VRBS ROMA COLLECTION

Ancient Roman and Greek Coins:

Romulus and Remus

 


 
 
 
 
 
 

 

          In Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus are twin brothers, whose story tells the events that led to the founding of the city of Rome and the Roman Kingdom by Romulus.  The killing of Remus by his brother, and other tales from their story, have inspired artists throughout the ages.  Since ancient times, the image of the twins being suckled by a she-wolf has been a symbol of the city of Rome and the Roman people.  Although the tale takes place before the founding of Rome around 750 BC, the earliest known written account of the myth is from the late 3rd century BC.  Whether the twins' myth was an original part of Roman myth or a later development is a subject of ongoing debate.

Overview:
          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 displaced by his brother Amulius.  In some sources, Rhea Silvia conceived them when their father, the god Mars visited her in a sacred grove dedicated to him.  Through their mother, the twins were descended from Greek and Latin nobility.
          Seeing them as a possible threat to his rule, King Amulius ordered them to be killed and they were abandoned on the bank of the Tiber River to die.  They were saved by the god Tiberinus, Father of the River and survived with the care of others, at the site of what would eventually become Rome.  In the most well-known episode, 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, their natural-born leadership abilities attracted a company of supporters from the community.
          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 organized 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 set out to build a city of their own.
          After arriving back in the area of the seven hills, 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 auspicious birds but soon afterward, Romulus saw 12, and claimed to have won divine approval.  The new dispute furthered the contention between them.  In the aftermath, Remus was killed either by Romulus or by one of his supporters.  Romulus then went on to found the city of Rome, its institutions, government, military and religious traditions.  He reigned for many years as its first king.

Primary sources:
          The origins of the different elements in Rome's foundation myth are a subject of ongoing debate.  They may have come from the Romans' own indigenous origins, or from Hellenic influences that were included later.  Definitively identifying those original elements has so far eluded the classical academic community.  Although the tale takes place before the founding of Rome around 750 BC, the earliest known written account of the myth is from the late 3rd century BC.  There is an ongoing debate about how and when the "complete" fable came together.
          Some elements are attested to earlier than others, and the storyline and the tone were variously influenced by the circumstances and tastes of the different sources as well as by contemporary Roman politics and concepts of propriety.  Whether the twins' myth was an original part of Roman myth or a later development is the subject of an ongoing debate.  Sources often contradict one another.  They include the histories of Livy, Plutarch, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Tacitus as well as the work of Virgil and Ovid.  Quintus Fabius Pictor's work became authoritative to the early books of Livy's Ab Urbe Condita, Dionysius of Halicarnassus's Roman Antiquities, and Plutarch's Life of Romulus.
          These three works have been among the most widely read versions of the myth.  In all three works, the tales of the lupercal and the fratricide are overshadowed by that of the twins' lineage and connections to Aeneas and the deposing of Amulius.  The latter receives the most attention in the accounts.  Plutarch dedicates nearly half of his account to the overthrow of their uncle.

Modern scholarship:
          Modern scholarship approaches the various known stories of Romulus and Remus as cumulative elaborations and later interpretations of Roman foundation-myth.  Particular versions and collations were presented by Roman historians as authoritative, an official history trimmed of contradictions and untidy variants to justify contemporary developments, genealogies and actions in relation to Roman morality.  Other narratives appear to represent popular or folkloric tradition; some of these remain inscrutable in purpose and meaning.  Wiseman sums the whole as the mythography of an unusually problematic foundation and early history.
          The three canonical accounts of Livy, Dionysius, and Plutarch provide the broad literary basis for studies of Rome's founding mythography.  They have much in common, but each is selective to its purpose.  Livy's is a dignified handbook, justifying the purpose and morality of Roman traditions of his own day.  Dionysius and Plutarch approach the same subjects as interested outsiders, and include founder-traditions not mentioned by Livy, untraceable to a common source and probably specific to particular regions, social classes or oral traditions.  A Roman text of the late Imperial era, Origo gentis Romanae (The origin of the Roman people) is dedicated to the many "more or less bizarre", often contradictory variants of Rome's foundation myth, including versions in which Remus founds a city named Remuria, five miles from Rome, and outlives his brother Romulus.
          Roman historians and Roman traditions traced most Roman institutions to Romulus.  He was credited with founding Rome's armies, its system of rights and laws, its state religion and government, and the system of patronage that underpinned all social, political and military activity.  In reality, such developments would have been spread over a considerable span of time.  Some were much older and others much more recent.  To most Romans, the evidence for the veracity of the legend and its central characters seemed clear and concrete, an essential part of Rome's sacred topography.  One could visit the Lupercal, where the twins were suckled by the she-wolf, or offer worship to the deified Romulus-Quirinus at the "shepherd's hut", or see it acted out on stage, or simply read the Fasti.
          The legend as a whole encapsulates Rome's ideas of itself, its origins and moral values.  For modern scholarship, it remains one of the most complex and problematic of all foundation myths, particularly in the manner of Remus's death.  Ancient historians had no doubt that Romulus gave his name to the city.  Most modern historians believe his name a back-formation from the name Rome; the basis for Remus's name and role remain subjects of ancient and modern speculation.  The myth was fully developed into something like an "official", chronological version in the Late Republican and early Imperial era; Roman historians dated the city's foundation to between 758 and 728 BC, and Plutarch reckoned the twins' birth year as 771 BC.  A tradition that gave Romulus a distant ancestor in the semi-divine Trojan prince Aeneas was further embellished, and Romulus was made the direct ancestor of Rome's first Imperial dynasty.  Possible historical bases for the broad mythological narrative remain unclear and disputed.  The image of the she-wolf suckling the divinely fathered twins became an iconic representation of the city and its founding legend, making Romulus and Remus preeminent among the feral children of ancient mythography.

