rome

The Rape of the Sabine Women

Facing a shortage of women for his largely male followers, Romulus hosted a festival for neighboring tribes, including the Sabines. During this event, he orchestrated the abduction of Sabine women to ensure the growth of Rome’s population. This act led to war with the Sabines, which ultimately concluded with a peace treaty and the merging of the Sabines with the Romans, under the joint rule of Romulus and the Sabine king, Titus Tatius.

Romulus’ Military Conquests and Expansion of Rome

Romulus’s reign was marked by continuous expansion and conflict. He is attributed with Rome’s first war victory, the defeat of the Caeninenses, and the acquisition of their territory. Romulus’s military campaigns extended Rome’s influence over neighboring areas, laying the foundation for the Roman Empire. His victories and the spoils of war contributed to Rome’s wealth and the loyalty of his soldiers.

Religious and Legal Institutions

Romulus is also credited with establishing several religious and legal institutions. He founded the cult of Jupiter Feretrius and constructed a temple on Capitoline Hill, dedicating it to the god. Romulus introduced laws governing marriage, property rights, and the civic duties of citizens, embedding the values of duty, honor, and the importance of the family unit in Roman culture.

Mysterious Disappearance and Deification

Romulus’s death is shrouded in mystery. Accounts vary from assassination by disgruntled senators to divine ascension during a storm, with Mars taking him into the heavens. This ambiguity led to his deification as Quirinus, an early god of the Roman state and the Sabines. His disappearance symbolizes the transcendence of Romulus from mortal to divine, reinforcing the notion of Rome’s divine favor and destiny.

List of Roman Gods and their Greek Equivalents

Legacy

Romulus’s legacy is profound, impacting Rome’s political, social, and military structures. He is a figure of statecraft, warfare, and divine providence, embodying the virtues and aspirations of Rome. The annual celebration of the founding of Rome, the Parilia, underscores his enduring significance in Roman culture.

Historical and Mythical Intersections

The story of Romulus, while rich in mythical elements, also reflects historical realities of early Rome. The narratives of conflict, survival, and unification under a single leader encapsulate the challenges and aspirations of Rome’s early inhabitants. Romulus’s tale serves as a symbol of Rome’s foundation, its struggle for existence, and its aspirations for greatness.

READ MORE: Most Influential Roman Emperors

Conclusion

Romulus’s narrative is a complex tapestry of myth and emerging historical consciousness. It offers a glimpse into how the Romans conceptualized their origins, imbued with divine favor, heroic valor, and the foresight of their legendary founder.

The story of Romulus is not just the story of one man but the collective mythos of Rome itself, a city destined to grow from humble beginnings into a sprawling empire. His legacy, enshrined in Rome’s institutions, military traditions, and civic virtues, continues to fascinate, embodying the essence of Roman identity and the eternal city’s founding myth.

Romulus’s legacy is pivotal in understanding the ethos, values, and identity of Rome as a city and a civilization. Image: A sculpture work in Rome, depicting the legendary she-wolf that suckled Romulus and his brother.

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