The Founding of Rome
The Founding of Rome is very much told through myth. Traces found by archaeologists of early settlements of the Palatine Hill date back to about 750 B.C.E. This ties in very closely to the established legend that Rome was founded in April of 753 B.C.E., which was traditionally celebrated in Rome with the festival of Parilia. Two founding legends exist - Romulus and Remus and Aeneas. Rather than contradict each other, the tale of Aeneas adds to that of Romulus and Remus.
|Romulus and Remus with "mom"|
Romulus and Remus
King Numitor of Alba Longa was overthrown by his younger brother Amulius. To do away with any further possible pretenders to his throne, Amulius murdered Numitor's sons and forced Numitor's daughter, Rhea Silvia, to become a vestal virgin. (Vestal virgins were priestesses to the goddess Vesta and were expected to never marry, under penalty of death). However Mars, the god of war, fell in love with Rhea Silvia and married her. As a result of this Rhea Silvia had twins, Romulus and Remus. A furious King Amulius had Rhea Silvia thrown into the Tiber River where she was caught beneath the waves by a river god who married her.
The twins were set adrift on the river in a reed basket. They floated downstream until the basket was caught in the branches of a fig tree. This was where they were found by a she-wolf who nursed them (wolves are sacred to Mars) until a shepherd found them.
Another version of the same story tells of the shepherd finding them and taking them to his wife, who had just lost her own child and who cared for them.
As the two boys had grown to men in the care of the couple, they were told of their true origins. True to their heroic status they raised an army and marched on the city of Alba Longa. Amulius was killed in battle and Numitor was restored to his throne. The twins decided to start a new city close to where they had been washed ashore, caught by the fig tree. The twins disputed which hill their city should be built on, Romulus favouring the Palatine, Remus choosing another (possibly the Aventine). Taking the looking at omens and trying to understand the will of the gods, Remus on his hill saw six birds, Romulus saw twelve. So it was decided that Romulus’ choice was the right one and he and his followers took to building their city on Palatine Hill. After an awful argument and fight, Remus was killed by his twin brother Romulus.
|Aeneas runs out of Troy with his family|
If the tale of Romulus and Remus appears the more popular Roman myth today, then the tale of Aeneas was perhaps even more popular in the days of the Roman Empire. Written by the Roman poet Virgil, the Aeneid became the national epic of the Roman Empire and the most famous poem of the Roman era.
Aeneas was said to have been a hero fighting the Greeks in the Trojan War. The son of Venus and a mortal father, he escaped as the great city of Troy was sacked. After quite a journey, he landed in Latium through which the Tiber River flows. Aeneas married the daughter of King Latinus, only to anger King Turnus of Rutuli who himself had his eye on her. As usual in ancient tales, there ensued a war for the princess between Turnus and Aeneas, who was by then supported by King Tarchon of the Etruscans.
Naturally Aeneas, son of Venus, was triumphant.
The sack of Troy is dated to around 1220 BC. To fill the years from Aeneas to Romulus the Romans therefore were required to produce a string of fictional Kings to make the tale work. This was done across all the generations with some ease from Ascanius, son of Aeneas to Numitor, grandfather of Romulus and Remus.
Historical Background (What REALLY Happened)
The tribe of people known as the Latins settled in the wider area of Rome around 1000 BC. Though those early settlements were not anything like a city. They kept pigs, herded sheep, goats, cattle and lived in primitive, round huts.
So how could such simple beginnings ever lead to a city of power which would rule the world? The rise of Rome was certainly not certain, but it had many advantages right from the start. Rome lies only a few miles from the sea with all its possibilities of trade. It lies central to the Italian peninsula, which in turn lies central to the entire Mediterranean Sea. Italy is guarded by the Alps to the North and by the sea all around.
Along with this development was the influence of the Greeks who were settling southern Italy, founding cities like Cumea and Tarentum and bringing advanced civilization to the country. From the Greeks the Romans learned skills such as reading and writing, even their religion is almost entirely taken from Greek mythology.
If the Greeks settled to the south of them, then the Roman had the Etruscans to the north. Etruria was predominantly an urban society, drawing its considerable wealth from sea trade. The extravagant Etruscans were generally seen by the more hardy Romans to be fancy and weak. While being distinctly unique in their own right, the Etruscans too owed much of their culture to the Greeks. At around 650 to 600 B.C.E. the Etruscans crossed the Tiber and occupied Latium. It is through this that the settlement on the Palatine Hill was brought together with the settlements on surrounding hills, either in an attempt to fend off the invaders, or by the Etruscan king who sought to rule through a structure of city states. It is at this point that the first known, rather than mythical, kings emerge.