Historicity:
          Although a debate continues, current scholarship offers little evidence supporting the Roman foundation myth, including an historical Romulus or Remus.  Starting with Pictor, the written accounts must have reflected the commonly-held history of the city to some degree, as were not free to make things up.  Historical bases for the broad mythological narrative remain unclear and disputed.  The archaeologist Andrea Carandini is one of the very few modern scholars who accept Romulus and Remus as historical figures, based on the 1988 discovery of an ancient wall on the north slope of the Palatine Hill in Rome.  Carandini dates the structure to the mid-8th century BC and names it the Murus Romuli.  In 2007, archaeologists reported the discovery of the Lupercal beneath the home of Emperor Augustus, but a debate over the discovery continues.

Iconography:
          Ancient pictures of the Roman twins usually follow certain symbolic traditions, depending on the legend they follow: they either show a shepherd, the she-wolf, the twins under a fig tree, and one or two birds (Livy, Plutarch); or they depict two shepherds, the she-wolf, the twins in a cave, seldom a fig tree, and never any birds (Dionysius of Halicarnassus).
          The twins and the she-wolf were featured on what might be the earliest silver coins ever minted in Rome.
          The Franks Casket, an Anglo-Saxon ivory box (early 7th century AD) shows Romulus and Remus in an unusual setting, two wolves instead of one, a grove instead of one tree or a cave, four kneeling warriors instead of one or two gesticulating shepherds.  According to one interpretation, and as the runic inscription ("far from home") indicates, the twins are cited here as the Dioscuri, helpers at voyages such as Castor and Polydeuces.  Their descent from the Roman god of war predestines them as helpers on the way to war.  The carver transferred them into the Germanic holy grove and has Woden's second wolf join them.  Thus the picture served — along with five other ones — to influence "wyrd", the fortune and fate of a warrior king.

In popular culture:

    Romolo e Remo: a 1961 film starring Steve Reeves and Gordon Scott as the two brothers.
    The Rape of the Sabine Women: a 1962 film starring Wolf Ruvinskis as Romulus.
    In the Star Trek universe, Romulus and Remus are neighbouring planets with Remus being tidally locked to the star.  Romulus is the capital of the Romulan Star Empire, which is loosely based on the Roman Empire.
    The novel Founding Fathers by Alfred Duggan describes the founding and first decades of Rome from the points of view of Marcus, one of Romulus's Latin followers, Publius, a Sabine who settles in Rome as part of the peace agreement with Tatius, Perperna, an Etruscan fugitive who is accepted into the tribe of Luceres after his own city is destroyed, and Macro, a Greek seeking purification from blood-guilt who comes to the city in the last years of Romulus's reign.  Publiusa and Perpernia become senators.  Romulus is portrayed as a gifted leader though a remarkably unpleasant person, chiefly distinguished by his luck; the story of his surreptitious murder by the senators is adopted, but although the story of his deification is fabricated, his murderers themselves think he may indeed have become a god.  The novel begins with the founding of the city and the killing of Remus, and ends with the accession of Numa Pompilius.
    In the game Undead Knights, the main characters are brothers named Romulus and Remus.
    In Harry Potter, one of the characters is named after Remus—Remus John Lupin.  And at one point uses the code name Romulus.  Professor Lupin is a teacher of defence against the dark arts, and is in fact a werewolf.  This reflects the Remus of Roman mythology, who was raised by a wolf.  In fact, the name Lupin comes from the Latin word lupus, meaning wolf.
    In Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Romulus is worshipped as a god by the Followers of Romulus cult.  The main character, Ezio Auditore, comes into conflict with the cult on several occasions during his adventures in Rome while trying to locate the keys to the Armor of Brutus, wiping out the cult in the process.
    In the Death Grips song, "Black Quarterback" Romulus and Remus are mentioned.  In characteristic Death Grips style, their lyric isn't contextualised in any typical linear sense.
    "Up the Wolves" by The Mountain Goats is a song that alludes to Romulus and Remus.
    Ex Deo released an album in 2009 titled Romulus.  Its title track concerns the myth of Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome.

Information was taken from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia at this URL:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romulus_and_Remus

All rights reserved.  All designs, images, intellectual properties, writings, drawings, paintings, sculptures , and comedy are the property of Anthong G. Ballatore if not attributed.  This webpage is for viewing only.  No reproduction rights are granted, licensed,  implied, or sanctioned in any form or manner and are hereby exclusively reserved for and by Anthony G. Ballatore.  Just ask!                              "What?"